Small business owners can use stellar customer service to build loyalty and set themselves apart from the competition.
Creating connections with customers is crucial for businesses of any size. But for small businesses, it’s an opportunity to shine. Small companies can use stellar customer service as a way to develop close connections with their clients and set themselves apart from the competition.
The first step toward unrivaled customer service is to make sure the entire company has a customer-oriented mindset, said Kate Zabriskie, CEO and president of Business Training Works. “You’ve got to be always thinking about what’s best for the customer—not what’s best for you,” she said.
It’s also best to only work with customers who you can help, she said. Companies often get in trouble when they take on customers that aren’t a good fit. “If you know you’re not the best solution for that client, you need to tell them that,” she said.
When meeting with a potential client, listening is key, she said. “Listen to what their end objective is and really try to solve the problem in a couple of different ways,” Zabriskie said.
If you’re a landscaper meeting with a homeowner who’s getting ready to put his house up for sale, for example, be sure to present an inexpensive solution that can quickly make a big impact as well as a long-term plan.
Once you’ve brought a client into the fold, be sure to continue to pay attention to what their needs are, adds Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert. Do surveys to determine their level of satisfaction. If a customer has an issue, address it right away. “Help solve problems before they escalate,” she said.
Zabriskie, Whitmore and Jaclyn Peresetsky, owner of the salon chain Skin Perfect, offered the following advice for building outstanding customer connections.1. Empower Employees to Solve Problems
If a customer has a concern, she doesn’t want to be put on hold or bounced around to different people or departments, Whitmore said. Business owners should not want that, either. There’s valuing in having the problem resolved quickly during the first phone call. In order to do that, employees need to have the authority to make decisions and know that the company will stand behind them, Whitmore said.2. Follow Up in a Meaningful Way
Customers can recognize the difference between a perfunctory follow-up call where the company representative is going through the motions and someone who is familiar with what was purchased and really wants to know if it is working, Zabriskie said.
Follow-up calls need to be genuine and really delve into how well the product is serving the customer, agreed Whitmore. Be sure to ask: “Could we do something else to help better your team’s experience?”3. Do Something Unexpected
Last Christmas, Zabriskie’s bank delivered a poinsettia to her office to thank her for being a customer for 10 years. It was a great surprise, she said.
Companies should look for ways to replicate that. Consider giving gifts, writing notes or offering a business-related perk. The more on-brand the better, Zabriskie said. She said she would be equally pleased if her landscaper offered to aerate her lawn for free in celebration of her 10-year anniversary or left a copy of the summer’s best-selling novel on her doorstep with a note to enjoy the weekend since the yard work was done.
At Skin Perfect, Peresetsky recently instructed her employees to send gift cards to anyone who had not been to salon for three months. She also once ran a campaign where technicians taught clients how to use products they already owned as under-eye concealer. She also offers clients free mini-facials and a cupcake on their birthday.
These little things go a long way in building loyalty, she said.4. Keep Notes
Peresetsky uses software that allows her employees to keep detailed notes on what services they’ve provided client, what their likes and dislikes are, and personal details they’ve shared. The information allows the team to customize visits and even offer clients their favorite beverage at the end of the service.
Keeping notes about a client’s personal life will allow you to have more meaningful conversations and take the relationship to another level, Whitmore added.5. Share Information
Each fall, Zabriskie’s landscape representative schedules an appointment for the two of them to walk her yard. He explains how various treatments are working, highlights areas that might need attention and offers some ideas for new plantings. The free service engages Zabriskie and gets her thinking about working with the firm the following year.
Peresetsky regularly holds free workshops for clients and their friends where she shares information about skin care and other wellness tips. Customers love it and always ask for more. “They remember that,” she said. “It keeps them excited.”