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Providing exceptional customer service is critical to running a successful small business. To do that, small business owners should aim to create a culture of customer service. Not sure how to get started? This article breaks down the simple steps to follow.
Prospective customers can easily determine if you’re good or bad at service. Customers expect support to be convenient and fast, online and in-person. They expect you to have knowledgeable employees who are empowered to solve problems. And they expect you to be available wherever they are looking for information or trying to contact you—in your retail setting, on social media, on your website, by email, or when they call on the phone.
Excellent customer service is key to turning first-time buyers into lifelong customers. That’s why creating a culture of customer service will set your business up for success and distinguish you from the competition.
6 Steps to Create a Culture of Customer Service
Creating a culture of customer service is a worthy endeavor for any small business. But where do you start? A service culture exists when you motivate the employees in your organization to take a customer-centric approach to their regular work activities. Employees must put customer needs first when presenting solutions and providing support. Customer demands are changing. It’s important to learn how to develop an excellent digital-first customer experience. Here is the 6-step strategy to creating a culture of customer service that will make your small business stand out.
1. Understand Where Customer Expectations Come From
The first step in creating a culture of customer service is to understand the origins of your customer expectations. How and when are expectations formed about your business? Some ideas include:
- Past Experiences: A customer’s prior experience with your business will set expectations for their next visit. Consistency is important! Everything from your product/service to the interactions with your employees must be consistently high-quality. Negative experiences can set expectations too. Therefore, it’s important to resolve each customer conflict quickly to change their negative experience to a positive one.
- Your Competition: Your customer also forms expectations from your direct competitors. Speed, value, quality of service…where your competitors stand on these metrics will set customer expectations for your business too. To understand customer expectations that originate from your competitors, you must experience your competitor’s product or service first-hand.
- Online Reviews or Word-of-Mouth: Customers also form expectations based on what they read in online reviews or what they hear from friends and family. Therefore, small business owners should monitor and respond to online reviews regularly in order to demonstrate exceptional service and change the narrative. For help, check out my free resource: the ultimate guide to online reviews.
2. Learn to Listen for Customer Expectations
Now that you know where customer expectations come from, it’s time to train yourself to actively listen for these expectations. Doing so will allow you to set up a culture of customer service that can meet and exceed those expectations.
As mentioned above, monitoring and responding to online reviews is one way to listen for customer expectations. Complaints about speed, quality, or other aspects of your business indicate that your business violated an important expectation.
Here are some other ways to listen for customer expectations:
- Look for brand mentions on social media platforms to hear what customers say about your business.
- Monitor your competition to see what new things they are doing (which may change expectations). You can also monitor their online reviews and mentions to see what their customers are ranting or raving about.
- If a customer takes time to rave (or complain) to your employees, listen carefully and document the interaction so you can learn from it.
- Customers who don’t approach you with complaints or compliments also have valuable feedback. Talk to your customers regularly to learn about their experience and if you’re meeting their expectations.
- You can also conduct your own customer research or encourage more customers to share feedback with you online and in person. For help, check out my article on soliciting customer feedback.
3. Define What Great Customer Service Means
By this step, you’ve got a good idea of your customer expectations. Now that you’ve gathered the data, you can do one of the most vital steps in creating a culture of customer service – define what great customer service means for your business. For example:
- Where do my customers want to reach my business (website, social media channels, email, physical location, etc.)?
- How can I make it easier for customers to reach my business?
- How fast do customers expect their questions or issues to be resolved?
- What knowledge and skills must my employees have to provide great customer service?
- What systems do I have to set up for customer service and customer interactions to go smoothly?
- How can I monitor and improve my business’s customer service over time?
By defining what great customer service means, you set a benchmark to measure your success and create the culture of customer service you want to be known for.
4. Build Your Customer Service Team Wisely
Creating a culture of customer service requires you to build a customer service team that is equipped to do the job. When you’re evaluating candidates, be sure to look out for qualities like:
- Good communication skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Problem-solving skills
- Positive attitude and language
- Willingness to learn
Once your customer service team members are on board, it’s up to you to build them up with proper training. This means creating training materials to help them and offering them on-the-job support and feedback. It’s also important to remember that training doesn’t end the first week (or month) on the job. Small business owners should regularly review performance and provide ongoing training opportunities.
5. Set Goals and Expectations for Your Customer Service Team
Creating a culture of customer service starts with (1) understanding customer expectations and (2) defining what great customer service means to you. You’ll now have to translate what those things mean in terms of expectations for your customer service team.
Document your expectations in the training materials you provide and make them clear when explaining company procedures. You may have expectations for how an employee interacts with a customer, the method they use to solve customer service problems, the amount of time it should take, etc.
Monitoring individual performance is important. However, you may also monitor the performance of your team to set larger goals for your business. For example, you may have a goal to speed up response time or handling time. When setting goals, make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timebound).
6. Adjust to Feedback on Both Sides
The final step in creating a culture of customer service is to be ready to adjust to feedback—because feedback is ongoing, and you need to have a plan to receive it and modify your customer service strategy.
Listen to the new feedback coming in from your customers and contemplate how your customer service team may adjust. Feedback may identify new or shifting expectations, or it may help you identify (and solve!) a problem in your business.
Feedback from your customer service employees is equally valuable. After all, they are at the front lines dealing with customers every day. Their feedback may help you identify aspects of your systems or processes that are not working optimally or find new ways to raise the bar on customer service.
A Culture of Customer Service
Creating a culture of customer service will help your small business stand out from the competition. It all has to do with paying attention to your customers’ expectations and empowering your employees to meet (and exceed those!) expectations. Follow the six steps in this article, and you’ll create a culture of customer service and a reputation as the best business in your market!