Summer is just around the corner, which means the beginning of Lac du Bonnet’s busy season as our seasonal residents return to our cottage community, and we receive visitors from all over. This is the make-it or break-it time for many of our small businesses.
With the increased traffic, it’s the perfect time to put your best foot forward and WOW your customers with outstanding customer service.
Why Improve Customer Service?
It seems like a silly question, but knowing how important your customer’s experience is to your business success will help show the value of making the necessary investments.
To put it simply, providing the best customer service and an incredible customer experience increases customer retention and gives you a competitive advantage that is difficult for your competitors to copy.
Let’s begin with customer retention. Repeat purchases from customers are the key to growing your business. You already know it’s 5-25 x more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to keep a current customer. Once a customer has purchased from you, they are aware of you and past the trust barrier. Those are the two challenging and expensive stages to get past in your customer’s buying cycle.
Customers are more likely to buy from you when they are satisfied with your customer service. A Wunderman study reveals that around 79% of consumers prefer to only do business with a brand that shows it actually cares about them.
Superior customer service is also a competitive advantage, as it’s a great differentiator from your competition. Products and services are easily replicated and copied. One of the best ways to distinguish your business from your competitors is by providing a superior experience that increases your value to the consumer and protects your margins. Competing on value is much better for your business than competing with the lowest price. Winning the race to the bottom is a Pyrrhic for most small businesses.
Tips to Improve Customer Service
2021 is a particularly good year to revamp your customer service. While lockdowns and restrictions are still in place, it’s not too late to reinvent your business and take advantage of new business when restrictions are eventually lifted.
Improving your customer service is a great place to start reinventing your business.
Improve Your Touch Points
A touchpoint is a marketing term that refers to how many times you interact with your customers and potential customers. It’s a bit of a catch-all that includes advertising, social media, your website, and when they visit you in person. For our purposes, let’s forget the advertising and focus on interactions online and in person.
Looking at your online presence (your website and social media), make sure your website makes it easy for people to buy from you; this includes:
- Online ordering
- Proper product descriptions
- Self-help tools such as FAQs or help documentation
- An easy way for people to contact you with questions or concerns
For example, a local restaurant with its menu online, hours of operation, and an easy way to place an order or make a reservation has made it much easier for customers to purchase from them rather than from a restaurant that doesn’t have a quality website.
How are you using social media? Like it or not, most people use social media when making purchasing decisions. Social media may be their preferred way to interact with your business too. Not only should your social channels be active, but they should also be an easy way to answer customer questions and field customer complaints. You’ll need someone to monitor your social channels regularly and reply to comments and messages. To improve consistency, have ready-made templates to handle common inquiries and have policies to handle complaints.
In-person touches when customers visit your business are equally important. How are people greeted? Better yet, are they greeted when they enter your establishment? Their experience begins the moment they step foot inside. They should be welcomed, and staff should be available (without hoovering) to help customers. You can help your team with some simple scripts for greeting people and up-selling (without being pushy). Policies need to also be in place on how customer complaints are handled.
Taking the restaurant example again, are customers seated by the server? Are specials brought to the attention of the customer? Can your servers answer questions about the menu? Does your server ask about the customer’s experience before they leave? How are complaints handled? These are things that should be reviewed and improved.
Ask Your Customer
Customer satisfaction surveys are a cheap and easy way to get an idea of your customers’ experience when they do business with you. Your surveys can be as easy as a card that your customer fills out. You can get a little techy by encouraging people to complete an online survey. Setting up through Survey Monkey or a simple form on your website is pretty simple. If you want to get responses from your survey, offer a small incentive to customers who fill them out; for example, it could be something as simple as a percentage off their next purchase.
Share survey responses with your staff. Discussing customer satisfaction with your employees sends the right message that it’s important to your operations. They will also get an idea of what your business is doing right and where the customer experience can improve. The best part is that your team might have helpful ideas on improving customer service and will take some ownership of the solutions.
Train Your Staff
It is surprising how inconsistent customer service can be at the same establishment, depending on which employee serves me. Your customers should have the same high-quality experience regardless of which employee is helping them.
Training staff is expensive, but it’s an investment that keeps customers returning. It’s worth the investment in training them to provide the best customer experience. Your staff should also alert management to service failures or ways to improve service.
The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts are known worldwide for their customer satisfaction. They start each day with a “Glitch Report.” All the department heads get together and tell where they missed the mark with a guest and devise solutions to make it right. These meetings have all departments working on ensuring the guest is satisfied with their stay when they leave. Customer satisfaction is a team effort.
Turn Failures into Opportunities
Staying with the Four Seasons example, you should look at service failures as opportunities to gain a loyal customer. You’re going to have service failures. It would be nice if you didn’t, but it will happen. How you respond to those failures is what matters.
The scary thing is that most customers won’t tell you if they’re unsatisfied. They will tell their friends and not return to your business. The opportunity is when they tell you or your staff realizes the failure before the complaint – it’s a chance to satisfy the customer. It’s a second chance to do right by your customer. People are forgiving when you say sorry and then go the extra mile for them.
Offering superior customer service is a team effort, and your operations need to put the customer first. Keep in mind that each one of your customers has a lifetime value. You will maximize that value when your business operations are geared towards developing a long-term relationship with customers.