No different than the apprehension we feel when questioning what others may have overlooked in conducting Y2K audits, we too may be vulnerable to the same problem. Are all systems "go for launch"? Not to be forgotten is a thoughtful review of the changing needs of customers and identifying the resources required to meet them. While not as apparently tangible as computer systems, excellence in customer service is indispensable to maintaining a competitive and vibrant business.
Custom service in the next millennium will be a moving target. It will be moving at the speed of your customers' expectations. What they require will be defined not only by your competitors, but also by other companies in unrelated industries. You will need to keep an open mind, stay informed and remain constantly vigilant.
Viewing changing computer, Internet and telecommunications technologies as a welcome opportunity to improve customer service and business efficiency will be increasingly important. Act to exploit the benefits of these new tools, don't wait until you must react to competition.
Forming close relationships with vendor partners can be mutually beneficial and provide valuable insight into new techniques and technologies that can be used to enhance your customer service. Attending industry trade shows and seminars to stay current and connected will be a must. It is the unknown that is the most potentially harmful. Stay in the know.
OBSESSION WITH CUSTOMER SERVICE
Tom Peters, in his classic book, In Search of Excellence, writes that the best-run companies in America tend to have an obsession with customer service. With the growing array of retail choices—traditional stores, big box retailers, niche catalogs, toll-free numbers and Internet sites—the pressure will remain high for all channels and players to differentiate themselves. One of the battlegrounds (and consequently one of the great opportunities) of the millennium will be in customer service.
To Wow a customer with service is to exceed their expectations. Think back to the last time you experienced a Wow from a company. It leaves an impression that transcends price and all other competitive factors. That kind of service can be encountered in a sales associate's attitude, a personal touch, a product's quality, a fast delivery, or a prompt resolution of a problem. Because of the difficulty in maintaining and controlling customer service, independent retailers often have a clear competitive advantage. Every day, every customer, every situation creates a new opportunity. What better way to build customer loyalty, good will and referrals?
BUILDING CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS
Building relationships with customers in the new millennium goes beyond selling them a product and then checking on the order. It implies service before, during and after the sale. It is fostering a long-term association in which customers look to you to address all their related window coverings problems. Again, view them as opportunities not problems. Every one of those challenging circumstances is an opportunity for your company to differentiate itself through exceptional customer service. Welcome them, seek innovative and efficient ways to enhance customer relationships.
At Redi Shade, we believe our product represents a superb example of a customer service tool that although temporary helps the window coverings trade build permanent customer relationships. Redi Shades can be offered by retailers as a courtesy or at a minimal charge to consumers during the fabrication of their custom textile or alternate window coverings. In so doing dealers address the new home owner's immediate privacy problems attractively, quickly and economically. They can be advantageously used as a stand-in for custom products that are being returned for repair, thus providing a favorable solution to a potentially abrasive customer service problem. Wow!
There's still time to become customer service Y2K compliant. Your customers' expectations will be changing constantly and the height of the bar marked excellence will rise continually. That's an opportunity, but only if you adopt the attitude of embracing change and using it to your and your customers' advantage.
Ron Militello is president of Redi Shade Inc., Santa Rosa, CA; (707) 585-7960; fax: (707) 584-2205; redishade.com.