We all have businesses that we’ve had exceptional customer service experiences with, and others that we immediately think of when the subject of bad customer service comes up. Ensuring customer satisfaction is hands down one of the best ways for a small business to keep current customers happy and encourage new ones.
Customer service is actually a fairly crucial aspect of marketing, as it has a strong relationship to maintaining a positive brand and encouraging the kind of word of mouth recommendations that are invaluable to small businesses. With consumers’ growing reliance on review websites like yelp.com and the ease with which someone can broadcast a bad experience with a company via social media, there is extra pressure on businesses to make sure current customers are happy with the goods and services they provide.
So how does a business encourage positive word of mouth and avoid the kind of experiences that send customers ranting and raving to their friends and online social networks?
- Keep it personal – Have you ever gotten stuck in phone message loop, seemingly endlessly pressing buttons without ever getting to an actual person? How often have you tried to send a question or complaint via an generic online form or e-mail address and never gotten a reply? I’ve never known anyone who was more satisfied with an automated customer service experience than with getting a response from an actual human being. In the effort to increase efficiency, many businesses have opted for methods that isolate and anger customers.
- Make providing feedback easy – This is valuable on multiple levels, as it keeps you informed of ways to make your business and products better and lets your customers know you’re interested in listening to their suggestions. Most of us have at some point had an idea for how to make a product we like better, but it’s rare that people seek out the information to communicate that to the company. On the other hand, if providing that feedback is easy and takes little time or effort on the user’s part, then there’s no downside to providing it.
- Don’t oversell – Don’t say or imply that your product does something more or better than it does. Don’t say a new product or update will be ready by a specific date unless you can make sure it will be. Sometimes user expectations will exceed your promises in spite of your best efforts and there’s little to be done about that, but you can make sure you’re not actively creating higher expectations than what you can provide.
- Listen – Don’t just make it easy to provide feedback, pay attention to it and make changes based on it. Not every customer’s going to feel the same way and sometimes what different people want will be in contradiction, but pay attention to the most common suggestions and ideas and act on them.
- Try to establish and encourage a community – Whether this be via a forum, a blog with enabled comments, social media or meetings with customers at conferences, if your customers can talk to each other and you and know they’re part of a larger conversation and community, it keeps your company and products top of mind and gives them a greater investment in their relationship with your business.
- Don’t deny or dodge responsibility for mistakes – This seems to be largely the purview of particularly large companies that train their customer service representatives to never admit an error or apologize. When I’ve encountered it from a company, I never go back. I know to many business owners and marketers, the idea of offering an apology or admitting an error is blasphemy, but for many consumers, it’s meaningful to know a company can acknowledge a problem with sincerity and it lets the customer know you’re going to work to avoid repeating the mistake and improve things moving forward.
It is imperative that small businesses make customer satisfaction a top priority, or all the amazing marketing techniques you may find the means to employ will come to naught once word gets out. Don’t let a bad customer experience ruin your brand.