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At Their Service

Your company is nothing without customers. Make sure you play nice by following these steps.

1. Start at the top. Your attitude toward customer service is the primary determinant of the quality of your company's service. If you think customers are a pain and always want something for nothing, that attitude will permeate your company, and service will be lousy.

2. Put the customer in control. The best kind of customer service happens when management enables employees to put the customer in control. This requires two leaps of faith: trusting customers not to take advantage, and trusting employees. If you make these leaps, your customer service quality will skyrocket. If not, you'll soon learn the hard way that nothing's more frustrating to customers than companies claiming something is "against company policy."

3. Take responsibility for your shortcomings. A company that does so will likely provide great customer service for two reasons: First, it's acknowledged that problems are the company's responsibility to fix. Second, customers won't have to go through the aggravating process of getting you to accept blame.

4. Don't point the finger. As computer owners, we all know that when programs don't work, vendors often point the finger: "It's Apple's system software." A great company figures out what the solution is regardless of whose fault the problem is. As my mother said, "You're either part of the problem or part of the solution."

5. Don't finger the pointer. Great customer service companies don't shoot the messenger. Whether a customer, employee, vendor or consultant is doing the pointing, don't silence the messenger--just fix the problem.

6. Don't be paranoid. A common justification for antiservice is "What if every customer did this?" To cite the often-told story of a customer returning a tire to Nordstrom, what if everyone started returning tires to Nordstrom? Don't assume the worst case will become the common case. There will be abusers, yes, but generally, people are reasonable.

7. Hire the right people. Customer service isn't a job for everyone. The ideal candidate derives great satisfaction from helping people and solving problems. When you hire folks without a service orientation, it can be a bad experience for the employee and the customer.

8. Underpromise and overdeliver. The goal is to delight a customer. For example, the signs at Disneyland estimating how long you'll have to wait in line are purposely overstated. That way, when you get to the ride quicker than expected, you're delighted. If the signs were understated, you'd be angry because Disneyland lied to you.

9. Integrate customer service into the mainstream. Sales makes the big bucks. Marketing does the fun stuff. Accounting cuts the paychecks. Customer support does the dirty work of talking to pissed-off customers. Customer service has as much to do with a company's reputation as any other department--so integrate customer service into your company's mainstream instead of considering it a profit-sucking necessary evil.

10. Put it all together. Suppose a part breaks in a gizmo you sold. First, take responsibility: "I'm sorry it broke." Second, don't point the finger--don't say, "We buy that part from a supplier." Third, put the customer in control: "When would you like the replacement by?" Fourth, underpromise and overdeliver: Send it at no additional charge via a faster shipping method than necessary. That's how you create legendary customer service.

"Empower entrepreneurs" isGuy Kawasaki'smantra. He is co-founder of Truemors.com and VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, and is author of eight books.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.

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This article was originally published in the August 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: At Their Service .

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