Customer care for small businesses

Contributor - Edwina Hughes

Female customer care worker with a headset on smiling at the camera

Customer care should be at the heart of your business if you want to build customer loyalty and bring in new business. Edwina Hughes, director of consultancy Eddy & Co, explains

How important is customer care?

Customer care is absolutely vital. The old adage that the customer is always right holds true. SMEs, in particular, need to distinguish themselves from their competitors in order to retain and attract new customers. You can't place too high an importance on customer service, it should under-pin all business activity. People buy from people. If customers experience bad service, they won't go back. Business-to-business firms can lose sight of that. They often see clients as demanding, and complacency sets in. You have to think how you can make a client happy.

What is a customer care culture?

You need to inculcate customer care throughout your business, whether your firm is a one-man-band or has lots of staff. Very few small businesses have a customer care policy. They probably think they don't need one. But you only need a few guidelines to make a big difference. Imagine if first point of contact at your firm was a surly receptionist who doesn't even look up when someone comes in. There has to be a company-wide ethos. Staff must be trained, they must believe their job is important and that they are valued.

How can you train and incentivise staff?

The role of staff in customer care is paramount. You have to engage members of staff in the customer care process. Ask them for their ideas. Make sure they are fully empowered to act if there's a complaint. Staff can have a massive impact on customer service, whether they have face-to-face contact with customers or are involved in dispatching goods.

If you're talking about sales staff, then there is a basic monetary carrot that you can use to incentivise your staff. But you also need an incentive that will encourage long-term customer loyalty. To get the most out of your staff, they must feel valued. They need recognition that they're doing a good job. It's easy to become complacent and think that if your staff are doing their job, well - that's what you pay them for. Your staff, meanwhile, are working their socks off and wondering why they don't even get a thank you.

How can I find out what kind of service my customers want?

Ask them! People like to asked. Don't be afraid to approach customers and ask for feedback. Ask them what else you can do for them. Ask customers to fill in a survey. If they respond, send them a thank you, such as a voucher or discount. Tell customers that you respect and value them. And, if you're losing customers, ask them why they have left.

Can customer care impact on the bottom line?

Yes, absolutely. Customer care is about retaining existing customers, selling more to them and attracting new business. It's also about getting more business through referrals and recommendations. All of this activity impacts on the bottom line. This is especially true for small firms that don't have big marketing budgets. Customer care is powerful and cost-effective, especially compared to advertising, which can be costly and have little impact. You can use your reputation to bring in more business.

What are the most common customer care mistakes?

One of the biggest mistakes is when business fail to tailor their approach to the customer. You need to tune in to your customer and listen to what they are telling you. A complaint is an opportunity for you to improve your business and demonstrate to customers that you care, have listened and have acted on their feedback. You should be savvy enough to move away from the script where necessary.

Good customer service is about relationships. You also need to offer consistency to each client. That's especially important when you rely on one or two main clients. To have a long-term relationship, many customers want to deal with the same person each time, something that banks used to offer but which has gone now.

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Edwina Hughes

A maverick making a difference - Edwina founded Eddy & Co in 1990 based upon her fundamental belief that a successful enterprise and its personnel are not mutually exclusive.

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