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Taking Care

17 ways to show your customers you care.

It's very easy to care about your customers, but unless you take steps to show them your concern, they might be wooed away by a competitor. Your marketing efforts can use all the right words and tell customers how important they are to you, but you've got to prove your dedication to customers--and prospects--by taking concrete steps beyond mere words. Here are 17 ways to do that:

1. Put your customer service principles in writing. This should come from you, but every employee should know what they are and be ready to live up to them.

2. Establish support systems that give clear instructions for gaining and maintaining service superiority. They will help you out-service any competitor by giving more to customers and anticipating problems before they arise.

3. Develop a measurement of superb customer service, and reward employees who practice it consistently.

4. Be certain that your passion for customer service runs rampant throughout your company. Employees should see how good service relates to your profits and to their future with the company.

5. Be genuinely committed to providing more customer service excellence than anyone else in your industry. This commitment must be so powerful that every one of your customers can sense it.

6. Ask your customers questions, then listen carefully to their answers.

7. Stay in touch with your customers. Do it with letters, postcards, newsletters, phone calls, questionnaires and, if you can, by attending trade shows.

8. Nurture a human bond, as well as a business bond, with customers and prospects. Do favors for them. Educate them. Help them. Take them out to the ballgame or the opera. Your customers deserve to be treated this way.

9. Recognize that your customers have needs and expectations--and meet them.

10. Keep alert for trends; then respond to them. McDonald's operates under the axiom "We lead the industry by following our customers."

11. Share information with people on the front lines. Disney workers meet regularly to talk about improving their service. Information- sharing is easier than ever with new communications technologies. Also share information with customers and prospects by having a Web site that is loaded with helpful data. More and more, this is becoming mandatory.

12. Observe your customers' birthdays and anniversaries. Constant communication should be your goal. If you find an article in the media that will help a customer, send a copy to that customer.

13. Send postage-paid questionnaire cards and letters asking for suggestions. Then fix the trouble areas revealed.

14. Invest in phone equipment that makes your business sound friendly, pleasant to do business with, easy to contact and quick to respond. Again, new technology makes this easier than ever. Along with phone equipment, let customers know they can contact you by fax and e-mail.

15. Design your company's physical layout for efficiency, clarity of signage, lighting, accessibility for the disabled and simplicity. Everything should be easy to find.

16. Act on the knowledge that what customers value most are attention, dependability, promptness and competence. They love being treated as individuals and being referred to by name. Don't you?

17. When it comes to customer service, national department store chain Nordstrom is a superstar. The Nordstrom service manual is eloquent in its simplicity: "Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules."

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Jay Conrad Levinson is the father of Guerrilla Marketing, the bestselling marketing series in history, selling more than 14 million copies worldwide. He is chairman of Guerrilla Marketing International. His latest books include Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days, 2nd. Edition with Al Lautenslager, Guerrilla Marketing on the Internet with Mitch Meyerson and Mary Eule Scarborough, and Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing with Jeannie Levinson.

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Taking Care.

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