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Walk into any store or small business, and how you are greeted and served matters. It can actually make or break your experience, no matter how fantastic the product. Indeed, according to a finding by Harvard Business Review in 2018, “prompt and personal customer service does indeed pay off — customers remember good and bad customer service experiences, and they’re willing to reward companies that treat them well.” The fact that it so quickly decides whether a customer will be returning or not should never be ignored. Focus on good service and your customers will keep spending their money and spreading the word about your business and that alone will boost your business’s bottom line. 

With this in mind, here are our top tips for getting customer service right. 

1. Start with the basics

Psychologically, what customers see and experience first matters. Your small business has the potential to capitalize on this. Pleases, thank yous, remembering a past order, and an authentic smile are really easy ways to show your customers that you care. Moreover, they are the very first thing customers will notice about your business. So, start here. As you go about hiring your staff, keep this at the forefront. How will this candidate seem to customers? How might they interact? How much do I have to teach them? When you interview candidates, be sure and ask them what customer service means to them. Their response might give you an idea of how instinctive customer service is to them or not. 

2. Remember your regulars and what they like

Be sure you know who your customers are and what they like. This requires building relationships, taking note of preferences and making personal recommendations too. Don’t ever forget that these returning customers are what all the effort and money is for. Afterall, it costs significantly more to attract new customers than it does to take care of the ones you already have. The probability of selling to a new customer hovers in the range of 5-20%, whereas selling to an existing customer resides in the range of 60-70%. That one-to-one attention is why people go to local businesses, so tap into it. Indeed, an extra bit of attention doesn’t go unnoticed, especially by a customer deciding whether to return or not. 

3. Listen to the negative 

Sure, nobody likes to hear criticism. But the most tuned in business owner knows it matters and can actually improve your day-to-day operations. Most consumers want to avoid making a big deal, but on those occasions when they’ve got negative feedback coming your way, you should take it onboard completely. It’s important to hear the negative customer out, often they just want to be listened to and understood, so if you can provide that, you’ll be able to resolve most problems and help your chances of getting that customer to come back. Remember to not take it personally and know the value of staying calm and professional. This is your chance to improve. Disney Corporation is known for their customer support and one idea is to use their H.E.A.R.D. strategy when there is a complaint: to hear, empathize, apologize, resolve and diagnose the issue. Showing how responsive you can be is key since some response is always better than none so the customer doesn't feel ignored. Be particularly mindful of the power of online reviews and respond to those immediately. 

4. Personalize it 

Part of that customer service experience, whether the reaction is positive or negative, should be focused on keeping the entire interaction personal for the costumer. Why? Because it makes a difference. Indeed, there is a reason a customer service agent in a random call center miles away still gives you his or her name. Need more proof? A few years ago, a survey by Genesys asked more than 9,000 consumers about what mattered to them most when it came to doing business with companies, 40% of them said “better human service”. Using names and using empathy goes a long way. A customer wants to feel human, know their need is fulfilled and wants a business to honor the whole transaction as an extension of a human interaction.  So, keep it personal!

5. Institute policies & training

If you want consistency from your staff, you should institute customer policies so that there are clear guidelines and expectations to follow in every conceivable aspect of the customer experience. This should apply to you as the owner as well. Why? Because how you and your staff manage how quickly your phone is answered or your website or email questions responded to, how many cashiers you have on busy days, how generous your return or exchange policy is, and how you handle irate customers will all be remembered by employees and customers. 

It goes without saying that rewarding staff for taking initiative or handling a particularly tricky situation well is a fantastic way of reinforcing policies as well. So, be sure to involve your employees in the process and ask them their opinions – you’ll get fresh ideas as well as buy-in to the customer service concept. Depending on your financial situation and time, you would be well served to provide as much customer service training as you can about your policies. This can be as simple as role-playing with one staffer acting as the customer and another as the staffer with you reviewing what the role-players did right and where they can improve. Similarly, you can have robust quarterly training sessions that are more involved or outsourced. 

6. Be clear on setting customer expectations

Customers like to know what to expect, so when it comes to customer service, know that your ability to meet those expectations decides whether they return or not. Be sure and pay attention to the timings, prices, and logistics you offer. If your customers know exactly how long things take, what they cost, and what the service includes, they’ll feel better about the whole experience. Ensure your employees reflect this as well. You can use customer surveys, feedback forms, and questionnaires to get first-hand insight and to also inform customers about what you are offering. When you get that feedback, incorporate it back into customer service process. Do take time to regularly review your customer interactions, identify areas for improvement, and make specific changes accordingly in your business.

Be mindful that by giving ample time to consider customer service, you are ensuring accountability and keeping things consistent. This makes complaints far less likely and cements your reputation as a straightforward and reliable business. Sure, customer service is tough for all kinds of reasons, but it can equally be really rewarding when your customers are satisfied. So keep adapting and paying attention, and you’ll maintain that ever important loyal customer base that you know keeps your business churning day after day.

Jessica Brown
Jessica is a globally renowned writer specializing in International Relations, Economics and Political Affairs. A graduate from Brown and Cambridge Universities she now focuses on helping small to medium businesses grow their bottom line.
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