Word of mouth plays an extremely important role in service-based businesses. People talk, and in our hyper-connected age of instant communications and social media, word travels fast. If you’ve been hearing that your customers aren’t entirely happy with the service they’ve been getting, you can bet that a lot of prospective customers have been hearing the same thing.

In such cases, it’s important to take a close look at who is dealing with unhappy customers, and how they are dealing with them. Dissatisfied customers are an inevitability in the business world, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach such situations. The path you choose can have a major impact on the future of your business.

Five Key Questions to Ask about Your Customer Service Staff

When looking internally at your customer service personnel, use these five important questions to guide strategic improvements:

What support systems are in place, and what is missing? When dealing with dissatisfied customers, it is very important to impart a sense that their complaints are being heard and duly dealt with. As such, it’s important to provide staff at the management level with the tools they need to address the concerns of dissatisfied customers. A good way to approach this is to do an audit of customer complaints and see how many of them went unresolved, and why they went unresolved. If it turns out that management is limited in their ability to correct problems, then you’ll need to make the necessary changes to eliminate that issue going forward.

Is customer service a top priority at the management level? Creating a culture that prioritizes customer service should be a primary objective of every business owner. All too often, management-level staff are encouraged to put cost reduction, increased sales and higher profit margins ahead of good customer service. While that may help your profitability in the short term, it will have detrimental effects in the long run.

Do your employees communicate with one another? Poor internal communication is a breeding ground of bad customer service. If your employees aren’t trained to share information and work together to solve customer service issues, overall levels of service will suffer. There’s nothing more frustrating to a customer than calling a business with a complaint, only to be shuffled around from one person to another and having to explain themselves over and over again.

Are your employees held accountable? While you don’t want to create a culture of fear among your employees, it’s also important to establish accountability and responsibility. This helps keep morale high among your good employees, who feel disheartened when less committed team members are able to get away with sloppy and careless customer service. Good performance should be rewarded, and poor performance should be punished. Many customer service problems arise from the fact that this simple principle is not properly enforced.

Are clear customer service standards in place? There has to be a unified approach to customer service, and it has to come from the top down. As a business owner, it’s incumbent on you to set the tone and make sure that all employees at all levels are on the same page. Consistency is the key to good customer service, and if clearly established standards aren’t in place, inconsistency will follow…and customer complaints will likely grow.

Provide a Personalized Approach

Business analysts have noted that in the current landscape, personalization is becoming more and more important. If customers feel like they’re just a number in a queue, they’re highly likely to simply take their business elsewhere.

Having management-level staff personally respond to customer service queries and complaints is a simple, yet very effective strategy. Simply taking the time to actually listen to what the customer is saying will dramatically change your results for the better, yet relatively few businesses take this approach. This provides you with an opportunity to distinguish yourself from your competitors; you’ll put yourself at a distinct advantage if you strive to provide better service than your customers would receive elsewhere.

There’s another benefit to taking a personalized approach: it builds loyalty. It makes customers feel invested in your business. Recovering from a service hiccup is much easier if you go the extra mile to make the customer feel valued and appreciated; your business depends on customers, and if that shows in your approach, you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed.