THE BLOG
08/31/2015 05:11 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2016

5 Easy Steps to Top-Notch Customer Service

Business owners often scramble to find technically competent employees to fill positions, so our desire for a truly customer-friendly workforce can sometimes be put on the back burner. This is a risky move for new businesses or even companies in expansion mode. Building and keeping a team that puts customers first provides a solid foundation for your business and keeps customers coming back again and again.

Providing top-notch customer service isn't really that hard, but even the best of the best need a reminder or coaching now and then. In golf, keeping one "swing thought" in mind during a shot can have great results. Here are five "customer service thoughts" that can help us and our work teams hit a hole-in-one:

Check the body language.

You've heard all the body language advice before, but it can't be overemphasized. I took my car in for a regular servicing recently. No real problems, just the regular check up. I was greeted, as always, by the service manager who, technically, is extremely professional. He was dressed just right for his role, he was expecting me and called me by name, and he handled the transaction quite efficiently.

You know what is missing every single time I visit? A smile. As good as the overall experience was, his "professional but not friendly" demeanor is what I remember most.

Smile when you greet your customer, and watch the rest of your body language, too. Don't close yourself off by crossing your arms, look your customer in the eye, and help her feel comfortable and welcome.

Don't break character when you're "on stage."

I'm not telling you to be fake or phony, but when we're representing our business, we are "on stage." When I attended training at the Disney Institute in Orlando long ago, one of the most memorable messages I brought back was the importance of "staying in character." For Snow White to break character in a Disney performance or even in Goofy's Kitchen restaurant would be a big no-no. No matter which role we play, when we're at work, we're on stage.

We're also building a brand and our attitude and "performance" impact our business' reputation. Imagine seeing a doctor in scrubs or a firefighter in uniform -- or one of your front-line employees -- behaving badly while they're on duty (or even off-duty yet still in uniform). If they break character, they also risk damaging your brand. Those of us who own a business or are in a leadership role don't even have the luxury of taking off our uniform or name tag. Like it or not, we are our business' brand. Always.

See the Customer's Experience Through to the End.

Assisting a customer all the way to the end of their experience almost always takes more time and it definitely takes more commitment, but it's also where the cream rises to the top. It means exceeding the customer's expectations, not just meeting them. It's the difference between an employee at Orchard Supply Hardware walking with you to the light bulbs so you find the right one, vs. another store's employee directing you to, "Aisle 9, half way down the aisle, on the top shelf. But I think we're sold out."

I love browsing through a book store, and I don't like asking for help because the search can be as fun as the find. Recently, though, I just couldn't find the book I wanted, so I asked an employee for help. Her plan wasn't to take me to the book (which would have been just fine); her plan was to go find the book herself then bring it to me. Great customer service! (I tagged along anyway, to satisfy my own "need to know.")

In a different kind of business, seeing the experience to the end might mean taking on responsibility that isn't normally your own. My husband owns a small electrical contracting business. For him and his team, it sometimes means more than just installing a new electrical service, it might also mean arranging for inspections that have nothing to do with their electrical work, just to help their customer.

Remember Your Internal Customer.

Another of my favorite customer service principles is to focus on providing stellar internal customer service. It's not just our traditional, external customers that matter, it's the people within our organization, as well. Co-workers, bosses and board members fall in this category, and so do people in other departments or on the front line -- folks who rely on our work in order to help the end user.

Helping employees identify their internal customers (and their internal service providers) is a good first start. For example, a publication editor relies on another person for an article, the person writing the article requires data from a researcher in another department...and the researcher is distracted because human resources hasn't gotten the researcher's payroll error resolved yet. You get the picture, it's a whole line-up of internal customer service opportunities!

Mostly Importantly: Don't Forget the Emotional Bank Account.

Finally, I always defer to Stephen Covey's concept of the "emotional bank account," discussed in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Each of our relationships has an imaginary emotional bank account. When we have a positive interaction with a teammate or a customer, we're making a deposit in the bank account; a negative interaction of course equals a withdrawal. As long as the emotional bank account has a nice, healthy balance, an occasional withdrawal won't jeopardize the alliance. An overdrawn account results in internal glitches and conflicts that, believe me, will eventually impact your external customers.

Just like your financial bank account, never let your emotional bank account go into the red!

Opportunities for providing good customer service surround us every day. These five principles are my favorite, tried and true approaches to building a strong customer service culture. Focus on them, and your customers will thank you.