It doesn't matter how great your customer service might be if it takes too long to deliver.
In an era in which Americans have declining amounts of leisure time, customer-service programs need to be increasingly respectful of consumers' time, says a Reno consultant who teaches a seminar on the subject.
The problem, says consultant Roz Parry, isn't hard to see. Americans had a weekly average of 26 hours of leisure not counting sleep hours in 1952. Today, they have only 16 hours.
And those are the hours when the customers of most businesses have time to conduct their business hours they hate to spend waiting in lines.
"Ask yourself what you can do to make your customers' lives easier," says Parry.
Some suggestions from the consultant:
* Add more people to customer-service windows. Or, if you run a company that routinely staffs only two or three customer-service stations while leaving eight or 10 closed, consider getting rid of the never-opened windows. They're nothing but an irritant to waiting customers.
* Take some time and watch the way your company provides service over the phone. Does it take a long time?
* Ask your customers for their suggestions about ways to speed up your company's service. "Believe me," Parry says, "they've thought about it."
* Make sure that your company's forms are easy to navigate.
* In busy locations, station a greeter who can help direct customers to the right location for speedy service.
Respect for customers' time, as well as other steps to improve customer service, will be reviewed by Parry in a half-day seminar sponsored by the Nevada Small Business Development Center on June 22. (For costs and registration details, contact Parry at 329-1041.)
Along with respect for customers' time, Parry says the key elements of a good customer-service program include:
* Ensuring that all staff members greet customers warmly in person and on the phone.
* Listen to customers and let them know they're valued. In disputes, avoid embarrassing the customer. Let them save face.
* Handle problems graciously, effectively and quickly.
* Train your staff in communication and focused listening skills. Knowing how to listen and to ask clarifying questions is essential.
* Be trustworthy, keep your promises, and act with integrity.
"It costs six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one," says Parry. "Training staff to perform exceptional customer service is an inexpensive way for a small business owner to increase her bottom line."