Competition is fierce; to distinguish itself, a small business needs to stand out from the crowd. Customer service is the way to do that.
The Benefits of Great Customer Service
Whether your business is brick-and-mortar or online, savvy small businesses know that good customer service isn’t an option; it’s required. Good customer service not only makes you money, it saves you money. Steals.com is one company that is growing by pleasing both customers and vendors.
VerticalResponse, an email marketing provider, knows this, too. They have cases filled with trophies to prove their business acumen, including Inc 5000, Deloitte Technology Fast 500, and the Stevie, among others.
The company’s customer service starts with online content that helps customers learn and problem-solve on their own.
But many customers prefer a real person, who can listen to their particular set of circumstances, so Vertical Response has customer service reps at the ready. And they’re top notch, according to Janine Popick, president and CEO of Vertical Response.
Great Customer Service Is Learned Outside the Classroom
Training customer service reps isn’t just a matter of classroom instruction. It requires on-the-job, informal training that happens in hallways and break rooms as well as during conversations with customers. How did you handle that situation? Is there a way to avoid this specific problem? Does this problem come up often? Have you had complaints about that new function that was just added to the service? And most importantly, do we have a product or service that does what this person wants? Or, can we create a work around? Are we marketing it correctly? Or is this a new product/service we should offer?
Customer service should not be scripted interactions, run through as fast as possible, to get customer’s through anticipated problems. Nor is customer service training just a matter of teaching service reps to deal with anxious customers and tough questions. It’s training them to listen. Customer service is about developing products and marketing what customers want and need. In other words, customer service keeps customers happy with the products you have now and can point you toward products might be best sellers.
But only if customer service can have those water-cooler moments with product development and marketing.
Even though it would have been a whole lot cheaper to outsource customer service abroad or even to the midwest, Popick made a strategic decision to keep customer service under the same roof as product development and marketing in San Francisco, which is a particularly expensive part of the country.
Chatting by the water cooler isn’t wasting time, says Concordia’s Saul Carliner, director of the Education Doctoral Program and associate professor in the Department of Education and author of Informal Learning Basics.
“Formal and informal learning are interrelated processes that work together to build job performance,” says Carliner. “Most of the focus on training in the workplace is on formal training programs, while the majority of learning that actually occurs in the workplace occurs informally in the context of the job.” A 2009 Conference Board of Canada study put the proportion of informal learning at 56 per cent; other researchers estimate it’s closer to 70 or 80 percent.
Informal interactions help people do their own jobs better, pass on ideas to others, and can help your company grow in many ways. Happy customers are repeat customers. Unhappy customers are a great source of market research. And sustainable companies look to the future as well as to the present.