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April 21, 2018

Small Business Advice

Good customer service keeps explanations simple, easy

Jerry Osteryoung | 1/15/2017

"Be it furniture, clothes, or health care, many industries today are marketing nothing more than commodities -- no more, no less. What will make the difference in the long run is the care and feeding of customers."

~ Micheal Mescon

Most businesses have to communicate with customers in at least two critical moments. First, they have to make the sale. Then they have to deal with any issues their customers have.

In the first case, communications must be very thorough. You want to address any and all concerns the customer has in order to make them comfortable enough to complete the purchase. Conversely, when there is a problem, too much information is considered noise. You want to be sure you are only discussing information that is relevant to the customer or you risk making them even more unhappy.

Recently, we had a problem with an appliance that would sometimes start and other times would not. We scheduled an appointment with a maintenance person to come out to our home at 2 p.m. one afternoon. At 2:30, when he still had not arrived, I called the business to find out what had happened to their technician.

The person answering the phone launched into a lengthy diatribe explaining what happened. She went into so many details my “phone eyes” started to roll.

Finally, after "checking further," she found that my repair order had been accidentally filed under the next day's jobs. In all, it took about 15 minutes for her to share a whole bunch of details she thought I needed to know.

I know it was important for the person on the phone to find the cause of the problem, but I really did not care about all that. All I wanted to know was when my appliance would be fixed.

Now this is not to say you do not need to communicate the cause of an issue, but you do need to limit your explanation to only those details the customer must have in order to understand what happened and how you are going to fix it.

For example, if you cannot provide information the customer has requested because your network is down, do not go into a lengthy explanation as to why it failed (e.g., server malfunction). Rather, just apologize that your network is down and tell them when you expect to be able to get them the information they need.

Just like in my case, the customer only ever wants their problem fixed. They do not want to know about the issues you are experiencing or what you have to do to fix it.

As another example, I had a mechanical/computer problem with my car I needed fixed before I had to go out of town. I made an appointment with the dealership, but when I arrived, they told me the mechanic who could fix the problem was out with a medical issue and gave me details about how his family was doing.

All I really wanted to know was how I would be able to get my car fixed for my trip. What they needed to do was apologize for the issue and give me alternatives for getting the repairs I needed.

Now go out and make sure you are providing the right amount of information when communicating with customers who have issues. Stick to the root cause of the problem and when the customer will get what they need without going into a myriad of details.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on Amazon.com. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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