Think back to the last bad customer service experience you had. It could have been a snippy waitress at the local family diner or a youthful sales representative answering your question with the common reply of "I don't know?" I am sure you have shared, verbatim, every detail with your closest friends and family. Do the same practices hold true when you receive good customer service? Good customer service is the lifeline of any industry. An ideal business structure is to mold everyone into a repeat customer, sending them away happy - happy enough to spread the good news of a great service. Here are a few tips on good customer services skills derived from and License to Serve by Joe Ilvento & Doug Price.

*Ever wonder how many minutes we are placed ‘on hold' waiting to speak to "the next available representative"? If you own a business or you are in the position of authority within a company, consider having a real live person answer the phone - skip the answering services, voicemails, and the search by number directories. Your customers want attention and the easiest way to provide this is with simple direct communication.

*Abraham Lincoln once said, "It is better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." This is a valid point in customer service - listen to your consumers! Find out exactly what your customer wants and introduce the product that meets their requirements. Hearing their needs will create good feeling and trust, all the while allowing the opportunity for any sales pitches or promotions that you may be able to add on the sale.

*Keep your staff in the general know of daily operations. No, this does not mean that you should share every line item on this month's budget, but maintaining well balanced knowledge across the board will ensure great customer service. If a question arises that cannot be answered by your staff, please instruct them to respond with "I'm not sure, let me find out for you."

*Your name often precedes you, but your actions always do. Attempt to be helpful at all times - even when there is no immediate profit. Small catch phrases take little effort but make a lasting impact. For example, there is a restaurant noted for requiring its staff to reply with "It's my pleasure." rather than "You're welcome". A certain ice cream parlor allows taste tests before a purchase. These companies are set apart, and in my opinion a step above their competitors.

*Recognize the importance of your employees, they are direct customers and need to know they are an integral part of your business. This motivation and respect offers a sense of belonging and ownership to encourage placing the best foot forward. Showing gratitude for your employees will possibly relay a higher regard for your customers from your frontline staff. Appreciation stems from the top.

These are just a few ideas from a vast customer service methodology. Think of what your profit could be if you integrated one or all of these tips into your daily business. A new perspective for the old customer service mantra could be: The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win.

- Amber Williams | Tourism Coordinator | Heart of NC Visitors Bureau