By Ben Henry

When a customer walks out of your place of business with a smile on his face ... that's your product.

As a professional, you will surely agree with the view that the customer is your company's most valuable asset. Service to the customer is a product in itself and so, as with assets, you must check on them regularly to be certain that their needs are being met. You must keep t hem satisfied so they will return to your company again and again.

Know your customer. Your "ownership" of your customer is only temporary as there is always a competitor who is interested in acquiring him or her. The customer is a person with needs and concerns, one who is always right and who must always come first if a business is to distinguish itself by the quality of its service.

People are far more persuaded by the depth of your beliefs and emotions than by any amount of logic or knowledge that you possess. Therefore, people really don't care how much you know until they know how much you care about, first, your products and services, and second, them. There is really no substitute for an honest, unshakable, enthusiastic belief that the products and services your business offers are the best available anywhere.

In relating to a customer, you need to recognize him as a person, and end the contract gracefully. Recognizing the customer as a person involves establishing eye contact, clearly attending to him/her, smiling, shaking hands, making the appropriate facial expression or gesture necessary, and letting your voice demonstrate sincerity. Normally, this recognition takes only a few seconds. Its purpose is to acknowledge the customer and establish contact. Every time a customer comes into contact with you, a little piece of your company is on the line. It has been called the "Moment of Truth". It has also been called "The Instant of Absolute Judgment".

The customer wants the contact to be sincere, not canned. Believe me, he knows the difference. When you endeavour to provide positive moments of truth at all times, then you are going into overdrive to please customers.

We need to spend a little time on eye contact. Research indicates that eye contact is the strongest, single non-verbal communication. The following principles explain why. Eye contact increases when:

Establishing concern, warmth and recognition.
Seeking reactions and information about others.
Indicating channels are open.
Conveying the needs for affiliation, involvement or inclusion.

Eye contact is to be avoided when:
There is a desire to hide feelings.
Avoiding, dislike or tension are present.
There is a desire to increase psychological distance.
Revealing boredom, little concern or involvement.

It is hardly surprising that the way you look says something about you to other people, because 93 percent of all communication takes place without words. Such communication is often referred to as body language. One aspect of body language is facial expression. "If looks could kill!" The look on your face will say a lot about your attitude and feelings. Most people will look at your face at some point during a conversation, usually for most of the time. That is why it is often difficult to hold a conversation with someone wearing reflective sunglasses - you can't see his or her eyes.

Let your face reflect your innermost thoughts as you speak. Your facial expression should reveal to the listener as much about your topic as words do. In other words, suit your facial expression to what is being said and vary it to suit changes of mood and subject matter.

Your eyes and mouth are the most expressive features on your face. So it is no good saying "How nice to see you again, Mrs. Jones!" if your eyes are dull and the corners of your lips are twisted down. That is why a smile can work wonders.

Smiling is good for you. Studies have shown that people who smile all the time live longer as they grow older ... look more attractive as they grow older ... look younger as they grow older. These are tangible personal benefits for those who smile all the time.

Another aspect of body language is gestures. Some people talk with their hands. Everyone uses their hands to some extent when they are speaking to give emphasis to what they are saying. Try holding a few conversations with friends or colleagues while sitting on your hands - and holding your head perfectly still. It's difficult. Sometimes gestures are used instead of words on occasions. Such behaviour tends to suggest laziness and contempt on the part of the person making them. For example, if a customer asks the way to the restroom, you shouldn't just point in the general direction, but talk to them too: "Yes, Ma'am, it's down that corridor (pointing) on the right (pointing again) opposite the lift."

One other aspect of body language is territorial space. Skunks let off a dreadful smell if an animal or person they don't know approaches them too closely. Humans aren't able to do this - thank goodness - but, nevertheless, people do feel threatened if they think somebody is getting "too close" to them. You will soon know if a person feels you are standing too close to them when you are talking, because they begin to back off and look uncomfortable. You should therefore always respect a customer's personal space.

Although body language can convey the most powerful message to customers and colleagues, you will need to use words. Saying the right thing in the right way to the right person at the right time can make all the difference. What you say can have a variety of effects and meanings to the listener, depending on the way you say it. Speak too loudly and you may sound bossy. Speak too quietly and you may not be heard. Speak in your normal voice. If you have a high pitch voice, don't try to make it deep; if you have a deep voice, don't try and make it trill. If you do, you will only sound false, and as if you are putting on airs. Speak too warmly and you may sound as if you are groveling. Speak in a cold way and the customer will not feel welcome. Speak too quickly and people may not understand what you are saying. Speak too slowly and you may give the impression you think the listener is stupid.

Going in overdrive to please the customers takes a thorough knowledge of the fundamental principles of quality customer care and a commitment to deliver every time.