There’s something alluring about exclusivity; having something no one else does. It makes you feel special, like when you catch the eye of someone across the room and everyone else just disappears. It’s very Tony and Maria in "West Side Story" without the snapping or knife fights.
What if you made each of your customers feel that way? Just by being thoughtful about your communications with them can improve their perception of the service they receive from your business.
A client-provider relationship is just that—a relationship. Relationships need nurturing, even after the commitment has already been made. Channel the feelings you have for your special someone into your customer relationship and craft a message or make a gesture of appreciation that makes your clients feel like they’re the apple your eye. Afterall, for the small business owner, every single customer is a vitally important customer.
Be there for support
If you’ve been in a serious relationship, you’ll know that events that cause you or your partner to seek support in the other tend to deepen the emotional intimacy between you both. Maybe it’s the loss of a beloved pet, or being laid off from a job. Whatever the case may be, it probably brought you closer, right? Well, the same goes for customer relationships.
In fact, in a survey of subscription-based businesses, customers who had a poor experience with a business had only a 43 percent chance of being members a year later, but those with the best experiences were likely to remain members for another six years. Six years!
Clearly, good customer support leads to stronger loyalty among customers, while bad customer support can cause people to give up on a purchase, cease patronizing a business, and even drive them to a competitor. Ouch!
Even if you might think you’re doing a good job, keep in mind that while 80 percent of companies believe they offer “superior” customer service, only 8 percent of customers think that those same companies deliver “superior” customer service, So, how can you improve your support to provide a great experience and bolster your bottom line?
- Be proactive: The best way to head off problems is to address them head-on. Do you already know that part of your product is confusing, or that there’s a common billing issue people are dealing with? Don’t shy away from it. There are a number of ways to address these issues. Perhaps an email newsletter is the best vehicle to share troubleshooting tips for that billing issue, or maybe you can create a short video or blog post that tells customers how to get around a potential point of confusion. Then, provide that information to your customer support reps, if they have information in a packaged, easily shareable format, they can provide customers with that information quickly and reduce wait and call times.
You can also send out automated emails to all new customers to check in and make sure their experience is what they need it to be. This not only gives them the chance to contact you if something isn’t quite up to snuff, but it keeps you in contact with them, providing more touch points for future upsells.
- Be available: While you may (and absolutely should!) have your phone number and email prominently displayed on your site, you should make sure that customers who prefer not to pick up the phone or wait for an email response have an easy way to get in touch. Online chat support can be very effective and cost-efficient solution as well as way more convenient for customers.
This also means being available on social media–if someone reaches out or mentions your brand or a support issue on any platform, respond. They’re not just posting for their own gratification. They are definitely expecting a response, and if they’re posting on social, it might be a good indicator that customer support didn’t solve their issues satisfactorily the first time around.
Additionally, social media–including review sites like Yelp–is also perfect for gauging general sentiment and provide excellent opportunities to be proactive, reach out, and talk directly to customers and improve their experience.
- Be awesome at email: Yes, you can deliver great customer support over email, because you can deliver the same qualities over email that good customer support requires over any medium–empathy, helpfulness, and responsiveness. The key, like most great customer support, is to be personalized and prompt, which yes, is time-consuming, but if you have a great process in place–especially if it’s automated–then you and your customers can reap the rewards of a great experience.
Of course, if you’re going to use email as support, it has to be scalable, which is why automating your email support (not just your marketing!) can streamline your process and allow you to serve your customers on email and on other channels. You must also make sure that your support emails remain personalized but adhere to a support style guide to keep support emails helpful and clear.
- Be worth of loyalty: It might also be worth looking into the Net Promoter Score (NPS). Many companies have posted considerable growth with NPS, which qualifies how likely customers would be to recommend a company or product to a friend or colleague. Those who definitely would are promoters, those who might are passives, and those who wouldn’t are detractors.
NPS is all about evaluating loyalty , and loyalty gets you sales from both recurring revenue (if you have subscriptions) and in referrals. While using the NPS system doesn’t guarantee you growth, it does force you (in a good way!) to focus on what makes customers loyal, and loyalty stems from a great experience and a good product.
Don’t forget your anniversary
Use your CRM system to keep track of your customers’ birthdays (or the date of their first purchase) and set up either a marketing campaign or a reminder to do something special on their big day. A budget-friendly, relationship-building option is sending that handwritten note that’s crossed your mind several times but you’ve yet to get around to. Recognition of a birthday or anniversary is always appreciated, no matter the form it takes. Even sending out an automated but personalized email wishing them a happy birthday and offering a special gift or discount is enough to make them feel appreciated.
Give them a memorable experience
Deliver on the service you promise, then go beyond expectation to make your business memorable. Focus on your customer’s desire rather than his or her request. And be open to suggestions—just like in a personal relationship, remaining open to improvement and accepting communication can help you grow and improve.
Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based deli with a fiercely loyal following, wrote a book on customer service, "The Zingerman’s Way." In the book, he highlights that customers who receive a great product but lesser service will be far less loyal than those who receive great service with a disappointing product, as well as how great customer service translates across industries and business sizes. He probably knows what he’s talking about: he insists on remaining a small business, bypassing the opportunity to open more locations, but still earns over $50 million each year.
The lesson here? Investing time and money into creating and maintaining superb customer service will make you money in the long run.
While customers appreciate the thought that goes into a handwritten note, don’t send one at the holidays when everyone else is finally thinking of it. Send a personalized message sometime in May or October, when it isn’t expected, and it will carry more positive weight. If handwritten notes aren’t your thing, consider sending a promotion to your customers just out of the blue. Again, you can set this up as an automated campaign that keeps wowing your customers while you're working on finding more to get in the door.
Keep them coming back for more
It doesn’t take much to set up a loyalty program for customers, but the rewards for both business and customers are tangible. Seventy-five percent of customers have at least one loyalty card and by creating a points system, implementing punch cards or simply a way to track purchases will yield return business, easy customer information collection, showcase buying habits and provide low-cost advertising.
The Moosejaw rewards program does a great job of laying out the benefit to the customer while keeping the tone light and engaging. If you become a loyal customer—read: one who receives their emails—you receive a 10 percent discount on your first purchase, you can create a profile (customer information), keep track of the points you earn with each purchase (repeat business) and check out your order history (buying habits).
Don’t ignore the silence
Silence from a customer isn’t always ominous, but it’s worth it to make a concerted effort to check in periodically, to see how they’re doing and to keep the lines of communication open. After all, it’s not always easy to know what your customers want, especially if they’re unhappy. Call them, email them or, if you’re in the area, drop by unexpectedly. Not only will it reinforce that you genuinely care about them and their business, it also provides an opportunity to check in on their satisfaction with your business.
Customers who are asked what they want become three-to-five times more invested in your company than those who are not asked. And invested customers are both engaged and satisfied. If you want your customers to feel cared for , ask what they want and need, then find a way to give them exactly that. Give your customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it and they will remain loyal.
The care you demonstrate to your customers through these actions will help create trust and an open dialogue for feedback—small business owner’s gold.
Keep the spark alive
Once a customer makes a purchase, it doesn’t mean you should shift your attention right back to getting more customers. Let your newest customer know you’re happy to have their business, but for those who have been with your business for a while, reward them with occasional perks like exclusive discounts or a small gift as a token of appreciation. After all, the loyalists are the ones who impact your recurring revenue and will refer the most business.
These are just a few ways on how you can improve customer service, and it can be fun and worthwhile to create your own. When you're able to make your customers feel special, you connect more deeply. Consider the honesty, loyalty, and trust you have with one of your closest friends or family members. You wouldn’t trade it for the world, right? Just put a little extra thought—and love—into your next email and make your customer feel like every day is a special day when they’re on your mailing list.