Stand out with great service

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Dear Dan: When my bank recently gave me a customer service runaround, I was reminded of how vital it is to treat customers right. Got any ideas on how our company can stand out?

– At Your Service

Dear At Your Service: Customer service is one of the key areas where even the smallest business can gain an edge over big competition. In fact, the latest surveys show that many customers choose to do business with smaller firms precisely because they expect to be treated better.

Despite decades of hearing the customer service drumbeat, many businesses still do a dismal job, and customers are more impatient than ever. They have little time for businesses that don’t listen to what they are saying, don’t do what they say they’ll do, or have employees who aren’t savvy about the company’s products and services and fail to follow-up on promises.

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Here are ways to raise your customer satisfaction quotient:

1. Make it a priority: Businesses that do a fabulous job at customer service all have something in common – they make it a top priority (often the top priority) in their organization. They pay attention to customers 100 percent of the time and do whatever it takes to help.

2. Train and keep training: Many people simply do not know what really good customer service is, let alone how to provide it.

3. Reward employees: Sure, everybody in your business should be expected to provide excellent customer service. But you’ll get better results if you link pay to it in some way.

4. Tune in with technology: Some businesses that are clueless on customer service stumble because they remain in the tech dark ages. Customers expect quick answers online, via recorded phone messages and – now more than ever – by e-mail or cell phone.

5. Focus, focus, focus: Avoid spreading yourself land your business too thin. Customer service will suffer if you don’t have enough time to provide excellent customer service.

6. Find your customer service niche: Look for a super service feature that can become your “trademark.” You might, for example, be a fanatic about follow-up, or service speed.

7. Be a fast faux-pas fixer: Stuff happens. So when your business blunders, fess up and go all-out to make things right.

Some helpful customer service resources include the Service Quality Institute (www.servicequalityinstitute.com); “Award Winning Customer Service,” a book by Renee Evenson; Telephone Doctor (www.telephonedoctor.com); and SalesForce.com.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software can also be helpful; search for vendors to suit your needs at www.business.com. •

Daniel Kehrer can be reached at editor@business.com.