4 Top Customer Service Tips for Small Business

Dogma suggests that the best customer interactions are live-but not always. Here are four online tools that truly serve.
August 12, 2011

Once upon a time, customers knew the people they were buying from: The grocer, the butcher, the pharmacist and other neighborhood characters. It’s what author Gary Vaynerchuck describes as “When Caring Meant Business,” in his book The Thank You Economy, writing that “every person who walked through the door had to feel as though he or she mattered.”

Today, we have lengthy one-way phone dates with elevator music on loop, waiting to plead our case or demand a refund. But some businesspeople have discovered how to use new online tools to improve customer service. These examples are worth noting—you may be able to save some time and money for your customers and your business.

1. ZocDoc

Users can book doctor appointments online based on insurance carrier and location. Startup ZocDoc has the added challenge of interfacing with a dauntingly complex industry—health care. Even if they execute their part of the process flawlessly, doctors can still cancel or move appointments, and the user’s experience suffers.

Rather than making excuses, though, ZocDoc takes proactive steps to maintain customer satisfaction. If a doctor's office changes an appointment, ZocDoc makes a phone call to that patient to apologize and offers a $10 Amazon.com gift card, no strings attached.

Online businesses don’t have the luxury of face-to-face interaction when building relationships with customers. But this kind of unanticipated extra attention is a good step toward making the user feel cared for before they can develop a negative opinion of the experience.

“Be proactive, not reactive,” says Anna Elwood, director of operations for ZocDoc. “Don’t wait for problems to occur, find them before they do.”

Takeaway: Use the tools at your disposal, even if it’s as simple as an apologetic tweet, to get ahead of negativity. If you can anticipate complaints, you can address them before you lose customers.

2. Square

Square, a service that helps users process payments using their mobile devices, is expanding, according to the company. But at a healthy 140 employees, it seems to have maintained something that many smaller companies have lost: A personal touch.

It’s crucial for Square’s customers to know that support is available when they need it, because the ability to accept payments is something a small business can hardly do without, even for a short time. When that moment came for food-truck marketing director Angus Gorberg, Square was ready with support that made him feel he was in good hands.

“I'm not sure how large their team is over in San Francisco, but my feeling has always been like it was small in the best way possible,” Gorberg says. “And the kicker? All of this conversation was through e-mail. What else would you expect from a tech startup?”

Takeaway: E-mail doesn’t have to be impersonal. Speedy responses with a little extra attention to detail let customers know you are listening to their particular issues, staving off frustration.

3. Dell

Some companies get a lot of different service requests that vary in urgency and topic. It can be difficult to effectively direct customers to the department or representative best suited to fix the problem. But there’s nothing more frustrating to a consumer trying to get an answer than being bounced around from person to person to no avail.

This is one of the (somewhat diverse and numerous) ways Twitter can be useful in a customer service context—as a first point of contact that helps funnel users in the right direction. Dell, a large company that might have you on hold for several minutes if you were to call, has a team on Twitter that replies promptly. If necessary, a social media outreach team member then reaches out to follow up.

Not only does this approach help to minimize the number of angry, frustrated people venting publicly on Twitter, it also helps people with quick questions to skip the phone altogether, freeing up a representative to speak with someone who has a more detailed request.

Takeaway: Social media platforms may not be the endpoint for user issues and questions, but they can be an efficient place to start for you and your customers.

4. Artsicle and SnapEngage

Often we think of customer service as something that occurs when there’s a problem that needs to be solved. But if you conceive of the term more broadly, you open yourself up to soliciting user feedback before problems arise. It will help to improve your product or service as a whole.

Alexis Tryon, founder of an art-rental service called Artsicle, learned that she could answer customers’ questions before they even asked them by installing a plug-in called SnapEngage on her site. When customers arrive at Artsicle, a representative from the company, if one is available, sends a note within an unobtrusive chat window to see if they need assistance. A salesperson in a brick-and-mortar store can learn a lot about which products customers are looking for by keeping track of what they get asked about the most. Tryon has been able to incorporate the questions she gets asked into refinements she has made to Artiscle.

“Chat is the single biggest influence to our product roadmap in many ways,” Tryon says, noting that at times she has felt her chats have led directly to conversions.

Takeaway: Your users hold a valuable trove of information. Offering to help them before they have issues makes their experience better. It can also help you predict what you can do to serve other customers better as well.