Data doesn’t lie. It is cheaper, easier and more effective to retain customers than it is to acquire new ones (thanks inc. for the reminder), yet it may shock you to learn that many businesses still fail miserably at customer service. Some wrongfully assume that customer service is for larger companies like Apple, Coca Cola, Virgin Atlantic, not realizing that once a business has customers then they should be focusing on customer service. For others, it’s a problem of bandwidth or time, though what these business owners miss is the fact that the time they save cutting corners ends up costing more in lost business due to poor service.

Businesses that want to succeed must do everything in their power to make sure their customers are happy. With so many options available to the consumer today, it takes very little for the competition to walk away with your profits.

But with all these challenges how can you improve your customer service and wow your customers, making them brand ambassadors in the process? Read on for more.

 

1. Hire the right staff

This one can sometimes be tricky, particularly for small business owners who do not have the benefit of a recruiting department. Knowing who to hire can be a daunting task. Interviews are short and most times it feels like a gamble when a selection is made. The good news is that there are some key principles to adhere to when choosing that take some of the guesswork out of the process.

The right staff should share your company’s vision and your outlook on customer service. The customer service representative role is generally an entry-level position and so many businesses do not place enough emphasis on hiring the right persons for this role.

Your customer service team should be passionate about people. 

They should be willing to do everything in their power to make sure customers leave happy. Even though customer service is everyone’s business within a company, your customer service team has primary responsibility for making sure that your customers are taken care of at every step of their interaction with your brand so they need to be a good fit.

 

2. Under promise and over deliver

This piece of advice seems simple enough yet many businesses fail to get it right. Promises are made to the customer then something else gets in the way of that promise being fulfilled. What’s even worse is when there is no follow up with the customer to reset expectations and extend an apology for the mess up, or even worse instances where the promise is simply forgotten.

The key to mastering this rule is to be mindful of your reality and make promises based on that. If you usually deliver orders in 24 hours with your full staff complement, it would not be reasonable to promise a customer delivery in 12 hours with 2 of your staff out sick for the next 3 days. Instead, consider a time frame that is reasonable. Remember your customer does not know what your reality is, so when you make that commitment they are going to hold you to it, regardless. Spare yourself the embarrassment (and spare your customers the disappointment) by only making promises you are one hundred percent certain you can keep then watch the smiles and positive reviews roll in.

It is a bad idea to promise your customer anything that you are not certain you will be able to deliver. It puts you in a difficult and stressful position when you create expectations that are impossible or extremely difficult to meet. More importantly, when you fail to deliver you lose the trust of your customer and provide poor service.

This Nextiva article offers some great suggestions for using promises to your advantage by under promising and over delivering.

 

3. Listen to your customers

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill. If you really want to wow your customers, really listen to them. We can’t help it. As humans, one of our most basic needs is to be heard and understood.

Maybe you’ve been there before. You call the phone company to dispute a charge on your account and before you can even finish speaking the rep cuts you off to explain that the charge is – doesn’t matter what it is, because her explanation proves she wasn’t listening and doesn’t understand. There’s a back and forth for three minutes and she still doesn’t understand what you’re saying, mostly because she thinks she already knows so she’s not listening. Just the memory of the exchange is probably making you upset right now. So imagine how your customer feels.

Though disgruntled customers tend to demand the most attention, it is important to ensure that you listen to all your customers, even those who don’t throw a tantrum. A good way to do this is to conduct periodic surveys and check-ins to see how you can serve them better. Don’t wait until there is an outburst.

Often times the information you get from your customers during moments of complaining and frustration are opportunities for you to make improvements where necessary.

Survey tools like Survey Monkey and Typeform are a great option for gathering feedback. You can use these services to design and send out questionnaires to your customers to determine how they feel about your business and where you need to improve service.

 

4. Surprise and Delight

This one is easier to accomplish for smaller businesses that do not have the challenge of bureaucracy that many larger multinationals have to deal with, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t do it. While policies are important, they have no place in the conversations with your customers. The primary goal should be to resolve the customer’s issue by any means necessary (bearing in mind what is feasible for your business of course). Remember it costs more to get new customers than it costs to retain the ones you already have.

Empower your staff to make decisions and resolve customer issues on their own.

Everything does not need to be set in stone. If you run a bed and breakfast with a check-in time of 2 pm and a customer who visits frequently happens to arrive at 12:30 pm after a 13-hour flight, as long as their room is ready it wouldn’t hurt your bottom line to grant early check-in. You make an impression on the customer and it costs you absolutely nothing.

‘Surprise and delight’ can often be accomplished during the simple day to day operations. Like sending out a personalized Thank You card to customers, or offering free delivery to a customer who is not in a position to pick up an order. Maybe it’s introducing a loyalty card or offering an additional discount for a loyal customer. The possibilities are endless. Once your employees are all invested in surprising and delighting your customers it becomes easier to wow your customers and have them talk about your brand. Just ask these companies.

 

5. Get Social

With users spending on average two hours of every waking day on social media, it is important to include social media in your efforts to wow your customers. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Snapchat and LinkedIn (particularly useful for B2B marketing) are where your customers hang out, so your business should be well represented on at least two of them.

Use social media channels as an opportunity to resolve customer concerns real time as they arise.

Social media has granted consumers access to a platform where they can air their grouses when and how they please with very little censorship. This means a mistake by your brand is more likely to be publicized to a larger audience now than it was 15 years ago. Conversely, success stories are also likely to develop a life of their own and serve as useful marketing. The challenge is in making sure you minimize the former while maximizing the latter.

As you seek to become more social, consider which platforms are most suited for your business. All social networking sites are not created equal. Instagram and Pinterest are photo sharing platforms, Linkedin is for professional networking, Snapchat hosts videos (also known as snaps) for 24 hours after which they disappear, Twitter limits you to 280 characters per tweet and Facebook is perhaps the most flexible of them all.

The most important thing in becoming social is to remain accessible to your customers and respond to their questions and concerns quickly.

It is also extremely useful for picking up on problems before they snowball. For example, customers unable to place an order online are more likely to get on your social media channels to vent about the problem than they are to call your customer service department. So monitor your channels closely to improve the customer experience when problems arise. And check out this post from the team at Buffer for more social media tips.

Have you found success with any of these methods for improving customer service? Is there anything else that you believe should be on this list? We would love to hear about it in the comments.