Defining Customer Service for Your Business

I’m surprised at how little it takes to make me a happy customer. I’m not a demanding guy by nature, so a business simply has to offer me decent prices and good products or services to get me to come back. If the business’s salespeople treat me like a fellow human being, then that’s icing on the cake. But it’s icing I really like.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking that my attitude about customer service is an unfortunate sign of the times. You may feel differently, but I view bland or poor customer service as the rule, rather than the exception. Occasionally, I’m pleasantly surprised when a clerk, receptionist or telephone order-taker does something to violate my expectations. But more often than not, I walk away from a business transaction shaking my head rather than nodding in approval at the way I have been treated.

It’s unpleasant when I have to deal with a checkout clerk who doesn’t even pretend to be friendly or a bank with a voice-mail system that precludes talking to a human being. Recently, my wife and I patronized a mostly empty restaurant where the waitress behaved as though she was doing us a favor by taking our order—when she finally got around to it.

Do you care about how you are treated by the organizations to which you give your business? Or are your buying decisions strictly driven by price? I’m betting that the service you receive in your business dealings matters to you—just as it matters to your customers.

Delivering exceptional customer service that sets your business apart from your competitors affects two key components of its financial future: repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals. Adding a new customer to your business requires a significant investment of time, money and energy. It costs your business a lot less to serve a repeat customer than it does to pursue a new one.

Similarly, word-of-mouth referrals represent the most powerful form of advertising. Positive comments from a satisfied customer to a prospective customer carry a great deal of weight because the endorser usually has nothing to gain other than the reward of helping a friend. Consequently, we perceive the endorser’s recommendation with a high level of trust. Of course, negative word-of-mouth comments can be devastating and they travel a lot faster.

Ask 10 people to define customer service and you’ll get 10 different answers. Some would say it’s a friendly greeting, a quick response to a problem or a birthday card. Others would insist that it’s courteous treatment during returns or expert advice about a purchase. All of them would be right, of course. Customer service is all of that and more.

What is customer service for your business? To be effective, your concept of customer service must project your company’s mission, permeate the thinking of every employee and produce a positive experience for the customer.

Do your customers know your company’s mission? Does your mission statement communicate your company’s values? Do those values truly guide the day-to-day behavior of your employees? Creating loyal customers who say nice things about your business to others begins with making your intentions crystal clear. Only then will your customers know how well you are delivering what you promise.

Cultivating a culture of superior customer service is a matter of making customer satisfaction everyone’s job. In addition to the people who interact with your customers, employees throughout your business are making decisions that affect customer service. From senior management to shipping clerks, every position is linked to an ultimate outcome that involves the customer. Use company communications to reiterate this truth and consider putting the customer service connection into every job description.

The experience customers have with your business is as important as the product or service they purchase. There are two parts to the customer service experience: the transaction and the relationship. Your aim in both parts is to create a “Satisfying, Appealing, Lasting Experience” (SALE).

The transaction stage of a SALE involves the individual salesperson and the customer. Do transactions occur in an efficient and timely manner? Satisfaction diminishes in direct proportion to the amount confusion and waiting time involved in completing the sale. Friendly, positive and polite employees make a transaction appealing. Every aspect of the transaction should contribute to a lasting impression that will be passed on to others whenever your customer is asked about your business.

The relationship stage of a SALE plays an equally important role in customer retention. How do you communicate with your customers after the sale and show appreciation for their business? Do you give special consideration to repeat customers? Whenever possible, do customers interact with the same company representative? Relationships between a business and its customers are not unlike relationships between two people. They thrive on trust, respect, fairness and thoughtfulness.

Defining customer service for your business is an exercise that will pay off in many ways. Whatever a satisfying, appealing, lasting experience means for your customers, be assured that purposeful efforts to create it will keep them coming back for more.