Topic overview

Looking after your customers

Looking after your customers

Customer service should be at the heart of your business. In fact, an understanding of your target customers and the service they're likely to expect should guide you when creating your new business.

Why is customer service important?

Customer service can be more powerful than price when it comes to attracting and retaining customers. Some customers will willingly pay slightly more because they receive better customer service.

Attracting your first customers can be a big challenge, but once you do, their recommendations can attract others. That's why your customer service must exceed expectations, not merely meet them. They'll also be more likely to remain loyal, and selling to existing customers is cheaper and easier.

You can pay an extremely high price if your customer service falls short. Not only can you lose a customer forever - but others too. Bad customer comments and reviews can rapidly reach large numbers of people online, so getting your customer service badly wrong can prove catastrophic.

What is 'good' customer service?

Think about why you prefer certain businesses over others. Of course, product and price are key, but customer service also influences our buying decisions.

Consider large retailers that you like. What is it about their customer service that you value? Is it excellent after-sales support, or perhaps next-day delivery? Have they quickly sorted out a complaint of yours? What sets them apart, and how can you emulate their customer service success?

Now think about businesses that offer average or poor customer service, and ask yourself why. Is their response to your enquiries slow? Are they rude or dismissive when you contact them? Perhaps they are overly familiar or unprofessional. Your new business can learn from their mistakes.

When designing your customer service, try to see things through a customer's eyes. Set high standards and find ways to exceed expectations. As part of your market research, ask potential customers what level of service they would expect.

Essentials of good customer service

Here are the golden rules of customer service:

  • Make life as easy as possible for your customers. Find ways to solve their problems and avoid any annoyances.
  • Don't lie to your customers - honesty is the best policy (even if that means they go elsewhere).
  • Don't overpromise - failure to deliver will mean customers vote with their feet.
  • Don't take your customers for granted; make them feel appreciated. Remember, they could very easily spend their money elsewhere.
  • Ensure good communication and routinely seek customer feedback.
  • Offer superior customer service and support to your competitors.

Finally, if you have employees, make sure they live your customer service values each and every time they serve a customer. Provide training where required. They should realise that every point of contact provides a chance to impress or disappoint.

It's not just about face-to-face meetings or phone conversations, but also emails and social media communication. Your staff should know you expect high standards.

Handling customer complaints

Most businesses receive occasional customer complaints (more than that and something is wrong), but many dissatisfied customers don't complain - they just go elsewhere.

View complaints as an opportunity to fix things that aren't right. Learn from the experience and move forward. Handling complaints also provides the ideal opportunity to show just how good your customer service is.

Have a sound customer complaints procedure, and when someone complains, respond promptly, politely and professionally. Listen to the customer and see things from their point of view. If valid, resolve the issue quickly to their explicit satisfaction.

Offering a gift or money off a future purchase can help to ensure there are no hard feelings.

Ensuring customer loyalty

As your business grows, you must keep existing customers happy. You could reward them with special deals, discounts or incentives for introducing your business to other customers.

Thank them for their custom. Keep in touch, so that they know the relationship you have with them is important.

Don't neglect customers or give them a valid reason to go elsewhere. If they do, speak to them to find out why, because this can provide valuable customer service lessons.