Service is one way you can compete in the world. To fail at customer service is to relinquish a key competitive advantage.

How much of a priority do you place on customer service? How much priority do your employees think you place on customer service? It’s an important question because service is one way in which small business can successfully compete with the big boys. Many of you have the advantage of one-on-one communication with the customer and, properly used, there is no more effective form of customer service.

Marketing Brings the Client In, Customer Service Keeps Them In

Your potential customer may have walked in off the street, found you online, heard of you from a friend or seen an ad – however they got to your business, you now have an opportunity to convert the contact into a customer – or not.

The first contact with your business will create an image – for better or worse – in the customer’s mind. That image will be as dependent on how the customer is feeling as what you or your employees do. It is vital that your response be sensitive to the customer’s frame of mind. A parent running into a drycleaners with children in the car needs one thing – fast service. The person buying their first computer may need a sensitively informative, unhurried time with the staff member. A customer who is angry must be carefully diffused if you ever expect to see them again. Listen to what the customer is saying and observe his or her body language.

Customer serviceKnow your products. Your customer expects you and your staff to be the experts on your products and services. A great many sales are made because the customer trusts the sales person’s knowledge of the product. Anyone can sell the product, you need to convince the customer that s/he has a partner in the purchase, that you are recommending the thing which will best suit his or her particular needs.

Customer Service is Relationship Marketing

Always be clear and truthful with the customer. Lie to them once and your business will never regain their confidence. Don’t try to sell them on a tire rotation they don’t need – if they had a rotation 2 weeks ago your credibility is gone. Forever.

All of us appreciate follow through, whether it’s carrying a large box to the car, calling a customer to tell them a cable is in stock, or sending an email to ask about how the product is performing. Checking in after the sale not only lets the customer know that the business is concerned about the relationship, it also helps create a bond.

And the customer is right or the customer is lost. We’ve all been difficult customers at one time or another (or I certainly have). Train your people to swallow their pride in service of the sale.

Customer Service Must Trickle Down to All Parts of Your Business

Your employees are the image of your business. They can be an effective force if you train them to be. It’s not just the routines of their job they need to understand, they must also understand and subscribe to your image of the business and what it takes to support that image and how that translates to customer service. But first you need to understand it, and then communicate it to them clearly.

Let’s look at a waitress. Her mother reaches over family members to pour coffee. But if her mother spills on someone there will be some shouting and then it will be over. In a restaurant it could mean an angry customer at best, a law suit at worst. Yet very few restaurant owners train their staff to pick up the coffee cup to pour. Why? It’s hot!


Telephone customer service has become a staple of comedians which seems to have no effect whatever on the companies employing the service. Here are some clues: if your customer went through multiple menus to get to customer service, and then listened to music for a quarter hour, interrupted every two minutes by “Your call is important to us.” your customer is already annoyed. Trust me. If your people don’t understand and can’t effectively deal with a customer on the verge of leaving then they are very likely losing you the customers you’re paying them to protect. Never mind “this call recorded for quality…” They may have done nothing obviously wrong and the customer may not have specifically said they were leaving. But did the service rep do anything to ensure they stay with you?

An employee of an international firm who needs to ask what country Rome is in to forward a package makes the organization look lax and generally questionable. We laughed at the time – but we’ve been retelling the story for nearly 20 years. Not good PR.

Train your people to be the image you want your company to project. Explain to them what you are doing and why that is important to the success of the business. Invite them to share customer experiences, discuss with them how to handle difficult situations. Keep them informed of positive changes – like customers who complimented them or increases in sales due to their diligence. Give them some ownership in the process.

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