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When business people speak of innovation, they usually focus on a new product or service that will “revolutionize the industry.” But innovation can apply to any aspect of your company — including customer service.

Many business owners think of customer service as a fairly cut-and-dried affair. Customers call, you answer their questions or solve their problems ― and life goes on. Yet there are ways to transform this service. When companies do, word gets around. People want to do business with organizations that are easy to talk with.

Here are Four Ways to Encourage Innovation in Your Customer Service Department:

1. Welcome Failure.

Providing world-class customer service involves risk, and sometimes you’ll fail. For example, many businesses have jumped at the chance to use “big data.” Automated systems are designed to direct customers to answers and solutions. But the impersonality of these systems can frustrate your customers until you create the right balance of machine and human interaction. Remember, every failure opens the door to better strategies for serving your customers.

2. Link Compensation to Employees’ Contributions.

Companies that fail to reward innovation aren’t likely to keep their best customers or develop a good reputation. Because customer service employees tend to be paid hourly or relatively small salaries, consider a cash bonus program for the “most innovative idea of the year.” Or you could hold semiannual or even quarterly innovation challenges with prizes such as gift cards or additional time off.

3. Praise the Groundbreakers.

Employees who challenge customer-service tradition may find themselves at odds with management. But don’t be too quick to reprimand those with new ideas or methods. Fresh language and ways to communicate enter the public realm regularly. Give companywide recognition to those who find ways to adapt — even if their initial efforts bend the rules a bit.

4. Be the Customer.

Among the most simple and practical ways to innovate your customer service is to simply pretend you’re a customer. It’s a great way to get a firsthand view on how your employees treat people who contact your business. Business owners can make these calls themselves or, if your voice is too recognizable, find someone who’s less familiar but able to take detailed notes of the conversation.

Finding new ways to improve your company’s customer service isn’t easy. But innovations are always just one bright idea away. If you’d like more information and ideas about building your bottom line, contact our firm.

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