It takes a long time for a self employed business owner to build up a reputation for great customer service. I am a caring person, and putting customer service first is something I hold very dear as an important aspect of how I do business. And recently, I almost blew it. In a fit of irritation over a client's request for help, I made a very poor assumption -- and almost made an idiot of myself in the process.

As I reflected on that experience, I came up with these four elements of providing great customer service as a self employed business owner. I share them as a model of how to think about your own customer service interactions (especially those that occur via email) and as a reminder to myself too. I call it the CARE model of email customer service.

C = already a Customer!

Gaining a new customer is 5-10 times more expensive than keeping an existing customer. So doesn't it make sense that we should treat them accordingly? It's easy, when you are in a rush, to forget all the work it took to get them to be a customer in the first place. And never underestimate the wrath of a customer scorned -- a disgruntled customer is much more likely to talk to others about that one bad experience they had with you, than all the good experiences that came before it.

Customers are precious -- remember to treat them that way!

A = Attitude

Having a bad day? In a rush to get to an appointment? If you respond to a customer under those circumstances, chances are that your annoyance or hurry, even if it is not about them, will creep into your response. The words you choose are very important; doubly so if you are responding via email. It's hard to choose the best words if you are peeved or if your mind is elsewhere!

So, take time and care to respond. Find a time when you can take a few deep breaths and set aside any distractions. If you can't find the time, or feel yourself unable to curb your negative energy, get someone else on your team to respond.

R = Relationship

EVERY customer interaction is a link in your relationship with that customer. A good customer interaction, where you solve their problem and make them feel better in the process, makes for a solid, strong relationship. On the other hand, a careless response puts a weak link into the relationship. And a chain is only as strong as its weakest link!

Customer retention is all about how you make your customer feel. Use polite, professional (but not necessarily formal) language, take care to re-read what you've written before sending, and thank them, even if they are complaining. And always ask, at the close of your email, if you've solved their problem or answered their question adequately. These little things can make a big difference.

E = Extra

How can you go the extra mile when interacting with your customers? Can you deliver more than they are asking for? Or just add an unexpected measure of kindness in your response?

Include additional information or advice related to their request. Or, if you can't answer their question, do a little research and point them to a helpful resource. Add a P.S. with a personal note about their health, family, a recent trip, etc. Following up with a hand-written card or note can also be a nice touch.

Treat your customers with CARE, every time, and they will come back, time and time again.

Author's Bio: 

Terri Zwierzynski, the Solo-CEO, is a self employed business strategist and marketing consultant to solo entrepreneurs, and a grassroots promoter of the solo entrepreneur lifestyle. She runs, the self employment resource website which attracts thousands of solo entrepreneurs and home business owners monthly from over 100 countries on six continents (2007 finalist for “Website of the Year” in the 4th Annual Stevie® Awards for Women in Business). Visit and get our new ebook, “25 Surefire Ways to Capture More Clients, Get More Done in Less Time, and Make More Money—in 90 Days or Less.”