About Jo Meunier

Jo is a Senior Editor at Alliance Virtual Offices. She loves chatting with people about virtual offices and is always eager to share stories, tips and ideas about remote work on the Alliance Blog. Connect with Jo on LinkedIn.

6 Ways to Improve Small Business Customer Service

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From the smiling barista who serves your espresso to the community manager at your coworking space, customer service is all around us.

The delivery and authenticity of that service will influence your feelings about the brand behind it. Did you receive eye contact, friendliness, and a feeling of authenticity? Or did you feel more like a nuisance than a valued customer?

If you felt positive about the experience, you’ll probably be happy to use their services again. If not, you’re much less likely to return. You might even go out of your way to give your business to someone else.

Why Customer Satisfaction is Important

Most businesses say they value good customer service. In reality, few companies invest time and resources into the things that really make good customer service a reality, like training programs and customer satisfaction surveys.

For a small business, it can be difficult to prioritize where and how to spend your budget. Focusing on customer service isn’t an overnight fix; it takes time to train staff and develop the kind of company culture that encourages your people to engage with your customers in a friendly and professional way, every time they interact with them.

But in the long run it’s an investment worth making. Customer service is a key differentiator that can help strengthen your brand, encourage loyal customers, and deliver revenue growth.

Other key benefits of high customer satisfaction include:

  • New marketing leads: Happy customers write happy reviews, which can be used extensively in your marketing efforts. The better your customer satisfaction, the more material you will have to advertise your brand.
  • A strong selling point: Customers are more willing to make a purchase when they know other people recommend it. If your customer satisfaction is high, your sales team should use this as a proof point when working with new leads.
  • Customer advocacy: Highly satisfied customers are more loyal and become natural advocates for your brand. They will freely talk about the positive experiences they had with you, which leads to new business from their friends, family and coworkers.

It’s easy to see why a high quality of customer service is a treasured facet for any business.

How does your service measure up?

6 Tips to Improve Customer Service

If you’re looking for ways to make improvements to your customer service strategy without blowing your small business budget, take a look at these 6 actionable tips:

1. Encourage Active Listening.

Every customer is a real person who is looking for guidance. It might be tempting to wrap up a call quickly to move onto other priorities. But taking a little extra time to actively listen to your customers will mean they feel heard and understood. Clarify and rephrase what they have said, and ask follow-up questions to reassure them that you are actually listening.

2. Be Human, Not Corporate.

You can be polite and professional without sounding robotic and scripted. It’s all about being personable and relating to your customers on a human level, which helps them feel like they are speaking to a real, caring person who is invested in solving their problem.

Identify a common ground with your customer – such as a shared interest or a place – and refer to it in your conversation. Social media is a boon for supporting this approach; write responses and post photos on your social media pages involving people and consumers, rather than just products or models. Having this point of understanding humanizes the relationship – it’s a lot easier to warm to a real person than a faceless brand.

3. Follow Up After a Problem or Complaint.

Sooner or later, every company experiences a problem or receives a complaint. This isn’t the end of your relationship with that customer – far from it. The way you handle their complaint can actually improve your relationship and their perception of your company.

Respond as quickly as you can and, if the fault is yours, admit your mistake – even if you spot it before your customer does. This builds trust and allows you to control the situation. Follow-up as soon as the problem is solved and, naturally, make sure the issue stays fixed.

4. Apologize, But Don’t Do It Profusely.

As we said before, if something goes wrong and your company is at fault, you’re right to apologize. Be sincere in your regret – but don’t ramble. Saying “I’m sorry” too many times won’t help your customer; it will only take up more of their time. What they really want to know is how you’re going to fix it.

These examples from Hubspot will help put you in the right mindset:

  • Don’t say: “Hmm, that’s not good.”
  • Don’t say: “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry — how did that happen? Yikes! What a terrible mistake. I just can’t apologize enough … this is absolutely horrendous. I feel awful. What a mess you’re in.”
  • Do say: “I’m so sorry that our team fell short yesterday. We have high standards, and we didn’t meet them with that delivery time. Let’s get this sorted out right now.”

The key is to keep it short, sweet, and sincere.

5. Give Your Customers Numerous Ways to Provide Feedback.

Customers need to be heard. By providing multiple routes of feedback, you will be able to get in front of any potential issues faster. Whether that’s live chat on your website, social media messages, or a more proactive method such as a phone or email survey after a purchase or service call, this enables you to learn which parts of your service need attention.

6. Introduce a Customer Advocacy Program

Okay, so a referral program isn’t strictly a way to improve your customer service. But it does allow good service to be rewarded, and you’ll see the effects in new word-of-mouth leads.

There are different types of advocacy programs, and the one you choose will depend on your business model. Common types include offering a free gift, a financial reward, coupons, or a discount on your own products or services. This mutually beneficial relationship rewards your best customers, helps keeps them loyal, and gives you new leads too.

One Last Thing.

Customer service is worth your time and investment. Whether you’re a startup, a small business, or a large growing enterprise, we’re all on the same journey: to give our customers the best possible experience that rewards their interaction with us, leaves positive memories, and encourages them to come back to us in the future.

Above all, be open to feedback – take the good, the bad and the ugly. Understand it, learn from it, act on it, and next time, you’ll be better.

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