Developing a customer service strategy

By Julian Harlow

How to create a customer service strategy that guides all employees in providing the best customer service possible.

The truism that it takes months to find a customer and seconds to lose one has never been more accurate. Social media and online review sites can quickly amplify a single customer's bad customer service experience and inflict significant damage on your business. Major companies now emphasise the importance of their customer service strategies not only when marketing to customers, but also when speaking to investors, underlining the impact customer service can have on a company's bottom line.

Small business owners may not have a dedicated customer service team within their business, but this should not stop you from creating a strategy that can guide all employees in providing the best customer service possible.

What do customers want?

The first step in developing your customer service strategy is to find out what customers and potential customers expect from your business. A common pitfall for business owners is to only apply the criteria that they themselves consider important in customer service when creating a strategy, unwittingly ignoring other factors that are more crucial from a customer's perspective. The best way to find this out is to simply ask your customers, either through market research or more informal methods.

The feedback from customers may include service levels that are unrealistic or too costly for your business to supply - we all want to be treated as VIPs - but once you have that information you are able to make decisions on where to draw the line. Telling a customer that you are unable to meet a request is always preferable to telling them you can and then going back on your word.

Creating a written strategy

The next stage of creating your strategy is to turn your set of service objectives and standards into concrete measures that you and your staff are able to put into practice. Placing your customer service strategies on paper in this way can help you identify process gaps where difficult situations - the type that can often lead to unsatisfied customers - are not adequately addressed.

Judging its effectiveness

Assessing how valuable your customer service strategy is to your business should not simply be based on a few KPIs or other measurement tools. While useful, unless used as part of a wider assessment, they can also be misleading.

Again, simply asking customers and employees how they view your enterprise’s customer service and what differences they would like to see can provide the best feedback for a small business. This is particularly effective as you are demonstrating to both customers and employees that your business is serious about both providing quality customer service and giving employees the tools needed to provide that service.

Use your strategy to improve itself

Another truism within business is that an unhappy customer who has their complaint dealt with effectively and courteously often becomes a strongly loyal customer. This adage should be kept in mind when you consider the feedback you receive from customers and employees - by taking criticisms, suggestions and other useful responses seriously enough to act on them, you will be helping to build loyalty amongst your customers and employees.

There is no perfect customer service strategy. Instead, it is something that must be continually revised and improved as your business and customers change. If your customer service strategy is one that helps you to listen to your customers, your business will be in a good position to make the right changes over time - changes that improve the relationship between your business and your customers.


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