Customer service means different things to different businesses.

It’s an often-overlooked element of a business that should never be an afterthought when considering the importance of your customer to your business. “Johnnie’s Gym,” for example, might have an old school ‘the customer is always right’ mentality, while “Jimmy’s CrossFit” believes that every situation should be handled on a case-by-case basis and trusts their employees to make the right call.

To illustrate how important customer service is to your business on whole, let’s use beer as an analogy. You can have great malt (product), and outstanding hops (prices), but without the yeast (customer service) you will just end up with a bitter and sugary liquid that no one wants to drink. In other words, you want your customers to want to come back to you because of the extra things you do and the special way you treat them, in addition to your great product and fair pricing.

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 Where to Start

Cultivating your customer service to the point where it is one of your strengths is not something that will happen overnight. Many of the best customer service companies are huge businesses that have been doing it for years. The good news is that for every Marriott International, there are countless 10-room boutique hotels throughout the United States that draw hundreds of people each year based on their personalized service alone. You do not have to have the budget of Marriott to make your customer service stand out as a business. You just have to want to make it stand out.

With customer service, there are plenty of existing methods to differentiate your business. In the same way that Chik-Fil-A took inspiration from Ritz-Carton, you can borrow something as small as replacing, “you’re welcome” with “it’s my pleasure.” Where you begin should be dictated by how extensive a service you offer. Recognizing the gap between service-completion and exceeding customer expectations is key, in that gap is where you have the chance to make your mark on your customers and take them from happy, to “I can’t wait to recommend this to my friends.” If developing an exemplary customer service program is new for your business, build a team of problem solvers who receive training to do what is expected and are eager to go above and beyond. This will go a long way in creating a culture that leaves an impression.

Empower Your Team

To serve your customers better, first you must accept that there is not a cure-all response to every situation. Unfortunately, there isn’t a guide that you or I can hand to someone that will have all the answers for how to do customer service the right way, every time. Each interaction is different, and with that, everyone in your business needs to feel comfortable thinking on their feet and making decisions with the business’ best interest in mind. Empowering your employees will make them feel included and engaged, which will make running your business easier. By giving your customer-service professionals autonomy, everyone wins: from management, to the customer, to the individual employee. A good starting point or target to set for your team is to aim to never hear the words, “I need to speak with a manager”.

Customer service is not necessarily limited to customer-facing interactions. Word-of-mouth marketing happens with both current and former-employees as well. Just ask the person next to you to tell you about a company they used to work for but left on poor terms. The happier your employees are, the happier your customers will be too. J. Willard Marriott started his first root beer stand in DC under the mantra of, “Take care of your associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” Your customer service plan starts with how you treat your own people, I cannot think of a statement that better exemplifies this.

Tips for Gaining an Edge

Any successful service-based business that has been around awhile has at least one thing in common: they aim to make a difference in the lives of their customers.

Here are a few tips that will help make that difference and gain that competitive advantage:

  • Ask for Feedback: Whether positive or negative, it will help you grow. Also, encourage it! There’s no better barometer for your business than talking to your current customers.
  • Admit it When You’re Wrong: Or kiss your customers goodbye for good
  • Be Transparent: Set realistic expectations for your customers and your business and avoid guarantees unless you know you can consistently meet them
  • Embrace Change: Your customers’ needs will change, and your service needs to be able to adapt with them

Customer service in the face of an upset customer should not be a knee-jerk reaction to a problem, but instead should be embraced as an opportunity to wow them. If you mess up, take care to repair the issue and then be sure to make an effort to follow up and win them over for life. Make your decisions with your customer’s best interest in mind rather than the bottom line, and you’ll find that the latter will follow.

Make life better for both you and your customers:

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