By Tom Byun, GM & SVP, Global Small Business, LivePerson
What does customer service look like with a 24/7, always-on consumer? Small businesses have to stay on top of this because their bigger competitors are all over it. In today’s constantly connected world, even small customer service issues can go viral, and become big headaches for small businesses just as they can for big ones. At the same time, the growth of social media and messaging gives small businesses the same megaphones and fast-paced 1:1 option of connecting with consumers. Here are five tips to keeping a small business ahead of its competitors on customer service.
(Photo courtesy of Tom Byun)
1. Listen to what your customers say — and how they say it.
How are your customers reaching out to you? How are they reaching out to your competitors? A lot of businesses are seeing a shift in the way consumers connect with communication going mobile and becoming app-centric. But many small businesses haven’t yet deployed that technology. Now is the time. Mobile is growing faster than the web and the hottest thing on mobile are messaging apps, according to Mary Meeker‘s latest Internet Trends report. Messaging puts the human back into digital communications, which small businesses, a recent LivePerson survey shows, are looking to expand.
2. Focus on connection.
The beauty of an always-on, always-connected culture is that it’s not about “real time” but “my time.” Consumers want to be heard and responded to through a trusted, open, connection, even if the response comes five, or 30 minutes later. Products are no longer king. It is the customer experience that defines image and operation — whether you make one sandwich at a time or ship boxes of specialty products every day. Given the demands on small businesses, almost half of them can devote less than 10 percent of their time to customer service, yet they rank customer experience and support as their highest priority in 2015, the LivePerson survey showed. SMBs have room to grow here.
3. Make customer interactions personal, emotional, meaningful.
LivePerson has a customer, Backcountry, which goes to the mat for its customers every day and engages in long live chats even if a sale isn’t imminent. Backcountry doesn’t look at the customer as a one-time sale, but as a customer for life. Small businesses have long excelled at this, and this kind of thinking is even more important as big competitors deploy ever more ways to hook and stay connected with consumers. We’re not saying that SMBs should spend hours on live chats or on the phone with every customer, but connecting with highest value ones goes a long way. If you put the customer first, you will always come out ahead.
4. Don’t forget your best asset — your lovable, familiar brand.
A warm smile — whether delivered in person across the counter, in text or during an exchange via a website — is appreciated by everyone. SMBs do friendly better than anyone, and that shouldn’t be lost as more communications go digital. In fact, delivering that level of service online is a huge opportunity for SMBs as it amplifies the value of their customer experience, which might be greater than you think. McKinsey research shows 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. To check your customer service pulse, look inward. Company values and employee happiness shape customer service. Employees who champion a strong, passionate purpose are more likely to deliver on meaningful customer engagements that leave a lasting impression. When it was just a small company, LivePerson survived largely because of the passion of its small band of employees who didn’t let anything, even the tech industry meltdown in 2000, distract their focus on customers.
5. When it comes to social, pick a channel.
Consumers have taken to social media to seek advice, spur purchase ideas, rave (or vent!) about their favorite brands. Social Media Today even called Twitter the “best customer service platform.” Relax, though. Social media isn’t about having to offer an immediate response, but it is about hearing your customers and responding within acceptable time frames. While trying to build a multi-platform social strategy might sound daunting, just remember, pick the channel that makes the most sense for your business, and focus on driving engagement with that community. Your customers will see it, appreciate it and meet you there.
In the next two years, social media will see the most investment and growth of all communication channels, besting email and phone, the LivePerson survey shows. Small businesses can’t afford to be left behind here.
This article is written and provided by Tom Byun. Tom is currently general manager and SVP of the Global Small Business division of LivePerson. He oversees all programs for acquisition, retention and growth of small business customers across the US, EMEA and APAC. Prior to LivePerson, Tom was vice president and general manager of Yahoo! Small Business, where he focused on servicing small business customers and providing them with lead sources and tools to help them grow and manage their business online. Prior to working at Yahoo!, Tom was employed as a consultant at Andersen Consulting, an analyst at Lazard Freres & Co., and also worked at Razorfish, Inc. Tom received his MBA from Harvard Business School.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the author alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the author.