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3 Customer Service Strategies You Should Steal From, Would You Believe, Lyft Drivers United Airlines' recent press shows the looming shadow one negative customer service can cast over your brand. These customer service concepts can help.

By Zeynep Ilgaz Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If your growing business has not made customer service a top priority, it's time to reevaluate your to-do list. After all, in this digital era, great customer service can be be your best (and least expensive) marketing tool.

Consider, for instance, that positive tweets and online reviews will undoubtedly draw curious consumers toward your brand and that your ability to address complaints from existing clients will help you earn their business again. In fact, according to Salesforce, customer service is the No. 1 factor that helps companies build trust with their audiences.

Related: Why Trust Is the New Marketing Currency

However, on the other side of the coin, American Express revealed that negative online reviews reach twice as many people as positive ones. For evidence of that, consider what recently happened to United Airlines when that now-infamous customer service snafu was caught on video. Within 24 hours, the clip had been viewed nearly 20 million times and the company's stock took a nosedive. The airline continues to be the subject of bad press and viral memes regarding the incident.

Needless to say, one negative customer service incident can cast a long-lasting dark shadow over your brand. That's why my own drug-testing company has created processes and policies to help make each customer's experience more than a mere transaction.

Recently, I garnered some new customer service lessons from an unexpected source. I had fractured my right foot, and doctors told me I wouldn't be able to drive for nearly three months. I began using Lyft for rides to and from work. And, en route, my amazing Lyft drivers revealed three key customer service concepts all entrepreneurs should apply to their business:

1. Leverage the employee effect.

Nearly all drivers told me they loved working for Lyft. They said the company treats them fairly, and they especially appreciate the many incentives provided by the brand's Accelerate rewards program. As a customer, I felt great supporting a company that conscientiously works to reward its employees.

Knowing my drivers were happy, in fact, made me happy -- which is actually a scientifically proven phenomenon. In 2008, researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that happiness is highly contagious. It doesn't just travel from one person to another; it reverberates throughout entire networks of people. In short, if your employees are happy, your entire client base will be more likely to be happy as well.

I've always believed customer service hinges on internal culture and employee happiness. My employees are my internal customers, and through servant leadership, I strive to make sure all of them -- especially the new ones -- are well-trained and set up for success.

This belief is held by other companies, as well: The Container Store is known for giving its new employees 300 hours of paid training in their first year at the company. Try a similar approach at your company. The extra effort you put toward your employees' happiness will pay dividends when your team interacts with clients.

Related: Here's How Going Cheap on Employee Training Is Costing You

2. Focus on proactive improvement.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the easier you make your customers' lives, the more likely they are to be loyal to your brand. This theory rang true in my experience with Lyft. The app was quick and easy to use, and the drivers proactively made sure the cleanliness of the car was first rate, and the temperature and even the music were all to my liking. I never once had to ask them to turn up the heat or turn down the music.

These little preemptive touches are what Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh calls the "wow experience" -- taking the extra step to make sure customers feel comfortable and fulfilled. Under this philosophy, you don't sit back and wait for clients to ask questions or voice concerns; you proactively seek these details yourself.

Before customers even have the chance to write an online review, contact them to ask whether they are happy with their purchase. Tell them you appreciate their business, and ask how you can improve your product or service in the future.

3. Personalize the experience.

It may sound simple, but seeing my name on a neon sign every time I entered a Lyft car made the experience feel extra special. It confirmed to me that the company recognized and valued me as a customer.

This is no small thing: Microsoft's 2016 U.S. State of Customer Service report revealed that 66 percent of consumers surveyed said they didn't want to reintroduce themselves every time they interact with a brand. They expected companies to consistently provide personalized support and service.

As such, more and more businesses are seeing the importance of offering tailor-made experiences. Starbucks, for example, formed a partnership with Spotify that allows customers to influence the playlists at their favorite coffee shops.

My company provides a wide array of substance-abuse test kits to consumers and businesses. From steroids to alcohol to synthetic drugs, we make sure our online library is filled to the brim with relevant content that suits each unique client's needs. We also offer a live-chat feature that allows customers to receive personalized service around the clock. Further, we are connected to a network of treatment providers for a variety of substance abuse issues, so if customers require any additional help beyond at-home testing, we can refer them to a program of their choice.

Related: 3 Ways to Create Customer Experiences That Boost Sales

In sum, good customer service is much more than a passive strategy. It must be consciously embedded into every aspect of the business workflow. So, follow Lyft's lead by building your own happy internal culture. Then, be proactive about providing positive, personalized experiences to your clients.

Along the way, don't forget to listen. In today's social media-driven world, the customer's voice is what matters most.

Zeynep Ilgaz

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and President of Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with two suitcases and the drive to dive into entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry in San Diego. Ilgaz serves as president of both. Confirm BioSciences offers service-oriented drug-testing technologies.

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