Although some parts of the world still have booming economies (I’m looking at you, Australia), most Western countries are very much in the grip of the financial crisis. While our politicians keep telling us that things will get better very soon indeed, budgets are only getting tighter, while goods in particular are becoming more expensive. Providing high-quality customer service is as important as ever, but if there’s little or no money to invest in that area, what’s an SME to do? Read on for our top tips on low-budget ways to improve your customer service.
Customer service tip #1 - Make your staff happy
If your staff aren’t happy, they won’t do a good job – that goes without saying. But it runs deeper than that. Lack of a good workplace atmosphere makes it much more difficult to provide good customer service. A quarter of people who experience rudeness at work say that they have taken their frustration out on… customers. No prizes for guessing whether or not those customers came back. So how do you keep your staff happy? The good news for SMEs: it’s much easier to manage a smaller team, and you can implement changes more quickly. People need to feel appreciated, regardless of how much they’re getting paid. Take the time to have regular chats with your employees and get to know them as people. Thank them for their input. Yes, small gifts and bonuses always go down well – but there’s nothing like sincere praise to make someone feel good. And another advantage of making sure your employees know that you value them is that they're much more likely to stick around.
Customer service tip #2 - Order something from your own business
It’s well worth the time it takes to pretend to be one of your own customers. Not in the traditional mystery shopping sense though, where companies pay undercover staff to test their employees. Instead, go mystery shopping yourself. Why would you do that? Because the proactive approach – fixing problems before the customer even encounters them – is by far the best way to go. So go on: order something from your own business, following the process through from start (choosing what you want to buy) to finish (taking delivery of your order), just as a real customer would. As a business owner, time spent on this kind of research is an extremely valuable investment. Things break even on the best of websites, and you don’t want to be the last to know – after your customers. If you know your own website too well to be able to be objective, you can ask a friend or relative to test the site for usability. In return for a bunch of flowers, a gift voucher or your eternal gratitude, you’ll receive invaluable research material.
Customer service tip #3 - Pamper your existing customers
It’s an oft-quoted fact that it’s much cheaper to keep your existing customers than to find new ones. Fine, but how do you go about it? You’re already offering the best prices you can, responding to your customers on social media and via email, and following the peak-end rule while you raise your game across the board. The good news is that small investments in your existing customers will have large returns in terms of retention. You might think that things like loyalty cards are only for big businesses, but a recent survey shows that 38% of small businesses have customer loyalty programs in place. Exactly how your SME might implement this depends very much on your business, but there are many options available, both online and off. Of course the other benefit of introducing a loyalty program is that it will help you to gather more information about your customers and their needs, giving you valuable data to help you to develop your business in the future. Times are tight, yes, but that’s more reason than ever to improve your customer service offering. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and the investments you make in this area will pay off in others as well.