A customer service strategy helps you meet the specific needs of your target markets and defines how you can let your customers know that you understand their needs and can meet them.

At the core of customer service is the concept of delivering on a promise – if you promise you're able to provide the best product or service, or that you can deliver quickly, or offer the best price, you must be able to deliver on that promise.

Having a customer service strategy in place ensures your processes, systems or people don't let you down.

10 key service activities

To see if your customer service is helping to keep current customers, and attract new ones, there are 10 areas you can check regularly:

  1. Products and services information – explaining clearly what you offer.
  2. Counter and face-to-face service – helping customers meet their needs.
  3. Telephone service – quick, accurate service.
  4. Taking customer orders – making it easy to buy.
  5. Follow-up – relevant and timely follow-up
  6. Billing and managing payments – making it clear and easy to pay.
  7. Visiting the customer – arriving on time.
  8. Making repairs – fixed the first time, and on time.
  9. Handling complaints – turning complaints into compliments.
  10. Managing your service culture – a customer-focused business.

The service process

The service process helps you exceed customer expectations and encourage loyalty. There are five overall dimensions of customer expectations:

  1. Reliability – the ability to perform as promised, dependably and accurately.
  2. Tangibles – the business image as represented by the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials.
  3. Responsiveness – your willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
  4. Assurance – the knowledge and courtesy of your employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence to your customers.
  5. Empathy – the caring, individualised attention provided to the customer.

Meeting customer expectations

Regardless of how we measure customer services satisfaction, reliability comes in first.

Customers value reliability when it comes to delivering the service or product that you promised. Invariably a customer will consider that your business meets expectations if your service is delivered within the time, cost and speed that you promised.

Businesses are expected to be accurate and dependable and provide the products and services they promised to provide.

Exceeding customer expectations

Reliability is the most important dimension in meeting customer expectations. Assurance, responsiveness and empathy are most important in exceeding customer expectations.

When we ask customers what a business can do to exceed their expectations, they often refer to the service dimensions that provide an extra level of care, attention and courtesy.

Achieving customer service excellence

Look at all the places in your customer touch points and anything else which might impact on your ability to deliver excellence, and implement the following seven steps to customer service excellence:

1.    Involve staff in the process of service development and continuous improvement.
2.    Check for any service 'gaps'.
3.    Develop customer service standards to match your 'promise to customers'.
4.    Put in systems as a priority to ensure consistency.
5.    Organise ongoing staff training.
6.    Empower staff to make decisions.
7.    Regularly monitor and measure your performance.

Customer service excellence leads to customer satisfaction which in turn leads to repeat purchases, loyal customers, enhanced reputation and brand – and higher profits.