The business of serving customers

After yet another protracted conversation with my home cable TV and Internet service provider, I was recently motivated to seek out answers for what ever happened to good old customer service. Sure, everybody talks a big game and says their customers always come first, but like with most things in life, talk is cheap. Whether it is indifference and apathy from hotel or restaurant staff in providing the minimally acceptable level of service or a large telecommunications company that has forgotten who they are actually in business for, I’m starting to think that a growing number of organizations have no idea what customer service is all about.

customer serviceNo matter what business or industry you’re in or what product or service you offer, if you have a customer, you are in the customer service business. For meeting and event planners, whether on the corporate, association or independent side of the business, a customer can be anyone from a bride-to-be planning the most important day of her life to a board of directors whose annual shareholder meeting could set the tone for the future success of a large corporation. What’s key to remember is that whomever your customer might be, serving them in the most efficient, professional and pleasant manner possible is of utmost importance to your business.

With this in mind, let’s look at a few simple ways you can create the kind of customer service that builds solid relationships, develops loyalty and leads to success in the planning industry:

Be proactive: Why wait until problems occur before taking action? Anticipating how events might unfold and how they might affect your customer are great skills to have for a meeting planner. Making sure you take immediate action without being asked are essential to providing attentive customer service and shows your clients that you always have their best interests in mind.

Share your knowledge: Whether through content marketing in the form of free articles, reports, newsletters or podcasts to speaking at industry events, sharing your knowledge and expertise not only positions you as an expert on your area of specializing, it helps to build trust and confidence with your clients. Offering helpful tips, suggestions and advice to your customers at no extra charge is also a tremendous way to enhance your customer service.

Seek mutual understanding: Knowing and understanding what your customer’s needs are is critical. Simply assuming you know what they want not only shows that you don’t care about their needs, it can come across as arrogant or over-confident. Ask detailed questions to ascertain exactly what your customer is looking for. And don’t forget to let them know a bit about yourself as well. Make sure they can find you on the web, at industry events and by phone or email. Building mutual trust and understanding will create huge dividends for your business relationships.

Be available: While certainly related to the last point, being available also means that you are reachable by various means when the customer needs you to answer questions or solve problems. With proper respect to privacy and time off, letting the customer know that you are there for them in the event of a problem shows that you care.

Offer special or unique treatment: Beyond your unique selling proposition (USP) or main marketing message, this is about offering personal touches, special discounts or VIP treatment at no extra charge. Your competition is likely offering the same basic services so make sure you stand out in terms of customer service by making every client feel special.

Build a community: Most of us understand the importance of networking and social media to an event planning business in terms of creating leads and attracting potential customers. But when you can help connect the members of your “tribe” (your customers) with other planners and suppliers, you help to create a community. This is a level of customer service that many ignore at their business peril.

Assume someone else is NOT going to take care of it: I have noticed an alarming trend in the hotel and hospitality industry with employees “passing the buck” or assuming somebody else will address a particular problem and that it is not their responsibility. In your planning business, although it is sure to add a little more stress, assuming you are in charge and responsible for every detail (within reason, of course) tells your customer that they are a priority.

Go the extra mile: Performing your job at the minimally acceptable level just isn’t going to cut it these days. If you aren’t willing to go the extra mile for your valued clients, somebody else will.

Be flexible: Resilience and the ability to go with the flow not only show that you can handle last-minute requests with grace and professionalism, they can show your customer that you understand their needs and are willing to bend to their wishes. Few things irritate me more than an employee who is so worried about adhering to the rule book or “the way we always do it” without being willing to think for themselves and adjust things on an ad-hoc basis (airport security staff comes to mind, as an example). Yes, you need to follow procedures but try to do so with some consideration for context.

Follow up: Nothing says “I don’t care anymore” more than not following up with the things you said you would do. Whether it is simply a matter of keeping your word and sticking to what you have promised in terms of service, or checking in with your clients long after an event, effective follow-up up is the kind of positive last impression that can keep your customers coming back time and again.

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