Imagine it: Your company is growing and profits are steadily increasing. Things are looking up.
In an effort to keep support on a level with your growing customer base, you hire a customer service representative.
Then something like this happens:
A customer calls in with a complaint. Your service wasn’t effective or your product is faulty. Instead of hearing the customer out and trying to help, your short-tempered customer service rep blames the customer, spits out a four-letter word, and hangs up the phone.
If you thought the key to business growth was stellar marketing and top-notch sales, it’s time to take another look at your customer support.
While authority, social proof, and product reputation in the marketplace all factor into a buyer’s decision-making process, customer service is key, too. In fact, it serves as the deciding factor in purchase decisions for as much of 62% of buyers in the U.S. And while a faulty product can be forgiven as a one-off problem, a bad customer service experience stains your entire brand—and, by extension, your entire product portfolio.
So let’s take a close look signs your customer service may need an overhaul.
1. You receive negative—or no—feedback from customers
Gail Goodman from Entrepreneur put it best: “Knowing what’s being said about your company online allows you to see where you’re succeeding and where you need improvement.”
It’s important to pay attention to all possible review sites where your company might be listed. Respond to feedback, both positive and negative. Pay special attention to negative feedback; a lot of online reviews are not about products, but about customer service. If you’re seeing an increased number of posts about lack of or shoddy support, it’s time to look internally at who is leading your customer service efforts and how they are structured.
But what about no feedback at all? What if you’re not getting emails, reviews, or anything from the outside to indicate how you’re performing?
Depending on your business, this can be a telltale sign that customers don’t think their feedback will be worth it. They believe they won’t be heard, or that their opinions won’t matter to the decision-makers in the company.
This is definitely a problem, but here’s how you fix it:
Be sure you make it clear that customer service your #1 priority to customers. Deploy FAQ and Help pages on your website with easy-to-find contact information, and put a name and face to those on your customer service team so that customers know they’ll be reaching out to a person, not a bot.
Also, throughout the buying process, encourage both prospects and customers to send their feedback—through the website, by e-mail, through social media, or any other appropriate network. You want to make feedback EASY to give, not arduous.
Another tip: Incorporate live support chat software on your website. Even if you don’t have an agent available to answer questions around the clock, the ability to “leave a message” makes it easy for your company to respond as soon as an agent is available. And if they are available in the moment, there’s no waiting in line—all a customer has to do is type in a question and get an answer in a matter of minutes.
(Read more on the options available for live chat here.)
2. You have very few return customers
Why? Because you have to spend marketing dollars and multiple sales conversations to convert a prospect. But once you’ve got them in your world, retention is relatively easy—grounded, of course, in unfailing customer service.
Still, many companies put all of their energy and budget into acquiring new customers while failing to move existing customers through an internal sales funnel that easily generates revenue. That’s just leaving money on the table.
The good news is, there are a few easy ways to ensure customer retention and spread money across all of your channels—marketing, sales, and customer service—effectively.
First, maintain regular, personal contact with your customers. Check in about their experience with you. Request feedback and solicit testimonials.
Second, dedicate a part of your customer service team to direct follow-up on problems that become evident during this communication. And be sure you have a solution at the ready—not another sale, but a serious solution to their existing problem.
Third, add value. Deliver meaningful, valuable content to your existing customers regularly for free. If you make every email or message to your customers a promotion, you’ll lose them quickly. The best way to keep them on your side is to nurture trust by showing you want them to succeed. And yes, they’ll be using your products and services to do so, but many of them can be offered materials or products gratis to cement a longstanding relationship.
3. Your customer service team generates 0 new leads
Derek Sivers, Founder of CD Baby summed this up brilliantly: “Customer service is the new marketing.”
What does he mean? If adding value outside of for-sale products and services is a way for you to build trust with your customer base, then dedicated, personal customer service is what it takes to solidify that relationship.
When that relationship is solidified, it’s easy to have conversations that are more about problem-solving than they are about selling. Once a customer trusts you, they’re willing to ask you for a solution to their problem. And if your customer service team is well-trained, they’ll know your company’s entire portfolio of offerings—offerings that are available both free and at a premium.
Customers understand that they will likely need to pay for an effective solution to their problem. But if your customer service team spends their energy on hard sales to solve these problems, customers will be soured on your brand.
In short: They want to know you have their best interest at heart.
To make this possible while also securing sales leads, implement the following:
- Practice conversations with your customer service team wherein customers share problems that need fixing; these conversations should be authentic. Work on conversational techniques that demonstrate to the customers that you know exactly what their problems are and that you’re committed to fixing them.
- While much of the trust in a customer service-client relationship is engendered with language, authenticity, and approachability, it’s also important that your entire customer service team has the tools to help fix the problem. Make sure that everyone knows what offerings you have—both free and paid—and what problems they might solve.
- Encourage a strong relationship between customer service and sales. When a customer service agent suggests a product or valuable company materials that might solve a client’s problem, they should turn communication over to a sales agent who can speak to the product’s features in-depth. A smooth transition here is facilitated by a genuinely strong internal relationship between departments.
4. Your customer service team issues responses quickly to close service tickets as fast as possible
Sending speedy answers to your customers doesn’t necessarily qualify as good customer service. Make sure your team knows this.
Yes, customers want a timely response; studies show that the speed of customer service response is important to 47% of buyers.
But studies also indicate that 62% of customers make a purchase because of the knowledge and resourcefulness of customer service agents.
There are two parts to customer service communication that make it successful: A timely initial acknowledgement of the problem, and a thoughtful, thorough approach to solution-finding. Customers don’t necessarily want a solution right away; they want the right solution. As long as you communicate your process and progress as you come up with that solution (and do so honestly), they’ll reward you with loyalty and sales.
In this day and age, it’s important for business owners to know the value of high-caliber customer service. Not only does it help to retain customers and turn them into advocates—who generate word-of-mouth referrals—but it cements a brand reputation in your industry that is irrefutable. And if your brand is the first thing that prospects see, that reputation will ultimately redound to increased sales.
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