by Amanda C. Kooser, Demand Media
Customer service sets great businesses apart from the rest. Customers are the reason that businesses exist. Keeping those customers happy means being responsive to their needs and wants. A good customer service experience can turn a one-time customer into a lifelong repeat customer. People like to share their good experiences. Excellent customer service can turn into positive word of mouth.
Proactive Customer Service
Customer service should come into play long before any problems or issues arise. Anticipate service issues that may occur. For example, you can offer manuals for products that you sell, include troubleshooting tips on your website, offer a FAQ section and make sure that customer service contacts are prominently available for online and real world customers. Make yourself or your employees available to answer questions and help lead customers to the products or services that best fit their needs. Keep prices reasonable so that customers feel they are getting a good value.
Excellent customer service starts with the business owner, but involves all of the employees in an organization. Conduct special training sessions dedicated to customer service so that your employees know how to handle themselves, keep a cool head, answer common questions and know who to refer more complex issues to. Empower employees to provide strong customer service by giving them the skills to work well with customers.
No matter how great your customer service is, at some point you will have to deal with an unsatisfied customer. The way you handle the situation tells a lot about your business. Always react calmly and offer to work through the problem. Find out the root of the issue. You may need to give a refund, rework a project or offer store credit. A defective product may be the result of a manufacturing issue outside of your control, but if the issue is something that you can improve within your business, then take the criticism to heart and work to make the matter better. Let the customer know what steps you are taking to remedy the situation.
Approach your customers on a personal level. This may start with a smile when they walk in the door and end with a "Thank you for your business." when they leave. Taking an interest in your clients' lives outside of the walls of your business shows that you care about them as customers and as people. This sort of interaction fosters a sense of loyalty and can help you better understand what motivates your customers. Even if you primarily deal with customers electronically, you can still take the time to get to know them better as you work with them over email and the phone. Send a coupon for a birthday or check in with a client about how his vacation went.
Customer service is an ongoing proposition that should radiate from the owner on down to each employee. Offering excellent customer support includes showing that your business is reliable and consistent over time. Explore new methods of connecting with customers. Conduct regular training sessions with employees and formally recognize workers who have done a particularly good job dealing with customers. Conduct surveys and speak with customers on an informal basis about what you can do to improve service or go the extra mile.