New Year's resolutions for customer service operations

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November and December pass in a blur to most people in service industries. However, the New Year offers an opportunity to reflect on customer service practices and resolve to make improvements.

There is a high correlation between online customer service and customer loyalty. A study by the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business, Alexandria, VA, found 70 percent of online customers rated themselves "very likely" to repurchase products from e-commerce companies that respond to and resolve issues.

Additionally, customers are increasingly unwilling to tolerate lower levels of service online, with 85 percent of adults expecting service levels online to be the same as offline according to a consumer survey published in DM News in September 2006.

There are great risks in complacency and great rewards in taking action. Below are the basics of customer service. Consider whether or not your organization is doing all it can to enhance customers' experience:

--Start at the top: A customer service culture starts with the CEO and permeates throughout the organization. In this culture, the customer is the core of all managerial, financial and operational decisions. Management consistently demonstrates its customer commitment to all employees. Customers have multiple means of reaching the company, including telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and Interactive Voice Response systems (IVRs) as well as via the Web site.

--Be respectful of time: Prompt responses to telephone calls and emails shows respect. Review internal processes and remove roadblocks and delays. Publicly reward customer service heroes. Consider the lifetime value of your customers. It is more cost-effective to hire extra staff to provide timely responses than it is to win new business.

--Get it right, right away: Satisfaction levels drop each time a customer has to follow up on a request or on an issue. Try to thoroughly and accurately address customer queries on initial contact. If it is not possible, set a timeline with the customer and stick to it.

--Hire and Keep the Right People: Good service requires good people. Make sure your organization offers competitive training, salary and incentive programs and state-of-the art equipment. Constantly let your customer service representatives know that their work is important and that you appreciate their efforts.

Whether you make a list of resolutions or not, it is a good time to reflect on customer service basics. Staying committed will help you have a Happy New Year.

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