When it comes to business, my philosophy for success has always been quite simple: the Customer is King. More specifically, everything you do in business is to help your customersbe successful.If they’re successful, you will be successful — and it must happen in that order. This is true regardless of whether you sell, install or service hardwood flooring or any other product.

With so many businesspeople subscribing to this simple yet dynamic philosophy, why is it that customer service seems to be deteriorating in this country? How often do you hear people complain about poor service at a restaurant, or that they couldn’t find anyone to help them in a particular store, or that the store clerk had no knowledge about a product in which they were interested? The usual excuse you hear is, “You just can’t find good workers anymore.”

I don’t buy into this lame excuse! To the contrary, I think the problem of declining customer service is a management issue that has its origins in poor training. If service is poor, it’s most likely due to poor management.

I’ve found that workers generally want to do a good job. But they need training, guidance and direction. They need to be told what is expected of them, and management has to set an appropriate example.

When people talk about businesses like Nordstrom, UPS, Federal Express, Wal-Mart, Lexus, and Dell Computer, they often mention how well they (the customers) were treated by the company’s employees. This is not an accident. These top companies have figured it out. Management continuously trains their employees on ways to exceed customers’ expectations. As a result, they usually command top prices for their goods and services while reaping top-notch customer appreciation.

As a student of good customer service, I developed “The Ten Commandments of Effective Customer Service” to use as a management tool for training my employees. It works for me and I hope you, too, will benefit from following these guidelines:

I. Thou shall be courteous. The no. 1 rule of good customer service is to be polite. Politeness goes a long way toward building a relationship, even if it is a fleeting one. Arrogance on the part of an employee, however, arouses resentment in the customer. In a customer service situation, it is also important to appreciate other peoples’ time. And always follow up with a T.Y.F.Y.B. — “thank you for your business” — note.

II. Thou shall be a team player. No man or woman is an island; they are part of an organization or group. Any organization is a team of people who work together to achieve a common objective. A good example of an organization is a football team. Even though everyone has a separate job to do, the plays work to perfection when each team member holds up his end of the business. You usually won’t gain much yardage on an end run without following your blockers. Take full advantage of all the resources available to you. Be a team player and you’ll be successful.

III. Thou shall be motivated. There are two types of motivation. One is reward motivation, and the other is self-motivation. While everyone has his own hot button, motivation to succeed is the American Way of thinking (i.e., “We’re Number One!”)

Reward motivation works over the short term, but self-motivation endures over the long haul. Talk to your people about the “Three Ds”: Desire, Determination and Drive. Look for employees who have the heart to succeed, and you will discover powerful people who posses the Three Ds.

IV. Thou shall be knowledgeable. Successful customer service begins with knowledge of your products, services, competition, and — most importantly — a true understanding of your customers. Employees aren’t born with this knowledge. To obtain it, they need proper training and management’s encouragement to learn. Increasing one’s knowledge is an ongoing process that is gained through experience. Change is constant in business, and training should be too. Plain and simple, employee training is an investment in people that will pay big dividends by boosting your profitablity.

V. Thou shall be a good listener. We all like to talk, but we learn by listening. Sometimes, we hear people talking, but we don’t really listen to what they are saying. When dealing with customers, your employee should probe, ask pointed questions, be a detective, draw out information, and listen! But he should also think before he speaks. Empathetic people are good listeners, and they are usually successful in servicing customers. Unsuccessful customer service people dominate the conversation with the customer. In contrast, the successful customer service employee develops a dialog, elicits feedback and then directs his response so as to push the customer’s hot button.

VI. Thou shall be a savvy person. Being savvy is what good customer service is all about. What is a “savvy person”? A savvy person is one who puts him or herself in the right place at the right time and does the right thing. A savvy person has good timing, which can be the determining factor between success and failure. Savvy people do a good job of following-up, and they manage their time well. Such people squeeze productivity out of every minute of the workday; they don’t spin their wheels. In short, savvy people work smart!

VII. Thou shall maintain a clean and neat appearance. First impressions are very important. Employees should dress neatly, and make every effort to put their best foot forward. I have found that one’s appearance says a lot about that person. It may very well have a bearing on whether or not you have satisfied customers and a successful business.

VIII. Thou shall be an interesting person. People don’t like to do business with a deadhead or a stick in the mud. They like to do business with interesting people — those who are well-rounded.

How does one become interesting? There are lots of ways. Develop outside interests, such as involvement in hobbies, sports, community affairs, and family activities. Or you can travel. Reading newspapers, trade journals, business publications, and novels is another good way to broaden your horizons. An interesting person, as Dale Carnegie said, “talks in terms of the other person’s interests.”

IX. Thou shall be confident. Confidence improves with experience. But in a customer service situation, a salesperson must be the expert. Don’t be intimidated by the customer. The employee should take charge by demonstrating knowledge and expertise. Take command of any given situation, exude confidence, and you’ll be successful.

X. Thou shall demonstrate enthusiasm. Enthusiasm defies the laws of mathematics because when you divide it, it multiplies. The greatest power known to man is enthusiasm. It breeds excitement and makes you more interesting. It also shows that you are confident, that you respect yourself, that you believe in what you are doing, that you like your company, and — most of all — that you like yourself! The greatest asset you have is YOU. Respect yourself, and others will respect you. If you have enthusiasm, you will make things happen beyond your wildest dreams.