Customer Service Makeover

Shop owner hands pin acceptance device to customer
Image (c) Betsie Van Der Meer/ Getty Images

Customer service is truly the lifeblood of any small business. Small businesses generally can't compete with big box stores and bigger corporations on price, but customer service can provide small businesses with a competitive edge - if you do it right.

So this Customer Service Makeover focuses on making sure that your small business provides the kind of customer service that builds customer loyalty, gives positive word-of-mouth advertising, and increases sales - in short, the good, better or even superior customer service that consumers want.

Here's what to do:

1) Find out what shape your customer service is in right now.

Before you can improve your customer service, you need to find out what it's like at this point in time for customers/clients to do business with you. The best way to do this is to interview or survey your customers/clients.

Put Some Extra Eyes on your Customer Service provides suggestions for eliciting feedback from your customers. I've also designed a short Customer Service Survey that you can use. While it's designed for businesses that have face-to-face interactions with customers, it would be easy enough to adapt it for use with online customers.

When you're seeking your customers' views of your customer service, remember that customers measure customer service in specifics so you have to, too. That is, a customer doesn't rate your customer service as "good", "fair" or "poor"; he or she pays attention to how you answer the phone or how he or she was treated when asking for help.

So when you're adapting the Customer Service Survey form I provide to suit your own needs or talking to customers in person, be sure to ask specific questions about specific customer service situations. Not "How was our customer service today?" but "Did the person who was helping you answer all your questions?"

2) Use the customer service feedback that you've collected to choose one or two specific aspects of customer service to improve.

In one sense, providing good customer service is the simplest thing in the world. All you have to do is treat all your customers like you would like to be treated. But in another sense, because customer service involves human beings interacting with one another, providing good customer service is quite complex.

That's why just deciding that you will give better customer service, or telling your employees to do so doesn't work. You have to be very clear about exactly what you want the people providing customer service to do.

One way of doing this is to focus on the different customer service interactions that are most common in your business. I've chosen to focus on answering the phone, a customer wanting help and a customer making a return or complaint in this Customer Service Makeover because these are three of the most common customer contact points for most small businesses.

Choose to work through one or more of these common customer interactions as part of your Customer Service Makeover.

A) Good Customer Service: Answering the Phone

The phone is still often the first point of contact with your customers, so it's critical that the way your business phone is answered gives the person calling a good first impression of your business.

Read through Phone Answering Tips to Win Business and print the article for convenience.

Then use the points in the article to assess how incoming phone calls to your business are handled. (Note: If you are trying to assess your own customer service performance on the phone, have someone else listen to your side of the call and assess it; you won't be able to handle the call properly if you're trying to evaluate it at the same time.)

After assessing several calls, you should have a clear guide as to how your customer service phone performance measures up, and be able to pinpoint specific problems if there are any.

Use the tips in the article to improve your customer service as needed.

For more on this topic, see 3 Keys to Business Phone Greeting Success.

B) Good Customer Service: Customer Wants Help

This customer service situation, a customer seeking help in person, is the most common customer service interaction so it’s extremely important to get it right.

Read through Tips for Better Customer Service: How to Help a Customer and print the article for convenience.

Then use the points in the article to assess how well you and/or your staff are handling this customer service situation. (Once again, be sure to have someone else assess your own customer service performance, as you won't be able to deal with the customer properly if you're trying to evaluate your performance at the same time.)

After assessing several customer-seeking-help situations, you'll know how your customer service performance measures up, and be able to pinpoint specific problems if there are any. Use the tips in the article to improve your customer service as needed.

Continue reading to learn how to improve customer service when dealing with customer complaints and returns and how to evaluate your Customer Service Makeover.

C) Good Customer Service: Customer Complaints and Returns

Customer complaints and returns are also extremely common customer service interactions. Providing good customer service for a customer with a return depends on two factors; your business's return policy and the way you and/or your staff interact with the customer during the return process.

Tips for Handling Store Returns discusses both these factors and explains exactly what you have to do to provide good customer service for this customer service situation.

Once you've read through and printed the article for your convenience, you can use it to assess both your return policy and how well you and/or your staff deal with customers who are trying to return items. After assessing several such situations, use the tips in the article to improve your customer service as needed.

The same basic rules that apply to handling returns also apply to handling customer complaints. There are two differences that are important to bear in mind when trying to improve customer service for customer complaints:

  1. Customers making complaints need to feel they are being listened to. Listen actively by making eye contact, nodding, or even jotting down a note. Ask clarifying questions when the customer is finished speaking if necessary to get more details that will enable you to solve the customer's problem. Do not interrupt a customer when he or she is speaking.
  2. Customers making complaints need closing action. When a customer makes a return, the close of the customer service interaction is the customer getting her money back or something else of value. A customer making a complaint needs to get something of value out of the exchange, too; some action relevant to the complaint, whether it be a promise to follow up or a future discount.

Bearing these two points in mind, you can use the information in Tips for Handling Store Returns to assess how well you and/or your staff are handling customer complaints and improve your customer service as necessary depending on how your assessment of your customer service performance goes.

For more on dealing with customer complaints, see Good Customer Service Means Losing the Battle.

3) Follow up and evaluate.

Once you've worked through the exercises in this customer service workout, take a few moments to reflect on what you've accomplished here. How specifically has your business's customer service improved? If you're the type that makes lists, make one that lists these accomplishments.

Know that just like any other exercise program, you won't continue to benefit from these improvements unless you keep practicing. So you'll need to continue to spot-check your staff's customer service interactions and help them stay focused on good customer service by reviewing how to provide good customer service for the interactions you've worked on here with them in staff meetings and individual conversations.

Keep monitoring and encouraging good customer service – and then take it to the people once again, just as you did in point one of this Customer Service Makeover, surveying your customers' opinions about your customer service. You should find that they're a lot more positive about their interactions with your business – and positive customers is what good customer service is all about.

Looking for more of the Small Business Makeover?

  • The Business Finance Makeover - Follow the steps in this business finance makeover, from separating your personal and business finances through financial statement analysis, to make sure that your business finances are in good shape.
  • Information Technology Makeover - Learn how to secure and manage your business data, manage customer contacts, set up a document management system and prepare an Information Technology maintenance and crisis plan in this Information Technology Makeover.