By Grant Wigney

Customer service means different things to different people, but what they all agree on is that as consumers, we want to get the best possible product for our money and the best possible service to back up our purchasing experience. If as a business you get this right, it means the difference between repeat customers, secondary selling and boosting your income stream, or finding yourselves being overtaken by your competitors as they provide a far better service than you do.

Being in business is tough enough, and the service industry particularly has multiple companies that offer the same goods and services. Certain industries might also be more reliant on seasons than others, for example construction related services, which makes the market even more competitive during peak periods.

Customers will choose you because they want to, not so much because they need to, and it is up to you to ensure that your customer service meets the standard. So what can you do to elevate your customer service in order to give your company the best chance of attracting and retaining customers?

Understand That Employees Are Key

From the very first time a customer picks up the telephone, sends an email or walks through the doors of your premises, the first person they make contact with is one of your employees. As Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, states, “Your company’s employees are its greatest assets.” Therefore you, as the owner of the business, must ensure that you have in place a clear plan of recruitment, customer service training and ongoing development of your staff.

It is also important to make your staff feel engaged in the business, as that will ensure that your customers are treated with the same care and professional courtesy that your staff themselves would expect. It is crucial that employees are encouraged in the development of good customer service, so businesses should consider appropriate incentives, as well as celebrate and reward excellent service. This in turn will enable staff to share and carry out new ideas that can enhance the consumer experience, because at the end of the day, they are the ones working on the front lines and are better placed to come up with such initiatives.

Respect Your Customers

Martin Halpen, founder of The Fruit Box, a service that delivers fruit to offices across Australia, has a healthy respect for the customer, and values honesty when it comes to business and customer service. If something does go wrong, ensure that you and your staff do not get stuck in the “blame culture;” rather, be open about the problem. Consumers have a choice, and in this day and age of mobiles and instant messaging, remember that a bad customer service experience can be tweeted, Facebooked, shared on Instagram, posted on Snapchat and much more, all within a matter of seconds.

Always respect a customer’s opinion and ensure that your staff are trained to turn a potential complainant into an advocate of your business by dealing with them quickly. This is where you can give staff the ownership of complaints and allow them to give discounts or upgrades as and when it is appropriate to do so. Having a sensible complaints procedure in place, which is not onerous and that does not involve the customer having to explain their problem to several people working up the management chain, is very important.

Transparency and clear channels of communication are very important in customer service because this establishes your company as one that can be trusted. As part of the information you send out to your customers, whether verbally, electronically or in hard format, your sales message needs to be clear and accurate. Don’t try to overload a customer with information or use jargon when plain English will do. Make sure you have the basics covered so you provide a buyer with the features, functions and benefits of your service, there is a variety of payment methods made available, and it is also made clear what the refund or reimbursement policy is as well.

Create a Unique Experience and Develop Consumer Engagement

CEO David Kong is head of one of the largest hotel chains in the world, and has been with Best Western International for a number of years. His business mantra is simple: “Ask yourself, why should the customer buy from me?” and put yourself in the shoes of the consumer to see what it is they experience when booking into your hotel or restaurant. You need to measure the satisfaction and engagement of your customers and make it as easy as possible for them to communicate with you.

Simple online booking systems, websites that are easy to navigate, and an online social media presence where customers actively engage with the business through blogs, newsletters and updates, as well as can see any changes made as a result of their feedback, is a very powerful marketing tool. It also establishes brand loyalty and ensures that your online presence is customer focused.

It is important to accentuate clearly what makes your service different and unique from what the customer can get from other organizations in the same sector. As award winning chef Dan Hunter from the Brae restaurant says, “I hoped that our commitment to providing a unique restaurant experience would lend itself to our guests thinking it was an experience that could not be had anywhere else.” He goes on to identify the low staff turnover and good work culture that contribute to this experience. All these are key qualities that will help to create an enhanced customer service experience in your own organization.

Get to Know Your Customer and the Sector You Operate In

If you get to a point where you are anticipating your customers’ needs and requirements, then you are at a point where you are enhancing the customer service they will receive from you. Social media is a key factor these days in getting to know more about your customers and their buying habits. As pointed out before, if you create a Facebook page, a regular newsletter or undertake questionnaires via Survey Monkey, a Twitter page or Pinterest board where people can share experiences of using your business, you can begin to glean feedback from your customers.

Monitoring your customer base in this way also helps you tailor their experience so you may have offers for couples on holiday with their dogs, or a family friendly experience with special offers linked to complementary organizations, which shows your clients you have really listened to and acted upon their needs. Keeping track of those offers that your competitors have in place and their unique selling points will also help when marketing your services to new and existing customers.

At the end of the day, what you have heard hundreds of times before is true: customer service is all about putting your customers first. And perhaps most important of all, however you market your services to your customers, and whatever the method of engagement, when they walk through your doors, they need to be met with a smile and a welcome. No matter what time of the day or week, remember that having a friendly face is what makes your customer service special.