It takes more than just providing quality products and services to have a successful business—your reputation can be made or shattered by your customer service.
In the age of the Internet, it is easier than ever to say the wrong thing, and the results can be much more damaging than in days past. Fifteen years ago, if a manager or CEO said the wrong thing in a magazine or newspaper, it had a negative impact on their profile, but now news of a major faux pas can spread across the internet in a matter of hours.
Likewise, treating customers poorly can attract negative attention and can chase potential customers away—perhaps into the arms of your competitors. While money can buy you slick presentations, the best webinars, and celebrity endorsements, no amount of funding can buy you the respect and loyalty of a strong customer base.
How can you strengthen the bond between your business and your customers?
1: Treat your Customers as People, not just Money Dispensers
Businesses can easily make the mistake of taking customers for granted; large corporations and small firms alike can begin to view their customers as money-dispensers rather than people.
This is a huge problem in the long term. Focus on treating people as you would like to be treated: pay attention to their comments across social media (see below), conduct surveys (with incentives), and provide plenty of contact options—live chat, phone numbers, email addresses, and submission forms should all be readily accessible.
Research conducted by Aspect Software revealed that 77 percent of U.S. consumers view businesses with multiple communication channels as being easier to deal with, and 74 percent say these companies offer better service. Aim to be one of these companies.
2: Embrace the Speed, Simplicity, and Effectiveness of Social Media
Social media has changed the way most of us communicate. Whereas texting replaced the phone call (a problem for some, a welcome change for most), social media has replaced the text. Sending a message through Facebook or Twitter is quick, simple, and allows you to attach additional media with less fuss than when sending texts.
You should already be using social media to communicate with customers, but avoid spreading yourself too thin across them all: find the networks with the greatest concentration of customers and focus on them. While you may want to maintain profiles on a wide variety of networks, don't just share the same posts across them all; tailor your posts to the biggest active demographic.
Encourage your customer service operators to aim for fast responses: the longer customers (existing or potential) have to wait for answers to questions or complaints, the less likely they are to trust you. You should also make sure you're responding to feedback: listen on social media as much as you talk, if not more so.
3: Make Communications as Simple as Possible
You need to talk to your customers where they are – and today they spend much of their time using social and mobile applications and perusing websites. It’s kind of odd to expect these customers to pick up a separate phone and start all over again when they want to talk to you.
Today’s real-time communications technologies, including new WebRTC capabilities built-in to browsers like Chrome and Firefox, make it easy for you to include voice and video right in the context of your own applications and websites.
And the numbers show that your customers are spending more and more of their Internet time on mobile devices – so you need a strong mobile application strategy. Luckily there are toolkits available that allow you to embed voice and video right into your mobile applications too. And companies like Agora.io can also provide services in the cloud to help you seamlessly connect with mobile users worldwide while maintaining high-quality calls.
Allowing customers to enjoy audio or video calls with real customer service representatives from within your applications will help them put a face and personality on your business.
4: Make Honesty Your Policy
The internet has given consumers more of a voice and also made they much more business savvy. If a company is lying or trying to con them, they will make sure others find out about it across social media, blogs, and other outlets.
Building a stronger bond with your customers comes down to trust: if your target demographic feels they have little or no reason to take you at your word, why should they continue to give their money to you instead of to your competitor?
When communicating with customers (via social media, email, phone, or WebRTC), show compassion towards their specific needs and circumstances. Maintain your integrity by delivering products, services, or responses when you say you will and focus on leaving a good impression on customers rather than chasing the next dollar.
If you need to give something for free to maintain loyalty and boost your reputation, do it.
5: Focus on Inbound Marketing Rather than Outbound
Outbound marketing is, essentially, based around interrupting (or even intruding upon) your customers' days: whether this is through TV ads, non-requested marketing emails, unauthorized text messages, or pop-ups on unrelated websites, such tactics seem to annoy more than entice.
If a member of the public receives so many intrusive ads from a company, they will be left with a bad taste in their mouth, and as a result, they will be highly unlikely to seek out your business anytime soon.
Inbound marketing (also known as “pull marketing”, rather than the standard “push”-based practices employed by some companies) can be much more rewarding and build trust with your customers.
How can you try this for your business? Create valuable content to solve clients' problems: blog posts, downloadable e-books, videos, podcasts, and more can all offer helpful information (such as providing insights into production processes, assistance with a particular piece of software, or anything else relevant to your business).
If this material is good enough, customers may also share it with others, leading more traffic your way and potentially boosting conversion rates. According to research, inbound marketing costs an impressive 62 percent less than outbound marketing on a lead-by-lead basis.
Building stronger bonds with your customers is vital to ensure longevity and loyalty, so invest time, effort, and resources into discovering what they want. The more you can tailor your services and/or products to your target demographic, the more of a return you are likely to receive.