The following guest blog post comes to us from our friend Harry, who writes about customer service for small businesses.
Today’s consumers expect a great shopping experience, and they’re willing to keep searching until they find it. Research suggests they’re willing to pay for it, too: 86 percent of consumers will choose the better customer service experience even if it’s not the cheapest option, according to a report from RightNow.com. The challenge for most small businesses is choosing how to deliver that customer service, especially with limited resources. Consumers like a variety of customer service channels that extend onto the Internet, so businesses need to diversify if they want to win the customer service battle.
Make Yourselves Available Online
It’s a risky move to ignore online customer service options. Many are inexpensive to implement and give customers a range of options to choose from. Email, for example, can be great for small businesses dealing with a low volume of customer service inquiries: an email address is free to set up and can be managed by current employees as inquiries come in.
Social media, meanwhile, provides another cheap venue for engaging customers and responding to customer service needs. Social profiles are free to set up on Facebook, Twitter and other major networks, and they provide a direct connection with individual customers. According to RightNow.com, customers like using these public forums for posting about their experiences. Even negative experiences can be turned positive: When businesses respond adequately to complaints from customers, more than half of those negative reviewers revise their opinion and take a positive view of the company.
Finally, for small businesses managing larger client loads through their company websites, live chat is a customer service channel that’s growing in popularity among consumers. Live chat eliminates the lag time between filing a customer service inquiry and receiving feedback, and it’s also easier to fit in than calling a customer service number. Plus, it can greatly increase your conversion rates and improve customer satisfaction, notes LivePerson.com.
And with relatively inexpensive cloud service, integrating these customer service solutions is easy. Everything can be hosted on remote servers, freeing up real estate (and cash) for a company’s operations. Emails, chat logs and company data can also be stored through cloud services like Mozy to improve service levels.
Don’t Leave Customers Hanging
Whatever the customer service channel, speed should be the top goal of a business. Being personable and helpful are also critical to effective customer service, but RightNow.com notes that 50 percent of consumers will abandon a brand if their customer service inquiry is ignored for more than a week. Faster is always better, which is why immediate feedback through call centers and live chat are so highly valued among consumers.
Hire a Call Center at Your Own Risk
Call centers are one of the oldest and most common methods of delivering customer service, particularly on a large scale. But as Mashable notes, it comes at a very high price: call center services can cost businesses about $1 for every minute a representative is on the line with a customer. So if your customer service call center averages 1,000 phone calls per month at an average of 10 minutes per call, you’re spending $10,000 each month just on your call center. That’s a huge expense for any business, but small businesses will feel a particular strain in trying to afford this service.
As a result, many small and mid-sized businesses are turning to more cost-effective channels. Plus, live-chat options provide a similar interaction as call centers while reducing handling costs by 80 percent. This means you can still deliver that one-on-one experience and personalized engagement without pouring money into a call center.
Harry May is a freelance journalist who favors writing about small business, entrepreneurs, and start-up businesses.