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Only You Can Prevent Cringe-Worthy Customer Service

Only You Can Prevent Cringe-Worthy Customer ServiceThere's never been a worse time to fail at customer service.

Where once only a few of your wronged customers' friends and neighbors might have heard about how you neglected to make that customer happy, now your customer-service blunder can go viral and be discussed by thousands or even millions of consumers. Like the time United Airlines lost a musician's precious guitar -- and he made a YouTube video about it.

Bad customer service is an all-too-common way to lose a customer for good. A recent Consumer Reports survey found 64 percent of customers walked out of a store in the past year due to bad service. 

By the same token, good service can earn you customer loyalty -- an American Express Global Customer Service Barometer survey found 70 percent of consumers said they'd spend 13 percent more with businesses that provide great service. Three out of five customers said they'd switch to a new brand or company if it offered superior service.

The barometer report also found small businesses have the edge here -- 81 percent of consumers in the survey said they believe small businesses provide better customer service. On the flip side, that means the expectations for small businesses are higher and it may be easier to flub it.

How can you prevent cringe-worthy customer service? Here is a list of must-dos:

  • Answer the phone. "Can't get a human on the phone" was the biggest customer-service flub cited in the Consumer Reports survey. So kill the robots and make sure the phone gets picked up by a real person, within a couple of rings.
     
  • Reduce voicemail steps. Banks, are you listening?
     
  • Teach politeness. Rude salespeople also topped the consumer complaint list.
     
  • Cut the pushiness. The hard-sell is dead, dead, dead. These days the only thing it's good for is driving people away.
     
  • Eliminate red tape. Many companies get bogged down in elaborate policies and procedures, leaving employees' hands tied when it comes to fixing problems on the fly. Empower workers to solve problems using your guidelines.
     
  • Surprise and delight. Do something unexpectedly nice for a customer -- send a thank-you note or a small extra gift in a mailed package.
     
  • Use social media. Big companies such as Comcast are winning over customers by setting up a Twitter channel where they can report problems and get a rapid response. At the very least, do a scan once a day to make sure nobody is venting to the Twitterverse about what you did wrong.
     

How do you prevent cringe-worthy customer service? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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