Customer care is something that is often included, as standard, in a company’s mission statement. Business owners know it should be a priority and as a result the words ‘customer centric’ are probably stated in several places on the company website.

But there’s a world of difference between assuming you’re customer focused because your company deals with customers, and being totally immersed in your customers’ wants and needs, seeing the customer journey from their point of view and going above and beyond to create the best customer experience you possibly can – not because you have to but because you want to.

Bottom line- you should want to make your customers happy.

Your customers have never had as many alternatives open to them as they do now, and while you may assume any decisions to buy your product or service will come down to cost, a positive customer experience cannot be underestimated. A survey by Clickfox found that almost three quarters (72%) of respondents said good customer service was key to customer retention, while only half (50%) said the decision came entirely down to price.

Following a recent survey by Which?, executive director, Richard Lloyd confirmed the need to prioritise customer service by saying: “With nearly nine in 10 (86%) consumers saying they would leave a brand that treated them poorly, it’s clear that the quality of customer service can either make or break even the biggest names.  In these times of economic hardship, companies simply can’t afford to compete on brand awareness or price alone if they want to be sure of retaining their customers.”

1. customer service before marketing

Some people would argue that marketing and customer service go hand-in-hand, but I believe getting your customer service right should precede all your marketing efforts. Marketing teaches your customers why they should choose you, customer service shows them why they should keep coming back. There’s no point spending your marketing team’s time, energy and budget getting to the top of the Google SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages),  only for a potential customer to call your company and be greeted with a grunt, an answer machine or worse, a message that never gets passed on!

Don’t leave callers hanging.

Let me give you an example. For twenty years I had stayed with the same bank due largely to the fact that their marketing made me feel that I was banking with the best. They were always winning ‘Bank of the Year’ awards, sponsoring football teams and unveiling new TV adverts starring household names. I was happy banking with them until the day they took a standing order out that I had cancelled- and suddenly none of that mattered. Trying to put right their wrong was an arduous task that went on for weeks. I was unable to speak to the right department or was cut off when waiting on hold, the customer service department were only open during certain hours and if I did get through to them the person I needed to speak to was rarely there. Not a single one of my calls or messages were ever returned!

Eventually the issue was resolved in branch, but the terrible customer service had made me realise I needed to leave that bank, ASAP, before I encountered any other problems. When looking for my next bank I decided that it was customer service that really mattered to me, so I ignored slick marketing campaigns, fluctuating interest rates and introductory offers and concentrated on whose service was genuinely outstanding. Because when you urgently need to speak to an adviser you don’t care which celebrity is endorsing which bank; you need a customer service line with no queues, that stays open at evenings and weekends and always calls you back when they say they will.  Is Lewis Hamilton going to delay his lunch break at Santander to write up your issue resolution notes? No he is not.

2. get a measure of your CUSTOMER’S SATISFACTION

A good business should have a clear idea of what their customers think of them. They should, as a minimum, have Facebook reviews, survey results and testimonials for other potential visitors to see as part of an honest and transparent company policy. If you don’t (yet) have any measurements in place you should still be able to get an idea of your customers satisfaction from the ratio of thank you emails to irritated ‘following this up for the ninth time’ emails.

Ask customers directly for feedback.

But what if you’re a good old bread and butter, bricks and mortar business with no online presence? In that case, you should look directly to your customers for your feedback – are they smiling back at you at the till point? Are they coming back day in day out? Are they thanking you for your service on their way out? Having an idea of your customers level of satisfaction is a good starting point to knowing what you’re currently doing well and what urgently needs work, and it should keep you on the right track in the future.

3. Make it seamless and CONSISTENT

Your customer service should remain at the same high level throughout the customer’s buying journey to avoid any drop off points. Drop off points can be anything from a messy reception area, to miss-spelt emails, to a downbeat helpdesk manager, so carry out a mental and physical walk through of your customer’s buying experience to understand where these drop off points could be. Then, get members of your team or mystery shoppers to carry out their own spot checks to see any areas that you may have missed.

The recent partial closure of the Wirral/Liverpool loop train line is a good example of seamless and consistent customer service during a large scale project that involved dealing with a high volume of time-short passengers. Rail staff set up stalls inside the station in the weeks leading up to the closure and handed out timetables and cakes to commuters on their way to work. During the closure a dedicated Twitter team answered tweets and direct messages, and updated their feed by the hour with service updates. Staff even handed out packets of Love Hearts to commuters affected by delays on Valentine’s Day! Complaints remained minimal because it was clear that the station staff were going to huge lengths to be as helpful and efficient as possible. Communication between staff members was demonstrable at every level and commuters felt that they and their time were really being valued and appreciated.

3. Have a customer service REPRESENTATIVE

Ideally, outstanding customer service will trickle down from the top and create a team where every person at that company are experts at delighting their customers in every single interaction. However, talking to customers isn’t everyone’s strong point, and forcing your whole team into being chatty and upbeat is unlikely to work out. Good customer service can mean different things to different people so try to come up with a one-size-fits-all motto that everyone can get on board with. Even better, blow it up on vinyl and stick it on your wall where both you and your customers can see and refer back to it.

If you have lots of different personalities on your team it’s a good idea to have one role (or a sub team) to deal directly with customers so you know that your company is consistently being represented in the way you want it to. A person who is unflappable, confident, empathetic, organised and friendly is likely to be a good fit for your customer service expectations.

Consider personalities and choose employees who are best suited to customer-facing roles.

As part of this role, it’s crucial that they, alongside management, discourage any negative talk between staff about clients or customers. Of course, the customer isn’t always right and everyone needs to have an occasional moan, but it’s important to remain respectful of clients and customers and not make them the enemy, as this can quickly make for an antagonistic atmosphere that customers will be aware of.

4. invest in your first impression

Customer service happens the minute a customer interacts with someone at your company, whether that’s through email, live chat, over the phone or in person. Many customers will base their decision on whether to work with you from that very first interaction so it’s essential you get it right from the get go, and that means paying attention to the small stuff. Emails littered with spelling mistakes tell the customer you don’t pay attention to detail. Calls that are never returned tells them your team don’t communicate with each other. A rushed hello whilst you’re scrabbling for a pen and paper suggests you’re just not organised. A robotic online interaction shows your service is not personalised. You need to think about the image you want to portray and then mould every aspect of your service around this.

If you want to appear professional, then try having your team wear formal clothing. If you want to appear slick and streamlined, then have a demonstrable system for recording and resolving customer issues. If you want to come across as friendly, then spend time perfecting an upbeat email tone with personalised information. Great customer service needs to happen at every part of the buying process and during every interaction, whether it’s from the pre-sales team, the buyers, the receptionist, the developer, the director, or the sales assistant.

5. dON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Customers know that social media makes up a huge part of every businesses marketing plan, and they use that to their advantage when it comes to complimenting and complaining about the brands and businesses they like and dislike. Viral complaints can take a company down in less than a day, while viral praise can bring in more new customers than you ever thought possible.

There are lots of stories on the internet of companies going above and beyond to deliver truly astonishing levels of customer service – customers being met at airport gates by a tuxedo-ed  delivery driver and their favourite takeout food, a lost toy being returned to children alongside photo albums of its adventures, and supermarkets delivering food to snowed-in members of the public free of charge – but what about the small day-to-day customer service you can deliver without a huge budget or social media strategy?

Jimyz Automative in Streetsboro decided to take their customer service back to basics and use the classic, age old strategy of thank you notes.

Jim himself writes a thank you note to each of his customers upon them leaving his garage, which prompted one of his happy customers to share an image of his thank you note in an online Reddit post. Despite the vast expansion of the internet, many people popped up to say that they recognised Jim’s thank you notes and that they too remembered his garage and its service.

“I used to live in Streetsboro and I know exactly who that is. He’s a good man, stay with him!”

Even non-customers began commenting on Jim’s great quality service:

“It’s little things like this that earn business. If I got this card I would never use

another mechanic in my life.”

And all of this without so much as a hashtag!

Most businesses will be on social media in some form or another, whether it’s just a Facebook page or a whole LinkedIn back catalogue of articles. The important thing is that you always reply to comments and reviews, good or bad, as quickly and professionally as possible to demonstrate to existing and potential customers that you value their feedback and are proactively taking their comments on board.

The 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey found that 68% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-6 reviews. And it’s not just the big businesses that people check up on – the survey found that 91% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and a huge 84% of people said they trusted online reviews from strangers as much as a personal recommendation from friends or family. So make sure that your social media engagement is reflecting your brand and is to the same standard as the rest of your customer interactions.

Image via Pablo by Buffer.

Is your business struggling with social media, or perhaps need a push in the right direction? Maybe your SEO isn’t up to scratch, or you could do with some help with your local listings to help get more customers through the door?

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