How to deliver first-class customer service

First class service on an airplane

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so treating them well should always be a priority. By regularly exceeding expectations, you can boost customer satisfaction and retention. We explain how you can go beyond your customers' expectations

Exceeding customer expectations should start at the enquiry stage and be maintained throughout your business relationship. The benefits can be substantial - boosting your reputation and leading to customer referrals.

Better than the competition?

Distinguishing your firm from your competitors at the enquiry stage is vital. "Businesses like John Lewis, that are known for their high levels of customer service, treat everyone the same, whether they spend £1 or £1,000, and that is one of their strengths," says Edwina Hughes, director of Eddy and Co.

A swift response is always impressive, but so is correctly establishing what the customer actually wants and why. People appreciate a personal service. Follow up on what you say you'll do and keep in touch to provide regular updates. Make the most of the personal services you can offer and you will reap the rewards.

Even at this early stage you should aim to exceed expectations. For example, if you've said you'll respond within 24 hours, try and answer more quickly if possible.

Maintain regular customer contact

Staying close to customers gives you the opportunity to develop relationships, to further demonstrate your expertise and increase confidence in you and your business.

Small firms have the advantage of being able to provide personal contact, usually with the same person. Get to know customers' names, find out about their interests and ask how they are getting on. "It's worth spending some time understanding your client so you can provide a more tailored solution," says Hughes.

Once you have completed a job or have made a sale, ask satisfied customers to tell other people about your business, but don't be too pushy.

Monitoring your customer service allows you to see what has worked and what hasn't. Unless you track it, you won't know where you need to focus your efforts to improve.

Deliver good customer service

You need to provide a high standard of good customer service if you want to retain customers and win new ones. Small firms are in a great position to compete with larger companies on customer service. They usually have the flexibility to go the extra mile to make customers and potential customers feel valued.

Consider giving your best customers a named contact if they have a query, or calling them to let them know about a new range of products or a sale preview. "You could also consider rewarding them with a discount voucher or by inviting them to a special event for VIP customers. It shows that you appreciate their loyalty," says Hughes.

And remember, if dealing with a complaint from an existing customer, don't panic. Make sure they know you will sort it out. Go away, do some research, get back to them and say you will give them a result. If handled correctly, a complaining customer can become one of your biggest fans. "Some of the best business relationships are ones that start with problems," says Hughes.

Consider whether to implement recognized customer service standards

To help organisations improve levels of satisfaction among, BSI British Standards has published two standards: BS ISO 10001 Customer satisfaction - Guidelines for codes of conduct for organisations and BS ISO 10003 Quality management - Customer satisfaction - Guidelines for dispute resolution external to organisations.

BS ISO 10001 provides guidance on designing and implementing a customer satisfaction code of conduct whilst BS ISO 10003 is designed for situations when complaints cannot be resolved within an organisation. It gives guidance on the dispute resolution process, including direction on how to choose resolution services and when and how top management should be involved in the process.

BS ISO 10001 and BS ISO 10003 form part of a suite of customer satisfaction standards, available from BSI British Standards. Used in conjunction with BS ISO 10002:2014, Guidelines for Complaints Handling in Organisations, an organisation can implement comprehensive and effective systems for dealing with customer satisfaction from complaint prevention and handling through to dispute resolution.

The standards are suitable for use by a wide range of organisations, including small businesses.

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