A step-by-step guide to help businesses improve their customer services facilities will be released today by consumer minister Melanie Johnson.

The guide, produced on CD-ROM, is the result of research by the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) into what people do and don't want from customer service departments.

"Developing better customer service can benefit businesses and consumers alike," said Johnson. "Even companies with the best reputations for customer service cannot rely on their laurels."

The top 10 tips included building trust with customers, taking complaints seriously and making the most of your staff by maintaining a high level of training.

"Getting it right first time is obviously the secret of good customer service, but where mistakes happen our research shows that a well-handled complaint makes all the difference to customer loyalty," said Philip Davis, customer services manager at Asda.

PC makers take up the gauntlet
Some PC Advisor readers may feel the DTI's tips can't come a moment too soon for the IT industry, where PC makers are often among the worst culprits for customer service. But leading manufacturers Evesham, Time and Tiny say improving aftersales service and customer retention is already a part of their everyday working practices.

Evesham, which has received four readers awards from top-title magazines in the last six months and topped PC Advisor's November Service & Reliability poll, has seen its halo slip lately under the pressure of increased sales.

"I'm afraid we're a victim of our own success," says spokeswoman Carolyn Worth, who admits it's sometimes hard to maintain standards in customer services, but adds that the company constantly strives to better its record.

High street box-shifter Time has recently made moves to take service a step further. In a bid to cut down on long calls to a faceless tech support hotline, the company has installed in-shop service centres to help resolve customer problems.

The price of a checkup for non-warranty owners will be fixed around £20, which is likely to be more than the average phone call to tech support but Time hopes the system will be able to pinpoint problems more easily.

"Local workshops mean people won't have to deal with head office as much," PR manager Colin Middlemiss told PC Advisor.

Rival maker Tiny, which launched a new services charter just last month, says customers can now look forward to a no-claims bonus scheme on warranties, loyalty rewards and set delivery times.

"The charter will ensure that customers are fully aware of Tiny's aftersales policies and the services they can expect to receive," said Tiny's Alison Boswell.

Staff training
While the most annoying things that irk customers about call centres are rude staff and employees that refuse to give their names or listen properly to complaints, Evesham believes properly trained staff cut down on these problems.

"Because of an increase in customers, our answer speed on the phone is slightly extended," said Evesham's Carolyn Worth. "This is because we take time to train our staff [in customer services] and this does mean occasionally there are mismatches in supply and demand."

Tiny's Alison Boswell said the company has improved its telephone service with call waiting times on average less than 25 seconds. "Tiny has restructured its call centres and a specialist teams have been set up to deal with different enquiries," she said.

Top tips to help them help you
When you call tech support, always sit near the problem computer so that you can perform recommended actions and give relevant details, such as serial numbers.

Make sure you have all information to hand, including warranties and necessary terms and conditions.

Check websites before ringing in case there is already advice for your problem there.

Keep details of the people you speak to so if you need to call again, you won't have to describe your problem all over again.