Most small businesses have to be creative when it comes to marketing. They don’t have the advertising dollars large companies have or the power of a recognised brand behind them. Indeed, there are numerous articles being published everyday offering advice to small businesses about getting ‘more bang from your marketing bucks’. This isn’t one of them. In this article, I’d like you to stop thinking about your marketing efforts for just a few minutes and think about the service you provide to your customers.
With peer-to-peer reviews playing an increasingly important part of the purchasing decision, thanks to the power of Facebook, Twitter, and the ever-growing number of other social media tools, it has never been more important to invest in customer service. This is especially true for small businesses, where positive word-of-mouth advertising and marketing is often its most powerful asset, and negative commentary its worst.
Just think of the recent high profile GASP Clothing fiasco. The customer’s dispute emails and ‘jaw dropping’ company responses went viral overnight, making news in Britain and the United States. The story not only became a trending topic on Twitter in Australia, but the spat also caused ‘We Hate Gasp’ and ‘Boycott Gasp’ Facebook pages, in addition to an outpouring of disgust on the company’s own Facebook page.
As a result, the social media revolution has caused many small businesses to reevaluate the dollars they are spending on marketing and advertising and divert those dollars into delivering a great customer service instead.
Fortunately, creating great customer service doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or even require a heavy restructuring of business processes. There are quick and easy rules for customer service, which along with the use of social media and other cost-effective technology tools can be implemented in your business today.
Respond to customers as soon as possible
Bad news travels fast. We all know that we are far more likely to complain about a bad experience than we are to share the news about a positive one. Quickly responding to one or a few unhappy customers is critical. Even if you don’t have the resolution readily available, at least respond to the customer and explain that you are aware of the issue and are doing your best to resolve it.
Keep your communication channels open
Social media only amplifies a tendency to complain. In the past, small businesses didn’t always have to provide ‘damage control’ for every unhappy customer they encountered, but with news travelling as fast as the Internet, now they do.
Use proactive, real-time monitoring of social media channels such as Twitter so that you can easily keep an eye out for any customer service issues. Other tools are also available to enable you to have conversations via multiple customer support channels — web, email, phone, Twitter, iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, online chat, community forums, knowledge bases and more.
Use social media
The good news is that social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter are now significant channels for customer support. In fact, in a report published earlier this year, Gartner predicted that social media will be a support tool among 40 percent of the top 1,000 companies.
This trend also applies to small business. And here’s why:
Twitter claims to have more than 175 million users
93 percent of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media
85 percent of those users believe a company should interact with their customers
44 percent of Twitter users have recommended a product
58 percent of people who said if they had tweeted about a bad experience, they would like the company to respond to it.
Companies which choose to ignore social media tools such as Twitter will be left in the dust by competitors who have incorporated the tool into their overall support strategy.
Move your support to the cloud
As your organisation’s support evolves to meet the needs of a 21st century user base, having a cloud-based support solution is crucial.
For example, because our customer service solution is located in the cloud, it is ready to use as soon as you create an account. There’s no need to worry about servers or software updates, and you can access it from anywhere and from any device.
Acknowledge and fix your mistakes
If you make a mistake, own up to it. Mistakes happen. We’ve all been customers, right? And when something goes awry, all we want is an apology and for the issue to be solved quickly.
Leaving customers without an apology or a solution will only frustrate them and cause them take their business elsewhere. But if you are open and transparent with your customers, they will regard you as a trustworthy company that really values the relationships it has with its customers.
Listen to customers
Customer happiness is the key to any organisation’s success. And while customers can be extremely vocal when they are unhappy, they tend to be less vocal when it comes to expressing happiness or to what level they are satisfied with the way their issue has been resolved.
In addition, your customers are often the best people to ask about where your business is most successful and where it is struggling. So make sure you have the right tools in place to capture customer feedback.
Do something with the information
Lots of companies use surveys to capture customer feedback, but the challenge is often how to analyse the feedback you are getting, and to do something constructive with it.
At Zendesk, we have launched a Customer Satisfaction Ratings feature, which enables companies to measure the quality of customer service being provided by allowing customers to rate the support received. It also assists companies to set up workflows that immediately respond to negative ratings. Support agents can then instantly engage with customers who provided negative ratings and work with them until they are satisfied.
And don’t forget that complaints can be a positive thing for a business. A company’s success is determined by its ability to handle complaints.
– Michael Hansen is Vice President and Asia Pacific Managing Director, Zendesk.