By Tom Needs, Chief Operating Officer, Adapt

2014 saw some of the best and worst examples of customer service as brands struggled to distinguish themselves in a crowded market. Here are my top tips for those seeking to stand out and excel in the customer service realm this year:

1. Reflect on last year – learn from your mistakes, your successes and customer feedback. Try to continually release marginal improvements and introduce something new and significant every few months.

2. Set achievable goals – use last year as a baseline for improvement, find out what your competitors are doing and speak to your customers to set realistic goals for development.

3. Invest in your staff – your customer service team is a front-line reflection of your business, so make sure it is prepared for the worst case/ trickiest of situations.

4. Get optimised – besides “buffer face”, there is nothing as annoying as trying to access non–mobile optimised content on your phone or tablet.

5. Show your customers compassion – take the time to understand your customers and the problems they face – this will allow you to engage with them more positively.

6. Get external recognition – celebrate your customer service success with audits, national awards and accreditations that boost your company’s profile.

7. Be proactive – make sure you get to customers before/as problems occur; be upfront and manage their experiences and expectations.

8. Don’t just respond to problems – try to resolve problems before they spread to your other customers.

9. Don’t forget your ‘Ps’ and ‘Qs’ – for any sort of customer engagement, at any level, treat customers how you would wish to be treated yourself.

10. Be the expert – know what you are good at and build on that strength - don’t try and be an expert at everything (you will only fail).

11. Be the ‘proud parent’ – make sure your staff are publicly rewarded for great customer experiences and improvements.

12. Interact with customers in real-time with social media – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are powerful tools to publicly demonstrate your attitude to customer service (for better or worse!).