Today’s customers are more demanding than ever before—and for good reason. They have way more options than in the past. They’re no longer limited to a 25-mile radius, and they can shop from anywhere around the globe. What’s the differentiator? Customer service.
As a small business owner, you have competition and lots of it. And, consumers are savvy. The Internet makes it much easier for consumers to learn about you. They’re vetting you online before walking through the door or picking up the phone. The more-popular-than-ever review site provides access to the wisdom of the crowd. They arm consumers with the information to make the right buying decision. That’s why it’s important that you provide a quality product and quality experience.
Word of Mouth and the Customer Service Experience
Regardless of the industry you’re in, or the type of company you have, there will be an element of customer service. It doesn’t matter if it’s retail, online, manufacturing, education, healthcare, etc.—customer service matters. It has a significant impact on buyer decisions. We’re not talking whether they choose to continue to buy from you, but also what they say to others about you.
Word of mouth is no longer only a face-to-face experience. Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land points to research by TurnTo. It shows “online ratings and reviews are a form of word of mouth, which is the most trusted source consumers consult before buying.” That’s only the beginning. A Brightlocal study found 86% of consumers read online reviews for a local business. That means word of mouth and customer service matter. In fact, studies show that online reviews that mention “good” or “great” customer service are over 5 times as likely to give a 5 star review rather than a 1 star.
Companies get feedback from a lot of sources, including in-store and through social media.
Ways to Improve Customer Service
Ensuring solid customer service experiences requires:
Hiring people with a commitment to serving others, and the willingness to go the extra mile.
Arming employees with the information and resources they need to do their jobs well.
Evaluating feedback from customers often.
Changing your customer service strategy starts with changing your mindset. Excellent customer care starts by thinking about the customer first. What’s important to them? What matters to new customers versus what matters to your regulars? Think about your store or business from a customer experience standpoint. First, you need to gather input from buyers. This could be in real-time or through surveys, polls or online assessments. Then, spend time evaluating what they say. Lastly, take steps to address the areas of opportunity to meet the customer needs.
Include those on the front lines in customer service decisions. Yes, we’re talking about your store sales associates. The decisions will impact them after all. Plus, they’re the ones handling many of the customer interactions and customer complaints. Getting their buy-in makes it more likely they’ll help improve customer service interactions.
Bringing employees into the process allows them to share their customer service skills. You could ask them to share times they handled an unhappy customer and role play scenarios. Ask questions about how they treat a new customer versus a regular.
Use what you’ve learned to create service standards for your organization. This is the first step in building your larger customer service strategy. The focus should be on providing the highest level of customer care. You can measure the impact through your feedback and your customer retention rates. Who doesn’t want repeat customers?
Customer Satisfaction: What Do Customers Value?
It might sound a little wonky, but to learn about the good you have to think about the bad. To find what makes a good customer service experiences, think about what makes a poor customer experiences. This will, of course, vary by industry and the customer setting. Let’s take a look at some examples and tips.
Make Retail Customer Service Excellent Retail Customer Service
A good retail customer experience starts with customer service and employee education. That’s what leads to a top-notch retail customer experience and repeat business. It’s also the start of a beautiful relationship with your customer. Why is it beautiful? Because, having high-levels of loyalty increase your brand equity. That leads to more retail sales, or any business sales for that matter.
So, how do we get to this retail customer service nirvana? Focus on these retail customer service tips:
Put the right people in the right positions and make your expectations crystal clear. What does exceptional service look like? What are the behaviors you expect? What behaviors do not represent the high level of service you wish to provide?
Provide positive feedback to those who offer excellent service. Highlight them as examples and role models for others.
Encourage employees to strike up conversations with customers.
Empower employees to use their judgment to meet customer needs.
Share feedback and information. You want your staff to understand what drives customer satisfaction and retention.
A lot of the retail tips also apply here. The one difference is jargon. Medical professionals should use positive language and avoid too much “medical speak.” They also will rely more on their team members to provide great care. In small clinics, delivering delightful patient experiences is very much a team activity.
Improve Customer Service in the Hotel Industry
The hospitality industry is another place where great customer service really matters. Like the previous industries, hospitality is a service-related industry. Yet, staff have to not only satisfy client needs, but exceed expectations. This goes beyond typical customer service. Hospitality is more focused on delighting customers and anticipating their needs. You might find yourself offering creative solutions to unexpected problems. Often times, it isn’t in finding the perfect resolution but demonstrating effort.
Improve Service in Any Industry
Even those not in customer-facing roles have an impact on the consumer experience. Whether in a call center or on a manufacturing shop floor, there is an impact. Here are some more tips for improving service strategy and performance:
Consider setting up a customer service awards program.
Develop a service training program and offer it regularly.
Use metrics to track service improvement.
Share feedback from customers, good and bad.
Ask for employee ideas to boost customer happiness.
Never take your eye off the prize!
Providing strong and consistent customer service can be a challenge for many businesses. This is especially true for large ones. This is one place where small businesses have an edge. By focusing on the tips above, you can help build a customer-centric company. Do it right and you’ll see your new approach generates positive word of mouth and repeat business.