Customer service today is one of the most important aspects of any business. Bad customer service can ruin a company. Good customer service can always be improved. See what you can do to improve your customer service.
1. Listen to your customers.
Your customers are a great source of learning. They would be glad to tell you how you can deliver better service if you are ready to listen to them. You can ask them in person or conduct a small survey. In any case you may be surprised with the number of things that your customers think you could improve.
2. Let customers get to know you.
Online business is much more anonymous than offline business. To assure customers that you will not disappear overnight, add some personal information to your website. This can be your office address with a map, some pictures of your office or your employees. Personal information can minimize concerns of accessibility, trust or safety.
3. Set and communicate clear standards.
Many small businesses do not have communication standards, because their owners think that they do not need them. As a result, all employees behave according to their own idea of good service. Does this look familiar to you? Here is the room to improve. Service standards ensure that the service is consistently good, in every location, from everyone, every day. And, of course, your staff need to know what you expect of them.
4. Be available to your customers.
People hate waiting. As well as they hate writing to nowhere. When you offer phone, live chat support, or email support, make sure that your customers can reach you via these channels. If you are not able to provide 24/7 support, specify your office hours on the website. If a customer can’t get hold of you when they need to, you could lose them forever.
5. Train your staff.
There are a huge number of staff training methods available today. Start from hiring the right people and continue with improving their skills, work at their motivation and objectives. Here is an example of a cheap and effective method: send staff as “mystery shoppers” to your competitors. Let them see for themselves what others are doing. Get them to share their experience and see what best practice you can adopt.
Good luck in improving your service!
When you open a business, you need to decide which customer service channels you are going to implement. If you have a website, you will probably choose to show your phone number and email address on your contact page. And what about a live chat? Do you think that your clients might need it?
Software Advice, a consulting company for customer service software buyers, conducted a survey of 346 respondents and 30 businesses to find out the impact of demographics on live chat customer service.
The research shows that younger people (ages 18 to 34) are more likely to have used live chat once or several times, while older people (aged 55 and over) are more likely to have never used live chat, or to have used it without success.
There is also a strong relationship between a consumer’s age and their preference for using live chat versus the phone. Look at the charts below too see how the relationship persists across three types of queries.
Financial Queries: Preferences for Live Chat vs. Phone by Age
Simple Queries: Preferences for Live Chat vs. Phone by Age
Online Shopping Queries: Preferences for Live Chat vs. Phone by Age
Younger customers prefer chat over phone for simple queries and online shopping queries. The most obvious reason for using chat during online shopping is that the customers are already online, and thus can use live chat with little effort: they do not need to reach for the phone or worry about hold times, and they can expect a quicker answer than if they called or emailed.
Some companies also state, that they successfully provide chat help to the middle-aged people. Lesley Cowie, marketing manager of Everblue, provider of sustainability training and certification, explains that its audience is primarily men aged 35 to 55.
“These individuals often come from occupations that include architect, engineer, construction manager, general contractor, home inspector, home builder or facilities manager,” Cowie says. “I don’t believe that there has been too much of a learning curve for our audience to use live chat. We’ve been pleased with the number of individuals who reach out to us through live chat on a daily basis.”
A majority of U.S. adults surveyed have used live chat at least once—and many express a clear preference for it over more traditional customer service channels. As an online service channel, live chat meets customers exactly where most of them seek pre-sales product information and post-sales support. When you start a business, do not forget to add live chat service to your website.
Retaining customers is less expensive than acquiring new ones, and customer experience management is the most cost-effective way to drive customer satisfaction. Loyal customers ensure sales, reduce costs associated with consumer education, and recommend you to their friends.
However, not every customer who regularly purchases your products is loyal to your company. There are many reasons why they repeat purchasing from you:
- You are currently the low cost provider;
- It takes too many efforts or it is to expensive to change suppliers;
- They are used to using your products, and habits are hard to break;
- They may have relationships with one of your employees;
- Your location is currently the most convenient to them;
- You are currently the only available supplier to them;
- There is a contractual arrangement with your company.
All these reasons mean that as soon as a desirable competitor comes around, they may switch to them easily. On the contrary, loyal customers believe that your products and services are superior to those of the competition. They do not seek for alternatives, even when they have options.
Customer loyalty does not mean, that customers are loyal to your company alone. In the real world, customers are more often loyal to several companies, when it is possible. That means that they may tend to purchase brand A 60 percent of the time, brand B 30 percent, and brand C 10 percent of the time. They are loyal to these brands, but not to others, and yet 100% loyal to none. In this case the objective of companies is to make customers as loyal as possible, to maximize customer share of wallet.
Loyal customers may represent no more than 20 percent of your customer base, but make up more that 50 percent of your sales. You need to be communicating with these customers on a regular basis. These people are the ones who can and should influence your marketing decisions. Nothing will make a loyal customer feel better than soliciting their input and showing them how much you value it. Still you need to consider the fact, that not all regular customers are loyal to your company (see the reasons above). You need to be able to classify your customers and identify the loyal ones correctly if you plan to make marketing decisions based on their interests.
Customer service is perhaps one of the most vital parts of conducting business, because every interaction the company has with a customer can affect the business’ bottom line. Establishing a successful customer service program in your business requires commitment from yourself and your staff.
Customer service training for your employees do not just add value for the customer, it can drive sales and give you a competitive advantage. Training on customer service provides higher employee motivation and engagement, improves customer service skills, increases customer satisfaction, reduces employee turnover and increases sales.
To create an effective training program, first of all you need to identify customer’s needs. You need to know what customers expect from your company and your staff. This can be accomplished by setting up a feedback section on your website. Live chat tools also allow customers to leave a feedback, or rate the service. Another method to learn customer’s needs is to conduct a survey.
At the second step you need to evaluate each employee’s skills. The most effective training program should be based on the employee’s current skills. It will allow to fill in the gaps and strengthen weak points.
It is important to communicate the value of the training with your employees. They must be willing to apply the new skills they learned in training. No training program will bring significant results when trainees do not understand the importance and the aim of training.
There are many training methods that may work for your company. You can create a customer service manual, use video and audio records, purchase books on customer service for your corporate library. You can have experienced employees or supervisors shadow new employees. You can also have a professional business consultant or training agency conduct training classes.
Customer service training should not necessarily cost you a fortune. You can start with little things and gain results step by step. It is only important to have a plan to follow.
It is essential that you support your employees’ learning, provide feedback and track progress. Many training programs fail when employers do not show interest in the training results and do not encourage employees to apply their training.
Investing in a customer service training program improves business performance, profit and staff morale. This is what all companies need.
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Today there are almost no industries with no competition. In the highly competitive environment companies have to consider many aspects of their business to survive.
Some companies focus on low price as their main competitive advantage. Now when consumers can easily browse internet for the cheapest offers, companies have to pay attention to their price policy more than ever. When you compete on price alone, you have to dramatically reduce costs. And at some points margins approach zero. E-commerce businesses also have to not only offer low prices but also offer free or low-cost shipping. This definitely does not help to develop your business.
When the price bottom is reached you realize that there should be something else to attract customers. And it is better to realize that before it is too late.
The second step is to offer better value for money. Better product quality may help you win more customers, but even if you sell the best product in the world, this does not guarantee you success.
53 percent of United Kingdom-based retailers surveyed for a recent Econsultancy report, said customer service and customer experience would be the primary way retail organizations will differentiate from competitors over the next five years. That means that price and product are not enough to win the competition race.
Customer experience is now one of the most important aspects of competition, and you need to clearly understand what customer service and customer experience mean.
According to Adam Richardson, a customer experience innovation strategist, “to be really successful on a long-term basis, customer experience needs to be seen as all these things, and more. It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.”
Focus on customer experience means that you care about every contact with your customers, no matter when, where and how they happen. Opposite to the price competition, customer service gives you endless opportunities to improve your competitive advantage.
When visiting a retailer’s website, shoppers search for warranty information, pricing, specs/model information, payment/financing information, sales/discounts, availability and shipping information. You can provide all this information in details, and still customers will want to contact you before making a purchase, or after it. Make sure that you are able to assist your customers via all the channels below.
1. Phone support. It is the most popular way of contact. If you offer phone support, make sure that the phone is always answered during business hours, and use voice-mail for off-hours. You need to decide if you want to use a local telephone number, or a toll-free number, depending on the nature of your business.
2. Live chat support. It is the second most popular of contact for offline business. You can provide 24/7 chat support or use a virtual agent for offline hours. Live chat is more convenient when customers need to pass account details, links, screenshots and other information that can be hardly passed over the phone.
3. Email support works when an issue requires time for investigation, or when a case is not urgent. Still the sooner you reply, the better.
4. Facebook and Twitter. Many customers nowadays prefer using social media channels to contact a company. Since public messages are available, you must monitor these messages daily, and provide timely replies. Otherwise your potential customers may think that you do not care about customers inquiries.
5. Forums. It is good to have your own forum where customers may share their experience, but not every business really needs a forum on their website. There are a lot of independent forums dedicated to various topics. You need to find those that are related to your business, and become their contributor. This way you will be able to assist your customers, and also attract new clients.
Providing great customer service means being available for customers when and where they need you.
Statistics says that selling to and old client costs less, than selling to a new client. Though keeping old customers should be one of the main priorities of any business, customers happen to leave.
There are many reasons why customers leave, and sometimes the reasons are not even related to a company’s products or services. But there are a few things that you can do in any case to improve their customer experience.
1. Ask if there is anything that you can do to resolve the situation. Sometimes customers are very emotional about their bad experience, and it may seem that they hate your company and they will never want to come back. But when they calm down, it may turn out that there is a simple solution of the problem, and the customer only wants you to apologize and take measures ASAP. Before your customers leave, make sure if you can do anything or not to change their mind.
2. Do not make it hard. If there is nothing that you can do right now, let them go, and leave the door open. The situation may change and customers may want to come back. You should make it easy for them. Show that they are always welcome.
3. Listen to your customers. Unhappy customers are likely to leave your business, so it is important to know what their concerns are. You may have your own vision of your business, but if your customers are unhappy, you have to be flexible. The best way to keep customers is to constantly improve your products and service, according to customers’ expectations. Even if you have lost a customer, they may come back in the future, when you get the right offer for them.
4. Some customers must leave. Sometimes you do not need to take efforts to keep a customer. Some customers do not belong to your target audience, and they may drain your time and resources, with no profit for you. Do not be afraid to lose them. Still you should be friendly and helpful, and they should not feel unwanted. Recommend some other company, that may suit them better, and they will be grateful. There is a chance that they may become your target audience in the future, or they will recommend you to other clients. Positive impression and friendly relations with your ex-customers are equally important as your relations with current customers.
Customers leave businesses every day, and you need to make sure, that you do not push your customers to leave, intentionally or not.
Extraordinary customer service is not a myth, but it is something that every company can deliver. It does not matter, if it is a large well-known company, or a small local business, what matters most is how you care about your customers.
Here is a couple of popular stories of personal touch in customer service.
This one may turn out to be apocryphal, but the story was all over the place after the launch of the iPad 2. Apparently a man bought an iPad online, then returned it to the company almost immediately, affixing a Post-It to the front of the device that simply read, “Wife said no.” Returns processors must have gotten a kick out of it, because the story eventually made its way to a couple of Apple VPs, who refunded the customer and returned the iPad with an attached Post-It that said, “Apple said yes.”
A family vacationing at the Ritz-Carlton, Bali, was always careful to bring their own supply of specialized eggs and milk because of their son’s food allergies. In this particular instance, however, the food was ruined en route. The Ritz-Carlton manager couldn’t find any of the special items in town, but his executive chef recalled that a store in Singapore sold them. The chef contacted his mother-in-law, who lived there, and had her purchase the items, then fly to Bali (about 2.5 hours) to deliver them.
You can say that big companies can afford that, and small business is not able to give away iPads and deliver food from Singapore. Now take a look at the following example, found on Digital Spy forums.
When I had my wisdom teeth out, I had to get some antibiotics to prevent infection. My dad went and picked them up for me, but I didn’t look in the bag all day because I wasn’t up to it. Seven o clock that (Saturday) evening, and there’s a knock at the door. It’s the pharmacist, who has driven all the way across town to drop off some extra medication that she thought she’d forgotten to give me. Turns out I didn’t need it, but it was really, really nice of her to do that on a Saturday night, when she really had to go out of her way.
Personal attitude and attention to customers make customer service exceptional, not a company size.
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Emotion influence purchase decision six times more than rational. This is why customer service is important. Many consumers will pay a higher price just to receive great customer service. To deliver it, you need to focus on various aspects of your business.
Every employee who gets in touch with your customers should understand the importance of making good impression. It does not matter if it is a frontline associate or an employee who is not supposed to contact customers, they must be friendly, polite and supportive every time they negotiate with customers.
Make sure that your employees are knowledgable and well-trained, and they support company’s values. Loyal employees have better chances to win loyal customers.
A contact point is the method a customer uses to communicate with a company. For online business the most popular points of contact are a company’s website, live chat, telephone and email.
A company’s website should be convenient for self-service. Customers should be able to easily find required products, get full product description and understand a purchase process, as well as return policy. Website usability is the most important aspect of online sales.
Phone support, live chat and email support involve communication with companies’ representatives. There are some general rules of great customer service for these contact points.
- Time of pick-up and replies. Everyone hates 5-minute wait on hold, long queues in chat and unanswered emails. It is polite to pick up the phone and chat on the third ring, and reply to emails within one day. The shorter time that takes you to reply to the customer’s email, the more pleased your customer will be. The WOW-time is five to thirty minutes.
- The right person to contact. Make sure that your customers are able to contact the right person on the first try, or at least on the second. The more times customers get transferred to another person, the more your chances are to lose them.
- Solve the issue on the first contact. Timely support allows to make more sales prevent customers from leaving.
Allow customers to leave their feedback. Listen to what they say and act accordingly. Successfully utilizing customer feedback is a must for any business looking to deliver great customer service.