Improving Your Customer Service

Customer service is a crucial element of business success. Every contact your customers have with your business represents an opportunity for you to improve your reputation with them and increase the likelihood of further sales.

From how you speak on the phone to the effectiveness of your order response systems, almost every aspect of your business affects how your customers perceive your business. But there are also specific programs you can put in place to increase your customer service levels.

This guide explains what customer service entails. It explains how you can use customer relationship, feedback, and loyalty plans to retain existing customers, increase your sales to them, and even win new customers. It also covers how to prepare for a customer complaint.

What is Customer Service?

Customer service involves putting systems in place to maximize your customers’ satisfaction with the business. This should be a primary consideration for every business. Your sales and profitability depend on your ability to satisfy these customers.

Customer service is more directly important in some roles than others. For receptionists, sales staff and other employees who deal with customers, customer service should be a fundamental part of their job description and training, as well as a fundamental criterion as part of your recruitment.

But don’t overlook the importance of customer service in other areas of your business. For example, your warehousing and shipping departments may have minimal relationships with your customers, but their performance in fulfilling orders has a major impact on customer satisfaction with your business.

A huge range of factors can contribute to customer satisfaction, but your customers, both consumers and other businesses, are likely to consider:

  • how well your product or service matches customer needs
  • the value for money of your offer
  • your efficiency and reliability in fulfilling orders
  • the professionalism, friendliness and expertise of your employees
  • how well you keep your customers informed
  • the after-sales service you offer

Training courses can be useful to ensure the highest possible levels of customer service.

Understand your customers

In business-to-business commerce, providing superior customer service often requires you to find out what your customers want. When you have identified your most profitable customers or the best potential customers, you can focus your highest levels of customer service on them. Another approach, particularly in the consumer market, is the obligation to treat all customers to the highest standards.

Collect information about your customers

Information about your customers and what they want is available from a number of sources:

  • their order history
  • records of their communications with your company: phone calls, meetings, etc.
  • feedback. If you ask them, customers will usually tell you what they want
  • changes to customer ordering habits
  • changes to the overall success of particular products or services
  • feedback about your existing range. What she does and doesn’t do
  • requests for information regarding possible new products or services
  • feedback from your customers about what they buy from other businesses
  • changes to the goods and services your competitors sell
  • feedback and recommendations from other providers who are not competitors

Manage information about your customers

It is important that you write a plan for how customer information should be collected and used in your business. Create a customer service policy. Assign a senior manager as the policy expert, but make sure all your staff are involved. Often, the further down the ladder you are, the more direct contact with customers.

You can manage your customer records using a database system or customer relationship management software.

You should be aware that the collection and use of customer information requires that you comply with the Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector .

Measure your customer service levels

Where possible, put systems in place to assess your performance in areas of the business that significantly affect your customer satisfaction levels. Identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect how you are meeting your customers’ expectations.

For example, you could follow:

  • repeat sales rates
  • the number of inquiries or complaints about your products or services
  • the number of complaints about your employees
  • the number of damaged or defective goods returned to you
  • average time to fulfill orders
  • the number of contacts with a customer each month
  • the volume of marketing materials sent and responses generated
  • the time taken from order to delivery

Your customers and employees will be useful sources of information about the KPIs that best reflect the key areas of customer service in your business. Make sure the things you measure are chosen not by how your business currently operates, but by how your customers would like it to operate.

There are important areas of customer service that are more difficult to measure. Many of these are human factors, such as the way a receptionist answers the phone or a salesperson’s conduct when visiting customers. In these areas, it’s crucial that you get feedback from your customers on how they perceive your customer service.

Customer surveys, feedback programs, and occasional phone calls to key customers can be useful ways to gauge how your company’s customer service levels are perceived.

Customer feedback and contact programs

Customer feedback and contact programs are two ways to increase communication with your customers. They can be great opportunities to listen to your customers and tell them more about what you can offer.

Customer feedback can provide you with detailed information on how your business is perceived. This is a chance for customers to voice their objections, suggest changes or endorse your existing processes and for you to listen to what they say and act on it. Feedback is often collected using questionnaires, in person, by telephone or by mail.

The purpose of customer relations programs is to help you provide personalized information to your customers. An example is news of a special offer relating to a previous purchase. Another is a reminder sent at the time of year when a customer traditionally places an order. Relationship programs are particularly useful for reconnecting with lost customers.

Do your best to make sure your customers feel the extra contact is relevant and benefits them. Bombarding customers with unwanted calls or marketing materials can be counterproductive. Newsletters and e-newsletters keep you in touch with useful information.

Customer Loyalty Plans

Although good overall service is the best way to generate customer loyalty, sometimes new relationships can be strengthened, or old ones can be refreshed, by using customer loyalty plans.

These are programs that use fixed or percentage discounts, additional goods, or prizes to reward customers for behaviors that benefit your business. They can also be used to persuade customers to give you another chance if you feel you have successfully overcome old customer service issues.

You can decide to offer rewards based on the following:

  • repeat customers
  • cumulative expenses
  • orders for large quantities or high value
  • fast payment
  • the duration of the relationship

For example, a car wash might offer a free cleaning every ten visits or a free product if a customer chooses the deluxe service. A mail-order company might seek to rekindle the interest of lost customers by offering a voucher redeemable for purchases. Response rates with such vouchers can be improved by setting an expiration date.

You can also provide key customers with loyalty cards that entitle them to a discount on all their purchases.

Employees who process customer orders must be duly informed of current offers and must keep customers informed. Sometimes flyers and other marketing materials are the best way to advertise a new bonus offered to customers.

However, remember that how your customers perceive the overall service you provide will influence their loyalty much more than short-term rewards.

Use customer service to increase sales

Your existing customers are among your company’s most important assets; they have already chosen you over your competitors. Retaining their customers is much less expensive than attracting new customers; it is therefore worth taking steps to ensure that they are satisfied with the service they receive.

You can employ several techniques, including:

  • offer a free telephone support service for customers
  • answer frequently asked questions about your website
  • follow up on sales with a courtesy call
  • offer free products that will help customers take care of or get the most out of their purchases
  • send maintenance or service reminders
  • offer preferred discounts to existing customers for future purchases
  • Relationships with existing customers will represent opportunities to increase sales, as your customers will already have confidence in your recommendations.

Cross-selling and up-selling are ways to increase either the range or the value of what you’re selling by pointing those customers to new buying opportunities. Alerting customers when new, improved, or free products are available, perhaps through periodic emails or newsletters, is one way to increase sales.

However, to maintain customer trust, never try to sell them something that doesn’t clearly fit their needs. Remember, your goal is to build strong, long-term relationships with your customers, rather than making quick, isolated profits.

Satisfied customers will contribute to your business for years through their purchases and the recommendations and referrals they make about your business.

How to handle customer complaints

Every business has to deal with situations where things go wrong, from the customer’s perspective.

No matter how you respond if this happens, don’t be indifferent to your customer’s problem even if you are convinced that you have done nothing wrong. Although it may seem contradictory, a customer presenting a complaint represents a real opportunity for your company:

If you deal with the complaint successfully, your customer is likely to become more loyal than if nothing had happened – people willing to complain are rare. Your complaining customer may alert you to a problem faced by many others who have silently become customers elsewhere.

Complaints should be handled courteously, sympathetically and above all, promptly. Make sure your business has an established procedure for handling customer complaints and that it is known to all of your employees. At a minimum, it should include:

  • listening sympathetically to establish the details of the complaint
  • recording details with relevant documentation, such as a sales receipt or damaged goods
  • offering rectification, whether by means of repair, replacement or refund
  • appropriate follow-up action, such as a letter of apology or a phone call to ensure the issue has been resolved

If you take pride in the way you solve problems, such as offering no-questions-asked refunds, make sure your customers know that. Your method of dealing with customer issues is one more way to be ahead of your competition.

Eleanore Frinqois

Eleanore Frinqois, Lead Editor at BusinessGrowthCoaching.co.uk is a business leader with over 30 years in both start-up and enterprise level organisations. Previously Operations Directer at a £1.8BN media group, alongside setting-up and later selling 3 digital brands - Eleanore has expertise across all aspects of business growth.

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