Exemplary customer service means different things to different businesses. Speedy customer service, luxury packaging, unfailing courtesy and graciously accepting client feedback are all ways businesses keep customers coming back.
While these customer service tactics are each important in their own right, they’re also well-known and well-documented. What about the less-obvious ways your business may be turning off customers, without you even realizing it? Here are some sneaky, often-overlooked areas where businesses may want to sweep out the cobwebs and spruce things up to make a better impact on customers:
1. Could your bathroom be the setting for a horror movie?
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once wrote about restaurant bathrooms, “I won’t eat in a restaurant with filthy bathrooms… If the restaurant can’t be bothered to […] keep the toilets and floors clean, then just imagine what their refrigeration and work spaces look like.” Although Bourdain later recanted this opinion, the sentiment is still valid for nearly any business. For restaurants, cafes and other food service providers in particular, a neglected restroom can create an emotional link with the rest of your business, casting unspoken doubts about every other part of the customer experience.
At base, dirty bathrooms are gross, and no one wants “gross” affiliated with their brand. Even if your business isn’t in the food service industry, a less-than-pristine restroom can ding you in customers’ minds — and might prevent them from returning.
How to fix it:
Create a cleaning rotation among your team or hire a local janitorial service to take care of the issue on a regular schedule. (Get more tips about restroom sanitation at this link.)
2. Do your phone habits tell callers to hang up?
The phone is a vital tool for businesses. Even in an increasingly online world, customers call to make reservations and book appointments, not to mention request product information or follow up on previously placed orders — and myriad other reasons. Smartphones have made it even easier for customers to contact a business from anywhere, at any time.
But are your phone habits undermining your brand experience? Unanswered phones, ignored voicemail messages, rude or clueless employees, or even an out-of-date voicemail greeting can all conspire to nudge customers toward a competitor.
Bluff City Outdoors, one of the six Alton, Illinois, businesses selected for a Small Business Revolution — Main Street revitalization, did not have its voicemail system set up. In fact, the business owners had made a habit of leaving the phone off the hook when they darted out for quick errands. As a result, when customers tried to call the bait and tackle shop, there was no way for them to leave a message or even receive recorded information that could help them visit the store. There’s no telling how many customers Bluff City Outdoors lost simply by not having a system in place for handling phone calls.
How to fix it:
First of all, make sure your phone is answered, whether by a person or by a functioning answering system that routes callers where they want to go. Countless phone systems and solutions exist that allow you to take calls from anywhere, create temporary or permanent outgoing messages, or direct callers to the appropriate person without any human interaction at all. If your business has a voicemail system in place, but it hasn’t been set up, now is the time to do so. Reliable, convenient telephone solutions exist for businesses of every size and budget. (If you take advantage of seasonal or temporary outgoing messages on your phone system, be sure to keep them updated, too. No caller wants to hear “Happy holidays!” in March.)
Next, educate employees who serve callers on the proper way to handle over-the-phone interactions. While it may be second-nature for you to treat callers with genuine courtesy and a desire to help, that attitude may not have trickled down to the rest of your team without some intervention. Coach employees on the various customer requests, concerns and demands that may arise, and how to respond to each. Another overlooked item is knowing how to handle multiple phone calls and in-person interactions simultaneously. Create a policy so your employees know when to put a caller on hold and when to politely ask an in-person customer to wait for a moment.
Additionally, make it easy to call your business in the first place. Ensure your business phone number is located in the footer and contact page of your website, on your social media business pages and across your online listings. Even though long-distance calling and its accompanying charges may seem like relics, many consumers still do maintain landlines. If your business attracts clients from different areas, it may be worthwhile to get a toll-free number for customers to use.
3. Does your website induce frustration?
We’ve all experienced bad websites. They come in different varieties: They don’t function on a smartphone or tablet. They’re impossible to navigate. They make it incredibly hard to purchase an item. They bury the most important information, or the info is out of date. They’re full of annoying pop-ups and spammy ads. The log-in process is a nightmare. And that’s just to name a few!
Don’t let your website be one of these horror stories. A bad website — or, worse, no website at all — will turn off customers faster than you can imagine. A professional, fully functioning website is one of the pillars of reputability in this day and age. Customers will hesitate before returning to a website that provided a lousy experience. If they even consider returning, that is.
How to fix it:
Ask friends, relatives or colleagues who haven’t been to your website to help you test it out, visiting it on different devices and attempting to do different things like order an item, create an account, submit a request, find contact information, etc. If they run into trouble, update your site, stat. A good website sometimes doesn’t even have to do much, as long as it looks good on every device and provides the information customers are looking for — whether that’s details on products and services, contact information or menus.
4. Does your exterior encourage customers to keep going without stopping?
Is the signage outside your place of business outdated, illegible or simply nonexistent? Does a lack of windows or a failure to keep the outside premises tidy signal to customers you’re just not interested in getting them through the door? Certain establishments (dive bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries come to mind) may be able to rock a “no sign, no windows” look. But for most small businesses, it’s crucial to announce yourself to current and potential customers. But more than that, your exterior should reinforce that customers are making the right decision by stepping inside. No one wants to enter a business that seems foreboding or unwelcoming.
The exterior of Bluff City Outdoors was unintentionally uninviting. In fact, the building appeared closed to cars and pedestrians going by, even when the shop itself was open for business. This was a major turnoff to existing and potential customers.
How to fix it:
Books may not get judged by their covers, but businesses do. If necessary, update your signage, or invest in signage if you don’t have any. Your sign should be legible (large enough for both pedestrians and drivers to notice), and it should reflect who you are as a business. If you have a logo (and all businesses should), make it an integral part of your signage.
Additionally, ensure the exterior of your business matches the interior. Ideally, a whimsical boutique would look like one from the outside, while a medical or dental office would look just as immaculate and professional from the street as it does in the waiting room.
Most importantly, keep your exterior inviting. If you have the budget (or elbow grease) to keep windows clean, the paint gleaming and the parking areas and walkways well-lit after dark, by all means do so. If you don’t have a system or service in place to handle these items, try to find the resources to make them a regular part of running your business.
Experience your business the way your customers do
Above all, try to see, hear, feel and, yes, even smell your business from the vantage point of your customers. What you’re accustomed to may be a turnoff to them. Air fresheners, cleaning schedules, updated phone policies, improved websites and a closer eye on exteriors can all do wonders for putting your customers first — which means they’re more likely to return.