Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Customer service is a winning marketing strategy

How do you think of customer service -- as problem resolution, helping new users to learn a product, how things get fixed when they break, or just the cost of doing business? To some companies it’s the department down the hall that takes care of customers after they buy.

This is an after the fact, reactive attitude. Thinking this way will hurt your business.

How do you define customer service? It isn’t easy. Often I’ll ask someone what differentiates their company and they quickly say, “our customer service is superior.” When I ask them to be more specific, the answer is usually something like, “we exceed our customer’s expectations everyday.”

That doesn’t really tell a prospect much of anything.

When done right, customer service is the fusion of marketing and customer engagement taken to new heights. You might even think of customer service as a better way of marketing.

No matter what type of product or service you have, the industry you’re in, if you’re selling business-to-business or business-to-consumer -- there’s always one common element. The prospect is a real person who doesn’t want to be sold to.

That makes it human-to-human selling. It’s a process of listening to and engaging with your customer before and after they become a customer. It’s all about the experience that makes customers fans for life.

Now let’s rewind the definition of customer service and start again.

Customer service is a total experience. Think of customer service as a process. It takes place every day and is about how you deliver your offering at every step of the engagement. From making your website easy to navigate and responding immediately to inquires, to following up without delay and offering a product or service that does what you say it will do with no hidden costs or problems. And when a issue does surface, just take care of it quickly and with a big smile. Map out the process and make it part of your culture.

Customer service is your long-term reputation. Frustrated customers will not buy again and they’ll spread bad press. No matter how good your offering is -- or isn’t -- compared to competitors, a much higher level of customer service will always win the day. That requires an investment in time and money and perhaps a hit to short-term profit. Yet, the payoff is huge. Create a reputation for customer service excellence and continually live up to it. In the long run great customer service is very cost-efficient and more profitable.

Customer service is a marketing opportunity. According to a survey by the American Marketing Association, 90 percent of consumers trust peer reviews and 70 percent trust online reviews. Extremely satisfied fans turn into advocates and gladly tell others. Actively encourage your customers to tell their stories and recommend your company as part of your social media marketing strategy. Their testimonials will come across as authentic and sincere with their firsthand knowledge of what you’re all about. Look at customer service as a marketing investment, not an expense.

Your marketing will bring prospects in the door and get them to your website. Only consistent, pleasurable experiences with your company will turn them into loyal fans. Make great customer service a priority for your business.

Read earlier columns from Florida Trend's business coach, Ron Stein
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Ron Stein is the founder and President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He has more than 20 years experience in sales, marketing, and business development, working positions ranging from salesman to vice president of sales and marketing to CEO of startups with industry leaders such as Motorola, VideoServer, Paradyne, and SercoNet. Ron is a member of the advisory team at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nationally recognized entrepreneurial and startup accelerator for the state of Florida. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com