What we’re talking about
The way you interact with and offer support to your customers plays a huge part in how somebody feels about your business. At its core, great customer support is about making sure customers feel appreciated, assisted and listened to by your business throughout their customer journey – and not just when things go wrong. That means thinking about all the key moments a customer interacts with your business including when a purchase is made, providing product education and ongoing support, as well as dealing with issues or returns.
Why it’s important
Creating customer satisfaction, building customer loyalty, encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations, providing useful insights about your product or service – the benefits of carefully considered customer support are pretty clear. There’s a mountain of evidence from various studies that backs this up but, perhaps most pertinently, a study by law firm PwC found that 73% of consumers consider customer experience an essential factor in purchasing decisions – whether a company is big or small.
Once you’ve brought in a customer, you obviously want to keep them and make them so happy that they spread the word far and wide. Though customer support might initially seem like more of an operational function rather than one that drives sales, it can play a pivotal role in your brand and marketing strategy. Plus the feedback you get from customers can be invaluable to your product development and strategy, too. Customer support has moved on a long way from the days of long hold times and infuriating conversations – the bar has been seriously raised over the past few years, especially among startups and consumer brands. While plenty of businesses think they’re doing it well, it’s easy for complacency to creep in – getting it right remains an excellent way for a small business to stand out.
Things to note
Being purposeful about customer support and introducing a structured system doesn’t have to be a drain on resources. Plenty can be achieved on a small business budget when it comes to training staff and creating guidelines for how to communicate with customers.
For customer service to add lots of value, you should measure, monitor and tweak your practices to make sure the way you're engaging with your customers works for them. This’ll also help make sure you don’t overspend or allocate resources to the wrong places.
The most common problems that customers identify when it comes to customer support include long wait times on complaints or requests, employees who don’t understand what they need, and a general lack of human touch.
How to nail your customer support
1. Make sure everyone in the company understands your brand personality and who your customers are.
If you haven’t already done so, flesh out some of the personas of the people you’re selling to – who they are, what their motivations are, what their needs and wants are and how they spend their time.
2. Review your customer’s journeys.
Break down your customer’s journey into its key parts, and consider how you’ll need to support them at each stage – there might even be particular areas, such as product education, where you can develop engagement strategies that make you stand out compared to your competitors.
3. Develop key policies and practices.
For each point where you want to engage with customers, compile a list of relevant questions and problems that might arise, and decide how you will deal with them. How quickly will emails or social messages be responded to? How will you onboard new customers to the product or service? What’s your returns policy like? How do you handle angry customers? Involve your staff in this process. Once you’ve nailed down the answers to these questions, write them down somewhere – even if it’s a simple document.
4. Decide which channels you’ll use for customer support.
Phone and email are the obvious ones, but consider increasingly popular channels like social media DMs or texts, too. Choose the channels that are likely to be most comfortable for you to provide support in-house, based on your resources, customer base size and the places where your customers interact with you. Then consider the evergreen content you can provide customers online – in the shape of FAQs, knowledge-based articles or video tutorials. Keep in mind that many customers actually don’t want to talk to a company, and would rather find the solution themselves.
5. Find or hire the right people for customer-facing roles.
Whether that’s existing staff or new recruits, they need to have strong interpersonal skills, a really good understanding of your product or service (naturally), and be customer-centric. When it comes to hiring, make sure interview questions involve tricky customer scenarios to solve. Also, build in a plan for periods of potentially increased demand, such as the holiday season, when you’ll probably need to draft in other employees into customer-facing roles – or even hire temporary staff.
6. Train your team.
If you’ve got the budget, this can be done externally, but you can also carry out your own DIY training in the shape of role-play scenarios or recording then analysing exchanges with customers. The main thing is that everyone knows your product or service inside out, is prepared to respond to the most common queries or issues, and knows who to go to when they’re not sure how to deal with a customer. Keep your employees involved in this process throughout – brainstorm with them about common customer issues and let them ask questions on how to handle difficult situations. And consider ongoing training to keep everyone up to speed, rather than assuming this is a one-time effort.
7. Consider investing in dedicated tech.
There are lots of tools out there offering every function you might need: responses on social media, managing email inboxes, instant messaging centres, reporting tools, managing and storing tickets, and integrations that streamline all your communications with customers into one channel (which is pretty essential). Draw up a list of the functions you need to make things more efficient, then conduct some online research to come up with a list of platforms that offer the features you need. Evaluate them based on cost, capacity and difficulty of use. A lot have free trial periods so you can try before you buy.
8. Track key metrics.
Tech software will help you do this, but it’s worth considering which metrics are particularly worth keeping an eye on. Key ones to consider are average response time, average resolution time, number of customer complaints, and return rates. These can be tracked on a spreadsheet when you’re starting out. Bigger companies might even collect data to calculate net promoter score (NPS) – the percentage of people who would recommend you to friends, customer satisfaction score (CSAT), or customer effort score (CES) – how difficult or easy it is for customers to complete an action.
9. Do something with the feedback.
Your interactions with customers are a valuable source of feedback about your product, service and brand. Come up with ways to collate this information from direct messages, calls, emails and support tickets, and analyse it. It’s crucial that you set aside time to go through this feedback. Using it to make tweaks and alterations based on what your customers are telling you can make what you’re offering even better.
Spending time breaking your customer's journey down is critical to working out at which points you’ll need to support them, and how you can most effectively do that.
You need to have the right people in customer-facing positions – not everyone is cut out for that kind of role.
There are a huge host of tech solutions available to support small businesses, from all-in-one platforms to individual widgets. Which one you opt for will depend on your resources and precisely what you need it for.
The feedback you get from your interactions with customers should play a big role in your decisions going forward – whether that’s in your product or service development or another side of the business.
Take inspiration from how brands like Warby Parker, Basecamp and Glossier have gotten their customer support right through this blogpost from Hubspot.
Look at some customer service policy templates courtesy of Lessonly’s free PDF guide – which also gives step-by-step advice on some common customer scenarios.
Get a helpful and succinct introduction to some of the best software options available for small businesses through this blogpost on Medium.
Explore the common mistakes to avoid when choosing software through this post on Groove’s blog.
Compare the key functionality, price and capacity differences between software options on Capterra.
Listen to some quick tips on how to improve your customer support on social channels via this episode from the Science of Social Media podcast.
Work out your own metrics to monitor how you’re performing with this guide to customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and this guide to customer effort score (CES).
Read 100 tips from 100 customer experience agents on what they think businesses should focus on to improve their customer experience.