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Setting your business apart with excellent customer service

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In an overcrowded marketplace, it’s usually not your product or service that makes you stand out. The way you handle your customers – that’s what’s increasingly important. With so many options to choose from, you simply must stand out from the pack with exceptional service.Don’t overlook the fact that customer service is an important part of any buying decision. Customer service ranks as the #1 factor influencing consumer trust in a company. It can make or break your business. So how can you use it to set your business apart from the crowd? Big-business examples

There are two ways to set your business apart: a positive and a negative one. Make sure you go for the positive way. Take online shoe retailer Zappos, a major business with major profits. Most SMEs can’t complete with Zappos’ free delivery and returns, and 24/7/365 customer service would lead to some very bored SME employees and a wage bill through the roof. What you can emulate, though, is their personal service: customer service staff are authorised to go above and beyond wherever necessary, for example by overnighting shoes to a best man whose order had gone missing. He originally chose Zappos for their cheap prices, but says he’s now a customer for life. A negative example comes from Dutch retail chain Blokker, part of the multi-billion-euro megacorp Blokker Holding. This brick-and-mortar chain also has a webshop that delivers to your door for €2,99. Alternatively, you can pick up your order in-store. Strangely enough, organizing your own pick-up will cost you. Not a lot (€0,50), but still: they make me feel that any interaction with a customer is, in fact, an inconvenience for them. Which isn’t very nice, because the company’s 2012 profit was 86 million euros. Sure, I still shop there – but only when it’s the most convenient and cheapest option. And I’d never call myself a customer for life, that’s for sure. Customer service tips for SMEs

When it comes to specifics, opinions of what exactly is good customer service vary widely across cultures, and certainly among individuals. Some customers may be offended if they’re not told to “have a nice day”, others might find such a goodbye annoying and insincere. There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to what you need to say or do. What IS important is the feeling that the customer takes away from the interaction. With that in mind, here are our 3 top tips for using customer service to set your business apart. 1. Be proactive. The most obvious and yet most often overlooked customer service tip is to avoid the need for your customer to contact you in the first place. I know, I know, it’s so obvious you can’t believe I’m bothering to say it. And yet how many things are there in your business which aren’t working quite as they should, but you just haven’t got around to fixing yet? Think of how quickly you would rush to sort it out if the payment processing page on your site stopped working – that’s how fast you should be responding to ALL problems with your site. 2. Go above and beyond Exceed your customer’s expectations – even if just a tiny bit. Zappos have got this down to a fine art; they overdo it, because budget-wise, they can. You don’t need amazing gestures like ten-hour phone calls to make your customers happy. If you sell tangible goods, shipping is a great place to start: make sure that your presentation is excellent and your shipping provider is fast and efficient. If a customer contacts you with a problem – own it. Take control of the situation and do your best to come up with a solution. Don’t pass the buck by blaming circumstances or a supplier. 3. Time is of the essence Treat email with the same respect you’d give to a ringing phone. The pace of life is getting faster and faster, and the rise of social media is raising expectations for speedier response times across the board. Reply to emails promptly. Do not ignore them. An open door, sure – but I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve written to a company with a question or a complaint and not received a response, ever. When customers are ignored, they’ll go elsewhere – end of story.