When it comes down to small business customer service, some people would rather talk to another human being, without having to swim through layers of thick, impersonal technology to get there. Others may just have a quick question that an FAQ or chat session can answer in about a minute. How do you decide then, on how best to deliver customer service for your clientele? Don’t make decisions based on your own needs for efficiency. Figure out how to keep your customers happy. That’s always the most efficient choice.
For example, an interactive voice response (IVR), or keypad menu system that customers encounter when calling a main number (especially one for support) should rarely be more than two options deep. More than that, and it becomes obvious that you’re trying NOT to talk to customers. You could be causing them to question their buying decision every time they call.
A very small staff answering the phone can route calls more efficiently than you might imagine, especially if they are part of an answering service or outsourced call center, parked in front of their phones all day long. Many services share resources among multiple clients, making professional phone support both affordable and scalable for busier times of day, or days of the week.
Here are some more ways to help you determine just how to set up a customer service plan that fits your business.
1. How personal is the information customers share with you?
If your customers would like to discuss their options for reallocating 401(k) funds, they have questions about medical tests, or they have concerns about developing an affordable payment plan, it doesn’t just feel nicer to talk to a person in these instances, it’s pretty much required. You might designate a special number for a deeper level of service, that’s only given out to paid clients. Very often, this number can route through an answering service, so that customers always get a person and can leave a message, if the right support person can’t be reached at the moment.
2. How technical is the support you typically need to give?
Help desk software that helps you track and manage “cases” or “tickets” can ensure that details aren’t missed, especially when technical solutions require a lot of specific back-and-forth. However, customers shouldn’t be forced into your system if they don’t like it, or aren’t good at it. Nothing is more aggravating than having a problem in the first place, calling to get it fixed, then being told to go back to the website and open a ticket.
If you’re using a chat function to interact with customers, always offer them the chance to speak with you instead. Some are more than happy to chat for a few minutes, while others are terrible typers, are bad at conveying or understanding the right information, or are so upset that sitting there staring at the screen waiting for the agent to respond is extremely frustrating.
Is a customer likely to call a non-technical account rep who can’t really help? Don’t just punt the call. Take the time to understand the issue, then make a warm hand-off to technical staff. Once again, don’t make the customer fit your system– educate them about it and help them through it.
3. How much do you invest in winning new customers?
It’s possible that your business is one that doesn’t much care about attrition, because it’s cheap and easy to get new customers whenever you want them. Yes, that is possible, but it’s not very likely! Investments in marketing can never reach a highly profitable return if customers are always leaving at a steady clip. Investments in customer service, however, don’t just pay for themselves, they make marketing choices more profitable, too. The longer customers stick around, they more they spend, and the more they refer.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that in your industry, you really can score new customers all the time. Why do you have to act like it? Toeing the line of your industry status quo is a sure way to become less competitive, which brings us to the next point.
4. What is your industry standard for excellent service?
You might not have the best prices, or the best product, or the most options, but if you make sure that your customers know how important they are to you and your business, you don’t need any of those things to win. People prefer to do business with those who they know, like and trust. That is a competitive advantage that can’t easily be copied. As soon as a customer feels really good about working with you, they don’t tend to look around for other options. And if they do, you will have helped them raise the bar on their expectations, making it harder for competitors to win them over.
5. Are you properly educating your customers?
For many years, small business have worked to find a good balance between technology-based and human powered customer service. The personal approach has many well documented advantages, but they don’t necessarily need or want to talk to a person at every turn. Making your clients feel cared for can also take the form of deep support resources.
You might on-board customers with a basic user manual, frequently asked questions section, wiki, forum and blog– all of which can easily be introduced through a shared screen. You could give customers a series of introductory emails that address typical concerns, and remind them about how to take advantage of certain features, or get specific kinds of questions answered.
If you do have a wide array of contact options (phone, email, contact us form, chat, ticket system, forum, etc.) help them understand what works best for which kind of issues and why. When customers realize how the real humans in your company are working hard to help them, they are more inclined to follow your lead, and be a good customer for you.
While chances are good that prioritizing human contact is going to pay dividends in the satisfaction and loyalty of your customer base, it’s also important to iterate your processes to deliver what they really need. If you begin with a broad base of assets, and work hard to educate customers about how to help themselves, you can quickly discover what kinds of service actually matter most, and which ones don’t. Keep listening to what they tell you, and you can’t go wrong.
Neal Lacy works for United Call Center, an answering service in Lake Havasu City, AZ. He is an expert on call center outsourcing and writes widely about telemarketing in general.