Each of us has a handful of stories about great customer service experiences. But we probably also have at least that many stories about horrible customer service.

Offering excellent customer service is one of the easiest ways for a small business to differentiate itself from larger, better-funded competitors. It’s also a powerful, inexpensive way to retain customers.

At BBB our mission is to build trust in the community, and helping companies implement strong customer service programs is part of that. Excellent customer service leads to happier customers and trust in the marketplace.

For a business, creating good customer service is a bottom line issue. In addition to the marketing value, it can reduce the costs of dealing with unhappy customers.

Here are some tips to help you improve your business through customer service. Incorporate these suggestions into employee training and make them a part of your company culture.

Hire people who care.

We can train for a lot, but we cannot train someone to care. Hire the right people first, and then make customer service training a priority. Customers should see how your workers care about the business, the product, and, most of all, them.

Respond quickly to every customer.

Customers will notice when you acknowledge them and take time to listen. It’s also a good opportunity for meaningful interaction and relationship building.

Overcompensate for mistakes.

Mistakes will be made; what matters is how you respond and remedy errors to ensure customer satisfaction. When customers vent their complaints, listen and offer sincere apologies. Accepting responsibility and offering discounts are two practices that can show customers their value.

Ask for feedback.

Collecting customer comments is one of the best ways to enhance the experience with your company. Customers like being asked to provide feedback because it lets them know your business cares. Encourage customers to review your work on BBB’s website and other review sites.

Train employees to know how to interact with customers.

Too often, we assume that employees know how they should interact with customers — and you know what happens when we assume.

Be respectful to every customer.

It can be difficult sometimes, but maintaining a positive relationship with customers will keep them coming back. Work with  your customers on their concerns and solve problems. Every business will get negative reviews; do not isolate yourself from this negativity. Work with customers to address concerns and reach a positive outcome. If a customer is experiencing respectful, individualized attention, they will likely remember.

A personal touch goes a long way.

Do your best to address your customer by his or her name, be patient, and offer all of your attention. Being as personal as possible is a way to remain in a customer’s mind long after the purchase.

Always be honest.

It can seem easy to stretch the truth to make customers happy in the short term, but it seldom works in the long term. Being forthright and honest with your customers will be more helpful. If a customer experiences dishonesty with a company, there’s a good chance the customer will spread this experience, hurting the company’s reputation.

Adapt to the situation.

You will run into customer requests or issues that are rare and unexpected. Be prepared to adapt to different situations in a smooth manner. Never look flustered. Being calm and flexible shows confidence and competence, which will make your business seem more trustworthy.

Learn about the business.

Do your employees really know your business? Knowing the ins and outs of what services are offered, how to behave in different scenarios, or where things are located should not be a second thought. Employees should confidently act and think on their feet in any situation.

These characteristics may seem basic, but they can be easily forgotten. Each business is different, but good customer service is a key asset for all of them. 

Sean Spence is the regional director of Better Business Bureau Columbia. 

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