Four ways to provide quality customer service

All small business owners understand the importance of good customer service, but how many live up to this expectation on a daily basis? In a competitive marketplace, businesses are not only required to provide prompt and professional service to anyone that comes through their doors, but to go above and beyond to turn one-time customers into repeat ones.

When it comes to service, little touches make a world of difference - here are several ways you can deliver superior customer service in a way that isn't too challenging or expensive.

Offer more than what the customer pays for

Great service doesn't stop the moment the customer hands over their credit card - in fact, it never stops. Give your business an edge by offering ongoing support, installation, a discount coupon for their next purchase or advice related to the product they just purchased.

For example, part of the success of technology heavyweight Apple is their follow-up service, such as providing free repairs and even polishing of the gadgets they sell. They make this easier for customers by allowing them to book a time slot to bring their device into the store's Genius Bar, to avoid the long waiting time. Apple also offers a range of free educational classes and workshops to customers that have already purchased an Apple product.

Another example is local online cosmetics retailer, Crush Cosmetics. But what differentiates them from other online retailers is their 14-day return policy and the occasional freebie provided to customers who order over a certain amount. Orders often include free items such as sample eyeshadows or a travel-sized brush, and shipping within Australia is swift, often within 24 hours.

These offerings are inexpensive and easy to provide, yet can create positive customer perception and loyalty. If you keep your customers and prospects happy, they will become your most powerful marketing tool yet, by promoting your business through word-of-mouth and independent reviews.

Personalise the customer experience

All customers like to feel appreciated, and the easiest way to do this is to ensure their personal requirements are met quickly and efficiently, not via an automated response but through a face-to-face experience.

Once again, Apple is a winner in this category, providing customers with a warm welcome and listening to them to determine what they might need. Good salespeople listen to their customers more than they talk - the key is to focus on the customer's needs and not the commission your salespeople might be getting or the sale they might make. If you're having trouble treading the fine line between helpful and annoying, put yourself in the customer's shoes by visiting a local store. You'll see very quickly what you do like and don't like.

U.S department store Nordstrom is another good example with a strong customer service ethos, with sales representatives trained to send handwritten notes to customers instead of a generic email newsletter. By putting a personal touch on each transaction, the company ensures that customers make return purchases.

Don't push the blame around

It's never easy to stay true to the adage "the customer is always right", but it is an essential part of great customer service, as one bad customer review can destroy years of building up a good reputation. Even if you know a customer is wrong, it's bad practice to tell them so and even worse to behave in a condescending and unprofessional manner.

A good business accepts full responsibility for their products or services, and if they fail to meet customer expectations, you should apologise and offer to replace them at no cost.

Be open to constructive criticism

Taking into consideration feedback and actually implementing relevant ones is another aspect of excellent customer service. Always have an avenue for customers to provide suggestions, which can include an online form, a customer hotline or an email address.

Where possible, the owner or senior managers of the business should respond to queries - this shows that your business has time to cater to every single customer and personalises the customer service approach even further. Revlon Australia takes this approach to another level by calling up each of their customers, instead of emailing back a response. Whether it is a stockist or product query, or any form of criticism, the beauty company tackles them head-on in a polite and professional manner within 48 hours.

Negative feedback can be hard to swallow, but resist the urge to take it personally and instead, thank your customer for being honest and ask him/her what he/she would like changed about the product or service. Strive to implement the suggestion if feasible, and if you're unsure, assure the customer you're looking into the matter and get back to him/her as soon as possible.

For more real-life examples of how you can show customers you care, read our Expert's Corner article on appreciation marketing.

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