9 Ways to Provide Stellar Online Customer Service

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Customer service: It’s something that has always been a necessity. But nowadays, you have to offer more than just the basics. People don’t want to be put on hold or have to wade through tons of text on your website just to find your contact info, and they certainly don’t want to have to wait hours and hours for a response to their queries. In today’s fast-paced world, your customers will want to get a hold of you, and they will want to do it quickly and easily. So how can you make sure that you’re streamlining the process and keeping your customers as happy as you can?

Create the essential “FAQ page” first

If you create a page that specifically addresses the questions you receive the most frequently, this can cut unnecessary contact off before it begins. While this might sound a bit “cold”, people will appreciate the chance to find a solution to their problem without having to go to the trouble of calling or emailing. So take note of the questions you’re getting the most frequently and take the time to put together a clear, concise, and easy-to-find guide that can help your customers solve any simple issues on their own.

Create a customer-service schedule and strategy in line with your business model.

What do we mean by that? Well, for example, if you’re an emergency plumber, you’d better have someone available 24/7 to answer questions–if you claim you’re open 24 hours a day, you need to be able to back that claim up.

On the other hand, if you’re a dog walker who only works Tuesday through Friday, be sure you have your phone connected to your email account and check it occasionally while you’re on call. You might also want to check your social media once or twice a day to make sure you can address any of your customers’ needs or requests. This should be more than enough for someone who works part-time and interacts with clients so personally.

Finally, if you’re a larger operation, you’ll need to set up some kind of customer service department–no ifs, ands, or buts about it! (I.e., you can’t make the graphics department also do customer service in their spare time, because that’s just inefficient for everyone!) Make sure that your customers don’t have to wait for extended periods of time to talk to a representative, and perhaps most importantly, hire customer service professionals who can answer questions professionally and calmly–it’s a tough job, but there are some out there who really excel at it. Find them!

Be compassionate

Your customers will be out for blood sometimes. Sometimes they’re justified in their vitriol; other times not so much. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t all receive a quality customer service experience. As mentioned above, hire thick-skinned customer service people who can be compassionate toward your clients–especially under the most stressful of situations. So, if you have a livid customer ready to cancel with you, rather than saying something like:

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” (Sounds robotic and scripted)

Try this instead:

“I can certainly understand why that would be frustrating. Let me take care of this right away for you. I’ll send this case straight to a manager.”

It shows that you understand his or her urgency and can empathize with them.

Speak like a customer

This is a biggie, and one that people probably forget about a lot: Refrain from using technical jargon. It can be difficult when you’ve worked with your products for so long–it becomes like second nature to use jargon. But it just confuses and frustrates most people who want customer service. So put yourself in their shoes and think about what they need. Do they need an answer to a simple question? Answer it simply. Do they need help with troubleshooting? Be patient and describe things in detail. Thinking and speaking like your customers do is essential to providing a superior customer service experience.

Have resources readily available

No one wants to call in and hear someone say, “Let me check into that… I’ll get back to you”. While you obviously can’t be prepared for every possible situation, you can be prepared for most of them. Be sure to train your customer service representatives thoroughly and make it a requirement that they be able to walk customers through the most commonly-seen situations. For situations that are less common, make scripts and resources readily available. Knowing that the answers are at their fingertips lets your employees relax a bit, and it also sets them up for a higher chance of success in helping a customer with a more complicated case, if it becomes necessary to do so.

Be available on social media

Some businesses go on social media because everyone else is on social media. They send out periodic updates and go about their daily routine without much further thought to their social media strategy.

This is a mistake. Not only do regular updates and interactions with your fans and followers help you grow your potential customer base, they also provide a prime foundation for customer service. When your customers contact you through social media with questions or concerns, you should respond to them accordingly. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll be able to publicly demonstrate your concern for your customers’ needs.

Be timely–whether through email, social media, or by phone

No matter how you choose to address your customer service needs, there’s one thing for certain: You need to be prompt in your responses. As noted above, customers do not like waiting very long for assistance. In today’s fast-paced, technology-based world, they expect an email, phone call, or online chat system so that they can quickly get the answers they need. Check out Zendesk if you need some help streamlining the process.

Offer security

While we’ve been stressing the need for online customer assistance, there’s one big issue that you’ll have to address: Customer security (especially if you do online chat). You want to make sure that the customers understand where and when it’s appropriate to share sensitive data. For example, if they email you, they could include a brief description of the problem and a way to contact them, but they shouldn’t include sensitive data like credit card numbers.

Some more examples: If calls are recorded, of course you must let the customers know. Online chat systems must be done through secure software, and you should always let the customers know that their privacy will always be maintained. If you still want to take customer service requests through email, you could consider having a secure form that they can fill out, and that will be automatically emailed to you.

Be overly courteous

While this is true for anything said over the phone–being empathetic, offering friendly solutions, using the customer’s name–it’s especially true for anything put in writing. You and your team members might think you’re being polite, but sometimes text gets misconstrued. It’s not an uncommon thing, actually. So what’s the solution? We think it works well to be overly polite and courteous. It sounds a bit pandering, but it’s better to err on the side of being too friendly rather than cold or indifferent.

So what do you think? Are there other tips you’d suggest for stellar online customer service? Let us know in the comments!

Internet Local Listings is an internet advertising company in Santa Ana, CA, serving clients across the country with the best website marketing services available in the industry. Visit us here for more information, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to discover how we can help you be seen online.

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Back to Basics #20: How to Build a PR Strategy as a Local Business

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An important part of running your small business is to make sure that you have a strong PR strategy in place. PR stands for public relations, and it is an integral part of defining your target market and reaching them in a positive and effective manner. It’s impossible nowadays to run a business and a marketing campaign without considering your approach to PR as well.

If you’re new to the idea of public relations, no worries! In this post, we’ll talk about some of the basics that you can do to help improve your presence and positive image in your community.

Define Your Audience.

There’s no use in trying to market to anyone if you can’t decide who to market to. Think about it: If you own a retirement community and you’re looking to appeal to new residents, sending out advertisements to college students isn’t going to help you very much. This is why you need to define your audience before you begin. Once you have that figured out, you can move on to planning your strategy.

To get started on this, you can take a look at who is already visiting your page using a Google Analytics account. You can find the basics of how to set up an account here. Once you have determined who is interested in your site, you can easily start sorting out your marketing methods to appeal to those demographics.

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Get Online.

With your new audience in mind, go to where they hang out. The easiest way will be to reach them online, although depending on your audience, you may still be able to reach people by cold calling or newspaper advertisements. But for many of us, our audience is online, just waiting to be found!

Consider your brand identity when going online, too. Your company will be associated with your positive image. How will you help your customers remember you? How will you stand out in the crowd? Work this into your campaign. When you’re updating social media, keep a clear and consistent voice. Don’t talk about personal things or your opinions on the latest political argument. Keep your words professional—nothing can ever be scrubbed completely from the internet. Don’t fall into the trap of getting confrontational or controversial!

Find Opportunities to be Seen in the Community.

For local businesses, an integral part of success is being seen in the community. Whether you’re a new business or you’ve been around for 40 years, you need to be active, visible, and a positive force in your community. People love connecting with local business owners. And if you leave a positive impression on them, you can bet that they’ll remember you the next time they’re looking for someone who provides your products and services!

A great way to do this is to look for ways to volunteer. Whether you want to donate food to a shelter or donate some money to a cause you believe in, any step toward charitable giving is a positive one. You can take part in local festivals and events by offering coupons to guests, or you can even set up raffles so you can get people excited about interacting with you. Or you could simply help out the community around the holidays, whether you’re involved with a parade or a school fundraiser. There are tons of ways to get involved, so get creative!

Find Speaking Opportunities.

Almost everyone hates public speaking. But if you get over your fears long enough to do get up in front of a crowd, you can generate some great exposure for your business. Is there a trade show or conference going on in your town? Look into becoming a speaker for the event—you could be on a panel or even nominate yourself to be the keynote speaker if you feel you have the chops!

Be forewarned, however, that these endeavors take a lot of preparation. Furthermore, you’ll have to plan for these events because many are scheduled months ahead of time. But if you do your research and come prepared, you’ll find that the results you get can be fantastic.

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Pitch Your Story.

Did you know that journalists can be reached through social media? Before, you might have had to call them up, fax them, or email them. But today, journalists contribute to blogs, have social media accounts, and network with other journalists. This creates a number of free opportunities for you to reach out and contact them. Comment on their Facebook posts. Track them down on Twitter and engage them in conversation. Find blogs they contribute to so that you know and understand their work. If they’re looking for stories that you think they could use in a story, reach out and give them your ideas. It helps to have a kind of “press release” prepared beforehand so that you can give them what they need with little turnaround–you need to remember that they’re very busy and often get pitched to many times a day. Keep in contact with them and they’ll be more likely to remember you the next time they’re doing a story in a similar vein.

Decide On Your Best Approach.

Okay, maybe none of these things appealed to you. Maybe you’re more about writing things on your own. Or maybe you prefer radio to seminars. There are a number of ways that you can get in contact with the public, and the great thing is that they’re all still very effective ways of boosting your presence. You may want to try:

  • Writing your own press releases, articles, or even letters to your local newspaper editor.
  • Writing an ebook to appeal to your customers—“how to” tips tend to work well.
  • Volunteering at or sponsoring an event.
  • Signing up to speak at a seminar or convention—or you could even take part in an online webinar!
  • Do press conferences, offer to be on a radio program, or see if you can land a spot on your local evening news.
  • Put together testimonials, positive reviews, and success stories to keep on hand whenever you appear in public. People love inspiring stories and knowing that you’re reputable, too!

With these tips, you can decide how you want to approach your PR campaign and which options work the best for your vision. All of these tips are free or low-cost—it all depends on how much work you want to put into it on your own vs. hiring a PR consultant.

Do you have any other tips on how to build a PR strategy as a local business? Let us know in the comments!