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Franchisee Advice

Happy Customers = Repeat Sales

Customer service specialist, Nathalie Schooling, MD of N’lighten, discusses the importance of great customer service and how to add real value for your clients.

Nadine Todd

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Q: What does customer service mean to you?

The most important thing for any business to remember is that ‘customer service’ is not a noun, it’s a verb. You need to be doing it, not saying it. And it’s also important to remember that it’s not just a question of whether you deliver customer service, it’s a question of how you do so. The right approach focuses more on delivering the positive experiences you know your customers actually want and less on getting them to hand over more cash.

If you follow this customer centric approach to customer service, it results in loyal customers who know they can depend on your business as a reliable, trustworthy, and competent business that appreciates them, values the fact that they choose to spend their hard-earned cash with you, and knows that it’s a pleasure doing business with them.

Q: Has the importance of good customer service grown?

Without a doubt! While good service has always been at the heart of business success, the world is a far more competitive place today than it was yesterday. And it will be more so tomorrow. It’s really not easy for businesses to compete on price anymore, so they have to find other ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors – and customer service is the one sure-fire way of doing that.

Any business can advertise, market, and run promotions – and given the tough economic climate, most are. But there are still very few businesses that understand the importance of great customer service – let alone practice service excellence. So, if your business does, and is, you’re already streets ahead of your competition. And it will show on your bottom line.

Conversely, the risk of failing to deliver great service is greater than ever. Social media has meant that the world has shrunk to the point that thousands, even millions, of people can instantly know about the bad (or good) experience a customer just had at your establishment. It’s worth making the customer service effort to maximise the chances that your business is ‘liked’.

Q: How important are employer/employee relationships to customer service?

Mutual respect and understanding between employer and employee is critical. You cannot and will not achieve anything near the customer service commitment you desire if your employees couldn’t care less about your business. In many ways, realising a solid customer service culture begins with cultivating a solid staff care and communication culture. When you recognise, acknowledge, and reward the value your employees add to your business, they respond by delivering more value. It’s a basic rule of business success and it lies at the heart of a customer service culture.

Q: Are there any starting points for businesses that want to improve their customer service?

There are plenty of ways for any business to start a customer service improvement journey. The first step, though, is to get a clear understanding of why you’re doing it and what the consequences could be of not doing it.

Once you’ve done that for yourself as the business owner or manager, start by:

  • Changing your culture. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s definitely do-able. Make sure your new customer centred strategy has top management buy-in, then educate your staff on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This education never ends. You need to be a customer service champion and constantly remind everyone to keep on serving.
  • Recruiting the right people. Focus less on looking just for the highest qualifications and more on employing people who have an obvious passion to serve and will genuinely care about your customers.
  • Finding out what your customers actually want. Not only will they be happy to tell you what they expect from your business and its employees, they’ll feel good that you thought highly enough of them to ask in the first place.

Q: What are the basics of customer service that all companies should adhere to?

It doesn’t matter what business you are in, there are five non-negotiable customer service priorities you simply have to deliver:

  1. Make each customer feel genuinely special. They need to know you value their business.
  2. Give your customers a voice. Listen to what they have to say.
  3. Embrace complaints. Stop seeing the complaining customer as a ‘pain’ and start seeing them as loyal enough to tell you what’s wrong so that you can fix it, rather than simply going elsewhere.
  4. Create great customer experiences. Customer service is not just a smile and friendly greeting, it’s a total positive experience from start to finish.
  5. Never lose focus. Raising your service levels sets expectations. If your service declines, don’t expect your customers to just accept this. You need to strive to keep getting better, and they’ll keep coming back.

Q: What are the costs involved in good customer service?

There is no cost, but there may be some investment required. The difference is that one drains your bank account while the other grows it. In reality, excellent customer service need not cost you anything. After all, how much does it cost to change your attitude? And in the long term, good customer service will actually drive your business costs down while driving the value for your customers up. That’s because when you do things right the first time, you actually save money – and your customer saves time and hassle.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. R_K

    Apr 23, 2012 at 11:14

    Excellent article. Customer Service is crucial to success.

  2. R_K

    Apr 23, 2012 at 11:17

    Excellent article. Customer Service is crucial for success.

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Franchisee Advice

6 Top Tips For Reading Management Accounts

There is a golden key that reveals the secret of whether your business will survive and thrive. It is keeping tabs on the figures that summarise the strength of your business – your monthly management accounts.

Richard Mukheibir

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There is a golden key that reveals the secret of whether your business will survive and thrive. It is not the brilliance of your business concept. It is not your talent for talking clients to sign on the dotted line. It is keeping tabs on the figures that summarise the strength of your business – your monthly management accounts.

Related: 6 Things You Need To Know About Profit And Cashflow

Many entrepreneurs are usually more interested in operations and find product development or sales much more enjoyable than catching up on accounts. I sympathise – I’m one of them! So if you feel the same way, my top tip is always to make sure that you partner with or employ someone who can oversee the finances for you.

But that does not mean you can let the figure boffins and the finances take care of themselves. To function properly in your business, you need to know the outcome of your sales and development strategies – and the story of that is told in your management accounts.

 If you never look at your management accounts, it is like blinding yourself in one eye. It means you risk being literally blindsided by a big surprise, whether it is heading for a significant loss or being confronted by an unexpected provisional tax payment.

Here is how Engela van Loggerenberg, our Group Financial Manager, puts management accounts in perspective for our new franchisees. She urges them to focus on six key areas:

  1. Priorities: Management accounts can help you pinpoint areas that you need to prioritise, whether to capitalise on growth or because they are not performing as well as you hoped.
  2. Strength: All businesses aim to grow their assets over time and the balance sheet in your management accounts will reflect whether and how you are achieving that.
  3. Control: A strong balance sheet is one that shows you have your business liabilities well controlled. The key marker here is your current liquidity ratio, which results from dividing your current assets by your current liabilities. To keep your business healthy, always aim to keep this ratio at least 2:1.
  4. Revenue: Ideally, you want to see your revenue grow month by month. Check your income statement both for the trend in actual revenue and also for actual against budgeted revenue to check how well your strategies are delivering results.
  5. Profitability: Of course, revenue is not the same as profitability. You need to know your gross profit – the basic figure of your sales less the cost of those goods – and net profit, which also deducts a range of other expenses including taxes. Track the percentage of these two profit figures as well as the actual cash amount they represent to keep a check on whether your costs are creeping up too high.
  6. Finance: Most businesses at some point want to finance their growth by borrowing from a bank. A set of well-regulated management accounts is a prerequisite to obtaining finance.

Your management accounts do not have to be particularly complicated to give you these vital pointers – and if you are figure-shy, the more straightforward the better.

The important thing, though, is that you do not allow yourself to be too scared to ask if there is something which is not clear to you. That is the way to keep control of this key to your business fortunes and to keep building your business from strength to strength.

Related: 7 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Managing Cash In The Business

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Company Posts

A Three-Pronged Approach To Franchise Success

Danie Nel, head of business development for Cash Crusaders franchising, says the brand’s success over the past 22 years 
is attributed to the sentiment that “a profitable franchisee 
is a happy franchisee.”

Nedbank Franchising

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What is your current footprint?

220 Stores. We’re looking to increase that number by another 20 stores for the 2018 financial year, which will then bring us to a total of 240 stores. Depending on the economy, we’re looking to grow our footprint even more to around 300 to 350 stores nationwide in the near future.

What are some of your brand’s biggest achievements that other franchises can learn from?

Our ability to read the retail market and innovate to stay ahead of times. We have recently launched an online platform where customers can sell their goods or borrow money — all online. This was a first for online retailing. One other achievement that I would wish to highlight is the launch of our mobile phone range, Doogee, exclusive to Cash Crusaders. Personally, having the honour of opening our 200th store was a tremendous achievement.

Franchisor involvement has also played a big role in the success of the organisation. Our CEO Sean Stegmann and other senior managers are as much involved in the business as any other operations manager or operator.

There is simply no ‘ivory tower’ management in our business and it makes a huge difference.

Related: How Sorbet Franchisee Kate Holahan Is Nailing Success By Following Her Dream

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how have you overcome these?

Some of our daily challenges include securing a premises at a favourable rental and securing a franchisee with sufficient unencumbered capital, who is credit- worthy. Once the store is open, cash flow management and stock procurement is key.

In addition to this, it’s a challenge to achieve profitability immediately and to meet franchisee expectations. It’s also vital to ensure superb customer service and to retain those customers in the current retail and economic climate. I would say that our single biggest challenge is to retain and to build our customer base.

What attracts franchisees to Cash Crusaders?

Our unique retail model that allows for multiple streams of income through one business. These three profit centres include: New goods (variety of imported quality goods), second-hand goods (which we buy directly from the public, either through customers coming directly to our stores, or via our house-buy system offered by some of our stores) and secured lending (a financial service where customers can borrow money against valuables, determined at store level, and the loan is repaid within 30 days — or the contract is renewed for another 30 days with interest and service fees charged).

Why is it important for successful franchises such as yours to have a strong banking partner and how does it benefit both the franchisor and the franchisee?

Gone are the days where you just got a deposit book or cheque book and a little business loan from your bank. Banking has become more sophisticated and the technology that the bank offers is as important as its service, making life for both the franchisee and the franchisor easier on a day-to-day basis.

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Franchisee Advice

5 S-Words Make Your Store Site Pay For Itself

Richard Mukheibir, CEO of Cash Converters recently addressed delegates at the FASA (Franchise Association of SA) conference on the topic of choosing the best location for their business. He spoke about the 5-S technique to assist business owners with deciding which premises is best suited for their business.

Richard Mukheibir

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The combination of continuing trading uncertainty in South Africa and the new financial year for many businesses can add up to carefully reviewing costs – including leases on premises. Choosing a site to set up or relocate your business can be just as stressful as deciding where to buy a house – and just as fundamental to its health, finances and sustainability, says Richard Mukheibir, CEO of Cash Converters.

This is not the time to snap up the property with the cheapest rental as that might turn out to be something you regret in the long run. Nor is it the time to be dazzled by the swankiest premises you can find. The potential for bragging rights could turn out to be poor value for money.

“This is a time for your head to rule your heart regardless of the industry you trade in.” he says.

The real-estate mantra of “location, location, location” works just as effectively in commercial as it does in private property but you will often be looking for rather different factors. Mukheibir shares his 5-S technique to help you begin narrowing down the areas where you will consider locating your business – first at the macro level, focus in further to the meso level, then look more closely at the micro level before you start weighing up specific sites.

1. Strategy

Remind yourself of the medium and long-term strategies you have developed for your business. Keep your understanding of your business’s customers, purpose and growth prospects top of mind when you are selecting the areas where you will start looking for sites.

Related: Effective Ways To Bring Customers To Your Door

2. Scope

Within those areas, redline any sections where you feel the competition from other businesses will detract from your potential to grow your market. Greenline areas where there are good synergies between the people who live or work there and the demographic that you have identified as your target market.

3. Synergy

Make sure there is clearly a good pool of potential customers for you – size definitely matters when it comes to ensuring that there are plenty of customers available to you. Look specifically for facilities that cater for the kind of customers you want to attract. Sports stores benefit from being close to schools and tertiary colleges, for example.

4. Sight

Although many businesses now have an online element, most still benefit from attracting customers to walk through the door. For your premises to be a good fit for your business, you should be located in plain sight and ensure that your ability to market yourself locally through signage and lamp-post posters is not restricted by local bylaws.

Related: FASA Establishes Industry Specific Food Franchise Forum

5. Security

You will attract and retain good customers and staff if they feel they’re secure in the area. This perception includes factors such as easy, safe parking and a welcoming environment.

“Making a success of your business is not just about the product or your branding,” says Mukheibir. “It can be as fundamental as finding a site that ends up paying for itself. To do this, it must offer you a well-calculated gap in the market where the strong demand for the product or service that your business offers ensures sales and profit. If you have considered all these steps carefully, you will never worry about making rent and wages payment again.”

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