Some business owners think good customer service is a natural byproduct of strategy and training. In today's ultra-competitive market, though, it is unwise to think it will grow organically, or that your job is done once you have set up a plan and trained your staff.

A viable customer service initiative minimizes stress for customers and the service staff, in effect increasing morale and satisfaction on both sides. A good plan also improves efficiency by concentrating resources in those areas most important to customers, and optimizes success by fostering excellent relationships.

Use these guidelines to structure your customer service strategy:

Establish a starting point. Conduct a company assessment to evaluate existing policies. Why were these policies established? Are they still relevant? When was the last time they were updated? Are there particular policies that are inefficient or that result in customer frustration?

Collect data. Gathering information about your customers can be a daunting prospect, but an organized approach helps.

  • Review customer feedback, including complaints, praise, questions and comments, to get a sense of the full spectrum of client satisfaction.
  • Establish clear objectives; then use surveys and focus groups to compile measurable feedback.
  • Consider operational data, such as the status of backlogs and returns, as well as information from vendors and suppliers.

Evaluate data. Not all information collected in the previous step will be equally helpful. Consider what is timely, affects long-term performance trends, and addresses the issues most important to your clients.

Create a service vision and service policies. The first piece, the vision, should be concise and help unite the staff around a single goal. The related policies should be clear and straightforward. They should also be customer-friendly and empower employees to satisfy the company's patrons.

Customers should be fully aware of operational protocols (e.g. return policies, credit) so they have clear expectations. Likewise, they should know who to contact when problems arise.

Train the staff. Make sure employees understand the importance of customer satisfaction to the company's success and longevity. Provide detailed service expectations in job descriptions and staff manuals. Effective training comprises not only the initial burst that follows the implementation of a new plan, but also workshops and evaluation sessions built into the regular workday. Critical focus areas are:

  • Communication skills, to improve customer-staff rapport and foster attentive listening habits, as well as enabling personnel to create a positive first impression, deliver a consistent message and show customer appreciation in order to build long-term relationships.
  • Problem-solving skills to help customer service representatives understand concerns as they arise, alleviate customer stress, and propose solutions.

Create a customer service culture. The previous steps are integral to establishing good customer service, but they are not as important as consistent follow-up. For this reason, a customer service plan should incorporate ongoing data collection and continuous evaluation. What is the customer retention rate? Have personnel addressed the most common complaints? How have customers responded?

Reward good performance. Recognize and praise employees who have delivered excellent customer service. This can be a powerful incentive to encourage the star staffers to continue their good work and can incentivize co-workers to follow their example.

An effective customer service strategy can help your company retain current customers, get more return business from them, and encourage them to refer others to you, either through word-of-mouth or in online reviews. It is a vital component in any company’s long-term success.

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC