Customer service has traditionally been a support function to respond to customer initiated requests, meaning someone waits for the phone to ring or for a website support request form.

Today's customers definition of service is the sum total of their "experience," covering all aspects of their relationship, including the shopping and buying process, as well as ongoing assistance.

In my role as an advisor to you as an entrepreneur, I always recommend that you move to a more proactive customer service strategy, to include interactive  social media campaigns, self-service options on your website, and personalized handling of unique requests.

Here is my list of seven key principles to follow in setting up up your customer service policies and organizations today:

1. Provide customers with choices in every interaction

The old days of routing a customer to a single phone queue for any request will quickly kill any brand loyalty or advocate referral.

The best businesses provide a direct chat box on their website, Twitter and Facebook requests addresses, as well as email, phone and website alternatives.

2. Think "pull" marketing rather than "push" for all services

This means providing such delightful and personalized service that the customer is pulled in for upsells and becomes an advocate. Pushing customers with special sales, repeated marketing jargon, and promotions will quickly weaken brand loyalty and increase churn.

3. Staff all customer interactions with experienced people

The people you select to interact with customers defines your brand credibility.

Customers quickly detect intern usage or outsourcing to unfamiliar cultures, and will share their reactions through social media, rating sites, and personally. Lost growth can quickly exceed current savings.

4. Never say "no" or "dead-end" a customer request

Always provide a positive next step or a request for feedback, with active follow-up included. We have all received the "do-not-reply" email or been refused access to the real decision maker.

If your company can't satisfy their special request, be prepared to connect them to a competitor who can.

5. Use technology to personalize and expedite requests

How many times have you been asked to repeat information when you interact with multiple people at a company?

With today's technology, every business should know your name, phone number, and transaction history when they answer the phone and pass you to the right contact.

6. The customer's view of usability is the one that counts

Usability means adapting to the user's background, rather than the user adapting to your changes for efficiency.

Changing the sequence of your online ordering process will frustrate and confuse current customers, so test on all constituents, with feedback, before making "improvements."

7. Set up online forums for customers to help each other

Most people feel good if they can help someone else, and customers who are advocates usually give better answers than your technical people.

The forum staff should always be watching, to initiate or supplement answers, implement solutions internally, and reward contributors.

Today bad customer experiences, whether unnoticed or resolved poorly, will jeopardizing your entire brand image. Consider the experiences of United Airlines a few years back in handling a broken guitar, or more recently Comcast's handling of a service cancellation request.

The solution is to set the norm with positive reviews and too many delighted customer stories to challenge.

Although the technology is getting better and better, there is no substitute for well-trained people with the passion, conviction, and authority to anticipate and resolve any situation.

It's time to take a hard look at what more you can do to build a positive emotional relationship with every customer, and entice them to pull everyone they know away from competitors.

Published on: Jan 13, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.