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Giving everything to ensure your customers are happy helps you retain them and could make them your biggest cheerleaders. Despite this seemingly glaring ’truth’, there is compelling evidence that many business owners struggle with this area of their business. In the age of the internet a bad review from a disgruntled customer now has the potential to reach not just the complainant’s friends and family, but an even wider audience.
Here are some compelling stats from Kissmetrics. These stats should hopefully, make any business owner not taking customer service serious, sit up and take notice,
- 61% of customers take their business to a competitor after a poor customer service experience.
- In 2010 $338billion was lost annually to poor customer service in 14 major global economies
- 71% of customers ended their relationship with a business owing to poor customer service experience.
This means that as a small business owner you need to be mindful of the quality of the service you extend to your customers. If you don’t pay attention to your customers’ satisfaction, it could directly and negatively affect your bottom line.
The truth is, things will go wrong in business. A product may fail to work, a customer may not understand how to use a feature, or a service you offer may be unavailable for a while for reasons beyond your control.
While you can’t avoid these mishaps that are often a part of life and business, how you manage these unfortunate occurrences with your customers can make or break the relationship.
But what exactly should you be doing? How can you improve your customer service anyway and wow your customers in the process? I’m glad you asked. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some ways I have found useful in my business experience and I want to share them with you.
1. Hire the right staff
Customer service staff are invariably the ‘face of your business to the world. The type of experience your customer receives from interacting with them can be defining. As I’ve learnt and like to say, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. You can, to some extent, manage your customers’ first interaction by hiring the best persons for the job. This is why it important that you choose your customer service staff wisely.
I can’t stress how important this is. The right staff should share your company’s vision and your outlook on customer service. The customer service representative role is generally an entry level position. As such so many businesses do not place enough emphasis on hiring the right staff. They wrongly assume that anyone who speaks clearly and articulately is suitable for the job. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group, constantly talks about ensuring his employees are maintaining his vision for the Virgin brand.
Your customer service team should be passionate about people and be willing to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. While everyone in your company is responsible for customer service, your dedicated customer service team is most responsible for your customer interactions.
While choosing the right team can be a challenge there are ways to ensure you’re making the right decision. Don’t just focus on resumes and skills. Skills can be taught but a candidate’s personality is more important as that is not easily changed. Ask yourself, “Does this person fit in with the culture of my company?” It is also a good idea to pay attention to the kinds of questions candidates ask you when given the chance and if possible, check their social media profiles.
These are critical ways of learning more about them without asking them direct questions. As such it will give you a more accurate picture of who they really are.
2.Listen, listen, then listen some more
In general, as humans one of our deepest desires is to be understood. It is useful to remember this when dealing with your customers. Everyone wants to be understood. Often times, the frustration and angst customers exhibit go away as soon as they believe they are understood.
As overwhelming as it may get, always listen to your customers and allow them to vent their frustration and air their concerns and complaints. The information you gain during these complaints are often prime opportunities for your to make improvements where necessary.
Of course there are many ways to listen and obtain feedback from your customers. One-on-one engagement, phone calls, and surveys are all great ways of listening for information on how you can serve them better.
For conducting surveys there are tools available like Survey Monkey that have free plans that you can register for. The service allows you to design and send out questionnaires to your customers to get insightful feedback on how they feel about your business and what you could possibly improve on. The key is to ask the right questions to get an honest picture of how your customers feel about you.
3. Acknowledge your mistakes and be sincere
No business is perfect. You or an employee will inevitably make mistakes, or sometimes things simply may not go according to plan. When this happens acknowledge it. Don’t pretend there is no problem. A customer is more likely to accept an acknowledgement of wrong followed by an apology when you are honest about it.
Recently when Google Docs went down for many customers, the company acknowledged the error and provided reassurance for customers. The result is that users were understanding and patient. Luckily for Google, the outage didn’t last long.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also believes in apologizing and takes the business of customer service seriously. Back in 2009 when the company deleted copies of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984” from their customers’ Kindle devices because Amazon did not have permission to sell the titles, customers were outraged. While customers were refunded and the issue was resolved, Amazon did not stop there. Bezos issued a written statement of apology to customers through the Kindle forum. See a few customer reactions below.
By simply acknowledging the wrong in a public forum, taking responsibility and apologizing, Amazon was able to regain the trust of their customers. If your business ever falters and angers customers try to make amends by being honest and apologizing.
4. Underpromise and Overdeliver
This piece of advice seems simple enough yet many businesses fail to follow it. Sometimes promises are made with the best of intentions but for reasons beyond their control they are unable to follow through. At other times it may be completely avoidable.
If you have a staff of two it may not be reasonable to promise your customers a guaranteed response within 1 hour of their call. While it may seem like a great tactic to give the impression that your service is excellent, the drawback is if on any given day your two representatives happen to be on the phone with customers for over an hour (which is very possible), that promise becomes broken. Instead, consider a time frame that is reasonable. For example, if from experience you know your staff can make that call-back within 3 hours, advise your customers they will be called back within 1 business day. That way when they receive the call early they will be wowed based on their original expectation.
It is a bad idea to promise your customer anything that you are not certain you will be able to deliver. It puts you in a difficult and stressful position when you create expectations that are impossible or extremely difficult to meet. More importantly, when you fail to deliver you lose the trust of your customer and provide poor service. Whatever the case is for your business, be sure that whatever you offer is something you will be able to deliver to your customers.
This inc.com article offers some great suggestions for using promises to your advantage by underpromising and overdelivering.
5. Engage on social media
If you are serious about customer service in this internet age you must include social media as a part of your strategy. Social media refers to the various social networking sites and applications like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Linkedin to name a few. While your business does not need to be present on all of them it is important that you maintain a strong presence on at least one.
Now more than ever, consumers are taking to social media to vent their frustration and to share praise for the brands and products they use. If your business is not on social media you miss the opportunity to connect with your customers using a medium that they are comfortable with and use frequently.
All social networking sites are not created equal. Linkedin is more professional, Instagram and Pinterest are photo sharing platforms, Twitter limits you to 140 characters per tweet and Facebook is perhaps the most flexible of them all. Based on the nature of your business and your brand you should decide which network would suit your business best.
If you’re a small business you don’t need an extensive budget for social media. The point is to be present and available for your customers to engage with you. Think of it as a way of getting feedback from them. Social media is a wonderful opportunity to turn negative feedback into something positive depending on the way your business responds to the criticism or complaint.
For example, if you find that several of your customers complain on social media about the length of time it takes to speak with a representative when they call your company it’s a prime opportunity to look at your call handling procedure and perhaps hire more staff. You should also make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity to apologize and update customers once the issue is resolved. This will impress them as it shows you are listening and that you care.
6. Be flexible and ‘delight’-full
As a small business owner you have a direct advantage over larger multinationals that are plagued by bureaucracy. Use this advantage by making it easy for your team to resolve customer issues without too much talk of ‘policy’.
Your focus should always be on solving the customer’s problem, even if it is done at the expense of policy. Remember, it is more expensive to get a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. Empower your staff to make choices that are in the best interest of your customers.
For example, consider a bakery that has a strict policy in place where all custom orders must be requested 24 hours in advance. If on a slow day a customer who frequents the bakery walks in with an emergency request for 12 decorated cupcakes (it’s her friend’s baby shower and she was swamped with work and forgot to make the order) and the pastry chef is free, it’s a great opportunity for the staff to make an impression on that customer without disrupting operations.
It’s also a good idea to use every opportunity to delight your customers by offering unexpected incentives. Zappos is very good at this. CEO Tony Hsieh makes a case for the company’s take on providing excellent customer service:
A lot of them [customers] will order five different pairs of shoes and then send back the ones that don’t fit or that they simply don’t like—free of charge. The additional shipping costs are considerable for us, but we view them as a marketing expense… Our returns run high—more than a third of our gross revenue—but we’ve learned that customers will buy more and be happier in the long run if we can remove most of the risk from shopping at Zappos.
While your business may not have the capital of Zappos it is still possible to find creative ways to make your customers happy. Once everyone is invested, it is completely possible to wow your customers daily and give them the kind of service that gets talked about. Just ask these companies.
This list is by no means exhaustive as there are tons of ways to improve your customer’s experience. What methods have you tried? And how are they working? I would love to hear about them in the comments.