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How to Excel in Customer Service

Customers are the life-blood of businesses. And given today's darkening economic picture, customer service is one area experts say small businesses should excel in since loyal clients can mean the difference between remaining your own boss and closing up shop. Here are five steps you can take that won't leave you in the red:

Hire People People

Sounds easy enough: Staff your front line with employees who are personable and like dealing with customers. Sure, you can train them on company customer procedures, but if that employee can't or won't relate to a client's plight, you may have a relations problem. So during the interviewing process, be sure to throw in some nasty scenarios to see how a potential employee would deal with a complaint, says Jerry Acuff, author of The Relationship Edge (Wiley).

"We are not disciplined to get great people," says Acuff, who is also CEO of Delta Point, a sales consulting firm. "If you want stars on your team, you have to be disciplined, do the reference check and be prepared to turn away a lot of people."

If you must outsource your customer service, institute good quality control. That way, says Acuff, "there are no language or cultural barriers that will prevent customers from receiving the service they deserve."

Empower Your Employees

As part of your customer service procedure, consider guidelines that will give front-line employees the ability to address, if not solve, a client's problem. Every unhappy episode should be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen that customer relationship. More importantly, empowered employees are less likely to leave, says John DiJulius III, president of customer service consulting firm The DiJuluis Group and author of What's the Secret? To Providing World-Class Customer Service (Wiley). "Give associates the ability to make someone's day and they go home jazzed about their jobs."

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