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What is good customer service? It’ll differ from business to business, but there are some core principles everyone can follow.
Here we run through what makes good customer service in the 21st century, as well as how to improve customer service.
The dictionary definition of customer service is the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.
So, if you’re a small business owner with clients or customers – and you have employees who interact with those clients or customers – then you’re undoubtedly giving some form of customer service.
And increasingly, people expect more from the businesses they support. Research from Salesforce, a customer relationship management (CRM) software company, in 2020 revealed that customers now expect businesses to go beyond the basics like quality service and fair prices.
Their expectations now include, for example:
Armed with a definition of customer service, as well as what today’s customers want from businesses, let’s look at what makes good customer service.
Some of the core principles of good customer service include:
We’ve all been in this situation – you go into a shop and are greeted with a couple of mumbled words, no hint of a smile, and blank faces in response to a question.
We all know that people can have off days, but being friendly and courteous is one of the most important factors that makes good customer service, in person, online, and over the phone.
This doesn’t only involve smiles, it also means showing professionalism and respect for your customer. For example, if you run a shop, you can respect your customers’ time when queues form by being more urgent and apologising for the wait.
Repeat customers will be some of the most enthusiastic about your business, so it’s important to encourage loyalty. By retaining long-term customers you’ll have a lower ‘churn rate’, which will help to keep your finances stable and increase your chances of becoming a growth business. Tesco Clubcard is one of the most well-known loyalty schemes, with shoppers getting access to lower prices if they have a Clubcard.
Lots of coffee shops also run loyalty schemes, giving their customers cards that get stamped every time they buy a coffee. After getting a few stamps, they get a free coffee. Can you implement a loyalty scheme like this in your business?
The Salesforce research mentioned earlier found that 52 per cent of customers expect offers to always be personalised. This is largely in relation to online interaction, but online expectations are increasingly spilling over into the real world too.
Can you use technology to personalise your customers’ experiences? For example, Tesco analyses data from loyalty cards and transactions to send personalised vouchers to shoppers.
If you run an online shop or business, it’s possible to look at a customer’s previous purchases and send them personalised emails and offers.
Forgetting technology, you can also personalise a customer’s experience in physical interactions – ask them about what they’re looking for, whether they need any help, and let them know you’re available if they need you.
Technology lets customers get in touch with you quickly and easily. Email is a great place to start. But if you haven’t set up any social media accounts yet, not only are they great for marketing your business, they also help you build connections and rapport with your customers.
And looking at the Salesforce research again, connected interactions have become increasingly important. This means that if someone contacts a business through social media and then subsequently emails them, replies should be consistent and refer to what was said in each interaction.
The alternative is that interactions are ‘siloed’ – meaning the person dealing with the email doesn’t have access to what was said through social media, leading to repetition and potentially awkward communication.
If you have staff, you should focus on your business’s culture, making it a great place to work.
This will translate to the service they give to customers. While small costs now will impact your bottom line in the short-term, you should see spending on staff as a long-term investment.
Beyond offering a competitive reward structure (including pay, pension contributions, and benefits), think about hosting social events for your employees, and investing in their learning and development.
It’s also important to have a clear business mission that employees can connect with. If they identify with the mission, they’ll often want to give customers the best service possible.
Think about how to make the customer’s needs paramount – then work backwards. Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, said that you should “start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
It might not always be obvious to see how to apply this to your small business. But if you’re just starting out, it could mean identifying potential customers as part of your market research and asking what exactly they expect from a business like yours.
New businesses can also use their business plan to discuss the service they’re going to give to customers.
If you’re an established business, it might mean looking at all the ways your customers interact with your business, then working backwards to find out whether they’re getting what they want and need from your product, service and customer experience.
Here are ways to improve customer service:
You can collect feedback through surveys, reviews and even by interviewing customers.
One way to do this is by handing out paper forms in store, offering incentives for completion – 10 per cent off their next purchase, for example.
You can collect feedback electronically too over email, social media, or by including polls on your website. There are also platforms like SurveyMonkey that make collecting feedback easy.
If your Google review score is being dragged down by some negative responses, why not balance this out by proactively asking customers who’ve had a good experience to leave you a review?
Once you’ve collected feedback, you need to do something with it – and being open to what’s been said will help you make positive changes and improve your customer experience.
Sort through the responses and identify common themes, working out a plan for how to tackle them. Are there any quick wins you can introduce now? And what problems need a longer-term plan to solve?
If you have employees, you can ask for their feedback about how to improve products and customer service.
Each employee will have a unique perspective on how to deal with customers, so it’s important for them to get their ideas heard.
This could be as simple as letting them know that you’re always open to new ideas, or introducing regular one-to-one sessions if you don’t run them already.
And be sure to coach and train your employees so they’re always building their knowledge of your product or service – and on what makes good customer service.
As mentioned above, if you have employees, it's worth investing in their training. While training will vary depending on the type of customer service you give, there are some common processes you can introduce.
It's worth thinking about:
The classic example is if someone slips and hurts themselves while on your premises – if your business is found to be at fault, public liability insurance can cover legal expenses and compensation claims.
What do you think makes good customer service? Let us know in the comments below.
Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.
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