Customer Service Basics

by Lisa Wilson, L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc.

Did you ever notice that when you pick up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment, call your insurance company, call a retail store or just about any company, you almost always get some kind of automated system? The message often states that “We are busy taking care of another customer, but your call is important to us, and we will be with you as soon as possible. If you don’t wish to wait, we can call you back. Press one for a call-back or press two to stay on the line.”

Many times this turns into phone tag. Now I am back to square one. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it — I hate it! If I am so important then why are you putting me through this? The answer is that it’s all about streamlining and return on investment.

There are software companies that sell retailers, hospital networks, insurance companies, etc., software that eliminates the need for people to answer the phone. When you press one and have somebody call you back it’s so that they don’t have to hire personnel to answer the phones.

Software companies state that the solution is to reduce call transfers and agents (customer service). They say you can eliminate hold times using virtual queue and callback technology. The best way to facilitate this is to use dynamic IVR systems and call-back routing methods to collect caller information and guide them to the correct department or call queue. This interfaces with your website and reduces hold times by implementing virtual queuing and call-back technology.

I don’t know about you, but I think they are missing the boat. It’s all about listening to the customer, being empathetic, and resolving their problem. How do you do that if you don’t answer your phone?

So, as a business owner, I want to stand out and not be like everyone else. Business 101: answer your phone and talk to your customer. Right?

These are some of the things I have learned in 25 years of doing business to gain the customers’ trust and get their business.

1. Return your phone calls asap. Be responsive. If they don’t answer, oftentimes they don’t because they, too, are very busy. Acknowledge receipt of their phone call and follow up with an email letting them know you received their call and will get back to them as soon as you have the information they are looking for. If it goes beyond one day, let the person know via phone and email you are still working on it. This is really important because many times buyers are not given the lead time they need to get the product, so any information you can provide lets them know you are working on it, and they can provide that information to the appropriate individuals or requisitioners. This will help you maintain and establish credibility. Do what you say you are going to do.

2. Be available and make it easy to get in touch with you no matter what.

3. Anytime you have the opportunity to see the customer face to face, go for it. Examples of this might be:

  • I have the samples you are looking for.
  • Or I have a holiday gift I would like to drop off.

Don’t have them shipped if you are within driving distance. Meet with the customer and if possible have them look at or test the product while you are meeting with them. Any questions that come up can usually be answered right then and there. Any additional information they need while you are there can be taken care of a lot quicker. Getting in front of the customer allows you to meet other people within the organization who might be able to help you in the future if the buyer or your contact leaves the company. Holiday gifts go a long way. Customers remember these things.

4. Be a problem solver and provide solutions for the customer. Listen more than talk. Try to understand what the customer’s needs are.

5. Have a positive attitude. Nobody wants to surround themselves with negativity. Be the type of person that is a joy to be around.

6. Go above and beyond. If the customer needs something right away, do whatever it takes to get them what they need. Customers remember this.

7. Thank the customer for the business whenever you can.

8. Keeping in touch will help build long-term relationships, increase customer loyalty, and create opportunities.

9. Make the process of dealing with you easy.

10. Figure out how the customer likes to communicate, be it text, email, phone or social messaging. Communicate clearly and concisely.

11. The customer needs to feel and think he or she is getting a personalized experience. Treat them with respect.

12. Get customer feedback. This shows the customer you are actively taking their concerns into account and initiating better solutions.

13. Admit when you don’t know something. Tell them you will find out and get back to them. Admit when something has gone wrong. Don’t try to hide anything. Always be honest.

14. Know the products you are selling.

For more information on customer service, you can go to the MANA website,, and click on Agency Sales magazine. Using the search bar, type in “customer service.” There will be additional information on this topic.

Lisa Wilson is president & owner of L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., a manufacturers’ representative firm based in Bristol, Wisconsin that has been in business since 1998. Before opening her rep firm, Wilson spent 23 years in manufacturing positions that included purchasing management, production scheduling and planning, and customer service. Wilson also is on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Rail Mechanical Association.

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