Last week I was interviewing one of Cezanne HR’s clients for a press release and asked her what she thought about the help desk. “I want to marry them”, she replied, before going on to wax lyrical about the great service she’d had from the online team and how quick they were to answer her queries.
Now let me reassure you, this isn’t going to be a blog about the wonders of the Cezanne HR support team (although as it goes, they are pretty good)… but it did get me thinking about whether businesses in general do enough to exploit the potential of the ‘happy customer’ – or indeed to recognise the efforts of their own suppliers when they give them outstanding service.
If pro-actively encouraged, happy customers can become raving fans – and one of the biggest assets for your business. They will tell other people how delighted they’ve been with your product or service, how quickly you responded when there was an issue and what nice people you are to do business with.
Of course the praise and reviews you get from them count for much more than any glowing prose you may put on your website and in the corporate brochure. People trust other people much more than they trust business PR-speak – witness the power of sites like Trip Advisor where the reputation of hotels can be made (or broken) overnight.
So what can you do to turn your happy customers into your best ambassadors?
Encourage public feedback
Actively encourage your customers to give public feedback about your product or service. Exactly how you do this will depend on the nature of your business – but some ideas might be to ask them to write a review for a website or magazine, ‘like’ you on Facebook or contribute to a discussion you have started on a site like LinkedIn. In an ideal world, all feedback would be positive, but there are always going to be times when things go wrong and your service hasn’t been up to scratch. If you have put the effort into building a good relationship with your customers, they will hopefully tell you privately if they’re not happy, but if you do get negative public feedback, make sure you respond in a helpful and constructive way without delay. Of course if you’ve had outstanding service from a supplier, make sure you talk about them too!
Ask for endorsements:
Most satisfied customers will be more than happy to provide an endorsement or recommendation, but they won’t do it unless you ask, and so many companies simply don’t ask! Make it regular practice to ask clients if they’d be happy to talk about the relationship they have with your business or to share any interesting stories about how your product or service has helped them. Other business are often more than willing to do this, because it’s publicity for them too. It’s also worth thinking about compiling a list of existing customers who are happy to talk to potential clients about the experience they’ve had with you. That way, when a hot prospect comes in and asks for a personal recommendation you can put them in touch straight away. Be generous with recommendations for your suppliers too – what goes around, comes around.
Involve and engage
Your existing customers can also play a key role in the ongoing development of your product or service. At Cezanne HR , for example, we are always keen to hear what new features customers would find helpful and often actively involve them in piloting developments to our software before it goes on general release. This not only helps you make sure your products are really meeting customer’s needs, but also does much to build engagement and and make clients more likely to talk about how committed your business is to customer service and how receptive it is to new ideas.
Build a community
If it’s feasible, getting your customers together makes sound business sense. Depending on the nature of your product or service you might consider starting a user group to bring people together, either face-to-face or on-line. Or perhaps you could add a bulletin board or chat facility to your website where customers can share stories and experiences. They will value the networking opportunity and the chance to share best practice and will feel part of a community – and you will get even more useful feedback to inform future development of your business.
Pay it back
Find small ways to show your appreciation to customers who do go out of their way to recommend you or send active business leads your way. If your customers are to remain raving fans, it needs to be a two-way street. To give you a personal example, I am a long-standing customer at a local beauty salon. I regularly recommend them to others, comment on their Facebook page and even used them as a case study in my small business guide to taking on staff. In return, when I ring up at the last minute, they always fit me in and the owner once came in an hour early to make sure I got my nails done before going on holiday. I’m unlikely to take my business elsewhere. I am a truly raving fan.
So what do you do to make sure your customers are also your biggest ambassadors? And how active are you in supporting other SMEs who give you great service? We’d like to hear from you.