Customer Service = Golden Rule of Good Business

Customer service has emerged as a critical differentiator that influences people’s choice of restaurants, banks, cell phone providers and even doctors.

Customer service has emerged as a critical differentiator that influences people’s choice of restaurants, banks, cell phone providers and even doctors.

A smiling face, attentive service and an extra-mile effort can set a business apart from its competition. Far apart. Yet, customer service isn’t always a management priority. Big mistake.

A hotel, restaurant, bank or telecommunications company can lose customers over poor, disengaged or surly service. A doctor can lose a patient or a PR firm can lose a client for the same reason.

Once upon a time, good customer service meant the customer was always right. But customer expectations have expanded. Now, good customer service relates to all touch points of the customer experience – from greeting at the door to paying the bill.

A friendly server or accommodating bank teller doesn’t guarantee a positive customer experience if a diner gets the wrong meal or a bank deposit winds up in the wrong account. A top-credentialed doctor may be bypassed by a prospective patient because of a reputation for not being empathetic.

Customer service reputations spread by word of mouth. Now they spread more quickly and more widely on social media and rating reviews. Who wants to hire a contractor who doesn’t meet deadlines or go to a restaurant with watered down drinks?

While you still may ask your tech-savvy college friend for a recommendation on a new camera, you still will check out your camera options online. Pew Research has found 40 percent of US adults almost always review online items they are looking to purchase. Another 42 percent sometimes check out prospective purchases. Virtually all Millennials check out products online. In addition to price and product features, online reviewers want to know about return policies, the quality of your customer service.

Pew also found almost 50 percent of patients searching for a doctor, whether for primary care or surgery, go online. MedData shows almost 50 percent of doctors ignore online reviews about them. Big disconnect that can put a medical reputation at risk.

The rise of online rating reviews has ironically underscored the value of the old-fashioned suggestion box. Allowing a customer to vent on a comment card gives a business owner instant feedback that might replace a nastygram on Twitter.

Online reviews include checking out business websites and profiles, which argues for including testimonials to the quality of your product – and your service. They take on even greater importance because not all online reviews are reliable – or even true. Yelp claims 127 million reviews and Angie’s List brags about 10 million verified reviews, which means there is a lot of commentary out there. Providing your own messages in the words of real customers can be informative, useful and prudent.

Testimonials, however, can’t cover up sketchy customer service. To avoid souring your reputation, take pains to stress to your employees the importance of quality customer service. The best way to show you mean business is to lead by example. If you treat your customers like gold, your employees and coworkers will notice and follow your golden rule.

Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Negative reviews are a fact of life for many businesses, so it's time to bone up on how to respond effectively and report the ones that are fake.Online reviews have emerged as an important decision-making tool for consumers, especially for restaurants and service providers. Now they also have to dodge the impact of fake negative reviews.

A recent study reports that 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are fraudulent and often are extremely negative.

With the stakes high in the court of public opinion, here are some steps to take to fight back: