4 Ways to Elevate Your Customer Service

As automation dictates more and more of nearly every aspect of corporate customer service, small businesses and entrepreneurs are offered a real chance to outshine even the biggest corporate juggernauts. Small businesses are in a unique position to outshine the giants in the one category that study after study shows more customers are growing to despise: customer service.

Be There, Be Human

If people have a complaint, a suggestion, a question, a comment, or if they’re just calling to vent, they don’t expect an actual person to answer. When an actual person does answer, it's amazing how quickly the consumers’ attitudes can change. They didn't have to press one for English. They didn't have to enter the same information three times. They didn't have to speak their answers to a robot that can't understand them. They didn't have to briefly explain the reason for the call so they could be connected to the right representative.

Huge corporations have to use automated systems to handle the volume. But small businesses have the opportunity to put a human voice on the other end of the phone and avert an angry call.

Offer a Sense of Community

Offer your Twitter account and Facebook page to all your customers. But don't just ask them to like or follow you. Like and follow them back.

Be active on Twitter—even if it means hiring a social media wiz part time (they're usually young and can come pretty cheap) to interact. Retweet posts, re-pin pins, and chat with customers on Facebook without trying to sell or advertise. By interacting without hawking, you'll separate yourself from the enormous pack of business owners who shill with every post.

Write a Letter

When it comes to customer service, the more personal the touch, the better. The greatest and cheapest thing you can do to get a customer for life is write a handwritten letter. Just like with automated call centers, customers expect emails or even texts. The charm and elegance that can only be conveyed by a brief, handwritten thank you can purchase customer loyalty far more valuable than the price of a stamp. When the customer opens it, his or her initial reaction is likely to be, "Wow. I didn't know people did this anymore."

Think Outside the Box

If you weren't a creative person, you wouldn't be an entrepreneur. Get creative. Instead of sending an email, send a video made specifically for that specific customer. Say his or her name, show your face, and let them hear your voice. Get creative with your merchandising. Everyone has the branded coffee mug. Send consumers a pastry with your business's name on it.

When it comes to customer service, get personal—intimate if possible. Most people pine for the time when they knew the name of their pharmacists, their banker, their broker, whatever. As automation rules the day, people feel less and less connected with the people from whom they buy things. Stand out by going back to the basics of customer service: Be honest, be available, be personal.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about small business and online reputation management, among other things.

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