Sometimes small business tips for great customer service pop up when you’re just trying to get a few errands in. If you pay attention, you can pick up customer service lessons just about any time you step into a local shop.
The other day, Jerry from our sales team went to an auto body shop with his youngest daughter. He wasn’t there to get a new customer, or to pick up any tips for small business owners. Someone had sideswiped his car and he needed an estimate on getting it fixed.
Jerry didn’t end up getting the shop’s quote for his car, but he did see something every small business owner should pay attention to.
Multitasking doesn’t work in customer service
The receptionist was there at her desk, speaking to a customer (or prospective customer) on the phone. Jerry could only hear half the conversation, of course, but it sounded like the person on the line was looking for services that shop doesn’t provide.
As the call continued, another customer walked in the door. Right away, the receptionist seemed stressed. Jerry could tell she was trying to wrap up the call so she could help this new person, but the caller was persistent, adding to her stress level. She knew she couldn’t help the caller, but she couldn’t just hang up…especially in front of another customer.
The customer who had just arrived stood at the counter. Even from across the room, Jerry knew just from body language alone he was getting more and more impatient. The receptionist, still cradling the phone receiver under her chin, picked up on that and turned a little more red.
Then the other line rang.
The receptionist was so frustrated she even vented to Jerry a bit by way of an apology. Finally, after about an hour of this, the receptionist cleared her calls and had a moment to catch her breath. She was stressed out, and none of the customers—in the shop or on the phone—had ever gotten her full attention.
Small business owners often don’t have a lot of money to spare. And payroll can be one of their biggest expenses. So it’s understandable that many try to do more with less.
But when you’re neglecting customers on the phone to take care of customers standing in front of you, or vice versa, you’re in a lose-lose situation. Fortunately for you, there’s a better way to approach small business customer service.
Customer service tips for your small business
Plan for the second caller
If your customer service strategy only works when you get just one customer or caller at a time, you’re not ready for success. It would be nice if our customers just showed up in a nice, even flow…but business doesn’t work like that. If you aren’t ready for the second caller (let alone the third, or the fourth) you’re hurting your business and putting a ceiling on your growth potential.
Make it scalable
If you try to staff in-house, you have a tough choice to make. Will you hire enough people for your busiest times? If you do, those employees may be under-utilized when you’re slow…costing you money.
So maybe you hire just enough to handle your slow hours. Then you’ll see situations like the one Jerry encountered at the auto body shop. Unfortunately, there’s no real happy medium here. Staffing for your average volume just means you’ll be overwhelmed at busy times and overstaffed at others.
But there is a better way.
You’d be surprised how many small businesses simply don’t respond when their customers try to contact them. We get it—it can be hard for small teams to operate 24/7/365. But the reality is, that’s what customers expect today. Their Internet is always connected, so they want the same from you.
…And respond fast
A little acknowledgement goes a long way. You might not be able to solve every customer’s problem immediately. But you can definitely let them know you’re on it immediately.
And that response can mean the difference between a relaxed customer who knows you’ve got their back, and a nervous one who’s already hung up and started looking up your competitor before your voicemail greeting even finishes playing.
Find the right channels
These days, customers have many ways of contacting your business. They might show up in person. They might call. They might look for information on your website. They might engage with you on social media. And to make things even more challenging for the cash-strapped small business owner, your customers want to switch seamlessly from channel to channel.
You need to be responsive through the channels your customers use. And you need to have a good “single source of truth,” like a CRM, so your team has access to all the information no matter how the customer reaches out.
Make it easy for them to give you feedback
A core principle for great customer service, whether you own a small business or run a global enterprise, is to listen to your customers. And you have to do it without being defensive.
Sure, some customers will take out their frustrations on you, even if what they’re upset about really has nothing to do with your business. But most of the time, your customers’ feedback will give you valuable insights…if you can take a step back and really listen to what they’re saying.
Hire the right people…and treat them right.
Not everyone is cut out for customer service. When she’s hiring for virtual receptionist positions, our recruiting lead Sarah looks for several qualities. They’re all critical for providing great customer service as a small business.
Positive energy is important when you’re working with people. Your customer service team’s attitude will set the tone for every interaction they have with your customers.
Make sure your hires are capable and comfortable dealing with whatever technology they need to use on the job. If your software or phone system throws them off, they won’t be able to give your customers their full attention.
At its heart, customer service is about communication. A customer service representative has to be able to communicate clearly both verbally and in writing.
Once you’ve found some positive, qualified people, keep in mind this simple truth: if you treat your employees poorly, they’ll turn around and do the same to your customers. Showing empathy and respect to your team is a great way to model the behavior you want them to show when your customer walks in the door or calls you on the phone.
Break the rules
Great customer service doesn’t just come from having clear policies in place, though that can help with consistency and setting reasonable expectations.
You also have to know when to break the rules.
Did your customer miss your special offer by one day? You have a choice. Stick to the letter of the law if you want to. You might think you’re saving yourself a few bucks by withholding the discount. After all, rules are rules, right? Wrong. That customer will probably feel like you’re being petty at best, or cheating them at worst. And chances are good that they’ll look elsewhere for the product or service you provide.
This might be a good time to break the rules. You were offering that discount anyway. Why not win one more customer?
The same goes for when you’re fixing a mistake. If you did something wrong, that’s not the time to follow your company policies strictly if it keeps you from making things right. When a customer sees you’re willing to make an exception for them, they’ll know you have their best interests at heart. The loyalty to might win from a concession like that is worth more than a perfect record of rule-following.
Got customer service tips for running a successful small business?
These are just a few of our tips for a small business that wants to provide great customer service. Now we want to hear from you! What are your secrets to providing the best possible customer experience as a small business? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re ready to add an instant customer service team to your operation, check out our plans here.