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5 tips for providing excellent customer service

For businesses, customers are the single most important element of their business frame. Bad customer service is one of the main reasons businesses suffer. Whether they failed to follow up on an enquiry, complaint or feedback, bad customer service leaves a lasting impression – especially in this digital age. Small companies in particular are in the perfect position to provide a personal customer service and develop relationships from the ground up. But how exactly should you go about it? Follow our top tips to help you provide truly excellent customer service.  

1. Know your product or service

The first, and most important, element is knowing what it is you’re selling. Making sure you know your product or service inside out will help you to deliver the type of service customers are after. Knowing how it works, why it works and how it can help them are three main points, however you should always have stock answers to the most commonly asked questions to make sure you don’t get stumped.

Example: Optimal Run

We know we have mentioned Optimal Run before but they are such great example of using social media to improve customer service. The team always goes an extra mile to make buyers feel comfortable about their running gear purchase. There is a personalized video for each manufactured pair of running shoes. In these video you will get all the information you want: how the product was made, what materials were used, how to get the most out the products... They even answer common questions coming from their Facebook page. All the videos can be found on their YouTube Channel. The videos have increased traffic to Optimal Run’s website by more than 150%.

OptimalRun excellent customer service
OptimalRun excellent customer service

2. Be approachable – but not pushy

Whether you’re in a face-to-face environment, speaking over the telephone or communicating via email, your customers – current or potential – should always know that you are there should they need assistance. Introducing yourself and your expertise is the first port of call in order to help build a long-standing relationship, and making sure they know they can approach you if they have any questions or concerns is imperative. It can be a difficult to find the balance between showing them you care and not being too pushy, however once you’ve got this right, results are almost guaranteed.

Example: Sainsbury’s Giraffe bread case

You might have heard about Sainsbury’s Giraffe bread story, proving there are companies that know how to have a little fun and do things that are quirky and out of the ordinary.

Three and a half years old Lily Robinson disagreed with the name given to Sainsbury’s products called tiger bread. In her eyes, the bread didn’t resemble a tiger at all and in fact looked very much like a giraffe. With a little help from her parents, she wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s customer service department to make sure the supermarket will learn about her confusion.

Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign1
Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign1
Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign2
Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign2

Chris King - the customer support manager (aged 27 and 1/3) - replied to Lily’s inquiry and explained the origins of the name:

“I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea - it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it? It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a loooong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.”

Because Lily’s mom enjoyed the letters, she ended up posting them on her blog. This cute correspondence quickly became a viral hit, and the pressure was on for Sainsbury’s to change the name of the product to the much more appropriate giraffe bread. Sainsbury saw an opportunity to do something unusual and quirky so they did change the name. They then used signs in their store that gave credit to Lily’s humorous inquiry: a good marketing tactic to portray the supermarket as approachable and attentive.

Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign3
Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign3
Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign4
Sainsbury Tiger-Giraffe bread campaign4

3. Listen and be responsive

Listening to your customers is one of the easiest, yet most important parts of customer service. Listening to their needs and requirements is the simplest way to ensure you can respond quickly and effectively. After all, as a customer, there’s nothing worse than non-responsiveness (how many times do you see companies not responding to posts on their Facebook newsfeed?). Answering all queries, questions and issues in a timely manner highlights just how important they are to you and how much you value their custom.

Example: Morton’s Steakhouse

Morton’s steakhouse has the reputation for providing an excellent customer service. A few years ago they surpassed their reputation by making Peter Shankman’s steak dream come true. Shankman had a long day of travelling and jokingly tweeted that he would like Morton’s to bring him a porterhouse steak once he landed in Newark. Morton’s monitors their Twitter account closely, they saw Shankman’s tweet and decided to grant his wish.

They sent an employee to the Newark airport with a 24 ounce porterhouse steak, colossal shrimp and a side of potatoes. When you think about it, the logistic behind this customer service action involved more than simply making a meal and delivering it (fyi 24 miles away). Morton’s steakhouse also had to

  • Thoughtfully check their Twitter account
  • Find the correct plane
  • Cook the meal
  • Get permission from the higher-ups
  • Wait at the Newark airport

Shankman obviously shared this story social media and it quickly went viral. This Twitter success story brought Morton’s steakhouse great exposure and even more trust from its customers.

Morton's Steakhouse Customer service
Morton's Steakhouse Customer service

4. Ask for feedback – and act upon it

What you think your customers need and what they actually need are not always the same thing. Making sure you ask for feedback regularly is the only way you will truly know what your customers want. Once you’ve received the feedback, there’s no point in leaving it there to collect dust. Taking the time to regularly check feedback and identify areas for improvement to make positive changes within your business will help to keep your customers happy – and most importantly, help your business succeed.

Example: Ace Hardware

The hardware store chain has more than 4,500 stores worldwide and competes head-to-head with big competitors like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Ace Hardware customer service
Ace Hardware customer service

Ace’s customer service practices are absolutely irreproachable. One time an Ace customer wanted a specific lawnmower model that Ace didn’t carry. “Rather than say, ‘Sorry, we don’t carry that,’ the employee said, ‘Let me check with my manufacturer's rep’”. With a little extra effort, the Ace employee was able to locate and sell the requested lawnmower to the customer. Ace employees will also often deliver items they can carry themselves to customers' homes.

That’s the kind of thing they do. Ace surely understands it doesn’t matter if you have the best product in the world, you also have to be nice about how you deliver it. You can also be the nicest person in the world, if you’re not able to answer customers' questions or be helpful, then customers will find someone who does.

5. Use customer intelligence to respond to customers better

Having a good customer database that includes deep profile information about each customer (preferences, order history, segments their belong to, best products and offers to recommend them etc.) can help you to record, plan and manage contact with your customers.

Not only can you use this type of profile information to communicate with them more personally in email campaigns. But you can use it to respond more relevantly during customer service interactions too. Regular personalised interactions with your customers will help you build trust and loyalty.

If your customers believe that you are communicating with them openly and relevantly they will feel their relationship with you is one of mutual trust and that you are professional and care about their needs. Making your customer feel special though every step of their shopping journey should be a priority for your business. It will help you meet your customer’s needs and increase the chance to convert them into repeat customers.

Example: Secret Linen Store

We love sharing examples from our own clients. Secret Linen Store uses the information they get from our customer intelligence platform to respond to customer queries relevantly, with product suggestions, special offers for VIPs and questions about previous purchases, in order to garner feedback. They also use customer profile data, which is fed into their email platform, to inform automated, personalised campaigns. This lets them follow up with specific customers and create a continuous feedback loop, without lifting a finger.