Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Killer Customer Service: The Key to Growing Your Small Business

In an increasingly noisy marketplace, excellent customer service is the best way to stand out from the crowd. The popularity of social media puts your business in the spotlight, for better or worse. And while every business makes a mistake now and then, responsive customer service means the difference between an epic PR fail and a great relationship with your customers.

Social media kicks word-of-mouth advertising into high gear. Each satisfied (or dissatisfied) customer has reach that grows exponentially as incidents are shared and re-shared. That’s why it’s not just about advertising and serving your customers anymore. Savvy businesses are engaged and responsive, not only to customers but to everyone who expresses interest.

What's the ROI on Excellent Customer Service?
Gaining new customers is expensive and time consuming. Once you have their attention, it's much cheaper and more efficient to earn customer loyalty and build your base than to replace customers who drift away. That alone should place customer retention at the top of your company to-do list.

Reliable, responsive customer service will result in improved customer satisfaction, better market position, higher sales, and it may even reduce your marketing costs. But the most powerful payoff is an army of volunteer brand ambassadors who will talk about your brand and spread personal stories of how well you addressed their wants and needs.

Revving Up Your Customer Service
Developing a company culture with customer satisfaction at the core means every employee from the top floor to the front line understands that the customer comes first. Here are six ways to ensure your company culture is customer-oriented.

1. Set the tone. Your employees look to you for guidance, and your good attitude will foster a good attitude among the staff. Take time to listen to both customers and employees. If you value your employees, they will value their jobs...and your customers.

2. Empower employees. One of the most frustrating issues in customer service is an employee who cannot say yes to customer needs. Give your employees the power and encouragement to say yes, to cut through the red tape and negativity and find a way to help, even if it means going above and beyond.

3. Refine your protocols. Every business has guidelines for handling customers, and some are rarely, if ever, updated. Ask the employees in the trenches, closest to the customers. They'll have ideas to address problems they face every day, and they'll feel like a valuable part of the team when you ask for their input and act on it.

4. Reward outstanding customer service. When customers report excellent customer service, offer a perk. It doesn't have to be big, and it doesn’t have to be money, but it should be definite and come with public recognition. For workers who rack up lots of customer kudos, you might consider offering something substantial, like a promotion, a raise, or an extra week of paid vacation time.

5. Know your customers. Business is all about technology today, and if you aren't using a customer service CRM to build your customer relationships, you're missing out. In the hands of an associate on the phone with a customer, CRM data is an invaluable tool. Use it to track issues, store customer preferences, check previous interactions, and even suggest product promotions based on prior sales. In practice, a CRM allows customer service reps to establish a more personal relationship with each and every customer.

6. Engage with social media. Customer service doesn't end when your customer leaves your store or your website. Businesses that take the time to monitor social media channels for mentions and respond to queries and comments have a better chance of retaining customer loyalty, garnering personal recommendations and attracting positive reviews.

Don’t expect a corporate cultural shift to happen overnight. Even if you manage to educate employees from the ground up, it will take time for a new attitude to filter through to the customers, and from them to your online presence. Unless you get lucky with an extraordinary story that goes viral, forging a reputation for customer service excellence may take a while. The key is consistency. View every encounter with the public as an opportunity to build your brand.

How might improved customer service help your small business?  If you haven't already, check out how Insightly can get all your employees on the same page and improve customer service. 

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