By: The Maine SBDC
Another busy summer is expected, providing both an opportunity and a challenge for small businesses across Maine. The ongoing labor shortage means that many businesses will again need to do more with less.
Start with Your Employees
Good customer service starts with you and your employees. Satisfied employees are more likely to provide better customer service, plus they are more likely to stick around. Retaining employees is not always an issue of pay; studies show that the workplace environment and culture can be just as important to employee morale. Listening, responding, respecting, and supporting your employees is an excellent first step in delivering great customer service. Consider what perks you can offer to support your employees, whether it’s free coffee and bagels once a week or an end-of-summer bonus.
Get creative with your hiring.
Identify the most important traits you need employees to have and cast a wide net. Often a cheery disposition and great attitude can outweigh experience; you can train a person how to clean a hotel room, but it’s really hard to change a personality.
Provide training on the key elements of customer service.
Maine’s Office of Tourism offers a free certification program called Welcome ME 2.0. In addition to training, establish guidelines that help regulate the conduct of your workers towards customers, management, and fellow workers. It is also important to identify behaviors that reflect your company’s culture and drive success.
Set Realistic Expectations
When working with fewer human resources, set realistic expectations. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to have customers and employees disappointed. Like last summer, you may need to make modifications to your business such as limiting hours or days open, simplifying product offerings, and/or cutting back on service offerings. With both staffing and product shortages, it is more important than ever to make sure you have alternative vendors and service providers lined up in case of emergencies. If you can’t get products in from your usual suppliers, where else can you turn in a pinch?
As you are making these changes, communication is absolutely essential to ensuring your new and existing customers are satisfied. Communicate using the signage on your business, your website, your social media, and in-person conversations. Again, it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than have unhappy customers.
Be Welcoming to All
Overcoming barriers to customer service and achieving a culture of inclusion begins with understanding the needs of the people you serve. Consider the perspective of your customer. Are your customers those with young families, aging couples, or disabilities? Does your business welcome them? Make sure you are able to provide accessible accommodations that make them feel comfortable. Removing these barriers will be a simple way to make the experience a good one.
Personalize the Experience
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you do, but they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
True service excellence makes the customer feel important, heard, and special. For repeat customers, try to remember their preferences and offer helpful information. For new customers, ask good questions, listen, and respond to their needs.
In order to provide personalized service, businesses need to understand what drives customer satisfaction and how to meet their needs. Offering your customers a unique experience will help differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Invite Customer Feedback
Embrace an approach that encourages your customers to create positive word-of-mouth marketing, which in turn will allow your business to innovate and meet the needs of customers. Listen to their suggestions and attend to their complaints promptly. When customers are delighted with their experience, they are more likely to return to your business or spread the word about your brand. So, make every moment count. This builds trust and engagement.
About the Author: The Maine SBDC program helps build and strengthen small businesses through business advising, training and educational resources. Certified business advisors provide guidance on topics such as business feasibility, business plan development, capital acquisition, financial management, marketing and sales, e-commerce, customer service, personnel management, small business strategic planning and more.