Return on Behavior Magazine
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Customer Experience

February 1st, 2011

Improving Customer Service

Many business owners place so much effort on creating a quality product and gaining new customers, they often do not think about the need to retain customers after they purchase the product or service. Quality customer support is an important ingredient for customer retention, especially if the company has recurring income from customers. No matter how much a business owner tries to make their product or service easy to use, eventually someone will require assistance. Let’s look at some ways to strengthen customer support.

Create a Customer Service Policy

Many companies, particularly online companies, do not have customer service policies. Even if a sole proprietor is handling customer service alone, having a customer service policy forces the company owner(s) to make decisions regarding how they want to handle support requests from customers and gives customers an idea what to expect from the service. If the expectation is for the company to scale to the size employees will be needed to handle customer support, having policies in place is extremely important to ensure customers continue to receive quality support. Things to consider:

  • Hours of support
  • Policies on making announcements
  • Levels of support – when does a customer need to be transferred to a more experienced employee?
  • What is your privacy policy?
  • What is the policy for returns, cancellations, etc?
  • Expected response times
  • How are customer complaints resolved?

Once created, adhere to the policy. For example, if customer service requests are answered between 9-5 EST, remember if you answer a request (that is not an emergency) at 10pm EST, while the client might genuinely appreciate the response, the expectation has been set for the client that requests are answered outside business hours. This can lead to disappointment if the client does not experience the same response time in the future. Another reason to adhere to the policies you set: your time can be spent in other areas that require your attention. Do not offer 24/7 customer support unless you can maintain it. By offering 24/7 support, especially for online companies, implies someone is available at all times to respond to support requests.

Ensure employees are familiar with the policies. Take time to train your employees and take special care hiring them. Your sales team and customer service representatives are what potential customers remember most. Think back to experiences you had with companies. If you had negative customer service experiences or sales took too long to respond (or did not properly answer your question), did those experiences strengthen or weaken your desire to use the product or service?

What if an employee does not follow your customer service policy or is not performing as expected? Begin thinking of the steps you will follow when the employee you hired is not performing to your expectations. Make sure your employees clearly understand what your expectations are and they are free to contact you if they have any questions.

Self-Serve Support Area

Depending on the niche, customers might want to resolve the situation quickly on their own. Have you ever used a self-service checkout in a store because it is quicker? The same idea applies to customer support. Have a decent support area that allows clients to solve their problems on their own. If using an FAQ, make sure clients can search to find what they are looking for. Providing video tutorials on how to use a product or service can often help clients understand “how” to use a product or service more efficiently than someone trying to explain it via email or phone. Instead of making one long video, break it up into segments so clients can focus on their issue easily.

Have the customer service area viewable to potential customers as well. If you want to limit responses to customers only, forums are a good way to accomplish this due to the privacy settings built into most forums. Everyone can view the topics and the response times but only clients can view the actual threads and responses. By having this area public it can reassure potential clients that, in the event of a problem, there are resources to assist them.

TIP: If you upgrade your product or service, have an area where clients can quickly see the improvements. The updates also helps the client build trust in the company and shows the commitment to maintaining a quality product or service.

Easy Contact

Make it easy for clients to contact you. Depending on the niche, this means using email, phone, social media sites, etc. Keep in mind the more expensive the product or service, the more the potential customers might want additional means of contact. Do not assume that an online company can get away with not having phone contact. For companies targeting businesses, having phone support can be the determining factor on whether you have a new sale. Does your competition have phone support? If so, how does your support offerings benefit a potential customer who is trying to decide between the two companies? If the competition does not provide phone support, this could be a marketing ploy to draw more clients to you.

Surprise Them

Companies often give gifts during Christmas or send cards on holidays. These types of marketing efforts are popular because clients like to feel cared about.

Try giving clients a surprise on an average ordinary day. A “just because” gift showing your appreciation for using your product or service. One way to do this is to collaborate with another company and jointly market your products and services. For example, a computer related company collaborating with Razor to give clients a free mouse pad, with Razor’s logo on them. The computer related company gives a gift to their clients, the clients are happy to receive a surprise gift, and Razor is potentially reaching new clients and increasing their exposure.

The Power of Social Media

More companies are using social media sites like Twitter to handle support requests. Try to think outside of the box and use social media tools to your advantage. Depending on the niche, form a meet up for your current customers and potential clients. If you provide a product or service that helps your customers make money, have a gathering that will give your clients more tools to achieve their goals. Tips and tricks on how to use the service, a Q & A to ask questions, and perhaps an opportunity to meet the owner(s) of the company will often gain a customer’s attention. A good example of a company successfully using social media to interact with customers is SEOmoz. They have a training series, for a fee, that anyone can attend. If you notice, their premium subscribers receive a substantial discount. This is an excellent way to strengthen your customer relationships and gain new customers who are genuinely interested in your service. By charging a fee they filter out those who might not sign up for their services or are mildly curious. This allows them to focus on their target audience. SEOmoz uses social media tools to promote the training series, keep everyone informed and answer questions when they arise. Remember to price the conference/seminar appropriately depending on your niche and of course, offering it for free will almost always generate more interest.

Customer retention is extremely important. A loss in customer retention reduces profits. Companies with higher retention rates grow faster. Business owners often do not see the true picture: the only way you keep a client or customer is for the product or service (and everything that goes with it) is so good they resist the competition. This means customers have to be loyal and love the product, not merely be content with it. Think of your own purchasing decisions. When you are loyal to a product, you stick with it. When you are merely content, is that when you saw a better deal and walked away? Most customers will not stick around while they are frustrated.

Photos by: matthewwilkes and intersectionconsulting


About the Author

Tyme White

Tyme is a twelve-year veteran writing about technology, business, and web interactions. Tyme founded a large gaming community, encouraging game developers and programmers to interact with their users. Establishing the community prior to the first internet bubble and participating in social interactions as they first began, gave Tyme a powerful advantage in understanding the importance of digital relationships for business and personal use.

As the previous co-owner of one of the first blogging networks, Tyme focused on helping writers with their sites and strengthening the bond community members had with the community. Working with members, potential members and interacting with users, Tyme realized there was often a gap between what the site owner wanted to accomplish and what was being accomplished. Trying to fill that gap, Tyme gave advice on how a site owner can create quality content and form long lasting relationships with users online.

Using the experiences mentioned above, along with her master’s degree in Business Management, she educates readers on how to have successful businesses online, discusses technologies that will aid users in accomplishing their goals online, assists writers in having quality content along with a user-friendly site and advice on how to live a successful and enjoyable life.

 






 
 

 
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