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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

While you’re shopping for holiday gifts, pay attention: if you’re impressed or frustrated by the customer service you experience from a business, chances are other people are too. There isn’t a better time than the crowded and hectic holiday shopping season to observe how you can improve your business’s customer service:

Short response time. It seems the rarest commodity these days is courtesy. Can you even
remember how many emails you’ve sent that have been ignored? It’s become de rigueur to call
multiple times if you ever expect to receive a response. Want to really surprise your customers?
Call them back right away. Customers will be so blown away by this uncommon act of common
courtesy that they won’t know what hit them.

Real people. Is there anything more infuriating than not being able to talk to a real person?
Give customers a shock by having someone actually answer the phone. Instead of sending an automatic response to emails saying you’ll respond in 24 hours (but no one ever does because there’s no system in place to deal with emails), designate an employee who will have the responsibility of promptly responding to emails personally. Talk about standing out from the competition.

Well-trained employees. Have you ever been told by an employee at a store that they don’t
carry a certain product you’re looking for, only to find it on your own while browsing? Or
discovered that an employee gave you incorrect information about a product, so you can’t help
but wonder if it was on purpose just to make a sale? Staffing your business with
unknowledgeable employees is a surefire path to frustrating your customers and compromising
your business’s professional image. Employees represent your business to your customers, so
it’s worth spending extra time and effort to ensure they can explain your business’s products and
services as well as you can.

100% satisfaction guaranteed. How you treat customers after they’ve made a purchase is
possibly the most important interaction you have with them. Have you ever been made to feel
guilty or ashamed while trying to return a product? Or felt frustrated and angry when your
complaints about a product or service fell on deaf ears? Most importantly, did you continue
shopping at that store? The true test of good customer service is how you deal with a dissatisfied
client. Can you make every customer interaction a positive one? When customers feel that they
are heard and respected even when they express dissatisfaction, they’ll be more likely to
continue doing business with you. A “no questions asked” return policy and responding to
complaints with immediate refunds, discounts or bonuses go a long way towards fostering
goodwill and building brand loyalty among your customers. Not only will they feel comfortable
continuing doing business with you, customers will also be more likely to try new products or
services since they know there’s no risk.

All you have to do is open your eyes while doing your holiday shopping to find the best gift you
can give your customers this year–better service.