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Key customer service tips for a small business

For every two similar customers there are scores more where expectations and requirements differ wildly - for most small businesses the quality of customer service is often the deciding factor on whether these people become regular clients.

Dealing with difficult or unusual requests is a fact of life for many small businesses and it's the way a firm responds to these challenges that can be the difference between a prosperous or struggling company.

Empower your employees

What do customers with a problem hate the most? Could it be when they're told nothing
can be done to help them? Giving frontline staff the power to take basic decisions - like extending an offer or providing something for free or at a reduced price - is a simple way to prevent issues from escalating and to make your business seem efficient and well run. It's a fast and easy win.

Embrace flexibility

One of the big advantages a small business should have over a larger concern is an ability to change quickly to suit the needs of the customer, yet so many get bogged down when asked to work in a way that's outside the norm. So what if a customer wants to order something that's off the menu or structure payment in a way you've never experienced previously? Instead of working to a rigid pattern, why not instil a culture that allows the exploration of new options?

Respond to feedback - good and bad

Criticism can be hard to take but, if you approach it with an open mind, you can learn a lot about people's perceptions of your business: is a pattern developing that you need to address? Are people generally upset about the same things? How can you use this info to make your business better? Remember, while it's good to learn, it's equally important not to make knee-jerk responses; take what people say, digest it, use your judgement, and act accordingly.

Oliver Luft is a business journalist and content projects manager of FSB's First Voice magazine.

Keep an eye on FSB's First Voice for more valuable business advice.