Ask any successful business owner and they will tell you that customer service is one of the most important aspects of their organisation. Yet, according to figures presented at a recent G-Force conference in Barcelona, companies are spending more than 50 times as much on marketing as they spend on customer service courses and training.

This may explain why 82% of customers have stopped doing business with a company because of a poor customer service experience. Nevertheless, seven out of ten customers are willing to spend more in exchange for superior service, meaning that you can gain a valuable competitive edge simply by prioritising this area.

The importance of sales knowledge

One of the most crucial aspects of customer service is your customer service team's knowledge of your products and services. This may seem like a rudimentary point, but consider the following statistics.

  • Customer service agents fail to answer consumer questions 50% of the time (Source: Harris Interactive)
  • Email enquiries are answered incorrectly 27% of the time (Source: Zak Stambor)
  • 29% of customers who switch providers do so because of a lack of staff knowledge (Source: NewVoice)
With that in mind, a heavy emphasis should be placed on equipping staff members with all of the information they need about your products and services. This knowledge should be reinforced regularly and employees should know all about new products before they are launched.

Focus on feelings

According to research carried out by NewVoice, feeling unappreciated is the single most common reason for switching service providers, accounting for 53% of instances. This shows that customer feelings are paramount and one of the best ways you can improve your customer service training is by highlighting this point.

"Rarely are products and services so vastly different or unique that an organisation is not threatened by competitive pressures," says Todd Beck, Global Solution Architect at MHIGlobal. "What causes a customer to choose one product or service over another is the way they feel about the product and how they feel they are treated."

To ensure customers feel good about your business, you need to listen to them. For example, you may issue follow-up surveys to customers, asking for feedback on what they liked about dealing with your staff and what they didn't. You can then use their responses to shape future training exercises.

Attentive, responsive staff

In addition to training up knowledgeable staff, who are genuinely concerned with how customers feel, truly great service has to include staff who are attentive and responsive. This involves providing customers with individual attention and a personalised service, while also dealing with any questions or problems promptly.

Evidence shows that the majority of businesses fail to achieve this. A Harvard Business Review study found that 56% of customers have to re-explain their issue when speaking to customer service, while a 2011 American Express survey found that 67% of customers had hung up the phone in frustration in the previous year.

"Customers want you to acknowledge them quickly and politely - and to treat them with respect," Beck says in the MHIGlobal article, The Four Keys to Customer Loyalty. "They want you to meet their business needs in a way that helps them feel good about the interaction, and to welcome the opportunity to serve them.

By Monika Götzmann, EMEA marketing director of Miller Heiman Group