I am often amazed in this highly competitive business environment at the frequent failures in customer service displayed by so many businesses, big or small. It seems that business owners, and their employees, have forgotten the simplest of courtesies in dealing with people.

A story was shared with me recently of someone who contacted a master plumber to have work done on their home. At first the plumber was pleasant and appreciative of the call. The homeowner requested a price estimate for the work and was given a price over the phone. When the plumber visited the home, he told the homeowner the price quoted was just for the part, there was an additional fee for the labor. The homeowner was a little surprised, but congenial to the plumber, and advised he would get back to him. Over the course of a couple of days, the plumber became indignant and seemed annoyed that he had been called out to provide an estimate, then would have to make another call to do the work. In the end, the homeowner chose to work with another plumber. Not because of the lack of skill or ability of the first plumber, but rather the plumber’s attitude and the way he interacted with the homeowner.

I visited a Chic-fil-a for lunch last week. Chic-fil-a is often touted for their excellent service.  But at this visit, I was blown away. The very friendly, smiling cashier took my order and name, and told me they would bring my lunch to me. While having lunch I noticed employees visiting with some of the guests, picking up trays, refilling drinks. The manager came around and asked me how my lunch was. When I finished, an employee took my tray and thanked me for coming in. That was a “WOW” moment for me.

How many “WOW” moments have you created for your customers? We often forget it is the simplest of things that matter and that can create “WOW” moments with lasting impressions that your customers share with their friends or someone writes about in a blog. A business consultant sent a hand-written note to a perspective client with whom they had a meeting for the first time. The prospect called to say how surprised and appreciative he was of this simple gesture. The two are doing business together today.

Customer service is the new marketing, according to a Forbes article published in December 2011. And everyone knows the cheapest form of promotion is referrals from happy customers. A recent survey by the American Marketing Association shows that 90 percent of consumers trust peer reviews and 70 percent trust online reviews.

The Forbes article also recommends, “Think long-term reputation, vs. short-term profit,” saying efforts to optimize profits on a per transaction basis leads to frustrated customers and loss of repeat business. Think about an experience you have had in returning a product that you were not satisfied with? Companies that make that as seamless as possible for you are likely the companies you will do business with in the future. Zappos, the online retailer, is another company that has received positive press about their customer experience. The company does not apply any metrics to employees with regard to how many calls to make a day, average time per call, and other company-center vs. customer-centered policies that frustrate customers.

In summary, as business owners we must be proficient at what we do. We need to be experts and know more about our products and services than anyone else. But that alone does not solidify long-term, profitable relationships that garner positive reviews and referrals. Our plumber may be a master plumber, with all the necessary credentials and years of experience. But it is not just about the plumbing. It is about:  Does he show genuine interest in me? Does he listen? Can he understand and anticipate my needs?  And will I enjoy working with him?

Sharon Macaluso is area director of the DeKalb office of the UGA SBDC.