Read these 15 Customer Service Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Entrepreneur tips and hundreds of other topics.
You may have noticed a few innovations in the way of customer service on various websites you've visited. Here's an overview of how you can use technology tools out there to streamline your customer service experience and gain new clients.
Virtual Customer Service: You've probably seen an animated person pop up when you visit some websites, or at least a text chat box appear, with a greeting from a virtual service rep. This is technology's version of the perky salesperson that greets you in a store, except you can ignore them if you want!
These are great ways to catch visitors to your site that may be looking for something in particular, or who may leave the site if they don't immediately find what they need. You can quickly assess the visitor's needs and help him right away.
Additionally, for people who detest calling customer service only to sit on the phone for an hour, these are instant gratification tools that let customers get what they need immediately!
Blogs: If you don't know what a blog is by now, you're a rare species. Companies use blogs to tell customers and website visitors about new products, modifications of old products, and to address customer concerns.
Many blogs operate in a forum manner, which means readers can leave comments. Say for example a reader leaves a post that talks about problems he's having installing your software on a Mac. You can reply to the blog for all to see with a solution.
Blogs can keep your issues out in the open, where you can resolve them for the good of all your customers and potential customers.
Do you have a customer service system that you're pleased with? Don't get too comfortable. As your business grows, you will need to adapt the customer service you provide to keep up with your company's and your customers' ever changing needs.
Go to the Polls: From time to time, take your customers' temperature. Find out how they're feeling about the customer service you provide. You may be shocked at the answers you get. You can send out short surveys in the mail or via email to your customers every quarter or year to stay in the know. It's a good way for you to find out:
It'll Cost You: If you refuse to change your customer service strategy, you will pay with the loss of clients and revenues. In your annual budget, include funds to improve and upgrade your customer service department to ensure you keep up with your clients' evolving needs.
If you have ever tried to call a customer service hotline, you have probably been frustrated with the numbers system (“press 1 for service, press 2 for billing…”) and the wait time. Today, although technology allows customer service to also operate via email, response time can be even longer than on the phone. As an entrepreneur, there is a great need you can fill for superior customer service, and it's not that hard!
Hire Enough Hands: Don't be cheap and skimp on the number of call center reps you hire. Bad customer service is one of the top reasons people switch from one brand to another. Even if there are lulls, you should always have enough operators to answer calls promptly during peak hours.
Provide Proper Training: There's nothing worse than a customer service rep who doesn't know what he's talking about. Customers call for SERVICE and if your reps can't provide that, you will soon be out of business.
Train all of your operators on the proper way to handle any situation, and instill in them the desire to be friendly to customers. Look at the underlying reasons why employees may be unpleasant to customers: are they getting paid enough? Are they working long hours? Make their environment pleasant, and that will shine through the phone.
Set Turnaround Times: If you set goals of how quickly a rep should get to a customer, either by phone or via email, stick with it. Customers pick up on that. If your website says a customer should expect to hear back from customer service within 5 hours, make sure that happens.
Everyone loves getting presents, including your clients. Before you start thinking of all the promotional pens and notepads with your company logo that you can send your clients, get out of the mindset that this is a blatant advertising opportunity. Instead, use this as a chance to show your clients how much you appreciate them, as people, not dollar signs.
Birthdays: If you can find out your client's birthday, surprise her with a flower or cookie bouquet. If you know your client's interests, buy him tickets to his favorite sporting event or concert. For smaller budgets (or smaller clients), at the very least, send a birthday card or small box of candy.
Holidays: For holidays, pick out something nice like gourmet sweets or wine. Think about the kinds of gifts you would love to receive but would never splurge on for yourself, like a massage or gift basket. If your budget is tight, during the Christmas holidays, great gifts are marked down, so if you shop around, you can find imported chocolates or candles at a reasonable price.
Giving your customers the VIP treatment is key to the success of your company. That floral arrangement might be the one element that your competitor didn't offer, so you get more business. Treat every one of your customers like your only customer, and they'll be sure to spread the word to others about what a great company you run.
You don't have to have a big budget to show you care about your customers. Add a little something extra to an order to make your customer smile and help them keep you in mind for their next purchase.
It's sad, but customers don't expect to be treated well. We're so used to being on hold with customer service lines and getting the third degree when we want to return an item, that something as simple as a sticker can take us pleasantly by surprise.
You can add simple touches to make your product or service stand out:
You're not a mind reader, so how are you supposed to know what your customers want? How can you know if a product is going to be a hit before spending thousands of dollars?
Surveys. Surveys are a great way to test your market without laying out all your cash. You can gauge the reaction of your audience using one of several survey methods.
Every one of us has interacted with customer service representatives, and the experiences aren't always pleasant. Likely if you call an 800 number, you get a different operator each call. Customers hate this! They have to start over telling their story every time, only to get the same nonresponsive result. Here's how you can impress your customers with better service and increase your sales as a result.
Customer Service Relationships: Back in the middle ages, customer service was supposed to be about the customer! Since then it's become a major annoyance for businesses. By getting back to the customer, you are effectively improving your business.
Consider assigning a customer service rep for each customer. Every time they need assistance, they call their rep directly. This rep knows the customer's history, and can easily jump into a situation to assist.
By offering individual attention, you assure your clients that their satisfaction is your number one priority. That alone is enough to steal business from competitors!
But What Will It Cost? It may seem like a costly solution, but it's not. Say you currently have 100 customer service reps answering phone calls on a first come, first served basis, and you get 1000 calls a day. If you reorganize the structure, each rep will handle approximately 10 calls, depending on which of their assigned customers call. You don't need to hire more reps!
That phrase has been drilled into our heads: the customer is always right. As a business owner, you may personally not believe that to be true. But professionally, this mantra is what will keep you in business.
Compensate: If a customer calls in with a complaint about your service, make sure your reps are quick to apologize for the inconvenience. There should be no arguing about whether the incident was the fault of the customer or the company. By default, it is always your company's fault!
Your policy should include offering some sort of compensation for the situation. If the customer was without cable for a day, knock off a day's worth of billing costs. If the customer's cell phone doesn't work, ask them to return it for a new one.
Negotiate: If, after attempting to resolve the situation, the customer service rep finds the customer is still angry and wants to stop using your service, keep negotiating. Never let a customer walk away. Offer payment options, additional services at a discount or free, or special rates. Do whatever is necessary (within reason) to keep the customer.
At the end of the day, if you have done everything you can to resolve customer complaints, you will be rewarded. The customers who came in with ruffled feathers will leave soothed and calm, and they will tell their friends about the great service you gave them. Then the friends come, and they tell their friends, and so on!
Naturally, as a small business owner, you try to cut costs at all costs. But at what point are you actually costing yourself money by trying to save?
If you run a store or restaurant, look at your staff. Are they highly qualified and experienced to do their jobs? Or are they the first people that walked in willing to take the minimum wage you offer?
While you may save money by paying the lowest possible wage for workers, you get what you pay for. If your fast food restaurant is run by teenagers, they may not put the care you would into food preparation, presentation and customer service. And who can blame them? After all, this is just a job to them, and one that doesn't even pay that well.
Raise Your Stakes: By offering higher wages, you can command more out of your workers. Decide what qualities you want. Should your fashion clerks have some knowledge about the types of products they sell? Should they have a warm and friendly personality? What makes your customers feel comfortable and what turns them off?
Spend time really interviewing your applicants, rather than hiring the first people to grab the “Help Wanted” sign. Interview enough candidates that you have a pool to choose the best from.
By being selective about who works for you, you will improve the level of service in your store, and your customers will be repeat shoppers.
A few years ago, there was a big buzz about companies that outsourced their customer service reps to India and China to save money. The verdict is still out on whether it's effective or not. If you're considering outsourcing, assess your business and your customers to decide if it's right for you.
It's All About the Customers: Forget saving money; the truth about your business is that it's all about your customers. What do they want? Will it bother them to speak to someone with a thick accent (many companies like Dell found this to their detriment) when they're calling with a frustrating situation?
Although you're happy to save money, your customers don't see anything but a slip in your otherwise quality service. If outsourcing causes your customers stress, and you start to lose them, it's not worth the cost savings.
Consider Outsourcing Locally: Many of the companies that have been burned from outsourcing customer service overseas have found a better option: outsourcing locally. If you live in a high cost-of-living metropolis, you can save money by locating your customer service center in a cheaper city or town. All you have to worry about in this case is the North Carolina drawl that may greet customers calling!
No matter what you decide to do, make your decision based on what is right for your customer, not your bank account.
Anyone can make a sale, but how many people can get a customer to come back to buy again? And again, and again? By truly playing the part and providing top-notch customer service, you will build relationships with customers that will grow into repeat sales!
What's Behind the Smile? In retail or other storefront sales, you need more than just a pretty face. Are your sales clerks genuine? Do they really care whether the customer buys something or not?
Your clerks should learn to build relationships with clients and do more than just ask, “Can I help you find anything?” Your clerks are your front line, and they need to make customers feel at ease.
In training your clerks, teach them to make customers comfortable by:
After the Sale: The relationship is far from over once a sale is made. Keep a database of your customers' contact info and have your clerks call them when an item of interest comes in. This specialized treatment will go a long way and keep customers coming back for the great customer service your business supplies!
No matter what line of business you're in, it's safe to assume that every one of your competitors has the same goal as you: to provide the best, fastest, cheapest product or service. So how can you stand out in the crowd? Find your niche in customer service.
If your competitors brag about their high-tech phone customer service system, offer a personalized one-on-one customer service experience to your customers. If your competitors charge for estimates or consultations, offer a free consultation for your services.
Other ideas for adding value to your customer service include:
When potential customers compare you to a competitor, you will easily outshine the other company with your added value!
A happy customer is a customer that will bring more business to you. Take advantage of strong relationships with your satisfied clients to expand your business and get free advertising.
This is My Testimonial: There's no better form of advertising than a testimonial from a client that is pleased with your service or product. Ask some of your top customers to write a brief letter outlining what their experience with your company has been, as well as a glowing recommendation !
Use these testimonials on your company website, in newsletters, in advertisements, and even in the store (maybe framed on the wall) to let others see what great services you provide.
Word of Mouth: If you're good enough, you won't even have to spend money on advertising. Your customers will do it for you. Word of mouth is the best way to get qualified new clients. After all, they were referred by a satisfied customer!
Ask your customers to pass out your business card or flyer to anyone who might need your service or product. You can even offer a discount for every customer they refer! This is a great motivator for your clients, and the new sales will more than pay for the discount you give the original clients!
Don't be shy to ask for referrals or testimonials. Your clients will be happy to spread the word about your business, and you deserve the exposure!
Depending on what type of business you run, your customers may not ever see or hear from you. You may be just a series of emails or letters. You will never form a real bond with your customers through email.
Show your clients you care by calling them just to check on an order, or stop by their office, if you live locally. By you taking time to speak with them, your clients feel important. And clients who feel important keep buying from you!
Solving Problems Before They Begin: Keeping in constant contact with your customers means you'll know about problems before they hit. Say for instance, you have a large customer who buys hundreds of takeout boxes from your company each month. When you stop by for your bi-weekly visit, you find out an order is a few days late, and the customer is getting frantic.
While that client may not have had time to call you to tell you the situation, by your being there, you can fix the situation immediately and avoid having an unhappy customer turn to your competitors.
Get Valuable Feedback: Another benefit to interacting on a personal level with your customers is that you can get their feedback on your products and services. Customer input is the best way to improve your processes, and will bring you more sales!