From the November 2011 issue of our newsletter, Let's Grow. For a FREE subscription, CLICK HERE

A Systematic Method For Improving Customer Service

Every business gets customer service questions. Good companies address them quickly and efficiently. Great companies use them as an opportunity to improve. Here's a simple but effective system for using customer service questions to gain insight into how to improve your business:

1. Categorize. Meet with your customer service staff, and compile a list of all the reasons that customers and prospects contact you other than to buy product. Are directions unclear? Do customers forget when their plants are supposed to arrive? Are they having difficulty finding something on your website? Did they mistake the bare root tree they received for a dead stick?

Develop a chart that includes every common type of customer service issue you can think of. Distribute it to your entire customer service staff. They'll use it in step #2.

2. Document. Using the chart you developed, start noting the reason for every customer service call and every customer service email. (You may find it informative to chart calls and emails independently.)

Chances are you're already aware of most of the reasons that people call, but you may be surprised - either pleasantly or unpleasantly - by the frequency of some of the reasons. Sometimes, one or two customers can complain so loudly that a problem may feel far more common than it actually is.

Another reason to document the frequency of different types of calls is that things change over time. For instance, one of our clients recently realized that he was getting more and more basic planting questions. Realizing that newbie gardeners were an increasing percentage of his customer base, he asked us to revise his planting instructions to address their questions.

3.  Answer Before They Ask. Once you document the most common questions, next steps become more apparent.

Start by fixing any problems. If your instructions are unclear, change them. If people can't find something on your website, make it more prominent. If they don't understand that the "dead stick" you shipped is actually a bare root shrub, make your product description and the information you ship with the plant clearer.

Next, start answering common questions before they're asked. The more frequent a question is, the more places you should address it: on your website (including product pages, FAQ sections and "how to use" sections, if applicable), in your enewsletter, on your Facebook page, in your catalog. Not everyone searches for answers in the same place, so it's okay to be repetitious.

What's more, different people absorb information differently, so consider presenting information visually - through photos, illustrations and/or videos - as well as in writing.

4. Watch Trends. Continue to document the reasons for customer service calls and emails, and note how they change over time. By following the trends, you'll learn whether the changes you've made have done their job, or whether additional refinements are necessary.

You'll never eliminate customer service issues completely, but the more questions you can answer before people ask, the better your sales, the happier your customers, and the more time you'll have to devote to other parts of your business.

Grow Your Business -- Contact Val

Helpful Articles

For helpful how-to articles from past issues of Let’s Grow, our newsletter of marketing insights for the garden industry, click on the links below.