Customer service is core to my business-;and I’d argue that it is to yours, too. After all, delighted customers are fundamental to building a brand that has resonance and longevity. So at LearnVest, we’re on an everlasting quest to determine how to please our customers. 

Over the years, I’ve pored over thousands of emails from our customers. I’ve probably talked to even more. Here are four things I’ve learned:

1. Empower Your Reps. Customer service staffers need the freedom to be creative and respond to customers as individuals. Every situation is unique. As a result, we are very careful about whom we hire; our perfect rep is smart, empathetic, and enthusiastic. And they have to be able to adhere to our core values, which are posted on the wall of our office. Here’s one such value that was recently on display: “Our team figures things out.” When a user had some questions about our iPhone app, our customer service rep invited her to come to our office and get some tips with the head of our mobile team.

2. Do Some Secret Shopping. No matter how careful you are about hiring, or how clearly you express your values, there’s only one way to know if your customer service people are really on the ball: Take them for a test drive! I’ve personally done a bit of secret shopping, as have various members of our team. Ask family and friends to do the same.

This is the best way to identify things you’d like to improve on. Did you like the tone of the response? Did someone get back to you quickly? Did you end up happy with the outcome? By truly putting yourself in your customers shoes, you’ll know what’s working, and more importantly, what’s not.

3. Create an Ongoing Dialogue. Customer service is not just about handling complaints; it’s also about generating ideas. Whenever a customer takes the time to share his or her experience, we make sure to continue the dialogue and share it with those at the company who can implement those ideas.

At many companies, customers who suggest something are lucky to get a response letting them know their idea is on the to-do. At LearnVest, we make sure they get a note six months later saying “It’s now launched!” Indeed, follow-through is a critical step in the customer service process. For example, we received gotten countless requests to offer our Money Center service, which lets users keep track all of their financial accounts in one place, as an app. When we launched the app last fall, those customers were the first to learn about it.  

4. Learn to Love Your Unhappy Customers. It isn’t much fun to speak with a customer who’s upset with something you’ve worked so hard to build. But you take a deep breath and listen-;really listen-;to what they have to say. Our first priority, of course, is to make sure everyone has a good experience. But if they don;t, our second priority is to find out why so we can ensure it never ever happens again. So when you encounter an unhappy customer, respond immediately, stay calm, and take it as a huge learning opportunity.

This is especially true for you, the CEO. It can be easy to get caught up with your big picture strategy. But you have to be open to the lessons individual customers bring to the table. Listen up and take action accordingly.