Passionate, driven small business owners are what makes the vegan business world go round. But a common mistake I often see hard-working entrepreneurs making is thinking that they have to be all things to their customers.
Is this you? If a customer needs help do you feel responsible to swoop in at a moment’s notice to provide them with help and assistance? I understand that great customer service can differentiate you and your company from competitors. However, without some boundaries, setting the expectation of unlimited access to you and your team can ultimately lead to greater disappointment for your clients.
Imagine a client emails you on Friday afternoon, asking for a report, a new flyer design, recipes for the holiday weekend and website update. If the assumption is that you are always available, clients will start the clock the minute they send that email. However, it may not always be possible for you to respond within a few hours. Maybe it is a holiday weekend and you are traveling to see family. Do you want to spend your family vacation on your computer? And is this sustainable? Sooner or later you will get tired of being on call 24/7. Here are a few tips on how to provide great customer service without setting an unrealistic precedent that will cause you stress, and ultimately disappoint your clients:
Ask if it is urgent
Your client wants the work done. However, not all requests are urgent, even if they are last-minute. If you are in a situation where you are pressed for time, instead of automatically pulling an all-nighter, or stressing to get WIFI from a local cafe while you are traveling, ask your client if their request is urgent. If it is a holiday weekend, ask them if you can complete the item on Monday. If you are traveling, ask them if you can finish the work once you get back to the office.
I’ve found that only about 40% of my client requests are truly urgent. So, by asking I can make room for the things that really need to get done NOW (or enjoy my well-deserved break). This helps me with time management, helps to manage my clients’ expectations, and it reinforces to my clients that I can be there for them when they really do need something done immediately.
Set the standard
I know some of you will cringe at this, but I recommend establishing a 24- or 48-hour turnaround for all client requests. This is especially important if you have a small team, or if you are a solopreneur. If you don’t have a dedicated person who manages and responds to customer requests, you will need time to review client requests and complete the work, or to delegate it to someone on your team. Give yourself the time you need to get the job done well. Remember, if being fast takes away from the quality of your work, the sacrifice is likely not worth it. Lean towards accuracy and quality instead of speed and complete availability.
Another thing it is good to set standards around is your hours of business. Do you work weekends? How late do you work during the week? Technology can be a challenge to the boundaries we set with our time, but set standards you can live with and stick to them. Clients will almost always respect your hours if they know them in advance.
On the same note, make sure you publish work and holiday hours. I normally include any holidays, shortened work hours or travel times in my email signature in correspondence with my clients (not necessarily in general emails). This is a great way to give your clients advance notice on days you aren’t available so they can plan accordingly.
Wow customers when you can:
With all of the above in mind, your goal should always be to wow your customers. When you have set realistic expectations, it can be easy to exceed them, and keep your customers very happy. When possible:
Complete tasks as quickly as possible. You may have told your customer that you will deliver a project in 48 hours, but if you can do it in 24 they will be impressed.
Be proactive and ask if there are any projects pending when holiday weekends are coming up. Keep open communication to get ahead of client requests. (Plus, the more you plan, prepare and have your team set up to handle non-urgent requests the easier it is to be there for customers when they really need a favor or some last minute help).
Some of you might be worried that these restrictions or limits might harm your customer relations, but I have found the opposite to be true. Most people want reliability, consistency, and someone they can count on. If you are sometimes able to complete a request in an hour, but another request takes three days it will be hard for your clients to know what to expect. If you set standards you know you can meet, and exceed them when you can, you will be well on your way to establishing a reputation for great customer service.
What customer service standards have you set in your business? If this isn’t something you have set out and documented, take some time to do that now!