Topic overview

Customer service

Air hostess working a customer service desk

The service you provide to your customers is crucial to your business success. For many customers, after-sales service is what makes one supplier stand out from another, often more so than product or price. Good customer service can attract new business and can create a loyal customer base.

What is customer service? There are many simple things you can do to improve the service you provide. The starting point is to deliver what you promise, every time. To make sure you keep customers satisfied, you must keep your word. If you do more, you will impress your customers and they will recommend you to their friends. Finally, you must listen and respond when they have complaints.

Exceptional customer service

Customer service is all about expectations. A business that offers a fast response or a personal service is setting up an expectation. If that company does not fulfil its promise, its customers will be disappointed.

Make sure your members of staff are delivering the level of customer service you expect. Lead by example and show your team exactly how you want them to deal with customers. Encourage them to come to you with feedback and suggestions. When you recruit new staff, look for people with the right attitude.

What are you promising your customers? Go through all the aspects of your sales and marketing and identify your selling points. Are your customers' expectations being met or exceeded?

The best way to wow your customers is to under-promise and over-deliver. If you know you can deliver in three days, promise five and your customer will be pleasantly surprised.

It's good to advertise your strengths, whether they are fast delivery times, friendly service or top quality products. If you make empty promises and the reality does not match your claims, then you will lose business. However, if your service is top notch and your customers agree then tell the world - there's no stronger marketing message.

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Go the extra mile for your customers

But what is customer care all about? Really good customer service gets people talking. If you go above and beyond the call of duty for your customers, they will tell everyone they know and you will get wonderful word-of-mouth recommendations.

After you've made a sale, for instance, call your customer to check that everything is okay. If it is, they'll be pleased you rang. If there is a problem, you can address it immediately and they'll be delighted.

Pay attention to details. Return calls and respond to emails quickly. If the customer has a problem, try to solve it for them. Keep records of customer service, especially if you have new members of staff who need to get up to speed on your customers.

Handling customer complaints

Inevitably, things go wrong sometimes. However, it is how you handle problems that can determine whether you lose business or improve customer loyalty.

As a business you should value customers who are prepared to complain. They are giving you valuable feedback for nothing and helping you improve your service. Many other customers may have quietly taken their business elsewhere. What's more, if you impress that customer with the way you handle their problem, they will become advocates for your business.

When a customer complains, aim to be respectful and sympathetic, even if you think they are wrong. You should thank them for getting in touch, and apologise. You must also act quickly. A prompt response shows that you are taking the issue seriously and reduces the time the customer spends feeling disgruntled. It is important to have a procedure for dealing with customer complaints which all staff follow. Unfortunately it is also becoming common for customers to air their complaints via social media. This can be frustrating for businesses but is important that you have a strategy for dealing with complaints of this nature.

When someone complains, always ask them what solution they're looking for. Many firms assume consumers are seeking a refund or compensation, when all many want is an apology. Allow the customer to give you all the facts so that they can get it off their chest and then you can provide the most suitable solution.

Set up a customer complaints procedure and ensure that members of staff know what they can offer. Follow up the complaint with a phone call or a letter of apology. Finally, ensure that you permanently fix the problem and let the customer know what you have done to make sure of this.

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