Customer Service Best Practices

Companies of all sizes are realizing that their strongest selling point can sometimes boil down to treating customers as they would like to be treated -- or better.

The growing significance of meeting -- or exceeding -- customer demands for quality service has special implications for small businesses. Without much in the way of expense, small companies can set themselves apart from the competition by simply providing excellent customer service.

In fact, a study by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) showed that small businesses that put heavy emphasis on customer service were more likely to survive and succeed than competitors who emphasized such advantages as lower prices or type of product.

So, what should small businesses do to provide quality service?

Put the Customer First

Providing quality customer service begins with setting your employees up for success. Establish expectations for how to interact with customers, and train your employees properly so that they can do so. Deal with any issues that arise for employees so that you don’t have unhappy employees interacting with customers.

Hiring the right employees is also key. If an employee cannot connect with customers or empathize with them regarding their concerns, then they may not be the right person for the job.

Once you have the right people in place, trust them to make the right choices for ensuring that clients are satisfied with their experience.

Stay Close to Your Customers

In the smartest companies, asking questions and listening carefully to the answers is an important part of customer service. These firms train their employees to focus on what the customer is saying, then tailor products or services to meet customer needs. Says one corporate executive: "Knowing what's on the customer's mind is the smartest thing we can do." These words ring true for small firms as well.

It is also cheaper than attracting new customers. According to the Customer Service Institute, 65% of a company's business comes from existing customers, and it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one satisfied.

Losing a customer is even more expensive. According to studies by the Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute, 91% of unhappy customers will never again buy from a company that has displeased them; they will also voice their dissatisfaction to at least seven other people.

This responsibility to be receptive does not lie solely with your employees, however. If you want your business to be successful, you must listen to and talk with customers as well. There is no substitute for getting out and learning from the customers themselves how you might serve them better. The best business owners are not only committed to staying close to their clientele, but also identify with them. They give their customers the level of service they themselves would expect to receive. Be sure to take advantage of feedback from employees, especially those whose everyday job is dealing with customers. They can serve as tremendous reservoirs of information.

Pay Attention to the Little Details

Many owners search for a special touch that will make them stand out from the crowd. Some of the most effective extras are really very basic adages of conducting good business, although customers are often surprised when they take place. These include: answering the phone by the third ring, treating customers respectfully and courteously at all times, greeting them by name, promptly answering their questions (and, if you can't, getting back to them with an answer as quickly as possible), and providing them with high quality work.

Conclusion

Customer service is definitely enjoying resurgence. It's no longer the domain of a few clever companies which have made it synonymous with their names. No business, whatever its size, can afford to take customers for granted, because it is without question a buyer's market and becomes more so every day. To succeed, you must give your customers what they want, not what you think they want. As you never know who might eventually become a customer, that means providing courteous, friendly service to your suppliers and others with whom you come in contact as well as current customers. If you want to keep customers coming back for more, following these basic practices has never made better business sense.