What is service?
The Business Dictionary (www.businessdictionary.com) defines it as:
“A valuable action, deed, or effort performed to satisfy a need or to fulfill a demand.”
An Old Paradigm
It used to be that “A valuable action” usually meant servicing your customer to the point of their satisfaction. The old paradigm stopped at “If they leave with a smile, then we have provided good customer service.”
This used to apply to every service-based industry; even if for example you’re making violins.
The best ones generally came from the smiling older gentleman down the street rather than from the grouch who made you feel as if you were a nuisance or a burden. Either product could have had equal quality, but we tended to choose the pleasant man over the grouch.
Adding the Value of Connection
While it is still highly important these days for us to provide service with a smile, small businesses, particularly those in the retail sector have a distinct disadvantage in means of having a structure in place such as a written commitment to customer satisfaction.
The way we approach our customers is often the same as the “big guys” who have armies of human resources trainers who constantly check and adjust the quality of customer service. While retail is an example that I use here, it applies across the board with all products and services.
A fact remains: Customer service has been homogenized to the point where it is difficult to distinguish one company’s service from another since all we typically do is focus on the immediate customer’s needs.
Consumer culture is also changing in that demand is shifting to value-plus models of service. In other words, customers are craving connection, not simple satisfaction. Often this connection manifests as a desire to help the immediate community, as with the Support Local Business movement.
A New World of Customers
The new paradigm in “Conscious Capitalism” is also love and connection, two concepts which give rise to dismissive grunts from the guys belonging to the old world of profits before people. In fact, love and connection are two ideas so alien to the old way that it’s often met with resistance and ire in some circles.
But stay with me, I’m not talking about hippy drum circles and chanting sessions before going to work. I’m talking about realizing that no matter how small your business is, there is an opportunity to connect with and, yes, even love your customers, employees and your community.
How to Connect
We all instinctively know how to connect with our customers. A smile and a “how are you doing?” usually can start the ball rolling, but asking yourself a simple question like, “How can my service improve the life of my customer in any small way?” can go a long way towards actually connecting with them.
Connecting with our employees is equally as important. This extends beyond the training they receive to do their job, the focus here is on skill building as well as a genuine connection and care about their well being. It starts with hiring great people, then giving them all the skills they need to not only succeed in what they do for your company, but in their future careers and lives. What are you doing to develop good people into great people? Do you take responsibility for their growth as a person?
Finally, a business should foster a connection with its local community. Identify a need in your community that you’re passionate about, and foster those connections.
It could be as simple as a coffee shop having a ‘pay it forward’ option where someone can buy a cup of coffee for the next person who walks in.
It could be a free drink or a food item for the disadvantaged of the community in the case of a restaurant’s offering of connection. You could sponsor a clothing drive for the local homeless shelter.
There’s a myriad of avenues for your business to take out there, all you have to do is pick one. Your customers will be more connected, more bought in, as will your employees and community.
I can’t think of a better valuable action which fills a need or demand, than in connection.