Enterprise companies and big-box retailers are notorious for delivering sub-par customer service. A particularly bad customer service experience with Target.com (the online version of mega-retailer Target) confirmed that notion, and left us wondering – what lessons can SMBs take away from the customer service practices of big-box retailers? Here are 6 tips that will help your small business deliver great customer service.
1. If you sell a physical product, make returns as easy and painless as possible. Forcing customers to use a kiosk or online portal or transferring calls between multiple departments will leave your customers feeling like a simple return has become a fiasco. Even if the product wasn’t right for the customer, making the return process simple and straightforward can salvage your brand’s perception in the customer’s eyes, and make the customer more likely to return to you for another purchase.
2. Make contacting your organization simple and straightforward. If your website has a “Contact Us” button, be sure that it’s easy for customers to find your phone number and email address on the landing page. Including additional documentation, like product resources and FAQs, is an excellent way to supplement these pages, but be sure that customers can do what they really want to do – and that is, contact you.
3. Don’t neglect the human element. Staffing at many SMBs is less than ideal, but remember this basic fact: humans, not computers, run businesses. Engaging with your customers on a human level is essential. Automated and self-help tools are important for businesses of any size, but when a customer has a serious problem, they want to interface with you – not a troubleshooting guide. Plus, a brief phone conversation is often the easiest way to get the problem fixed, without making the experience a negative one for the customer.
4. Make sure your front-line staff – the people that talk to your customers day in and day out – is empowered to make decisions. According to Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, every Ritz Carlton employee has a “customer service allowance” of up to $2,000 per guest per day – to make sure every customer experience is top-notch. While a $2,000 allowance isn’t practical for most businesses, the concept can still be applied – no matter how big or small your organization is. The cost of satisfying your customer is almost always less than the cost of losing their business.
5. Establish a customer service standard for your business, and train every level of your staff on the right way to communicate with a customer, in both positive and negative situations. Regardless of the circumstance, basics like listening without interrupting, thanking customers for their time, and answering the phone politely and professionally will keep the conversation headed in the right direction.
6. Know that every way that you communicate with customers – through your sales staff, support representatives, website, and social media – all impact your brand. If your website is hard to use, or an employee is having a bad day, customers will associate this negative perception with your whole business – not just the employee having an off-day.
Thanks to the Internet, the competition for a customer’s dollar has never been greater. Customer service is an important tool to differentiate your product offering from the competition – and it’s one that can’t easily be copied.