As small business owners, one of our greatest advantages over the more established corporations is how we treat our customers.
Personally I find it ironic that the big corporations who are listed on the stock exchange, hire the most people, have the fanciest,most modern buildings, are the ones that have the poorest level of customer service! 🙁 In a time where technology connects us quickly to information and to each other, it’s a wonder how some big companies still can’t serve their customers efficiently and effectively.
But instead of griping and complaining (which is unproductive!), I wrote some of my insights and suggestions in the area of customer service:
1. Why is customer service just soooo bad ba?
Front Liners have Limited/No Power
I think that as wonderful our country is, one of the things I hate the most is red tape. In Western countries, the service representative is empowered to make the customer happy. They are even lauded for taking initiative to match their job description. Do you know that the cost of acquiring a new customer is 7x higher than just keeping an existing one? It’s good business sense to extend great service to existing customers.
I was in the US a while back and we had a very unpleasant experience in a store (one of my family members got discriminated against), and I filled up the Contact Us form on their website and wrote what happened. In a matter of 3 days, I got a reply from the head of the store:
The gift card was cool, but what we appreciated more was that we were heard. I actually feel bad for these customer service representatives here in the Philippines. It’s not their fault that they’re part of a broken system, but they have to bear the huge brunt of frustrated customers!
Sometimes it just feel like they (big companies) aren’t really trying. Duopolies earn billions, but improvements go at a snail’s pace. Because there are only 2 or 3 big players, corporations don’t feel the heat or the pressure to be the best.
Every time there’s news of a new player coming in to disrupt the market, everyone gets excited because it would mean more competitive rates and better service.
We’re waiting Mr. President 🙂
2. What are our Advantages as a Small Business?
Fixing Mistakes Quickly
As an entrepeneur with probably zero or little staff, we can be more flexible in our policies and quicker with our response times.
One of our brands recently launched a new product. We decided to offer a pre-order discount to promote interest and drum up sales for our products. Our mistake was neglecting to do a quality check before delivering the goods.
The shipment already arrived two weeks late, so we were in an extra hurry to deliver our products. Two customers messaged us complaning that they received dirty items. We panicked and thought our entire shipment might have been compromised, but fortunately, it was only just those few.
A quick investigation revealed that prior to producing our product, the factory produced a black-colored item. Our wonderful staff immediately booked Grab for same day delivery for replacement items, and also put some additional free items and an extended pre-order discount should they wish to purchase again.
Looking back, it wasn’t a big deal, but at the time it gave us quite a scare.
I’m very grateful also to our customers for trusting a young brand like ours. They were also very pleasant in raising their complaints. Our company already had small margins because of the pre-order discount promotion, but in moments like these, profit is secondary. Going the extra mile paid off, both of those customers posted our products on social media, and even placed additional orders.
We Are the Experts of Our Business
Information is everything in business, and the breadth of our knowledge of our product translates to how confident we are when we present it to our staff and our customers.
I honestly find it a bit annoying when I go to a store and ask a question to the staff, and they’re clueless. Entrepreneurs with startup businesses are expected to know everything. The first person you train is yourself. As of now, we only have 5 broad SKU’s in our product range, so it’s easy for me to cite from memory all the product specs, safety certifications, name of the supplier, our landed cost, etc. This allows me quickly to compute whether we should pursue a partnership or a promotion, or cite how our products are much more awesome than our competitors hehe.
From the beginning, we can already create a culture of competency, responsiblity and expertise, and then pass it on to the staff we will hire.
3. Some Best Practices
It seems common sense to say take care of your customers, or have great customer service, but common sense really isn’t common practice
- reply to social media inquiries (Facebook / Instagram / Twitter, etc.) ASAP. If a company takes too long to reply, I tend to think that they’re not as reliable in delivering a quality product or service. In Facebook, if I see the company “replies instantly”, I’d have more confidence in doing business with them. You can invest in a Social Media Manager/Intern when you can’t handle the volume na. It’s worth the added cost in exchange for excellence and goodwill.
- invest your time in training staff – one-on-one sessions until they really understand what the product/service is about, run through various scenarios, role playing (customer and client)
- make everything as easy as possible for the customer (provide all information on the onset to avoid back and forth, make your website viewer-friendly)
- constantly look for ways to improve! Ex:we’ve been through 3 couriers already and we still try new services
- never get complacent, especially when you’re gaining momentum. Don’t take your customers for granted. Your competitor is working doubly hard to get your market share. Eep!
- always put yourself in the customer’s shoes – is there anything inconvenient, troublesome, or confusing about our product or service? What can create a win-win solution. Ask your friends to view your store pages and give objective feedback. Don’t defend, just listen and take notes.
If we messed up and didn’t clean up….
When you’re an entrepreneur, you put so much of yourself into your product or service that it just pains you when a customer is dissatisfied. We have much more to lose when we don’t take care of our customers.
For small business owners, customer service is critical. Not many people know us yet, and our customer base is limited. Every warm body that enters our shop, goes to our website, or sends an inquiry counts! It spells the difference between a one-time deal and a loyal, returning client base.
True, a bad review won’t bankrupt us immediately, but can send us into a slippery slope that would be hard to get back up from. An ounce of prevention is always worth the cure.
Are there any customer service stories you want to share as a consumer or as a business owner?