Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lesson #33: The Importance of Customer Service

This may sound pretty obvious, but don't take your customers for granted.  They are your lifeline, especially for a startup, and you need them to help serve as good references and to spread positive word of mouth.  Today, I will give you a couple examples from iExplore of how offering premium levels of customer service, helped to build long term customer loyalty and drive repeat sales and word of mouth for our business.

Go The Extra Mile:  iExplore had sold a horseback riding trip in South Africa to a mother and daughter.  On the day of departure from the U.S., we had a panicked call from the mother while at JFK airport that her crying daughter had forgot her horseback riding boots at home, and wondered if there was any way we could help.  We could have said, that is not our job, we just sell travel.  But, we took the extra effort, tracked down a horseback gear retailer in Cape Town, and had a pair of boots waiting for the client upon their arrival at their hotel.   The client was thrilled.

Add A Personal Touch:  You always want your customers to feel special, like they are getting something above and beyond the norm.  So, when we were selling tours, we would always include something in the client's trip, that they were not expecting from their purchased itinerary.  For example, maybe it was a bottle of champagne and fruit basket waiting for them upon their arrival.  Or, a special private dinner in a tented camp while on safari.  Or, a free tour book with their pre-departure materials.  Pleasant surprises go a long way to instilling long term loyalty.

Own Up To Your Mistakes:  When things go wrong with your customers, how you go about resolving these errors will dictate whether or not the customer will buy from you again.  If you show you sincerely care about them and making right by them, that is almost more powerful to long term loyalty, than had nothing gone wrong in the first place.  As you can imagine, when selling travel, there were a lots of places where the trip could go awry (e.g,. missed transfer, bad hotel, poor food, unpleasant guide, missed activity).  And, when they did, we would compensate the client with cash refunds and additional perks to make up for it.

Take Responsibility for Your Suppliers: In one extreme example of customer service, one of iExplore's sub-contractors in Alaska had gone out of business, and the client had already passed through their monies to the tour operator for their trip, scheduled to leave the next month.  It was a double problem of a client losing all their money and the client losing their valuable vacation time in Alaska.  Even though our contracts clearly stated issues like these were not iExplore's responsibility, we in fact found another tour supplier and paid for the trip out of iExplore's pocket.  That customer was very grateful, and we had numerous repeat bookings from that family.

Get Yourself Directly Involved with Customers:  There is no better way to learn about your product and interact with your customers, than to put yourself directly into the customer experience.  At iExplore, we had a "Travel With Our CEO" promotion, where I personally led trips with 8-10 customers at a time, in various destinations around the world.  It was a way for me to better learn about the business and our customers, and a way for our customers to get a special experience of traveling with the head of the company.  So, a win-win for all involved.

A good customer experience, will lead to 2-3 new customer referrals from positive word of mouth.  And bad customer experience, will lose you 8-10 referrals from negative word of mouth.  And, your litmus test to how well you are doing on customer service, is how quickly your repeat sales and word of mouth sales are growing.   So, make sure premium customer service is instilled into your company's DNA from day one.

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