Treat Your Customers Like You Love Them (Why Wouldn't You?)

Things go wrong. It happens. When they do, though, use it as an opportunity to earn trust.

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By Stephen Key

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

More often than not, customer service separates businesses that succeed from businesses that fail. Good customer service doesn't have to do with the product or service you're selling -- it's about building relationships and providing value.

These days, it's not just word of mouth that you have to worry about. If your customers love you, they can sing your praises to the world. On the flip side, one bad review can be hard to shake. That's the Internet for you. There's absolutely no reason not to make the commitment to offering excellent customer service.

An experience that's overwhelmingly positive can be ruined by a single event or instance. That's just how it works. One example in particular stands out in my mind.

Related: Forget Customer Service, Think Customer Wowing

Several months ago, I stayed in an expensive hotel for my 40-year high school reunion. My room was clean, the hotel was in a great location, and the bartender was serving up spectacular drinks. Everything was splendid -- until the morning of the event, when there was no hot water.

I called downstairs and was informed that the problem was hotel-wide. It certainly wasn't the first time I've taken a cold shower and I'm sure it won't be the last. The problem was that the hotel staff couldn't have cared less. That was the impression they gave me, anyway. I didn't receive an apology.

In fact, they couldn't even bring themselves to acknowledge how unfortunate the situation was. They could have turned the situation into a positive experience and made a life-long customer out of me. Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

You have to work to earn your customers' trust. The good news is that there are easy steps you can take to ensure your customers are thrilled with your service. Don't make the mistake of turning off even one customer.

Be personal. Customers want you to feel their pain. Acknowledge their feelings and quickly accept responsibility. People are remarkably forgiving if you acknowledge how they feel and give them credibility. Don't run from the problem, even if it's uncomfortable.

Be accessible. Like I said, when customers are upset, they want to be heard. And by that I mean they want to be heard by a human. Make sure that your customers can reach you and your staff to share their likes, dislikes, wants, needs, etc.

Related: Customer-Service Lessons to Glean From Comcast's Snafu

In the same vein, if you're made aware of an issue before a customer reaches out to you to complain, be the first to speak up! If someone had warned me before I stepped into the shower, I would have been very impressed. That's a thoughtful gesture. Instead, I stood there waiting and waiting.

Be genuine. If you don't really care about your customers' happiness, they'll know it. Retain your humanity. That's how you can compete with the big boys. Why wouldn't you love your customers? They're keeping you in business!

Be transparent. No one likes to be surprised, nor feel duped. If you've made a mistake, ask your customer what you can do rectify it. In my case, it would have nice to have been offered a free drink, late checkout or possibly a discount on my next visit. Give a reason to come back.

When I checked out the next morning, I asked the front desk if there was anything they could do for me. This was the ideal opportunity for them to improve my experience and have me leave on a high note. Unfortunately, I did not receive any acknowledgement of my frustration, once again.

For better or for worse, customers have more agency than ever before. Shortly after leaving a review online describing my experience, I received a call from the manager asking to reduce my bill by $40.

I told them they needed it more than I did!

Related: Delivering World-Class Service on a Startup Budget

Stephen Key

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-Founder of inventRight; Author of One Simple Idea Series

Stephen Key is an inventor, IP strategist, author, speaker and co-founder of inventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nevada-based company that helps inventors design, patent and license their ideas for new products.

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