Best Practices for Excelling at Customer Service

Customer Service
Getty Images / Thomas Barwick

Consumers buy from people they like, people they can create a relationship with. It's no longer enough to just provide customer satisfaction, you must create customer loyalty. Customer service is a vital part of marketing your business. Why? Because consumers talk about customer service, they tweet about customer service, and they will tell every person they know about your customer service.

As consumers we've come to expect good customer service and when we don't we can walk right down the street to the next business or even easier yet jump online to find a company that not only wants are business, but is willing to earn it.

Now, this doesn't mean that customers should walk all over you, but it does mean that you need to make sure you have done everything that you can to encourage them to do business with you.

Let me give you an example: recently my mother sold her motor home and called the bank that she had financed it through to get the payoff so that she could give that number to the person purchasing and he could secure his financing. In this day and age of technology, my mother was told that they could not give her that information via telephone, they could not email it to her and they could not fax it to her. They would need to send her the payoff via the postal service. This, of course, would delay the sales process and create obstacles, but my mother tried to be understanding. She wanted for the payoff to arrive in the mail, but never received it. She had to call multiple times to before they finally emailed her the payoff, but over two weeks had passed before this happened.

You have to wonder why a company would want to make it so difficult for their customer to do business with them. I think sometimes we need to re-evaluate our policies and identify their purpose and whether they are necessary and if there are ways we can make it easier for consumers to business with us.

Take a few moments and just consider your own business. Are there obstacles you put in the way of consumers having a good experience with you? Perhaps a few things to consider:

  • Do you have a return policy that is outdated?
  • Do you make it difficult for customers to talk to you?
  • Are there processes within your business that are hard for them to understand?
  • Do your hours serve your customers, or do they serve you?

As you think of these things, be open-minded to evaluating if you truly are a business that is centered around customer service.

Let's just simplify it, when I asked a nine-year-old girl what customer service meant, she gave me the most simplistic definition, but I think as we grow older we forget what customer service means. It's when we "serve our customers." When was the last time you really served your customer?

Below I share with you five best practices that any business can use and they will help you in not only creating a customer driven atmosphere but also excel in customer service.

  1. Set the Customer's Expectations
    We know that nothing impresses a customer more than when someone goes over and beyond the "call of duty" but have you set the expectation for the customer? I'm a firm believer in no surprises. Let a customer know what you are willing to do for them, what service you will provide to them. If you set the expectation and then exceed those expectations, you'll have a customer for life. My favorite saying is "under promise and over-deliver." If you can follow that philosophy, you'll never go wrong.
     
  1. Listen First Then Speak
    Customers want to be heard. They want to know you are listening. They want to know that you have an interest in what they have to say. If they are shopping they may ask you for information or advice, use that time to direct them to the right product or service. If they are upset, use active listening to let them know that you hear them and work to discover the root of the problem. Ask questions, get to the bottom of it, and provide resolutions.
     
  2. Draft Customer Service Standards
    Define your service standards, make sure every employee is aware of those standards. Having a clear document that explains acceptable standards will help in setting the customer's expectation and they will help in measuring your employees and create training programs to help them to excel. Create your customer service standards to be specific, concise, measurable, based on the requirements of your customer, written in your job descriptions, and used in performance reviews. You can't measure or enforce what your employees don't understand.
     
  1. Treat Your Employees as Your First Customer
    Happy employees mean happy customers. The attitudes and behaviors of your employees will determine your customer service and satisfaction. Employees should be put first ahead of customers. I know this may be contrary to your current belief but think about it. An example of a company that has demonstrated this well is Southwest Airlines. They've built a culture by instilling entrepreneurship in their employees. When your employees are happy they will look forward to work, because they are valued and appreciated. If we first treat employees like our customer the employee wins, the customer wins, and the business wins.
     
  2. Create Customer Touchpoints and Follow-Up After the Sale
    Creating touchpoints beyond a sale shows your customer that you care. Follow-up with them, thank them for their business. There are so many businesses that forget this step that if you remember it, you will stand out above the crowds. This outreach will show that you care about their satisfaction and encourage them to not only tell others about your business but also inspire them to purchase from you. Research shows that follow-up is the best way to create customer loyalty. Use follow-up to thank them for their business, share with them your menu of services, and encourage add-on purchases. Can you really afford not to do it?