Six Ways to Improve Customer Service . . . at No Cost

If you want to see the power of customer service, talk to my 82-year-old dad. He tell you about great service he had years after the fact.

I've even known him to still be talking up a company after they've gone out of business. If I mention that the company’s no longer operating he'll say, "I don’t know about that, but I do know when I stopped by I got great service.

It’s the Small Things

The things that my dad gets excited about aren't big or expensive. It's the small stuff. Here are a few direct quotes:

"Every time I go in there, those gals have a smile on their face."

"They know my name. Even if I come back a month later, they know my name."

"They refilled my drink – for free!"

My favorite was a few months ago when he left the hospital. He said, "I wish I could have introduced you to the guy who wheeled me out to the car. Nicest guy. I mean really nice." Since then I’ve been wondering, what did the man wheeling my dad out of the hospital do to make that kind of impression? I do want to meet this guy.

Free Ways to Improve Customer Service

There are many ways you can create a valuable customer experience that cost you nothing. Here are just a few.

1. Talk to them. Interact with your customers like you would a friend or colleague. It should be genuine. The customer shouldn’t feel like you’re reading from a script.

2. Smile. There are obviously some interactions where smiling would not be inappropriate, but not that many. If your interaction with the customer could be improved by smiling, do it.

3. Listen. When the customer is talking, really listen. Try not to multitask, so the customer feels like they are getting only part of your attention.

4. Go the extra step. Bob Farrell, founder of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor would call this "Give ‘em the Pickle." If there’s something you can do to make the experience better, or more special (like that extra pickles they wanted for their burger), then by all means give them the pickle.

5. Make yourself available. Let customers know that they are more than a task that’s been completed. For example, a clerk could say, "Here’s your receipt," or they could say, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" Which one would you rather hear?

6. Share. By sharing a little about yourself, customers feel more connected and special. For example my husband and I were recently trying to choose between some gourmet cheeses. The guy behind the counter could have just given us samples, but he smiled and let us know which were his favorites were and why, as well as what drinks he paired them with. Not only were we happy, and better informed, we purchased more cheese.

Talking Billboard

Don't miss an opportunity to make your customer experience special. People remember when you treat them well, and they share that information. Just ask my dad.

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor--with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.