Question: When my bank recently gave me a customer service runaround, I was reminded how vital treating customers right is for a small business. And I also was reminded that we may need to improve our own efforts. Got any ideas on how we can stand out? – AT YOUR SERVICE Answer: 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 tired of poor service. When buyers take their business elsewhere, it is often because they received poor or non-existent service. Price is secondary. 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. Face it, achieving exceptional levels of customer satisfaction takes extreme dedication. You need a planned approach and constant attention to make sure everyone in your organization is on board. Here are a few basics that can quickly 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, top to bottom. Lip service won’t cut it. They pay attention to customers 100 percent of the time and do whatever it takes to help. Rather than “tell” a customer something, they personally “show” the customer where to find something or how to do something. 2) Train and keep training: Many people simply do not know about really good customer service, let alone how to provide it. Ever visited a business in person and had an employee cut you off in mid sentence to answer the phone? 3) Reward employees: Sure, everybody in your business should be expected to provide excellent customer service. But you’re guaranteed better results if you link pay in some way to customer service performance. 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. You need to provide them online, via recorded phone messages and ? now more than ever ? by e-mail or cell phone. Tech-less businesses can still provide good customer service, but it’s a lot more difficult. 5) Focus, focus, focus: Avoid spreading yourself and your business too thin. Yes, it’s tempting to pull as many customers and prospects as possible. But customer service will suffer if you or your employees 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 following up to make sure of satisfaction, nuts about service speed, or maybe be recognized for your creative thank you notes or crackerjack Web site features. 7) Be a fast faux pas fixer: Stuff happens. So when your business blunders, fess up and go all out to make things right. This means you need a system in place to detect when something’s gone wrong, or when a customer simply is not satisfied. Remember that most unsatisfied customers won’t say a word ? they’ll just walk. Here are some helpful customer service resources: Service Quality Institute has focused exclusively on customer service advice, information and training materials for 26years. Visit www.servicequalityinstitute.com. Award Winning Customer Service (Amacom, August 2007) by Renee Evenson is an excellent new book that offers 101 ways to provide great customer service performance. Telephone Doctor offers a wide range of terrific customer service training tools and products. Visit www.telephonedoctor.com. SalesForce.com offers Web-based sales force automation, including a customer relationship management component. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can be a great help in managing your customer service efforts. You easily can find CRM software vendors by simply searching CRM at www.business.com. Daniel Kehrer ([email protected]) is editor of Business.com, the top business search engine, and Work.com, a “how-to” site for small business.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!