I am often asked for my thoughts on the economic impact of our small business community with the opening of the new Walmart in our region, other “Big Box” competition, the amount of business that Amazon and others are taking from traditional retail, and a perspective of “how can we compete in this day and age” with what seems to be a full onslaught of competition and changes in the retail landscape.

To say this is not of concern would be the equivalent of putting our head in the sand, but there is much local success in the retail, hospitality and service sector industries in Clatsop County. What is one secret sauce? World-class customer service.

How can you test this for your business?

Here is a question I would ask our local business owners:

How would your business perform with a “secret shopper”?

How would your customers answer this question: “Will you refer my business to your circle of friends, family and all your contacts”?

Even if you are confident the secret shop would go great, and your customers answer would be a resounding “Yes,” make sure that your confidence is actually reality. We hear it all the time from many local businesses that they “assume” great customer service is given, but when you talk to a customer sometimes that is not accurate.

It is time to look in the mirror, and assess your customer-service standards.

1. Know who the boss is. You are in business to service customer needs, and you can only do that if you know what it is your customer wants. When you truly listen to your customers, they let you know what they want and how you can provide good service. Never forget that the customer pays our salary and makes your job possible.

2. Be a good listener. Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is truly saying. Listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel.

3. Identify and anticipate needs. Customers don’t buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical.

4. Make customers feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. Always use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. People value sincerity.

5. Help customers understand your process and systems. This may be more in the service sector, but take time to explain and don’t let automation be a replacement for face to face interaction. Be careful that your systems don’t reduce the human element of your organization.

6. Appreciate the power of “Yes”! Always look for ways to help your customers. When they have a request, if reasonable, tell them you can do it. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.

7. Know how to apologize. When something goes wrong, apologize. It’s easy and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done.

8. Give more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate yourself above the competition. Consider these questions:

• What can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere?

• What can you do to follow-up and thank people even when they don’t buy?

• What can you give a customer that is totally unexpected?

9. Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. Ways to improve this include listening carefully to what your customers are saying, check back regularly to see how things are going, and provide a method that invites constructive criticism, comments and suggestions.

10. Treat employees well. This really could be the first “Commandment” as employees are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation. Thank them and find ways to let them know how important they are. Treat your employees with respect and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers. Appreciation stems from the top. Treating customers and employees well is equally important.

The economy is stronger than it has been in years, and the savvy business owner can maximize the spending of both locals and tourists alike, but it starts with customer service.

Our Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center can assist you with plans and strategies related to customer service “best practices,” along with financial planning, cash flow management, human resources, operations, and other critical success factors, always free and confidential!

Go to our website at bizcenter.org/Clatsop to learn more, and to also make an appointment with one of our experienced advisors. You can also email us at sbdc@clatsopcc.edu or call 503-338-2402 to connect with an advisor.

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