Some say that 80 percent of your problems come from just 20 percent of your customers. This is one of the many versions of the “80/20 rule.” While you provide constant service to a needy customer, a seemingly content client may be trying to get your attention for an urgent matter. Would you see it? Would you know how to meet their immediate needs quickly?

In any business, no matter the size, it is true that the squeaky wheel gets the most grease. But, what about the other wheels? Prioritizing customer service within your organization will help you service your “perfect” customers efficiently. In an industry that relies so heavily on customer satisfaction, you need to know at all times that your perfect customers are truly satisfied.

“In the service industry, more and more companies are realizing that customer service is the key difference between companies. Good customer service is essential to their ability to retain customers long-term,” explains Maria Barringhaus, a principal with Customer Management Gurus (CMG), a consulting firm in Wilton, Conn.

Forrest Farmer, business consultant and owner of CleanPro Industries Inc., Portland, Ore., agrees.

“We need to treat customers the way we want to be treated by our vendor,” he says. “Service people are customers, too — we have vendors, too. We know how we want to be treated.”

Even seemingly content customers will have problems you can solve. By adding value to their service, you secure a long-term, happy customer.

“It is important that businesses understand the relative value of one customer. You need to meet the underlying needs of all of your customers,” says Timothy Worley, another CMG principal.

There are two ways of figuring out what your quiet customers want: by asking, or by observing.

Find time for face time
Meeting your customer face-to-face provides the best means of communicating and observing the needs of your quiet customers. Your customers need to see you and know that you have their best interests at heart.

Kenneth Pierce, owner of Pierce Wallis & Pierce, Inc., Fort Mill, S.C., visits his accounts an average of once a week, delivering invoices by hand in order to keep a dialogue going.

“We see each other on a regular basis — that way, if anything comes up, they can let me know right away,” Pierce says.

This constant communication makes it easier when a difficulty in service arises. On the rare occasion that a problem does occur, you can deal with it immediately because you have already assessed your customer’s needs. To continue your good customer service strategy, apologize for the problem, explain the activity needed to correct it, and, most importantly, thank the customer for bringing it to your attention.

This simple strategy works well to engage the customer to share their ideas, says Worley. Consider it as a pre-emptive strike, plus a way to determine how to expand into different service modes.The customer must be able to extract value from the relationship.

“They need to go to their customers and give them the opportunity to extract more value from the service offered,” Worley suggests.

While your customer talks — whether about a product or service you provide or about the weather or sports — watch body language and listen carefully for clues. Let customers talk, without interruption; once they’ve finished, then ask questions if you do not understand something or if you need more information. Finally, repeat back what your customer said to ensure you understood what they were talking about.

“My customers taught me how to run my business,” Farmer says. “I learned from my customers. They taught me how to clean and how to keep them satisfied. Just by listening.”

Fishing for feedback
Even after talking, listening and learning, building service contractors still may need additional feedback from their customers, especially those who are less verbal. Barringhaus suggests using customer surveys and report cards to gauge satisfaction.

Be sure to penetrate your customers’ organizations, and survey several people, Barringhaus says. In multi-tenant buildings, ask for the tenants’ opinions, not just your contacts’. When you involve as many personnel related to the service, as possible, you can get the best feedback.

Less formally, simply coming out and asking for feedback can yield important information. Chances are good that you will get positive feedback, especially if you have maintained face-to-face communication previously. Of course, you may get negative feedback, but that is the first step to improving your customers’ experience.

Also, make it easy for clients to talk to you in case there is a problem. It’s possible you’ve never heard from some of your customers because they don’t know how to reach you. Pierce ensures this whenever he takes over a new account.

“One of the things I do is, I meet the office manager and employees. I give them my card with a toll-free number on it. We will address their concerns within 24 hours,” says Pierce.

There’s another version of the 80/20 rule — 20 percent of your customers drive 80 percent of your profits. And those profitable accounts may be part of the 80 percent of customers who generate few complaints. So, taking care of your entire client base ensures the best customers stay where they belong — with you.