Small businesses have long been the backbone of the world’s economy. And, with the advent of the internet, small businesses and solopreneurs can now expand their customer bases and reach larger audiences than ever before.
Yet the internet era has also fostered fierce competition. So how can your small business rise above the fray and distinguish itself from global competitors? The answer, for many small businesses, is improving customer service.
Here are five steps small businesses can take to improve their customer service processes today.
1. Invest in customer service training
You wouldn’t hire a programmer or team manager without knowing they have the requisite skills and training. Yet, too often, customer service is pushed onto employees who were never taught to do the job. And that’s a shame, because next to the product or service you provide, your company’s reputation is tied most directly to how your representatives interact with customers.
To be clear, customer service training doesn’t have to be teaching employees to follow a script on every call. The best training won’t tell your employees what to say to customers, but will instead teach them how to listen, resolve conflicts, and solve problems in a non-threatening, friendly way.
When an otherwise frustrated customer ends a call not just relieved but pleased, they’re bound to return.
2. Truly understand customer needs
If you watched Mad Men, you know that in the analog days, figuring out what customers wanted used to be more of an art than a science. But today, in the era of big data, it’s easy for even small companies to get a good idea of what their customers need and want from a product or service.
One form of customer research that has grown in popularity in recent years is “social listening”. Social listening leverages the power of social media to determine what customers want by studying what they say about your company and competitors.
But where do you start studying? You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who makes a purchase these days without at least a cursory online product search. Some companies consider online reviews to be the scourge of the internet. But, those who are willing to filter out the nonsense can glean valuable information about customer wants and needs from this feedback.
3. Make your website user-friendly
Websites are one area where too many small businesses fall behind their larger competitors. Ten years, ago, this was excusable — great developers charged thousands or tens of thousands of pounds, prices that were just too hard to justify for most small businesses.
But today, with do-it-yourself tools like Squarespace and countless talented developers competing at great price points, creating a website that adds to your company’s credibility is easier than ever.
The rule to remember for crafting a website that will boost customer service navigation is key. There’s nothing more frustrating (and nothing that screams “amateur hour” more clearly) than visiting a site that doesn’t have a navigation menu or sidebar with links to common categories, a contact page, and other basics. Bonus points if you can integrate drop down menus that make navigation even more seamless.
4. Improve efficiency with technology
In the past, this was another area where small businesses just couldn’t keep up with their larger competitors. But thanks to some impressive advancements in software as a service (SaaS) solutions, it’s easier than ever for small business to improve their efficiency with technology.
The number one guideline for boosting efficiency in a small business is automation. But wait, you might say. Isn’t the human approach one way I can help my small business stand out in the customer service space? Absolutely. You definitely don’t want to automate out human input in some things (like customer service calls). But taking the humanity out of your business in other areas can make your customers happy while also helping your bottom line.
Take, for example, two-day shipping. In the past, this was a service that only internet behemoths like Amazon and Walmart could afford. But now, any company can join a warehouse fulfilment service that will automatically ship products to customers following their website purchases, all without any input (or delay) from you or your team.
5. Ask for feedback
Often, customers are hesitant to provide feedback — whether constructive or critical — when dealing with a small business. And that’s a shame, because it often leaves them in the dark.
Have you ever dispatched a product or finished a project for a client you were certain would be back for more, only to never hear from them again? This may have been because your customer was less than happy with what you offered in one way or another, but wasn’t sure how to voice their concerns.
Clearly asking for feedback, both good and bad, will not only help you refine and improve your service or product, but also remind your customer that you value their opinion and input. And, when a customer feels valued and validated, they’re bound to return.
Here’s a tip: when asking for feedback, be as specific as possible. Don’t just ask if they have any feedback. Instead, ask if they have any thoughts or comments on one or two specific areas of your product/service. And then, follow up with the customer by discussing their opinion and the improvements you hope to make in the future.