A business owner was telling me this story about how a local contractor failed to show up and plow their driveway after a light snow. Although the snowfall amount was small, it was above the minimum agreed upon for a visit, and the driveway tended to ice up if not maintained.
When questioned about the no-show and no communication, the contractor said, “None of our other customers wanted it done so we decided not to do yours, either.” Apparently their skill at mind-reading matched their skills at customer service.
What’s your last customer service experience worth remembering? Was it a good experience, or did it leave you seething and ready to call the Better Business Bureau?
Most of us have experienced both sides of the coin. When you reach out for help and your expectations are exceeded, you feel grateful to the company for helping, and you’re more likely to use their products and services in the future.
On the other hand, when you don’t get the help you need, or you’re met with an unkind or indifferent representative, you vow to find any other option than the one that let you down.
The Importance of Customer Service in Local Business Growth
I think bad service is an element of Michael Gerber’s E-myth (a must-read for all small business owners). He says most businesses are started by technicians who have skills they want to offer the world, yet they know nothing about running a business. They soon fail, not because they’re bad at what they do, but because they lack business skills.
Customer service is but one of several business skills required to succeed.
Customer Service – a Definition
Creativity, the ability to effectively manage time and money, and the ability to troubleshoot are all necessary skills for running a successful business. People skills, too, are essential for most business ventures. Knowing how to relate and communicate well will get you far with potential customers, so it goes without saying that customer service is a “people skill” you’ll want to hone if you want to achieve better sales growth.
Salesforce describes customer service as “the support you offer your customers – both before and after they buy and use your products or services – that helps them have an easy and enjoyable experience with you.”
Think of customer service as the umbrella that covers everything you can do to make your customers happy and keep them that way. The specifics of good customer service may vary from business to business, but the overarching principles are the same.
The Importance of Customer Service - What Does Customer Service Do?
Some important elements of customer service include:
- Providing timely help to customers with questions and complaints
- Taking and fulfilling orders efficiently
- Processing returns
- Giving customers helpful and accurate information about products and services
- Rerouting inquiries to the right departments.
The general purpose of customer service is to keep current customers happy so your business can keep running smoothly (and, better yet, growing). Of course, keeping customers happy can be a complicated task, as people have different personalities, preferences, and ways of communicating and interacting with the world.
When you provide the basic elements of customer service with kindness and efficiency, you build trust in your business. Trust is essential to growth.
Customer Service’s Effect on Revenue and Profit
When you think about the impact of customer service (or lack thereof) on a business, you may consider the impact it has on the reputation of a company. Certainly, customer service can affect a business’s reputation, for better or worse.
While customer service affects reputation, a company’s reputation then affects customer retention and, therefore, sales and growth.
How customer service affects client retention
According to Hubspot,
“Customer retention is important to any growing company because it measures not only how successful they are at acquiring new customers, but how successful they are at satisfying existing customers.”
Offering solid customer support is a crucial part of this.
“It might seem obvious – of course, companies should want to retain customers – but when companies start growing quickly and struggle to implement a solid customer support program, proactive customer support for existing customers can slip through the cracks.”
Having a customer service system in place is good, but not quite enough. It’s just as important to make sure that system can withstand the growth your business could experience.
Customer Service Examples
Examples of good customer service include:
- Being readily available to answer questions and redirect inquiries
- Fulfilling requests and processing returns in a timely manner
- Acknowledging a request, even if you can’t get to it right away
- Offering a satisfactory return policy
- Offering discounts and promotions to loyal customers.
A few years ago, I placed an order with an essential oil company. When my order came, it was missing the main component of my order.
I hopped on their live chat system and told the customer service rep about the missing product. Not only did the company replace it, they sent me an extra one free of charge! I have been buying from them since then and have enjoyed multiple loyalty discounts and “free” products.
This is an example of how good customer service can be simple yet effectively contribute to long-term growth.
Examples of bad customer service include:
- Not acknowledging customer communication in a timely manner
- Providing rude or unhelpful feedback
- Ignoring questions and concerns in general
- Refusing all refunds and returns
- Not offering customer loyalty discounts.
Had the contractor at the beginning of this article simply communicated with their client, they wouldn’t have lost a customer. If they were in doubt about whether to plow or not, a quick email blast to their list or a short phone call to each customer would have solved the problem. A little common sense goes a long way towards establishing professionalism and credibility. A lack of it has an instant, negative effect on revenues that makes growth difficult.
Types of Customer Service
Today’s customer support methods come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A few of the most available and utilized platforms include:
- Live chat
- Direct mail
- Video chat
- Facebook communities
- Website FAQs
- Instruction manuals
- Other print forms such as ebooks and pamphlets.
Having options is good. But before you drop every option into your bag of tricks, consider choosing two or three avenues of customer service that you can implement well, and that your customer will use.
It’s the same principle you might use when choosing your social media platforms. You don’t want to have a presence on every social media site available, only to do a mediocre job of keeping up with them. You want to choose two or three where you can focus your effort and do a thorough, effective job.
This goes for your customer support system. Don’t offer multiple routes of communication that you can’t keep up with. Choose the ones that suit your company culture and goals and then manage them well.
For instance, if you can’t be available 24/7, you will want to provide as much information up front as you can so customers can easily find their own answers to their questions. A website FAQ section, manual, or ebook can help you do this.
If you do want to make yourself available as much as possible, live chat and Facebook are great resources. You can be available on your phone as often as you choose.
Of course, the type of customer service you choose to implement will affect the skills and qualities required to do the job well. Despite the differences, all will require at least a smidgen of patience.
Customer Service Skills
The Customer Experience - How Do You Like to be Managed?
The customer experience is the overall impression your customer gets from any interaction with your company. Your interactions with customers are the roots that ultimately grow their overall impression of your company and your brand, whether for better or worse. With careful attention and intention, you can grow a customer service experience without thorns.
The marketing aspect of doing this is huge. According to an article from Hubspot on the customer experience,
“The best marketing money can buy is a customer who will promote your business – because they’ll refer their friends and family to you, free of charge.”
Customer Service as a Culture
Company culture is the set of practices, goals, and attitudes shared by everyone in a company. Customer support is an integral part of this, and it will benefit your business to make sure there is a customer-oriented mindset throughout the entire company.
It is important for employees and management to be on the same page as far your customer service practices go so everyone is communicating in similar ways and promoting the same overall vibe, which will provide a consistently smooth experience.
Again, the goal is customer satisfaction that results in unmatched sales growth.
Good business etiquette is a must for proper customer service skills. This should go without saying, but you might be surprised at how many people struggle to express themselves clearly, kindly, and professionally.
Some basics of good business etiquette include proper greetings (offering your name and learning others’ names), handshakes, good eye contact, introducing other people in your party, and indicating interest in what others are saying. (For instance, putting the phone down while someone else is talking.)
Because many of our interactions are virtual, business etiquette extends beyond in-person experiences, too. Well-written, clear emails and messages void of typos will increase customers’ faith in your ability to get the job done. The contractor in the story above regularly sent emails without subject lines or that were unsigned. Each unprofessional email eroded credibility.
Likewise, thank you notes, and basic acknowledgment of others’ messages will go far to show you genuinely care.
Customer Service Representative
When your company grows enough to assign representatives to handle your customer service claims, hire someone who shares the overall values of your company’s culture or is willing to adopt them. Again, the customer support methods you implement will affect the skills and qualities required for an effective customer service representative.
Adjust your qualifications accordingly.
Measuring Customer Service
As with all things business, it’s important to set up ways to measure customer service. This will give you a feel for what is working and what isn’t.
Did you know 40% of customers who lodge a complaint on social media expect a response within an hour? It’s important to make sure your business is equipped to meet customer standards so your satisfaction rates don’t drop.
Some of the areas in which you can measure customer satisfaction include quality and speed of service, pricing, and complaints or problems. Measuring customer satisfaction will provide you with the customer intelligence needed to keep your business on the up and up.
Final Thoughts on Good Customer Service
Remember how you tried to recall your customer service experiences just a few moments ago? Now focus only on the good ones. Let your positive experiences inform the way you proceed with your own customer service methodology. You’ll be sure to satisfy those who have invested in your products and achieve greater sales growth in the long run.