Rate your customer service. Really, stop now, and give it a rating of between 0-10.

How did you do? I hope you were honest. Let’s face it. Customer service is a big deal! It is often the difference between business success and failure. Why? Because your clients have a choice where they do their business and they want to be treated as if they and their patronage are appreciated. If you do not give them what they want, someone else will.

Statistically, we know that 13-15% of clients do not come back because they were unhappy with the product or service they purchased and over 65% do not come back because they were unhappy with the service they received. Luckily your customer service statistics can be improved.

Below you will find my recommended elements of great customer service. These are the elements you are being judged on. These are the elements that either retain or repel your clients. The higher you rank in each the more likely you are to “wow” your clients and keep them coming back for more.

1. Patience

The French playwright Molière said, “Trees that are slow to grow, bear the best fruit.” Patience is important to customers. If you take the time to build the relationship it will last longer and be more valuable. Great service beats fast service every time.

Recently I had a client tell me that they loved working with me because I always take the time to explain every concept we discuss and make sure they understand. What they were really saying has they needed a patient coach and I was fulfilling their need.

2. Responsiveness

The dictionary defines responsiveness as answering or replying, readily reacting to appeals or requests. If this element is missing it will send a message more quickly than any other. To a customer, non-responsiveness feels like they are being ignored. Everyone knows what it feels like to be ignored. Is that a person you want to spend your time with or do your business with? Of course not and your clients will feel the same way. They want to do business with people that want to do business with them and they give enormous weight to their decision to buy on how responsive you are.

3. Clear Communication Skills

There are different methods of communication including verbal, nonverbal, and written. Often in business, we spend more time talking than listening. We give instructions and updates, we answer questions, and sometimes we offer excuses. This is verbal communication and conveys information quickly and with emotion. Great verbal communication is honest, concise, and conveyed with positive emotion.  The best verbal communication also requires active listening. Active listening is defined as, being fully engaged without distraction, receiving the information, and then clarifying that the message you received was the message that was intended.

Nonverbal communication is what your client “sees” which includes gestures, actions, facial expressions, body language, physical appearance, etc. Great customer service is conveyed with a professional appearance, positive gestures and expressions and welcoming body language.

Written communication comes in different forms today all of which are intended to share information that educates or influences your clients. Whether it is direct mail, electronic mail, or text, effective written communication should be properly punctuated, use appropriate language, send the intended tone, and be free of grammatical errors.

4. Product or Service Knowledge

Have you ever had that experience where you were motivated to “buy” but needed a few questions answered before making a final decision? That happened to me recently when I needed a new mobile phone. I made my way to the kiosk in the mall with my credit card in hand. All I needed were a few product and service questions answered to confirm that I was making the right decision. The representative behind the counter greeted me with, “Welcome and please be gentle with me. I am new and still learning.” Yikes! That is certainly not what I wanted to hear. I had questions. I wanted someone that had a full grasp of the product and service knowledge. It was quickly confirmed that she had neither (couldn’t answer any of my questions). I found that I was annoyed not with the new employee but with the mobile provider that cared so little about my experience that they were willing to put someone behind the counter that knew nothing about the product or service.

Great customer service can only be delivered by motivated, well-trained and knowledgeable employees. Make product training a priority and delay putting employees in contact with customers until they either have all the knowledge they need or a quick, available reference resource.

5. Optimism

It may sound like fluffy nonsense, but your willingness to be optimistic about the outcome of need, request, problem or concern and you sharing that optimism with your client makes them feel more secure and optimistic about your relationship. It is contagious.

Here’s an example: Let’s say a customer contacts you to say that they did not receive their order on time.

The way you respond to their complaint can make all the difference in their desire to continue ordering from you.

Without optimism: “I can check on it for you and see what happened. If you don’t have it by now it must be backordered.”

With optimism: “Let me check on your order. Once I know where it is I can offer you several options to get it to you as quickly as possible.”

Which answer would you like to get?

6. Empathy

There is an old adage, “walk a mile in my shoes” and it simply means that in order for you to fully understand the situation of another you must see it from their point of view. Being able to see any situation from your client’s point of view will help you more fully understand their need so that you can satisfy it more completely. There are degrees of empathy. For you or your employees to use it to the full advantage it must be practiced. That starts with an understanding of the importance of empathy.

7. Flexibility

Just like my dad used to say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” That may sound crude but the meaning behind it is there is more than one way to reach any goal, solve any problem, get to any location or  fulfill any dreams. If in the end, you reach your goal, will you really worry about how you got there? Often we are committed to doing it “our way” and close our mind to any other path. Great customer service can only be delivered if you are willing to be open to a new way, a way that pleases you client but does not penalize you.

8. Consistency

Recently I visited a restaurant where I have spent many happy hours with friends and family. It was a place that we could always count on to deliver great service, a scrumptious meal, and a pleasant atmosphere. Our whole party was disappointed when we waited much longer than usual to be for a meal that was not the quality we had come to expect. I wrote it off to a “bad night” and several weeks later made another reservation. This time, we waited thirty minutes, had to ask for our order to be taken, and the kitchen mixed up our orders I shared my concerns with the manager who seemed to be unaware of any problem and gave me no reassurance that anything would change. This restaurant is no longer on my list. Why? They have moved to “consistently great” to “consistently poor” on my choices of entertainment. It takes a long time to build a reputation for being consistently “good” and only a few experiences for the opposite to be true. Your clients expect great customer service ~consistently!

9. Follow-through

Follow-through is defined as “to press on in an activity or process especially to a conclusion.” In business, that means do what you say you will do. If you have a delivery date, keep it. If you promise a certain service will be delivered in a particular way, do it. If you commit to meet on a particular day at a particular time, be there. That goes for everyone on your staff. Your business is measured by the actions of every staff member. Be sure they know that you expect them to follow-through on their commitments.

10. Go the extra mile

Follow-through is the minimum. Going the “extra mile” will get you more of what you want for longer. Giving customers more than they expect will pay off. One of the best ways to do that is to make the effort to get to know your customers. In my career, I travel a lot and have moved cities and locations regularly. I used to play this little game when choosing a new dry cleaning service. Admittedly, I have more dry cleaning than the average person. So, if my cleaner did not know my name by the 5th visit, I moved on! I am happy to say that I have now been settled in the same place and been very happy with my dry cleaner for 7 years. We have had a few laughs about how they almost missed my business. Challenge yourself and your employees to find ways to get to know your clients better. Always have appropriate boundaries but knowing their name and what matters most to them in the services you provide will help you both build relationships with new clients and retain them.

Ready to improve your customer service score? Establish standards, share them with your staff and your customers and make it your business to earn their business every day in every way by practicing the elements above.