MANAGE your customers well — that is the key message every organisation and business has to take home. Do this and you will have loyal customers in the long term.

On the flip side, if you mess up, you may lose them forever. Not only that, they will also share negative word-of-mouth feedback with other people that will impact on your business adversely.

To deliver great service experiences, you need to deliver more value to your customers. You have to love them like friends. You need to instil the right mindset in service staff — everyone has to think like a business owner and help grow the customer base.

Your frontline service staff and supervisors have to be more attentive to service details. Lastly, they have to learn and master the skills and techniques to handle challenging service situations and “customers from hell”.

Here are three key strategies to move your service ahead of the rest:

Deliver total customer satisfaction

To achieve total customer satisfaction, you need to know your customers (both internal and external) better so you can serve their needs and wants.

How can you understand your customers better? This is a question that many service frontlines ask themselves. Here are some ways:

* Be more friendly, approachable and helpful;

* Listen and talk to customers more to understand their needs and wants; and

* Serve customers with more professionalism.

After conducting service workshops for the hospitality, food and beverage, and retail industries for more than a decade, I have come to realise that customers have the following needs and wants:

What do customers need?

* Good product knowledge;

* Timely responses; and

* Friendly and helpful service.

What do customers want?

* Good product knowledge delivered through clear and simple explanations;

* Response times that are fast and better than expected; and

* Service providers who are like good friends and go the extra mile to help them.

What great service professionals must do is satisfy both the needs and wants of their customers. When you offer greater value than what customers expect, they will be totally satisfied with their service experience.

Benchmark your business against organisations with award-winning customer service

In my workshops, I share with participants what is expected of service frontlines to win awards in customer service and how they can do it. In general, the service superstar has the following qualities:

* Positive and service-oriented mindset;

* High level of emotional intelligence (EQ);

* Warm, friendly and approachable;

* Great listening and communication skills;

* Great product knowledge; and

* Ability to handle difficult customers with confidence and professionalism.

The participants then identify their own service superstars, use them as role models and work out an action plan to achieve success for themselves.

Here is a noteworthy tip from Mahatma Gandhi:

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Handle difficult customers well

Here are two tips to handle difficult customers:

* Keep calm and respond

   professionally

When handling a difficult customer, it is important for the service frontline to remain calm. The focus is to listen to the issues highlighted, understand them and resolve them professionally.

This six-step approach is highly recommended for service frontlines:

Step 1: Control your emotions and listen attentively

Step 2: Put yourself in the customer’s shoes (that is, empathise)

Step 3: Ask questions in a positive and caring manner

Step 4: Suggest alternative solutions

Step 5: Apologise

Step 6: Solve the problem or refer it to your supervisor to resolve

* Learn how to manage different types of difficult customers

During team meetings, it is useful for service frontlines to share their experiences with different types of difficult customers — the ones who are arrogant, unreasonable, rude, serial complainers — and how they responded to them.

Success stories and effective strategies can be shared and replicated in the team. In this way, the new service frontlines can tap the expertise and experience of the seasoned ones.

To move your service ahead, it is essential to master these three strategies in order to achieve service success in your organisation.