Customer service for start-ups – how do you get it right?
Ask yourself the question: Why should you focus on customer service?
Answer: It’s about the people, they are the heart of your business.
Without happy customers, you won’t last long. So, let’s take a look at how to keep your customers coming back for more…
Telemarketing and customer service come hand in hand. With over 30+ years’ worth of experience, I know a thing or two about how to get it right.
As part of a training session for the British Library, I broke down the key elements of customer service –
- Customer Satisfaction
- Response Times
- Refunds & Complaints
- Relationship Management
- Data Management
As the members attending the training were focusing on helping start-up companies, the session was aimed at getting customer service right in a new business.
When you start a new business, you will often be able to take on new clients from your previous roles. It may mean for the first instance you have loyal following of people who have said they will come across and use your services.
But what people forget is that quite quickly you can end up losing friends (or ‘fans’) due to a lack of proper customer service systems and policies. When they lose these initial clients, they then struggle to attract new people. How do you avoid this common mistake new business owners make?
In order to start off on the right track, even if you are in the fortunate position to have good, loyal customers on board, you need to set yourself up for future success. Look at creating case studies, reviews, and social proof from your previous roles (transferrable skills) and any current clients. If your business is so new that this is hard, use examples of projects been involved with in different companies, sharing the outcomes of those.
Think about the work you have done before, how do you bring that into your business now? Set up a process to continually look for customer feedback.
If you leave these important steps behind, you will struggle to get new customers to trust you.
Another important aspect that many businesses fail to prepare for is setting adequate response times. Your ‘response’ will be different for your industry of work, but let’s talk you through a few examples…
- If a customer is in a retail environment and you have them waiting at the checkouts, how do you show you are aware they are waiting and how do you deal with re-assigning your staff?
- If you are a service provider and your customer is waiting on the phone, how do you communicate how long it will take to speak to someone? Do you have a call-back policy?
- If your website has a ‘contact us’ box, how quickly do you reply? Could you set an automatic reply to let people know how long they should expect to wait?
No matter what industry or process your response time refers to, always have a policy so people are looked after.
Think about how you are going to handle your customers, whether that is in person, online, or on the phone.
If there is an emergency, how do they get in touch with you?
Queueing in any form makes people agitated, so how do you avoid that friction?
Set clear response times – outline them on your website, social media, etc. to communicate what they can expect.
Customers demand 100% satisfaction. If they don’t get it from you, they’ll go elsewhere and tell people.
Government policy outlines how you should deal with refunds in your specific industries: www.legislation.gov.uk.
It’s important that you research your own industry guidance and communicate to your customers effectively to set their consumer expectations.
For example, refunds in retail will be different to a service in a B2B service environment.
When working internationally, it may be worth getting a consumer solicitor involved. Every country has different legislation.
Think about if you sell goods in a store, how will you display your returns policy? Will you have a sign by the till and information on your receipt?
If you have customer complaints, make sure your staff know at what point they should handle it and how they resolve it. Do this by creating a policy that staff can follow.
If you don’t have a process to follow it will be difficult as a start-up business owner when you employ someone new and expect them to know what to do. Make sure your staff are all on the same page when it comes to complaints policies.
Try to take the negative out of the conversation to still deliver what they need.
People have expectations. If you don’t meet them, they have the right to complain.
Again, it’s useful to look at industry specifics and do the research first.
To protect you, you should have commercial insurance relevant to your industry. If you don’t take the time to sort this out in the early stages, you are leaving yourself open to potential risks.
You may need to be aware of –
- Public liability
- Professional indemnity (AXA) – as you are offering advice as a service, if you give the wrong advice the insurance covers you
- Business interruption insurance
- Business property – are you renting, but the items are your responsibility? Stock gets wiped out from an accident, is it your debt?
- If your business is reliant on 1 person, if they decide to leave, what happens to the business?
- Partnership agreements should be made, e.g. if 1 person should fall ill or die, what happens to the business?
- Cyber insurance – protecting your and your customer’s data
- Credit card insurances
- There may be lots of behind-the-scenes policies that you need to think about
Having insurances in place gives you the right foundations to cover any situation, to offer solutions for any potential problems. It’s also a security blanket for business owner to reduce their personal risk.
Building relationships through conversation takes good systems. At the beginning it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the choices.
There are many options but having a CRM (customer relationship management) system in place early will help you stay organised.
There are platforms and tools for; diary management, workflows, loyalty schemes, email marketing, sales funnels, etc.
Use what’s relevant to your customer journey.
Think about how you will manage the people you reach through –
- Social media
- Email marketing
- Sales funnels
- Website enquiries
When handling customer data you need to ensure that you are respecting the implied reason to hold and store the data securely and have the right permissions from the consumer.
Using a good CRM or database should allow you to use a trackable section to stay compliant with permission. Plus adding a tag to identify the customer can aid segmentation for future promotion.
An example of that would be when cross selling you don’t send it to the whole list, excluding those who’ve already purchased it.
Agree the best period of time for your business to keep people’s data on record. Some industries will work on 12 months and others will work on 7+ years – apply logic to your products and services plus the customer buying cycle.
Having your database only through a third-party site such as a social media platform will put your contacts at risk. Make sure you transfer the data across to your own system.
Something that start-ups often forget – stick to the rules or beware!
You see it too often. A new business grows their audience on a social media platform, they do a great job at promoting and broadcasting themselves, and then they make a mistake that doesn’t align with the user agreement and the account gets closed.
The data and connections do not belong to them, it belongs to the platform (for example LinkedIn), and they lose everything they worked so hard to build.
Anybody that is connecting with you that will potentially become a purchaser, think about bringing that information into one central place so that you can keep it forever, safely following GDPR rules: see Government Guidance on GDPR.
Automation in your customer service
You are not expected to fulfil all aspects of customer service manually. We now have technology on our side to help us with many labour-intensive tasks.
- If you have email communications, think about how you can use an automation software subscription to help?
- Are you able to use an online scheduling tool like Calendly for your customers to book appointments?
- Can you post your social media updates through a third-party scheduler?
Use tools that save you time and set reminders for tasks.
Think back to our earlier points on communication – can you use email automatic replies to tell people how long it will be until they should expect a reply?
Automations can be used to remind your customers when they need more stock or that they haven’t ordered for a while.
Use them to your advantage and you have more time to focus on your business.
Well done for making it through to the end of our crash course in customer service for start-up businesses. The more you arrange at the beginning of setting up your business, the easier good customer service will be.
We hope you found this training insightful and gave you actionable points to go away and do.
If you need any more advice on customer service, get in touch with Wendy at WAG Associates.
To find out more about Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for upcoming workshops, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.
There are also recommended resources listed below for more in-depth research.
Additional Resources for Customer Service
- Extra information on equality and diversity policies, contract of employment, legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act and formal learning, can be found on: www.gov.uk
- There is a full list of legislation on the official site: www.legislation.gov.uk
- Link with HR policies, advice here: https://www.acas.org.uk/
- Health & Safety policies here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/legislation/hswa.htm
- Disability act: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/13/contents
- Examples of Complaints procedures:
Understanding your sector Examples:
- Commercial – Marks and Spencer’s
- Public – NHS
- Third Sector – Age Concern
There are internal and external customers, examples are:
- http://www.channel4learning.com/sites/gcsease/leisure_ tourism/3_4.html
- http://smallbusiness.chron.com/internal-customer-external- customer-11698.html
Examples of referral schemes follow the links:
- Consider looking for FREE courses funded through Colleges https://www.gov.uk/guidance/business-improvement-districts
- Local BID’s work with businesses in a region and can be a great resource for support and a soft influence on local council