When we discuss growing a business, the conversation typically focuses on financing, innovation, personnel management, and cost management. Another key factor that’s often under-emphasised is customer service. In a way, the way that businesses interact with customers is a part of the product, and optimising this can often benefit a business as much as any other form of product development.
The way that improving customer service benefits a business’ growth, interestingly enough, parallels the way that a product improvement works. Specifically, it encourages better customer retention, and helps to attract new customers. For SMEs that are already investing directly in their growth, sales and marketing budgets tend to be razor thin, and finding low cost ways to increase revenues is critical. For them, great customer service is an essential part of maintaining and growing their customer base.
Customer service is especially important for SMEs
When we look at some of the biggest and most successful companies on the market, we often don’t think of amazing customer service. Rather, big businesses tend to focus on what might be best described as simple professionalism. This doesn’t mean that a focus on customer experience isn’t important for smaller and newer businesses. These big businesses already have well established reputations, and need to work to avoid bad press more than they need to prove themselves to customers. Moreover, in order to expand into a new market, these larger businesses can simply invest in marketing and advertising to help them attract new customers.
Unlike them, SMEs need to mobilise their existing customer base to help them grow, and to keep existing customers from leaving them for better established competitors. Great products effectively sell themselves because they make customers happy enough to become brand evangelists, and great customer service works exactly the same way. By providing people a great customer experience, it works to shape their attitude about your brand, and the way they will represent it to the people around them.
Improving customer service at your business
Great customer service might look slightly different depending on the industry that a business is in. For example, the interactions between a restaurant and a patron won’t obviously resemble those of a software development firm and its client. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t working from the same customer service skill set. Different kinds of customers have different needs, and great customer interactions are about understanding and meeting those needs.
Understanding customer needs
In order to provide great service, team members need to understand the purpose of the business is, and what the needs of their customers are. That means grasping that a restaurant, for example, sells more than just food, but also a dining experience and a pleasant social venue. On the level of the individual customer, though, it also means that seeing that a single person sitting at a table for one on a friday night will need to be approached differently than a group of 5 if both are meant to have the best possible experience.
Provide a human face
Identifying these needs, and responding to them appropriately is difficult, and often requires a significant amount of training. More than anything else, however, it’s a matter of interacting with customers as a person, rather than just as a business. Team members often intuitively understand the needs of their customers if they take the time to see and communicate with them on a personal level. Because of this, it’s a good idea to encourage customer facing employees not to stick to memorized scripts, but rather to simply talk to clients normally, and help them as best they can.
Teach troubleshooting skills
Businesses inevitably run into customer service difficulties, whether it’s a product shortage, a mistake, shipping problems, or just a long line at the register. In situations like these, it’s critical for team members to understand what to do. Most often, an untrained person might try to either take or avoid responsibility on behalf of the business. While just taking responsibility might sound like a good thing to do, it won’t actually help the customer, or improve their experience. Instead, this interaction, like any other, should be leveraged to make the client feel valued, and to help build a stronger relationship. A good way to do this is to offer an apology along with doing something to resolve the problem, or, if that isn’t possible, to improve their experience another way.
Training employees and working to improve your business’ customer interactions can have a major impact. While the low cost involved makes it ideal for growing SMEs, large companies like Zappos have shown that a focus on great customer service can make a big difference at any level. By making the effort to optimise your business’ approach to customer service, you can accelerate your business’ growth while spending virtually no additional funds.