Customer service is one of the most difficult and critical tasks for small business owners to manage. Shoppers increasingly expect more from their purchase and know that they can take their business elsewhere at any moment. To foster more brand loyalty, leaders should make quality service a priority. 

At my company Amerisleep, customer service is the largest department at our headquarters. Within it, we also invest a lot into the technology that powers our customer interactions and the training our support representatives receive. For us, the upside is higher user satisfaction rates, improved word of mouth referrals, fewer returned purchases, and increased shopper retention.

Below are three key applicable strategies that allow you to transform your customer service from merely good to world-class.

1. Respond instantaneously even when a solution isn't immediately available.

The mobile era has made it clear that companies wanting to create incredible customer experiences have to be available on-demand. Yet, a 2017 study from Salesforce Research found that 47 percent of small and medium businesses claimed offering timely responses to customers is a top challenge for them.

Customer problems are often complex issues requiring detailed answers, but you don't have to know everything about the situation before responding. All you have to do is engage them immediately, inform them specifically of the actions you'll take in order to help, and follow up in a timely manner.

2. Treat customer service as an interdepartmental effort.

Good customer service can be facilitated by a dedicated client support team. However, great customer service is the result of a unified effort from groups throughout the organization. If you view the service effort as the sole responsibility of a single department, it will never advance beyond "good."

In fact, the same report from Salesforce Research suggests high-performing small and medium businesses are 5.6 times more likely to effectively gather insights on the buyer's relationship throughout the customer lifecycle when compared to underperforming teams.

To create memorable user experiences, train employees at every level of the company on customer service best practices. When each member of your organization is dedicated to quality service, it can leave a lasting impression on your clients across all touch points and enable you to nurture your relationships.

3. Actively experiment with new customer service metrics.

Common metrics such as 'number of resolutions' and 'total response time' paint a basic picture of your current customer service performance. Yet, those data points alone do not provide a complete understanding of the quality and effectiveness of your efforts. Context and segmentation are always important considerations to help you identify new ways in which you can add value for shoppers.

For instance, what if each one of your support agents was encouraged to increase the amount of time they spent working with a customer, rather than resolve the issue as quickly as possible? In this scenario, although average resolution times may increase, you're likely to enhance brand loyalty, create new cross-selling opportunities, and improve your referral rate. 

Think critically about what matters most to your business, whether it's lowering your return rates, increasing repeat purchases, or improving the quality and quantity of product reviews you receive. Then, brainstorm news ways in which you can track leading indicators for those metrics. While some companies may be satisfied relying on traditional service-related criteria, the most effective ones aren't afraid to change things up and look at their client relationships with a different perspective.

Published on: Feb 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.