Good customer service helps keep customers loyal and spending more, and lowers your marketing costs by attracting new customers to your business. Here’s our guide to delivering good customer service.
As customers, any time we deal directly with a company we’re likely to be aware of the level of service we’re getting. Customer service starts from initial enquiries – such as asking if a product is in stock – through to an after-sales service that helps customers with any problems.
Good customer service creates loyal customers who spend more with your business. A study in the US by the Office of Consumer Affairs found that loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase and American Express found in a 2011 survey that 70% of customers are willing to spend more with companies that they believe provided excellent customer service.
“There are many who subscribe to the convention that [customer] service is a business cost but our data demonstrates that superior service is an investment that can drive business growth. Investing in quality talent and ensuring they have the skills, training and tools that enable them to empathize and actively listen to customers are central to providing consistently excellent service experiences.”
– Jim Bush, executive VP at American Express
Great customer service matters to every business and your business should be looking to offer excellent customer service that delights and retains customers.
What is customer service?
In broad terms customer service is the help, advice and service that your business provides directly to customers throughout their purchase with you. It starts from the very first contact – such as a call or sales enquiry – through to help with purchasing and after-sales support. It also includes how customer complaints are resolved and feedback acted on. Customer service is delivered in several ways: through face-to-face contact with staff and through telephone and online systems.
The Ritz-Carlton company is held as one of the best examples of customer service – so much so that other companies, such as Apple, have adopted its customer service approach. Forbes has a helpful video showing three good customer service principles that any business can adopt:
Examples of good customer service
Examples of good customer service aren’t just great for your customers, they can help your growing business develop a strong, positive brand. And, as 70% of buying experiences are based on how a customer feels they’re being treated according to a report by consultants McKinsey, developing a reputation for good customer service is vital.
Good customer service examples generally show companies going the extra mile on behalf of their customers.
- Amazon saves Christmas – when Amazon.com delivered a Playstation for a young boy’s Christmas present, it got stolen when a neighbour left it outside their home. Rather than wash its hands of a problem that wasn’t its fault, Amazon instead leapt into action and fast-tracked a replacement console to the boy’s home in time for Christmas eve for free.
- John Lewis listening to customers – famed for its customer service, customers told the department store John Lewis that they needed a way to remember the staff who had helped them. John Lewis obliged, and now each staff member wears a name badge so customers know who they are.
- Going the extra mile – US food store Trader Joe’s got a frantic call in winter from the daughter of an 89-year-old man, afraid he wouldn’t be able to shop for food and asking if Trader Joe’s delivered foods. The store said they didn’t normally deliver – but in this case, the staff dropped everything and shopped for the customer then delivered the food personally and for free.
- Ritz-Carlton’s famous $2,000 rule – the hotel chain is famous for empowering its staff to solve customer complaints there and then, rather than escalating problems. It allows any member of staff to spend up to $2,000 to fix a customer problem – and that goes for any staff member, and they don’t need permission to spend the money. The result is that the Ritz-Carlton is seen as offering the gold standard when it comes to customer service.
How to deliver good customer service
Good customer service should be part and parcel of your business from day one. Making a customer feel valued will keep them coming back or spending more. Good customer service is easy to do although it may involve some costs and a willingness to do things differently.
- Empower staff – encourage staff to do all they can for a customer, even if that means going against some of your business processes. Staff who feel that they can resolve a customer issue by themselves without fearing repercussions will make the business more flexible and helpful to customers. There’s nothing worse than a customer running into a ‘computer says no’ or ‘it’s more than my job’s worth’ response when talking to a staff member. Share great customer stories with your staff and reward positive customer service so it becomes something to strive for.
- Cut through red tape – as your business grows, you’ll naturally introduce processes and ways of working to ensure your operation is working as effectively as possible. The problem is when those processes get in the way of good customer service. Encourage staff to cut through these processes if it means delivering good customer service, and regularly review your processes against customer feedback, and change them where they are not supporting good customer service.
- Understand the long term value of a customer – make sure your business understands the long term value of a customer. The Ritz Carlton example above of allowing any staff member to spend $2,000 to solve a customer problem might seem an incredible expense, but this policy was introduced when the hotel chain realised that their average customer spends $250,000 with them over their lifetime. That $2,000 suddenly seems a bargain compared to the risk of losing a valuable customer. Be sure to work out the value of a customer or types of customer, and attribute a cost for customer service against this value.
- Solve it quickly – make sure that customer questions and complaints are dealt with promptly, and monitor how quickly your business responds. Quick and knowledgeable answers to questions helps a customer feel confident buying from you, while quick responses to complaints will keep customers happy.
- Go the extra mile – surprising and delighting customers by doing the unexpected can keep a customer for life. You can delight customers with simple tactics, such as including handwritten notes, sending unexpected gifts to say thanks, and remembering important dates such as birthdays or anniversaries when they first became a customer.
- Keep in touch – the key to all the above points to make sure you keep in touch with customers, beyond simply a transactional relationship. Sending emails with advice and tips on are a good tactic, although resist the temptation to use them as a marketing tool to just promote your products.
Use social media to deliver customer service
Customers are increasingly vocal when it comes to sharing their frustrations – and praise – for customer service. It takes seconds for a customer to write a tweet on Twitter that can be seen by hundreds of other people. Dedicated reviews services, such as Checkatrade and Feefo, are also a way for customers to rate your business and service.
Make sure you take time to engage your customers on social media. Set up a dedicated Twitter and Facebook account, and regularly post information and updates to them. When a customer writes about your business and references your Twitter account, for example, you’ll be able to see it and respond. Responding quickly is important: NM Incite found in its research that 71% of customers who get a quick response on social media will recommend a company or its products, compared to just 19% of customers who do not get a response.
Also, be aware of when to take a customer issue offline. Responding to a customer on social media makes your conversation public. If the social media conversation is creating lots of back and forth replies, or needs sensitive data such as email addresses or phone numbers to be shared, then send the customer a private message and ask to continue on phone or via email. Be sure to go back onto social media and post the successful resolution.
Finally, engage with customers when they say nice things about your business and products – retweet or like their positive comments, and say thanks.