A Foundation of Customer Service Gives Your Business an Edge
Shep Hyken

Want to give your business an advantage right from the start? Customer service is the key. Yes, there are countless other things to do when starting a business, but it’s imperative that customer service be built into the very framework of your company. Customer service cannot just be an afterthought.

So, among all the other tasks and considerations, make time to plan how you will deliver a customer experience that will give you a competitive advantage. If you skip this step and try to establish a customer-focused culture after you get your business off the ground, it will take a great deal more time and effort.

Here are seven ideas that will help you develop the kind of service that will keep customers coming back.

1. Verbalize your vision – You know what you will be selling, but take the time to think about how you want to sell your product or service to your customers. It’s likely that there are competitors in the market offering similar products, and that’s why customer service is so important. You can offer something unique – your special brand of customer service. How will you do that? That’s what you need to decide. If your brand promise is based on customer service, rather than product or price, it sets you apart from the competition. Put your promise into words that are easy to understand and remember – for customers as well as the employees who will be delivering your promised service.

2. Hire the right people – From the leadership to the front line, everyone in your organization must be in alignment with your customer-focused culture. Hiring decisions should be based not only on the technical skills and experience on a prospective employee’s resume, but also on personality and attitude. These attributes are essential to establishing and maintaining a culture that is focused on customer service.

3. Train … and then train some more – You’ve hired some great people who are ready to deliver a great customer experience as they sell your product or provide your service. Before you can expect them to make your customer service vision a reality, however, you have to train them in what you expect. Teach them your customer service mantra – your brand promise distilled into a few words – and train them in how to deliver it. The best companies do this on an ongoing basis.

4. Lead by example – Training is essential, but if you want your employees to be truly dedicated to customer service, you have to show them how it’s done. And the most effective way is by following what I call the “Employee Golden Rule,” which is to treat your employees the way you want them to treat the customer – maybe even better. Leaders who do this will have employees who feel valued and respected and are more motivated to go above and beyond to make customers happy and help the business succeed. And when they do a good job, let them know! Recognition also helps keep motivation high.

5. Be consistent to instill confidence – Customer confidence comes from a consistent experience. One sure way to erode loyalty is to deliver an inconsistent experience. One time it’s great. The next time it’s barely average. Customers who are uncertain about the experience they will receive will lack trust and confidence and may choose to buy from the competition the next time around. Amazing companies don’t have to deliver “Wow!” experiences. The secret is to be just a little better than average – but to do it all the time. The consistency is what creates confident (and ultimately, loyal) customers.

6. Add value with social media – In today’s world, starting a company means more than just setting up a storefront and putting out an “open for business” sign. One of the new basics is establishing a social media presence, and sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others can be used to enhance your customer service experience. Social media enables you to send value-added messages and helpful content to your customers, as well as monitor what they are saying about you (and reply and react as needed).

7. Be nice! – My belief is that customer service is simple. At least on the surface. It can be as simple as just being nice to a customer. Being nice, showing empathy, being sincere – these are at the heart of customer service. People do business with people. Make your customers feel at home. You may have a great location, cool displays, great signage, etc., but if your people can’t make the customers feel welcome and appreciated, all that other “stuff” won’t keep them coming back.

Customer service is more than a policy or set of rules. If you want your business to succeed in the long term, it must be a philosophy that is built into the culture of your company. Your success will not be measured by how much you produce, but by a loyal customer base. So what will you do to ensure that the customer will choose to do business with you the next time … and every time?

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to http://www.hyken.com.