It’s difficult to say exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the line customer service crossed a line from something a company just did, to something a company could strategically implement to grow and profit.
Customer service’s evolution from cost center to “differentiator” presents your company with many opportunities to solidify relationships with your clients. A few noticeable trends in customer service practices are described here.
Not everything mentioned will make sense for your business, but think incrementally. Do what you realistically can. Customer service is truly an area where little things can make a big difference.
Tip: If your company doesn’t have the resources to support a fully-dedicated customer service staff (and most don’t) appoint a customer service “champion.” This individual can come from sales, marketing or any other function that’s in position to gauge customer satisfaction. That person can implement and track customer service tactics like those described below.
Follow-up is Critical…do you follow?
Making an effort to personally connect with the buyer after the sale will increase your chances of more sales down the road. Depending on what was purchased, chances for following up with clients include:
- A couple days after the sale or delivery. (“Just checking in. Do you have any questions?”)
- Quarterly, with an e-letter, a post card, or new service announcement.
- When industry developments or news items remind you of the customer.
Much of this can be automated with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program.
Tip: Remember, out of sight, out of mind. If you haven’t communicated in the last six months with anyone who’s ever purchased your company’s products or services, you’re probably missing valuable opportunities.
Knowledge is Power (Part 1)
Anyone at your company that has regular customer contact can and should have access to a complete description or history of interactions (conversations, inquiries, sales, etc.), or critical knowledge, for each account.
Again, CRM software packages can make it easy. You can centralize customer information – like service preferences and order information – and have it available as soon as a client calls. The personal knowledge of each account helps strengthen relationships.
Knowledge is Power (Part 2)
It sounds strange, but when conducted properly, certain customer service functions can take on a sort of self-service component. Customers can access your web site to find everything from prices, to order status, to instruction manuals, and a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page.
Customers appreciate the self-service nature of tapping into your knowledge base because it saves them time, is accessible 24/7, and does not make them feel pressured if they’re not ready to buy something.
But for this to work, the customer-accessible knowledge base must be implemented correctly. Effective implementation includes:
- Promotion. Customers need to know it’s there before they can use it.
- Intelligent organization. The most popular topics and information should be positioned where they’re easily found. A good “search” function helps, too.
- Continuous updates. New information that’s relevant to the customer experience should be included as often and soon as possible.
Tip: If your company can provide standardized answers to common customer questions, implementing “self-service” customer service functions will save your staff valuable time.
Merging Marketing and Customer Service Functions
This could be the shotgun wedding of all shotgun weddings, but combining marketing and customer service makes sense for a lot of small companies – maybe your company’s doing it already, at least informally.
The opportunity to merge marketing and customer service can be tied to the explosive growth in social media. As clients reach out for information via your web site, a dedicated Facebook or LinkedIn page or similar platform, it stands to reason that the personnel at the front-end of the transaction (marketing/sales) be involved in providing monitoring feedback and providing responses.
Combining marketing and customer service functions can lead to long-term benefits, as well. Responding to customer concerns and questions on a regular basis can provide important insights key to future decisions regarding new service or product introductions, pricing, and other customer-focused matters.
What small business customer service tips do you have?
Share in the comments below.
Image courtesy Phillip Martin
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