The restaurant with great decor and tasty food and terrible service. The store with adorable clothes and a convenient location and surly staff. The cable company with the best deals and coverage in your neighborhood and the support techs who make you consider whether chewing glass would be more pleasant. It’s such an unfortunately common occurrence that we all have an example (or several) of a company that had everything together, except for their customer service. Once a business has gone to all the work to get their products and marketing and mission all in line, there’s simply no excuse for letting poor service do all that in.

Don’t skimp on talent, even at the lowest levels

It’s easy to think of ground level employees, especially people like retail sales associates or technicians as essentially fungible resources, but they’re not. They’re the personal face of your brand to your customers and the ones who can have the largest direct impact day in and day out, so take the time to hire the right people and give them the compensation and respect necessary to keep them. If you want exceptional service, you have to hire exceptional people and respect what they’re worth.

Keep everyone on the same page

Make sure that there is frequent and clear communication between segments of your business and that everyone understands policies and procedures and is working from the same playbook, so to speak. Miscommunication may happen sometimes, simply as a product of human fallibility, but there’s no excuse for a phone support rep to promise a customer something that in-store personnel can’t reasonably deliver, or vice-versa, just as an example. This is especially important if an exception is being made for a particular customer. Sometimes it’s necessary, and sticking to the absolute letter of the law when it comes to things like return policies or waiving fees isn’t the appropriate choice one hundred percent of the time, but if an exception is being made, it is critical that the customer be given a clear understanding of that fact and that it is due to the specific circumstances at hand. Otherwise you run the risk of that customer or his or her friends or colleagues coming in and expecting the same treatment again when the situation may not warrant it and when an employee unfamiliar with the situation may be forced to deal with the customer’s seemingly unrealistic expectations.

Make sure that your expectations are in line with your mission

If you talk about being customer service and customer experience focused, don’t breathe down your team’s neck about profits if their service evaluations are great. If you talk about individual attention to your clients, don’t cut retail or service payroll back to the point where there’s no way a customer can reasonably get extended personal attention. Whatever your larger vision is as a brand, you have to give your employees the necessary resources to deliver that, and you have to evaluate them on the kind of measurables that back that vision up.

Under promise and over deliver

It’s a business cliché for a reason. Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean don’t try to do your best and offer as much as possible to your customers, but it does mean being realistic about what you can reliably provide in a promised time frame or budget and to build in a little bit of a cushion for the somewhat inevitable unexpected situation to arise. Your boss probably doesn’t care if you’re fifteen minutes late to work because you hit traffic first thing in the morning and you had given yourself only exactly enough time to make your commute, and your customers probably won’t care if they don’t get their product in the time and budget they were promised no matter how much it was because of bad weather causing a shipping delay or the flu going through your marketing department or whatever else. You can’t plan for absolutely every potential hiccup, but you can reasonably expect that the odds of you running into some minor delay are fairly high and should be accounted for.

Customer service can be an absolutely make or break proposition in many situations. Customers will choose a higher priced or less convenient option if it comes with exceptional service, and will avoid the most budget friendly option if the prospect of dealing with the service it comes with is too unpleasant. Luckily, it’s nothing the tips above and some careful oversight can’t manage. Have any stories of the customer service reputation of a business making your decision for you? Share with us!