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Top customer service tips for small businesses

Eight out of 10 consumers will leave a shop if the service is poor, new research has revealed and 70% are likely to go to a competitor if they experience bad service. Read our tips to improve the service you provide to customers, both in person and online.

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Eight out of ten consumers will leave a shop if the service is poor, new research has revealed and 70% are likely to go to a competitor if they experience bad service from you. Read our tips to improve the service you provide to customers, both in person and online, in order to improve sales and keep hold of existing customers. You may think that a poor customer service experience just affects one person. But did you know that that one customer is likely to tell at least three other people about it? Or even more if they use social networks to vent their frustrations. Plus, they're a lot more likely to tell friends about a bad experience than a good one. With just a few simple, inexpensive changes you can protect your reputation and stop customers from switching to your competitors. Remember, the customer is king In a recent survey by Market Force, the top frustration for consumers was the lack of interest shown by staff. Similarly, in a Consumer Forum survey from 2010, 60% of respondents said that the most important factor in customer service was a personal response to their issue, while 44% cited speed of response as an important factor. So, doing small things that make the customer feel important, such as asking them questions about what they're looking for or remembering their preferences when they visit regularly can go a long way. You should also aim to lower customer waiting times and incentivise staff for achieving and surpassing this target. Put yourself in your customer's shoes Try to look at your business objectively. What would your first impression be if you walked into your premises? Think about what you like from a buying experience, would you be satisfied? Set a good example A lot of the time, your staff may be ultimately responsible for customer service, but it is up to you to let them know what you expect from them. Show your team exactly how you want them to deal with customers by getting out on the shop floor or on the phones yourself and providing training if necessary. Go the extra mile Doing just that little bit extra can really make a difference to how you're perceived by customers – and it doesn't have to cost the earth. Helping a customer carry their order out to their car or following up a sale with a phone call can make a customer feel good and, most importantly, like they'll want to buy from you again. Encourage repeat custom Good customer service breeds loyalty, but you can go a step further by rewarding your long-serving customers with discounts and reward schemes. Allow customers to make complaints You can't keep everyone happy all the time and, sometimes, despite your best efforts, your business might not live up to a customer's expectations. A recent survey by Enterprise Rent-A-Car found that one in 12 people won't complain because they've come to expect bad service, so it is important that customers know you're there and ready to listen. It is better that a complaint is made directly to you so that you can deal with it quickly and efficiently. The way you deal with complaints is a form of customer service in itself, so use this opportunity to change the customer's perception of your business. Don't forget about online customer service Just because you're not present when a sale is made online, doesn't mean customer service is any less important. Customers still want to feel reassured that they are making the right choice when purchasing from you. Before a sale is made, make it clear what your terms and conditions are, whether postage is included in the price and estimated delivery times. This will save confusion later, plus it fulfils the requirements of the E-commerce Regulations 2002. You can also provide supporting information through a frequently asked questions page or live chat facility to help answer any questions customers might have. After sales service is just as important too. Customers should receive email confirmation of their purchase and notification when an order has been shipped and the returns policy should also be made clear. Large online companies such as Amazon and eBay are seen as the gold standard for online customer service and this is what online consumers have come to expect. Look to what they do and see how you might be able to replicate elements of this service on your own website.

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