One of the authors in the Know More Media network of business blogs, Maria Palma, asked an important question of each of the authors in the network that owned a business.
It went something like this: “What is your definition of service?” She runs the blog at Customers Are Always and was interested in getting a wide cross section of responses from the dozens of business writers in the network.
I thought it would be interesting to contemplate the question and make a contribution from my point of view and considering the experience I have had with service in the solo business sector of the online business environment.
As most of us have at least spent some time thinking about the service that we want to provide our business customers, there’s definitely some wisdom and insight to be gained by defining exactly what it is that you plan to do for your customers.
I believe service has three faces.
The first is the face of direct assistance. Service is the act of giving help, aid, utility, or accommodation to another (whether it be a customer, an employee, a supplier, a subcontractor, whomever, it doesn’t matter). They seek you … you reach out and respond by giving the help that has been requested.
The second face of service is that of performing one’s duty, for example, a policeman protecting a neighborhood. In this case, there may be no apparent or direct call for assistance at the moment; rather, it is part of the responsibility of your position or stature to offer some type of service as a function of your job or position.
The one being served may not be known and the service rendered may be seen as either helpful or possibly even something that is unwanted by the one served. It is a role that might not even be recognized by the recipients.
The third face of service is being ready. No service is actively being given at the moment, but there are those who will step up to serve if they are needed. They are ready to serve when called up.
A good example is the service an insurance company may provide or that of a military officer or your local fire department.
You pay for the service on a regular basis, whether it’s actually given or not, just in case it becomes needed.
I believe it was Milton that said “they also serve who only stand and wait.”
Every business provides some level of service if it claims customers; even those businesses that do nothing (lousy service.)
It seems to me, the service challenge is this:
How does a small business owner provide the kind of service:
- Wanted by the customer,
- Envisioned by the owner,
- That stands apart from the service given by his competitors,
- That is always timely, appropriate, and professional,
- That comes at a reasonable cost, and
- Is always seen as being of distinct value by the recipient.
In some businesses, in fact, the owner has chosen outstanding customer service as his USP (unique selling proposition.) In other words, that aspect of his business is what really sets him apart from all of his competitors. This is an especially helpful USP when there is little good or useful customer service available within the niche.
Quality and fast customer service seems like a scarce commodity in many niches today. But make no mistake about it – wonderful service to the customer is often the difference between success and failure in an online business. Customers buy from people they know, like and trust. If that’s how prospects feel about you and your business, there is a good chance you will get the sale.
Remember that great service is a business asset, not just something that has to be tolerated! It can be the one discriminating factor that a customer uses to single out your business for a sale compared to all the other choices in the niche.
To your online business success!