Editor’s note: This article is part of a featured series, 2015: The Year of Customer Service. In this series, we’re interviewing customer service experts to find out how companies can take a more customer-centric approach to business in 2015 and beyond. Find out what customer service experts say you should be doing to support your reputation and make customers happy in this exciting series.

Perhaps the most important part of customer service is simply listening to your customers: finding out what they want, where they think you’re doing well (or not so well), what they’d like to see from you in the future. It’s a great way to learn straight from your target market what you really need to be doing. You’re really missing out if you’re not listening (and responding to) to your customers. Adi Bittan, CEO and cofounder of OwnerListens understands how incredibly important it is to not just listen to customers, but to actively encourage their feedback.

Bittan’s service uses technology to enable great customer service and helps businesses to develop and nurture strong customer relationships. On the OwnerListens platform, customers are able to text and instant message businesses directly and in real time for immediate replies and increased opportunities for conversation. This service helps salvage revenues, prevent negative reviews, and increase employee accountability while still maintaining privacy. After a connection is made between the customer and the business, OwnerListens provides tools to keep the conversation going and engage the customer with other programs offered by the business if they so choose.

In Part 1 of our interview with Bittan, we asked her to explain why customer service is so important, and why it’s essential that businesses don’t just listen to customers, but work to encourage their feedback and create great relationships with them as well. She explained why word of mouth has become increasingly important, showed us how customer service is key to earning and retaining customers, and told us why she thinks customer service is the best investment in marketing a business can make. Read on to find out why in today’s market, what your customers say really matters to you.

How the Internet Changed Customer Voices Forever

We now live in an age where potential customers have access to more information than they’ve ever had before — and they also have the ability to share more information as well. And while word of mouth has always been a powerful marketing tool, it now has the power of the Internet, and that means it’s supercharged, for better or for worse.

“No matter what kind of business you are (B2B, B2C, products, services etc.) the way you approach marketing and sales has changed because of the Internet, social media and review sites,” says Bittan. She explains that potential customers can and will read about their purchase, and they now have more access to existing customers. This offers unprecedented transparency into your customer satisfaction standing, says Bittan — and this can either help or hurt you.

Consider these facts that illustrate the impact of the Internet on customer voices:

The underlying principles of customer service information haven’t changed with the Internet: Bittan says that word of mouth still drives a lot of business. But, she notes, unlike the old days, each “mouth” now has a louder voice and can potentially influence a disproportionate volume of customers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even though research seems to suggest so.

Customers are more likely to speak out about a bad customer experience than a good one. In fact, American Express found that consumers will tell an average of 53 people about a bad customer experience, but only an average of 42 people about a good customer experience Further, ZenDesk research indicates that only 23% of consumers use review sites when they’ve had a good experience, but 35% will use a review site to share a bad experience.

Word of mouth is certainly more dangerous now, as consumers are increasingly listening and sharing with each other — and are more likely to speak out if they’ve had a bad experience. But this is only a problem if you’re delivering a bad experience. Businesses that can consistently wow customers have the potential for each customer to tell 42 people how much they love their service — instead of letting 53 people know how disppointed they are.

“This influence cuts both ways,” says Bittan. “It could ruin your business when bad and catapult it to new heights when good.”

Still, if you’re struggling with customer service, bad reviews are like a ticking time bomb that could seriously damage your business if you can’t turn it around. A negative reputation is easy to earn, but it is hard to forget.

“It’s natural but unfortunate that bad experiences are disproportionately more influential than good ones,” says Bittan. “Negative experiences are more memorable when relayed back. It’s only natural for humans to look for and remember the worst-case scenario they read about, especially with high value items or services where stakes are high (e.g. dentists, cars, furniture).”

The bottom line? “Each customer interaction carries more weight than ever,” says Bittan. That’s why it’s so important to listen to customers and solicit their feedback to find out what’s right (and what’s wrong) so that you can deliver a more positive experience for every customer to talk about.

Good Customer Service as an Investment in Marketing

Each year, businesses spend hundreds, thousands, even millions on marketing to increase awareness and interest in products and services. But more important than any Super Bowl ad or celebrity endorsement is the ultimate form of marketing: good customer service.

“Great customer service is your best marketing investment,” says Bittan.

Creating happy customers can make a difference for any business. Remember those 42 people who will hear about a great customer service experience? They’re all potential customers, and they’re hearing great things about you. Happy customers are your best spokespeople, and you don’t even have to pay them!

“Businesses that excel at customer service make sure every single customer interaction is fantastic,” says Bittan. “Your next customer will surely be influenced more by what they read about and hear from existing customers than any marketing initiative, no matter how clever or expensive.”

In fact, word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family are the most trusted form of marketing. A study from Nielsen indicates that 84% of consumers worldwide trust this form of earned media more than any other source of advertising.

It’s clear customer service can really work for you, and you don’t have to look hard to see why great customer service pays off. Just look at the bottom line: better reviews mean better revenues. Research indicates that simply by raising a restaurant’s Yelp rating by one star, restaurants experience a 5% to 9% rise in revenue.

Why It’s Always Better to Keep a Customer Than Find a New One — And How You Can Do It

Of course, great customer service isn’t just about looking good for new customers. Great customer service helps you to retain and deepen relationships with existing customers, too.

“Retention costs less than acquisition, especially in these competitive times,” says Bittan. “How much does it cost you to get each new customer?”

The idea is simple: it’s easier and cheaper to keep a customer than it is to attract a new one — and that’s just one more reason why it pays to serve your customers.

Bittan points out that the process of customer acquisition is both difficult and expensive from building awareness through the first sale. “In a noisy, competitive world, getting someone’s attention is not a trivial task,” she says.

“Once you’ve earned it, created trust, and convinced the customer you can create value worth paying for, it’s cheaper to invest in retaining that customer than in attracting a new one,” says Bittan.

And while there’s nothing wrong with seeking out new customers, it’s important to place more significance on retaining loyal customers. Your loyal customers are the ones that will keep coming back time and time again and tell people how much they enjoy your service — and help you win new customers.

It’s no secret how businesses can hold on to loyal customers: it’s all about service. “Great customer service is how you retain customers,” says Bittan. Specifically, great customer service is often what sets you apart from your competition, and it’s what encourages your loyal customers to keep coming back.

“Customers can switch at the drop of a hat, so never take them for granted,” says Bittan. “Spend the time and money to let customers know they are appreciated, to fix things when the experience is less than stellar, and to stay on top of what customers want and expect from you in the future.”

How Businesses are Using Customer Service to Really Stand Out

Offering great customer service has the power to make your business stand out in a sea of competitors. Customers will come back if they feel respected and enjoy the service they receive. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your customers feel positively about your business. Bittan shares examples of businesses who have benefited from going the extra mile to deliver great customer service.

EAT24 is a great example of putting customer service first and using it to differentiate, says Bittan:

EAT24 is a service that connects customers with restaurants that deliver. Unlike some services, it does not do the delivery itself, it only caters to restaurants that deliver on their own. Yet, EAT24 took on doing customer service for the delivery stage of the process. Their philosophy is that the end user, the consumer, has to be happy with their purchase and with the service. They have 24/7 human support that will go to great lengths to make sure customers are happy. It has become their signature point of differentiation (in addition to incredible humor). Their customers love them to bits and they have incredible word of mouth.

Amid all the hype created by food delivery companies and the millions of dollars they’ve raised, EAT24 stands out as continuing to grow steadily without having to raise a dime from external investors.

Another great customer-centric business Bittan admires is Philz Coffee:

One of our favorite OwnerListens customers is Philz Coffee. Philz is a regional coffee chain based in the SF Bay area that recently began its expansion to Southern California. The main concern for Philz leadership as they expanded has been maintaining consistency of service and the unique culture they’ve built around the coffee experience.

Unlike other businesses who strive for a representative sample to get a sense of their customer services, Philz wants to hear from every single customer and make sure every single experience they have is fantastic. Some businesses do everything they can to get customers to NOT call or ask for help, Philz does the opposite. They added text messaging by OwnerListens to give customer another channel, one that’s familiar and they like in order to encourage as many customers as possible to reach out.

For example, while some businesses put up OwnerListens signs that say: Message us if there’s a problem, the Philz signs encourage every customer to reach out by saying “Take a sip and tell us how it is”. This language is not by accident. They would truly like to know if they were able to “better your day” (that’s their tagline) with every single cup. Their goal is to educate customers to speak up and ask for a new cup if they are not happy with their purchase.

Philz has been using OwnerListens to personalize the branch experience as they grow and maintain the familiar, casual atmosphere. All their messages are sent to the local manager or assistant manager and they text with customers directly, becoming friends with them over time. They could’ve easily decided to route messages to a call center or some other centralized service but they made a deliberate decision that the staff on the ground should be connecting with customers directly and building a relationship.

These businesses are doing a great job reaching out and connecting with customers — and enjoying the benefits that great customer service brings. In Part 2 of our interview with Adi Bittan, we’ll go beyond the why of delivering customer service and focus on the how. You won’t want to miss out on Bittan’s great advice as she shares how businesses can make customer service a part of their culture, help customers help themselves, and become more accessible to customers — without letting customer service take over an overwhelming amount of their time. Plus, she shares the most common complaints that businesses should watch out for.

Thanks to Adi Bittan of OwnerListens for sharing her considerable expertise! We’re excited to share even more from her in Part 2 of our interview. In the meantime, you can follow her on Twitter @AdiOwnerListens.