Growing a business in today’s environment is as challenging as ever — especially with relatively stagnant overall economic growth. That’s why it’s more important than ever to hold onto existing customers.

According to Christopher F. Meshginpoosh, a director in the Audit & Accounting practice at Kreischer Miller, companies frequently spend too much time trying to win new customers and not enough trying to hang onto existing customers.

Smart Business spoke with Meshginpoosh about techniques that companies can use to create an organization where every employee is driven to meet the needs of its customers.

Why do some companies struggle with customer service?

It’s often a function of a lack of processes that ingrain and reinforce the importance of customer service. When an entrepreneur starts a new business, he or she understands the value of customer relationships because he or she worked hard for those relationships and can’t afford to lose them.

However, as the company grows, employees are added who lack that same perspective. Without formal processes — training, documented expectations, reward systems, etc. — the focus on customer service can gradually erode.

Additionally, all too often, companies treat customer service like a department. For the record, I didn’t come up with that — it’s on the website of Zappos, a company with an almost legendary commitment to customer service. Every employee has the ability to strengthen or damage a customer relationship, so it’s important for companies to make sure they hire people who have demonstrated an ability to put customers first.

What steps can management take to improve customer service?

That’s an easy one: Look in the mirror.  If management wants every person in the organization to demonstrate the importance of customer service, then the first step is to make sure that they demonstrate it. And that doesn’t just mean managers of the sales or customer service functions. If you want happy employees who thrive on meeting or exceeding the needs of customers, then managers in charge of production, human resources, administration and other functions also must walk the walk.

How can companies reinforce the importance of customer service?

One easy way is to publicly recognize those who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to customer service. Do you have an employee who went out of his or her way to solve a problem for a customer? Don’t just tell that person, tell everyone.

Additionally, make sure reward systems and incentive programs include explicit customer service goals. While some people seem to have an innate ability to want to make customers happy, others may need a little additional motivation. As a result, it’s important to ensure that annual reviews and compensation programs include explicit customer service objectives. If your reward systems simply focus on metrics like profitability or efficiency, then you run the risk of driving short-term profits at the risk of long-term customer losses.

How do you know if your efforts are moving the needle?

While there are many formal methods such as customer service surveys or monitoring customer service metrics, one easy way is to routinely have your employees ask a simple question: What did I do to add value to the customer relationship?

Everyone gets bogged down in the details once in a while, but they should still be able to step back and determine whether their actions strengthened or damaged a customer relationship. If they can’t routinely point to actions that strengthened a relationship, then there’s room for improvement. If they can, then they’re well on their way to creating strong, lasting customer relationships.

Christopher F. Meshginpoosh is a director, Audit & Accounting, at Kreischer Miller. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or cmeshginpoosh@kmco.com.

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Published in National