This article is written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting, who facilitated the October SBDC Roundtable discussion: “Great Customer Service Tips We Can All Put to Use”.
Let’s face it, Small Business Customer Service is tough. Most Small Business owners don’t have a Customer Service department separate from the rest of their team. You are most likely your only and/or best customer service representative, if not one of a few staff. So, it doesn’t matter where Customer Service fits in your organizational chart because it is infused in all parts of your business—from sales and marketing to delivery and fulfillment. At the October Business Development Roundtable at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we discussed Customer Service. And, it was clear people had definite expectations not only of the businesses that served them, but they also felt the challenges of providing great Customer Service themselves.
“Customer satisfaction” is the term Peter Baldwin of MarketForce Strategies prefers, and he says is about the outcomes not just the actions along the way with a customer. If a potential customer comes in thinking well of your business, you want that goodwill to continue when they leave your office or shop. So much of marketing is about customer satisfaction. It was a consensus in the room that the Alexandria business owners were aware of this and ready to make that happen in their own businesses.
It was also evident that all have had bad customer service experiences as a consumer and also as business owner with their own vendors. These can be fruitful in the sense that they teach us how not to respond to customers in these moments. When a customer comes into initial contact with your business, they are in need of good customer service; they clearly have a problem (i.e., a need or want) and meeting with you, there’s a potential solution to that problem. When a customer is in the process of working with you or buying a product from you, customer service is pivotal in making sure the deal goes through. Small Business owners lose a substantial amount of business because of a poor customer service experience during the sales process. Don’t let that happen to your business by getting feedback, and training yourself and your staff in good customer service skills. Finally, customer service comes into play when a customer has a problem, whether that’s at delivery/fulfillment or afterward. Your job is to satisfy your customer within reason and law. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can try your best to do so in your business, and we know that this pays compound dividends in repeat business and referrals for local business.
Some points to take into account from our discussion of our challenges in providing great customer service.
First, give responsibility to your staff to be able to solve minor customer service issues. Customers enjoy the swift resolution of minor issues. It might be the ability to give refunds or exchanges for a certain product or service price point for specific reasons without manager approval. Also, training your staff so that when you don’t have a product or service that will satisfy a customer that you recommend to them someone who does. That builds goodwill for your company and will bring that customer back when they have a need or want that you can meet.
Next, getting customer feedback from point of contact through the transaction process and after the sale. Customers are a wealth of information and the best way to tailor your services or products to satisfy them is to ask them for information. Of course, you need to do so tactfully and not to the point of annoying or driving customers away, but each touchpoint with a potential, current or past customer is an opportunity to get a bit of data about them and their satisfaction with your business. These bits of data build into a greater picture that you can use to provide even better products/services and customer service over time.
Last, making sure that you are aware of online reviews today and how that can impact customer satisfaction. You need to not only monitor your customer reviews, but also encourage your customers to go to Google, Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor and other online review websites to let you know how well your business is doing. This increased exposure is positive for several reasons, but in the vein of customer service you can learn if something is going awry so that you can fix it in the future. And, when you do, simply reach back out to that customer who may have left a less-than-pleasant review and ask them to re-review your business. Most often if you solved their issue, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how willing and happy they are to tell others how you fixed the circumstance.
As I said at the top, Customer Service is tough. But, with some diligence and training, it doesn’t have to keep you up at night. Learn as much as you can about delivering great customer service for your target audience, fix issues when they happen to the best of your ability, and train your staff to do the same.
Next month’s Roundtable is about holiday season marketing, so join us on November 15 to be a part of the Alexandria Small Business conversation, while networking and growing your business.