Small business customer service: How to provide an excellent experience

​​I was recently flipping through my copy of Unmarketing and saw I had marked a few pages where Scott Stratten discusses cases of world-class customer service at Zappos.

In addition to putting a smile on my face, the stories reminded me how vital small business customer service is to the success and survival of a business.

Too often, small businesses don’t prioritize customer service and learn the hard way how important it is. The result? Customers give their business to competitors, and small businesses suffer.

But how does a small business provide customer service worth writing, tweeting, or shouting from the rooftop about? 

Let’s look at a couple of rules for giving excellent small business customer, service with world-class examples you can share with your team.

Why is customer service important in business?

As a small business, you need to compete with larger companies with big budgets and lots of resources. One of the most effective ways to do this is by focusing your efforts on quality customer service. 

A structured and compassionate approach to small business customer service will benefit your business in the following ways:

  • Boosts the likelihood of customers returning when they have an impactful customer service experience with your small business.
  • Builds a loyal customer base who will recommend your company to their friends and families. 
  • Gives your business a reputation that will drive customers from bad experiences with competitors to your business.

Types of small business customer service you should know about

Where do you begin when building a world-class small business customer service strategy? You first need to learn the different types of customer service and how they can benefit your growth plans.

Reactive vs. proactive support

Should your small business customer service focus on dealing with customer issues as they come along, or should you take preventative measures to solve customer issues in advance?

Let’s dive into the difference between reactive and proactive support: 

Reactive support

Reactive support involves customers reaching out to your company and asking for help with their issues as they happen.

A customer will usually call the business, use live-chat options, email, or message through social media channels to find a customer service rep to solve their issue.

Pros of reactive support: 

  • You get to know what your customers’ problems are straight away.
  • Customers feel heard when speaking to a real person.
  • Support reps can understand and solve the problem in real-time.

Cons of reactive support:

  • Customers approach reactive support with frustration.
  • Your business has to hire enough support reps to deal with the demand from customers. 
  • Reactive support will cut deep into your budget as you scale.

Proactive support

Proactive support provides customers with resources and tools to solve issues, making reactive support the last option rather than the only option. 

Examples of proactive support include FAQs, walkthrough tutorials, guides, forums, and other informational content. 

Pros of proactive support:

  • Customers are educated on your product/service and can solve problems before they arise.
  • Customers don’t have to wait to contact a support rep.
  • It’s a one-time upfront cost. 
  • Actively reduce the number of issues that reach your support reps.

Cons of proactive support:

  • Consistent monitoring is needed to ensure your proactive support resources are updated and accurate.
  • Customers still need assistance from support reps depending on their problem.

While there are pros and cons for both types of support, you should include proactive resources into your small business customer service strategy. The pros outweigh the cons when it is time for your business to grow.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous support

How people communicate changes constantly, which means small businesses have to know how they can support their customers as conveniently as possible. 

Synchronous support

Synchronous support involves a live support rep helping a customer in a one-on-one conversation. The end goal is for the support rep to solve the customer’s problem.

Pros of synchronous support:

  • Customers feel heard when speaking to a real person.
  • They can ask multiple questions to gain specific answers.
  • Businesses can track support performance easily.

Cons of synchronous support:

  • Similar to phone support, synchronous support can only help one customer at a time.
  • Customers become frustrated with wait times for a support rep to respond to their problem.
  • Customers have to re-explain issues with every new support rep.

Asynchronous support

Asynchronous support involves having a conversation that starts, stops, and continues when convenient for the customer. Asynchronous support also allows for support reps to manage more than one customer at a time. 

Customer issues can be documented and for the support rep and customer to return to the case when they can.

This type of support considers customers’ busy lives, which helps reduce customer frustration.

Pros of asynchronous support:

  • Customers can go at their pace when it comes to resolving issues.
  • The conversation continues without customers having to repeat themselves to another service rep if they disconnect.
  • Allows for more mobile-friendly convenient options. 
  •  Support reps can solve multiple issues simultaneously rather than communicating with customers one by one.

Cons of asynchronous support:

  • Loss of a one-on-one interaction which many customers still prefer.

How to provide world-class small business customer service 

Small businesses that prioritize customer service will see a return on their investments through profits from returning and new customers. But those who want to provide world-class small business customer service have to go beyond the basics. 

Below are the top six ways your business can reach beyond basic customer service and compete with larger companies.

Listen actively and empathetically

Are your team members good listeners? Do you provide customers with undivided attention when they call?

Do you ask questions to understand further what the customer is saying? 

If you answered no to any of the above, genuinely listening to your customers is the best place to start.

If a customer calls in a rage, resist the urge to become defensive. Let them speak without interrupting. Then,acknowledge how frustrating the situation must have made them feel. 

By listening first and empathizing with your customer’s situation, you show that you care about them. Not only will this result in customer loyalty, but it increases patience in future interactions. 

Having compassion when listening to customers is also essential. If your customers call or email your team with a product/service issue, they’re already upset. Listen actively and empathetically, so they feel acknowledged. Most angry customers feel wronged, and being heard is important to them.  

Seal the deal and show your customers you care by recapping the phone conversation in an email to your customer, so you’re both on the same page.

World-class small business customer service example

The mythology-themed Amazon chat is an example of how one customer service rep turned an irritated customer into a beaming one. 

By actively listening to the customer, the Amazon employee was able to pick up on the customer’s humorous tone and run with it for a more lighthearted, personal interaction. 

The result? A happy customer and a viral conversation that reflects positively on the company.

On the flip side, here’s a quick lesson on poor listening skills and how not to treat your customers. Listen to Comcast’s disastrous customer service call.

Pro-tip: Document all customer interactions (phone calls, emails, or website entries) as an Activity in Method, so everyone on your team is updated.

Ability to mirror a customer’s language and tone

Working as a small business customer service rep is a tough job as you have to put your own emotions aside and focus on helping your customer. 

Customer service reps have to build customer rapport. They have to actively pay attention to their customer’s emotions, tone of voice, and language used.

Mirroring is a powerful way to connect with your customer. It is something that every person does naturally, but it’s also a skill you can learn.

Every customer wants to feel special and comfortable. Customer service reps must pay attention to the small details in a customer’s language and tone to optimize for the best possible interaction.

Tips for mirroring customers:

  • Begin by actively listening to your customer — this allows you to gain a better understanding of how your customer is feeling. 
  • Mirror your customer’s energy — For example: if your customer seems to be in a rush and speaking very fast, it’s best not to be super talkative and instead use efficient and assertive language. 
  • Do not mirror your customer’s emotions — When customers are angry or upset, don’t mirror their emotions. Instead, use a positive tone in your voice and body language.
  • Turn their negativity into positivity — Customers will mirror you too, so it’s best to be positive and have upbeat energy.

Clear communication

Clear communication is essential to effective small business customer service. This skill starts with actively listening to the customer’s problem. You don’t want to cut off your customer, and you want to know the full scope of the issue.

Afterward, you want to state what you will do to resolve the issue. You want to make sure your spelling and grammar are up to par for email or live chat communications. Beyond this, make sure you use positive language that conveys an upbeat attitude.

Over the phone, enunciate and speak at an appropriate volume to avoid miscommunications. Like email, you want to make sure you use a positive tone when speaking.

Pro-tip: Set up an automatic follow-up email to ask your customers about their customer support experience in Method. This way, you can strengthen your support processes. 

Interpersonal skills

When it comes to small business customer service, interpersonal skills are crucial to clearly communicate with your customers. 

Whether you’re connecting with your customer through phone, email, or in person, how you interact significantly impacts their customer service experience.

A team of customer support reps with excellent interpersonal skills will boost your customer’s experience. Practical interpersonal skills include:

  • Active listening.
  • Showcasing concern for the customer’s issue.
  • Politeness.
  • Speedy and efficient problem-solving. 

Attention to detail

Often, it’s the little details that we experience when we’re shopping that we remember. It’s also the ultimate decision a customer makes when choosing between your business and competitors.

For example, if your customer notices that the product or service they purchased from you wasn’t up to par, you want to make sure you actively investigate the reason, even if it’s a minor discrepancy. 

Another way that small business customer support reps can showcase attention to detail is by collecting customer information. You can send offers or special promotions for customers during their birthday or other important dates when you have their details.

World-class small business customer service example

Let’s take a look at JetBlue airlines, which saw a casual tweet from a frequent flier who couldn’t get their Starbucks coffee that morning because he was flying from a smaller airport.

JetBlue’s customer support team sprang to action and delivered a venti mocha to his airplane seat. This resulted in the customer raving about JetBlue all over his social media. 

This tiny attention to detail for this customer benefited JetBlue’s reputation significantly.

Pro-tip: Use Method to set up automatic emails so you can commemorate milestones like anniversaries and graduations with ease.

Attentiveness

Customers want to be heard and have their problems solved as soon as possible. 

73% say that the best trait a small business customer support rep can have is valuing the customer’s time. Being attentive and showing your customer that finding a solution for them is your top priority. 

While customers want their problems solved as quickly as possible, they also want them to be solved right. That means taking the time to listen to the customer explain the situation and assuring them that they will take action steps to a solution. 

Being attentive also includes following up with customers as soon as possible and being prepared for conflict. In these cases, it’s crucial to show the customer that you care about finding a solution and take the time to solve the issue for them. 

The little things make the biggest impact

Every touchpoint with a customer is an opportunity to connect with them and make them feel valued. 

After all, as Maya Angelou wisely said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that’s where the little things make a significant impact.

World-class small business customer service example

I was delighted this past year when the coffee shop worker asked for my name while taking my coffee order. 

When the barista finished making my coffee, instead of just shouting out the name of the drink, she saw me waiting and said, “Here’s your oat milk latte, Sarah.”

I immediately felt more valued and connected to my local coffee shop.

Pro-tip: Create a birthday field in the contacts table in Method. Then, schedule a task a few days in advance to send that customer a card or email.

Top customer service questions

Good small business customer service doesn’t just magically happen. It requires a business to ask serious questions to improve its processes. 

Below are questions a customer support rep should ask themselves:

1. What does good customer support look like?

Good customer support includes:

  • Fast problem-solving.
  • Empathy for customers.
  • Plenty of support channels for customers to access.

2. Which one of our competitors has the best customer support practices?

Looking at your competitor’s customer support process shows you how to upgrade your support strategy or gives you an example of practices to avoid.

3. Is the customer always right?

This well-known saying is about:

  • Empathizing with your customer.
  • Actively listening to their issues. 
  • Assuring the customer they’re important and worth a solution.

4. How do you deal with a demanding customer? 

It’s not easy for support reps to deal with disgruntled customers. The most important thing to remember is that customers are humans too, and respect and patience go a long way.

Examples of good customer service

Good customer service is when a business meets a customer’s every need and leaves them knowing that your company took their problems seriously. 

Good small business customer service includes:

  • Resolving problems as quickly as possible.
  • Providing round-the-clock support as well as after-hours support resources. 
  • Offering multiple channels for support.
  • Being proactive with problems your customers may encounter. 
  • Personalized support that takes into account a customer’s comfort levels. 
  • Learning from customer feedback to improve customer service.

Examples of bad customer service

Bad customer service is when a customer’s problems are not solved, and the business lets down their expectations. 

Customers are likely to share their terrible support experiences with others, and in this day and age, that usually means on social media platforms where tons of people can see. 

Bad small business customer service includes:

  • Not empathizing or caring about the customer’s issues. 
  • Being difficult for customers to reach your support channels. 
  • Automatic support messages that are unhelpful, lengthy, and annoying.
  • Long wait times with limited information on reaching support in other ways. 
  • Transferring customers to multiple support reps where the customer has to repeat their issue.
  • Not learning from customer feedback and being offended by it instead. 

Final thoughts on small business customer service

As a small business, you want to prioritize stellar customer support, and it’s a timely process. 

That’s why it’s good to know the areas to focus on so your business can compete with bigger companies and provide world-class customer support.

Learn how you can better your customer’s experience today with Method:CRM.

Image credit: Anatoliy via Adobe Stock

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