Providing exceptional service to customers -- before, during and after the purchase -- can produce the most valuable link between customer, business and product.
The problem is that small businesses aren't perfect when it comes to customer service procedures and tactics. In the corporate world employees have access to tools including a knowledge base, support training, and they also have corporate best practices and policies to guide them.
Small businesses tend to work at customer service on an as-needed basis. When the time comes to deal with challenging customer, a lack of procedure can make it difficult to provide good customer service.
How to Deal With an Infuriated or Annoyed Customer
While you might be able to throw together a quick solution that works for the customer most of the time, you will eventually have an irate customer on the phone and need to work hard to not only resolve the problem, but to regain that customer's trust and respect.
John Tschohl, service strategist and author of Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service and The Customer is Boss, says when you are dealing with an irate customer you might want to turn and run, but you should instead look at this as an opportunity to win over a customer for life.
An upset customer may have one of a dozen good reasons for being upset, but you can remedy the situation by immediately taking control. To defuse the situation, Tschohl recommends you take the following steps:
- Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer tells you.
- Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.
- Put yourself in the customer's place, and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, "I understand that must be upsetting," or "I dont blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way."
Once you have the customer settled, then it's time to work on gathering the information you need to solve the problem.
To do this, you should ask pertinent questions (in a caring, concerned manner) and actively listen to the answers the customer gives. This will help you to suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer's concerns.
If you cannot solve the problem quickly and efficiently on your own, you need to admit this to the customer -- but stay on track and quickly find someone who can resolve the problem right away.
It's good practice to make sure that you provide all details when you hand-off the customer. Passing all details along the customer service track prevents the customer's temper from rising from having to repeat the same information multiple times.
When you successfully handle irate customers and their complaints, you will be rewarded with a satisfied customer.
Where Small Businesses can Improve Customer Service
In the bigger picture of small businesses and customer service, it's often thought that excellent customer service in ecommerce can serve as a way to help you rise above the corporate retail competition and lure sale away from some of the big online retailers.
Unfortunately, Tschohl believes small businesses to be the biggest offenders of customer service. "Small businesses could run circles around the big guys, but they don't," he said.
Sometimes it could be a lack of training or financial reasons holding a small business back. Take, for example, the case of a Subway franchise in Nova Scotia, Canada, which made international headlines after firing an employee for giving away a sub sandwich to neighbors left homeless (and hungry) following an apartment fire.
This, according to Tschohl, is a problem because excellent customer service is derived from empowering employees to make smart decisions. When you fire an employee over making a customer service decision your staff will be unwilling to provide exceptional service and make decisions because they fear losing their job.
"Small business owners need to put more emphasis on "service" and stop trying to hang on to every dollar for dear life," said to Tschohl. "This type of employee-empowered customer service decision could have been easily covered as a marketing expense -- it's not a sales loss."
At the end of the day, small business ecommerce owners must compete with the larger, more well-known retailers for sales, and the best way to compete is to offer the very best customer service you can. Tschohl offered the following tips to help you get started:
- Empower and allow employees who deal with the customers to make choices to improve customer service. Employees who are scared to make decisions do not provide adequate service.
- Look beyond the immediate dollar sign when dealing with customers. In the end, customers will return and spend more money if you offer the right solution.
- For online retail businesses you need to get rid of voice mail and increase staff to ensure live person is on 24/7 to handle voice calls.
- Make it easier for customers to reach you on their first try, and make sure someone in a management position is available for escalated customer service issues.
- Remember: regardless what business you're in -- first and foremost you're in the service business.
More Small Business Customer Service Tips
Looking to get a better handle on improving your customer service? Try these tips and guides for small business ecommerce sites:
- Customer Service Options for Small Web Shops
- Ecommerce Marketing: Failed Customer Service
- Customer Service with a Virtual Smile
- Customer Service Roundup
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has spent the last decade contributing featured articles and reviews to more than 20 technology-focused publications, including Webopedia and Ecommerce-Guide. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.
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