Endless articles are posted in business publications about customer service solutions.
Knowing how to best connect with your customers is an important part of being successful in the long term, as well as achieving growth that keeps you going in the meantime.
With so much information out there, you would think that we would have the process down to an art. But all it takes is a trip through Yelp, or Googling large companies like Xfinity to see that customer satisfaction is far from being mastered.
As a smaller brand, you have a distinct advantage in your ability to directly communicate with and connect with your audience. You can also get a bit more creative with your attempts and act more efficiently.
So, what does it take?
1. Make Sure You Have The Right Customer Support Tool
Simple, but crucial. In a time when there are dozens of customer support solutions to choose from, you should take the time to really find one that will work for you and your team.
Check out features versus price, and any special offers they might have. Most importantly, contact them with questions. The way a customer support services handles customer support themselves should give you a clear indication of how good their tool really is.
I am using ZenDesk  to power my customer service emails. I have found it to be a simple, yet complete solution.
2. Be on Top of Your Customer Service Team
As a business owner or a manager, you should always be on top of how your customer service team performs. Keeping an eye on customer satisfaction is a key to your business success!
I use Cyfe , the multi-purpose business dashboard, to keep analyzing how we are doing. I have enabled ZenDesk widget inside my “Customer satisfaction” dashboard to monitor if we are suddenly seeing a spike in customer service tickets, how quickly those tickets are closed, etc.
I also annotate campaign dates, holidays, etc. (anything that can affect our customer service team) to see what might have caused each spike. Using Cyfe, you can simply add another widget for notes as well as the calendar widget to monitor important dates.
3. Know Your Customers Inside and Out
You should begin building a foundation of understanding with your customers as soon as you can. Of course, you likely don’t have the budget of big companies for data mining and acquisition. You will need to be a bit more creative with the process.
A personal favorite method of mine is to create surveys.
Depending on your needs, you can make either a longer one that is done all at once, or you can offer randomized questions on the site itself that show up and change each time a user visits. You can find a great deal of information this way, granted that there is some kind of login or account connection.
Once you have information on their needs, interests, or complaints, you can make a note on the account. Now, you have that information every time they contact you.
Qeryz  is one of the coolest survey solutions I’ve seen so far: You can create mini-surveys for different landing pages of your site and engage visitors depending on their intent. They also have cool analytics to help you understand your visitors better:
4. Eliminate The Need For Customer Support Calls
Most people will go to any length to avoid a phone call with a customer support agent.
Admit it, you will yourself. That is why companies began offering alternative methods for contact, including email, social media support, and chat support.
You don’t have to provide all of them (spreading yourself too thin is a cardinal sin for small businesses). But you should have at least one alternative avenue for users who would prefer not to contact you by phone.
If you are looking for affordable solution here, look no further. ChatWoo  is free and it’s incredibly easy to install (so no development costs either). It will provide you will essential online chat features and even analytics:
5. Prep Some Customized Freebies
Going back to knowing your audience, another benefit of having that information is the ability to customize gifts. People love free stuff. they love feeling like you appreciate them, and that you are not just taking, taking, taking. When you also show that you know them, you are going to get better results.
Perhaps my favorite example of this in practice is the Kotex Pinterest gift campaign . They took influencers they wanted to target, and made those women customized gifts sent to their homes. Each gift was created using images they had pinned on their Pinterest boards.
They sent out 50 gifts across the world, and as a result ended up with an astonishing 694,853 total impressions.
6. Don’t Leave Calls To Your Employees
Your employees need to be trained in customer service, obviously. You have probably hired some people to handle help desk, as well. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be directly involved with the process.
Recently, I emailed a website that offers a video call streaming dashboard, to ask about features.
The CEO contacted me back and scheduled a meeting, bypassing any customer service steps in between. He spent an hour and a half speaking to me, and offered to create a customized version of the platform that would meet my needs.
This is not an unusual occurrence, by a long shot. Startups are taking customer service to a new level, and the top dogs are frequently involved.
7. Get In Touch Before They Do
A good email marketing strategy is the key here: Getting in touch with your customers when you really have something exciting to share always works wonders.
Make sure to use email marketing segmentation: If there are some customers more likely to need/want it, you should target them first. That way they both feel special, and you are informing them before they have to contact you for details.
Getresponse offers the easiest (yet advanced) segmentation features  I’ve ever seen: Really easy to manage!
8. Use Social Media For Regular Engagement
A shocking number of companies are just doing social media all wrong, especially small businesses. They use their profiles as some kind of advertising dumping ground.
You can see that they have clearly read a bunch of blog posts telling them the “perfect formula” for growing their social media presence. As a result, it comes off as insincere, pandering, and marketing jargon. Skip all that and instead, use social media to directly engage and communicate with your audience on a one on one level.
Track down and add your customers, or add them back when they follow you. Contact them with special offers. Respond to their tweets and comments. Use your profiles to have a conversation, not to sell. Never forget that social media is not a place for conversions, but lead generation through connection.
- 5 tools to research Twitter follower demographics .
- How to use notifications on Facebook , Pinterest, Twitter and Google Plus to engage with your customers.
9. Don’t Follow By The Usual Script
Be different! A unique customer service experience can be your strongest competitor advantage and word-of-mouth marketing catalyst!
Deborah Anderson shared her own examples with me: Years ago she and her husband owned a domain registration service and their big thing was “one-hour reply.”
I can see how this can empower your site call-to-action and increase your site trust: A one-hour reply policy to all the support tickets. Wow!
Gamification is another possible way to let your customer service go viral. GamEffective  is quite possibly a pioneer in this field allowing businesses to make customer service experience actually fun and activating:
“GamEffective uses rich graphical narratives for its enterprise gamification, ranging from sports to racing, virtual city-building and song-contests. Narratives make employees the heroes of their game and not just a name on a leaderboard, and provide a deep context based experience.”
Here’s a fun Slideshare  explaining the process.
10. Get Creative With FAQ and Help
Your site content should answer all your customers’ possible questions. Helping your customers is the smartest content marketing strategy.
One of the best examples of that implemented well is UXCeclipse . They create a lot of aiding materials for their customer base. In this case, we’re talking about companies in retail.
They generated an infographic, they constantly update their blogs with relevant information on how to use the Microsoft products, webinars, white papers (because in the corporate and retail world, you need numbers to prove the value of a business), podcasts, YouTube videos, etc.
It’s more like a B2B customer service solution, because they’re making their customers feel comfortable with the software they sell, and believe that “Knowledge is power”. So, this is their creative way: offering knowledge, under many forms, so that their clients are always informed, are getting familiar and are returning to their websites.
Bonus: Go Back To Basics
When people ask me what the most important thing they can do to become a better marketer is, I always tell them to read Dale Carnegie’s, “How To Win Friends And Influence People”. Originally published in 1936, it is still the greatest work on marketing out there. He doesn’t give you magic bullet tricks to manipulate customers. He teaches the importance of empathy, compassion, and connection. He brings it all back to basics.
Last but not least, remember the saying “The customer is always right”? Well, if you’ve been providing services for a couple of years, you’ll know that’s not exactly true. Whatever happens, always remember to remain a professional. Read this article  for some inspiration.
Do you have a tip for customer service solutions?
Helping Customer  Photo via Shutterstock