Take a Walk ... in Your Customers' Shoes

When was the last time, if ever, you experienced what your customers or prospective customers experience when they attempt to do business with your company? If you don't know what it's like to walk in their shoes, now would be the right time to find out.

What happens when someone calls you on the phone? Is he greeted by a live person with a friendly voice who is happy to help him? Or is she greeted with "Your call is very important to us; your approximate wait time to speak with a representative is 45 minutes." Is the call answered on the first or second ring, or on the eighth ring by an employee who sounds annoyed that someone's even calling? Do callers have to press 1 for English, then press 7 for customer service, only to be accidentally transferred to the accounts payable department, where they are put on hold for 10 minutes before they ultimately get disconnected waiting for someone to answer? What kind of first impression is that making?

What happens when they drive up to your establishment? Is there an overflowing garbage container out front? If there is snow or ice, has the parking lot and walkway been shoveled? Is it safe to navigate? Are your hours of operation posted outside in case you are closed?

What about when customers walk into your place of business? Is there anyone to greet them? And if so, are they greeting them with a smile and "How may I help you," or is it with more of an "I don't care" attitude? Do your customers have to search for 10 minutes to find someone to help them? And once they do find someone, does that person help them, or does she tell them that it's not her department? When customers are ready to pay for their purchases, is the person behind the counter acknowledging them, or is he busy texting? Or perhaps talking with coworkers while treating customers as if they are invisible?

What happens when customers have problems? Are they told that it's not your company's fault? Or does your company take ownership and responsibility for the problem? How quickly is the problem resolved? Does the customer have to keep calling back to check on the status? When the problem does get resolved, is your company following up to ensure customers are happy with the outcome? Studies show customers are more loyal to companies that right a wrong when they do it quickly and without blame.

Do you and your employees know your customers' names? If so, are you using them? Or are you addressing them as "sir" or "ma'am"? According to Dale Carnegie, "There is nothing sweeter than the sound of thine own name." Are your employees giving their names to your customers? If they do, it can start a connection and help customers feel inspired to do business with your company. No one wants to feel like customer No. 18 of the day!

Customers want to be loyal to companies. They don't want to have to go through the time and trouble of looking for new providers of products and services. They want to feel that they are dealing with companies that care about them and not just their money. They want to know that companies offer quality goods and services at competitive rates. They want the security of feeling that they are dealing with an expert on whom they can rely to make the right recommendation. They want to feel respected and appreciated.

Many companies provide the same products and services that you do. If you make it hard for customers to do business with you, will they choose to do so? Or will they find someone else who will value them and their business and treat them well? How many chances will customers give you before they declare, "I'll never do business with them again"?

Customer service is not a department. It is the responsibility of every employee, from the CEO down to the janitor, and it must be practiced every day, in every customer interaction. Customers choose where to spend their money and with whom they will do business, and that choice could be strengthened or challenged with every interaction. How are your actions and those of your employees affecting that decision?

If I were you, I would take that walk on every path customers can take to reach you. If what you experience doesn't feel good to you, chances are it won't feel good to your customers, either. Take steps to improve the experience you are providing to them.

Remember, if you don't take care of your customers, someone else will!

Randi Busse is a customer service speaker, trainer, author and the president of Workforce Development Group, a training and development organization that specializes in improving the customer experience, increasing customer retention, maximizing revenue and creating a culture of ownership among employees.