A few years ago, I was travelling abroad in London when my iPod Touch’s headphones stopped working. Since I was a college student already paying too much on the trip, I didn’t have the $40 or equivalent I would need to purchase new headphones. I decided to stop into the London Apple Store and see what they would say. I told a man working at the Genius Bar about my problem, and he immediately replaced my headphones with a brand new pair without even checking the warranty date on my iPod. I was impressed.

This isn’t the only time Apple’s fantastic customer support has come through. Another time, my iPod stopped working, and in three minutes I had a brand new iPod in my hands. It was as simple as that.

Now, years later, I’m up to renew my cell phone contract and purchase a new laptop for work. Guess which company’s products I’ll be buying?

Great customer support is an easy way to build a powerful bond with your customers and ensure brand loyalty. In all honesty, the iPod headphones aren’t top-of-the-line, and there are devices which would probably serve my needs a little better than an iPhone. The MacBook Air, with which I’m planning to upgrade my laptop, is much more expensive than the alternatives. However, the consistently great customer service experience I’ve had with Apple means I’m going to be a loyal customer.

Great Customer Service Grows Companies

ZapposApple isn’t the only company that understands the value of great service. As explained by Kinesis CEO Shawn Busse (http://www.kinesisinc.com/branding/your-call-is-important-to-us-or-how-to-ruin-brand-experience/), online shoe giant Zappos built their entire successful company on service. Even their slogan, “Powered by Service,” shows how much they value the customer service experience. In less than 10 years, Zappos has grown from a small start up to a billion dollar company.

If you want customers to be loyal, you need to make customer service a priority. Customer support is one of the rare instances where the customer is interacting directly with your company. Even if you outsource your customer support overseas, the customer is still in the mindset of interacting with an official representative of your company. You have a rare opportunity to directly influence the customer experience. It’s worth nearly any cost to keep the customer happy, even if that means taking a financial loss in the short term.

Refunds and Compensation as a Marketing Expense

ImageIn his book The Four Hour Work Week, the controversial but popular Tim Ferriss claims that companies should be willing to give a full refund plus 10% of the product’s value to unsatisfied customers. To paraphrase his reasoning, “the money back guarantee isn’t enough anymore.” Concerns about escalating customer demands aside, Ferriss’ principle is right and again shows the value of customer service as a marketing tool. Being willing to part with a little bit of your money will show the customer you are serious about their business and will provide returns (and brand loyalty) in the long run.

If the idea of losing money by offering 110% refunds scares you, think of it as a marketing expense. You’d spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on web advertisements if it meant increasing brand awareness and customer loyalty, right? A simple refund and compensation can produce the same results for much less.

Give Your Customers Time

Keeping customers happy means more than throwing money at them, though. You also need to give your customers adequate time to show them you value their business. It doesn't matter if you run an email compliance and archiving service or provide a premium widget for blogs, for example, be willing to help the customer set up the widget. Even if you charge a reasonable installation fee, interacting with your customers gives you a great opportunity to make them happy. Find ways to focus on the “service” in “customer service,” and it will pay off.

You Can’t Win Them All, But You Should Try

At the end of the day, you’re going to have unhappy customers. Even if you do everything you can to attempt to please your customers, there will always be someone you can’t win over. That’s okay. Focus on making as many customers happy as possible, and they’ll tell their friends about their positive experience. Look at each of the points of customer interaction and determine how you can really “Wow” the customers at each of those points. You’ll build more lifetime customers and brand loyalty than any marketing campaign ever could.