Customer service can make or break any small business. With information about businesses available lightning fast on various review platforms, word-of-mouth is more important than ever. Here are reasons why customer service should be a priority for every small business.
Reasons to offer great customer service
Increases trust and customer loyalty
There’s no better way to crush customer loyalty than providing sub-par service. A customer who has a swift and satisfying interaction with your business is much more inclined to return and spend their dollars with you again.
Customer retention is cheaper than acquisition
It costs five times as much to attract a new customer then to keep a current one. If you don’t retain your customer base, your business costs can rise and you’ll have to outlay more money to attract and convert new customers.
Customer spending is impacted
That means your prices don’t have to compete with giant corporations. You can offer your shoppers a personalized customer service experience.
Customers return more often
There are very few businesses that don’t rely on returning customers. Once you’ve spent the time, energy, and resources required to get a customer, you want to keep them around. Shoppers remember positive customer service experiences and will want to give you their business again.
Generates positive word-of-mouth referrals
We’ve all been told stories about bad customer service. But good customer service stories get shared as well. In fact, 88% of consumers placed the highest level of trust in word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know.
Give your customers the opportunity to easily share their good experience with your company. Provide a way for happy customers to share reviews on Yelp or your Google Reviews page. If you do get an unfavorable review, check out this article from the SmartBiz Small Business Blog on how to respond to negative reviews.
Offer customers who write a positive review a small token of your appreciation. That could be anything from a discount on a future purchase or even a gift card for $5.00 to a nearby coffee shop.
Increases brand awareness
When consumers consider a purchase of products or services you offer, you want your company to be top of mind. The reputation and awareness of your brand can impact marketing efforts, consumer perception, and ultimately your bottom line. One of the easiest ways to build brand awareness is by offering excellent customer service.
Customers will be more willing to give you a break if they are unhappy with your product or service. If they know complaints are handled swiftly and effectively, they won’t be hesitant to give your business another try.
Once you understand the importance of offering great customer service, it’s time to train those on your team that communicate directly with your customers. Here are elements to incorporate into your customer service program.
Steps to implement great customer service
The below customer service tips and tricks will help show your team what they should do to improve customer service:
1. Clear communication
Communicating clearly can increase sales, repeat business, and customer referrals. Your website should have an easily accessible page where customers can address any issues and get answers. Here are 4 ways you or your team should communicate with customers.
- Make a good first impression with a friendly greeting and introduction. As an example: “Hello! My name is _____. How can I help you today?” Answering with just the name of the company like “XYZ Plumbing” can sound cold and distant.
- Stay staffed adequately so customers know they are valued and issues can be addressed promptly.
- Prioritize calls. Busy small businesses get lots of calls and email every day. Take a look at the types of communication you receive and put customer service calls at the top of the list.
- Don’t be a robot! Treat customers like real people. Toss the scripts and work with your team to adopt a friendly tone and communication style you’d use in your personal life.
2. Prioritize key touchpoints in the customer service process
The customer service pipeline is composed of several touchpoints during which your team should be especially hands-on. These touchpoints include product or service purchase or registration, training and onboarding, and free trials. Ensure that your team gets in regular contact throughout these touchpoints to solve any customer problems before they arise. In doing so, you provide good customer service from the jump and make customers feel prioritized.
3. Track conversations to improve customer interactions
Nobody wants to feel like a stranger, and your support team should ensure that your customers feel heard and recognized. To achieve this goal, have your agents track all customer conversations. Your agents should write everything they learn in your CRM software (explained below in step #14). In doing so, they build a customer knowledge base that’s highly useful in future conversations.
With a robust customer knowledge base, your agents will know the customer’s interests, needs, and more the next time the customer reengages with your support team. Chances are your customers will feel appreciated and perhaps become loyal customers in the long term.
4. Prioritize organizational, not operational, metrics
An individual customer service agent’s response time and closed ticket volume aren’t as important as your whole team’s performance. The former category of metrics is called operational and the latter organizational. Key performance indicators included in organizational metrics are customer satisfaction, customer churn, and net promoter score (NPS). Addressing any issues underlying poor organizational performance is more meaningful than addressing just one agent’s work.
5. Engage your customer support team with performance incentives
Many a customer service manager can attest to the power of incentivizing customer service agents to repeatedly outperform themselves. That said, incentive programs often come with a pitfall: Agents reach the intended marks not to provide better service, but to win rewards. You can again solve this problem by prioritizing organizational over operational metrics. When you incentivize excellent team performance, everyone – including your customers – wins.
6. Make customer feedback easy to provide (and gather)
The value of customer feedback for improving your customer service just can’t be understated. Without customer feedback, you can’t know what your customers expect when they call you, email you, or contact you via live chat or social media. Gathering this feedback can be easy too – well, as long as you make it easy for customers to provide.
Emailing customers a direct link to a survey after an interaction certainly helps. So too does tacking on an incentive to your survey, perhaps a sweepstakes entry or a discount on a future purchase. You should also make sure your surveys are short but open-ended. This way, customers can spend as little or as much time as they want letting you know what they need.
7. Remain proactive
A frequent but easily avoidable customer service error is letting a major mistake happen and then not attempting to rectify it. Your customer service agents should instead acknowledge the error, indicate what your company is doing to fix it, and state when it will be fixed.
For example, if a customer’s account with you has been compromised, say that you’re aware of the breach instead of placing blame on a third party. Then state how you’re addressing it and when the fix will be complete. Sure, maybe you didn’t intentionally open the customer’s account to a breach, but even if you have robust cybersecurity protocols, a data breach is your responsibility. Good customer service means acknowledging this responsibility and acting on it.
8. Make your customer service team accessible on many channels
In the above data breach example, let’s say a panicked customer tries to reach your phone line, but you currently only offer email support. This one-channel approach can make your company appear uncaring in urgent situations like this one. Instead, make your team available via phone, email, and live chat.
Even though most small businesses can’t afford to have 24/7 customer service, help should always be available, even when you aren’t. Screenshots, videos, in depth FAQs, and more convey to your customers that you care – even when you’re not available. Don’t forget about your social media channels. They should include clear contact information and a link to your website.
9. Use positive language and convey a positive attitude
There are customer service responses that no consumer spending their hard-earned money wants to hear. These include:
- I don’t know...
- We can’t…
- You can’t…
- Calm down…
Replace these negative responses with language that assures customers. Incorporate positive works like:
You’ve probably spoken to harried or rude customer service reps and you probably didn’t shop with that company again. As the old adage goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
- Negative language: "That product won’t be on hand until late next month. We have many back orders and it’s unavailable at this time."
- Positive language: "That product will be available next month. I’ll place the order for you right now and send it to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!"
10. Use the CARP method for angry customers
Hopefully, you never have a customer contact you out of anger. But it happens. The CARP method was developed by best-selling business author Robert Bacal to help customer service teams appropriately sequence and address hostile customers. The steps are outlined below are from Bacal’s book Diffusing Hostile Customers Workbook: A Self-Instructional Workbook For Public Sector Employees.
- Control – This is a subtle technique to send a message that bullying is simply not going to work. Be firm, be professional, and stay calm.
- Acknowledge – An angry person wants to be understood. Use empathy and active listening to diffuse the situation.
- Refocus – Once you’ve dealt with the emotions, refocus so you can address the actual problem.
- Problem Solve – Problem-solving involves gathering all pertinent information, offering a solution, being helpful and following through on action items.
11. Close a conversation
A quote from a Latin writer born in 25 B.C. expresses why an appropriate conversation close is so important:
“You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force." – Pubilius Syrus
It’s important to meet your goals and close a conversation appropriately to get the best customer service results. Here are some examples of polite email closing that will show the customer you appreciate your business and were happy to help:
- Please let us know if you need further assistance.
- Should you have any questions, please let me know.
- We hope you will find our recommendations useful.
- Thank you for your cooperation on this matter.
- Thank you for your assistance.
Phone call sign offs are important as well. Here are guidelines:
- Thank the caller and summarize what you did for the customer.
- Tell the caller you appreciate their business.
- Offer future help and willingness to assist in the future.
- Say goodbye but always let the caller hang up first. (You don’t want the caller to feel brushed off or unimportant)
12. Offer a timely response
The business world moves fast these days thanks in part to email and effective customer service systems. Don’t let your business fall behind. A lag in addressing an issue or answering a question can result in losing a customer and/or poor word-of-mouth recommendations.
According to research from Superoffice, of 1,000 companies, the average response time to respond to customer service requests is 12 hours and 10 minutes. These days, that's too long.
13. Use strategic automation
Automated customer service is a type of support provided by artificial intelligence. Examples of an automated system are a website help center or a chatbot. The benefits include being able to connect with customers 24/7 and reducing your human support costs. Compare product features and ratings for a selection of Customer Service Software on the Capterra review website.
Customer Service Software can include:
- Live chat - This option is a flexible tool you can implement for use on your website. It helps you directly support customers when they need it. In addition to customer service, you can answer questions and engage with customers ready to buy. Increase your sales and generate new leads
- Help desk tool - A helpdesk is a tool that helps your business respond to customers more quickly and effectively. It also helps your customer service team offer the best and swiftest possible experience to your customers.
- CRM tool - CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. This tool helps manage a company's contact with current and potential customers. It uses data analysis about customers' history with a company to improve relationships with customers. CRM focuses on customer retention and sales growth.
14. Use data
Customer service programs have become more and more complicated as internet-based interactions that frequently don’t involve any human-to-human interaction become popular.
Your business is now able to collect and analyze data from information collected in each transaction. Data can improve your customer service by helping to figure out your customer base, understand the entire customer journey, know customer needs before they ask, and improve internal processes. Gathering and analyzing data can help you perfect your customer interactions and give your business an edge over the competition.
15. Utilize the company website
Research-based user experience firm NN/g recently conducted user studies to understand how people approach customer service activities on the web and how websites provide support. They found that users were generally successful at finding customer service information on websites although the path was not always straightforward. Study participants had to work hard to find information they needed and the process often included a lot of trial and error with users unnecessarily visiting many different pages on the site.
Consumers are likely to make your website a first stop if they have a customer service issue. Make sure your contact information, including email, phone number, and hours available are displayed prominently.
No matter how great your products or services, no matter how on point your customer relationships are, there will come a time when you have to deal with an unhappy customer. The Carey School of Business found that only 37% of upset customers were satisfied when offered something in return. However, if the business apologized in addition to providing compensation, satisfaction increased to 74%.
17. Provide rewards
After offering a sincere apology, ask the customer what you can do to make it right. That might be a replacement product, a discount on a future purchase, free shipping, etc. Although compensating a customer can cut into your profits, it’s worth it. This strategy can help you retain the customer and garner positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
18. Never stop training your customer service team
Even the most qualified, experienced customer service reps benefit from continuous training. You should schedule quarterly training sessions in which your reps learn the latest about your products and services so they can best address customer concerns. Your training should also include refreshers on any areas in which you’ve identified lapses in your team’s operations. With this continuing education, a better customer service experience isn’t just possible – it’s likely.