I met many of you back in my Polaroid days when I was the channel manager for Polaroid’s Special Edition product line. It was exclusive to camera stores and, for many years, retailers carrying the line were able to actually maintain respectable profitability on Polaroid products.
But that was the last chapter of my 17-year history with Polaroid. The chapter where I learned the most and was able to build a foundation in marketing came from my experience in Customer Service.
Let’s turn back the clock a few years and talk about the 1970s. The SX-70 camera was introduced in 1972, and those first few thousand cameras were rumored to be over 300% defective. And when it wasn’t a camera problem a consumer was dealing with, there was a nonstop stream of film problems.
Some time around 1974, I found myself on the 800 line as a customer service rep. Later I became a supervisor in one of their camera repair facilities, and after that a regional manager in the Midwest. The experience from those early days was invaluable and became one of the most important building blocks in my career.
Today, having a solid understanding of consumer issues along with the ability to empathize is critical. Back in the ’70s there was no Internet. Even the most respected consumer at best could only influence a few hundred people. Now, because of social media and the Internet, one upset customer has the level of reach only magazines and newspapers had 10 years ago.
I wandered into Google recently and started searching for data about how many consumers are on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I had some fun finding some interesting statistics.
Check out these numbers about how active the world is when it comes to social media:
• One BILLION Facebook Users!
• 343 million Google+ users
• 200 million LinkedIn users
• 500 million Twitter users
That means there are more than a billion influencers who have the power to help or harm your business goals.
And when it comes to the pace they set, the average Internet-active consumer shares 36 posts a month and broadcasts to an average of 130 connections. Every second there are 650,000 Facebook shares, 100,000 tweets and 48 hours of video uploaded to YouTube.
Providing outstanding customer service is without question one of the most important components in a successful business. It’s important to make sure that everybody on your frontline who’s involved with customers understands the basics.
Customer Service Basics
It starts with making it easy for customers to find somebody to talk to who can solve their problem. Obviously, situations come up that aren’t easy to resolve, but it’s important to give your frontline staff as much training and responsibility as possible.
The faster, the better. Whether it’s a customer coming into your store, a phone call or an e-mail, get back to them quickly. A delay in responding not only gives a consumer the idea you’re not interested in their business, but it will eventually give your competitors a chance to step in, simply by providing better service. It’s just bad customer service.
Everybody likes a problem solver. Empathize with every customer who’s got a “challenge” and build a reputation of “the buck stops here!” Work to resolve problems as quickly as possible. I shared this anonymous quote in a blog post a few months ago: “When there’s a hill to climb, waiting won’t make it any smaller!”
Be an Expert
Technology often creates situations completely out of our control with consumers who don’t understand how a product works. That means your staff’s education is critical. Make sure they’re users of the products they sell.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Learn to listen to your customers. Know the demographics of your audience. Pay attention to what’s going on in your market as well as with your competitors. And when you have a screamer, just look at them and ask, “How can I help?” Then, just listen.
Be Active in Social Media
I’m convinced just having a website isn’t enough today. You need to maintain a consistent presence with a blog, Facebook page and Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I wrote about this in a previous article as well. Here’s the key thing to remember: your website is about what you sell, but your blog is about your heart. Being a retailer and having a blog allows your customers to get to know you better. It allows you to build relationships with your readers.
Exceed Client Expectations
Whether it’s problem-solving or just creating an experience for each customer, work to go overboard. Give them more than they ask for. This is about relationship building, not just selling gear. Here’s where education and workshops can play a role with your customers. Work to make them better photographers with guest speakers and on-site seminars, etc.
Make Yourself Habit-Forming
From your store to your website to your blog to working directly with you, make every experience something special. Think about your favorite places to shop. For example, Macy’s carries much of the same products as Nordstrom. As an example, Ralph Lauren short-sleeve polo shirts are the same price everywhere. However, it’s a totally different experience shopping at Nordstrom versus Macy’s!
We’re a word-of-mouth industry, and it’s so important for your customers to be sharing their experiences with you, your staff and your business.