As a professional business coach, I get to work with all types of businesses, many of whom are new start ups. I see the passion on the part of the new business owner but I also see the fear and the worry that his or her business idea may be right but the timing may be wrong because of the troubles in the economy.

I always remind them that it is definitely possible to establish a new business even in this difficult climate and that it is also possible to do it successfully. What is required is that greater attention needs to be paid to the business model and to winning new customers, and having won them, to develop a long lasting relationship with them so that they will want to return and spend more money with you.

In doing so, you are developing customer loyalty. A loyal customer is one that you delight over and over again and he looks forward to doing business with you. He will pass many of your competitors’ premises en route to you so that he can purchase from you. The trick is knowing how to get customers to do this and to remain loyal to your business.

There are of course many things that you need to do but I am going to focus in this article on what I consider to be the main thing that you need to do. And that is you must develop a reputation for excellent customer service. Not many businesses achieve this. Think about it, when was the last time that you received excellent customer service from anyone?

If you are a new start-up or even an established company, let me share with you five things that you must do in order to establish a reputation for excellent customer service.

First, you must be reliable. Consistent performance is what customers want most. They want to be able to depend on you. So do what you say you are going to do. Do it when you say you are going to do it. Do it right the first time and get it done on time. Don’t keep coming up with excuses and blaming this and that, just keep your word.

Second, you must be credible. Customers want security, integrity and the assurance that if there is a problem, it will be promptly dealt with and at no extra cost. They don’t want hidden agendas or too much small print to read that will catch them out later. They want you to be up-front and honest. They don’t need hard sell tactics, hidden charges and the like. If they buy your products, they want them to be safe and guaranteed.

Third, be attractive. Appearance can be deceiving but customers draw a lot of conclusions based on what they see. Anything the customer sees, hears, feels, touches or smells concerning your service, is shaping his/her opinions of your service for better or worse. Look at your business through your customers eyes and make improvements. It is easy to get bogged down in the work so that you don’t step back and take a look at your business from the point of view of how customers sees it. Every now and again you must do this.

Fourth, you must be responsive. This means that you must be accessible, available and willing to help customers whenever they have a problem. It also means keeping them informed and providing a service as soon as possible. Don’t make it easy for people to buy from you but hard to sort out a problem.

The fifth thing that you need to do in order to establish a reputation for excellent customer service, is that you must be empathetic. Every customer is a special individual who wants to be treated as such. He has his own wants, personality and reasons for buying, and to that extent you must treat him as someone special and help him solve his unique problems. If you do this, he will continue to be your customer.

Being empathetic means putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, trying to grasp his point of view, and feeling what he feels. It means listening intently and asking the right questions. It means speaking his language and tailoring your services to help him as best as you can. Don’t treat him the way you want to be treated because he is a different person with different problems, and he has a different point of view. Instead, treat him the way that he wants to be treated. Customers buy for their reasons and not yours.

Gone are the days when you can be nice to some customers and be rude to those that you don’t like. Customers have many choices nowadays and if they feel that you are not serving them correctly, they will take their wallets and purses elsewhere, to your competitors, and spend their hard earned money with them.

Your objective is to satisfy each and every customer, each and every time. If you do this consistently, they will love you and come back to shop with you. Keeping your customers is the best way to survive the credit crunch. And the more you practice these techniques, the more you will increase and maintain your reputation for quality customer service, and thereby attract new customers.