My tough love approach (heavy on the love) focuses on bringing order to chaos, and creating solid (and straightforward) strategic plans. I take surveys for fun, never met a process I didn’t like, and am a big believer in personal growth as a keystone to business growth.
As a small business owner, you want to ensure you’re offering the best possible customer service to your clients from the first time they contact you, and as you build your relationship with them. But what does it take to not only meet your clients’ expectations, but exceed them in every way imaginable so that they not only agree to work with you again, but they’re actually knocking down your door and telling their friends about you?
In our first post of our two-part series on Two Sides of the Customer Service Coin, we explored How to Build Effective Vendor-Client Relationships – what to look for in a reliable vendor, and how to be a good client. Today, we’re talking about customer service from an entrepreneur’s point of view.
Let’s dive in!
In the past, we’ve talked about how trust is the foundation of every solid business relationship. You can build trust with potential customers you cross paths with (even if they haven’t hired you yet!) by helping them solve simple problems in their business for free, and by just keeping in touch.
For example, maybe you’ve heard them wondering how they can find out who’s visiting their website, and where their traffic is coming from. You find them a tutorial about Google Analytics and maybe even take 15 minutes to explain the basics. It doesn’t even matter if digital marketing isn’t your niche; you’ve just demonstrated your ability to be a valuable resource to them.
One of my biggest pet peeves is having to fill out online forms for the same company multiple times, when I know I’ve already provided my information. It wastes my time and makes me think they must not have very efficient processes in place (technical or otherwise). Set up your online forms (and track cookies) so your clients only have to enter their information once – getting this small detail right will make you look like a pro, and put you ahead of your competitors who haven’t figured it out.
A note about security: In a time when small businesses and multinational corporations alike face the threat of data breaches, it’s absolutely critical to keep customer data and login information secure. Use LastPass, 1Password or other password protection software.
Also, if you have a contact form on your website, get yourself a SSL certificate. Since late last year, Google Chrome has been flagging websites that don’t have one with a big, bright red warning for all visitors right in the URL bar. You don’t want one of those popping up!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted on social media looking for services and had a number of vendors or contractors tell me they’re interested in finding out more, only for me to send them a message or email and never hear from them again! In those cases, I research the ones who send articulate, thoughtful (read: not obviously generic copied and pasted) replies and who have been recommended by other business owners, and go with one of them.
This is and always has been a basic tenet of doing business, and even more so in 2018; you’re now competing on a global scale, so you can’t afford to take days to respond to inquiries from promising leads or potential customers. To keep track of potential customers and your relationships with them, use a CRM like Contactually or HubSpot. This way, all those business cards, to-do lists and sticky notes are all in one place! The software will let you store contact information and track your interactions over time – an invaluable resource to help you keep your lead generation machine healthy, efficient and well-fed!
Having an Onboarding Process that answers new clients’ frequently asked questions and helps them become acquainted with how you do business is another thing that will improve your relationship, save you both time and frustration, and set you apart from competitors who don’t have one of these in place.
It also signals to your client that you consider them worth the time and effort to invest in welcoming properly! Think about it – the last time you bought a product or service and received professional documentation, a manual and other materials to help you get the most out of your new purchase, I bet it made you feel pretty darn good about your decision! This will have the same result.
To run a business effectively, you not only need the skills to sell and do the work, you also need soft skills, such as the ability to listen and empathize with your clients. There’s not a company on the planet in business today that hasn’t grown with their customers. Successful business owners know how to incorporate customer feedback in new product releases and service packages to better fit their clients’ needs.
But how do you put adaptability and innovation into practice? An easy way is to keep in mind that customers are at the heart of your business, and your current customers are an invaluable resource. While it’s great to hear that our customers are overjoyed with our work, the most enriching personal and professional growth experiences we have come from learning and challenging ourselves to do even better. Pick your customers’ brains about what you do well and what you could be doing better. Use that data to improve everything from your processes and procedures, customer service and service delivery to communication and new product or service offerings.
We’ve covered the reasons you need a Collections Process before. It’s worth the time to invest in creating one and reviewing it annually, because it will help you establish clear boundaries and expectations with your clients. It benefits both of you as you’ll know when and how you’ll get paid, and they’ll have a document to refer to so your invoices and any follow up that needs to happen won’t come as a surprise.
Clarity around boundaries and expectations helps build trust, but what happens when you don’t have a process? Your clients are left guessing and frustrated, and you’ll feel antsy about having to make it up as you go along and wondering when you’ll be paid.
Recently, I hired a company to perform a service and received an invoice. Though I had it in my inbox to pay by the due date, I kept receiving inappropriate and frequent reminders to pay up. It became obvious to me that a) cash flow was a problem for this company or b) they didn’t have a Collections Process in place. The entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m reconsidering whether I should hire them again.
Avoid this by including your Collections Process (pssst, that's our free guide!) in your Welcome Package, and refer to it if your clients have questions about your payment terms.
Related: Why You Need a Collections Process
Customer service is all about making sure you have the details in place to provide a kick-ass experience for your clients every time they work with you. You can do this by: building relationships; ensuring you’re collecting data efficiently and safely; implementing an Onboarding Process that makes them feel acquainted and welcomed; accepting and incorporating their feedback to improve your business and having a transparent Collections Process.
Any Old Task can help you create processes and procedures to take your customer service from average to amazing!
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