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These days it's extra challenging to satisfy and keep customers. It's even more important than ever because customer loyalty is generally considered the primary engine today to retain sales levels and gain an advantage over the competition.

It's been this way for a long time; it's just getting more attention now. We just need to do things better.

There are hundreds of ways to do better.

Here are 9 we like:

1. Know your product and services . . . inside and out.

Not being knowledgeable frustrates customers. An uneducated employee is semi-useless to a customer. Job knowledge is key in any position. If for any reason your company doesn't offer job knowledge training, make it your own priority to find out as much as you can. Job knowledge is a key ingredient to serving customers.

2. Believe in your product and services 150%.

We know of a salesperson who has never had any formal sales training. However, based on the belief in the product, services and contagious enthusiasm, this person is a top seller. People LOVE to buy from people who get excited about their product. Customer service reps are salespeople!!!

3. Walk the walk, talk the talk. Practice what you preach.

A Ford dealer would not drive a GM car. Employees need to support their company's product or services before they can expect their customers to have confidence in them.

4. Keep your word.

Companies spend thousands, sometimes millions of dollars advertising their services and products. They tell the customer they are THE BEST, THE ONLY, they are NUMBER ONE. "WE GUARANTEE OUR WORK" isn't enough. Customers need to know that you'll do what you and your advertising says you will. If you claim to provide the 'best of anything,' make sure you keep your word. And be sure all employees keep their word. Telling a customer something will be to them in 7 working days, and then having it NOT show up is a credibility buster.

5. Return all calls and emails.

It boggles my mind when a call or an email is not returned. There's not an excuse in the world I could buy when that happens. Sure, some of us get way too many calls and aren't able to return them in a timely manner. Well, then have the call returned on your behalf! Not returning an email? How much work does that take? DUH?

6. Don't ever forget "who brought you to the dance."

In other words, there are always customers who were with you from the start. They helped make your business a success. They believed in you. A nice simple note once in a while is an ego booster to them and you'll feel good about it too.

7. Make NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE CALLS or NOTES.

Every once in a while, drop a note or make a phone call to customers (and prospective customers) without trying to 'sell' them something. Telephone Doctor labels those "no ulterior motive" calls. They're "just because" calls. . . and very welcomed. When was the last time you heard from a salesperson or a company just to say HI? (See what I mean?)

8. Be in a good mood.

All the time! Be the person that when the customer leaves or hangs up the phone, they think to themselves, "That was a great call/visit." Not in a good mood? Learn how to be. Remember one of our Telephone Doctor mottos: "A phony smile is better than a real frown." Do you really think the first runner up of the Ms. America contest is as "thrilled for the winner" as she says or shows she is? Talk about a great big phony smile!

9. Participate in customer service training programs at your company.

Sure you know how to be a good CSR. But everyone could use a refresher. And if there are no programs in place on customer service, ask for them. At best, you'll be ahead of the competition, and at worst, you'll at least be even with them. Customer service is not a department. It is a philosophy. And it's for the entire company. Everyone needs to embrace it - or it doesn't work.

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Nancy Friedman, president and founder of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, St. Louis MO, is a speaker at association, franchise and corporate meetings. She can be reached in St. Louis at 314 291 1012. Or visit www.nancyfriedman.com.

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