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When it comes to customer service, business owners should think like customers

Barista Elizabeth Roughton prepares a customer’s latte at Rocky River Coffee Co. in Harrisburg. Hiring the right people is key to building a foundation for great customer service, writes small-business columnist Ann Marie van den Hurk.
Barista Elizabeth Roughton prepares a customer’s latte at Rocky River Coffee Co. in Harrisburg. Hiring the right people is key to building a foundation for great customer service, writes small-business columnist Ann Marie van den Hurk. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Fifty-five percent of consumers have stopped a transaction or not made a purchase due to a poor service experience, according to an American Express survey.

The survey suggests that business owners should think like a customer. Because while you might have the best product on the market or the nicest retail location or restaurant, if your customer service isn’t the best, customers will notice.

When customers are unhappy, only about 4 percent will share their problems directly with you. That doesn’t mean they aren’t talking about you. They are sharing the news of bad customer service by word or mouth — reaching more than twice as many ears as a compliment for good experience. Word of mouth can make or break you.

Marsha Collier, best-selling author of “Social Media Commerce for Dummies” and social futurist, shares that customer service should never be an issue for a small business. The bigger your organization, the more difficult it is to be “one with your customer.” As a small business, use your size to your advantage.

The goal should be to always provide the best service every time there is an interaction with customers. It can be challenge, but it should be the mission of a business and one that every employee shares. According to Collier, the days of wowing your customer once are over. The key to success today is to romance your customer regularly.

How can you have the best customer service?

There are some key blocks to building a foundation for great customer service:

▪ Employees. Hire the right people for the job by selecting people who love your product or service as much as you do. They need to be able to empathize with and show appreciation for customers. While the customer isn’t always right, empower your staff to be there for the customer. Once you have hired the right people, invest in them through regular training. Training your staff to think effectively on their feet through improvisation classes or role playing can make a positive difference in your customer service, according to Collier.

▪ Website. In today’s digital age, it is essential to have a good website. With a good website, you can be a small company with a big presence. Make your website able to answer as many customer questions as possible. By improving the help section on your website, you can reduce calls by 5 percent, according to Harvard Business Review.

From a Forrester Research survey, 45 percent will abandon an online purchase if they can’t quickly find answers to their questions. Your website should include different channels to contact you on a customer service specific email address, phone number and social media handles. Humanize your employees by having a personalized staff page where customers can relate to the staff.

▪ Social media. In addition to having a website, social media is another important aspect of customer service. The same American Express survey says that 38 percent of customers prefer to talk to customer service online or via email about simple issues they might be having or to ask questions. Social media is where your customers are, and they are talking about you.

Yet their requests, complaints or compliments often go unanswered. According to Bain & Company research, when companies respond to customer requests over social media, those customers tend to spend 20 percent to 40 percent more money with that company. The goal with your digital customer service is to build a community of brand champions. There are no shortcuts. It takes time and effort to build brand champions. Encourage your customers to engage you on social media by using such language as “talk to us on Twitter” instead of the usual “follow us.”

▪ Monitoring. Listening to your customers and competitors online is essential. There are some very basic and free monitoring tools available with Google Alerts, Mention and Talkwalker that can help you do this. You set up alerts using keywords such as your organization’s name, product or other topics. Set them up to alert you when something is posted online. These tools monitor everything on the web from blogs to review sites. Deploying a secret shopper at your brick and mortar location can provide you with insights as to how your customer service is doing.

Ann Marie van den Hurk, an accredited public relations professional, is principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations and author of “Social Media Crisis Communications.” Readers may email her at ann@mindthegappr.com or follow her on Twitter @amvandenhurk.

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