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Customer Service, What Is It?
by John Tschohl

Customers demand it and companies say they have it, but do they really understand it? The “it” is customer service, a frequent topic of discussion in business circles over the past several years and one that is gaining increasing attention as businesses compete worldwide for customers and profits.

In a nutshell, customer service is whatever the customer thinks it is. One customer might see it as quality products and good prices, another might see it as quick response time, while yet another might define it as friendly, knowledgeable employees. Customer service is all these things—and more.

No matter what products or services you are selling, it is critical that you make customer service a priority. Too many businesses spend millions of dollars on advertising to attract customers and then drive them away with bad or non-existent customer service. If you want to keep the customers your advertising brings through the door, it’s imperative that you provide exceptional customer service.

When attempting to provide exceptional customer service, you must recognize that 95 percent of the factors that determine the reputation of your company among customers and potential customers are in the hands of your front-line service employees. That means you must give those employees the training—and the authority—to see that your customers are satisfied, not only with your products and services, but with the experience they have in doing business with you.

Look at customer service, not as an expense, but as a high-yield investment. Exceptional customer service builds loyalty, which builds profits. Research shows that satisfied customers not only buy more, they buy more often. According to a study by the American Management Association, patronage by loyal customers yields 65 percent of a typical company’s volume.

The larger your base of loyal customers, the less money you will need to spend on advertising and marketing. Speaking of advertising, it’s important to note that no advertising is more effective than word of mouth. Your satisfied customers telling others about the exceptional service you have provided has more credibility than anything you can put in print or broadcast via radio or TV.

Customer service is a moving target. It has no definitive parameters. It is whatever your customers think it is. There are, however, some basic elements that can be easily identified. They include the following:
  • Knowledgeable employees.
    They not only must know as much as humanly possible about your company’s products and services, they must be able to communicate that information effectively to customers and be willing to go the extra mile to answer customer questions.
  • Empowered employees.
    You can’t provide exceptional customer service without having employees who have the authority to make decisions. Don’t handcuff your employees with cumbersome policies and procedures. Give them the authority to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer and let them know that it’s OK to make a mistake in the process of working to win customer satisfaction.
  • Helpfulness.
    A caring, courteous attitude is essential to making customers feel that you value their business.
  • Honesty.
    Apologize and take responsibility for mistakes, then correct them and offer the customer something of value for the inconvenience. That might be a discount on his purchase, free delivery, or an additional product or service at no charge.
  • Convenience.
    The easier you make it for customers to do business with you, the more business you will get. Convenience includes a good location that is easily accessible, business hours that meet your customers’ needs, and an appealing mix of products that are attractively displayed.
  • Timely responses.
    Return phone calls promptly. Be on time for appointments. Respond to e-mail inquiries within one business day, preferably within an hour or two. Call customers promptly when their orders are ready.
  • Reliability.
    Unkept promises are a major source of customer dissatisfaction and can quickly drive business away. If you say an order will be ready by Tuesday, have it ready by Tuesday.
  • A personal touch.
    Address customers by name. Thank them for their business. The human factor is critical in making customers feel like you value them—and their business.
In a nutshell, customer service means doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer as quickly as possible. If you don’t know what customer service is, you can’t provide it. And, if you can’t provide it, you won’t succeed. Copyright John Tschohl. All Rights Reserved.

John Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker. Described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a customer service guru, he has written several books on customer service, including Ca$hing In: Make More Money, Get a Promotion Love Your Job; e-Service, and Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service. He currently is working on a book about service recovery. John also has developed more than 26 customer service training programs that have been distributed and presented throughout the world.

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