“Good service is good business” is a commonly quoted business maxim. It’s 100% true. Companies that invest in their staff in order to promote superb standards of customer service will convert customers into loyal customers and secure their business in the long-term. Those that fail to prioritise customer service will suffer as a result.

Master the art of listening

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” - M. Scott Peck

True comprehension of the customer’s point of view can only be achieved through listening. Many people say they listen, but few do so properly. To listen is to empathise, care, and process deeply, and to respond in an appropriate way. While the response will not always be what the customer wants to hear, it can still be communicated with respect.

Truly listening to customers leads to customer loyalty. People want to do business with companies they like and trust. Price is not as strong a motivator as most people think. If you care about your customers, they will stay with you in the long run.

Although some customers can’t be pleased, most are reasonable. If they have been wronged, a heartfelt apology will normally be enough to get them back on your side. But this apology must be truly heartfelt, and can’t be faked. And in order to product a heartfelt apology, it’s necessary to understand the customer’s point of view. This can only be achieved through listening.

Over-deliver where possible

“Here is a simple but powerful rule - always give people more than what they expect to get.” – Nelson Boswell

Goodwill can be gained in life by going over and above the course of duty. Not only is it simply good business to try and make the customer as happy as possible, but it’s also essential PR. Happy customers tell their friends, who may also turn into happy customers. And in the internet age, most people have wide social networks that soak up information about the customer service of their favourite brands. Going the extra mile should be instilled in your company culture.

However, there’s a difference between trying extra hard to please the customer and always doing what they want out of fear. The customer’s viewpoint, while always important, is not always right. Being able to say no to a customer, while being respectful and cordial, is a very important business skill – all your customer services staff need to be able to do this. Saying yes to everyone can quickly drive a business into the ground.

Learn from your unhappy customers

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

Mistakes, as James Joyce said, are the portals of discovery. It’s easy to think of unhappy customers as a problem to deal with – a negative aspect of doing business. But their feedback can be invaluable. And in fact, if you listen, respect their feelings, apologise if necessary, and go out of the way to make them feel cared for, you can actually gain a loyal follower and at the same time learn something important about your business.

Make sure that when you listen to your unhappy customers, you learn what it is you are doing wrong, where it’s happening, who it’s happening to, and any other information you could need in order to fix the problem cost-effectively.

If you act on a customer’s information and make changes to your business, it’s hard for them not to warm to you. And you’ll also have improved your business and reduced the chance of upsetting customers in the future.

Stick to your values

“The way to gain a good reputation, is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” – Socrates

Strong marketing and PR can influence public perception around a company, but if this is disingenuous then customers will get annoyed when the experience of dealing with the company is disappointing.

Associate your brand with strong, ethical, customer-focused values and make sure that these are clear in all aspects of the business, but most importantly in customer services. Companies that stick to their values are easier to trust and engage with.

And as an added benefit, companies with strong internal values that permeate the business often have a positive staff culture, as everyone is on the same page and backing the brand.

Your customer is your lifeline

“The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.” – Peter Drucker

Even the most innovative product is worthless if no one buys it. Businesses must maintain, or gain, respect for their customers as the keyholders to commercial success. The customers pay the salaries, because if they don’t open their wallets, the company has no revenue and therefore no profit.

Developing this respect is essential; if you don’t respect someone, it is hard to take their opinion seriously or listen to their problems and needs. Remaining humble, and remembering that your customers put you on the pedestal (and can therefore take you off) is a great way to always keep the importance of customer service at the forefront of your mind.