[illustrations by Denise Ann Holmes]
(originally posted on Design*Sponge)
We’ve talked about customer service on Design*Sponge before, with some specifics that are helpful for both brick and mortar shops and online shops (and I’ll provide those links in my Resources section at the bottom of the article). I wanted to back up and discuss customer service in general, and how to leverage it as one of the best marketing tools for small businesses.
I believe so strongly in customer service that for years and years all of our business (and I mean ALL of it) came from word of mouth. Either clients telling their friends how great we were to work with, posting on their blog or forums about their experience with us (in the days before Twitter), or people seeing the “site by Aeolidia” link on all their favorite websites.
How can you step up your customer service so people will evangelize for you, unprompted?
Customer Service: The Easiest and Best Way to Get Business
Customer service is every interaction you have with customers and potential customers, either direct, or indirect (such as information they find on your website). Customer service is completely in your control, and doesn’t take any special knowledge or tools – though of course I do have some knowledge and tools to share so you can be sure that you’re making the most of your time and your interactions.
Small businesses like yours can easily offer that personal touch that is so hard for large corporations to manage, and thanks to the many varieties of social media, it’s a great way to get free publicity.
Learn From Your Customers and Watch Them Tell the World
Aside from creating happy customers who will spread the word for you, you can gain valuable info for your business by listening carefully to your customers. Sometimes, especially if your business is artistic, you may feel like your business is all about you – but you would have no business without your customers! Whatever product you make or service you provide is meant for your customer. How can you adjust to make it just what they want? Their communication with you can give you ideas for improvement.
Word of mouth is a powerful tool. You can try to explain how much your customer will love what you do, but a recommendation from a friend is much more convincing and valuable. If you can please and impress your customers enough that they feel compelled to share their experience with you, either directly to friends, or via social media, that is priceless (and free!) publicity.
Along with word of mouth, you can use customer testimonials or reviews as social proof on your site, convincing new customers that you are safe to buy from.
How to Fit Customer Service Into Your Day
What small business owners do not have is extra time in a day. However, you know it’s vital to make time for your customers, the heartbeat of your business. How do you do so while continuing to get all the other stuff done?
Much of customer service happens online, from email to social media. You need to be sure you’re doing what you can to catch all the customer communication that’s out there and to reply to it quickly. You don’t need to be up at night answering customer emails, but you also can’t let an email go a week without a reply.
Email can be a huge time suck, but with a consistent and workable strategy, you can spend a set amount of time on your email each day, get the inbox down to zero, then close it and move on to other tasks. The peace of mind of knowing that everything has been answered and no one is waiting (impatiently!) for your reply is immense.
There are marketing tools for small businesses that will help you with email and social media, and I’ll list those below.
How to Create a Rapport With Your Customer
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou
– Communicate frequently! Don’t just show up when someone has a complaint. If customers are ordering from you, be sure they get email confirmations of their order and that they know when to expect the item to be shipped. Sending another message when the item is shipped, and perhaps a followup asking if all went well can be a great way to keep customers involved and feeling confident about purchasing from you.
– Be responsive and prompt. Most individual emails can be answered pretty quickly, so as long as you haven’t let them pile up, setting aside a few blocks in each day to whip through your inbox and reply to customer emails should be sufficient to keep you current. If you do have a pile, take some time to sort it out, and then keep up with it. Just like clutter grows in a junk drawer, email grows in an inbox if you don’t have a system (like mine, linked below).
– Use positive language and be helpful in all communication with your customers. Compare these two sentences:
“Unfortunately, the pink paper is back-ordered and we can’t get it to you for three weeks.”
“The pink paper will be available in three weeks, and we would be happy to place an order today to include it in your custom stationery order. You may also be interested in the peach paper, which is in stock for you right now, and would look lovely as well.”
– Don’t explain or complain. I read a business book years ago that was largely useless to me, but this one concept has stuck with me all this time. If there is a problem, your customer doesn’t want to hear why, they just want a solution. More often than not, your excuse is not going to impress them, or they will just feel burdened by the unnecessary information. Compare these two sentences:
“I’m so sorry that the pink paper was two weeks late. I had a cold last week, and by the time I made the order, the paper company was out of stock.”
“I’m so sorry that the pink paper was late, but I’ve put a rush on the rest of your custom design, and it should all be ready for you by next Friday.”
– Don’t take things personally. While it’s tempting to feel like a complaint is a personal attack, remember that your customer’s problem is about her, not about you. Drop your defenses and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Lose your ego when a customer has a problem; being right is not important, but making things right is.
Marketing Tools for Small Businesses
Here is some further reading if you’d like to get more time in your day and help your customers want to shout from the rooftops about your business.
- Help Scout, software to easily manage customer email, especially for teams.
- Biz Ladies: 7 Tools to Manage Your Email inbox
- End Each Day With an Empty Inbox, my strategy
Customer service help and tips:
- Biz Ladies: Customer Relations
- Biz Ladies: 5 Customer Service Tips for your Web-Based Business
- How to Apologize Like a Pro, my strategy
- Help Scout’s 20 Customer Service Tips You Need to Know
What do you think?
Do you have any customer service tips, questions, or stories to share? Why and how do you make customer communication a priority? Do you know any great marketing tools for small businesses?
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