Customer Service: How Relationships Build Your Bottom Line
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How do you make your business stand out when your products or services are similar or even nearly identical to those sold by your competitors? Experts say the most important differentiator is not price, but customer service. Customers want to feel they are in a business relationship, not a business transaction. Savvy business owners can make their customers feel valued in a variety of ways, generating repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising.

Bill Demet, owner of South Carolina, a transportation management company, explains that his experience working with Fortune 500 companies taught him that customer retention is based on an ability to provide invaluable assistance. His team’s knowledge caters to clients’ needs.

“When customers are provided these services, they will not only refer you to other companies, they will also become an extension of your sales department. The majority of our new accounts have been a direct referral from an existing customer. These accounts resulted in a 40 percent increase in revenue from the previous year,” he says.

Yet, despite the obvious benefits of customer loyalty, 33 percent of companies admitted to not keeping promises made to their customers, according to a recent global survey by the American Management Association and Institute for Corporate Productivity. The study analyzed how global leaders such as Starbucks® and 3M remain customer-focused. The research found that building customer focus to create a competitive advantage depends on four factors:

  1. Ensuring customer-focused behaviors at all levels throughout the organization.
  2. Measuring customer engagement, not just customer satisfaction.
  3. Using customer insights to shape products, services and strategy.
  4. Maximizing the benefits of technology, from customer relationship management (CRM) to social media.

These customer service tactics can be employed by large and small companies. Additionally, business owners should focus on creating the optimal experience for their customers. Professional speaker, author and consultant Chip Bell, recently named the world's top customer service professional by Global Gurus, explains that today’s customers want “a cherry on top of everything.” He suggests thinking of the service experience like a box of Cracker Jack® that offers a “free prize” as an added benefit.

“Loyal customers act as a volunteer salesforce, championing you to others at home, work, in social circles – even around the globe, via recommendations on blogs, online bulletin boards, and web sites. And because they feel committed to you and see both emotional and business value in the relationship, they will typically pay more for what they get from you. . .because they are convinced it is worth it,” Bell says.

Using social media to enhance the customer experience

Social media has become integral in customer relationship building. Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Voices.com, notes that social media customer service is easy to adopt and can help you stand out amongst competitors.

"We use social networks as customer service channels in addition to a means for engaging our community and sharing relevant information. More often than not, companies are getting asked customer service-related questions via social media, especially Twitter. This is a trend that probably won't be going away anytime soon. The best way to stand out from competitors via customer service practices is to implement a process for your team that includes fielding requests and questions from customers on social media in real time,” she says.

Sometimes, however, 140 characters just isn’t enough. When you are unable to fully answer a customer’s question, Ciccarelli suggests including a link to more information or following up via email. “The old saying that people work with those they like, respect, and know is in play here,” she says. “Effective customer service on public social media channels where you have an active audience watching how you deftly handle questions with grace, humility and, sometimes, humor will positively affect your company's bottom line."

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