It’s easy for larger companies to fall into bad habits and stagnant practices over time, but smaller companies should be aware of these common pitfalls from the start, and take necessary measures to avoid them.

1. 'So long as customer needs are met, we’ve done our job well'

Supplying the customer with what they asked for is one thing, but in reality it’s only half of the service. To build a real customer experience, it is all about how you make the customer feel -- from the moment they become acquainted with your company, to the last interaction you have with them.

This includes everything from their surroundings and environment, your employees’ tone of voice, extra facilities, availability, the speed of service and so on. Everything about the customer’s experience must be as close to perfect as possible (and yes, if something goes wrong, you can indeed still achieve this).

It is not enough to simply satisfy a customer’s primary request. The customer experience is made up of tons of micro-interactions that all influence how that person will see your brand. In short ... it really is the little things that matter.

2. 'Few customer complaints means our service is satisfactory'

A low number of complaints can be hazardous for a company. If customers aren’t complaining to you, they are most likely telling others about their bad experience. Encouraging your customers to complain enables you to direct and monitor this negative feedback -- not only catching it at the source, but using it to make your business better. Customer complaints are the only real way to enhance and expand your services and move your business forward. Otherwise you are operating in the dark.

According to a blog post by Amanda Nelson, former manager of content for Salesforce, less than 25 percent of customers complain when they have an issue, and 70 - 90 percent don’t bother. Therefore, let your customers know you welcome their thoughts by getting in touch after they make a purchase to find out about their experience, then again a month or so later to check that the product is still performing well. Social media is also a great way to engage with new customers -- don’t wait for negative mentions or hashtags.

3. 'Marketing and advertising is most important when trying to increase our customer base'

The cheapest and fastest way to grow any business is undoubtedly to take care of the customers you already have, rather than invest large amounts of money in acquiring new ones. According to the folks at Spoken Communications blog, it costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. Continuously acquiring new customers to replace the ones that might leave simply plugs gaps in your business, and does not lead to sustained growth. Positive customer appraisal will spread quickly and attract more like-minded customers who you can call your own.

Take extra measures to ensure your current customers feel respected and valued by your company. Don’t gush over new customers by offering exclusive deals, offer the same perks to your entire customer base instead. Reward long term customers with add ons and discounts that increase with value the longer they have been a customer, or offer a free gift when they have made a certain number of purchases.

It’s inevitable that a company will lose customers, but rather than taking an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ approach, consider approaching those who haven’t returned in the last six months or so to try and find out why they haven’t been back in a while. Make it a friendly, non-invasive enquiry (you could even use a short multiple-choice survey) and avoid any heavy promotions (though a welcome-back discount is a nice touch).

4. 'Our company must have a presence on every social media channel for the best effect'

In an ideal world, every brand would have a presence on every popular social media channel, and would enjoy significant levels of engagement from these. But in the real world, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to handle them all at once.

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Having a social media "presence" means sharing dynamic, two-way, continuous engagement ... not sparse, inconsistent, automated or one-dimensional updates that are posted whenever your team gets a spare minute. If you introduce too many social media platforms at once into your customer service strategy, it will be very difficult to achieve good results.

Focus on two platforms first. Then, when you've garnered a following, introduce others too. Facebook and Twitter tend to be the most popular, but you’ll want to go where your customers are. As each of your profiles mature, your following and social feedback will grow more organically.

5. 'Our customer service should be built and governed by policies and procedures.'

Policies and procedures are indeed necessary for a business to run safely and smoothly, but following them rigidly to the letter can often be the reason a customer leaves dissatisfied. This might involve the hours that you’re open, your policy on returns or a simple customer mistake based on human oversight. Rather than play rigidly by the rules, your employees should be empowered to make independent, on-the-spot decisions in favor of the customer, without consulting a more authoritative member of staff first.

Employee empowerment is not about breaking or ignoring the rules, but about bending the rules to keep customers happy. If employees are afraid of negative consequences such as losing salary, losing their job or simply being belittled, then your customer service will quickly become stagnant and unresponsive to customer needs. Instead, it must be creative, free-flowing, reactive and dynamic as new solutions are sought every day.

Going out of the box to make customers happy lets them know you value their custom. It is naive to worry about what side-stepping rules and policies might cost you. These same customers are likely to return more frequently and spread the word of their experience to others, making this practice a worthy investment.

Title image by Dorti /