The 5 Secrets to Providing Great Customer Service

For Great Customer Service, Start with Business to Customer Loyalty

shopkeeper serving customer in delicatessen shop
••• Betsie Van Der Meer/ Getty Images

Great customer service is the bread and butter of your business.

For instance, I paint outdoor signs and create various types of indoor/outdoor promotionals for people in our small town. I’ve been at this business now for over 20 years. I rarely advertise, yet I enjoy about 80 percent of our town’s sign and display business. How do I do it?

I have several business success secrets that helped me get to where I am today, and all of them relate to great customer service. These secrets can equally apply to service contractors doing business with other businesses, as in my case, or to retailers doing business with the general consumer.

Great Customer Service Secret Number One:

Build business to customer Loyalty. This is my number one secret for great customer service and is by far the most important one. I was taught about business to customer loyalty many, many years ago, before I started my own business, when I still worked as a hotel detective in a ritzy downtown Calgary hotel. The hotel insisted that every one of us who had contact with their customers know the customer by his full name and, when possible, other personal or business information about him.

“Good evening, Mr. Smith. Welcome to our hotel.” Then, after a bit of miscellaneous chit-chat, “By the way, Mr. Smith, did you manage to unload those hundred shares of Doodlebug Appliances you thought were a bit risky at a profit ?” or, “Was your daughter accepted at Harvard? Last time you were a guest with us you expressed concern that Emily was having difficulty with her math, and weren’t sure if she had enough points to qualify for admission.”

Now, here’s a customer who knows that he’s welcome at your hotel, and whenever he’s back in town, you can count on him staying in your establishment!

Is this spying on customers? Not at all! It’s simply remembering a few concerns that your customer shared with you the last time he stayed in your hotel.

When you can show concern about what matters to your customer, that’s business to customer loyalty, and you can bet on it, you’ve just acquired a customer for life.

Great Customer Service Secret Number Two:

Provide true customer service. In today’s market environment, service has become a cliché and it seems like “everyone’s doing it.” So, if everyone is doing it, why not jump ahead of the wolf pack and provide truly great customer service by providing even more creative, personalized service to your customers than your competitors can?

One size shoe does not fit all feet. Nor is one type of customer service suitable for all your customers. Let’s say your advertised featured customer service is Home Delivery. The first customer may welcome this Home Delivery because it’s difficult for him to get out and shop in person.

But your second customer may enjoy “window shopping” and carrying his purchases around with him as he goes from shop to shop. He is not the least interested in your home delivery service. So, with what you save by not needing home delivery for this customer, why not offer him an equivalent discount on a second cash purchase, or give him an in-store percentage-off coupon that he can use the next time he’s in your store?

I repeat, be creative. Get to personally know your customers and recognize their individual needs. Above all, make certain that what you are offering really is something that your customer can value; that's the key to great customer service.

Great Customer Service Secret Number Three: 

“The Customer Is always Right.” If a customer comes to you about a complaint, be very serious about how you handle it. Is the customer upset and angry? First, calm him with words and action and show that you are serious about doing something to correct the problem. Even if it is obvious that he’s wrong, sometimes it’s better for repeat business to take the loss and compensate the customer.

Then, when your customer is satisfied that his complaint has been properly addressed, thank him for bringing the problem to your attention. Remember, no amount of advertising can repair the damage done by failing to properly address a customer’s concern.

Even more damaging to a small business is the “silent complainer.” That’s the customer who simply walks out of your shop without saying a word, and you never see him again. These silent complainers have friends. And their friends have friends.

Great Customer Service Secret Number Four:

Be honest with your customers. If your customer even suspects that you are trying to pull something over on him, you can kiss that customer goodbye - permanently! Were you fortunate enough to purchase an item from a wholesaler at a discount price? Instead of being tempted to richly improve your bottom line, pass that saving on to your customer. This will ingrain confidence in your customer so that, in the future, your customers will know where to come for real savings.

Did you manage to pick up some out of date or reject item? Don’t be tempted to pawn it off on your customers at a regular price without at least informing your customer that it’s a reject or of inferior workmanship.

If your customer asks you for advice on a product, don’t try to sell him the item that best enhances your bottom line. Sell him the item that’s best for your customer. In the long run, your bottom line will thank you for having made this choice.

Great Customer Service Secret Number Five:

Educate your staff to be equally as concerned about your customers as you are. Some years ago I went into a hardware store and asked the young summer student clerk for some rubber cement.

“You mean, a tire patching kit?”

“No,” I repeated. “I want a bottle of rubber cement.”

The kid obviously didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. However, rather than finding out what rubber cement is, he gave me a strange look, then turned his back and went on to serve another customer. Needless to say, after that incident I took all my hardware business elsewhere. For tips on hiring employees with good customer service skills see Top 10 Soft Skills for Customer Service Jobs.

Winning Return Customers

Great customer service is what will win you return customers. And here's one final bit of advice about customer service; “If you aren’t taking care of your customers, your competition will.” Print that advice out in large, bold letters and paste it above your cash register.

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