Improve Your Small Business Customer Service - dummies

By Barbara Findlay Schenck

Your small business customer service is measured by how well you deliver your product to your customer. Improving your small business customer service is often the key to survival, especially in a tough economy.

In many small businesses, customer parking and free coffee are considered expected offerings. They become indicators of great service when they rise above standard levels. For example, a clean, well-signed parking lot with the most convenient spaces reserved not for staff but for customers, and refreshments provided in an inviting reception area, set service-oriented businesses apart.

To move your business into the circle of excellence, you should evaluate how your business currently performs at each point of service delivery, and set improvement objectives that build a company-wide environment in which excellent service becomes a required standard.

Evaluate your small business service levels

Products lead to sales, but service leads to loyalty, and only loyalty translates to relationships that deliver customer raves, referrals, and repeat business.

Service — exemplary service — never goes out of style, nor does it ever reach a finish line. Customers expect every encounter with your business to exceed previously established expectations. As a result, your service program needs to be ever-evolving through ongoing evaluation, discovery of weak spots, and continuous improvement.

One evaluation step is to accompany every operational decision with the question, “How does this help our customer?” Many business decisions unintentionally add management layers and cumbersome processes that detract from good customer service.

Another step is to test every aspect of service delivery on an ongoing basis, assessing not only customer perceptions of your service but also the commitment your business makes to a service culture.

As you work to improve your customer service levels, consider the following:

  • Make a guarantee that strips away buyer risk and demonstrates your belief in your product’s quality. Whether you offer a money-back guarantee or a price or performance guarantee, make the guarantee straightforward and liberal (no small print), relevant and substantial (worth the effort it takes to request it), available immediately (no management approvals required), and easy to collect.

  • Notice and immediately overcome dissatisfaction. Compensate dissatisfied customers on the spot by offering upgrades, discounts, or premiums when something goes wrong. Don’t wait for a complaint. Most people never register dissatisfaction verbally. Instead, they quietly slip out the door once and for all, perhaps politely saying thanks as they exit your business for the final time.

Treat all customers with the utmost respect and the high level of service they deserve, and then double your efforts with customers who are most apt to be of high influence in their online and off-line worlds.

More and more service establishments are checking out their customers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to see which ones actively communicate their impressions to strong online followings. Open a free account at Klout, enter the names of customers, and find out which ones score high in online influence.

Create a small business customer service environment

Make sky-high customer satisfaction a core value of your company. Treat employees and customers like VIPs by following these ten tips:

  • Get to know your customers, recognize them as individuals, and treat them like friends, insiders, and valued partners.

  • Create a team of great service people and reward their efforts with frequent and sincere gestures of recognition and appreciation.

  • Communicate often — with customers and with employees.

  • Anticipate customer needs.

  • Thank customers for their business.

  • Encourage customer requests and respond with tailor-made solutions.

  • Empower employees to do the right thing for customers, including bending rules to keep loyal customers happy.

  • Provide extra services and favors to high-volume, longtime customers.

  • Make dealing with your business a highlight of your customer’s day.

  • Teach your customers to expect your company’s level of service and keep your standard so high that no other business can rise to the level you set.

You’ll know you’ve succeeded when employees and customers share their praise.