Kyle Gawley is the CEO and co-founder of Get Invited, as well as a contributor to the Nutshell blog.
Customer service is a powerful tool for both increasing customer retention, and acquiring new customers by creating loyal evangelists who will promote your business on your behalf.
Below are six tactics that I’ve learned from our own customer service experiences at my own event ticketing company, Get Invited and also from the perspective as a customer of some other great companies.
These are (mostly) free, easy to apply, and they deliver real, tangible results in the form of increased retention, new customers, and revenue.
Let’s get started.
1. Get to know your customers
As with a new friendship or marriage, every relationship that you build in life requires you to invest some of your time in getting to know the other person.
Building customer relationships are no different.
Let’s look at dating as an example: You invest a portion of your time with another person and ask them questions so you can learn about their interests and passions in life. You also begin to develop an understanding of their personality and then build rapport with them based on this.
If you apply a similar approach to customer service and invest the time in getting to know your customers on both a commercial and personal level, you’ll be on the path to developing rock-solid customer relationships that stand the test of time.
How can you do this?
It’s simple. You go and talk to your customers and find out as much as you can about them and their experience of using your product or service.
You can do this in a number of ways:
Sending a personalized email to your customers is a great way to get insights about your business and measure the quality of the experience they’re having.
I send emails to our Get Invited customers after their event has ended and ask them how it went, and if there’s anything we can do to improve their experience using our product.
This isn’t an automated process, these are personalized emails that I hand-write so I can enter into a dialogue with the customer.
You can install as many heat-mapping, funnel, and tracking tools into your product as you like, but it’s no substitute for customer feedback. We’ve received lots of insights about things our tracking tools didn’t pick up, which we were completely unaware of, but were crucial to delivering an exceptional user experience.
This approach also demonstrates that you care about your customers’ needs and you’re striving to ensure they are being met, which further cements the relationship.
Alex Turnbull from Groove wrote a great article about the process he used to talk to 500 customers in four weeks. I’d highly recommend reading it.
If you want to take this a step further, why not ask some of your customers if they’d like to have a quick 15 minute Skype call with you to tell you about their experience using your product?
Not everyone will have the time to do it, but some will and they’ll really appreciate the opportunity to talk about their experience.
You should have a structure in place for the call, with specific questions to guide the conversation—but also provide the opportunity for your customer to freely talk and provide their own feedback and suggestions.
One of the biggest mistakes business owners make on social media sites is trying to look like the cool kid with loads of followers while following only a handful of people.
Relationships are a two way thing. If a customer follows you, follow them back!
Following your customers is a great way to learn about them. I recently set up a Twitter list and started adding our customers to it, now I can set aside some time every week to look at what our customers are talking about on Twitter and learn about what they’re interested in.
You can use your CRM tool to keep notes and if you’re using Nutshell, it automatically pulls in the social profiles of your customers for you to save time.
Another great feature to take inspiration from in Nutshell are the customer avatars. Getting to know your customers properly requires that you know what they look like—and the opposite is also true. If you want to establish great relationships through your online communications then add your photograph to every customer communication.
We include a small avatar in our customer emails, so the recipient feels like there’s a real human being on the other end.
2. Act with urgency
If you’re a small business, then your greatest weapon against your larger competitors is speed.
When dealing with big organizations, people are used to waiting for hours or even days for a response. We aim to get back to customers within 5-10 minutes, and it’s amazing how often this catches people by surprise because they’re not used to receiving such a rapid response.
Even if we can’t deal with their issue right away, we always send a courtesy email letting the customer know that we’re looking into it for them. There is nothing worse than leaving people hanging and making them feel ignored.
Rapid responses are not only a great tactic for making your existing customers happy, they can also help to acquire new customers.
On several occasions, we’ve converted customers from our competitors after we noticed their frustration with slow response times on Twitter and jumped in and engaged with them quickly. They were so impressed they moved over to Get Invited in minutes.
3. Do things that don’t scale
Sometimes, you will have to do things that don’t scale in order to make your customers feel special. This is a great competitive advantage because large companies rarely offer bespoke features for individual customers.
When we managed the ticketing for The Web Is… Conference last year, Craig Lockwood, the event organizer and avid inventor of Internet of Things devices, wanted to build a device that would alert him every time he sold a ticket.
Craig explained his idea to us and asked if there was any way we could help. As you might imagine, we didn’t already have an “Internet of Things ticket alert” feature and it certainly wasn’t on our roadmap, but we got to work and wrote some code that enabled Craig to build his device exactly the way he wanted it.
The finished result was a huge lego brick with an LCD counter on the front that showed the total number of ticket sales in real-time, and a bell that rings every time a new ticket is sold!
This certainly wasn’t a scalable feature and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever need to use it again, but that doesn’t matter. It took us 10 minutes to code and only cost us our time, and guess what? Craig was absolutely delighted that we did this for him and he’s now a loyal Get Invited customer and evangelist.
We’ve even received new customers that Craig has referred to us, so investing in building great relationships definitely can lead to increased revenue.
4. Be human
Every communication between you and your customer is the opportunity to develop the relationship, but many communications are robotic, automated emails that lack personality.
Software can’t build relationships; there must be a human involved in the communication.
You should view every one of these communications as an opportunity to turn a generic message into a personalized experience for your customer.
When we send out invoices at Get Invited, we could just send these out in a huge, automated email campaign but we invest some time every week personalizing some of the emails for individual customers. We couldn’t do it for everyone every week, but at some point every Get Invited customer will receive a personalized invoice email from us.
Here’s an example:
This isn’t difficult and it only takes a few seconds of effort. If you’ve followed Step 1 and set up a Twitter list, you can quickly and easily refer to this to find useful conversation hooks to use when talking to your customers.
5. Use positive language
When communicating with your customers, always aim to use a positive tone of voice. We’ve spent a lot of time carefully analyzing our customer support emails and considering the words we use.
We’ve now eliminated words like “unfortunately” and “but” and instead focus on words like “absolutely,” “happy,” and “delighted.”
If there’s a request that you can’t fulfill, rather than give the customer a flat out “no,” offer an alternative solution instead. This will require a little extra effort and sometimes thinking outside the box, but it pays off because you’re demonstrating that you care about their needs being met.
6. Do the unexpected
If you really want to delight your customers, then deliver a positive experience they’ll never expect.
Last year, we tweeted saying that we’d love some donuts. Twenty minutes later we heard a knock on the door.
“Stephen from Big Wet Fish says: Be careful what you wish for.”
The delivery guy then handed us a box of a dozen delicious donuts!
Big Wet Fish are our hosting company. They saw our tweet and surprised us by having a box of donuts delivered to our office.
We never saw it coming, but needless to say we were all delighted!
You can also achieve the same effect without spending any money. I recently tweeted about a feature idea I’d love to see in Buffer—my social media scheduling tool of choice.
Four minutes later, I received a reply from one of the team saying they’d activated a new experimental feature on my account.
It was exactly what I needed. I certainly didn’t tweet because I expected them to provide me with the feature. I didn’t even expect a response. Was I delighted? Absolutely.
These customer service tactics are not only a method to make your existing customers happy, they’re also smart (and low cost) marketing tactics that you can use to grow your business.
So, hopefully it’s evident that providing great customer service is a worthwhile investment for any business and it provides tangible results in the form of increased customer retention rates and new customers.
What tactics have worked for you?