2018 is the year of the smarter customer. Thanks to the internet, social media other online resources, consumers have access to more information than ever, and they’re using these resources to make carefully informed decisions about where, when, and how to spend their money.

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A promise is only as good as the people behind it. When it comes to top-tier customer service, consumers know it when they see it, and they won’t settle for less.

There is no end to the list of statistics that back up the importance of this and the roll it plays in earning a return customer. With a growing presence in online shopping over traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, it’s not as simple as exchanging pleasantries or being polite.

At its best, customer service can be transformative. It can turn an otherwise bad experience into a great one, and it can turn customers—no matter how upset, disappointed, or frustrated—into brand advocates. At it’s worst, it can be the death of any business.

Word-of-Mouth Spreads Faster in 2018

Building and nurturing relationships with customers will ultimately help grow your business. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Follow up with your customers and ask them for feedback. Simply surveys can not only gauge their experience, but it can also open up an opportunity to correct something that went wrong. Posts, reviews or comments on social media are capable of amplifying and spreading word of mouth faster than a wild fire. From blog sites to complaint boards, if a bad review or public airing of grievances goes viral, the damage to a brand may be irreversible if it isn’t handled properly. Such situations can send companies scrambling to produce an authentic apology or using resources on damage control instead of a marketing campaign and neither is appealing.

Customer Service Is Your Customer’s Last Resort

Consumers contact customer service representatives in order to resolve a problem—not to argue. In fact, a recent study indicates over 85% of consumers will bypass a business altogether and go straight to their bank to resolve any issues. This means if your customers are calling you, your one step ahead of the game already. It’s even more important to take advantage of the opportunity to address any questions or concerns your customers may have, in order to avoid any potential chargebacks. It’s important to grasp the upshot of this: Those who do contact you provide a window into how to improve your services, better meet their needs and increase the value you can offer. No amount of money or market research will present you with data more accurate.

Two Ears and One Mouth

I was told early on, you have to listen in order to learn. Give your customers something to rave about, not rage about. When customers share their story with us, they’re not just venting. They’re giving us valuable insight into how we can make our customer experience better. This is precisely why the best customer service teams know how to listen first and then work together to solve the problem.

Top-tier customer service is not just a best practice anymore. It’s what customers demand and companies that are committed to quality customer care will continue to rise above the rest, while those who don’t will be left behind.