Using Service as a Competitive Advantage: 5 Ways to Help Customers Love You

"Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." - Albert Einstein

There's a big issue when it comes to customer service -- many companies simply don't provide it, and this is great news for those who do.

Today, it's typical to talk with a customer service rep that has little ability, and often no authority, to solve a problem and provide any service at all. Out of touch companies are supplying drone-like bots that too often can only help if the problem is listed on a script. And goodness help you if you ever need to talk to a supervisor!

A customer of mine once told me "good customer service is easy to provide when things are going right, but it is the companies that step up when things go wrong that really make a difference." Even the best products and services fail on occasion. This is where good customer service closes the gap between a bad or less than desirable experience and a great business.

As a business or entrepreneur, if you truly care about your customers and their experiences with your company, customer service should be at the top of your "important things to do" list, and not approached like an afterthought.

The interactions you have with them will shape your brand in their eyes forever. As highlighted above, you have the upper hand so you might as well use it to your advantage. As Peter Shankman, founder of HARO and author of Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans, puts it, you just have to be "one step above crap" to make an impact with your customer service. Good service makes people feel important and valued. Keeping customers happy isn't rocket science. It does take time and will cost money, but the return is what keeps you in business.

#1. Discover the Best Way to Serve
If you don't know what customers want, it's hard to give it to them. From your first interaction, you need to understand what they want and determine if you can provide it. Without knowing these key pieces of information, you may try to sell them a product or service that's not properly suited for them. It doesn't matter how prestigious, coveted, or perfect a product or service is, a Ferrari coupe just won't work for a family of five looking for an SUV.

Assisting your customers in choosing the appropriate product or service is easy when you ask the right questions. Get to know them, what they expect, and how they plan to use their purchase. As Theodore Roosevelt said "No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."

#2. Keep Good Records
Good service comes from being personable. No one wants to feel like a number. Managing information about your customers will assist you in connecting with them more as an individual.

Whether you keep notes in Salesforce or on sticky notes (if that's what works for you), keeping records of your conversations with customers, orders, complaints, and next steps is key to serving them well and making them feel valuable and important.

Detailed records allow you and your employees to pick up where the conversation was left off and also provides your company with historical information about previous and/or ongoing transactions. There are few things more surprising to a customer than when you remember their name, what they ordered two years ago, and if they enjoyed the trip to the Caribbean they were leaving for when you last spoke.

#3. Remove Obstacles
Good customer service starts before a customer's purchasing experience.

Does your website provide easy to access information? Do they have to jump through repetitive hoops to get their questions answered? Can they get a response in a reasonable timeframe when they're having an issue?

Ease of use is key when providing any service or product. If the process is complicated, customers will be frustrated from the beginning, which will make things harder for everyone involved.

Instruction manuals, warning labels, and nutrition information are provided with products to help guide consumers in the right direction, but they aren't always enough. One aspect of your duty as a manufacturer, retailer or service provider is to make it difficult for customers to make mistakes. Informing your customers of your procedures, options offered, common mistakes and considerations before they make a purchase is a good way to avoid future problems and lets customers know that you're looking out for them in each transaction.

#4. Problem Solve
When a customer has a less-than-desirable experience and expresses their dissatisfaction, this is a great opportunity to serve them. First, it's important to understand that this experience has caused them some kind of inconvenience and this is a good time to apologize for any part your product or service may have played. A genuine apology shows you care and are willing to help to resolve the issue. This simple action can shift a customer's mindset and improve their perception that a satisfactory solution can be reached.

Next, try to clearly understand the problem. Ask questions in a calm, non-assuming, non-defensive or combative manner. Once you have determined what the problem is and why you have an unhappy customer, ask a direct question like; "What can I do to make this right?" or "What would make you happy?" Customers have to stop and think about it because they may not know what they want, they just know that they're not happy.

Finally, get them to the best possible conclusion you have the ability to offer. You may not be able to give them everything they want, but by working with each other, you can figure out a solution that works for everyone. This type of satisfactory outcome not only solves the customer's issue; it also builds a deeper relationship because you worked together to achieve it.

#5. Refer Elsewhere
Serving customers goes beyond what happens inside your doors or your online store.

If another product on the market suits their needs better, I'll refer them elsewhere without hesitation. Exceptional customer service includes being a good resource and looking out for your customer's best interest no matter what. Just because someone may not be the right customer today, doesn't mean they won't be in the future.

Providing customer service extends beyond the people who buy your product or service. Everyone is your customer; from people who purchase your products and services, to your suppliers and employees. Incorporating these five steps will set you and your company worlds apart from other businesses that provide customer service just because they're supposed to. Caring about your customers, future or existing, and treating them right, will foster a loyalty that cannot be bought while building relationships that can last a lifetime.