Good customer service is crucial to the success of any business. It’s even more important for small businesses, many of which don’t have much margin for error when it comes to losing customers.
Over the past few years, views on customer service have evolved—it’s gone from a necessary component of a business to a growth-promoting business imperative. According to SaaS Capital, customer service can contribute to a 40% increase in business revenue and 50% faster growth, and can help reduce churn and improve customer relations. An American Express survey found that two out of three consumers are willing to spend more at businesses with whom they’ve experienced positive customer service, while a Kissmetrics report finds that 71% of consumers ended their relationship with a business over a bad customer service experience.
The takeaway? Customer service directly impacts your bottom line.
For small businesses, however, customer service is likely not the top priority. But instead of pushing customer service down the to-do list, try finding ways to stand out from your competition by providing great service. After all, it’s up to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.
Here’s how to implement great customer service without drastically impacting your budget.
Define Your Customer Service Goals
The most important element of any business project is defining your goals, and customer service is no exception. Customer service is a company-wide effort, even if you’re a company of one. Some common goals may include:
- Reduce churn
- Scale your service efforts
- Boost revenue
- Raise positive customer sentiment
- Improve brand appeal
Each of these goals has an impact on your bottom line and will affect how you conduct business. A company dedicated to reducing churn and boosting revenue will dedicate most of its support time and resources to making existing customers happy. A company that wants to improve its brand appeal and scale will spend more time attracting new customers, ensuring new customer satisfaction, and collecting public reviews.
Your customer service ideology will dictate how other teams operate. Everyone will work better when you have consistent and clear goals.
Know Your Customers and Their Needs
It’s easier for small businesses to know their customers on a more personal level, so it’s inexcusable if you aren’t taking the time to understand your customers and their needs.
Customers are individuals and deserve to be treated as such. Small businesses can meet individual needs and preferences, and doing so can be a significant boon to your business. Getting to know your customers is simple:
Customer service is all about being available. If you’re a solopreneur, make sure your clients have your phone number and email address and encourage them to call, text, or email whenever they have a question or problem. Even if your company has 10 employees, encourage your salespeople to let new clients know that someone from your team is always available as a resource.
At a certain point, you personally can’t be available for all of your clients, but you can make your customer service continuously available. Build an infrastructure that allows clients to ask questions via a service-specific email address and by managing and engaging with customers on your social media pages. You may hire one person to handle customer service inquiries full time, or you may empower salespeople to solve customer issues themselves. You, as the head of the company, should always be available as the final voice should issues escalate that far.
Additionally, don’t pull the rug out from under your customers. If legacy customers are accustomed to getting you on the phone, remain available for them even as you scale (within reason, of course.) If newer customers experienced a certain level of support when they started using your product, maintain that level of support. Customer service should be consistently great for all customers, but it’s okay to give a little extra attention to your biggest ones.
Ask for Feedback
The only way to improve your product is through feedback. Your customers may well know your product better than you do, and will have insightful feedback to help you improve and grow. Listen to them and incorporate their feedback into your business.
Gathering feedback is easy and cost-effective for small businesses. Some ideas:
- Include a comment card in physical orders with prepaid postage for the return letter.
- Create a survey and include a link in all order confirmation emails.
- Create polls and ask questions on your social media pages.
- Schedule a meeting or call your top customers to discuss feedback.
Positive and negative feedback are equally important. Negative feedback helps you improve your product, while positive feedback lets you know that you’re doing something right and, with permission, you can make it public as social confirmation for your product.
Customers should have a clear way to share their opinion of your business, whether it’s sent directly to the business or on a public forum like Yelp or Facebook.
Make Customer Service an Organizational Priority
Employees take their cues from the top. If leadership prioritizes customer service, the rest of the company will value it and commit to improving the customer experience. Remember that customer retention is significantly less expensive than acquisition. Retention is only possible if you actively appreciate and value your customers throughout their sales journey.
Be a Problem-Solver
It sounds like a no-brainer, but customer service should have a problem-solving approach. Many organizations apply cure-all solutions to unique problems, sticking to an arbitrary protocol rather than addressing customer complaints directly. That classic mantra “The customer is always right” is especially true for small businesses.
A good customer service experience has just two steps: apologize, and fix the problem.
Every customer is valuable to a small business, and a sincere apology can go a long way towards repairing a damaged relationship. Accidents happen. By instilling a sense of accountability in your employees and empowering them to fix problems themselves, you can institute a positive customer service infrastructure throughout the organization. Customers appreciate when you acknowledge your mistakes, but they appreciate resolution even more.
When a customer complaint arises, take action as soon as possible. The faster you resolve an issue, the faster you restore a customer’s confidence. Providing excellent service for common issues shows that you care about a customer’s time, while providing unique solutions to more high-touch issues demonstrates you care about each customer’s business. To this point, it’s valuable to train salespeople, account managers, and other people who interact with clients in customer service skills and teach them how to fix common issues with your product.
Finally, remember to follow up. Have your point person follow up a week later to ensure that the fix is still working out (or do it yourself).
Hire the Right People
Culture is crucial to improving your customer service. As mentioned above, salespeople and account managers can double as customer service agents. Any client-facing employee should be able to resolve customer complaints.
For most customers, their view of your company is through only one or two people. Those people should be exemplary representatives of your company. The right people may bring in new business, but they can be integral to retaining existing business as well.
Additionally, you as a small business owner should treat your employees as you’d like them to treat your customers. The happier your employees are, the more dedicated they will be to business success. Happy employees are willing to go above and beyond the job description to save the company from costly personnel expansion.
The Bottom Line
Small businesses exist in competitive marketplaces. One of the best ways to gain an advantage is through maintaining excellent customer retention and delivering outstanding customer service. When you don’t have the resources to spend on a complete service team, you have to get creative. These tips should help you make service a pillar of your business and improve your service infrastructure without breaking the bank.