Do you have a customer service strategy in mind or in place? 

customer service skills
Customer care is a crucial element of business success. Every time you have contact  with  your  customers  you  have  an  opportunity  to  improve  your reputation with them and increase the likelihood of further sales.

From your telephone manner to the efficiency of your order fulfillment systems, almost every aspect of your business affects the way your customers view your business. There are also specific programs you can put in place to increase your levels of customer care.

What is customer care?
Customer care involves putting systems in place to maximize your customers' satisfaction with your business. It should be a prime consideration for every business - your profitability relies on keeping your customers happy.

But don't neglect the importance of customer care in other areas of your business.  For  instance,  your  warehousing and  dispatch  departments may have  minimal contact with  your  customers -  but  their  performance when fulfilling orders has a major impact on customers' satisfaction with your business.

The range of factors that can contribute to customer satisfaction:

How well your product or service matches customer needs

The value for money you offer

Your efficiency and reliability in fulfilling orders

The professionalism, friendliness and expertise of your employees

How well you keep your customers informed

The after-sales service you provide

Training courses may be useful for ensuring the highest possible levels of customer care.

Understand your customers
In business-to-business trading, providing a high level of customer care often requires you to find out what your customers want. Once you have identified your most valuable customers or best potential customers, you can target your highest levels of customer care towards them. Another approach, particularly in the consumer market, is the obligation to treat all consumers to the highest standard.

Collect information about your customers

Information about your customers and what they want is available from many sources, including:

Their order history
Records of their contacts with your business - phone calls, meetings e.c.t.
Direct feedback - if you ask them, customers will usually tell you what they want
Changes in individual customers' order patterns
Changes in the overall success of specific products or services
Feedback about your existing range - what it does and doesn't do
Enquiries about possible new products or services
Feedback from your customers about buying from other businesses
Changes in the goods and services your competitors are selling
Feedback and referrals from other, non-competitive suppliers

Manage your customer information
It's important that you draw up a plan about how customer information is to be gathered and used in your business. Establish a customer-care policy. Assign a senior manager as the policy's champion but make sure that all your staff is involved - often the lower down the scale you go, the more direct contact with customers there is.
You can manage your customer records using a database system or with customer relationship management software. You should be aware that collecting and using customer information might require you to comply with data protection regulations.

Measure your customer service levels
Where possible, put systems in place to assess your performance in business areas which significantly affect your customers' satisfaction levels. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which reflect how well you're responding to your customers' expectations.

For instance, you might track:
Sales renewal rates.

The number of queries or complaints about your products or services.

The number of complaints about your employees.

The number of damaged or faulty goods returned.

Average order fulfillment times.

The number of contacts with a customer each month.

The volume of marketing material sent out and responses generated.

Time taken from order to delivery.

Your customers and employees will be useful sources of information about the KPIs, which best reflect key customer service areas in your business. Make sure the things you measure are driven not by how your business currently runs, but by how your customers would like to see it run.

There are important areas of customer service, which are more difficult to measure. Many of these are human factors such as a receptionist's telephone manner or a salesperson's conduct while visiting clients. In these areas it's crucial that you get feedback from your customers about their perceptions of your customer service.

Customer surveys, feedback programs and occasional phone calls to key customers can be useful ways of gauging how customer service levels in your business are perceived.

Customer feedback and contact programs
Customer feedback and contact programs are two ways of increasing communication with your customers. They can represent great opportunities to listen to your customers and to let them know more about what you can offer.

Customer feedback can provide you with detailed information about how your business is perceived. It's a chance for customers to voice objections, suggest changes, or endorse your existing processes, and for you to listen to what they say and act upon it.

Feedback is most often gathered using questionnaires, on your website, in person, over the telephone or by post.
The purpose of customer contact programs is to help you deliver tailored information to your customers.
One example is news of a special offer that is relevant to a past purchase - another is a reminder sent at the time of year when a customer traditionally places an order.
Contact programs are particularly useful for reactivating relationships with lapsed customers.
Do your best to make sure that your customers feel the extra contact is relevant and beneficial to them - bombarding customers with unwanted calls or marketing material can be counter-productive.

Newsletters and email bulletins allow you to keep in touch with useful information that can be read at a time that is convenient for the customer.

Customer loyalty schemes
While good overall service is the best way of generating customer loyalty, sometimes new relationships can be strengthened, or old ones refreshed, using customer loyalty schemes.

These are programs that use fixed or percentage discounts, extra goods or prizes to reward customers for behavior that benefits your business. They can also be used to persuade customers to give you another try if you feel you have successfully tackled past problems with your customer service.

You can decide to offer rewards on the basis of:

Repeat custom

Cumulative spend

Orders for large quantities or with a high value

Prompt payment

Length of relationship

For example, a car wash might offer free cleaning every tenth visit or a free product if  a  customer opts for  the  deluxe service. A  mail-order company might seek to revive the interest of lapsed customers by offering a voucher redeemable against purchases - response rates with such vouchers can be improved by setting an expiry date.

You can also provide key customers with loyalty cards that entitle them to a discount on all their purchases.

Employees who deal with customers' orders should be fully aware of current offers and keep customers informed. Sometimes brochures and other marketing materials are the best way of getting word out about a new customer incentive.

Don't forget though that your customers' view of the overall service you provide will influence their loyalty much more than short-term rewards will.

Use customer care to increase sales
Your  existing  customers  are  among  the  most  important  assets  of  your business - they have already chosen you instead of your competitors. Keeping their custom costs far less than attracting new business, so it's worth taking steps to make sure that they're satisfied with the service they receive.

There are a number of techniques you can employ, including:

Providing a free customer helpline.

Answering frequently asked questions on your website.

Following up sales with a courtesy call.

Providing free products that will help customers look after or make the most of their purchases.

Sending reminders when services or check-ups are due.

Offering preferential discounts to existing customers on further purchases.

Existing customer relationships are opportunities to increase sales because your customers will already have a degree of trust in your recommendations.

Cross selling and up-selling are ways of increasing either the range or the value of what you sell by pointing out new purchase possibilities to these customers.

Alerting customers when new, upgraded, or complimentary products become available – perhaps through regular emails or newsletters - is one way of increasing sales.

To retain your customers' trust, however, never try to sell them something that clearly doesn't meet their needs. Remember, your aim is to build a solid long-term relationship with your customers rather than to make quick one-off profits.

Satisfied customers will contribute to your business for years, through their purchases and through recommendations and referrals of your business.

How to deal with customer complaints
Every business has to deal with situations in which things go wrong from a customer's point of view.
However you respond if this happens, don't be dismissive of your customer's problem - even if you're convinced you're not at fault. Although it might seem contradictory, a customer with a complaint represents a genuine opportunity for your business:

If  you  handle the  complaint successfully, your customer is  likely to prove more loyal than if nothing had gone wrong

People willing to complain are rare - your complaining customer may be alerting you to a problem experienced by many others who silently took their custom elsewhere.

Complaints should be handled courteously, sympathetically, and - above all - swiftly. Make sure that your business has an established procedure for dealing with customer complaints and that it is known to all your employees. At the very least it should involve:

Listening sympathetically to establish the details of the complaint.

Keeping a record about the relevant material, such as a sales receipt or damaged goods.

Offer to recompense - whether by repair, replacement, or refund.

Appropriate follow-up action, such as a letter of apology, or a phone call to make sure that the problem has been solved amicably.

If you're proud of the way you rectify problems - by offering no-questions refunds, for example - make sure your customers know about it. Your method of dealing with customer problems is one more way to stay ahead of your competitors.

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