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2015

We have all seen them, those dusty mission statement placards that hang askew on an obscure wall in a business somewhere that say things like, “We are 1000% committed to creating an exceptional experience for our customers.” And somehow, ironically, these tend to be the businesses that seem the least committed to customer service.

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A recent survey found that 80% of businesses think that they deliver “superior” customer service, and yet only 8% of their customers felt the same way.

 

Let’s do a little thought experiment:

 

  • Think about the last salesperson that really annoyed you. What was it that bothered you? Maybe it was a salesman at the nice clothing store who was far more interested in upselling than helping you, or the checker who was so busy talking on her phone that she couldn’t be bothered to ring you up?
  • Now think about an employee you have recently met who was great. What did he or she do right? It is probably some combination of being personable, professional, sharp, and sincerely trying to help you.
  • Finally, what are your feelings about these respective businesses?

 

  1. Your employees are a reflection of your business.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

“Great customer service” is one of those things that small businesses now is important but in actuality may not be something that gets prioritized. And that’s because, as our little thought experiment shows, customer service, or rather the lack thereof, is one of the very few things that can viscerally turn off a patron. It is that important.

 

This is especially true today when customers have the ability to very quickly and easily post their experiences of a business – right now, on the go, using their mobile phone. People are more likely to complain about a negative experience than to share a positive one. The latter happens, but statistics show that it is the negative event that gets people fired up enough to post online: Happy customers share their experience with an average of 9 people, whereas unhappy ones share theirs with 16.

 

Consider additional statistics from the survey mentioned above:

 

  • 40% of respondents said that having a positive experience with the staff of a business is the main reason they would be likely to spend more money with a company.
  • When asked about why they gave up on a brand, a whopping 73% of people stated that their reason was due to rude or incompetent employees.

 

How your employees treat your customers is directly proportional to the success or failure of your business.

 

The good news is that it is not all that difficult to create a culture where customer service is more than a tired motto nailed to a wall. It is really a matter of making it a priority. If you make great customer service a part of your culture, if you spotlight it in training, memos, employee reviews, and actions, your staff will get it.

 

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



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation



You have likely heard the old maxim,: “it takes six times more money to create a new customer than it does to keep an old one.” And it’s true. Loyal customers are the bread and butter of your business; they are the reason you get to stay in business. Indeed, one consistent thing I have seen over the years is that the best small business people work hard to foster customer loyalty because they know that, like a good politician, their base is critical to their success.

 

So what works, and what do your peers do that you can emulate? Here are a dozen ideas that have stood the test of time:

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1. Find out what your customers like and need: Of course, you know that you need to do your job for your customers exceptionally well if you want them to stick around, that is a given. But what really creates customer loyalty is to take that step further: Speak with your clients and find out what their needs are and whether there is anything extra you can do to fulfill those needs. It is that personal touch (as you will see throughout this list) that can make all the difference.

 

2. Return phone calls, emails, and texts promptly: Yes, it is so easy for a customer or potential customer to get in touch with you these days that it can sometimes be a pain, but customer service superstars see it as an incredible opportunity. Promptly replying to an inquiry (within 24 hours should be the benchmark) sends the signal that you are on it and that you care.

 

3. Be reliable: Customers frequent your business because they need something you provide. If you provide it consistently and reliably, they will be loyal customers. If you don’t, they won’t.

 

4. Help, don’t sell: One of the reasons customers become brand advocates is when they trust that you have their best interests at heart. Helping a customer is more important than making the sale. When a customer comes to you with a need, help them solve that problem, whether or not that means buying your solution.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

5. Recommend your competition: To really create customer loyalty, when appropriate, let them know if someone else might better serve their interests on a particular issue. Personally, I find that my most loyal customers are those with whom I have recommended my “competition” on occasion. When that happens, I really am helping and not selling.

 

6. Under-promise and over-deliver. Most clichés are clichés for a reason, like this one. A tried-and-true way to impress customers and get them to stick around is by doing more than you were asked, more than you promised, and more than is called for in the contract.

 

7. Be a conduit of information: When you see an article that makes you think of a certain customer, pass it along. Recommend a book, movie, product, or video. Clip something out of a magazine and send it to them (snail mail will really get their attention!)

 

Your e-newsletter and social media posts can and should also be a resource of information for customers.

 

8. Remember them: Don’t just contact your customer when you want them to re-order, instead, stay in regular contact. You can send birthday and holiday cards, or a thank you note, gift cards, whatever it may be, this lets them know you appreciate them.

 

9. Reward great customers: Another way to make customers feel special is by giving them something that the general public does not have access to. This can be a special sale for regular customers only, a discount coupon available to them only, or a customer appreciation day.

 

10. Remember the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” should be the mantra of anyone looking to create long-term customer loyalty.

 

11. Empower individual employees to solve problems: When something isn’t right at some restaurants, servers don’t need to go to a manager to fix it. They have the ability – on the spot – to offer free food or whatever is needed to make someone happy. Similarly, at some manufacturing companies, customer service employees can swap out products, offer refunds, provide free consulting, or send out free batteries.

 

Customers really appreciate this sort of thing.

 

12: Make it impossible for them to leave: The bottom line is that customers become loyal when your business shows its appreciation for them, and does its job so well, that they would be foolish to go anywhere else.

 

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



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

Effective_Blog_Posts_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

A blog is an online journal that small businesses can use as part of their content marketing strategy to engage with prospects and customers. Blog posts are typically informative and conversational, sometimes even provocative, and can display your expertise and thought leadership in your particular industry.

 

Neil Patel—co-founder of KISSmetrics, a San Francisco-based company that tracks, analyzes and optimizes digital marketing—recommends these steps for making your blog posts stand out:

 

1. Have something meaningful to say.

Your blog post needs to be about something, with a clearly communicated point that readers can grasp and remember easily. The sharper the point, the more likely that the post will be shared with others or generate a response. Inserting keywords related to your point can boost search results.

 

2. Add images to your posts.

Patel almost always includes an image in his blog posts to draw readers in and engage more fully with the text. Images should "enhance" the reading experience and illustrate something important in the content.

 

3. Give the post a coherent structure.

Blog posts should have an easy-to-follow order for clarity and comprehension. One pattern that Patel uses is to introduce the topic, state and explain the supporting points, and end with a call to action. Another structure could involve posing an attention-getting question, supplying evidence for your position, and inviting readers to agree or rebut your response.

 

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4. Provide content not found elsewhere.

It's better to provide a fresh slant on something than to repeat what others have said. Putting out original material with a distinct viewpoint is likely to generate higher engagement and action from your readers.

 

5. Give each blog post a sufficient length.

Long-form pieces of 1,000 to 1,500 words tend to pull in more readers and rate higher in search indexing than shorter lengths—but don't pad your posts just to pump up the word count.

 

6. Follow proper rules of grammar and spelling.

Don't be lax with established rules of composition simply because you're writing for an online audience. Give your posts the same attention as you would a printed piece in a respected publication. Put aside your first draft for a day, if possible, and then reread and revise with fresh eyes. Print a hard copy to proofread and don't rely on software to do the work for you.

 

7. Include a call to action.

After the conclusion of your post, direct the reader to take the next step. Effective calls to action could move them to give their email address, take a survey, buy a product, or download further information—something that gets them to act or react to your post.

 

Effective blog posts take extra effort, but they can result in a more devoted client base.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

When I was getting ready to start my first business I did as much reconnaissance as I could. At the time, I was still working for a big law firm, making good money and I had a very nice benefits package. Additionally, my wife was pregnant and we had a toddler scampering around the house. Needless to say, there was very little room for error.

 

One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a wizened old lawyer and businessman who had a very successful practice for many years. Here’s what he told me:

 

“Once you get started Steve, you will be inclined to spend most of your time catering to your current clientele. And while that is of course important, I want you to remember that you will need to juggle three balls, not just that one.”

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“What I am saying is that there are three types of customers,” he went on. “New customers, existing customers, and exiting customers. You need to pay attention to all three if you want to succeed. People will leave your business for all sorts of reasons – they might move, or find someone cheaper, or get mad at you, or their needs change, whatever the case may be. The only way to replace clients who leave is by consistently working to create new ones. Then, later, those new clients will become existing ones. Later still, they will leave too and you will have to have even more new ones. You will need to always be juggling new, existing, and exiting customers if you want to stay in the game.”

 

That advice remains as true today as it was when he first told me over 20 years ago, and that of course begs the question: How do you, in fact, get new customers?

 

The popular answer today is “social media!” And while it’s true that social media must be a part of your marketing mix, let’s look at the top three tools that have always worked best:

 

1. Advertising: The tried-and-true, 800 lb. gorilla way to get new business is by advertising. Television, radio, and newspapers all can trace their evolution and growth to being the great advertising mediums of their day. They grew because they helped businesses grow.

 

And not only does advertising work, but because of the Internet, it is more affordable than ever. Back in the day you might spend a lot of money advertising with the hope that the right person would see your ad and call you. It was expensive because you also were paying for a lot of eyeballs that would see the ad but never call.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

These days, with Google in particular, your ad dollars go a lot further. You can create an ad targeting people by searching for specific terms that relate to your business and only pay after they see your ad, like it, and click on it. That sort of specific, targeted lead beats spending mass money on other mass mediums.

 

2. Marketing and Public Relations: With advertising you spend money directly on some sort of communication medium where you tell people about your business, however, marketing is a different sort of communication, one that ideally is a bit more subtle. With marketing, you still are communicating with the public about your business, but the message isn’t “buy now” but rather, “look at us and what we can do for you.”

 

Marketing works to get you more business because it keeps you in the mind of the buyer so that when they need what you sell, they remember you.

 

The marketing tools available today have vastly increased and improved also because of the Web. Whether it is social media (see, it can’t be avoided!), e-newsletters, your website, or YouTube videos, the types of marketing methods that exist for small businesses today are amazing and should be taken advantage of.

 

By the same token, PR is another powerful tool for gaining new customers. Having a website or television station do a story about what a unique business you have is the type of legitimacy and marketing bonanza that cannot be bought.

 

3. Referrals: Having a satisfied customer tout your business is marketing gold and is sure to bring in additional business. And yes – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – the Internet has changed and amplified this strategy too. How? Consider the plethora of places online where people can discuss and rate your business, whether it is Yelp, or forums, or comments on blogs and social media platforms. 

 

The good news is that one thing hasn’t changed: The way to get that all important word-of-mouth is still the same as in the pre-Internet era:

 

Do great work.

 

If you do great work, offer fair prices, have exceptional customer service, stand behind what you sell, fix what’s broken, take care of your staff, and exceed expectations, you will get people to refer business to you.

 

 

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



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation


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