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You Should Be Improving Customer Service Until It’s Better Than Your Product

improving-customer-serviceSounds a little absurd, right?

Why should your customer service rank above your product? After all, if it weren’t for your product, there wouldn’t be any need to have good customer service skills in the first place.

And let’s face it. Your product’s the one that’s solving problems and making the lives of your customers easier, not your customer service. So with all the product marketing strategies out there, why should you pay close attention to customer service?

Because retaining customers is easier than finding new ones.

And also because 82% of customers stop doing business with a company after a bad customer service experience.

Now, that’s an alarming figure. But you know what’s more alarming?

The fact that 89% of those customers will take their business to your competition if they’re unhappy with the customer service you provide.

So not only are you losing customers because of bad customer service, but you’re losing them to your competitors!
Statistics aside, a quick look at any social media network will show you that people typically talk about customer service more than the product itself. And they’re more likely to complain about bad service than to say anything else. Before long, other people are pitching in with their horror stories and then the recommendations of alternative options start pouring in – all of which happen to be your competitors.

It isn’t just about losing business to your competitors either. It’s also about failing your customers and in the long run, your business.

Ineffective customer service fails to identify the needs of the customers. Growth strategies for your business are akin to shooting darts in the dark if you don’t know what your customers want.

Can your small business afford the bad rep and loss of business?

Suffice it to say that a business with a merely “good” product but an excellent customer service will perform better than one with an excellent product but bad customer service.

Improving customer service doesn’t require a lot. Following just a few simple practices can make a world of difference.

Make it Easy for Your Customers to Contact You

The Oatmeal’s comic about calling customer service perfectly depicts the frustration customers feel when calling customer service of a company.

Yes, we get it. Even a one or two person company gets more calls than they can handle if they have a customer service phone number. May be you can’t even afford one at the moment. In that case, spread out your points of contact.
Direct your most common customer questions to an FAQ page. Install live chat on your company website to provide support during working hours. At the very least, prominently display an email address and promise to get back within 24 hours.

Figure out whether your customer service needs can be fulfilled by you or if you need to hire someone else. If you’re short on funds, hiring a virtual assistant can do wonders.

(Note: go here if you’re wondering “what is a virtual assistant?”)

The key is to make the entire process as hassle free as possible – for yourself and your customers. A customer should never have to wonder: “how do I solve this problem?” Make whatever changes are necessary to make it easy for your customer to find the help they need.

It’s your business at stake after all and nothing creates brand loyalty faster than good customer service.

Master the Art of Following Up

The follow-up to a customer’s call is often overlooked by businesses – even those who provide good customer service. It’s your one chance to make a lasting impression on your customer. Pleasantly surprise them by calling or emailing them a couple of days later to see how the solution you provided was working out.

It’s just a simple courtesy call for you but the client will end up feeling well taken care of. And in case there are any more problems, you’ll have caught and dealt with them before it came to you. Either way, you’ll have a very satisfied customer on your hands and those really are the best kind to have.

Here’s a script you can use as a starting point:

Dear [customer name],

You contacted us a couple of days ago with a problem you were facing with our product/service. This is just a follow up to make sure the issue has been resolved and that you’re not facing any more problems.

Is there anything else we can do for you?

Please don’t hesitate to reply to this email and let us know either way. Your satisfaction is important to us.

Acknowledge When You Can’t Immediately Provide a Solution

There will be times when you won’t have a solution to the problem your customer is facing. It could be a bug that slipped past you or a problem unique to that customer alone.

Either way, instead of brushing the customer off or having them run around in circles trying out solutions you hope will work (but know they won’t), acknowledge that you don’t have a solution and get a team working on it immediately. If you don’t have a team – then you should get working in it as quickly as possible.

When Copyblogger launched their landing page plug-in, Premise, some of their customers couldn’t get the alignment of their pricing landing page right.

When I contacted them about facing this problem, their first response was to acknowledge the problem and let me know that this was a known issue and that they were working on a solution as quickly as possible. They offered a temporary fix in the form of a custom code in the same email and included directions on where to insert the code.

Once my pricing landing page was fixed, I forgot all about it until I saw the details of their next update. True to their promise, a permanent fix to the problem was included in the next update of Premise.

To be honest, this isn’t an example of great customer service. It’s just an example customer service done right. And you know you’re in trouble if your business can’t meet the bare minimum of customer satisfaction. Let the customer know that you’re working on a solution and you’ll be in touch soon as it’s worked out.

Customer Service Isn’t a Luxury, It’s a Necessity

There’s no denying that having the best possible product is important. It’s what brought all those customers to your company in the first place. But the product isn’t what keeps those customers with you year after year. It’s your customer service – so you should be constantly improving it!

So stop making it easy for your competition to succeed by sending your disgruntled customers to them and focus on improving your customer service more than your product.

Install a live chat program like Olark on your website. Use a social customer service tool like Salesforce’s Desk to catch customer service complaints from Twitter and Facebook as well as email. You can even integrate Olark with Desk and keep all offline and online messages in one place. There are plenty of other tools that help bring together all your different point of contacts in one place and make it easy to handle customer service. Find the ones that fit your business the best and use them to create an army of loyal customers.

If you’re still on the fence, consider this: 86% of customers are willing to pay 25% more for a better customer experience.

So what are you willing to do to keep your customers happy?

(Statistics Source: Customer Experience Impact Report by RightNow Technologies, 2010, 2011)

About Kurt Birkenhagen

Kurt Birkenhagen is interested in web design, user experience, inbound marketing and conversion optimization. He's also the vice president of marketing at Vast Conference, a conferencing company offering unlimited and toll-free conference call services.

21 thoughts on “You Should Be Improving Customer Service Until It’s Better Than Your Product

  1. Immediately upon seeing your headline I started nodding my head vigorously in agreement.

    Customer service is one of the best ways to differentiate your business from the competition (especially if you’re a small business competing against the big guys), and a lack of it is probably the #1 to turn a customer away forever.

    I remember my bad customer service experiences and I make damn sure to steer clear of those companies. Having to deal with sloppy customer service wastes time, makes you resent giving them money, and causes a level of frustration that eats up energy.

    On the other hand, good customer service becomes its own form of marketing. People who have an exceptional experience feel they have a relationship with the company and become advocates, sending friends, family, and followers your way.

    A quality product is an important place to start, but you’ll have a hard time staying competitive if you can’t build customer trust and loyalty as well.

    • Exactly! Customer service is the one area small businesses can set themselves apart from their competitors and even move ahead.

      All business owner’s have to do is think of their own customer service experiences to figure out what needs to be done for their own business.

    • Thanks Kristen – I really believe the point so many marketers have made previously that one happy customer will tell one or two people but one disgruntled customer will tell 10x as many. It’s an uphill battle with numbers like that to build your champions which is why we need to really focus.

  2. Very in-depth article on the importance of customer service. I guess, at some point, we have all faced the wrath of poor customer service, perhaps not as much as the cartoon suggests but up to some extent.

    From the customer’s point of view, I don’t see why they should stick to a poor support/service, every niche has alternatives. Quoting the cartoon – “You have been a customer for 14 year, so you get $2 off on the cheapest…” surely that is a well deserved punishment for getting stuck with them for 14 years. But again, it does not happens in the real world, the ideal scenario will be that customer leaving with a dozen more customers and planting ideas to desert in perhaps many more other customers too. And those negative reviews will stay on the web for ever, bouncing from one site to the other… for good!

    With so much competition in every market, it is insane to lose valuable customers to competitors for having poor support.

    great article, thanks for sharing,
    cheers!
    Uttoran Sen,

    • The cartoon is definitely an exaggeration but from the customer perspective you shouldn’t put up with bad customer service. It seems like some companies bet that lack of alternatives will just keep you around despite poor service but if you’re in a competitive market and there’s little or no barrier to exit and making the jump to another provider is easy, it’s imperative you lead with positive customer experience.

  3. I would also add: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep”. I’ve met a couple of times with providers saying: “We reply to all messages and we do it within 24 hours”. And they didn’t reply at all.

    • That’s a great point Michal – we also focus on first call resolution. Nobody likes to say “no” to a customer but if that’s the answer and reality to a question posed, we feel it’s important to address that head on instead of saying maybe and delaying the inevitable and further frustrating the client with hope and then disappointment.

  4. Terrific post. Just goes to show that life is ALL about relationships. Everything else is extra. This is proven in all the studies showing that people will spend more money on experiences than on things. If you provide a positive experience for your customers, that trumps a decent product every time! Thanks for the reminder Kurt!

  5. I wish every Internet marketer I know (especially the big ones) had to read this.

    In a customer satisfaction survey a few years ago, my customers gave me a 98 percent approval rating. My customer service people have the authority to solve customer problems however they wish, going way above and beyond what the customer expects.

    I will sometimes call someone who emails me about a problem, and they are shocked and delighted to get the call. By the time they get off the phone with me, they’re raving fans, if they weren’t already.

    Contact info, including my phone number, is on every page of my website. We have autoresponders that go out as soon as they order, asking if they had any problems with their order. If so, we attend to it immediately.

    And for the record, some of the “support desks” used by the big Internet marketers, the ones that require me to complete an annoying ticket, are useless. I’ve contacted many of them and sometimes have to wait three days or more for a response. In some cases, I get no response at all.

    • Thanks Joan – I can’t ever see a case where “no response” is an acceptable practice. Systems should be in place to make sure no ticket is left behind.

  6. Great article!

    It’s too bad colleges/universities don’t include Customer Service courses within their MBA and B.A. programs. 🙂

    I learned about customer service from the president of a family owned business I worked for. At 18, I was hired as their receptionist. I found out quickly that my high school business courses did not prepare me for the “real world!”

    Dan, the president of the company, always said to me, “As the receptionist, YOU are the first point of contact for our customers. Like it or not, your attitude and tone of voice reflects our company. Here are some tapes for you to listen to on customer service and how to answer a phone.” Luckily, Dan liked me, and I wasn’t fired. I listened to the tapes (I would have preferred CDs) and learned a very important lesson at a young age: customer service matters and will affect your bottom line, one way or another.

    I take customer service seriously, some would say too seriously, but I see the need for classes, courses, and workshops. Employees need to be educated on how to speak with customers. If a customer is irate, don’t take it personally. And for heaven sakes, don’t push back! Listen and state how you can help. If you can’t help, be honest, but find someone who can. 😉

    • Sounds like you had a solid introduction to customer service but more important, that you took it to heart. It’s so vital that customer service reps understand that they are front line representatives of the company and that they care about that too.

      • Yes I did!

        I also learned the lesson of not burning bridges from a controller. She said to me, “Most people think the world is huge, but it’s not. Don’t burn bridges because you don’t know who people know. And if you burn a bridge, it may never be repaired.”

  7. This is how much I am willing to pay for customer service: Got a mobile phone from AT&T in 2007. In spite of coverage problem where I live, I am still with them. When I thought of moving to Verizon last yuear, the sales people on the phone were terrible. How bad would they be when I call for help with a problem? In fact, the call staff at AT&T are so good, that after every call I ask to speak to their manager to say how amazed I am with the service the agent provided. AT&T knows the enefit of service and obviously invests in it. As I put together my business, they are the standard I am for.

  8. I was just talking about this on another blog. Why do online marketers (and even brick and mortar ones these days) think that the old rules of customer service don’t apply to them? One of the absolute best ways to get new business is from referrals from present customers. You sure won’t get referrals if your customer service is horrible.

  9. Two items that the article does not address, and that might be of interest.
    1. Sadly, there are business models whereby customer-service-for-pay is the revenue generator and, consequently, mindful decisions are made to underspend on developing better products and/or better user documentation. You do, after all, have to decide where to throw your money. The airlines are an in-your-face, common example.

    2. Sadly, some companies invest tremendous amounts of money into hiring people who are psychologically suited to customer service and who will genuinely want to move heaven and earth to resolve your problem. But they will fail. And fail. And fail. Because of internal processes, stove-piping, and other barriers. Anyone who has tried solving a problem with Humana Insurance in the USA will know exactly what I am talking about.
    At the end of every conversation they ask something similar to “And on a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the help I gave you today?” And I always answer “You were great. You listened. You took notes. You gave me a reference number. You were unflappably calm when I was really, really angry. And here its is, 113 days later in trying to resolve this problem. E.g., you are great and your processes prevent you from truly resolving a problem.” [[ By the way, I am not making up “113 days.” In fact, it is now 120 days. Can you hear me weep?]]

  10. What a refreshing article. The headline and topic is absolutely perfect. Yes, great customer service can make an otherwise average product exceedingly appealing. It is like going to a restaurant with average food but if the staff are terrific you will probably return for more!

  11. Pingback: How to Harness the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Your Small Business -
  12. Boy do I wish more people understood this! Thanks for the excellent post. It makes me think about a client that I provide newsletter articles for, and the graphic designer who handles the layout. Often I am on a three-way call with the client and the designer and I can’t believe what I hear. The designer is so rude and short with the client and complains about changes, deadlines, etc. I learned very quickly that to make myself indispensable to this client, one thing I had to do was to capitalize on the failure of this other member of the team. I have made a name for myself with this client just by being more flexible and congenial. You would think I was Mother Theresa to these folks, just because they are used to working with folks like this designer who pushes them around. They could probably find a better writer than me, but they know they would be very hard-pressed to find someone as considerate and attentive. I agree with you that good customer service is what stands out in your customer’s mind. Thanks for the reminder!

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