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Responding to Customers Promptly Can Make or Break Your Business — 

With all the talk about customer service and responsiveness, it is interesting to note how many businesses talk a good game but just don't deliver. We can all relate experiences with businesses where an appropriate sense of urgency didn't seem to exist. One area that seems to stand out is responding to customer inquiries and complaints.

When a customer, or prospective customer, takes the time to contact a business they are looking for some type of assistance. They generally want initial information, additional information, resolution of a problem or they just want to sound off about an experience they have had with your organization. Unfortunately, most businesses do a mediocre job, at best, of responding to customers in a timely manner.

Most customers will expect to have their requests responded to in a reasonable time frame. But what is reasonable? There is no standard rule of thumb to define response time. Believe it or not, responsiveness is a strategic issue and can be used to differentiate your business from your competitors. Therefore, the standards you establish for responding to all customer issues will determine the level of differentiation you achieve. And the consistency with which you are able to respond quickly will go a long ways toward determining how loyal your customers become.

It seems that many managers are afraid to press their employees too much when it comes to responding to customers. Attitude has a lot to do with how customers are treated. What attitude do you convey about customers? Is it a casual one or is it a "customer first" attitude? Your employees will pick up on your attitude quickly and will often mirror it. At the very least they will understand how serious you are about serving the customer.

A business can't afford to be casual about how it deals with its customers. The "I'm too busy" or the "you are just one of many customers" excuses are just not acceptable! We experience and hear horror stories constantly about poor responsiveness. The level of incompetency in this arena is mind boggling. We often wonder how something so obvious goes so wrong in so many companies.

Responsiveness is part of your culture. Is yours a casual, "I'll get to it when I can" kind of culture or is it a "I put my customers above all else and make their issues a priority" kind of culture? This is a key and fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.

How would your employees answer these questions?

- When a customer calls and has a problem that requires a call back, how long does it take, on average, to call them back either with an answer or to let them know the problem is still being worked on?
- If a customer leaves a message for an employee, what are the expectations in terms of how much time can elapse before calling him/her back?
- What are the policies regarding responding to customers?
- How much training have employees had with regard to responding to customers in terms of time management, prioritization of customer issues and dealing with difficult or angry customers?

- At what level does decision making occur regarding customer problems and inquiries?
- How well do employees understand the company's products/services, its policies and what the next level or step in problem resolution is?

Setting extremely clear expectations about responding to customers is critical. To some organizations it might seem like a relatively minor issue. Those organizations are bound to struggle. Those that have figured out how to respond expediently, effectively and with a caring attitude distinctly have an advantage over their competition.


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