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It sounds obvious, but customer service can make or break a business.

The vast majority of customers (82%) have decided to stop doing business with a company based on a bad customer service experience, according to this year’s Customer Experience Impact Report released by RightNow Technologies. Of those who abandon a company because of lousy customer service, three quarters of them never return to that business.

The report, which is based on a survey of more than 2,000 American adults, also found that good customer service can actually boost the amount that consumers are willing to pay for a product. More than half of those surveyed said they would pay an extra 10% if it meant they would receive better customer service.

"This year's report not only demonstrates the financial impact of a negative customer experience, but the real value of positive customer experiences,” Greg Gianforte, RightNow’s CEO, said in a press release. “By focusing on delivering exceptional experiences, businesses have the opportunity to grow their customer base, improve brand loyalty and increase overall revenue."

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So what exactly differentiates a good customer service experience from a bad one? Anyone who has ever had to navigate their way through 15 minutes worth of menu options and hold time – that is to say, everyone – surely has a good idea.

The survey found that there are three major areas that can sour a consumer’s experience. The first and the one cited most often is a rude staff, followed by slow resolution of complaints and finally an unknowledgeable staff. So if you want your customers to keep coming back, make sure your staff is courteous, acts quickly on complaints and knows how to fix problems.

Check out MainStreet’s roundup of the best stores for customer service from 2009.

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