Customer service, every business does it, but how important is it really? Our team came up with ten top tips on how to improve your customer satisfaction, based on our personal experiences here at Saasu. And yes, some of these are controversial to say the least. And yes, we have lost customers because we have provided bad customer experience. We have also retained many loyal customers from good service. So this is from our perspective and experience.
1. Don’t get too social
Let’s speak about the big elephant in the room first.
Social media platforms, namely Facebook and Twitter, are typical customer service pathways for other business. Consumers are now expecting almost-instantaneous replies in those environments. It has become toxic for many companies for one simple reason. Customers who are happy often won’t say much but the ones that hate you will use Social as a platform to lever service from you or inflict brand damage against you. The dynamic feels unfair. Other customers might be ahead of them in the service queue.
Some will argue that forces businesses to try harder but in our experience we sometimes can’t achieve what’s expected of us without higher prices (and we know very few customers want that) and/or it simply isn’t what we offer and a customer might choose to hold that against us as though we are wrong for this decision to run our business this way. For example, we have in the past received abuse and hate for not wanting to add a feature a customer decides is important for their business but we determined it was only going to be of use to less than 1% of our customers. We are trying to ensure our products are simple to use.
We avoid social for this reason. Hate can be stressful for staff. We try and ensure all that activity is via email and in-app ticketing for efficiency and privacy reasons. You simply can’t have detailed business to business conversations in public arena’s without being immensely vague and general. When customers are upset it is easier to escalate internally between management and engineers when the customer is inside service systems designed to create service quality.
We suggest establishing systems that encourage them into your service model, your way. You shouldn’t and can’t have customers dictate how you provide your service else you will add business risk, complexity and inefficiency to your service quality results. The net result will be worse. Hopefully our customers reading this will understand where we are coming from on this as it applies to them also, and how they deal with their customers.
One big difference with social media that we follow is not to tolerate misrepresentation and abuse. Many businesses put up with it but we don’t. Our rule is that anyone using one of our platform assets (social page, blog, etc) has to be honest and fair about our business. You do see situations where customers will misrepresent the situation. So we have a policy to set the record straight or remove the statement. That said, you must be honest with yourself and even if you don’t like what you hear and it’s right you have to cop it and use that failure as a step to learning and improving the service and products you offer.
We also recommend having a comment free blog if you can’t answer comments quickly and concisely or would prefer your tracked and managed service channels to be used for customer interactions.
2. Underpromise and Overdeliver
We’re often asked to release a timeline of feature releases. Our team deliberately steers clear of this. We know how development schedules work—roadblocks happen, unforeseen events occur and we don’t want our customers to feel that they can’t trust what we say as a result of that. When our innovation and hard work results in a feature in beta testing, then we have the confidence to announce it to our customers. The key point here is trust: earning trust is important to maintaining loyal and happy customers. Work as hard as you can, deliver as much as you can but don’t promise you will change the world years before you actually can (or someone else beats you to it!).
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Ensure your website has up-to-date FAQs so customers know what they are signing up for. We setup a “system status” page last year to alert customers of any issues that may happen, and regularly update our social media channels. We also added notifications to our Saasu Online Accounting Log-in (if there’s downtime for a release, for example) which is a great way to reach our customers who sign in each day to use Saasu. You can send and measure the effectiveness of any email campaigns using Campaign Monitor or Mailchimp, as email can also be an efficient way to communicate with your customers.
4. Listen and Learn
You may be doing everything within your power to avoid the dreaded unhappy customer, but if and when it happens, you will learn some valuable lessons. Recently, we decided to shake things up a bit and adopted email only service, rather than phone lines our customers were used to. We knew there would be some upset and we would lose some customers but we had to have the courage to suffer some short term pain for longer term gains in service quality.
We found phone support tended to force us (you can’t choose when to pick up a phone) to assist customers out of order and without the right resource. Email allowed us to allocate the case to the best person and also prioritise accordingly to first in first answered plus some exceptions for emergencies situations for our customers (e.g. problems processing pays). Different industries need different support approaches. The software industry is mostly email or forum supported for the retail, small business and gaming segments.
5. Happy Staff = Happy Customers
Expecting everyone to be on top of the world 100% of the time is far from realistic, but it’s in the best interests of your small business to commit to maintaining staff happiness levels. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending lots of money, but by acknowledging achievements, celebrating successes and incentivizing great work, you’ll have a team who want to do the best they can.
6. Customer service isn’t a department, it’s everyone’s job
Do you even need a dedicated customer service team? We often distribute customer queries here at Saasu to the person most qualified to answer. We’ve found it to be good for the business as a whole so team members can understand the issues our customers face firsthand. If you do decide to ask the whole team to pitch in, consistency is key, so it’s important to make sure everyone handles issues in the same, courteous way and knows your standard procedure. We invest a lot of time in Standard Operating Procedures. They are based heavily on check-listing methods. Read The Checklist Manifesto for a good breakdown on this.
7. Say ‘No’ the right way
Everyone loves to say ‘the customer is always right’, but we and you (as a small business owner) know this isn’t actually true but instead a suggestion to be tolerant to an extreme even in the face of an unreasonable customers. We do agree with this but we also draw a line. Great customer service means going out of your way to help customers achieve the result they want. No, they may not be able to do that with our software or the product or service you offer, but they can achieve the same result by doing this alternative instead. Soemtimes that is a suggestion to use a competitor. We point them to videos, tutorials or someone else who can advise them. Going the extra mile might be what helps you retain loyal customers, even if you can’t give them exactly what they want.
8. Simplify Self-Serving
The less intervention from your team that customers need to get their task accomplished, the more satisfied they will be. Time is of the essence, and customers appreciate companies understanding the value they place on it. Build a product that is easy to use. Make great video tutorials and easy-to-follow help pages online. Better still iterate your product or service to a point where you don’t need these. We’re continually striving to improve this at Saasu, it does take some time but bit-by-bit you can achieve easy to understand products and services for your customers.
9. Acknowledgement and gratitude.
Always thank people for their business and mean it when you say it or write it. This is as much about being happy about what you do as it is appreciation for the customer to feel. How they “feel” about you is your brand. Don’t have this be the motivation though be real about it. Gratitude is very powerful for both. It acknowledges the customer. They have paid you. That money paid bills, salaries and thus your employees mortgages, holidays and their kids education. It’s easy as a business to separate these but they are connected in financial reality.
Authentic gratitude has the power to inspire yourself, your business and creates appreciation in the customers eyes that they deserve. This creates loyalty and sales. Don’t forget that happy customers are your best Sales team.
10. Offer transformative products and services
Transformation is about paradigm shifts, evolutionary leaps. Significant differences that are enough to excite and delight your customers. In our own business this has been one of the hardest battles because as you mature the maintenace cost of existing products and services drags on resources. To address this a business has to do a carve out of resources and set some products and services to extinction. Use Pareto’s law of the 80/20 rule (80% of results come from 20% of your activities) to work this out for your own business.
Saasu recently decided to move away from the top end of our market. The “big” end of Small Business because in effect they are ready to graduate anyway. They have grown with Saasu and are ready for the next step. In this example it will free us up to work on new innovations and change paradigms we have been in for many years. It will benefit the ~90% of business unaffected by the change.
Have a look at what have you done in your small business to try and improve customer satisfaction. Did you change something that didn’t work the way you hoped? How do you measure how satisfied your customers are? Share this post in social media and start the conversation for the benefit of all small businesses and their customers. After all it helps both, a win win. In business if you keep things the same you tend to go backwards. Transformation and innovation is our fuel for growth.