Five Essential Elements for Great Customer Service

A business without customers is not a business. Even a business with unhappy customers won't be a business for very long.

Key to ensuring that your customers are happy—and that they keep coming back for more—is not only good products, but also great service.

Customer service is part and parcel of our everyday existence. In fact, it should be the very reason for our existence and not a chore to be endured. Good businesses ENJOY giving great service...and they subsequently enjoy success. When we have satisfied our customers, they not only help us grow by continuing to do business with us, but recommend us to friends and associates as well.

Don't Overlook the Obvious

Even in our online, interconnected world, it is easy to become disconnected or disembodied from your market. After all, when you don't often get to meet and greet live people, it is easy for your customers to just become statistics. Once your business loses the human touch, it will lose its soul and become a machine. Customers will flee from this like lemmings over a cliff.

Let's look at the five main elements involved in the definition of good customer service and see how we can best activate these elements for the benefit of our customers...and ultimately ourselves.

1. Respect. Respect the fact that customers actually pay our salaries and make our profits for us. Make them feel important and appreciated and treat them as individuals, not ciphers. Remain polite, even if they are asking irritating questions, and thank them every time you get the chance.

When something goes wrong, know how to apologize. It's easy, and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Make it easy for customers to complain, and take their complaints to heart. It's an opportunity to improve your service and product.

2. Understanding. Understand, identify, and anticipate needs. Customers don't really buy products or services; they buy solutions to problems. The better we solve those problems, the more appreciative they are, and the better their experiences in dealing with your business. The better you know your customers, the better you can anticipate their needs. Communicate regularly: Engage in conversations and exchange ideas and you will become keenly aware of their wants and needs—and therefore better able to satisfy them.

3. Listening. Keep your ears—and eyes—open. Hear what the market is saying, open dialogues, and be a good listener. Identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Effectively listening to the customer and giving him or her your undivided attention, even in an online environment, are particularly important.

Encourage and welcome feedback and suggestions from your customers about your service and your product. Provide methods that allow them to offer constructive criticism, comments, and suggestions.

4. Responding. Now you have to respond positively. This is not to say that you have to change your entire business model or product line to suit the demands of various customers. Seek ways to help your customers and give them what they are looking for without compromising your company or products.

In most cases, requests will be fairly straightforward and achievable. Even if they are unreasonable or appear impossible to fulfill, offer to look into the matter and promise to come back with an answer within a specified time period. Look for ways to make it easy to do business with you. And always do what you promise.

5. Serving. Essentially this means fulfilling your promises.

Help customers understand your systems. Your organization may have the world's best systems for getting things done, but if customers don't understand them, they can get confused, impatient, and angry. Take time to explain how your systems work and how they simplify transactions.

Give more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate your company above the competition. Consider how to give customers what they cannot get elsewhere. Offer them something that is totally unexpected—give them the "wow" factor.

And thank people for giving your company their valuable time, even when they don't buy.

Technology as a Service Tool

In today's electronic commercial world, technological innovations are always there to help you achieve these lofty goals. Online services can take customers by the hand and guide them through the myriad paths of information right up to the check-out and beyond, into usage and then after-sales service and support.

Such systems can offer customers self-service with smart knowledge base features like instant search and topic suggestions, which can quickly find relevant articles and reduce ticket submissions.

One of the major issues facing online commerce is congestion at the call center, often caused by customers' lack of knowledge and understanding of a product or its applications and operation. Calling the help desk with fundamental questions is not only a waste of time for the service rep, but also for the customer. The more congested the call center, the lower the level of service, and so it goes down in a never-ending spiral. There are many solutions out there that can enable self-service for customers.

Is your company giving your customers everything they need to be as happy as they can be? Perhaps, but the above can help you optimize what you offer. If it's not, there's no time like the present to use these simple service essentials to put your customer relationships back on track.

Stefanie Amini is the marketing director and specialist in customer success at WalkMe, an interactive online guidance system. She is chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for customer service experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe.

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