Customer service is a powerful differentiator that can set a virtual assistant apart from her competitors. This translates directly into more new clients, more work from existing clients and ability to charge higher professional rates.

And yet for all its potential benefits, some virtual assistants believe that simply being polite, professional, and accommodating is enough. In other words, they seem to confuse customer service with “being nice”.

The truth is a business cannot be grown on “nice” alone. The most common complaint that I hear from people about their FORMER virtual assistant is not that they weren’t “nice”, but that they didn’t communicate, didn’t respond to calls or emails and never let the client know what was in the pipeline or where there might be problems.

So if you are a virtual assistant and an overall nice person, but have a problem retaining clients and getting repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals, ask yourself if you’re making any of these mistakes.

Being a VA first and everything else second

This mindset is the luxury only employees have. When you work for someone, you have a well-defined job – an administrative assistant, a sales rep, an editor. Now that you are a business owner, you are first and foremost a marketer and a customer service manager.

Not listening to your client

Take time to understand each client’s communication and work style and preferences. This includes how often should you contact them and by what means; how detailed should your reports be; what are their procedures for handling problems; even file-naming conventions and use of proper software versions.

Some clients might find it hard to let go when it comes to delegating work to a virtual assistant and will require frequent and detailed progress reports. Others will find such updates unnecessary and distracting. Some will be ok with just e-mails while others will be more comfortable with regular phone calls.

Not managing client’s expectations

Just like their clients, virtual assistants have different capabilities and limitations when it comes to skills, availability, and work styles. It is absolutely critical to match client’s expectations to your capabilities even before the retainer agreement is signed.

For example, if you do not work early morning hours or weekends, state it clearly. If there are hours when you’re offline or unable to answer the phone, let clients know. If you will be out of your office for any period of time, be sure to provide your client base with a cell phone number where they can reach you in emergencies.

Be crystal clear about the length of time it will take you to respond to client’s messages.

Be upfront and honest about your skills and experience. Clients are not guinea pigs. Taking on projects that require skills you don’t have or for which you only have theoretical knowledge is a guaranteed way to lose a client and begin the slippery process of earning a bad online reputation. You can be assured that your name will come up in conversation with the next VA or an online friend or colleague. And not in a good way!

Not turning down prospective clients

Turning down clients doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially if a prospect is a good fit for your skills and work style. Yet having too many clients or too many projects means your efforts are spread too thin. Setting aside the issue of quality, taking on more work than you can handle will have a major negative impact on your customer service efforts.

You have a couple of choices in this situation. You can hire a sub-contractor VA to assist you with some of your projects, thereby beginning the process of building and growing your own practice into a multi-va firm, or you can refer the client to another virtual assistance firm that you know and trust.

Ignoring client’s need for transparency

Transparency is a popular word nowadays. But all it really means is simply showing your clients what it is that you do for them. This includes letting your clients see work-in-progress as well as tools and procedures you use when working on their tasks.

There are plenty of options that allow just such information sharing. It can be something as simple as sharing documents through Google Docs or as detailed as creating a client-specific wiki to hold all the documents, links to resources and standard operating procedures. We use and recommend ClientSpot which allows our team to collaborate with the client on projects, share files, and keep track of assignments and deadlines.

Not dealing with problems and ignoring emergencies

It’s ok to make mistakes. Most business owners understand that occasional mistakes are unavoidable. What matters is the way you handle the errors and emergencies. Handled correctly, even a bad mistake can turn into an opportunity to build client’s trust and loyalty.

When you do make a mistake or face an emergency, let the client know right away. Apologize and own up to whatever you’ve done wrong. Then throw all your resources into making things right. And when it’s all over, apologize again and let the client know how you plan to avoid similar issues in the future.

Not rewarding your clients

Sometimes business owners get so busy following up the leads and chasing potential clients that they forget about their existing ones. Go beyond thank you notes and season’s greetings cards. While I am not a fan of offering discounts for your hard work, I do recommend doing a little something extra or “lagniappe for a client as a gift every now and then. What is lagniappe?

Something unexpected – the extra benefit or gift should be a surprise. It is a “bakers dozen”, something thrown in for good measure that surprises and delights the recipient.

Relevant – the item or benefit should be of value to the recipient. Has your client ever had a Squidoo page built for their business? Take an hour and put one together as a gift.

Authenticity – it is more about “how” it is given, as opposed to “what” is given. The small gift or lagniappe communicates that you care about your client and that you appreciate their relationship with you.

Committing any one of these customer service mistakes will slow down your virtual assistant business growth as you will not be in a position to ask for, or receive referrals. Committing several is a quick form of business suicide.

Your ability and willingness to provide sincere “added value” will set you apart from your competitors, cultivate your niche and develop your professional reputation. Your satisfied and happy clients will be more than happy to refer your services to their sphere of influence.

**You have permission to reprint in your publication or to your website/blog any articles by Denise Griffitts found on this Website as long as Denise Griffitt's name and contact information is included. Denise Griffitts, Virtual Assistance Industry Expert, email: info at virtualassistantindustry.com, Website: http://virtualassistantindustry.com, Telephone:1-888-719-6711.

Author's Bio: 

Denise Griffitts is a globally recognized Virtual Assistance Industry Expert, Thought Leader and Coach. She owns and operates "Your Virtual Assistant", a multi-VA firm as well as "Your Office On the Web", a long established web development company. Denise trains and coaches new virtual assistants at Virtual Assistance University. http://VirtualAssistantUniversity.com