Small businesses have many advantages and great opportunities to stand out from the crowd. Free from the shackles of over-administration and red tape you can adapt your processes quickly and easily so are well placed to deliver outstanding service.
It may be surprising then that according to a survey by Oracle only 29% of the UK’s small businesses believe that customer service is a key differentiator in today’s competitive marketplaces as compared to 88% in Spain and 77% in Italy.
With research elsewhere showing that 81% of customers would be willing to pay more in order to receive superior customer service, we need to go that extra mile to make sure we are giving it to them. So if we know that service is key, how do we deliver it? Here are just a few brief tips:
Blog by Stephanie Vaughan Jones, Channel Manager at Penelope, the virtual phone system from Moneypenny for start up and emerging businesses. Stephanie is presenting on this subject at ‘Get Growing’, The Great British Business Roadshow. For information or to book a place at any of this year's events visit: www.britishbusinessroadshow.co.uk
Many SMEs are currently looking to upgrade their point of sale (PoS) systems. They were probably obsolete three or more years ago, but in the downturn, many had no choice but to keep them working, regardless of the high cost of maintenance and support. Now, it is clear that old PoS systems can no longer operate in a multi-channel world.
They can't identify the customer (other than through an old-style loyalty card), take delayed orders, process click-and-collect orders, book online orders, give access to online catalogues or process returns for goods bought online.
The replacement options are often very expensive if the business is looking to replace like with like – big hardware and proprietary software with more of the same. A cheaper and just as effective option, particularly for smaller business, is to use a mobile device such as an iPad and power it using relatively inexpensive applications that only charge for what is actually used.
Already in the US, major retailers say they will never build another fixed-till point, choosing to go mobile on a network in every store.
The joy of a mobile solution is that because all the apps and data are in the cloud, the business owner can access them through their smart phone and effectively run all sorts of regular tasks without ever having to be on site.
These mobile solutions also enable the retailer to connect directly to their customers through their own smart devices, to share data, orders, messages, voucher redemption, video – a host of content that both parties need to share.
Blog supplied by Oscar Heron, digital manager at apphardware.com, a one-stop webstore for business apps and hardware specifically aimed at SMEs.
Complaints are great. Although there is a tendency to do the same with complaints as with a medieval runner bringing bad news from the battlefield – blame the messenger – this temptation must be avoided at all costs. Complaints are the best and most unvarnished source of customer feedback. That’s when they are read in the raw, uncorrupted by staff editing, “summarisation” or by any other subtle bias from your customer surveys.
It’s much better to hear from a customer, and have the chance to fix things, than for them to bad mouth you behind your back, or even worse, broadcast your failings for others to hear. A customer who has been able to complain, and feels that the complaint has been taken seriously has already reached the first base in changing their feelings about your organisation. They are then much less likely to spread their complaints more widely.
Customer complaints highlight problems with people or processes, often way before other indicators show red. You can then fix them before they cause too much trouble. It’s all too easy to glide blithely along while significant problems are developing, with no recognition at management level. Complaints help to shatter the peace, for the better.
If you don’t already have a customer feedback facility on your website, consider introducing one. Ideally hosted by a third party so people know that the comments are authentic. You’ll get positive and negative input, and make sure you respond to the latter saying how you’ve tackled the issue.
Research has shown that customers with issues that are resolved quickly often become very loyal, which is good for all involved and often helps boost the bottom line. In other words, listening and fixing complaints creates better customers, and better customers are more profitable.
Starting a business for the first time is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things you can do (if you enjoy business!). However there comes a point where customer demands can weigh on your ability to progress. Here are five tips on how to keep your customers happy during the start up stages.
1. Be honest
Some business owners feel that they have to present their company as bigger than it is, which can lead to customers placing greater expectations in terms of support and business development. It would be better to be honest with your customers and for you to tell them exactly how big your business is, if not understate your size. This is not suggesting that you slack on customer service. As a customer, if you know the size of the business you would rather be told that your problem will be dealt with tomorrow and then have the issue dealt with well, rather than the issue being sorted today and receiving a half hearted response. Having a set policy (see point number two) to customer support will make customers used to what to expect, it could be argued reliability is more important than punctuality and if done right it can buy you time.
2. Have customer service processes in place
Having a process (between yourself and however many employees) in place allows you to know what to do when an issue is raised. An example could be a customer calls and has a problem, the query is logged and then the customer is told how long it will be before they receive an answer based on number of problems in front. If the issue is an emergency/urgent (this can be difficult to distinguish as some customers may claim it is urgent, but in the grand scheme of things their query can wait) being able to fast track it will be important. It can be hard when customers get angry at you, however as long as you communicate why their query is taking a while to resolve then at least they will not feel left out in the cold.
3. Get your hands dirty
Despite point number one, it is important that you get involved in sorting out customer queries, even if you happen to have raised enough money to employ someone to handle customer support. Following this rule will also allow you to have a feel for your customers' needs plus it will allow you to identify your earliest customers. That sort of recognition towards a customer from a CEO or MD is greatly appreciated. How can you make sure that you keep your original customers close? Consider having a separate email address for them (even if it is not you responding to their queries). A phone line could be going a step too far as you don't want to be held back from the day to day running of the business.
4. Have a time to shut off
Have a time to shut off from customer problems so you can focus on another area of the business each day. It all comes back to the principle of focus, if you can break your day up into focused segments you will get each segment done better than if you try to multi task by doing a little bit of everything. Read this post on how to become a better mono tasker.
5. Listen, don't ignore
Always listen and never ignore the customer. Even if you do not feel that the customer is right or cannot act on what they have said this instant, by listening to them you will be aware of the issues that your customers are raising. If you simply shut out your customers in pursuit of growth you could end up with a backlash that brings about your downfall. Little and often should prevent customer enquires becoming overwhelming in the start up stages, it's a better approach than letting them mothball and ultimately build into an uglier beast. If you have been abiding by point three you will be able to prioritise your customers and keep the major ones happy.
Nick Braithwaite, Clear Books Small Business Accounting Software
There are a huge number of companies peddling different solutions to boost ecommerce sales, and of course they all state that they are the future. Some claim that they will address the “trust” issue of online commerce; others are working on smart imagery, providing the consumer detailed product information via zoom, crops and 360 degree transitions. Then there are the latest developments enabled by smart phones, including augmented reality.
Anyone considering starting an ecommerce business needs to take all of this into account. There are many different things to think about, and in this blog I try to touch briefly on a number of them.
SellerDeck has around 12,000 sites using our solutions to sell online, so I do feel that we have acquired some insight into what works and what doesn’t. Interestingly, the most successful sites seem to focus on some of the most basic things: like a great range, helpful descriptions, competitive pricing and a dedication to customer service.This may be the case, but complacency is not a business virtue. So what is really likely to prove important to the future of ecommerce?
Payment on the mobile
The first area is payment. It’s difficult to make payments online, and the fact that it’s still possible for buyers to see charges appear on their card if their details are stolen is a real issue. We’re waiting for the banks and the mobile operators to get their collective acts together. There’s lots of optimism that the next couple of years will see progress towards the mobile being the prime payment and payment validation device.
It’s never been easier or more cost effective to sell online, and the trend is to put online, in-store and telephone sales together in one integrated application. It makes sense that some people want to see merchandise for themselves, think about it at home, then order online. Conversely, some people want to look at what’s available in the web store, then visit the shop to pick up the goods in person. As demand has risen, ecommerce suppliers have been able to provide these integrated systems without breaking the bank.
Mobile commerce and augmented reality
Nowadays a large and growing proportion of the population are carrying around sophisticated computers – aka smart phones – that know their geographical location, can combine this with real time pictures or sound and are continuously talking to the web. This is very exciting and brands such as RayBan sunglasses and IKEA are already demonstrating the possibilities. Companies such as Red Lazer are also working on innovative applications that allow you to use the power of the smart phone to combine real world items with online shopping; I’m convinced that there is much more to come.
One area that has moved from beneficial to vital in ecommerce terms is reputation management. I’m very excited about this because my company has recently done a deal with one of the companies that we see as a rising star in this field – Feefo. This area is about managing online merchant’s reputation online, and services like Feefo have a vital role to play. Feefo (which stands for Feedback Forum) runs an independent service which asks customers for feedback on both merchants’ service and products. The merchant can’t change the feedback (anything illegal or obscene is edited), but has a right of reply. There will always be feedback about merchants on the web. Having it in one place where the positive balances the negative, and having a right of reply are major benefits of an independent feedback service. The result tends to be around a 10% rise in sales, more on some sites.
The final word
We are now in the second ecommerce boom. The first, around the year 2000, proved partly illusory and partly a harbinger of the future. This time it’s for real. Someone contemplating a start up needs to assess pursuing brand new areas enabled by the latest technology and where much more technical skill, money and luck is required. In contrast there’s more chance of success with a traditional ecommerce venture, although the potential rewards are smaller and it’s still vital to be aware of the latest trends.
Budding entrepreneurs need to decide whether to build a traditional business with reasonable chance of success, or shoot for the stars in areas that are yet to be discovered. Whichever route you take, good luck.
It's every business–owner's nightmare: a furious customer on the end of a phone demanding to know why their purchase hasn't been delivered, why it's broken, or even to complain about a member of your staff. Even if the problem isn't actually your fault, it is crucial to have a proper complaints policy in place.
Recently I made a complaint for the first time and was gratified when I received a full and genuine–sounding letter of apology in return. I was less pleased a couple of weeks later when I received a call from the same company wanting feedback. Although I had been satisfied by the initial apology, being asked by a bored–sounding woman whether I was 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with the apology instantly grated. It was clear that the apology was merely part of a process; my answers were probably being tapped into a database as I spoke. For me, this meant that the sentiment of the original letter was lost.
Business Link advises business owners to deal with complaints 'courteously, sympathetically and – above all – swiftly'. Obviously it is important to find out whether your policy works – but is it a good idea to call up the recently–irate customer and take up more of their time only to fill out a brief questionnaire? How useful is a questionnaire anyway? I would suggest that the best feedback is whether the customer returns to you after having made a complaint.
Word–of–mouth recommendation is arguably the best PR for small businesses, but similarly a bad experience can damage your firm's reputation. It is vital to handle a customer's complaint sensitively and promptly, but at the same time ensure that you are motivated by the customer's needs, not just by the desire to prevent bad publicity.
It seems that many people I know have had bad experiences at the hands of larger companies, and this is an area where small businesses can excel. By its nature, a small business is much more likely to offer a personal touch when it comes to dealing with complaints. Rather than having to wait in endless queues, being passed from one customer service manager to another, your customers can connect with you directly to get the answers and, if necessary, the apologies they want.
What do you think? Have you ever had any complaints, and how did you handle them? Did you ask for feedback, and how did you implement it? Are you a customer whose complaints were handled well? If not, how could it have been improved?
Clare Bullock, BHP Information Solutions
Christmas underpins profitability for the whole year for most stores. When it comes to preparing for the Christmas season online, “the early bird catches the worm” as they say. Before you know it, the rush to service orders has replaced any consideration on how to optimise sales. Here are some seasonal tips from SellerDeck and some e-store owners to help you get ready.
Prepare marketing ideas early
Whatever your Christmas marketing plans, run some small-scale tests soon. Establish what works, and refine it. If search engines matter to you, optimise in plenty of time.
Keith Milsom at http://www.AnythingLeft-handed.co.uk advises, “We plan ahead for promo emails to various customer groups as they take a while to prepare. We also boost PR with a press release in September.”
Can you handle the extra traffic?
If there is anything worse than having no orders, it's having more than you can handle. This just produces dissatisfied customers.
The average etailer gets 30% more orders in November/December. Make sure you can cope with the increase. This includes web hosting, and extra staff for packing.
Bill Stevenson of www.spicesofindia.co.uk advises ordering extra stock and advertising for temporary staff in September. “Last December visitors fell, but conversion rates tripled. We ran out of many Christmas gift sets and could not get new stock. This year we will order a lot more.”
Sort your logistics
Make sure your logistics supplier can cope. To avoid missed deliveries, let customers select delivery to their work address.
Robert Johnston of www.gentlemans-shop.com adds, “We email customers their parcel tracking details and confirmation of delivery date. This dramatically reduces calls about deliveries.”
“Don't be a bah-humbug! Decorate your site and get into the Christmas spirit,” says James Auckland at www.lunaspas.com.
Find creative ways to mark the season. Put gift ideas on your home page, and stock Christmas-themed items. Remember to change the pages on Boxing Day.
Last minute shoppers
Cite a final ordering date for Christmas delivery on every page - highlight when the deadline has passed. You’ll need different dates for home and overseas orders.
Drop customers a reminder email, e.g. must order by end of tomorrow for delivery outside Europe.
Customers in a rush
Most online shoppers are in a hurry, particularly at Christmas. Help them out with a search capability that can match by category and price. Text-based searching is no help when you want a gift for less than £10 for your eight-year-old niece.
Another aid for rushed buyers is a gift-wrapping service. It can also increase your margin.
Upsell to maximise the opportunity
Where gifts need additional items such as batteries, ensure they can be ordered together. Suggest similar gifts, and incentivise extra purchases with offers like 'buy two and get one free'.
James Auckland again: “Thank your suppliers, as well as your regular customers.” Good supplier relationships can help resolve problems. Consider offering discount during January to suppliers and good customers.
Keep a sense of humour!
Robert Johnston once had an irate customer repeatedly phoning on Christmas Eve, “about the delivery of his father’s missing present. He accused me of ’ruining his Christmas‘. Just as we closed, he called to apologise. His sister had signed for the parcel, and dad’s present was already wrapped and under the tree.”
Advertise January sales
Plan your January sale early. It gives ‘value shoppers’ a chance to clear all that dead stock for you.
Finally, book a well-earned rest for February. You will probably need it. Just beware of tour-operators trying to up-sell you to something more expensive!
Most people mistakenly believe that using telemarketers is limited in use to cold calling sales activities. But telemarketing can turn be used to turn many opportunities into business, there a literally hundreds of ways to do this but these are our Top 10 ways to use telemarketing.
ONE: Appointment Setting
Appointment setting is, always has, and always will be, a primary way that companies generate new business. Organisations usually place a great deal of emphasis on appointment setting, and also a significant proportion of their budget. Why do they do this? Because there’s no more effective way to close a sale than a chance to sit down with a prospective client in a face-to-face meeting. Appointment setting is a cost effective and intelligent use of telemarketers to generate new business for your organisation.
TWO: Seminar Booking
In recent years, telemarketing has proven itself to bring exceptional results for those individuals and organisations that deliver seminars. It doesn’t matter how good your seminar is; if delegates aren’t booking you’re losing out. Using a telemarketing team to book your seminars means getting the good news out to people that could greatly benefit from attending your seminars.
Working from existing mailing lists or cold calling people with industry links to the seminar subject or topic is a great way to put a telemarketing team to work for your seminars.
THREE: The Follow Up
Using follow up calls is a powerful and effective way to make the most of your direct mail or email marketing. The recipient has already had the opportunity to consider your offer by mail and now telemarketing offers a renewed chance to capitalise on that offer for both parties.
Follow Up calls can also be made after literature or sales enquiries, chasing up interested parties and converting prospects that may have otherwise dithered undecidedly about purchasing your goods or services from a brochure. Follow up interest by using a dedicated telemarketing team to convert interest into action.
FOUR: Market Research
One of the truly time-tested uses of telemarketing is market research, often used for product review and customer feedback. However, these days it can be used to cover a full range of quantitative and qualitative data collection.
Using the latest integrated technology, telemarketing interviewers can handle everything from small executive level surveying to mass nationwide customer feedback questioning. Doing Market Research via the telephone is a highly cost effective method of conducting large-scale market research and can cover vast geographical locations from a single base. Of course, given the right permissions, data gleaned from your market research telemarketing can be used to target the prospects for your next telemarketing campaign.
FIVE: Customer Reactivation
Your organisation should keep a record of all current customers and all those people that were customers but are not actively buying from you. Telemarketing is an effective way to reconnect with and reactivate your dormant customer database and using data that you already have in your systems. By using telemarketing, your company can win you up to 50% of your past customers back!
Outstanding invoices and missed payments can really cripple a business and hinder a company’s progress and development. If you’re struggling to recoup outstanding sums, then telemarketing can be an effective method of collecting what’s owed to your company. Working from a list of your debtors, a tele-collections team can identify individuals or companies that owe your organisation money and ensure that you have the correct contact details for them. If you then wish to take a payment, these can be handled through an automated system or passed through to your own payment teams.
SEVEN: Selling Advertising Space
When you’ve got space to sell, you can’t rely on people just coming to you. You need a team of dedicated telemarketers that can directly sell your space to the people that need to advertise. This isn’t simply cold calling; it’s designing a campaign to target those businesses and individuals that might benefit most from the opportunity to use your advertising space. A team of experienced telemarketers can target likely clients and more effectively approach hundreds of potential clients, rapidly improving your chances of new business generation.
EIGHT: Database Cleansing
The information in your database is quickly out of date. By using telemarketers to work through your data, you can correct, delete or amend the details of your existing customers, leads or prospects. By making sure that your data is up to date and accurate, you can increase the rate at which your sales staff can make sales. Data cleansing may also be a legal requirement in various industry sectors, so it also keeps your nose clean with industry’s regulators. Make your existing data work for you by purging useless existing data.
NINE: Lead Generation
Using telemarketers to generate leads means increased sales revenue and greatly reduces the amount it costs to make a sale. When you use telemarketers to generate your leads, you free up your sales teams to do what their good at – which is making sales!
TEN: Selling to Existing Customers
Last, but certainly not least, telemarketing provides a successful route to improving sales by selling directly to those that are already using your products or services. Existing customers are much more easily converted because you don’t need to convince them of your expertise, reputation or benefits.
With an existing customer, you can use telemarketing to offer extended service, upgrades and further features on something they’ve already bought, or offer them a completely new product or service. If the existing customer is happy with what they bought from you in the past, the worst that can happen is that they will simply reject your new offer. But since they were willing to listen in the first place, it wasn’t a hardship and you can still call them again in the future with new offers.
Telemarketing offers organisations of all sizes the opportunity to expand and develop their customer base with reduce costs and impressive results.