By Peter Shankman, Principal, Shankman|Honig
Hands down, the most overlooked part of running any small business is customer service. Small businesses spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing, trying to convince people they’re the best, yet if they simply improve their customer service by a fraction, the customers will do it for them! Behold, the top ten ways to improve your small business customer service, starting today:
1) Empower Your Employees to make decisions. At some point, you need to start trusting your employees to make the right decisions. There’s nothing worse for a customer than to hear, “Oh, well I’ll have to ask my manager, I’m not allowed to do that.” It happens all the time, and it’s frustrating. Let your employees have the power to make a customer leave your business happy, and that customer will not only come back, but bring friends.
2) Say hello without selling. One of the biggest problems with email marketing is that small businesses believe that without a call to action (i.e., BUY THIS,) there’s no point in sending the email. Totally incorrect. Send out an email once in a while just saying hi, with an interesting story or tidbit that appeals directly to your audience. Do this, and your audience will react a lot more positively when you DO email them to buy something.
3) Be transparent. No one likes to do business with a company they feel they can’t trust. Be up front about what you do, and how you do it.
4) Own your mistakes. You’re going to screw up. It’s a matter of when, not if. When you do, own it. “Here’s what we did wrong, here’s how we’re going to make it right by you, and here’s how we’re going to make sure we never do it again.”
5) It’s the little things, not the big grandiose things that make you live forever. The smile, the “you look like you’re having a bad day, this coffee’s on the house,” that cause customers to become loyals, and loyals to become loyalists.
6) Strive for loyalists, not just loyals. Loyal customers come back over and over again. That’s great. That’s a spectacular start. Loyalists, however, not only come back over and over again, but they drag as many friends as they possibly can. They go out and tell the world how amazing you are, and won’t stop until everyone’s been converted. They’re like Apple Computer fans, or a rabid team season-ticket holder. It’s their mission in life to tell the world how amazing you are.
7) Social media has radically changed how people talk about you. Social media guarantees that good or bad, people will be talking about you, and sharing what you’re doing. But nothing good comes out of simply “asking” them to share how great you are. Remember – No one believes you’re awesome if you’re the one who has to tell them. Instead, SHOW them. Everyone has a camera phone, right? They don’t even make phones without cameras in them anymore. So do something worthy of somebody taking a photo of it. A coffee chain I know allows every employee to give a “whatever” discount, the more fun the better, up to 50 cents on orders of four dollars, and up to a dollar on orders over ten dollars. So the employees have a blast with this! “Nice smile” discount. “Cute dog” discount. And guess what – they don’t abuse it, and sales are up! There are actual Pinterest boards devoted to these amazing receipt discounts, where customers photograph each receipt and try to out-do each other. Amazing. What can you do, and what can you allow your employees to do, that will do the same thing?
Contests to bring in your “x-thousandth customer” is nothing more than a complete and utter “screw you” to every single one of your previous customers, who came to you without expecting a prize. Besides, it’s common knowledge that contests and giveaways don’t bring in solid customers who want to spend money, but rather, they bring in cheap people who are looking to get free stuff. It’s a similar logic to why Groupon doesn’t work.
9) Know how people use social media, and help them to both of your benefit. Example: I was in a client’s restaurant the other day, and overheard a customer saying, “We’re totally going to use this photo as our profile cover.” Yet they were shooting the photo vertically. I walked over and explained that if they wanted a photo of all six of them to be their cover photo, they should shoot horizontally, as the cover photo has specific dimensions. They thanked me profusely, and got a great photo. Now everyone who looks at that person’s profile will see the giant restaurant sign in the back, as well as six happy and slightly tipsy young women. Win all around.
10) Finally, if nothing else, just smile. You never know what kind of problems your customers are having. Sometimes, just a kind pair of eyes and a smile is all someone needs to turn their entire day around, and build a memory that equals “this business makes me happy.” In the end, that’s real revenue.
11 ) One bonus: If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: Focus on the customers you have to get the customers you want. Don’t worry about “likes,” “followers,” and “fans.” Focus on treating the customers you have the best way you know how, and they’ll bring you the customers you want.
About The Author:
Peter Shankman is a Principal at Shankman|Honig, a customer service consultancy designed to help businesses large and small increaserevenues and decrease costs by bring customer service to new levels of awesome within companies around the world.