When your business is small, customer service seems easy. When you don't have many customers to begin with, service is usually merely a matter of delivering the product and sending the customer on his way.

Growth is a game-changer, however. Suddenly there are thousands of customers to deal with. You need a strategy for handling all of the calls, tracking all of the orders, and placating the people who aren't happy with their service. Failing to properly plan out your customer service strategy now can put you out of business later. Protect yourself with these three essential tools.

1. CRM Software

Customer relationship management software tells you what your customers have ordered, when the purchase was made and, perhaps most importantly, the content of the conversations that they've had with your company. This helps you--and anyone else answering the phone--act in an informed way. You won't be fumbling around, trying to remember what this customer bought or what price he was quoted or when delivery was supposed to happen. Your customer won't feel frustrated because he'll feel like he's dealing with someone who knows what he's doing.

Don't invest tens of thousands of dollars in your CRM, however. Simple software is fine unless you have over 100,000 customers to deal with. Though Salesforce is better known and more popular, I prefer Salesoptima. Salesoptima allows a business to get moving quickly on their CRM initiatives because it does not require you to waste much time learning the software or training your employees on it.

2. A Help Desk

A good help desk software package serves several purposes. First, you give customers the power to learn the answers to simple questions, which frees your customer service staff to address the complicated issues. There are always those top 20 or top 30 questions that your staff gets over and over again. You can include the answers to these questions in your help desk library.

Help desks can also help you funnel requests to the right department. It can also create tickets for your team to follow up on.

Help desk software also captures customer service metrics. Good help desk programs will show you how fast your staff is responding to tickets, how many tickets are arriving daily, and which agents are responding the fastest. Zendesk.com and Desk.com are both great options which offer all of these features.

3. Survey Software

An online survey platform can be a godsend on the day that you have to start managing your customer service staff from a distance. Survey software will tell you whether these staff members are treating your customers as well as you would treat them. SurveyGizmo is a good one. It automatically e-mails customers on a weekly or monthly basis to ask them to rate their experience with your company. You can use these results to make improvements in your customer service department.

Start now.

Customer service is not the most exciting or attractive part of running a business, but it's certainly one of the most important components of growing a successful, world-class company. Start acquiring and using these tools now so that you develop the infrastructure to handle your customers as your company grows.

Published on: Nov 18, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.