By Patrick John, Journalist

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘customer service’? Do you feel confident that, if something doesn’t go to plan occasionally, your customers will have a positive experience?

As a forward-thinking business, there are some simple steps you can take to make sure your business not only survives but thrives in this tough economic climate. After all, 80% of consumers say they spend more with companies where they’ve experienced good customer service. On the flip side, the consequences for not keeping your customers happy can be severe. According to Ovum, The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience 2009, UK companies lose an estimated £15.3 billion annually as a direct result of poor customer service.

Customer service: the low-down
Your customers want you to provide an instant service that deals with any issue, with the minimum of fuss. The way they’re contacting you might be changing — how many letters of complaint do you receive in the post these days? But a Perspective series report published by Vodafone UK found, certain principles still apply. The report revealed some simple steps that add up to good customer service:
1. If there’s a problem, get it sorted and make sure the customer is satisfied with the result.
2. Respond as quickly as possible and try to minimise the effort the customer needs to put in.

3. Make sure the person they speak to know the answers and can make decisions quickly to deal with the issue.
4. Avoid passing customers from pillar to post.

Rise of the ‘social’ service

Unquestionably, social media and m-commerce are on the rise. In the UK, 10 million people are now active Twitter users – that’s 16% of the population. But much like driving on a motorway for the first time, these new technologies can seem fast, intimidating and packed with more experienced people who are better at it than you.

However, if you start off steady, get used to the speed of things and keep your wits about you, social media can give you a huge advantage in business.
It’s growing as a means for customer service resolution too. At present, the majority of us still resolve our issues by more traditional means like making a phone call or sending an email. But a growing number to use social media to contact businesses when they need additional help. And of course, they expect a prompt response.

So social media is not a threat. The fundamental principles of customer service that helped grow your business can help it evolve and succeed in the world of social media too. One of the main advantages is that it gives you the opportunity to talk ‘here and now’ to your customers and ensure they know how their issue is being resolved, every step of the way.

Make customer service work for you

Follow some golden rules and you’ll be well placed to attract new customers and protect the ones you already have.

Don’t neglect the basics. 46% of consumers still prefer to access customer service by telephone, with 42% preferring email. So make sure you have the right phone, email and customer contact services in place. Most importantly, make sure they always work. Stay in touch with new technology that will help keep you ahead of the game.

Be a ‘listening’ business. One of the main benefits of social media is that it’s an open way of communicating. Use social media to bring value to your business. Monitoring and joining conversations can give you access to new ideas that come from your own customers – and all without having to hire a consultant!

Social or antisocial?
So, does the growth of customer service via social media mean you’ve got to be ready to respond to tweets at 3am? Not according to Linda Cheung, CEO of social media consultancy Cubesocial. “Social media is 24/7, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. If you’re a small business especially, people will know and understand that. So set expectations. Tell people when you’re open to talk. People in the social world really are ok with that.”

This article originally featured on Your Better Business

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