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8 Ways to Offer Stellar Customer Service That Don't Cost a Penny Prompt response, patient listening and sincere follow up keeps customers happy and solves most problems when they aren't.

By Jacqueline Whitmore Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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It's no secret that great customer service pays off. When you regularly go above and beyond for your clients and customers, you'll continue to earn their business and their referrals.

Businesses that consistently provide exemplary customer service earn more profits. In 1999, Nick Swinmurn decided to quit his day job and start Zappos, an online retailer dedicated to providing a wide variety of shoes. Since then, Zappos has grown by leaps and bounds to become famous for it's superior service and selection of shoes and other categories, as well.

Here are eight secrets to earn more business, retain more clients and become know in your market for superior customer service.

1. Make customers your top priority.

Integrate customer service into every aspect of your business. Empower your employees to think on their feet and solve problems for customers as issues arise. Set the example of what great customer service means for your business and embody it in every client interaction.

Related: 6 Strategies for Getting Really Great Customer Service

2. Put yourself in your customers' shoes.

No, it's not always your fault if a project goes over budget due to unforeseen circumstances, or if a shipment arrives late due to inclement weather. All your customers know is that they didn't receive what was promised. Instead of providing a long explanation or making excuses, find a way to fix the problem immediately. The longer you wait, the worse the problem gets.

3. Remain calm.

If a customer is angry or upset, it's easy to feel attacked and respond defensively. Instead, remove the emotion from the situation. Listen attentively to his grievance, review the facts and reassure the customer that you understand his frustrations. You don't have to completely agree with every customer, but always try your best to rectify the situation as much as possible.

4. Practice effective listening.

Whenever you engage with a customer, listen to what he has to say. Eliminate distractions, make eye contact and nod occasionally to let him know you're paying attention. Once he's finished, ask clarifying questions to ensure you fully understand the situation. When you truly hear what a customer has to say, you convey to him that he (and his opinions) are important to you.

5. Respond in a timely manner.

Treat every customer inquiry as time-sensitive. Return customer calls and emails as soon as possible but always within 48 hours. Even if an email doesn't merit a response, respond to let her know you received her message. Once you know the problem, remedy the situation as quickly as possible.

Related: Listen Up: How to Respond to Customer Complaints

6. Take responsibility.

If you or your employees make a mistake, acknowledge the error. Never lie or try to deceive a customer. Own what happened and offer a sincere apology. "I apologize" is a simple, yet powerful phrase. Your genuine honesty will endear clients and establish trust.

7. Don't wait for a crisis.

Too often we think of customer service as what you do when something has gone wrong. However, you can deliver great customer service even when you've met your customers' expectations. Develop personal relationships and check in regularly with your clients and customers. Small touches can make a big impact.

8. Go above and beyond.

When you pitch a new client or plan for a project, always under-promise and over-deliver. Ask your clients what aspects of the project are most important and focus on those key details. Anticipate potential problems and avoid common pitfalls. When you deliver a product or service that goes above and beyond the expectations of your clients, your business will stand in good stead.

Related: Lessons in Customer Service From the World's Most Beloved Companies

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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