There are two main players involved in small business customer service success: the person making a purchase or seeking service, and the person providing service or otherwise helping with the transaction. When both players get what they need, it’s a beautiful thing.
Of course, statistics galore emphasize how important customer service is to business success:
Although the data above underscores the role of small business customer service in dollars and cents, it’s the intent behind the practice–a mutually rewarding experience for the customer and the business, that’s perhaps the vital link. The pursuit of a mutually beneficial customer and business relationship is a noble goal in and of itself.
Customer Service Tips for Small Businesses
Here are some ideas and inspiration as you pursue good customer service–and good customers.
- Read Your Reviews: Even though some customers can be written off as insane at best, entitled at worst, or just generally unreasonable, if you can get past the haters, reviews hold clues hidden in plain sight about what your customers expect. Use reviews to identify trends in preference or misrepresentation of products or services that are in need of clarification, repositioning, or retiring. In the case of my employer, based upon customer reviews, we’ve adjusted imprint space, imprint colors, and pen cartridges in response to customer feedback on specific products.
- Peace vs Victory: The relationship between you and your customer can be give and take and, just like any other relationship, you want to collaborate where it’s possible to do so. Giving a disgruntled customer a percent discount could be the gesture that gives you another chance with that customer. Sometimes the discount or refund you extend, whether or not it’s your “fault” is an investment in an ongoing relationship with that customer, and/or in avoidance of a negative review or word of mouth.
- Know Who Your Friends Are: The more clear you are on the type of customer you know you can please, the more control you have over their successful experience with your business. If you’re doing a direct mail campaign, don’t blanket an entire neighborhood if you can only meet the needs of 50%. Actively solicit the business of clients and customers whom you know you can thrill, and steer clear of the others.
- Everyone Likes a Surprise (Even Those Who Don’t): Make sure your business and customer care tools include budget for and a supply of “unexpected gifts”. Although a gift with purchase or other incentive always helps seal a deal and leave customers walking away happy, the beauty that is the “unexpected gift” involves the added benefit of eliciting an emotional reaction from your customer that gets attached directly to your brand. Think Christmas morning, birthday surprises, or an unexpected visit from your best friend. Your small business can leverage the joy of the “just because” by sending your most valuable customers a gift they’re not anticipating. And, as luck would have it, we have tons. Check out our assortment of customer appreciation gifts that suit every customer, small business, and budget. Need a reason? Customer Appreciation Day is May 21st! For more inspiration, check out our blog on the topic, 8 Customer Appreciation Day Ideas & Appreciation Gift Ideas.
To Get Good Service, Be a Good Customer: Customer Service Tips for the Customer
For small business customer service to be outstanding, a good customer is key. A small business relies on repeat business and customer referrals. They want to thrill you and have you spread the love. Your job, as the customer, is to go into the customer service interaction with eyes wide open. Here are some great tips for getting great customer service over the phone and in person.
- My Bill Is Wrong: When you make a call to your health insurance rep, or a billing rep, or send an email about a discount code that’s not working, keep this overarching goal in mind: “I’m going to move the ball closer to the end zone. This is one of a host of calls I’ll make toward a resolution. If this transaction ends in my being closer to the end zone, I’m winning.” If no one gets hurt and some data is exchanged, you’re getting closer. Pat yourself on the back. And wish the rep on the end of the phone a good day (you might be the only one who does).
- I Ordered This With No Onions: You know when you ask three times for no onions on your burger, and your order is read back to your three times with no onions, and it comes with onions? The truth is, even though you’re a paying customer, you’re still a guest in someone else’s house, and you want to keep cool and practice grace. Period. Just do it. You’ll feel better, the guy re-making your burger will feel better, and everyone will have a better day.
- Vote By Walking Away: Notice we’re not saying run, or run while cursing and gesticulating wildly. Just recognize you’re not the target demographic and consider that you’ve spent the cost of a drink, or a dinner, or a sweater, or a car wash, to figure that out. Business is personal. And if the guy selling you an oil change left you feeling less than confident, focus on what you didn’t like and what you’re going to look for next. Consider yourself a collector of data that’ll lead you to a better experience down the road.
- Be Kind: The thing is, the person providing you with small business customer service has it tough. Often, your “customer service rep” is also the person managing the team, purchasing inventory, keeping the books, and paying the bills. If you’re buying pottery from a one-woman studio, expect and support slower production and shipping times. If you’re talking to tech support about your broken phone, expect many questions and a lot of guessing. Feel good about the fact that you’re supporting a small business, cut everyone some slack where you can, and spread the word far and wide if you liked what you saw.
Small Business Customer Service Tips for the Win
Tips for outstanding customer service can perhaps be reduced down to what holds true for relationships of all kinds, both business and personal: They’re a two-way street. Treat your customers with respect and expect the same from them.
The Ritz-Carlton was the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study, largely due to their approach to customer service which focuses on self-respect and dignity. Their moto: “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Seems like a good philosophy for both customer service reps and their customers to keep in mind.
P.S. Small businesses depend on referrals. If you have a good experience, spread the word! And if you’re a small business and you get a referral, send a thank you gift.