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Delivering excellent customer service

What sets one business apart from its competition?   It is customer service.  It is the one thing that will keep customers coming back and being long term, loyal customers.  Isn’t that what businesses want?  If this is true why do so many businesses seem to ignore the obvious solution to customer attraction, retention and profitability?   How much effort does it really take to ensure customers are treated fairly, promptly, efficiently?   The Customer Experience Report of 2011 by Right Now Technologies found that 86 percent of U.S. adults are willing to pay more for a better customer experience and 73 percent of adults said a friendly customer service made them fall in love with a brand.

Following are some of the tenets of building excellent customer service.

1.  Hire only employees with a passion for delivering excellent customer service.  You experience a difference at Chick-fil-A in comparison to other fast food chains.  It’s all about its people.  The employees are taught to care about their fellow workers and customers.  Their CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) Dan Cathy leads this organization in following Biblical principles in how to treat others.  In six days of operation (they are closed on Sundays) Chick-fil-A does more business than McDonald’s in seven.  It is the second largest quick-service chain in the country.  Chick-fil-A employs 61,000 employees and its turnover is 1/3 of the industry average.

2.  Plan and design a great customer experience — Engage customers through digital, online, one-on-one in person, etc. through comprehensive marketing efforts.  Ensure employees are trained on your products and services and understand how to clearly communicate with customers.  Empathy, patience, consistency, adaptability are all important for team members.  Customers want to feel important and when a business pays attention to them, it pays off.

3.  Know your customers, their needs and wants.  Focus on as much personalization as possible.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to survey your prospects and customers but just talk to them and respond to their comments and requests. Provide a way for your customers to give feedback.  Practice active listening so your customers feel their input is heard and given attention.

4.  Develop prospects but don’t neglect current customers.  It is an accepted premise that there are more opportunities for additional sales from current customers than from prospects.  Cross-selling is very important in increasing profitability.  Sales staff must be trained to know how to make suggestions at the point of sale for additional purchases to enhance the original selection by the customer.

Connie Hooper, owner of Engravables in Brookhaven, stated how important the work ethic is in her staff.  Having the right sales team who are adept at taking initiative paired with the offering of quality products results in customer satisfaction.

Anna Day Douchard, co-owner of Beyond the Rainbow in Brookhaven, emphasizes the importance of understanding and satisfying customer needs.  She further stated customers are more demanding and competition has increased with online shopping, often with free shipping.

“The key to success is having good employees,” she said. “Keep it fresh.  People like the new. Location is of utmost importance and also providing an atmosphere to ‘feel good’ in the store with vibrant, happy employees. Teamwork can give you the competitive advantage.  Surround yourself with all the right people and you’ll get it done.”

Angie Fisher Warren, owner of Expectations and Expectations Too in Brookhaven, stated, “ Relationships with your customers, knowing your customers, calling them by name are all important in providing outstanding customer service.  People come from all over for the place and customer service is the main thing to keep them coming back. I love being here.  It is my passion.”

Finding businesses who emphasize customer service is a refreshing experience.  Providing outstanding customer service sets businesses apart and illustrates why they are successful.  It is more prevalent in small and mid-size businesses which is the largest segment in Mississippi. It simply takes commitment.   Customer service is not dead.  It is still alive and well in many businesses.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing bvaughnfurlow@gmail.com.