Customer Service

Definition: The degree of assistance and courtesy granted those who patronize a business

Excellent customer service is more than what you say or do for your customers. It also means giving customers a chance to make their feelings known. Here are some suggestions for finding out what your customers want--and what they think about your customer service:

  • 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.
  • Nurture a human bond, as well as a business one, with customers and prospects. Take them out to lunch, dinner, a ballgame or the opera. In a relaxed social atmosphere, you'll learn the secrets that will allow you to go above and beyond your competition.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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's still priced, packaged and delivered correctly.

When you're a start-up with few employees and few customers, it's easy to stay on top of what customers want and what they're getting. But as you add more customers and employees, you add links to the customer service chain. That creates the potential for growth--and the potential for poor service along the way. That's why creating a customer service policy and adhering to it is so important. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your clients receive excellent service every step of the way.

Put your customer service policy in writing. These principles should come from you, but every employee should know what the rules are and be ready to live up to them. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Something as simple as "The customer is always right" can lay the necessary groundwork, although you may want to get more detailed by saying, for instance, "Any employee is empowered to grant a 10-percent discount to any dissatisfied customer at any time."

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

Develop a measurement of superb customer service. Don't forget to reward employees who practice it consistently.

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 futures with the company.

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.

Share information with people on the front lines. Meet with your employees regularly to talk about improving service. Solicit ideas from employees--they're the ones who are dealing with customers most often.

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.

Good customer service is made, not born. Most companies find that employees require training to provide good customer service. Some of the areas in which employees often get help from customer service training include:

  • Stress management. It's not easy to be the interface between an angry customer and a balky accounting department. Training on how to manage and relieve stress will help customer service representatives keep their cool under pressure.
  • Empathy. Often, good customer service consists of little more than putting yourself in the other person's shoes. However, this isn't always easy. Training employees on how to look at a problem from the customer's viewpoint goes a long way toward helping improve customer service.
  • Conflict resolution. Many times, customer service representatives spend their time resolving conflicts such as those between a customer's demands and a company's policies. Training on identifying issues, finding compromises and presenting alternatives can help.
  • Listening. Often, the only thing a customer wants is to feel understood. Learning how to listen effectively is not a widely held skill. However, it can be taught, and listening training is a common feature of many customer service courses.
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