BusinessExpert Advice

How to Level Up Your Customer Service

Customer Service Fosters Customer Loyalty

Customer service is the process of exceeding customers’ expectations as you satisfy their needs and wants. It is not limited to the way you answer the phone or the leniency of your return policy. Customer service is all encompassing, it’s every transaction, every interaction – it’s your whole business. Everything is impacted by your customer service. It’s the root of customer loyalty. 

Customer loyalty is critical to small business success because loyal customers will choose you over cheaper, faster, or higher-quality options. Loyal customers are the lifeblood of a small business. 

It’s All About the Online Reviews These Days

It can be hard to accept the technology-driven changes affecting today’s marketplace, especially as a small business owner. But the reality is – the times have changed and you have to adapt to survive. It is sink or swim, digitally.

More than ever, customers and potential customers have access to instant reviews. They can browse Yelp or Angie’s List or Google Reviews to see your business summarized by the number of shaded stars out of five. So now, in addition to all else, you’re worried about five little stars that can make or break you. 

But these five stars are not outside of your control. In fact, as a small business it’s easier to control these reviews than a giant retailer. Why? Because you are small and nimble. You can fine-tune your customer service, react quickly to changes, and implement customer-centered policies with ease. It takes months and years for big companies to roll-out new software systems and policy changes. You can re-train employees and print new signage in a matter of hours.

And above all else, you can ensure your customer service is top notch. Positive reviews are essential and good customer service will make sure you get them.

Word of Mouth Matters – For Better or Worse!

Of course you’d prefer to have only positive reviews online, but that’s not reality. Dissatisfied customers are more likely to spread the word than others. In fact, dissatisfied customers tell between nine to 15 people about their experience (and 13% tell more than 20!) while happy customers tell only four to six people. [White House Office of Consumer Affairs,]

Make it Easy to Do Business With You: A Simple Concept 

Have you ever walked into a place of business and felt like you were inconveniencing the owner? Everyone has! And more often than not, the most natural reaction is to turn around and walk right out the door. 

Don’t ever give off an impression that customers are a nuisance. Don’t gripe about them interrupting you, don’t give them a hard time if they don’t buy anything, don’t create a hostile environment that forces them away. Smile, greet them, and offer assistance in an inviting and non-aggressive manner. 

How else can you make it easy to do business with you?

Payment Options

You might think your old-fashioned style of cash only is charming. I’ve seen a gift shop in a town of 400 people turn away plastic-waving customers and thereby chase away the only transaction of the day. Unless you’re a trendy, minimalist restaurant or a long-established neighborhood joint, you need to offer multiple payment options. 

How you treat your customers

Try to make new customers feel like they’re already ‘part of the club’. If someone feels out of place or like an outsider, they will not come back to your business. For instance, do employees chat with each other for too long before acknowledging a customer? This is unacceptable. Every customer should feel welcome. When they do – they’ll come back for more. 

This is one area where a loyalty program can help instantly make customers feel more welcome (especially at the register).

Make Your Business Reachable

All too often, when you’re shopping with a large corporate store – trying to reach an actual human seems impossible.

Reaching a person at a behemoth like IKEA or Home Depot is as impossible as contacting North Korea. There is infinite room for your small business to be better. This is where small businesses have an advantage. Celebrate that!

Access your Savings Dashboard

Make time for the bigger picture, let your membership handle your cost savings

Make your Return Policy Simple and Easy!

You cannot be REI or L.L. Bean, who until recently had a lifetime return policy. You probably can’t be Zappos either, offering free expedited shipping and a 365 day return policy.

But you can be understanding and generous as you seek to make your customers happy. Your customers will evaluate your business based on the ease and generosity of your return policy. They will then determine their loyalty.

Ensuring your return process is easy, clear, and fast is a simple way to earn a repeat customer

Refund Payment - How do You offer Refunds?

I recently returned something at Bed Bath & Beyond and in return received $3.74 in store credit. To someone who lives hours from a Bed Bath & Beyond, this is now worthless to me. 

If you just offer store credit, think twice. Think about offering cash refunds in addition to refunds to the original payment method, especially under a certain dollar amount. If the transactions are higher value, a refund to the original payment method is fine.

Making Your Policy Clear

Whatever you decide on return policy, make it clear for your customers. Post it at the checkout. Post it on your website. Print it on the receipts. And if it changes, make sure to update all customers. But proceed cautiously with changes – you don’t want them to feel like it changes as frequently as the weather.

Remember to keep the customer happy!

Have a clear policy. But allow for exceptions. Customers love feeling like they are heard and valued. If you screwed up or if there is a special case, consider offering a gift card or discount on a future purchase.

Losing money on returns

Remember: You May Lose Money on Returns, but finding a new customers is much more expensive.

Reports show that new customer acquisition costs at least five times as much as dealing with problematic customer returns. So give in and fix the problem rather than chasing away a customer due to a disagreement.

Your Employees are Your Front Line: Keep them Happy & Train them Well

Your employees must be adequately trained and knowledgeable about the product or service you provide. Hire employees with the right personality for the job you are looking to fill. 

Happy employees provide better customer service. So keep your employees happy and you will see the reward played out in their interactions with customers. 68% of customers defect because they felt poorly treated, according to TARP. 

Consider a Customer Loyalty Program with Rewards

Small businesses thrive on promoting and rewarding their customer base. Though customers sometimes dislike giving out their email address and personal information, it is worth asking them. Your loyal customers will appreciate the ability to rack up points or dollars to spend later.

The list of available rewards programs is endless. Often your point of sale (POS) system has one built in, there are add-on programs, or you could do something more old-fashioned like a punch card (though we highly recommend keeping email addresses for ease of contact). 

Here are some factors to consider when implementing a loyalty program:

Consider your goal

Do you want to drive higher ticket sales? Increase the average item per transaction? Use this goal to craft the program details.

Determine the reward type

Will customers receive dollars back on purchases? What is the threshold?

Make rewards information visible

If possible, allow customers to check rewards balance online. If you have an online shop, allowing them to use rewards online is huge.

Keep data accurate

Loyalty programs introduce opportunity for mistakes. With syncing systems and user error, a loyalty system will complicate things. Test and troubleshoot all changes to ensure customer data stays accurate. Having inaccurate and unreliable customer reward information is worse than not having a loyalty program at all.

Use reward data for insights:

The point of a loyalty program is to drive sales and capture customer analytics. Look at reports to see the impact of customer loyalty programs on sales and customer retention.

Use Customer Complains to Improve Your Small Business

When a customer makes a complaint it should help you pinpoint a problem area in your small business. A complaint creates an opportunity for you to examine what went wrong and how to fix it. Remember this when the complaints feel insurmountable.

Studies show that customers who see their complaint successfully dealt with are 70% more likely to patronize the business again. Make sure your employees know how to deal with complaints in a positive and sincere manner.

Be open and encouraging of customer feedback. Ask how your business is doing. Collect feedback when you can and evaluate the responses.

Stay Relevant & Reactive

Today’s world makes sharing customer reviews extremely easy. With the tap of a few keys and the click of a button, a customer’s nasty review can be live and damaging as potential customers see it in real time. So eliminate the issues that lead to negative reviews. Boost your customer service through thoughtful hiring, top-notch customer care, loyalty programs that work for your customers, openness to criticism, and an environment that accepts feedback. 

And never stop learning…

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