While customer service is important at any level, it's absolutely vital for small businesses. Quite often, you won't be able to compete with the pricing of larger, more established competitors, so personalized and attentive customer service is one place you can make up for it and really establish a value proposition. Check out these tips for creating a customer service plan below, and start making your customers happy!

Evaluating Your Current Customer Service

Unless you haven't yet interacted with a single potential customer, your business is already exhibiting some degree of customer service. So when creating a new customer service plan, the first step is evaluating what you're already doing. Whether you're a brand new operation or you've run a company for some time, it's worth taking a close look at:

  • Any operational data that might be hiding clues about customer dissatisfaction. Check on status of backlogs or stock outs. Review "returns and allowances"—if they're high, you probably have customers griping somewhere right now.
  • Return rates. If they're high, some bad product is likely getting out to your customer.
  • Average time of customer calls. If you have a dedicated customer service line, this should be easier. If it's a general line, you'll have to factor in longer sales calls (where longer duration could be a good thing), but the general idea is that the longer the average, the more frustrated your customers likely are. If you handle customer service through chat or email, you can measure the length and duration of those as well.
  • If you're a service provider, consider the average number of times the same service had to be performed for a single customer (hint: it should be close to zero, or you've likely got angry customers).

Going beyond the data, a customer service assessment should also include:

  • Dedicated meetings with employees or customer service representatives to ask about the state of customer satisfaction. They're the ones interacting with them on a daily basis, after all.
  • A review of complaints (which you must have a systematic way of tracking). Keep in mind that studies show only 2 to 4% of dissatisfied customers ever complain, so gather your data and then extrapolate accordingly.
  • Surveys and/or focus groups if you've got the capital.

Creating a Customer Service Plan

Whether you're modifying an existing plan based on the evaluation above or starting a new one from scratch, any sound customer service plan will have the following elements:

  • A customer profile. This basic profile should include essential characteristics that your customers share, including details or ranges for age, gender, location and level of education.
  • A vision statement. This should be an ultra-concise summation of what you're trying to provide for your customers, useful as a compass for both you and your employees. Do not make this overly complicated or remotely long. Ray Kroc's vision statement for McDonalds, for example, was simply "Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value."
  • A phone that is answered. Whether this is done by you, your staff or an outside service, someone needs to be answering the phone when customers call. Nothing will make aggrieved customers more frustrated and angry than feeling like they're being left out in the cold.
  • Instructions for how to greet your customers. Whether in person or on the phone, your greeting (or your employees’) will set the tone for the rest of the interaction, so make it count and be clear with your script expectations for employees.
  • An invitation back. Like your greeting, your last impression is hugely important in retaining loyalty and opening the door to future business, so make sure your employees have some agreed-upon way to invite customers back.

Creating a Customer Service Culture

Perhaps the most important part of any customer service plan is the creation of a true customer service culture within the company. Taking the following steps is a good start:

  • Explain to your employees why giving excellent customer service is important. At the most basic level, providing great service will ultimately make life easier for them: a reputation for bad service leads to more impatience on the part of customers, which leads to less pleasant interactions with your reps.
  • Celebrate great customer service. Create awards and trophies for those who do it well. Publicize their accomplishments in emails and newsletters. Go one step further than recognition and create tangible monthly or weekly prizes (cash, time off, etc.) for those employees that go above and beyond to serve their customers.
  • Create and implement a customer service training program for new hires. Disney, for example, has its famed "traditions" course, which explains to new employees the ways that the company has interacted with its customers for decades.