To help small business owners excel in customer service, we gathered insights from 20 industry professionals, including founders, CEOs, and marketing managers. From embracing proactive communication to investing in excellent customer service professionals, these experts share their top tips for delivering exceptional customer experiences.
Embrace Proactive Communication
Proactive communication is my top customer service tip for small business owners. Instead of waiting for customers to contact you with questions or concerns, anticipate their needs and provide assistance ahead of time.
Engage customers through personalized emails, proactive live chat support, or interactions on social media. Small businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors by being proactive in demonstrating their commitment to customer satisfaction, strengthening relationships, and creating memorable experiences.
Ensure Consistency in Service
Consistency in customer service across all channels helps to build trust and credibility with customers, which helps boost customer retention as well as customer lifetime values. It also makes it easier for customers to engage with your business and quickly find the information they need.
Consistency is also key to customer satisfaction in omnichannel experiences. About 51% of consumers expect a brand’s product offerings to be the same across all channels, while nearly 60% expect a brand’s promotional offers to be identical whether these promotions are on social media, on the company’s website, or offline.
Over 80% of customers report that different information across the company’s various channels makes them less likely to buy from the company owing to the conflicting price information. This indicates that a lack of consistency in omnichannel messaging damages customer trust and brand reputation.
Actively Seek Customer Feedback
My top customer service tip for small business owners is to actively embrace customer feedback.
Customer feedback, both positive and negative, is an invaluable resource for any business. Understanding your customers’ needs, preferences, and experiences with your products or services is essential. Actively seek this feedback through customer surveys, social media interactions, or direct communication.
Importantly, don’t shy away from negative feedback. While it might be uncomfortable to hear, constructive criticism is one of the most effective ways to identify areas of improvement. Consider each piece of negative feedback as an opportunity to learn and evolve.
Once you receive feedback, take steps to address it. Make necessary changes to your products or services, adjust your customer service approach, and let your customers know that their voices have been heard and their feedback is driving improvements.
Prioritize Active Listening
Prioritize active listening as my top customer service tip for small business owners. By actively engaging in conversations, empathizing with their experiences, and providing personalized solutions, you can truly understand your customers’ needs and concerns.
Active listening allows you to form strong bonds, gain valuable insights, and provide exceptional service that exceeds expectations. You can foster loyalty and long-term success by putting your customers at the center of your business and truly hearing their voices.
Provide Accessible Phone Support
We have been in business for 15 years selling dental products online. A trend with e-commerce businesses is to not have a phone number listed.
My tip is to have a phone number listed on the site and answer it. Your customers want to get an answer to their questions, and the phone is faster than email. We have a lot of customers just because we answer our phones and can give them answers right away while they are looking to place an order.
Make Customer Service a Priority
My top tip for small business owners for customer service is to make it a top priority. Providing excellent customer service can be a key differentiator for small businesses and can help set them apart from larger competitors.
This can include training employees to be courteous and helpful, responding promptly to customer inquiries and concerns, and going above and beyond to ensure customer satisfaction. Collecting and acting on customer feedback can also help businesses identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes to provide better service.
Additionally, utilizing customer service tools and software, such as a CRM system, can help small businesses more easily manage customer interactions and provide a seamless customer experience.
Offer Diverse Payment Options
I believe that giving your consumers a variety of payment alternatives is a terrific way to enhance their interaction with your company. Provide a choice of payment options, such as credit and debit cards, online payments, and mobile payments. This makes it easy for customers to pay for your products or services and reduces friction during the purchasing process.
Make sure your acceptable payment methods are clearly displayed on your website, in-store, or any other platforms where you offer your products or services.
Build Customer Relationships
The customer should be your top priority, regardless of their size or spending power. Make sure they feel heard and understood by always listening to their needs and providing solutions that work for them. Take the time to build a relationship with each customer, as even small gestures can go a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated.
Be Responsive to Customer Inquiries
Having owned a small business for a while now, I know how important it is to respond to your customers. If a customer reaches out to you with a question or concern, you must ensure you get back to them as soon as possible. Customers notice when you’re slow to respond, which can hurt your reputation.
You want to ensure that you provide fast, helpful, and thorough responses to your customers so that they feel taken care of. It can be challenging, but worth it in the long run. So if you’re looking for a top customer service tip for your small business, prioritize responding quickly and effectively to customer inquiries.
Create an Excellent, User-Friendly Website
One of the easiest and most effective things you can do as a small business owner to provide reputable customer service is to ensure you have an excellent website.
Make sure your navigation tabs are clearly labeled and that you have a search bar for customers who know what they’re looking for. It should also be mobile-friendly so users can access your site from any device. For e-commerce stores, ensure that your website is easy to navigate, has a smooth checkout process, and features a clear returns policy.
Choose Effective Communication Channels
As a small business owner, my top customer service tip for other business owners is to be smart about choosing your communication channels. I remember back in 2018; we were juggling between five different platforms, including email, chat, phone, social media, and a help desk system. And it got overwhelming.
To streamline, we reduced it to three main channels based on our demographic analysis. We found that 70% of our customer queries came through email and chat, and 20% were from social media. The rest, surprisingly, were through the help desk system.
By focusing on these channels, we improved our response time and boosted customer satisfaction by 22% in just four months. Therefore, my best tip is to choose your channels wisely because it can really make a big difference.
Appreciate and Reward Loyal Customers
In my years of running a business, one key insight I’ve learned is the irreplaceable value of loyal customers. These loyal customers are the core of your business and they should be rewarded as such.
Once, we had a company in Liverpool that signed up for our first aid courses consistently for over two years. We rewarded their loyalty by offering them a 15% discount on their next bulk booking of courses. And consequently, they were thrilled!
Not only did it strengthen our business relationship, but it also led to an increase in their bookings by an impressive 25% over the next six months. My tip is never to underestimate the power of appreciating and rewarding your faithful customers. This simple gesture can reap significant returns.
Manage and Set Client Expectations
Managing client expectations is one of the most important skills you can learn. Nipping problems in the bud and getting ahead of client questions will eliminate back and forth, avoid misunderstandings, and lead to a streamlined delivery process for your client. You will set realistic expectations, avoid disappointments, and build trust with your client. This typically leads to a good long-term relationship with your client and recommendations.
In my business, I have to set realistic expectations with my clients as to what types of photography I specialize in and the number of edited photos I can provide. When purchasers are buying my products online, I always let them know that the online image can slightly differ from the real canvas.
I am always upfront about timelines, so there is no disappointment or frustration. From this, I have many return clients that are very grateful for my honesty and openness throughout the process.
Leverage Automation for Efficiency
Using automation tools is a practical and effective way for small business owners to improve their customer service.
By automating routine tasks, such as responding to common customer inquiries or sending follow-up emails, businesses can save time and respond to customers faster. This can lead to higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Additionally, automation tools can help businesses track customer interactions and gather data on customer preferences and behavior, which can inform future marketing and customer service efforts. Overall, incorporating automation tools into customer service strategies can help small businesses operate more efficiently and effectively while delivering a better customer experience.
Personalize Connections and Empower Staff
Establishing a personal connection can help you stand out in today’s digital environment, where businesses often come across as impersonal to their clients. Attempt to understand the specific needs, desires, and issues of your clients. Respond quickly and with empathy to their input after paying attention to it.
Spend money on tools that enable personalized interactions, such as chatbots that can be trained to answer specific questions or customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Use data analytics to understand customer behavior and preferences and provide customized recommendations. Enable your customer service team to excel. Encourage proactive help, exceeding expectations, and memorable experiences. Continuous training and development will equip your team to handle consumer issues.
By prioritizing personalized communication and empowering your staff, you can foster customer loyalty and help your small technology business prosper in the competitive market.
Maintain Transparency and Integrity
Transparency and integrity are vital in building trust with your customers. When interacting with customers, it’s important to set realistic expectations and deliver on your commitments. Making false promises or overpromising can lead to disappointment and erode trust in your brand. Instead, focus on providing accurate information and managing customer expectations effectively.
If unforeseen circumstances arise, or you encounter challenges in fulfilling a promise, communicate openly with your customers. Apologize for any inconvenience caused, provide updates on the situation, and offer alternative solutions if possible. Honesty and transparency in these situations can actually strengthen customer relationships and demonstrate your commitment to their satisfaction.
Supply Self-Service Options
In my journey as an owner of an executive cleaning business, I’ve found that a significant key to customer satisfaction is offering a self-service option.
For instance, at one of our branches, we incorporated an online portal where clients can schedule or modify their cleaning services. This not only gives our clients the control they desire but also reduces our staff’s workload.
I noticed an appreciable increase in client satisfaction by around 15% within the first quarter after the implementation. Therefore, empowering customers with self-service options is my top customer service tip for fellow small business owners.
Show Empathy to Customers
One of the best customer service tips is to treat customers with empathy.
What exactly does it mean to be empathetic? Understanding a customer’s issues, being attuned to their feelings, and empathizing with what they could be going through are all examples of empathy in customer service. It entails placing oneself in your client’s position.
Consider a scenario where a consumer is upset because he hasn’t received a package he ordered a few days earlier. Now you can take a more sympathetic tack rather than just telling the customer to wait. You can express empathy by saying something like, “I understand, this can be quite annoying. I would experience the same emotions.”
While this modest action won’t suddenly fix the issue, it will give the client the impression that you value and comprehend their feelings. You can always practice empathy even if it does not come easily to you. You may please customers and give them a sense of worth by using empathy statements in customer service.
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Involve Customer Feedback in Your Strategy
My top customer service tip for small business owners is to carefully listen to what your customers have to say. You can then use their suggestions as part of your strategy to better propose your products or services.
You never know where a genius idea can come from. It can be from a frustrated customer that expected more from you. Active listening, nurturing, and addressing concerns should be a major focus for small business owners.
Invest in Excellent Customer Service Professionals
Exceptional customer service is crucial for building strong relationships with your customers and fostering loyalty. By hiring talented and skilled individuals who excel in customer service, you ensure that every interaction with your customers is positive and memorable.
Look for candidates who possess excellent communication skills, empathy, and a genuine desire to help customers. Investing in training and providing ongoing support to your customer service staff is also essential. Equip them with the knowledge, tools, and resources needed to address customer inquiries, resolve issues efficiently, and exceed customer expectations.
Having a team of dedicated and knowledgeable customer service professionals will not only leave a lasting impression on your customers but also contribute to positive word-of-mouth, repeat business, and long-term success for your small business.
Brett Farmiloe is the founder of Terkel, a Q&A platform that connects brands with expert insights.