It's easy for a company to spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing. However, the most important thing a company can do is create a rewarding experience at the point of contact with the customer. Essentially, customer relations is about nurturing that point of contact.
The most basic type of customer relations come in retail stores and their customer service departments. Product returns cannot be processed automatically, so the customer service department handles these events on a case-by-case basis. The quality or intensity of customer service is related to the store's target demographic--a neighborhood grocery store might have customers see managers about refunds, but a bigger store will have a dedicated department.
Technical support is an integral part of the computer industry, where products often malfunction for obscure reasons. Tech support is an extremely important aspect of customer relations, especially because tech support may make or break a company's reputation. A good support technician will be able to identify a problem, help solve it (often over the phone with verbal instructions), and make the customer feel calm and unstressed. Apple, for example, is famous for its tech support.
In any customer relations job, the integral task for the service person is to listen. By listening to the customer, you will be able to ascertain the core problem, which is not always obvious. Listening helps you craft a better solution that suits the particular problem that a customer might be facing. Moreover, the act of sharing a problem often acts as a palliative for a customer.
A good customer relationship person will go out of her or his way to help a customer, even if it's not technically within the scope of the specific task at hand. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, tells a story where a customer bought a pair of boots for her husband, who then died in an accident. A customer service representative sent her flowers. The best kind of customer relations will create repeat business, over and over again.
In the world of luxury products, where most benefits are intangible, customer relationships are the most effective way to sell. For example, a copy of a dress might be available for a lower price at a cheaper store, but a fashion enthusiast would still buy the more expensive version. Part of this is the designer's cachet, but part of it is simply the fact that a fashion retailer has exquisite customer service. Courteous and knowledgeable customer service is used to sell all sorts of expensive products, from cars to art and fashion.
The simplest guideline to being a good customer service person is: "Be nice." According to Businessweek, "63 percent of consumers said the last time they stopped doing business with a company it was partly or wholly due to a poor customer service experience." For Zappos, a billion dollar business, 75 percent of its sales come from repeat customers. So customer relations persons are, in many ways, the most important people in the company.
Arafat Kazi is an advertising professional and freelance writer in Boston. His articles have appeared in the "Boston Phoenix," "Daily Free Press," and "Daily Star Bangladesh." He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Boston University, and is now working on a master's in advertising. His interests are branding, advertising and literature.