Look around and you'll notice plenty of evidence that the golden age of customer service is dead. Gas stations make drivers pump their own gas (except in Oregon and New Jersey, where it's the law). Airlines no longer serve food in coach class, and even charge you to check your luggage. Most hotels no longer shine a traveler’s shoes at night and return them in the morning. Hospitality-industry aside, customers are frustrated, and many businesses are claiming a record-high number of complaints.
However, it doesn't have to be that way. Technology advancements are creating new ways for businesses to provide outstanding customer service not possible before. Small businesses that arm themselves with these new ways to keep customers happy will enjoy loyal followers that spread the word, and will gain an edge over the competition.
Here's how you can provide stellar customer service in the technology age, like it's still 1955:
Greet your customers by name. Back in the day: Every retail small-business owner knew every customer and greeted them all by name when they walked through the front doors. Today: Using Web-browser technology, companies can still welcome visitors by name, as long as they have registered with their site. Businesses can even take this "faux personalization" one step further by suggesting what the customer should buy in the future based on their past browsing and buying history. Ironically, this faux personalization is far more personal for many customers than visiting a local retail franchise, where the customer rep has no idea who they are.
RELATED: Low-cost Ways to Show a Customer You Care
Answer a customer's question. Back in the day: If customers had a question, they would call or write the company and wait sometimes weeks for a reply. Today: Using online FAQs, video demos and chat, companies can give customers the answers they're seeking almost instantly—any time of day or night.
Let your customers personalize products. Back in the day: 100 years ago, customers got what retailers gave them. A consumer could get a Ford Model T in "any color as long as it was black." Today: Customers love choice and love being unique. For example, consumers can design their own Nike shoes, mix their own flavors at a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine or customize a single copy of a book on Amazon. Think of ways your small business can give customers the ability to customize and personalize products.
Ship products fast and cheap. Back in the day: Customers had to physically pick up a product they bought at the retail location, or wait weeks or months for delivery. Today: Customers have become accustomed to fast, cheap shipping. They don't just want it the same week, but overnight or even the same day—and if you don't give it to them, they'll go to someone else who can.
RELATED: When Overnight Delivery Isn't Fast Enough
Help customers find the best fit. Back in the day: Clothes shopping was a physical activity, where you visited a store and tried on clothes for the best fit. Today: Customers can download a mobile app, upload a photo and body specs, and virtually try on just about anything. If customers are still not sure, let a personal online shopping assistant steer them in the right direction.
Providing great service isn't tougher today—it may even be easier and can help you gain an edge on your competitors. Of course, that technology can be a double-edged sword, too. Thanks to social media, dissatisfied customers can voice their unhappiness with your company for the whole world to hear—even more of a reason to keep them happy. Welcome to the new golden age of customer service.
Read more articles on customer service.