While I was waiting to be seated for lunch recently, I struck up a conversation with the restaurant manager. We started talking about service, and he smiled and told me that he handled difficulties with his wife the same way he explained “service” to his staff. “I say the following,” he said. “‘Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm sorry that it happened. What can I do to make it better, or would you prefer something else?'”

SHOW YOU CARE In this simple series of statements is a ton of good advice for any business. Here are four steps to building a better business through customer-centered service:

  • Thank the customer for bringing the matter to your attention.
  • Empathize with him via an apology; you are sorry he's not pleased.
  • Elicit feedback from the customer by sincerely inquiring how you can make it better. Then listen.
  • Finally, if the situation cannot be remedied, offer an alternative.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? It is, if you understand that it's an essential part of your business. Once you recognize the inevitability of customer service, you'll prepare for it and understand that, no matter how good your product, installation, delivery, or follow through are, there's bound to be a challenge occasionally, and satisfactory resolution is imperative.
MANAGE FOR IT Start by having a “customer service meeting” with your staff. Discuss the four steps outlined above and put them into a script — scripting and role playing are essential to this being successful.

Once you have a script, your people can practice what to say and how to say it without sounding “canned.” They will be less anxious when problems occur. To the customer, they'll sound confident, competent, and concerned.

Naturally, you can choose any method you like for resolving customer concerns. The customer-centered service approach described here works by asking, listening, and responding. It's aimed at minimizing conflict and maximizing customer goodwill. Try it; you'll like the effect it has on your bottom line. —Chuck Anton is a sales and marketing consultant specializing in the home improvement industry; www.chuckanton.com.