How to improve your customer service: customers, aubergines, and you

Argh—how can I improve customer service? Ultimately, it comes down to treating people like, well, people

Customers don’t have to do much to get what they want—and they don’t have to wait long to get it.  Because hell hath no fury like a consumer scorned. And businesses know it.

It’s all down to the one strike and you’re out doctrine. It draws even the most long-standing customers into the arms of the competition, and before the struck-out business can even finish stuttering “but…what…about…brand…loyalty?”

The antidote is as simple as it is difficult—providing exceptional customer service.

You may not have the cash to outspend your rivals on customer service, but you can certainly attempt to outperform them on it. And there’s a ton of ways to do this, and they extend further than the now-clichéd “have a nice day” ending to every interaction

What is customer service?

Customer service is how you come across as a business.

Your products may be the real Slim Shady and have virality on its own, but abstracts like your service and reputation also drive value and new customers—and are a crucial to retaining them.

The aubergine seller: a short, cautionary tale

Think of customer service in terms of a marketplace. If someone sold the best aubergines in all the lands but insulted your mother every time you tried to buy some, you’d probably think twice about coming back to this vendor. And being a good friend and all, you’d make sure to spare your friends’ mothers the same trouble, and before you knew it, the monger in question would be out of business—despite their delicious product.

Dry your tears now, this story is fiction. But the lesson it teaches isn’t.

To avoid the same fate, you should think about these top customer service tips.

Customer service tips to follow

How can you ensure that you retain customers and continue to grow your company?

Excel in customer service, of course.

  1. 1
    Get on top of training

    Good training is essential to great customer service—but you knew that already. And good training requires:

    • Knowledge

    • Empathy

    • Work Ethic

    Let’s dig a bit deeper into that.


    Your staff should be able to yap for days about what you sell.

    I’m talking product category history, what the competition’s doing and not doing, and yes—even some of the technical stuff. The customer probably won’t ask about these things, but a rep that’s savvy on all fronts lets the customer know they’re in better hands than they asked for. This gives them confidence that choosing you—instead of Evil Corp—was a good choice.

    Now, knowledge training doesn’t have to be boring.

    Get going with educational quizzes that don’t feel like a chore. Start sending out regular product updates. Invite the product-making wizards to talk to sales staff. And do everything else you can think of. But remember that engaged staff isn’t just something you can layer on top. It begins with recruitment. Hire the right people with the right attitude, and they’ll be along for the ride.


    Next, your staff need to be empathetic—so try to hire empathetic people and lead by example as often as you can.

    Simon says what Simon sees.

    Be alert and responsive to the needs of your staff—big and small—and they’ll pay it forward to the customers. It’s important to realize that though the customer isn’t always right, they’re always on to something.

    This is why you should start accepting wrongdoings. Phrases like “I can see how annoying that must’ve been”, and “I’m sorry you had to deal with that” disarm the customer, defuse the atmosphere and demonstrate that your business is on the customers’ side.

    It’s important to always be cheerful (but not too much because that can seem like mockery in the face of customer problems), and never leave a conversation without resolving their issue to the best of your ability.

    Always try to not just fix problems but exceed customers’ expectations of how this interaction could have ended.

    Work Ethic

    Finally, your customer service reps need to have a stellar work ethic. This can-do attitude allows them to go further for their customers—developing relationships and a great reputation for both themselves as individual reps, and for your business as a whole.

    So have your team do everything they can to stay on the customer’s side, and see problems all the way through to their resolution.

    And make that your resolution.

  2. 2
    Always be clear and honest

    So your staff are all trained up and are doing wonders on the phone, online, and in-person—that’s brilliant.

    Next, you’ve got to make sure that your website and other touchpoints are clearly communicating exactly what value you can bring customers and at what price. If you’re selling something, sell it in black-and-white terms.

    That means ditching the hidden charges and divorcing ambiguous and complicated language.

    Your online help center and resources need to be clearly linked and beautifully organized, so people don’t fall down a rabbit hole that sucks the life force out of them.

    Confused customers are frustrated customers. And If you get on people’s nerves with unclear messaging, it might be the last you ever see of them. So try to keep it clear, simple, and useful for them at all times.

    The trick is to speak like the customer does—using their language back to them, to make less room for misunderstandings. If it helps, remember that Romeo and Juliet both died from a simple misunderstanding.

  3. 3
    Don't forget to check in...

    Monthly or weekly emails are a good way to show customers that you’re thinking about them and to remind them that you exist.

    Drop a few links or images to things they might like to get—using relevant buyer data, and not just your promo of the day.

    You can follow up more personally on particular issues if necessary to ensure that everything is resolved and the customer is happy, and if they haven’t visited for a while, a lighthearted “we miss you” style message can go down well.

    Just always be sure to group people according to their personal history with you, so no one receives irrelevant content. Irrelevant content is a one-way ticket to the ‘unsubscribe’ button.

  4. 4
    ...but don't overdo it

    Email, yes. Spam, no.

    Your customers hate being bombarded by emails, texts or phone calls.

    Don’t be that person.

  5. 5
    Predict what people want

    It’s time to get the whiteboard out.

    Make sure that you and your team are prepared for every kind of customer: who they are, when and why they might contact you, and what you need to do to keep them happy at whatever point in time is relevant for them. If you feel lost in how to start, brand perception surveys can gather data that helps you meet customers where they're at.

    In other words, if you’re selling toys and it’s December 22nd, staff the floor with every stress-resistant trooper you got. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

  6. 6
    Go above and beyond

    At every point in your customer cycle—from the first hello to the last goodbye at churn—you need to try your best to make them happy. Don’t just contact people when you want something.

    Be proactive and think about what you can do to solve real-life problems and improve their experience with you.

    Take your time on this, because it’s what will give you the customers with the highest lifetime value.

    Build a loyal band of customers by sending discounts, deals, a free month, or similar—just for the sake of it.

    Exceed expectations, and woo people wherever you can, and work out when the best time to do that is. It’s not a free tactic, but the guiding principle here is that keeping customers is cheaper than getting new customers.

  7. 7
    Nurture relationships

    For the big fish clientele, you might need dedicated accounts people who can go the extra mile and nurture the heck out of these relationships.

    This might involve things like lunches and tickets to events, or the odd phone call to ensure that they have what they need.

    Have you seen the TV show Mad Men? Take it with a grain of salt, but you might need a Pete Campbell on your team.

  8. 8
    Happy employees = happy customers

    Your employees are the face of your business, so treat them well.

    Sir Richard Branson claims that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your company. Treat them to a night out once in a while, have fun around the holidays and help them out personally whenever that’s appropriate.

    Offer incentives for being great. Colleagues and friends perform better than minions and workers.

How you ask is everything.