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The Art of Customer Service

Using Customer Service to Set Your Business Apart

Let’s be honest, there aren’t many things that a smaller business can do better than a bigger one. Bigger businesses can benefit from economies of scale, making for cheaper pricing. Bigger businesses have bigger budgets for R&D. Bigger businesses have better distribution, better marketing, better coffee. The list goes on. Before you get despondent and question your life choices, however, things aren’t entirely bleak for the ambitious entrepreneur with a competitive streak. There are places where you can compete and where size can, in fact, be a disadvantage.

Delivering an excellent, personalised and enjoyable customer experience is usually the one area where small businesses can distinguish themselves. Despite this, many companies fail to create this experience – not because they don’t want to but because they misunderstand what it takes to create truly stand-out customer service.

Before we go any further, let’s define what customer service is. It’s not just about being nice to your customers and making sure they get what they bought. It’s about delivering a positive and consistent experience that emulates the purpose and goals of your company. Your approach to customer service can define who you are as much as a marketing campaign can.

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At its core, customer service is a set of policies that determine how you and your employees interact with your customers. Every way, every day. This includes the product you offer, the way you communicate, the distribution channels, the businesses you partner with. In short, any experience that they will have with your brand along its journey. Your brand can be blamed even for the behaviour of your customers, so don’t think that once your brand is in someone else’s hand, customer service is out of yours. Customer service is about making sure that your customers feel valued, listened to and appreciated by your business.

Define your customer service goals


So, you have committed to offering fantastic customer service. Well done. What exactly does that mean? “Well, it means that we put the customer first.” Congratulations. What exactly does that mean? “Well, it means that we will answer our phone calls within 15 seconds and respond to social media within a half hour.” Okay, now you are getting somewhere. Truth is, it is not enough to say “we offer fantastic customer service” if you haven’t defined how that translates into policies and behaviours. Be clear on what good customer service looks like and what you want your customer to experience.


Train your staff.


Your ground-breaking, industry-shaking ideas on customer service can’t only live in your head, they have to live in the head and actions of your staff as well. Ensure that your staff receive ongoing training on your company’s approach on customer service. And not just the customer facing employees either, all of them because customer service needs to become part of your DNA. And once you have trained them, empower. Give them the autonomy to solve small problems quickly so that the customer isn’t left waiting to be referred to the right person. 


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Don’t treat customer service like a department.


Customer service does not sit separately from the rest of your business, it has to be embedded in everything that you do. The customer doesn’t look at your company and see different divisions, they see one company, one point of contact and that means that every person is a customer service employee. As a smaller business owner, you have the power to shape your business from the inside out. Creating a strong culture of customer service within your business allows you offer a consistent and defined experience to your customer, opening the gates to a long, fruitful relationship.


Don’t get defensive.


You are going to get complaints. Either because you stuffed up or your customer is having a bad day or any number of other reasons. When you do, don’t act like someone has insulted your first-born child. Complaints are a chance for you and your staff to listen, to understand the situation, and to learn how to remedy it. They are a learning opportunity, if you approach them with an open mind and heart. Yes, there will be times when the customer is totally out of line and you have to push back, but most times there is some new knowledge or insight that can be gleaned from a complaint.


Set boundaries.


Having great customer service doesn’t mean that you have to bow down and adhere to the “customer is always right” philosophy. Sometimes they aren’t and giving in to their demands can do more damage to your company than denying them. Know what your boundaries are. If a customer is disrespectful or offensive to you or your staff, what will you do? If they behave in a way that goes against what you and your company stands for, what will you do? If they are a repeat offender, how will you handle it? When establishing your customer service policies, define what you will do but also what you won’t. 


Have a strong social media policy.


Many companies these days do most of their customer service through social media. Don’t make the mistake of treating this as an afterthought. Social media is seen by all and sharable, it is not the place to get caught saying something wrong. Ensure that you have a strong tone of voice and style of commenting. Your voice can be empathetic or quirky, witty or nurturing, whatever it is, always ensure that it is right for the occasion. Nando’s recently got in trouble for using its distinctive, quirky tone of voice to respond to an issue that people took very seriously. Context for all comments is important.


Customer service is a science and an art. This article has spoken a lot about policies and structure, but customer service is also about heart. It is important to put the policies in place, but you also have to apply them in a way that is human and natural. As a small business, personal relationships are key to success. People want to feel a connection with, not only, your product or offering but with you. In all you do, it is important to put your real self into the equation because that is your strength and your business’s X-factor.  


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