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Customer service may not be at the top of your list when you decide where to invest your money and time. Most companies tend to focus on sales revenue, profit margins, and growth, rather than customer satisfaction. However, according to Entrepreneur.com customer service is the most important metric of any company.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Since consumers have so many choices, providing good customer service can give you a competitive edge. Considering your customer’s best interests rather than fiscal interests alone leads to greater customer satisfaction, brand affinity, more sales, and growth. If you’re not entirely convinced, here are four financial and business implications that could convince you to pamper your customers.
1. Customer Retention Costs Less
Studies repeatedly show it costs much more to find new customer than to retain an existing one. How much more? While studies vary, expect to pay anywhere between five and twenty-five times the cost of retaining an existing customer.
3. Existing Customers Tend To Buy More Often
Convincing a new customer to buy is far more difficult than selling to an existing customer. Studies show existing customers spend 67% more on average than those new to your business.
4. Strengthens Your Brand
Public perception of your brand is paramount to success. Positive customer interactions reflect well on your company and make it more likely customers will share their experiences and recommend your products and services. Word-of-mouth recommendations can lead to more sales from friends, family, and peers. Good customer service reviews also makes it easier to partner with other businesses to access new opportunities.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REAL-TIME RESPONSES
Responding to customer comments in a timely manner propels a business towards success. Companies that fail to do so leave the customer feeling their opinions don’t matter or the company doesn’t feel it is worth the effort to address their concerns. This is definitely not the message you want to send potential and existing clients. A damaged reputation is very hard to undo and ignoring your customer comments, good or bad, leads to less feedback making it even more difficult to gauge the effectiveness of your products, services, and support. Flagging comments for real-time response allows you to respond rapidly which is always important, but especially when it’s a negative opinion. A quick response can prevent escalation and limit damage.
HOW TO HANDLE A DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER
All business owners deal with discontented customers sometimes, while others are thrilled with their products and services. Handling both scenarios properly is a necessary skill for business success.
– Don’t Take Criticism Personally
A customer’s anger usually has everything to do with their perception of your product, service, or performance. Don’t take a negative criticism of your business as a personal insult. This can be difficult to do when you’re a solopreneur, but it’s important you realize they’re criticizing your business – not you.
– Request a Face-To-Face Meeting
Complicated or emotional situations merit one-to-one communication. Sending an email is definitely not the best way to respond to a sensitive issue. The customer may feel slighted, plus it’s almost impossible to totally assess the issue and calm the client. Request a face-to-face meeting. If that isn’t possible, arrange a time for a telephone discussion. This shows you’re interested in what they have to say and willing to set aside time specifically for them so you can resolve the issue.
– Stay Calm
Dissatisfied clients are usually angry, so don’t add fuel to the fire. Allow the person to vent and don’t interrupt. Even if you believe the client is wrong, don’t get into a yelling match. This leads to bitterness and eliminates any possibility of reconciliation or further business. Sometimes a person is too angry to think clearly which makes a positive outcome impossible. In this case, suggest you discuss the issue later when you’re both calmer. Give it time, and then contact the individual again.
– Listen Carefully
Ask the client to spell out precisely what they feel went wrong. Try to understand the issue from their point of view. Give the person your full attention, be patient, and take notes. Recount the issues to show the person you’ve heard what they had to say and you’ve understood their key concerns. They may add additional information after you read back what you wrote.
– Ask Open-Ended Questions
Once your customer finishes relaying their concerns, don’t respond defensively. Instead, ask open-ended questions such as: “What could I do to remedy this situation?” or “What do you think we could have done instead?” Open-ended questions are a great way to start a conversation since they show you’re eager to come to a resolution.
– Respond Appropriately
Once you fully understand the problem and you agree they have a valid concern, acknowledge it. Do what is necessary to fix the problem such as reducing your charge or redoing the work. If you disagree with their point of view, let them know you understand they are upset and apologize for any misunderstanding. Explain your point of view in a factual, but compassionate manner without hostility. Often times customers believe they’ve been wronged, but they don’t have all the information. Even if your actions were completely justified, offer an olive branch. A discount on their current invoice or a future purchase increases the chances they’ll resolve the matter and do business with you again.
– Let Them Have the Last Word
It is important the client’s satisfied with the outcome. Don’t try to defend yourself once you’ve smoothed their ruffled feathers. This is a good way to send them back into their anger zone and scuttle any progress you’ve made.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF HAPPY CUSTOMERS
Fortunately, if you’re doing things right you’ll only have an occasional customer that complains. Nonetheless, don’t take your satisfied customers for granted. Get the most out of your happy customers so they’re more likely to spread the word about your business.
– Thank Them
When a customer makes a positive comment about your company, take a moment to let them know how much you appreciate their business and how happy you are that they’re satisfied. It’s a small gesture that goes a very long way and many companies don’t bother. Great marketers also suggest a similar product or service the customer may not know about, but may like. This reinforces that you respect them as an individual with specific preferences, and they’re not just an account.
– Provide Sneak Peeks
Planning to release a new product or service? Offer your good customers an insider sneak peek into what’s coming and a shot at trying it before anyone else. Alternatively, offer them a discount if they bundle the new offering with something they routinely buy.
– Ask For Reviews
Encourage happy customers to review your business on social media, Yelp, Google Reviews, and the Better Business Bureau to strengthen your brand. Results from a Local Consumer Review Survey found 86 percent of consumers read online reviews and 91 percent of those between 18 and 34 years trust them as much as personal recommendations.
– Create a Referral Program
Customers are more likely to recommend your brand if there’s something in it for them. Providing a discount or free product for a referral makes them feel valued and when you entice a new customer, they’re likely to refer their own friends to receive the perk too.
– Celebrate Milestones
Your customers are individuals, so go the extra mile to show them you care. If you’ve connected through social media, automatically send them congratulations or a coupon when their birthday pops up on your feed.
– Track Preferences
Always collect as much data as possible about your customer and their buying habits. This makes it easier to cross-market related products and as mentioned, aligning preferences increases customer satisfaction too.
– Customer Service Tools
You can’t understand your customers or what’s working in your business unless you connect with your buyers and measure their satisfaction. Companies have many tools at their disposal to create a good customer service experience, and to measure their products, services, and support.
– Social Media
Companies traditionally used social media to boost brand awareness and to market new products and services. However, businesses recently started using social media for customer service inquiries too. According to SocialMediaToday.com, nearly 70 percent of consumers have used social media to engage with companies for customer service inquiries and 1 in 3 social media users prefer it over telephone or email. Why the preference? Users expect a quick response on social media, while they could wait hours, days, or weeks using other methods.
Responding quickly on social media is very, very important and the expected response times on social media platforms are very short. For instance, Facebook only considers a business “very responsive” when it replies within 5 minutes or less, anytime of the day. Obviously, this isn’t possible for a mere human, but you can respond using programmable messenger “bots” and customized away messages during business off-hours.
Monitoring customer service activity on social media channels is best accomplished with software. Popular programs such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Mention, and Sparkcentral make customer interaction manageable and measurable.
When using social media for customer service, it is also very important to decide which comments you’ll resolve publicly and which you’ll direct to email, phone, or a direct message. Respond politely and provide their next step, including an embedded link if you want them to direct message.
Respond positively to ALL comments, questions, and feedback. If you don’t reply, you’re ignoring your customers instead of addressing concerns and building community.
– Conduct Surveys
Surveying your customers regularly in various ways is critical for business success, regardless of industry, product, or service. Surveys provide candid comments regarding satisfaction and dissatisfaction with your products, services, and support. Surveys also build trust when you respond to customer concerns. This can lead to staunchly loyal customers and highly qualified referrals.
Ask open-ended questions and keep your surveys short for a good response rate. People are busy and probably won’t spend more than 5 or 10 minutes on your survey. Continually modify surveys to reflect the data you collect. This can help you pinpoint problem areas and improve. Consider handing out a survey after a sale, through email or your website, or on your social media channels.
Surveys are relatively simple to prepare using free or paid survey software. You can find information on how to write effective survey questions here. You can also hire a survey company to design, implement, and compile data, but can cost substantially more.
Online website surveys are the most readily accessed, followed by email. You may want to offer a small incentive to encourage people to respond to gather a representative sample of your demographic, not just the people who extol your business or have nothing good to say. Ask respondents for their contact information so you can follow up.
Of course, the most enlightening customer feedback often comes from direct contact with your customers after they respond. If respondents provide their contact information, reach out to them to discuss their survey comments, whether pleased or displeased. Ask for feedback on your products and services and the support they received.
The mere act of asking a customer for their opinion can increase customer satisfaction. It shows your company genuinely cares about their opinion and you’re acting on their feedback. It’s an unexpected gesture most companies don’t extend and it can strengthen your brand’s image.
Thoughtfully review responses and consider their implications. Look for patterns of consistently negative comments in specific areas of your operations. This can help you discover what’s working and what’s not to better equip your company for success. Publish your survey results on your website and show your customers how you’ve used their input for positive change. People are more likely to respond to your next survey when they know you actually listen.
Good customer service quiets the dissenters and encourages peaceful, contented clients who share their positive experiences. This leads to a business with fewer problems, happier clients, and a peaceful world.
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