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By Frances McGuckin

With Christmas over and a new year in full swing, what are you going to positively change to increase business? Sometimes, the simplest strategies bring in long-term business and referrals. Small changes aren’t that difficult and positive customer service strategies aren’t rocket science.

Communication is the number one key to a successful business, building rapport and connections with your customers. How do you show or tell them that you care? Superior customer service is never forgotten. You are referred, appreciated and remembered, building long-term relationships and loyalty.

Whether a customer does business starts with their first telephone call. The phone is a necessary and highly underutilized, critical marketing tool. Do you answer the phone abruptly when you are stressed or in the middle of fixing a machine or serving a customer?

A few incidents have recently happened to me that demonstrate how consumers view a business from the other end of the telephone. Perhaps you can identify with some of these stories.

Last week, a young lady who lives with me slipped and fell outside of a drugstore where it was slippery between the space between two mats. Her expensive jeans were torn and she hurt her back. She told the security guard inside what had happened, suggesting that they put a sign to warn people or put down an extra mat.

The next day, her back hurt so badly that she was in agony, literally writhing on the floor in pain. We called the manager who was not at all helpful or sympathetic. He said he would have to check the videotapes and talk to the guard, who incidentally, had been fired.

The videotape showed nothing, but the security guard remembered someone coming in and telling him they needed a sign as she had fallen. “There’s nothing I can do to help you,” he told the young lady rather sharply over the phone.

She was taking excessive painkillers, so I made her a chiropractic appointment, then called the head office to pursue further action. The least they could do was pay for her torn jeans and medical expenses. After explaining the situation, they promised to get back to us within a day. The store manager should have also filled out an accident report.

That was a week later. When we called back, they had “forgotten” to take any action to follow it up. I stressed that as a customer of their chain for 23 years, this was not an acceptable way to deal with a customer complaint, especially when the young lady was in pain. They are still working on it…

What perception does this leave in customers’ minds? Are they not important? What type of bad word-of-mouth gossip do stories like this generate? I am already sharing this story with you and writing about them from a negative standpoint. Customers become reluctant to continue business when they are treated as less than important.

Another example: our trash pick up didn’t. The streets are lined with bins and bags, piling up throughout the neighborhood, just a few days before Christmas. Many neighbors have called the company, but no one answers the phone. The first rumor was that the truck had broken down, but now it’s into the third week with no customer contact or apologies.

Why didn’t the company call residential customers to let them know? Now the rumor is that they have gone out of business. My neighbor changed companies, and today, I changed my service. The new service was so helpful and will pick up in a couple of days. Appears they have a whole lot of new customers. Their policy is to call customers if the pickup is more than a day late. That is what should happen. If the original company isn’t yet out of business, they will be soon as customers swarm over to the competition.

These are just two examples of how the telephone and the action you do – or don’t take – can dictate the success of your business. Take a look at how you use the telephone to market your business. Ask yourself:

  • Do I answer the phone within three to four rings?
  • Do I have a cheery greeting on my voicemail and change it for seasonal events, such as Christmas?
  • In what tone do I (or my employees) answer the phone?
  • Do I really listen to customers’ concerns?
  • Am I lax at returning messages?
  • Do I attend to customers’ complaints promptly and with compassion and caring?

These are telephone talk basics. Once you answer the phone, ask yourself how you follow through or follow up. Do you always put yourself in the customers’ shoes? Ask yourself: am I treating my customers the way I expect to be treated?

If you aren’t, make a belated New Year’s resolution to change the way you conduct business – now.

Frances McGuckin is an award-winning small business expert, motivational business speaker and best-selling author of Business for Beginners and Big Ideas for Growing Your Small Business, the U.S., Indonesian and Saudi Arabian editions are due for release in 2005. She can be reached at 1-888-771-2771, e-mail at

This column is available for syndication. For information, contact Frances McGuckin at

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