Dealing with customers (regardless of whether it is tech support, after sales follow-ups, or whatever) can often be a trying ordeal that ruins an otherwise pleasant day at the office.
At times it can almost seem like people are being difficult for the sake of it. Others seem perfectly happy right up to the moment they cancel their account. And being online doesn't help because there is little to no face-time.
So if you have been struggling to keep clients happy with your products and services, take a glance through our top 5 customer service tips and start making a positive difference in the relationship between your business and its customers.
1. Treat customer service as a marketing opportunity
One of the most important aspects of marketing is reaching out to the "right" audience with the "right" message. The right audience tends to be the one that has shown some sort of predisposition to your company (or at least similar products and services), and the right message is the one that gets them to trust and buy.
It's pretty clear that customer service falls smack-bang in the middle of this because existing customers have definitely shown a predisposition to your company, so all that is required is to keep them happy and maintain that trust.
Happy customers are a powerhouse of new referrals, glowing reviews, and more sales. I have seen this in action in my own startups, and you can read about this effect in the article entitled why great customer service is the best marketing strategy.
2. Plan & map out common customer interactions
It pays to understand what types of interaction your company will have with customers so that you can make those interactions fast, friendly, and efficient. People who can achieve their goals easily (super important for online businesses) - will be very positive about you.
A good example is thinking about how a website visitor becomes a registered user and ultimately a paying customer. The number of times I have given up using a site because it threw up unexpected (and unnecessary) obstacles, making purchases time consuming, difficult, or confusing.
It may be that spending a bit of time mapping out what each person wants to accomplish at any given point (with a view to making that task quick and easy) leads to better conversion rates, and a more positive experience in general.
3. Identify common complaints & take action
Chatting to a friend the other day, we realized that we both had exactly the same complaint and problem with a local telecommunications company. In fact, as it turns out, we weren't the only ones.
The problem should have been really easy to solve (believe it or not, their new customer billing limit was set lower than the cost of certain service installations - meaning that some new installations were immediately cancelled because they owed more than a new account was allowed). Instead hundreds of hours of support was being wasted answering the same complaint over and over and over.
The company had no mechanism to identify common complaints. If there was a way to analyse the frequency of a certain type of complaint and alert the relevant staff, this problem may have been resolved much earlier and saved everyone a lot of time, money and frustration.
As a small business, you are most likely much closer to the day to day handling of support queries and complaints. Listen carefully to what people are saying. Look for common threads in these complaints and find good ways to solve them so that other clients don't suffer from the same issues.
4. Find inexpensive ways to add after-sales value
I recently attended a local home-makers exhibition. Naturally, in my enthusiasm, I ended up buying a whole bunch of stuff I don't really need. Normally, that would be the end of it and a few months down the line my buyer's remorse would be over.
But, I am so glad I bought some of the items I did. Why? Because the mom and pop business that sells them also offers cooking classes (which are also pretty fun, social events). I've learned to cook some great new things, and had a lot of fun doing it - all because I bought a few kitchen utensils.
I ended up spending far more on that company because they were the only ones going after a long term relationship, and not a once-off sale.
What do you offer existing customers to keep them coming back?
5. Constantly reassess and improve
As your business grows and evolves, and as technologies change, what people want and expect from you will also change. Ideally, you should stay ahead of trends by constantly looking for ways to improve on things.
One of the best examples of this, from my own experience, was deciding to split an online business into two versions - one a 'pay-as-you-go' (this was the original model), and the other a flat monthly subscription fee.
As it turns out, customers valued the simplicity of a flat monthly fee because it was something they could quickly assess - and corporates prefer predictable costs. More and more positive reviews started rolling in because the flat monthly fee meant less administrative work for customers, and this made them much, much happier.
So those are my top 5 customer service tips. What else would you consider to be really important when it comes to improving the interaction between businesses and their consumers? Share your thoughts in the comments.