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Enhance your customer experience
Build your business by creating a memorable customer experience.
Good customer service has long been the secret ingredient that distinguishes top businesses from their competitors. In fact, 55% of American business owners believe that customer service plays an increasingly important role in differentiation among businesses, according to a recent worldwide survey of 10,000 business owners.1
Using social media channels and online review sites, customers now broadcast their experiences in real time, raising the stakes of each customer interaction. This gives businesses an even more powerful incentive to invest in the customer experience.
"Good customer service has long been the secret ingredient that distinguishes top businesses from their competitors."
Here are a few tips to help maximize your resources and provide exceptional customer service that will keep your customers coming back for more:
Invest in your team
Hiring employees who possess strong people skills is, of course, essential to providing great customer service. However, finding talented team members is only part of the equation. To make the most of your employees’ natural talents, you need to empower them to follow their service-oriented instincts.
“Don’t tie their hands and say, ‘you have to approve everything through me,’” says Becky Carroll, author of The Hidden Power of Your Customers. “Give them the leeway to make decisions that will greatly impact the customer’s experience.”
It’s also important that business owners communicate their expectations for customer service to employees on an ongoing basis. “Customer service is more than just a memo to employees or regular praise,” Carroll says. Instead, follow up with customers regularly and share that feedback with your team, celebrating achievements and highlighting opportunities for improvement.
Connect with your customers
Developing a genuinely personal connection is key to building customer loyalty and this is an area where small businesses have a huge advantage, says Michael Hess, a writer and speaker specializing in customer service, and owner of Skooba Design, a laptop bag manufacturer. “An operator at a wireless company acknowledges me by name because of CRM software,” he says. “That’s not the same as walking into a small business where someone actually remembers my name and what I purchased.”
Personalizing the customer experience can be as easy as greeting a customer by name, writing a thank-you note, asking about a previous purchase or suggesting a product that you believe would benefit the customer.
To create a culture of customer service, you need to make specific actions — such as addressing regular customers by name — a standard part of employees’ job descriptions, and include these actions when promoting and evaluating employees.
Sometimes providing good customer service is a matter of removing barriers that can get in the way of a customer doing business with you. Randi Busse, president of Workforce Development Group, suggests that business owners take some time to simulate the customer experience for themselves. “This can be anything from going on your company’s website to find out how visible is the phone number to what happens when someone calls and needs assistance,” she says. “You want to be sure that the person doesn’t get re-routed, caught up in an automated system and that the person who picks up has the ability to help.”
Other ways to identify potential barriers, according to Busse, are to place an order online or send an email from the company’s website. “Is the customer’s email and order followed up with a confirmation email? You want to ensure it’s a seamless interaction on the customer’s behalf.”
Also, find out whether it’s efficient to purchase from your company. “People rarely have time to invest in buying [products] or resolving issues,” says Debra Ellis, president of Wilson & Ellis Consulting. “The easier you make it for them to move from desire to consumption, the more likely they will return for more.”
To resolve issues quickly, Ellis suggests that business owners train their employees to follow these steps:
1. Listen patiently to complaints
2. Politely validate the customer’s concerns
3. Ask the customer what you can do to make it right
4. Respond with a reasonable counter offer if necessary
5. Follow up to ensure the issue has been resolved
Build a social media presence
Today, 81% of small businesses are using social media to market their companies.2 Social networks provide great customer service opportunities for small businesses at a low cost. They let small business owners engage with customers, resolve issues and answer questions directly through an online platform.
Carroll says social media has put customer service into the spotlight. “There is a big advantage in social media for small businesses, but they have to stay on top of it. Someone could be at your business with a cell phone, and if they’re not happy or waiting in line, what do they do? They tweet it. It’s just that easy.”
Monitor your social networks by setting aside time to respond to complaints and thank loyal customers, Carroll says. “You can set up Google alerts or do a Twitter search to see what anyone is saying about your company and then be proficient in your response to quickly resolve the issue.”
1. “Customer service critical to success,” March 30, 2012, Sage’s Business Index
2. “Constant Contact Fall 2011 Attitudes and Outlook Survey,” 2011 survey by Constant Contact