Customer Service for Small Businesses

Small businesses, especially start-ups, spend much time and energy with the essentials of raising necessary capital, meeting staff requirements, developing marketing tools, and competing for bids in competitive job markets. This leaves very little focus on customer service. But with the fervor of social media, customer service has never been more important than ever—and knowing how to combine technology and face-to-face human interaction is essential. Follow my four simple customer service tips to move your small business to the next level.

TIP 1: HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE–HIRE FOR ATTITUDE, TRAIN FOR SKILL
Though technology is at the customer service forefront of most modern small businesses, people continue to be vital to memorable service experiences. People run businesses, not technology. Therefore, hire customer service reps for attitude and train for skill. Crazy-good customer service reps NEED and want to be helpful. That’s how they’re internally wired. Technical skills can always be taught and learned. Once you hire employees with the right attitude, make them all-around exceptional service agents by training them on your customer service protocols and company policies. Customer service training can also help to elevate great service people into exceptional representatives.

Ask yourself some key questions about your current and prospective employees: Do we have the right people in customer-facing positions? Are they personable and knowledgeable? Do they genuinely like people? And most importantly, do our company leaders demonstrate the behaviors we want from all of our employees?

Remember: Not everyone is cut out to be a customer service superstar. Some people were meant to be behind the scenes people—and that’s great. Choose carefully and wisely and you will be rewarded with world-class results—happy and engaged employees, and loyal and returning customers.

TIP 2: PRACTICE GOOD MANNERS AND EMPATHY
Good manners are nearly dead. And I’m not talking about the rigid and overly cumbersome social manners of the Victorian or post-Edwardian era depicted in Downton Abbey. I’m talking about the simple social graces of listening, caring, and being present and engaged.

As a professional consultant, speaker and author on customer service, I’m overly aware of good manners in social settings in general and in the workplace in particular. Throughout the past several years, I’ve paid tribute to companies and individuals who provide great customer experiences and have offered tips to achieve the same. I’ve also, on many more occasions than I care to count, have shook my finger at BAD experiences that have left me baffled, annoyed, disheartened, and vowing to never again use a particular company or service. And while I can say with great confidence that exceptional customer service does still exist, the trend, really, is that good manners in the workplace are dead. Customer service at many organizations is simply horrible. But not to worry, you don’t have to be in the latter category! With a few simple strategies, you and your organization can use good manners to create great customer service experiences that people will gladly talk about to others—ultimately, affecting your bottom line!

LISTEN: Not all listening skills are created equally. Rather than listening passively, listen actively and with intent. Active listening means not formulating an answer before your customer has completed making a request or complaint. LISTEN, then think and respond. Active listening also means reiterating to your customer what you believe to be the issue or problem. “If I understand you correctly, you are telling me x, y and z. Is this correct?”

CARE: Empathy is not a weakness. Caring is not letting others walk all over you. To care is to see yourself in others’ situations and predicaments. Caring is treating your fellow human beings like you want to be treated. “I am truly sorry that you have experienced this situation. While I can’t undo what has happened, let me see what I can do to make the situation better for you.”

BE PRESENT AND ENGAGED: Focus on each customer, at each moment in the interaction. Put away your cell phone, paperwork or other items that cause distractions. This shows the customer he is the most important person to you at that moment. On the phone, address your customer by name. In person, look your customer in the eye and nod in agreement without interrupting while he or she is talking.
Remember: Customers always respond favorably to good manners. For you, such positive responses translate to happy, loyal customers and repeat business. Low investment, high yields—what could possibly be better than that?

TIP 3: MONITOR SOCIAL MEDIA
It takes years for large established companies to create and then maintain their brands and brand identities. For growing smaller businesses, ignoring or losing control of social media with negative comments about products and services can tarnish their developing brands. Therefore, smaller businesses need to continually monitor social media platforms to ensure comments and complaints are dealt with quickly and professionally.

Timely response: In years past, the general rule on responses to voice mail—the most common communication method at the time—was to call back within 24 hours. In the age of online communication tools like instant messaging, texting, and email, 24 hours have been reduced to no more than 12, preferably between 2 to 3 hours.

Be proactive not reactive to negative comments: When replying to negative comments, always make sure to reply in a professional manner. Replying in anger or sarcasm will always make a bad situation worse. Acknowledge a customer’s issue, apologize if necessary, and then give a timeframe for resolving the issue.

Listen to customers’ feedback: If you continually receive complaint about the same product or service, it may be time to listen carefully and evaluate what customers have to say. In-house, you may not be seeing or experiencing what your customers are complaining about. Reacting positively and moving forward to investigate negative feedback can actually help grow your business, your brand, and your reputation. Remember the age-old adage: The customer is always right!

TIP 4: MAKE CONTACTING YOU EASY AND CONVENIENT
When customers want to contact you, getting in touch should be a snap. Make your contact information easy to find on your marketing materials, especially on your small business website, including physical address (even if you use a PO Box), telephone number(s), email address(es), website URL (for print materials) and social media handles. While this may sound like a no-brainer, it amazes me still how many small business sites lack or hide this basic information.

Adding autoresponders for requests sent via your website is a great way to assure customers that their request is en route to be reviewed and not sitting idle in some dark void. Autoresponders can be as short as “Thank you for comment or request. Please expect an answer within the first half of the next business day.”
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As a small business, you have many important things to worry about; however, delivering exceptional customer service doesn’t have to be one of them. With four simple strategies, you are well on your way to elevating your small business into a service powerhouse to be reckoned with.