Over 50 years, Stanley Marcus turned a little-known Dallas specialty store called Neiman Marcus into one of the world’s most prestigious retailers of luxury goods.

Marcus was a brilliant marketer and merchandiser, but he credited most of his success to great service. Neiman Marcus beat out other retailers not because it had better products, but because it treated its customers better.

“The dollar bills the customer gets from tellers in four banks are the same,” Marcus once said. “What is different are the tellers.”

Providing good, consistent customer service is difficult, but it may be your company’s best shot at gaining an edge over competitors.

Below are seven ways you can take your customer service to a higher level. If your employees faithfully practice these steps, you’ll seen an increase in sales and customer loyalty.

Always Pick Up the Phone

Nobody likes going to voicemail and waiting on a return call, particularly if they have an urgent issue. Always picking up the phone during business hours is a simple way you can stand out among your competitors. Customers and prospects will appreciate your team’s accessibility.

Build a Culture of Service

Recruit and hire people who understand the importance of putting customers ahead of their own interests. Preach the importance of building long-term relationships with clients and how that can generate positive word-of-mouth about your company. Become an example to your employees of how to be accountable and treat people the right way. As Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that (customers) will want to see it again, and bring their friends.”

Be Available 24/7

Information technology and the speed of business today mean that service providers should be accessible to their customers any day at any time. If possible, designate an account manager to each one of your customers. Let your customers know they have a single point-of-contact who can address their needs at any time.

Communicate Effectively

Whether it’s your payment terms, new services or personnel changes, keep your customers in the loop about what’s happening at your company. Devise a strategy to stay in regular communication, whether it’s through periodic phone calls, email campaigns or social media. Clear, consistent communication is key to retaining customers, understanding their pain points and providing solutions when you can.

Treat Your Customers Like Human Beings

Chic-fil-A is the most profitable fast-food restaurant chain in the country right now. One key reason? The company teaches employees to always say “please” and “thank you.” Sadly, good manners are such a rarity in some industries that they can now be considered a strategic advantage. Always treat your customers with respect and courtesy. It’s the right thing to do and they will appreciate it.

Treat Your Business Partners Like Customers

Most companies rely on vendors, suppliers or strategic partners to help deliver a product or service. These relationships can be as crucial to your success as your client relationships. Maintain a strong line of communication with your business partners and let them know they are valued. Building friendships with other companies you do business with can help smooth out disagreements or challenges that may arise during the partnership.

Back Up Your Guarantee

All businesses promise to treat their customers right. Not all of them deliver on that promise. The fact is, providing good, consistent service is hard. Just one missed call or oversight can have disastrous results. As Warren Buffett has said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

No company or process is perfect. Mistakes happen. How you respond to those mistakes and make things right with your customers speaks volumes about your company’s values and credibility. Being accountable, doing the right thing even when it means a temporary loss, will be noticed by your customers and employees. They will appreciate that integrity, and will pay you back with loyalty and great word-of-mouth.

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