Jay Baer, content marketing, customer service, building relationships, customer loyalty
Small Business

Manage Your Business

5 ways to improve your customer service

When customer service is a spectator sport, it's critical to get it right

This is part of a series of columns by Jay Baer, a digital marketing expert. It is presented by Chase for Business.

Choose what’s right for your business

For decades, many small businesses interacted with their customers in private: Face-to-face. Telephone. Email. Letter. Maybe a fax here, or there.

But today, more customer interactions are happening in public, out in the open for everyone to see on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and similar sites. Customer service is increasingly a spectator sport, and that makes it much more important to get it right.

Here are five things that every small business owner should do to make sure they're giving top-notch online customer service:

1. Embrace complaints

It's painful when a customer isn't happy, because it feels like someone is telling you your baby is ugly. But this negative feedback is incredibly valuable; it's the raw material for improving your business. And remember, very few unhappy customers complain; most just disappear. In fact, out of every 100 dissatisfied customers, only five will complain. Embrace them!

2. Answer every customer

In the research I did for my book, "Hug Your Haters," I found that one-third of customers who complain or ask for help are never answered. Maybe that's happened to you? You complained about a business, but didn't hear anything? Did that make you feel better about that organization? Nope!

It takes time to answer everybody, but it's worth it. My research found that not answering a customer decreases their advocacy (the likelihood that they'll say something nice about you to someone else) by about 50 percent. But when you answer a customer—even if you can't solve their problem—it increases their advocacy by 25 percent, on average. It's worth the time to reply.

I'm not saying the customer is always right, but I am saying the customer should always be heard.

3. Answer everywhere

Today, on average, 60 percent of customer complaints and queries happen in private. Forty percent take place in public. And that ratio is going to continue to tip toward public, online interaction mechanisms.

I have two teenage children. Do they want to use the phone to connect to a company? Absolutely not. You have to interact with your customers in the places they prefer, not just the places you prefer.

4. Answer with empathy

A big mistake a lot of small businesses make when they answer customer complaints online is that they get defensive or try to use a lot of detailed facts to “win" the argument. This never works.

When replying to a customer, it's always emotion and empathy first, and information second. Many customers don't care about the facts, they just want salve for their wound.

There is plenty of oxygen on the high road, and you'll be better off if you commit to that approach when engaging with customers, especially in public forums like social media and reviews websites.

5. Answer expediently

Speed matters, and customers' expectations for how fast a business should get back to them continues to escalate. Today, 40 percent of customers complaining in social media expect a reply within one hour. Some businesses are ready to reply that quickly, but many are not.

To get faster with online customer service, make sure that someone in your organization has the responsibility to look for and respond to customer comments at least once per day. Sometimes, that's the business owner. Sometimes, it's a manager. Sometimes, it's a marketer, or a customer service person.

It doesn't really matter, as long as your person or people are empathetic to customer struggles, can respond quickly, and understand that negative feedback is just an opportunity to improve the business. 

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