Why should small businesses prioritize customer service during Covid-19?
Some businesses are thriving during the pandemic and they're flooded with customers. Tradespeople are particularly busy, perhaps because people are working from home which makes organising home improvements easier.
If your small business is currently experiencing a surge of customers, customer service might not be top of your priority list. Running a business can be frantic – there are accounts to keep on top of, there’s marketing to do and much more. If you are experiencing high customer demand on top of this workload, your customer service may be suffering.
Here we share reasons why no business, large or small, can afford to let customer service slide and we share practical tips to help you make sure it doesn't.
Customer service should always be a priority.
What is poor customer service?
Poor customer service is when a business fails to meet a customer’s expectations.
For many small businesses, especially (but certainly not exclusively) trade sectors, poor customer service is often down to one of two things: lack of communication and unreliability.
Here are some quotes that frustrated customers have shared on Facebook and Google Reviews (with names and businesses omitted):
“It’s properly frustrating when you book a trade guy in, and they hanker for the work and then with the job half done, don’t bother letting you know when they can’t make it and just fail to show up repeatedly until you ring them and then they’re full of vague promises about when they might come. An allegedly ‘simple’ job which he said was a day or two has now run on a month and he’s still promising to ‘have it done this week’. There’s a guy I won’t be hiring again.”
“It is really awful (customer service). We have a lovely cupboard from (name omitted) which they were supposed to come and fix in February, which I am guessing due to Covid they couldn’t, but they haven’t said a thing!”
“We tried contacting him by text message and phone calls – complete radio silence…fed up with being messed around.”
“Some weeks ago I was given an appointment for today at 9am, I arrived in the morning and was told my appointment had been cancelled as my dentist has left the practice. I wasn't told my appointment was cancelled until I showed up today...An email or call letting me know at least 24h in advance would have been nice as I spent an hour to arrive to the practice for nothing…considering what has happened today I'm not sure I trust I will see my dentist on that day either.”
Why is poor customer service a problem for a small business?
Repeat business from existing customers will dwindle
Obviously, dissatisfied customers don’t return and repeat business is vital for the long-term success of any business. Even if you are extremely busy now, will you still be busy in two or three years if you don’t take care of your existing customers today?
Potential new customers will stay away
If existing customers are not happy, what do they do? They broadcast their dissatisfaction on the internet, damaging your company’s reputation and putting off potential customers.
Similarly, if a potential customer has made initial contact to arrange a quote and their calls haven’t been returned or they have been left in the dark wondering when you will start a job, they may share their negative experience with others.
Ratings websites (such as Trustpilot and Rated People), Google Reviews and Facebook are all vehicles for customers to vent their frustration and anger.
An entire Facebook group has been set up for the unhappy customers of one business with 1.1K members. Nobody wants to be that business!
What do customers do when they’re happy?
They tell everybody!
Many villages and towns have Facebook pages where people go to ask for recommendations, particularly when they need to find a service.
You need customers to leave plenty of great Google Reviews. Google Reviews are very important for search engine optimisation. That means businesses with better reviews show up higher on Google search listings than those with poorer reviews. Good reviews also mean those customers are more likely to go ahead and use your services. For example, if you type ‘best solicitors Nottingham’ into Google, this is what you see:
Word of mouth is a powerful but underrated marketing strategy, and these days ‘word of mouth’ is mostly online communication.
What does great customer service look like?
These are our tips:
1. Communication and reliability
Return messages and phone calls as promptly as possible and let your customers know the best way to contact you (email, phone, WhatsApp?). You might consider using automated response software to tell customers when you will contact them in person (eg. within 24 hours). Automated response apps are available for both Apple and Android devices.
Communicate clearly and regularly with customers, always keeping them in the loop. Never keep a customer in the dark wondering what’s going on. If you are an electrician, for example, tell them the time and date you are going to start work. If you’re going to be late one day, tell them as soon as you can.
Most people are very understanding when they know what is happening. Communicating well with customers is vital for small business health in the long-term.
Really listen to your customers when they speak to you so you understand what they need and how you can help them. Never assume you already know what they’re going to say. You can show you’re actively listening by repeating what they’ve said back to them, by using phrases like “It sounds like…?” or “So you would like…?
If you promise something you must deliver it otherwise you will break trust and leave your customer feeling angry. Sometimes unexpected events occur that mean promises are broken and if that happens offer your customer something to compensate.
It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to do the opposite.
4. Clear expectations
Make sure your customer understands exactly what to expect from your product or service. For example, if you are a painter and decorator provide an itemized quotation and list of work to be done. Customers don’t like surprises, especially when it comes to time and money.
Go the extra mile to help your customers. This might be by explaining what you need to do, why a job will take a certain length of time and what materials cost. Great customer service can mean anticipating your customers’ needs and providing for them. For example, a customer might ask for something which means they will also need something else but they didn't realise.
Helpfulness means customers are more likely to come back. This might be due to the phenomenon of reciprocity: if you do something for somebody they want to do something in return.
6. Follow up
After you’ve delivered a product or service get in touch with your customer. Politely thank them for their business and check they are satisfied. If there are any problems address them promptly, efficiently and politely.
How do I make time to deliver the best customer service?
Managing your time efficiently is the key. As a small business you have a greater chance of standing out from your competitors if you prioritize customer service.
Providing a high-quality service/product and keeping and attracting new customers through outstanding customer service are the priorities of any business, large or small.
Create a ‘to do’ list so you know what must be done now and what can wait. Categorise your ‘to do’ this by this week, this month and this year and then begin tackling it.
Keep a diary
Keeping an electronic or paper diary rather than relying on memory means you are less likely to overcommit your time and forget appointments with customers.
Consider turning off electronic notifications and get into the habit of checking texts and emails at spaced intervals, perhaps three times a day. By doing this you will keep on top of communications without detracting from the tasks you need to do right now.
Think about outsourcing tasks like accounting, answering the phone and writing blog posts that promote your business. An accountant, a virtual assistant and a content writer will be able to help you. You can use autoresponders such as Buffer or Hootesuite to automate your social media and manage email marketing campaigns.