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5 Ways you can improve your customer service

  • Blog
  • 20 September 2016

When it comes to customer service, small businesses can learn a lot from big chains. Think they have nothing relevant to teach us because they’re huge businesses and we run small ones? Think again.

They didn’t start huge, and their service is second to none, so have a look at what they do, and how it can be adapted to a much smaller business. Maybe small businesses can do it even better because they’re smaller.

 5 Ways you can improve your customer service

Offer customers quality and innovation

One leaf to take out of the big boys’ book is to offer your customers quality and innovation at reasonable prices. Are you offering your customers this? Or have you got into a rut, offering them rather tired, run-of-the-mill products and services? This can happen to all of us when we’re busy running our business. If it happens, it’s very easy for someone to come along and eat into our market, by offering our customers a better and different service.

If your advertising offers customers a quality service or product, you need to make sure that’s true. Is it truly higher quality than some of the competing offerings? Could it be better? Is it the best available today, or is it all looking a bit tired and old-fashioned?

Even if you don’t offer a particular item, it’s great if you can appear knowledgeable and up to date about those things. For example, if you run an electrical business and someone wants a solar power storage battery, you can explain that these aren’t readily available yet for domestic use but will be coming along in the next couple of years. When they appear on the market, that customer is going to remember you as someone knowledgeable, and will very likely come back.

Great service is based on trust, integrity and honesty

In other words, you need to relate to customers using the highest standards of business practice. If you say you’ll do something, you do it, even if it means not getting home until very late. People very quickly pick up on the fact that a business is trying to manipulate them. They don’t like being persuaded into buying things they didn’t want, at timescales they didn’t choose, for a price higher than they originally thought. A business may be able to do this once or twice, but a poor reputation will soon follow.

These days, with sites like CheckaTrade, Trustpilot and others, reputation is everything. Look at the criteria these sites use - whether invoices were close to estimates, whether the job was done cleanly and tidily and so on. These are all basic elements of good service, with you making sure the customer gets exactly what they thought they would get.

Going the extra mile for customers really builds reputation. We don’t know who our customers network with, but we can be sure that everybody talks to people in their Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter networks, as well as their neighbourhoods, schools and community groups.

Complaints and returns - use them to drive better service

Big companies have no-quibble returns. You may have noticed Tesco recently advertising the fact that customers can even bring fresh food back, just because they’ve changed their mind about it. So when your small business customers change their minds, this shouldn’t ruffle you.

Obviously, if it’s a big installation job, there’s a point at which people have to commit, and that needs to be flagged up for them.

When customers change their minds, or complain, treat it as a marketing information goldmine. This is a key opportunity to find out why they aren’t happy and set things right. The information on what they don’t like is invaluable, because it helps you to change your business so that it has happier customers.

The opportunity to make amends can convert a grouchy customer into a huge fan, who tells people that you went out of your way to make sure they were happy in the end. 

Let’s face it, we need to value fussy customers, not groan at them. They’re the ones who force us to keep standards high and customer service excellent. So if you get a complaint, don’t put that customer on the back burner - respond promptly, and resolve it satisfactorily.

Let’s get personal

Customers spend a lot of time being the anonymous person in the traffic jam, or commuting on the train. In fact, they love being recognised as people, and the easiest way to do this is to find out and use their name.

This doesn’t mean we have to be over-familiar - the salesman constantly using your first name is really grating and puts you off buying. Knowing that someone is “Mrs. Brown”, however, helps to build up a relationship, and makes the customer feel a personal connection to the business. It’s an advantage that small business owners have over the big boys - the personal touch. No matter how much big businesses try to emulate this, they lag behind the small business when it comes to personal relationships with the customer.

Be proud of being local

When large chains boast about buying locally, we know it’s a major trend. People are attached to their locality - even in London, people identify with the London “villages”. So when it comes to customer service, it’s a great idea to stress the local connection - people like to feel that they’re part of the local economy and that you are too.

These simple guidelines should help any small business to grow and prosper.

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