Small business tip of the week: Get, satisfy and keep customers

Nov. 9, 2010 at 5:09 a.m.

You opened the doors to your business. Now, how do you get customers?

You might have thought they would just come. After all, everyone said they would.

Well, it takes a little more than promises from friends and family to attract, satisfy and keep customers.

To attract customers, you must offer the right product or service at the right price. You have to be easy to find and shop.

Take a hard look at your business and ask any of your existing employees and customers for feedback. Ensure your business image and brand communicates what you are selling.

A good brand, image and sign should draw your customers into your place of business and effectively communicate what you are buy and sell.

Now that you have customers, you must constantly work to satisfy them. This includes offering exceptional customer service.

Bryan K. Williams, a business consultant and speaker, crafted the Double Platinum Rule, which is: "Treat others the way they don't even know they want to be treated."

Look him up on YouTube and teach your employees how to go beyond customer expectations.

As an owner and manager you need to also get out of your office and walk the floors and talk to your customers. Not only will they feel more valued, but you will hear firsthand what they like and dislike about your business and its customer service.

For example in Victoria, Mr. Halepaska is famous for walking around his restaurants and asking customers if the food was good, if the order was right and how people are doing. He can also be seen wiping tables and sweeping floors.

His lead-by-example, friendly manner, and hard work ethic carries over to his employees, which in turn translates to his customers. This keeps the customer satisfied and coming back.

Successful business owners learn to do whatever it takes to make their customers happy and to exceed expectations.

Keeping your customers involves staying on top of the techniques you used to attract and satisfy them. The most important factor is listening to your customers. Value their time and make their opinion count.

Don't forget about your employees because they are a vital part of your business, too. Take the time to observe how they treat and interact with your customers. Do they convey the right message, make good impressions, sell the product, and exceed customer expectations?

Train your employees on a regular basis about how they should interact with customers. Reward employees for great service, and empower them to solve problems and take responsibility.

You may consider making up an acronym to help your employees remember how they should treat your customers. For example, tell them GREAT to remind them how to interact with the customer.

GREAT could stand for Greet the customer, Respect the customer, Ensure you meet their expectations, Act (sell them the desired product), and Thank them for being your customer.

Come up with one that fits your business. Remember, if you don't treat a customer right, 91 percent will never buy from you again.

From the book, "Up Against the Wal-Marts," you can use the acronym ALERT to help with dissatisfied customers.

ALERT stands for:

Acknowledge the problem and apologize;

Listen to the answers after you invite customers to tell you what happened;

Engage in a fact-finding dialogue;

Restate the problem as you understand it and record the information;

Thank the customer for sharing the problem with you - and take action.

Customers pay your bills and keep you in business so remember to take the time to take the steps to attract, satisfy and keep them.

Lisa Barr is a senior business advisor for the University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center.



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