Every business should care about providing exceptional customer service. But what does that “service” really mean?
I believe there are two attitudes when it comes to how a business interacts with the outside world – one of selling, and one of service.
These attitudes colour the personality of the business and consequently how it is perceived by customers.
The sales attitude is rooted in the desire to maintain cash flow and turnover. It is very much bottom-line driven. Every engagement with a client begins with “what can I sell you?” There is nothing inherently “wrong” with the sales attitude; we all need to sell to live. But when the sales attitude is strong within a business, it leads down a certain path of shorter-term actions and outcomes.
The service attitude starts with a fundamental attitude of helping others. There is a genuine interest in problem-solving, to enable others’ success. It is getting in there and getting your hands dirty because you care.
The underlying characteristics of an attitude of service are:
- You approach each new client first and foremost with “How can I help?” and “What are your challenges?” There is a genuine interest in the client, their business, and the challenges they are facing.
- You are on your client’s side. You like and respect them as people. In discussions or emails, you always think of you and your client as “we”, e.g. “These are the challenges facing us. This is what we could do to overcome them.”
- You work as if your client’s business is your business, and their challenge is your challenge. You are always ready to listen and are ready to roll your sleeves up and help out.
- You are confident of the value you bring to each client. That you can help them make a difference. And should you be unsure about your ability to help in a particular situation, you tell them upfront.
- You truly believe in your client’s business and what they are about. You feel passionate about helping them overcome their challenges. You are excited by the project.
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For the timesheet nuts out there, this may all sound like utter chaos where projects spiral out of control and you end up spending lots of time doing what you are not being paid for. That is certainly not what I am advocating.
Providing exceptional customer service is an empowering and enriching attitude for yourself and your clients; I am not talking about some simply following blind operational rule to do everything and anything at anytime!
Of course you need sensible time management, clear project boundaries, clear job specifications and good time accounting. Of course you need to honour the value you bring to the relationship by getting paid appropriately for your effort.
And yes, you do absolutely say no to clients who cannot afford your services.
An attitude of service enables you to truly and consistently exceed your client’s expectations, without having to consciously follow any process for doing so. You become more authentic as a result. If you take the time to listen, make the effort to care, and show a willingness to be there to help, you will win customers for life.
A sales mentality may well enable you to sign up more clients in the short-term. But a service mentality is more likely to build solid, long-term and loyal partnerships, with loads of word of mouth referrals.
Do you want a big stream of customers whom you never hear from again after the job’s done? Or would you prefer customers who hang around, with repeat work, and who can enthusiastically on-refer you to their friends and colleges?