Q:My repeat business is not what I think it should be, and my customer service may be at fault. How can I measure the effectiveness of my customer service?

A: The key to doing more business with your existing customers, as well as attracting new ones through viral marketing and word-of-mouth, is customer service. Customer service means different things to different companies and in different industries. In some instances, good customer service may consist of no more than a friendly smile and a wave goodbye after the sale. In others, it may involve years of follow-up, technical support, parts and repair service, training, updates and more. Here are some suggestions for finding out what your customers want and what they think about your customer service.

1. Attend trade shows and industry events that are important to your customers. You'll find out what the competition is doing and what kinds of products and services customers are looking for.

2. In some industries, nurturing a social relationship with customers and prospects is effective. Take them out to lunch, dinner, a ballgame, the opera or for a round of golf. In a relaxed social atmosphere, you'll learn the secrets that will allow you to go above and beyond your competition.

3. Stay abreast of trends, then respond to them. Read industry trade publications, be active in trade organizations, and pay attention to what your customers are doing and what they need.

4. Most important, ask for feedback. Survey your customers regularly to find out how you're doing. Send postage-paid questionnaire cards or letters, call them on the phone, or set up focus groups or online surveys. Ask for suggestions, and then fix the trouble areas revealed.

Whatever you do, don't rest on your laurels. Regularly evaluate your product or service to be sure it is still priced, packaged and delivered correctly.

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