Remain focused: In cutting back, your first inclination may be to halt staff training or trim anything that may make the customer experience a smooth one. Don't if you can help it, says Richard Hanks, chair and president of Mindshare, a customer service-consulting firm. "Customer loyalty is a share of their wallet, mind and mouth. Be willing to sacrifice a little here, and your profits may take a hit and you may need to dip into your reserves a bit, but now is the time to steal shares. When everyone else is cutting down to the bone, cut less than everyone else and you'll be in a great position when we get out of this recession."
After all, an experienced staff is worth its weight in gold. Just ask Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) . Whoever thought to add the Genius Bar to each store is brilliant. It's one more reason people are willing to pay Apple's higher prices.
Train staff to stay focused: On the customer, that is. One way Daniel's Jewelers in southern California does that is to have management shop in its 50 stores. "The goal is to catch employees doing it right," says Rick Segel, author of "Retail Business Kits for Dummies" (For Dummies). "Then they have a meeting about the wonderful things people are doing. Behavior that is rewarded is behavior that is repeated."
They also require that workers compliment one another in staff meetings. "An employee compliments another on what they did well, and they can't pick the same employee twice," says Segel. "It's awkward at first but people start observing. It becomes a form of education and raises the element of service."
Never lose customers to begin with: You won't need a customer-incentive program if your company has always done its utmost to make the client experience the best it can be. Experts say it costs more to find a new customer than it does to keep an old one. So if a customer had a horrible time with one of your employees, pick up the phone or drop by their table to let them know you value their business.
"The best incentive is dependability, consistency, urgency and responsiveness," says Hanks, who is also author of "Delivering and Measuring Customer Service" (Duff Road Endeavors). "I overpay at Nordstrom. But I know I will never have a problem with them. They don't have a frequent-buyer program. They have my loyalty because of the underlying thing that they do."
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