“It is not the quality of service that you give but the quality of service that the customer perceives that causes him/her to buy and come back.”
Perception is how we make sense out of what we experience. Your interpretation of what you see and hear is just that-your interpretation.
And the same is true for the customers.
Did you know that no human being ever comes into direct contact with reality?
Everything we experience is the product of what our sensory devices and our nervous system manufactures.
In as much as no two people have the same physical and emotional make-up and past experiences, no two people perceive anything the same way.
Yet for any one person, what s/he perceives is reality to him/her.
When it comes to successful retail customer service, it’s the customer’s perception of the quality of service that determines how successful your store will be.
Now the big question: What causes customers to perceive service as good or bad? Here is a very important concept to remember:
“Perceived service quality is the difference between what they get and what they expect.”
Every business, regardless of size, has a reputation for the quality of goods and services it delivers.
What quality of service do you associate with IBM, Sony and Disney? Pretty high, right?
Now what quality of customer service do you associate with your local water company, electric company or the post office? Chances are you rated this group lower.
It’s not that the second group fails to give good service. In fact they give excellent service for a very reasonable price. Think about it.
You can drop a letter into any corner mail box and send it anywhere in the country for the price of a stamp.
And for nominal monthly charge, you have water and electricity at your disposal almost always without fail.
One key reason that the companies listed above have an excellent reputation is that they have learned the subtle art of reminding their customers of the great service they give.
With a little bit of an effort, you can shape your customer perceptions in a positive way too.
Just remember that you have to make your customers aware of the good deal they are getting for doing business with you and keep reminding them in many subtle, different ways.
In reality, there’s no such thing as a good deal or a bad deal. Only the customer’s thinking makes it so.
Whether it’s planned or not, every business has an image and the most successful have learned that a positive image doesn’t just happen.
It’s the result of a lot of planning, hard work, and doing a number of things consistently well.
Here are some essentials to shaping a high quality image (perception) in the customer’s eyes:
Develop a profile for your target customer:
Get a clear picture of the kind of customers you want to win and keep.
What’s their age range, income level, sex, marital status, educational level, occupation and life style? What services are most important to them?
The more you can precisely define which customers you are trying to serve, the easier it is to perceive your business through their eyes.
Conversely, a business that tries to be all things to all people runs the high risk of becoming nobody to anyone.
If others who don’t fit the profile become customers, that’s great. But target your efforts for a particular segment of the market you want to reach.
Look at your store through your customer’s eyes:
And when we say look, we mean that literally.
85% of what we remember comes through our eyes, 11% comes through our ears and the rest through our other senses.
Have you ever noticed how clean Disneyworld is? It’s no accident.
Rather, it’s a subtle way of building employee morale and telling the customer, “We take pride in our work.” Take a visual inventory of your operation.
Start by evaluating your own appearance. Do you dress and make the effort to look like someone that your customers would come to for an advice?
Next, look at your facilities. Does the customer see a clean, neat, professional operation or one that looks poorly maintained?
Next, evaluate all communication that customers receive from you. Are your business cards, stationery, and printed materials crisp, professional, and neat?
Are price cards neatly typed and free of grammatical and spelling errors? Telephone your store posing as a customer and see how you get treated.
Is this the kind of operation where you would like to spend your hard-earned dollars or can you think of some other place that would give you a better feeling?
“Every single contact the customer has with your store is shaping his perception for better or worse.”
Beware of overpromising and building unrealistic expectations:
It may make you a sale but will likely cost you customers. The higher you build customer expectations, the harder it becomes to meet and exceed them.
You run the high risk of customers feeling short-changed, not coming back and telling others. It’s a sure road to a bad image.
Use problems as opportunities to demonstrate just what great service your company gives:
Customers judge the quality of service in two basic ways: a) how well you deliver what you promise and b) how you handle exceptions and problems.
Most businesses treat problems like bad colds. They simply treat the bad symptoms and hope they go away.
But the smart ones go the extra mile for the customer and show him just how dedicated they are to making sure that he feels good about doing business with them.
Develop a unique relationship with your customers and treat each one as someone special:
A customer received a statement from a computer that read, “If you fail to pay this bill within thirty days we are turning your account over to a human.”
Treating every customer in the same impersonal manner is one sure way to destroy a company’s service image.
Keep in touch and keep them informed:
If you fail to stay in touch with your customers, they won’t be aware of the good service you’re giving them until something goes wrong and they don’t get it.
Periodic phone calls, personal letters, newsletters and occasional social calls are all good vehicles for staying in touch.
But by all means stay in touch and let them know that their satisfaction is number one priority with both word and deed.
Remember that a large part of good service is show biz:
An important part of giving good service is to entertain, amuse, and make the customer feel good in as many ways as possible.
When you’re in the presence of a customer you’re on stage and the spotlight is on you. Part of doing your job well is giving a good performance when you do it.
In summary, the acid test for the success of any business is the perceived overall value that customers think they are getting.
The companies that offer value consistently to their customers are the ones that win and keep them. But when perceived value disappears, so do the customers.
When it comes to customers, what matters most isn’t what you know or whom you know, but how you are known to them.