When it comes to selecting a product or service, does customer service matter even more than price?
Everyone loves to save a few dollars, but when businesses mishandle customer complaints, the resulting frustration and viral venting can seriously damage a brand’s credibility both with the angry customer and the customer’s wider social network.
And given the power of social media to spread angry customer rants like wildfire these days, that network can be pretty wide.
In today’s transaction-driven economy, customer service has been cut out of nearly every experience — unless something goes wrong. We order everything from clothes to groceries with just a few clicks of the mouse, never needing to interface with a customer service rep until a package fails to show up on time or an item arrives damaged.
While we expect great customer service when we need it, most folks rarely interact with a customer service rep. By default, this means that most businesses approach customer service from a ‘damage control’ standpoint: a customer is upset because something didn’t work out, so what can we do to alleviate this anger and prevent a full-scale viral meltdown?
But what if businesses approached customer service more proactively and used it as a tool to grow their businesses, rather than just fix problems after the fact?
Back in 2009, solopreneur Margarita Hakobyan was determined to adopt this personal customer service approach for her business. Her story holds an important lesson for all businesses, from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Proactive Customer Service: One Solopreneur’s Success Story
Margarita Hakobyan is the CEO of MoversCorp.com, an online sourcing company for locating moving professionals throughout the U.S.
MoversCorp is similar to popular hotel and flight booking sites like Kayak, Expedia, and Hotels.com. The site is a virtual online marketplace for movers. Users can submit their information and compare different moving company bids all without having to contact multiple companies directly.
“I like the simplicity and practicality of comparing and booking all in one place,” says Hakobyan. “Moving can be a tremendous stress. When I founded my business, from the onset my mission was simple.
“My mission: make the process of hiring moving companies and storage units much easier and faster by providing a platform where consumers are able to compare thousands of companies and select the best available option.”
Hakobyan knew she had a winning business idea but she struggled to get customers.
“I didn’t have a big budget to advertise in Yellow Pages (they were popular back then) or on the Internet,” Hakobyan says.
As Hakobyan knew from her background in moving and shipping, great customer service doesn’t cost a lot — especially when this service is helpful to folks who are going through a stressful and overwhelming period in their lives.
Her strategy was simple: treat the customer like gold. For her first customer, that meant a personal phone call congratulating her on her booking and rewarding her with a $50 gift card — totally out of the blue.
“Our first customer was very excited when we called and told her she’d won a $50 gift card,” Hakobyan adds.
Compared with other startup costs, the $50 gift card was a minimal investment, but together with the phone call, it proved the golden touch for building customer momentum, with more customers rolling in thanks to positive word-of-mouth and online reviews.
Building Your Business with Better Customer Service
As Hakobyan’s experience attests, personalized customer service can truly be the golden ticket to building a business during those crucial early days.
She did several things right: she responded instantly to her first customer, she rewarded their business, and she encouraged positive word-of-mouth by taking what is otherwise a stressful experience and turning it into a positive one.
Here’s how you can do the same:
Proactively Thank Loyal Customers
Let your first customers know how much they mean to you by offering a discount off their next purchase or a rebate for referring other customers your way. Everyone loves to feel special!
Set Expectations Appropriately
While you can’t prevent all problems from occurring, you can help reduce conflict by setting expectations from the beginning.
For example, if you promise delivery in three business days but know, with fulfillment time, there’s no way the customer will get it until the following week, you’re only setting everyone up for frustration.
Set expectations appropriately and, whenever possible, over-deliver.
For example, upgrading a first-time customer’s shipment from two-day delivery to overnight priority may only cost your business another $25, but could net you a loyal customer for life.
Respond Instantly to Problems
Whether it’s an angry customer tweet or online service request, don’t wait 24-48 hours to get back to the customer. Even if you do not have an immediate solution, simply acknowledging the problem and stating that you’re working on a prompt resolution will help ease this frustration.
While some may say that personal customer service is a lost art, it’s never too late to knock your customer service out of the proverbial park.
Proactively rewarding customers for their loyalty, surprising customers with simple upgrades (like overnight shipping), responding instantly to feedback, and providing personal customer service doesn’t require a major financial investment. It’s the small touches like these that will help your business grow with loyal customers for life.
Image: Margarita Hakobyan, MoversCorp