Going The Extra Mile

Cheryl Hudson-Jackson believes many women dread buying intimate apparel, particularly those with full-figured bodies. A curvaceous size 18 herself, the president and co-founder of Schaumburg, Illinois-based Rubynesque has made a business out of catering to plus-size women in a way that no department store can match. Rubynesque carries 100 products from 20 different manufacturers and offers a wide range of sizes and styles based on input from consultants and customers, plus individual fittings.

“At our trunk shows (Rubynesque’s invitation-only events held at hotels and conference centers), we construct ample dressing rooms where consultants and clients work together to find the right garments,” says Hudson-Jackson, 43. If Rubynesque can’t find the right match, she says the firm will track down a source that not only carries the product, but also provides “the same customer service we do.”

At these shows, the firm doesn’t just push products but also valuable information on fashion trends and women’s health. “It goes beyond just selling. We also want to keep our customers galvanized on critical issues (i.e., breast cancer) affecting their physical lives,” says Hudson-Jackson, who credits her hands-on customer service strategies with helping to transform Rubynesque from a road show into a retail operation that opened its store in September. The seven-employee firm, which recently added a Website where returning customers who don’t require in-person fittings can place orders, is expected to top $800,000 in revenues this year.

Hudson-Jackson and other savvy business owners understand the value of knowing what’s on the customer’s mind. According to the Customer Service Institute, 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. It costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one satisfied. Not only will unhappy customers never buy again from a company that has displeased them but they will also voice their dissatisfaction to at least seven other people.

The growing significance of meeting — or exceeding — customer demands for quality service has special implications for small businesses. It can be one of the least expensive ways to stand out from the competition. In fact, past studies by the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C., reveal small businesses that put heavy emphasis on customer service are more likely to survive and succeed than competitors who emphasize such advantages such as lower prices.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, an independent measure of household consumption experience for 40 different business sectors, reports U.S. companies ranked an overall 74.4 on the index’s 100-point scale during the first quarter of 2004. “The state of customer service is not very good today,” states Karen Leland of Sausalito, California., co-author of Customer Service for Dummies (For Dummies; $21.99). “Never mind being ‘over the top’ with customer service. These days if you’re just giving good basic customer service, you’re far ahead of the pack.”

7 Tips For Excellent Customer Service
Customer service isn’t rocket science, says Frances McGuckin, CEO of small business consultancy SmallBizPro.com Services in Langley, British Columbia. She and Customer Service for Dummies co-author Karen Leland offer seven