Keys to Successful Customer Service

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Customer service skills are for retailers, not accountants, right? Wrong. Whether you sell shoes, surfboards or your skills or your firm's skills, your business depends on paying customers ... and the only way to keep customers is to provide them with friendly, helpful and professional service.

If you remember only one customer service rule, make it the Golden Rule: treat your clients the way you would want to be treated yourself. There's no better guide for any business person.

Within that golden framework, though, it helps to follow a few more specific guidelines:

  • Don't make excuses. Your clients don't want to hear your excuses for why you didn't complete their tax returns by the date promised, or couldn't find the answer to their questions. They just want what they paid for ... or for you to make things right as quickly and pleasantly as possible. Briefly explain what went wrong when problems arise ... but avoid the excuse trap.
  • Always work to make things right. What comes after explaining what went wrong? Making things right. Believe it or not, most clients don't expect you to be perfect ... but they will judge you on how you respond when things do go wrong. An honest apology, an offer to correct an error for free, even the occasional refund ... all these go a long way toward building a satisfied and loyal client base.
  • Pay 100-percent attention. Don't go over your to-do list, file papers or clear your desk as you're speaking with a client: keep all of your attention focused on his or her needs. That way, you'll know how to respond most effectively.
  • Follow phone and e-mail etiquette. Whether you're answering an incoming call or phoning a client, always identify yourself clearly and politely. The common courtesies of "hello," "please" and "thank you" still go a long way in making people feel comfortable and well treated. When leaving voice-mail messages, speak slowly and give your full name, telephone number and reason for your call - but don't ramble on. And if you provide your clients with an e-mail address, always respond to their messages promptly.
  • Never argue. The worst way to handle an angry client is to defend yourself with angry words of your own. All that does is escalate an unpleasant situation. Let the person be angry - they have a right to be, or at least believe they do. Once the venting is done, acknowledge your client's concern and work to resolve the problem quickly and professionally.
  • Be enthusiastic about your work. One of the best ways to instill confidence is by showing your clients how much you care about what you do. Demonstrate with your words and actions that you are committed to staying up-to-date in your profession and meeting your clients' needs. Find something positive to focus on even during the busiest times; your clients will feel better, and so will you.
  • Use "can-do" speech. Even a client with an impossible request doesn't want to hear you say, "There's no way." It's better to respond by saying what you can do, and by being as specific as possible. Then, make sure you deliver on your promise.

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