Don’t Forget About Real Customer Service

customer serviceSocial Media. Word of Mouth Marketing. Online Reputation Management. Engagement. Listening. We’ve given it a lot of fancy names over the past year, but all we’re really talking about is customer service. It’s about treating customers better than they expect to be treated and surpassing their expectations. And if you’re a small business, customer service is what most separates you from the big corporations. Customer service is your point of difference.

A year ago I bought a fairly pricey pendant. I saw it while on the road at a conference and immediately loved it. I loved not only the pendent itself but the story behind the company, the one the woman who sold it to me spent at least 15 minutes reciting. And I purchased them both — the necklace and the tale of the company. I felt connected to the brand.

A few weekends ago, the chain for the pendant broke and I needed to contact the company to have it replaced.

The company has a Web site. They have a blog. They have a Twitter account. They’re on Facebook. Heck, they even have a YouTube channel. They’ve obviously invested time and money into social media. They “get it”.  However, when I emailed about having the chain replaced, it was ignored. So was my tweet. No response.

Yes, it’s important to use Twitter and the various social networking sites to get word out about your company and attract new customers. But what does it matter if you fail to serve your existing customers? For me, the experience was a good lesson in that it doesn’t matter how “visible” you are online or how savvy. If you’re not investing in real customer service, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re wasting money building a brand that people won’t want to do business with.

Part of the allure of my pendant was the story the woman told along with it. How the business was started out of love, how she was traveling to get the word out, how much the people she sold these necklaces to meant to her. A quick email telling me how I could have easily replaced my chain would have reaffirmed that. It would have reaffirmed that this was a company that cared about their customers. But I was ignored.

If you’re a small business, you can’t afford to ignore your customers. Each point of contact is a chance for you to win them over again and get them talking about your company. We’ve made up a lot of words for customer service because that’s how important it is. When you’re out there being social and trying to bring in new customers and attract new eyeballs – don’t forget the people who have already made the decision to trust you.  The ones who actually walked into your store.  Customer service and personal touches are what separate small businesses from the big conglomerates.

You can reach out. You can be accessible, more personable. Because that’s how you better your brand and build positive buzz. That’s how you create trust and authority. By doing all the little things that make people feel good and want to tell their friends about you.

You build positive word of mouth when you do things like:

  • Answer emails.
  • Call people back.
  • Be present.
  • Empathize with their complaints.
  • Go out of your way for them.
  • Make it your mission to make their lives easier.

Don’t hassle them. Don’t tell them “it’s not possible” when it is. Don’t blame them for the error. And definitely do not ignore them.

Old marketing was based on customer service and it’s even more important than ever. Social media has given us a great way to reach new people, but once you have them – take care of them. Value them. That’s how you grow your business and spread positive word of mouth. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money attracting customers you’re going to turn away a month from now. Don’t forget about real life customer service. There is no substitute.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

19 Reactions
  1. Many small businesses live and die by the quality of their customer service. Serving current customers should be the base of the pyramid and then move on to serving potential clients and lead generation. Social media allows you to extend your customer service effort into even more areas, but the basic priorities should remain in place.

  2. Lisa,
    You couldn’t be more right. Each company has to think of itself as a team, and each employee really does make a difference. Just the other day I was talking with a friend and co-worker who said “Congratulations” to me because we got a great compliment from a client, but I said, “It wasn’t me!” If anything, it is the people behind the operations that no one gets to see that are doing the work that makes your products good or not, and it is the people that are interacting with customers and partners on a daily basis that can build a good reputation.
    Online reputation companies sometimes get a bad reputation, themselves, because many that identify themselves as such seek to cover up bad reports, which is only a solution to the symptom and not the cause. Thank you again, for pointing out real ways to build a great reputation, online or off.


  3. Outstanding customer care has been our competitive advantage for years. It has preserved customer loyalty and helped our software business thrive during the economic downturn of the past year.

    It’s not just small businesses that need to get a hold of the value of excellent customer service. Apple Computer is using superior customer service to sell Macs against a largely customer indifferent PC market. I love the recent Apple Customer Care ad .

  4. Lisa!
    Great post! As the owner of a mystery shopping company, we see many businesses thrive or fail based on the level of service they are offering. Today’s businesses are asking us about the new media and our response is always the same, “If you are able to support it with unprecedented service, then by all means, get involved with the new tools that are out there.” Unfortunately, what we are finding through the mystery shopping process is that most of the time, the basics aren’t being supported. Phone calls go unanswered, emails are neglected, business owners are in hiding from their customers, etc. The list goes on. Thanks again for the great post!

    Angela Megasko

  5. Great post – I would add:
    Make sure you have product when your customer needs it and deliver on time. Inventory management is a silent killer and it is difficult to know how much to have on hand. That is where inventory optimization programs like Phitch ( determine when to order and how much to order. Such tools provide a powerful competitive advantage. Bottom performing businesses have nine times more inventory than their top performing peers – this has a tremendous impact on cash flow and customer service.

  6. Great post! I think it is especially critical for small businesses to really focus on customer service; in the end it is what will make or break them. Too often poor customer service can lead to a grapevine of bad publicity and referrals. Another important point to remember is to only take on what your business can handle. Meaning, there many be hundreds of new social media and CRM tools, but if your business can fully invest the time to engage and interact in only 1 or 2 of them, then that is all that should be used.

  7. Lisa, simple and good advice. Apart from the basics of returning calls, emails I would add to check with your customers on what they want regarding customer service. What we think is important may not be in their eyes and we could be missing something in customer service delevery that is crucial to them.

  8. Penny Feigel, IAC-EZ

    Customer Service is so important to any business, small or large. Not only in making and keeping your customers happy, but in finding ways to improve, grow, and expand.

    Your clients are a great source of ideas and inspiration, and can see something in a totally different light than you do. They just offer so many different backgrounds and experiences into their opinions, it’s like a gold-mine of information.
    The best resource available.

  9. This is a great reminder. I’ve had similar experiences and it is so frustrating. I don’t understand why a company bothers to make themselves appear accessable but then doesn’t follow through. I know businesses are busy but putting aside one afternoon a week to respond to all their social correspondence with customers would be smart.

  10. It should be a two way street between the customer and the seller. And please keep in mind that extraordinary things could happen that could have an impact on your level of response. A good friend of mine, bought recently a pen from a company in USA. It took longer time with the delivery than usual, so my friend sent them a reminder by email. They didn’t reply at first, but some days later they informed him about a thing that had happened with one of the employees of the company that had caused the delay. It had been smart if the company had replied at once, but I think they turned the situation to a positive outcome at the end. It is all about communication…

  11. Spot on advice, Lisa. Once you woo and win the customer you can’t just ignore them. That’ll just end in a breakup or worse, a divorce.

  12. This is so true, Lisa! And I completely agree with NicoleRivera too – one of the best ways to improve your customer relations is through CRM use. By using CRM we have managed to “steal” customers away from several of our competitors who seem to ignore their existing customers!!

    You have to find a CRM that works for you and fits with your budget, which is not always easy. I personally use as it’s free and really easy to set up, however it is marketed as a “simple CRM” so it might not have everything for everyone.

  13. Wow! You really hit a nerve with this excellent post! Our company conducts mystery shopping and does social media monitoring as well. We believe clients need both to measure and improve customer service. You can never know too much about your business or that of your competition.

    Some companies view Twitter, Facebook, etc. as the new magic bullet for gaining market share and new customers. It doesn’t exactly work that way. It is using the old selling technique of relationship selling and bringing it into this new age of technology. Both take time but the end result is great!

    When done correctly (Zappos is a great example of how to do it right!) it can be a wonderful thing for your company.

    Thanks for the post!!!

  14. Good post. You’ve hit on one of the differences between companies that think technology drives great service and those that know it starts with great culture. (The technology can come later.)

  15. You can remove the word ‘small’. Everything you say applies to big businesses as well. All businesses need to keep it REAL.

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