If you ask any business what the most important element of their profit strategy is, they will respond with a resounding cry: customer service. According to a popular study, acquiring new customers costs five times more than retaining the ones you already have. While netting a larger group of users is always important, the budget gap between the two is extreme. This leads to big promises that, if handled incorrectly, can turn up lackluster results.

Due to its lucrative nature, providing excellent customer service (and increasing customer satisfaction) should be the bread and butter of any company, regardless of size. Brand loyalty is, likewise, impacted by either reaching, or failing to reach, that goal. If you aren’t maintaining your brand promise, you aren’t establishing yourself as a reputable name in the industry.

Where Does Customer Support Really Begin?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a company is misunderstanding where customer service actually begins. It is not when a problem arises, necessitating negative contact. Customer service starts the moment you begin marketing to your target audience. Meaning, once they have caught wind of your brand and their interest is piqued the all-important process of customer support starts.

Think of it as a rollercoaster. From the moment you see the ride you are feeling that tinge of excitement: what will it be like to go through those hoops? Is it worth waiting to find out? You decide that, yes, it is worth the time and get in line. As the queue progresses the excitement and tension builds.

When you get into the cart, the bar coming down over your lap, your heart is really racing. And then you are moving up, up, up to the top, that moment of thrilling fear and….SWOOSH! Every second, starting from that first glimpse to the last seconds of coming to a stop to get off are a part of the experience.

The same can be said about a customer’s experience when they choose your product or service for their needs. The anticipation, the uncertainty, the reveal. Some will be happy with that ride, some will not. It all comes down to how you respond and the final impression you leave them with.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can take that service of excellent customer service and turn it into a process that allows you to deliver on that oath.

Process 1 - Be Proactive

The first step in the process is to always be proactive in addressing challenges, concerns or issues that arise with your product or service. Don’t see these things as problems but as opportunities to be better and present them that way to your customers. This will show them that you are both on top of it, as well as keeping their best interests in mind.

When you are not able to catch these kinks before your user base does, be sure to jump on communicating with them as quickly as possible. Remember that not all of your customers will have been aware and those who are will appreciate your fast response.

Process 2 - Be Knowledgeable

It is always important to be knowledgeable when it comes to your brand. That means the inner workings, the steps ahead of you, the needs of your target consumers and creative solutions to anything that may arise, especially during changes that can cause confusion.

When providing customer service, always make sure you and all representatives are portraying this sense of confidence and know-how. Seeming confused, worried or just unsure is a quick way to lose trust and so control over the conversation. Whether it requires extra training, more intensive knowledge-base materials at the ready, or just using the tried and true technique of the “confident hold”, stress the importance of being knowledgeable with all customer facing employees at every level.

Process 3 - Be Courteous

One of the most common complaints among customers when they leave reviews has nothing to do with the product or service, even when there was a problem. It is having a negative experience that made them feel like they were not appreciated or respected. A key element to customer service is being pleasant, friendly and making the user feel at ease.

You will find that even if a customer contacts support in a terrible mood, if they are treated with courtesy they will often leave happy and possibly even recommend the company to others. Just picture that...a customer gets a broken product and yet still tells people they should give the brand a try. All because a representative put a smile on their face and made them feel valued. That should be a lesson to all of us.

Process 4 - Be an Active Listener

As soon as you have met the above criteria, you should be making sure that you are 100% crystal clear on what the problem is. Customers often don’t have the language necessary to describe why they are upset. They don’t know your internal systems, known issues, industry terms...and they shouldn’t have to.

The difference between bad customer service and excellent customer service is as simple as being an active listener. Ask follow up questions, give descriptions, break things down into simpler language and guide them through the process while keeping your ears open for trigger phrases that will show you what to do to errors.

This also helps to mitigate the risk of misunderstandings that can escalate an issue.

Small businesses, especially those who operate partially or fully online, know how critical this skill is for any brand. Carlos DeSantos, president of Catdi Printing, had this to say:

“As a small, regional printer, we know how important customer service is. We don’t meet all of our clients face to face, so we work hard to communicate effectively to isolate and correct any problems the first time they are reported.”

Process 5 - Be a Problem Solver

Establishing the issues that your customers are facing will allow you to turn your attention to solving them. This should be a no-brainer, yet there are many complaints on review sites that show how often businesses are failing in this regard. That can be contributed in many cases to a lack of understanding of what it means to be a problem solver.

However much we wish we could just fix anything that comes our way, that isn’t always possible. When that happens, finding a way to make it right is the solution and that can take creativity and compromise. Not every customer will leave an interaction completely satisfied but they can at least leave feeling taken care of.

Process 6 - Be Open to Feedback

Here we have the hardest part of the process: taking feedback. If you are working hard to provide an amazing customer experience, most of the reviews you receive should be positive. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some bumps along the way and sometimes hearing what others have to say can be difficult, particularly when you feel like you have done everything in your power to do things right.

Don’t think of feedback as good or bad. See it the same way you would a problem, which is an opportunity to make changes that can be beneficial to all of your users. You will even attract new customers as you address concerns that weren’t on your radar before.

Review websites can be a good source for finding feedback, but not the best. You have no context to help you follow along with what occurred, leaving you in the dark. Soliciting feedback through a brand specific platform is a consistent way of measuring the outcome of your customer service efforts.

Surveys, emails and social media interaction give you a direct line to your users so you can open a dialogue. You can see a clear picture of what is and is not working. You can discover greater needs as they shift over time, so you are always on the cutting edge. Or you can find out if they have any suggestions for what could be improved upon in the future. Some brands will create whole new products or add features purely on the recommendation of their customers, making them an invaluable resource and active element of the entire process.

Make sure when you are using review sites and social media (both should be regularly monitored), you are responding to all reviews, positive or negative.. Customize and personalize them in a way that avoids the cookie cutter feeling of a canned, copy/paste response, such as asking them to contact you for more information. Show your concern right off the bat. Remember the roller coaster analogy; the way you respond could be the difference between your customer riding again, or heading to the ferris wheel on the other side of the park.

Customer Service as a Process

Each of the above is a step in the process of providing excellent customer service and making sure you both retain customers and attract new ones. Managing that process effectively and with genuine care will help you build the brand loyalty that will keep your company in the public eye for generations.

Author's Bio: 

Joseph Nicholls professional Writer And Blogger