Manage your customer service
Customer service is a crucial element of business success. Every time you have contact with your customers you have an opportunity to improve your reputation. You can also increase the likelihood of further sales.
Almost every aspect of your business affects the way your customers view your business. This ranges from your telephone manner to the efficiency of your order-fulfilment systems. There are also specific programmes you can put in place to increase your levels of customer care.
What is customer service?
Customer service involves taking action to maximise your customers' satisfaction with your business. It should be a prime consideration for every business - your sales and profitability depends on keeping your customers happy.
Customer service is more directly important in some roles than others. For example, receptionists, sales staff and other employees in customer-facing roles. Customer care should be a core element of these job descriptions and training, and a core criterion when you're recruiting.
Don't neglect the importance of customer service in other areas of your business. For instance, your warehousing and dispatch departments may have minimal contact with your customers. However, their performance when fulfilling orders has a major impact on customers' satisfaction with your business.
Types of customer service
A huge range of factors can contribute to customer satisfaction, but your customers are likely to take into account:
- how well your product or service matches customer needs
- the value for money you 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 provide
Training courses may be useful for ensuring the highest possible levels of customer service. Use our Events Finder to search for suitable training courses.
Understand your customers better
Providing a high level of customer service means finding out what your customers want. Once you have found your most valuable customers, you can target your highest levels of customer service towards them. Another approach is treating all consumers to the highest standard. This works well in the consumer market.
Collect information about your customers
Information about your customers and what they want is available from many sources, including:
- their order history
- records of their contacts with your business - phone calls, meetings and so on
- direct feedback - if you ask them, customers will usually tell you what they want
- changes in individual customers' order patterns
- changes in the overall success of specific products or services
- feedback about your existing range - what it does and doesn't do
- enquiries about possible new products or services
- feedback from your customers about things they buy from other businesses
- changes in the goods and services your competitors are selling
- feedback and referrals from other, non-competitive suppliers
Manage your customer information
It's important that you draw up a plan about how customer information is to be gathered and used. Establish a customer-care policy. Assign a senior manager as the policy's champion but make sure that all your staff are involved. Often less senior staff have more direct contact with customers.
If you collect and use your customers' personal information, you must comply with the General Data Protection Act (GDPR).
Measure your customer service performance
Put systems in place to assess your performance in areas which affect your customers' satisfaction levels. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which reflect how well you're responding to your customers' expectations.
Key metrics for measuring customer service
To monitor satisfaction levels, you could track:
- sales renewal rates
- the number of queries or complaints about your products or services
- the number of complaints about your employees
- the number of damaged or faulty goods returned
- average order-fulfilment times
- the number of contacts with a customer each month
- the volume of marketing material sent out and responses generated
- time taken from order to delivery
Your customers and employees can tell you which KPIs best reflect key customer service areas in your business. Consider the service your customers would like to see when choosing what to measure.
There are important areas of customer service which are more difficult to measure. These involve 'qualitative' information such as customer opinions and feelings. Many of these are human factors such as a receptionist's telephone manner or a salesperson's conduct while visiting clients. In these areas it's crucial that you get feedback from your customers about their thoughts on your customer service.
Useful ways of gauging how customers perceive your business' include:
- customer surveys
- focus groups
- feedback programme
- phone calls to key customers
How to gather customer feedback
Customer feedback and contact programmes are two ways of increasing communication with your customers. They can represent great opportunities to listen to your customers. It can also give you the chance to let them know more about what you can offer.
Customer feedback programmes
Customer feedback can provide you with detailed information about how your business is perceived. It's a chance for customers to:
- voice objections
- suggest changes
- endorse your existing processes
It's also an opportunity for you to listen to what they say and act upon it.
Feedback is can be gathered using the following methods:
- online surveys
- face-to-face conversations
- phone calls - either structured or informal
- focus groups
Customer contact programmes
The purpose of customer contact programmes is to help you deliver tailored information to your customers. Examples include:
- a special offer that is relevant to a past purchase
- a reminder sent at the time of year when a customer traditionally places an order
Contact programmes are particularly useful for reactivating relationships with lapsed customers.
Do your best to make sure that your customers feel the extra contact is relevant and beneficial to them. Bombarding customers with unwanted calls or marketing material can be counter-productive.
There are a number if ways to contact your customers. See:
Keep in mind the rules regarding privacy and data protection in direct marketing.
Customer loyalty schemes
Good overall service is the best way of generating customer loyalty. You can also help strengthen relationships customer loyalty schemes. This can work for new and old customers.
Loyalty programmes reward customers for behaviour that benefits your business. Rewards can include:
- fixed or percentage discounts
- extra goods
They can also be used to persuade lapsed customers to give you another try.
Your customers' view of the service you provide will influence their loyalty more than rewards. Be sure to tackle any perceived customer service problems before implementing a scheme.
Example customer loyalty rewards
You can decide to offer rewards on the basis of:
- repeat custom
- cumulative spend
- orders for large quantities or with a high value
- prompt payment
- length of relationship
For example, a car wash might offer free cleaning every tenth visit or a free product if a customer opts for the deluxe service. A mail-order company might seek to revive the interest of lapsed customers by offering a voucher. You can improve response rates with such vouchers can be improved by setting an expiry date.
You can also provide key customers with loyalty cards that give them a discount on all their purchases.
Promote your loyalty scheme
Use customer service to increase sales
Your existing customers are important assets to your business. They have already chosen you instead of your competitors. Keeping their custom costs far less than attracting new business. It's worth taking steps to make sure that they're satisfied with the service they receive.
You can use techniques such as:
- providing a free customer helpline
- answering frequently asked questions on your website
- following up sales with a courtesy call
- providing free products that will help customers look after or make the most of their purchases
- sending reminders when services or check-ups are due
- offering preferential discounts to existing customers on further purchases
Existing customer relationships are opportunities to increase sales. Your customers will already have a degree of trust in your recommendations.
Sell more existing customers
Cross-selling and up-selling are ways of increasing either the range or the value of what you sell. They work by pointing out new purchase options tocustomers. Alerting customers when new, upgraded or relevant products become available is one way of increasing sales. You could do this through regular emails or newsletters.
To keep your customers' trust, never try to sell them something that doesn't meet their needs. Remember, your aim is to build a solid long-term relationship with your customers rather than to make quick one-off profits.
Satisfied customers will contribute to your business for years, through:
How to deal with customer complaints
Every business has to deal with situations in which things go wrong from a customer's point of view.
However you respond if this happens, don't be dismissive of your customer's problem - even if you're convinced you're not at fault. A customer with a complaint can be a genuine opportunity for your business:
- if you handle the complaint successfully, your customer is likely to prove more loyal than if nothing had gone wrong
- people willing to complain are rare - your complaining customer may be alerting you to a problem experienced by many others
You should also be aware of your legal duties when handling customer complaints.
How to handle complaints
You should handle complaints courteously, sympathetically and swiftly. Make sure that all staff in your business know your a procedure for dealing with customer complaints. At the very least it the process should involve:
- listening to the details of the complaint
- recording the details together with relevant material, such as a sales receipt or damaged goods
- offering rectification - whether by repair, replacement or refund
- appropriate follow-up action, such as a letter of apology or a phone call to make sure that you have solved the problem
If you're proud of the way you rectify problems - by offering no-questions refunds, for example - make sure your customers know about it. Your method of dealing with customer problems is one more way to stay ahead of your competitors.
When a customer complains online
Customers may choose to voice complaints on social media platforms such a Twitter or Facebook. These complaints and you handle them have an even bigger impact on your reputation as they take place in public. The best approach is to respond quickly and publically acknowledge the complaint. You should then continue the conversation by private message, email or phone call.
See use social media safely.