OK, I admit it.

I have a bug-bear about customer service.

It irks me when businesses make it hard for people to deal with them. Unnecessarily hard.

And it’s not actually my problem. It’s the businesses’ problem because they’re not just making it hard for me, they’re making it hard for all of their customers.

What I want to know is: why would anyone do that?

Recently I encountered a hotel who wouldn’t change my reservation, due to their ‘policy’. I wanted to change my booking from three nights down to two nights.

I’d tried to alter the reservation online, and then called the hotel who said they couldn’t help me. Why? It ‘wasn’t company policy’ to reduce reservations. Instead, they told me to call the booking company.

I pointed out that their ‘policy’ made it much easier for me to cancel my reservation online and book elsewhere, but they didn’t care.

It doesn’t stop there. Australia Post – despite being desperate for business – make it more difficult than necessary to mail books overseas.

First, if you use Australian stamps they’ll charge you more. Then, if you admit you’re mailing a book you have to go to a Post Office, fill in a customs declaration and show photo ID to mail the item.

But if you mail documents, you don’t need to do this. Funny, as I thought that a book was a bound document.

The reason I’m griping about all this is that it’s serious. And because it’s serious I have a question for you.

It’s something that can affect your bottom line.

It’s something that can make or break your business.

And it’s something that means the difference between a successful business and a practice that practically bleeds patients.

You probably know what the question is, but I’ll ask it anyway.

How easy do you make it for your patients to do business with you?

And more importantly, can you improve the customer service you give your patients?

I believe that every business, no matter how successful, can work on improving their customer service.

Here are a few ways to do that in your business.

Start With Staff

Look for certain attributes when hiring staff. At a basic level, you want someone who at least likes working in your industry. Hiring someone to work in your practice who dislikes dentistry is going to lead to problems!

According to V. Kumar, author of the book Managing Customers for Profit, we should also look for empathy, consistency, and patience in new hires.

Kumar says experience is vital, but it can also be a double-edged sword. He says too much experience can result in someone who comes across as pedantic or condescending; too little, and they won’t know how to handle delicate situations.

The ideal? Three to five years.

Cater To Your Clients

You may have heard me say this before, but you need to do what works for your clients. The clientele of our practice tends not to be tech-savvy so we don’t use text messages to make contact with them.

We know our customers value the personal interaction of a phone call. It makes their life easier, and they feel special.

As a business owner, it’s not just about what works for you. Instead, you must get familiar with your customers, and the ways they prefer to interact with you. Find out what they like, value or find useful and use that.

Create value

Use Your Tools

Use all the tools available to you. Megan Burns is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, a Massachusetts-based research firm that specialises in customer service.

Burns says you can use social media to your advantage, and think of Facebook and Twitter as “listening posts”. People love to chat about their recent purchases and experiences, so why not tune in? But, she cautions, be mindful that those conversations may not represent the majority and should be put into context.

But, she cautions, be mindful that those conversations may not represent the majority and should be put into context.

You can also use your website to improve customer service. As well as having a user-friendly site, you can help new clients get to know you and your team. Include staff bios or embed a Twitter feed to build an intimate relationship with your customer.

React Before They Realise

If you do discover a potential customer service problem, resolve it before your customer reacts. You can gain tremendous loyalty by solving a problem before the customer voices a complaint.

Andy Fromm is president of Service Management Group, a firm that works with retail and restaurant chains on improving customer service.

Fromm says that if a waiter notices a customer hasn’t eaten much of their meal they should ask questions like, “Did this taste okay?”. If the waiter replaces the dish or removes it from the bill, it is “exponentially more beneficial,” than if the customer leaves unsatisfied and hungry.

When a customer has to point out a problem, it forces them to dwell on the complaint.

Make It Easy

Think about all the touch points a customer has with you from the moment they discover your business – either online, in the flesh, or through some other means. Consider how you can make any interaction easier.

Maybe your website could be simpler and easier to navigate. Maybe you could make it easier for people to find your premises or park nearby.

I recently learned of a martial arts organisation with an obscure name, who are trying to increase their members by doing demonstrations. Whenever someone sees them and asks how to join, they’re told to go home and look up the website.

Potential customers need to remember the name, know how to spell it, and then remember to Google the company. Hours after seeing the performance. Giving people a flyer or a business card would make it much easier!


Just Ask Them

It can be incredibly hard to see your own business from a customer’s perspective. How do you find the stumbling blocks that your customers experience? How exactly do you know what needs improving?

Many business owners fail to realise that you can always ask your customers for ways to improve your business. Talk to you best customers and those you have good relationships with. You might be surprised what they suggest.

My friend Andrew Griffiths tells of a hardware store that ran a competition every week, offering a gift voucher for the best business improvement idea. The competition was open to both staff and customers, and they received lots of great ideas that made them a lot of money.

As Andrew says:

Everyone looks at situations slightly differently. A million dollar idea could be in the head of one of your customers but they haven’t bothered to tell you about it because they don’t think you would be interested.

Make It Your Focus

The simple truth is that if you focus on giving your customers the best possible experience, your patients will never want to leave.

Yes, great dentistry is essential. But it’s not enough.

You need to give your patients the best care you can, from the very moment they come into contact with your business.

You need to make it as easy as possible for new people to start using your services.

You need to go the extra distance to cater to you clients.

And if you’re not sure how to improve things, just ask your patients.

You might discover how much they already value you – and gain a few golden nuggets of information on how you can improve their experience further.