Editor’s note: John C. Yates chairs the Technology Group of the law firm Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP.I’m convinced that technology customer service needs a strong dose of Southern Hospitality.

Even our most entrepreneurial companies in the region need to remember the importance of delivering the highest quality of customer care.

Unfortunately, the larger a tech company grows, the more difficult it becomes to deliver quality care. A personal example highlights the problem.

I recently received an automated call from my cell phone carrier informing me to call an 800 number. I disregarded the first message, since it appeared to be a hoax. When I received the second message a few days later, I decided to call the 800 number. Upon calling the number, I was placed in an automated system and waited for 17-1/2 minutes before finally reaching an operator. I inquired as to why I had been contacted. Upon looking at her records, she indicated that the company had not received my payment – despite the fact that I had paid my bill every month for the past decade to the same carrier.

The operator was quick to point the finger at me, the customer. In addition, the operator informed me that my cell phone service would be cut off immediately if I didn’t pay the bill.

I explained to the operator that I believed the bill had been paid (by my wife) and that it must be somewhere in their processing department. I also asked the operator to review my past payment history and my longevity with the company. Despite over a decade of on-time payments (and fairly large monthly bills), I got no sympathy from the operator. While she understood the situation, the operator indicated that I would need to write another check or have my service cut off.

We spent the next few minutes debating the finer points of losing a customer because of a policy that alienated a long-time, good-paying customer. The operator agreed with me, but indicated that the policy would prevail. After several minutes of discussion, I did convince her to wait another month before cutting off my service — since by that time her accounts receivable department would have probably found the check.

I’ve had many other instances of sporadic levels of customer service quality in my work with telecom, technology and professional service providers.

How can we improve customer service? Here are a few pointers that I’ve picked up over the years are:

1. Treat your customer as you’d want to be treated in their situation – It’s important to understand the components of this rule. You’re not necessarily treating your customer the way you’d want to be treated — after all, you may be willing to settle for less. It’s important to gauge your customer’s situation and make sure that you’re addressing their needs.

2. Treat all customers with respect – You may not know the importance of a customer to your company. In any case, treating everyone with respect is a good standard to follow. Word of mouth is a strong means of establishing customer satisfaction — or dissatisfaction. Statistically, studies show that a dissatisfied customer is likely to communicate dissatisfaction to ten friends or colleagues. A satisfied customer is less likely to communicate the message of satisfaction to others.

3. Remember your long-time customers – Although it’s important to respect all customers, there should be a process for delivering special customer care to your most devoted and long-term customers. To avoid “churn” of customers, take steps to keep and retain customers by providing a high level of customer satisfaction.

4. Remember the 80/20 rule – In many cases, your best paying customers may not be your oldest ones. However, they can be critically important to the growth of your business and can be overlooked because they are newcomers to your company’s products or services. Segment the 20 percent of your customers who will be providing 80 percent of your revenue or value. Make sure to provide extra attention to this group.

5. Call on your biggest customers – There’s no substitute for personal attention with your biggest customers. Schedule periodic meetings with them and look for opportunities to get closer to their business. Whether it’s lunch, golf or simply dropping by their office, the face-to-face attention can pay big dividends.

6. Don’t burn a bridge – Never destroy a customer relationship, no matter how trivial it may seem. Customer relationships are to be preserved, even if they do not appear to be subject to rapid growth. Too often, frustrated customers become dissatisfied former customers — and zealot opponents of the former supplier of products or services.

7. Create a customer satisfaction culture – In early-stage technology companies, culture is key. Create a customer-centric culture that places customers at the top of the list — along with your employees and shareholders. Don’t tolerate second-class service or employees who refuse to provide the highest level of customer care.

John C. Yates Chairs the Technology Group of the law firm Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP, which has offices in Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jcy@mmmlaw.com and (404) 504-5444.

This column is presented for educational and information purposes and is not intended to constitute legal advice.