Unless you know these seven simple rules of customer service, you're almost certainly driving customers away. And you may not even know why it's happening, until you wake up one Monday and find that they're gone.
1. Don't screen calls. Screening calls from customers and prospects is a power play that'll turn them off from the get-go. If you can possibly avoid doing so you should; if are truly so busy that you have to violate this rule, have it done for you with great sensitivity: "Absolutely, may I tell Mrs. Smith who is calling?" rather than "And what is this in regard to?" In other words, make the customer feel that they've gotten through the gauntlet prior to saying who they are, rather than that they have to pass some kind of test.
2. Don't make customers go to a second employee for requests you could've handled yourself. One of the most striking differences between a great business and the rest of them is the way that the first person you reach is willing to handle nearly whatever you asked for. Even a pretty generic 3-star hotel knows and follows this essential rule; call the front desk to get another pillow and they'll call housekeeping for you rather than forcing you to make a second call.
Even in a high-stakes environment healthcare, at a great institution like Mayo Clinic an upset patient or loved-one who speaks to, say, a volunteer at the front desk or a housekeeper changing linens, is going to get an "absolutely, I can help you with that!" response rather than 'what do I look like, a neurosurgeon?" They're not going to help you by re-doing your surgery or suggesting a different plan of care, but they will help you by taking you to someone with the knowledge to help sort things out on your behalf.
3. Don't send un-trained employees out to practice on your customers before they're ready. You don't need to be by nature a jerk to give jerkish customer service; you just need to lack appropriate training. At The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Danny Meyers' restaurants, and all other masters of customer service and customer focus, it's a hard-and-fast rule that you never practice on customers. It should be yours as well.
4. Don't leave the "how are you?" ping-pong game in mid-stroke: If a customer says, "how are you"? don't say "good," or "I'm well," or "just fine, thank you," without also asking how the customer is! Yes, this "how are you" exchange is meaningless (customer doesn't really want to know how you are, at least not in any significant detail), but you still need to hold up your portion
5. If a customer says, "thank you," reply to them with "You're welcome," or "My pleasure," or "Thank you"-nearly anything other than "no problem." No problem implies-no matter what you meant, which I'm sure was much more positive- that serving them might have been a problem, or that they shouldn't have thanked you.
6. Don't hire jerks. Easier said than done, I know, but there are personality profiling tools out there that can be very helpful in this regard. As can be diligent follow-up on an applicant's prior behavior at previous employers.
7. Treat every customer as if they're the only one you have. There is almost no customer who wants to hear about how busy a day you've had, how much their problems resemble other issues you've encountered with other customers, etc. This is one of my most important, and famous, customer maxims: The customer is at the center of the customer's universe; make sure they feel that they're at the center of yours as well. Even if you forget the other six rules on this list from time to time, keep this seventh one close to heart and watch the difference it makes.