There is no doubt that big businesses have advantages that small businesses cannot ever hope to match— bigger budgets, more manpower, a diversity of skills, and marketing resources, just to name just a few.
But small businesses have their own advantages. Namely — a more personal connection to the customer, and less bureaucracy that therefore allows them to turn on a dime.
Which brings us to one of the most important aspects of any business, big or small— customer service.
In theory, small businesses would seem to have an advantage here because of that personal connection to the customer— if there is a problem, we hear about it and should easily be able to fix it. Yet many big businesses have figured out how to excel at customer service, whereas many small businesses haven’t cracked the code. Oh sure, some small businesses may talk the talk, but it turns out that serving the needs of the customer well can get easily lost in the hubbub of running a business.
The good news is that there are easy, innovative ways to deliver good customer service that we can take advantage of.
1. Text: Great customer service is not just about solving problems. It is equally about giving customers a positive experience when they interact with your brand, and about anticipating their needs and proactively addressing them.
One way to do this is through text message; after all, texting has become just about the most popular way to communicate digitally. If you are texting, and your customers are texting, then shouldn’t your business be texting too?
So create an opt-in text list and use it to:
- Offer special d iscounts
- Promote sales
- Get feedback
- Ask their opinion
2. Use social media: Not long ago, I wrote a piece that dealt with this issue extensively (How to Adapt Social Media for your Customer Service) so I need not belabor the point, except that I do want to share why using social media has become a hallmark of great customer service:
Not long ago, a survey from Harris Interactive, a research organization focused on consumer interests, looked at how various companies dealt with negative online reviews, and found that 68% of those reviews received some sort of follow-up by the company in question. Of that 68%:
- 18% of the complainers were so happy with the efforts by the offending company to fix the problem that they became regular customers again
- 33% decided to write a positive review after the complaint was resolved
- 34% decided to delete the original, negative post
It’s easy to see here that using social media to resolve customer complaints is a fast and effective way to tip the scales back in your favor.
3. Survey customers: Getting feedback from customers on their experience is vital to any good customer service program. Surveys can be done in-store of course, or online using a service like SurveyMonkey. Or what about using e-mail to follow up after a sale or promotion? Sony surveys customers immediately after a sale, and then 30 days later and 90 days later. And, in an MSN Money survey, 85% of respondents called Sony’s customer service either “excellent” or “good.” It’s important to remember, though, that once you receive this valuable feedback from customers you must act on it as necessary to keep your customer base happy.
4. Make it easy to work with you: That same MSN survey ranked Amazon.com as #1 in customer service, and it is no surprise why. Amazon is obsessive about offering great customer service, and most of it stems from how easy it is to interact with the business. Whether it is one-click shopping, discounted shipping or no-hassle returns, customers love buying from Amazon because it is easy and affordable. That same ease should be true of your business. Consider, for instance, offering a live customer service chat function to your business’ website via a service like BoldChat.
5. Create a customer service culture: Southwest Airlines is routinely ranked as one of the top large companies when it comes to customer service, and the reason for this, too, is evident: they make it a priority in their company culture. Southwest empowers flight attendants and other employees to solve problems on the spot, backs them up and then broadcasts great customer service stories companywide. Prioritizing customer service in this way ensures that it will remain a part of day-to-day company life and will stay engrained in company culture.
The bottom line is that to achieve great customer service, it has to be more than a motto hanging in your break room. It has to be part of every move that you and your employees make.
Have you used any of these tips for customer service, or do you have some of your own? Share with the community below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.