Success of business services companies such as consulting firms, landscape services, repair services, bookkeeping, cable companies, housekeeping, financial services, childcare services and web design is all about building lasting relationships with customers, not just making one-time sales. Service lies at the heart of these businesses. Hence there is twice the expectations from customers. These businesses have to take twice the extra care to ensure that they deliver on these expectations.
The challenge for the owners and managers of these companies is figuring out how to nurture ongoing customer relationships without distracting from delivering on new business. It’s cheaper to keep your current customers happy and coming back than to acquire new ones.
The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. Existing customers are 50% more likely to try new products and spend 31% more, when compared to new customers.
Services and product companies are different
Many businesses who provide services as their main offering, forget about support functions and providing ongoing customer service to their customers. They mistakenly treat their service offerings as if they were products that are sold, delivered and then the company moves on to the next customer. Services based businesses are all about developing an ongoing interaction with customers that extends beyond the scope of a single sale. There is no product for the customer to use that generates a lasting impression, customer service is key.
Customers don’t owe you their loyalty. You have to earn it — continually. Developing customer loyalty starts with being available, listening and providing timely and thoughtful responses to customer needs and questions – even if those questions don’t directly generate a sale
- Customers may have follow-up questions about the service that was delivered.
- There may be billing questions (particularly if the service is some sort of ongoing subscription).
- They may have concerns about services quality that require a call-back or follow-up engagement.
- They may have feedback on how well their needs were met and suggestions for how you might address unmet needs.
In each of these situations, the customer is looking to your business and your customer service processes to express that you genuinely care about meeting their needs and making them happy. In small businesses in particular, it is the personal touch that leads to customer loyalty and competitive advantage.
Impact of poor customer service
The impacts of poor customer service are wide reaching, impacting customers, employees and potentially the overall success of the business. When it comes to customers, it is all about perception
- Even simple questions require talking to a live person – Yes, customers love the personal touch, but they also value their time and often don’t really want to talk to a person, they just want their question answered or problem solved as quickly and easily as possible.
- Feeling that company doesn’t care about them or their business – Communication is key to expressing to customers that the company values their business and cares about them as individuals. Most customers are understanding of delays in resolving issues as long as they feel like you haven’t forgotten about them.
- Perception of the small business as unprofessional – Professionalism is a subjective assessment and often involves comparing the customer’s perception of the company against competitors. Because each customer determines who to compare the company with, there is often unfair comparisons made between small businesses and large enterprises. The larger companies tend to have more structured processes, dedicated resources and more sophisticated IT systems – this is the image that many customers associate with professionalism.
- Delays in getting problems solved and questions answered – even the best communication possible won’t resolve the underlying need or issue the customer is facing. They contacted you because they are looking for resolution and at some point you need to deliver whatever they are expecting. Delays in solving problems and providing information is a situation that can and should be avoided.
For employees and business operations, the impacts of poor customer service show up in the form of things that you can’t do than the things that you are doing. Without the right set of tools and processes, more time is spent keeping track of customer service tasks (overhead) – reducing the time available for solving the underlying issues. If there is no record of past engagements with the customer and how they were addressed, each interaction requires starting from scratch in determining the context of the issue the customer is facing. This inefficiency is compounded by not having a way of seeing FAQs and having to figure out the same answers multiple times. Unfortunately, these situations are often accompanied by difficulty in measuring how much time you are really spending on customer service tasks – a hidden drain on capacity.
At the company level, poor customer service can lead to missed opportunities for follow-on sales, loss of repeat business and low customer satisfaction.
Missed opportunities for follow-on business. Satisfied customers will be happy to give your company additional business because they feel a connection with your company. If they feel an especially strong connection with you, they may even create more business opportunities beyond the original scope that they engaged you for. For example, if they were happy with the results on a home improvement project your company did for them, they may ask you to do another project for them. Follow-on sales aren’t guaranteed and they can’t be won, they are the reward that must be earned.
Low customer satisfaction can be a big problem for service companies. We are in the middle of the era of viral social media posts and scathing reviews on sites. These channels that enable customers to broadcast raw emotions and sentiment are widely viewed by prospective customers for many years. Poor customer service can lead to not only losing the existing customer but future prospects as well. An example of this might be a childcare provider who had a family that was unhappy with the services they were receiving and took their business elsewhere. They likely shared their frustration in the form of social media posts and/or reviews on a site like Yelp and those comments are now permanently part of the company’s reputation.
Loss of repeat business – for many service businesses, customers needs are cyclical and there is a period of time that elapses between potential business opportunities. Consider the example of an accountant that does tax preparation. While there may be cases where there is a need for mid-year consultation, most customers will not have a need for services until it is time to file taxes next year. A poor customer service experience combined with a prolonged lapse in demand creates a high likelihood that the customer will find someone else to address their future needs and you will have lost the repeat business.
A 2016 survey by New Voice Media of more than 2,000 adults in the US found that 49% of respondents reported switching companies they do business with because of poor customer service and 67% of those switched more than once. These numbers are important because they reinforce just how big the customer service problem is and how easy it is for customers to just walk away. For service-based businesses, this can mean the difference between a bright outlook on the future or the business closing.
Intent is good but follow-through is important
The issue many service based companies have is failure to follow-through on customer service strategies (the intent is there). Employees and managers are wearing a lot of hats and often operational issues and pursuing new sales distract staff from following-up on customer service requests. This is a bad situation because it undermines the sense of “personal touch” that customers find important. The underlying problems that cause this situation are twofold:
- Customers aren’t provided self-service capabilities so every issue requires staff involvement
- Staff responsible for customer service tasks lack the structure and prompting that promote consistent and positive customer perceptions.
Most small business service companies don’t have support portals for customers to use, dedicated customer service staff, or a formalized process and means of tracking customer engagements. They do the best they can reacting (answering the phone, responding to emails, etc) but often things get missed, responses get delayed and customers are left feeling like the company isn’t paying attention to them. Even small issues will escalate in impact and urgency if they are not addressed in a timely manner.
How a help desk solution can help
A help desk software solution isn’t going to solve all your customer service problems (there will still be a big people element) but there many areas where technology can help including improving customer experience, addressing employee behaviors and improving operations effectiveness.
Facilitate positive customer service experiences that blend productivity with the personal touch with things like:
- Self-service capabilities and FAQs – the personal touch is all about the quality of interaction, not necessarily the quantity. There are times when the customer just wants to resolve the issue and move on with their day and doesn’t really want or need to interact with one of your employees. By offering the option to resolve common issues on their own, you are telling them that you respect their time as valuable.
- The ability to submit requests and questions online or via email – while this might seem like simply a technical feature, providing customers the opportunity to interact with you on the devices they use everyday has the impact of making your staff seem more accessible. Email and online submissions don’t come with the expectation for immediate response like phone calls and in-person interactions. Customers can submit questions and requests at times that are convenient to them – not just during business hours when your staff are available.
- Automated responses may seem impersonal but they are an effective means of avoiding a really frustrating situation for customers. When a request is submitted online or via email, it is hard for the requestor to know if their request was received or if some “technical error” has caused their request to be discarded somewhere out on the internet. A simple automated response will let customers know you received their request and setting expectations on how quickly you will respond.
- Provide a place that customers can go to see status updates – This goes beyond general self-service capabilities, one of the key benefits of a help desk solution is that it enables customers to see the status of their issue as you are working to resolve it. Most customers will never go in and view issue status if you provide timely resolution, but the knowledge that they have the option of viewing status can provide an added level of comfort and transparency to the customer support experience.
- Instructions on how to escalate via email or phone if the issue is urgent – Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and standard response times are fine for most requests and questions, but occasionally a customer will face an issue that requires an urgent response. Providing escalation mechanisms and engagement instructions to requestors lets customers know that you are standing behind them and will do what is necessary to keep them satisfied. Most customers don’t require an urgent / escalated response as long as expectations are set appropriately and you deliver in accordance with the timelines provided.
- Satisfaction surveys to ask customers how they felt about the engagement – most customers won’t fill out satisfaction surveys, however the act of asking for feedback tells customers that you care about their opinions and continuous improvement of the service experience.
Help desk solutions can also be a helpful tool to guide employees to exhibit the types of behavior that result in positive customer experiences
- Proactively reaching out to customers to provide a great experience
- Providing timely follow-up and resolution of issues
- Regular communication on issue status
- Providing a personalized experience based on customer preferences and needs
- Looking holistically at the customer’s interactions instead of just a single sale
Help desk solutions can help you take control of customer service operations so they aren’t disruptive by providing a centralized place to track and manage customer requests. For service-based companies, customer service needs to be ingrained in the organizational DNA and become something that is always present as part of the normal course of doing business.
- Ensure requests get addressed and closed out in a timely manner (nothing gets forgotten)
- Prioritize customer service requests instead of constantly “fighting fires” and “responding to squeaky wheels”
- Manage the resource capacity needed for customer service and understand the impact it is having on the rest of your business
- Make self-service/FAQs available to customers so your staff doesn’t have to deal with the easy/repetitive stuff.
The right help desk solution can provide you the fundamentals that you will need to craft a successful customer service strategy for your organization. Equipped with a solid set of tools and processes, your staff will be able to spend less time figuring out the mechanics of how to manage customer issues and requests, instead spending more time and energy on resolving the requests themselves.
For small to medium size businesses, the key to choosing the right help desk tool is keeping it simple – finding the features you need, without a lot of overhead, in a package that is affordable and easy to use. It should support the needs that your company has today and be able to scale to support your company’s future growth. Remember that your help desk tool will become part of the customer service image that you project to customers, so you want to make sure that it is the right tool to represent your company.
Freshdesk is simple to setup, simple to use and cost-effective for small businesses. As a cloud based solution with minimal administration overhead, Freshdesk is easily configurable to blend into your company’s brand persona and existing website design so customers have a consistent experience. Together with your passionate staff, Freshdesk can help you create that personal touch that leads to lasting customer relationships.
To learn more about how other businesses like yours are using Freshdesk to improve their customer service functions, check out some of our customer success case studies.