Providing excellent customer service is something that most businesses recognise they need to do. But maintaining even a passable customer service is tough at times. Balancing the need to grow your business whilst keeping the existing customer base happy can sometimes seem difficult to achieve.

Let’s look to the experts. Self-styled customer service evangelist Dominic Monkhouse is widely recognised as one of the gurus on the subject. Monkhouse explains that “Every instance of human interaction is a moment of truth for a business.” Sounds grand? He believes it’s pretty simple and gives the example of his time working at Marks & Spencer. Sometimes gentlemen would buy a suit on a Friday, cut off the tags, and return the suit on the Monday saying it didn’t fit. What did the manager do? He took the suits back. He looked at the bigger picture – building the store’s reputation for excellent – indeed remarkable – customer service.

You might argue it’s easy for big players like M&S to demonstrate such generosity to their customers, but as an SME you can’t play fast and loose with your inventory. But the principle is still worth considering. Monkhouse believes in taking customer issues on the chin and thinking about the long-term benefits, rather than becoming defensive and taking a short-term position over a one-off issue.

If his company does make mistakes, Monkhouse ensures he calls personally to talk through problems with his clients and to regain their trust. He believes that honesty pays off in all customer interactions and often finds that, rather than losing the business, this call to the client cements the relationship and can even lead to referrals!

Great customer service ultimately depends on motivated staff working for a company they believe in and selling products they understand. Hiring good people, alongside a culture of training and development, with regular reviews, is key to helping people continue to feel motivated and empowered. When staff receive positive comments and feedback from customers, it’s worth capturing those and circulating them to the whole team to engender a feeling of empowerment and progress.

Interestingly, in his own business, Monkhouse gives the winner of the “cock-up of the month” a bottle of champagne. It’s not about rewarding failure. Monkhouse believes that by encouraging people to be honest about mistakes they’ve made, then issues are dealt with swiftly and don’t get out of hand. Also others in the team can learn from the mistakes so they aren’t replicated across the business time and time again.

And the upshot? Monkhouse believes that around 3% of his customer base are “evangelical” about his business and over a ten year period they are responsible for almost all the profits of the business. But most businesses don’t know who their evangelists are, never mind cultivate and nurture those relationships. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about your customer service levels, and where you can begin to ring the changes?