Of all the areas where a small business can compete with the big boys, customer service is the one where it should really shine.
It is all too easy to get bogged down in one part or another of a start-up or small business. There are so many items to focus on, in addition to whatever it is that your company does. What’s more, according to Business Link, 20% of businesses are likely to fold within their first year, and 50% within the first three years.
In the light of such stark statistics, businesses are well aware of the pressures facing them and the need to establish and stabilise their businesses early on. So what are the keys to building a customer base?
We suggest four points to ensure that your business is one that succeeds:
- Look the part;
- Make choosing YOU easy;
- Be responsive;
- Deliver on expectations.
Way back when, you may have started your business because you didn’t like the way your previous company or employer handled things and wanted to build a company that did things ‘right’.
Whether or not this was the impetus for launching, to offer your clients a better service, it’s best to keep in mind the importance of the customer in every decision you make. The service levels that you provide should be what you’d want were you on the receiving end. With this in mind, step one is to build a strong base – a solid business offering.
Building a strong base
The foundation of your business should be built on a substantial business plan with achievable business goals. Ideally your business idea will both fulfil a need and be something that you do or understand well and enjoy.
Particularly in the beginning, your customers may have a very narrow view of your organisation, perhaps only hearing of you from an advert in the local paper or simply because your shop is near the local post office.
What’s more, unless your website has regular optimisation, where you pay search companies such as Google and Yahoo to have your website constantly put at the top of random search lists, it’s unlikely that a customer has found you in a random search.
They may have read about you somewhere, but forgotten where they heard your name or even if they’d heard good or bad things about you. But once they have heard of you, this is your opportunity, possibly your only opportunity, to make a good impression and gain yourself a new customer.
In the first instance, it’s very much about looking the part, giving you the opportunity to prove how good you really are.
Look the part
Even if your entire company is just you, you must always appear to the outside world to be a robust and stable organisation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean fibbing about the scale of your business, but it does mean putting on a professional face from every possible vantage point. From your website to the advertisements you use, from printed brochures to the manner in which your phone is answered and even how quickly it is answered, each of these says something about your company.
Make sure they’re all clearly communicating the message you intend, and that they are all corroborating that message, both verbally and visually.
Today a customer can choose not only what he will consume, but when and how as well. He is more aware than ever before that he has choices. And as you know yourself (with your ‘consumer’ hat on), a customer is not afraid to make those choices and switch to a new supplier,
Make choosing YOU easy
We know that people buy from people. So anything that gives your business a human face, from making sure that someone always answers the phone within three rings to answering the call with a smile, can make choosing you an easy choice.
Having a memorable number is helpful, but more important is the feeling that the customer gets when in contact with you. Do remember that the ‘you’ will be anyone who picks up the phone, is heard on the voicemail message, replies to an email or call, etc – they all represent your business and should project the same message.
When a potential customer rings your business, do they get a good feeling? Be sure there is an emphasis on paying attention to the little items – they may be a customer’s only contact with your company. Returning calls and emails within a day and offers of helpful advice can make a strong statement about the importance of your customer’s needs.
Phone systems that support your business
If you rarely have the opportunity to meet your customers face to face, it becomes vital that the phone system supports your customer service. You can choose a phone system where, during peak times, there is an option of queuing callers that enables incoming calls to be routed seamlessly to landlines or mobile phones, making it easy to handle calls quickly. The queuing function of the software informs callers of their place in the queue and aids a smoother service.
You may even choose to have an option for the customer to leave a message, so they don’t have to stay on the line. It’s this kind of effort to make things easy on the customer that will gain their favour. All this will help make it easy to choose your company and show your company to be extremely responsive.
Incoming calls are crucial to your business. Unanswered calls, calls getting lost or cut off result in lost business and lost revenue. The manner in which a call is answered or routed can make all the difference when it comes to a sale.
Making sure that calls are answered promptly and routed correctly first time, every time, ensures a professional face and puts you well on your way to a happy customer.
Profile your customer
Have you ever recommended a great company to do business with to someone else? Word travels! Your customers may very well be other small businesses who have their own businesses concerns, probably much the same as your own. You may need to consider whether:
- The owner-director will have responsibility for choosing suppliers (in addition to all his other roles);
- The customer will buy services and products either directly (web, shop, catalogue) or via his local reseller;
- The customer has a choice of contract, rather than being required to use long-term or inflexible contracts;
- The customer will want assurance of responsive customer support if needed;
- The customer will look for low-cost entry and commitment and won’t necessarily think about longer-term potential needs;
- The customer will want to discuss things in layman’s terms rather than industry jargon.
From the very core of your business philosophy and your business itself, such a focus on service levels will put you in a prime position to concentrate on delivering on expectations.
Deliver on expectations
Fulfil the promise and do what you say. Make this easy for yourself by clarifying products, instructions, prices and guarantees. Cut the jargon to reduce miscommunication.
Set a policy to make regular ‘health checks’ on customers to find out how they’re getting on with your product or service. Make changes based on the results of the health checks.
Let customers know that you’ve made changes to your business because they have asked for them. Let them know that you’re responsive and will continue to deliver on expectations and provide a reliable service,
Aim to increase efficiency on a regular basis, not just when things go wrong. Get staff to recommend changes they think will make things easier for customers. Don’t be afraid to change things back if new changes aren’t working.
Offer your staff benefits that will make them more efficient. Empower them to handle customer requests. Encourage a professional and seamless company face wherever possible. And seriously consider money-back offers to maintain goodwill wherever possible.
By continually asking yourself and your staff such questions, and by keeping the customer’s wants and needs in mind, your business can’t help but be successful.
Customers know they can easily find another company to sell them what they need. They will choose you because you’re listening.
About the Author
Article written by Ian Osborne, CEO of Yac, which provides call management solutions to consumer, SME and corporate customers. This article was first published by Better Business magazine, which offers practical proven ideas to help owner-managers transform their business, and have more fun doing it. Find out more at Better Business