In the early stages of a small business, resources are not always available to develop a customer service strategy—especially when you have several other priorities that demand your attention.

However, if you hope to sell your product or service to customers, it’s important to think about how you plan to help customers when they have questions.

There are easy ways you can integrate a basic customer service process when you begin, and then scale it as more resources become available and the demand for your offerings increases.

The Importance of Customer Service

You may have heard that small businesses need to provide an amazing customer service experience in order to set them apart from big box competitors—and this is absolutely correct.

The need for stellar customer support will not only give you the upper hand, but it will increase loyalty and trust among your clients. A customer who had a positive experience in your store, or online, is more likely to return, and refer friends and family afterwards.

Setting up Customer Support with Limited Resources

Those who are just starting a business have a lot of tasks to complete, including everything from finding funding and a business location, to devising a business plan and hiring employees. With so many things on the go, it may be difficult to find time to think about a customer service plan until it is too late, and your customers are emailing you with problems you have no idea how to answer.

Here are the steps for implementing a workable customer service plan, all with relatively little time and investment.

1. Develop a Service Protocol

How can you help a customer if you have no protocol in place?

You can start by anticipating questions your customer will have, and writing out the best answers to their inquiries. That way, you will be prepared for any concerns they may have. If you encounter a new issue, add it to the list.

Next, decide if you will be offering refunds, or allowing a customer to exchange an item they bought from you.

Write out your rules for when and how to give a customer a refund, whether that involves refunding only up to a certain amount, or putting a time period in place for a refund, such as up to 30 days after their purchase.

If you don’t want to give out refunds, consider an exchange policy. For instance, if the product you sold a customer has a defect, you will exchange it for a new one.

As the owner, you have the power to create these procedures, and change them as your business grows. After you have tested your approach, you may want to alter it, or devise an exchange only policy—whatever you determine is right for your business, and your customers.

Once you have nailed down a protocol, include the policies on the receipt and make them visible in your store/website so customers are aware of your guidelines.

2. Develop a Process (Assign someone to respond to customer questions)

After defining your protocol, formulate a simple process for handling customer-related issues. This works best by appointing someone to take care of these responsibilities, preferably someone with a customer service background. You could also make this your responsibility if you have the time.

At the beginning, you probably won’t have many inquiries. But as sales grow, and questions begin rolling in, the person in charge of this role may need to dedicate more time as needed.

3. Create Clear Contact Information

You customers should be able to contact you easily.

Here are some simple ways to make yourself available. All retailers should have:

  • A company phone number and voice mail
  • A company email address

If possible, set up an email address solely for customer support. That way you can keep these emails apart from your personal address or that of the business. On the company phone line, set up a voice message that provides a customer with your business name (so they know they’ve reached the right place), your hours of operation, and alternative ways to reach you if it is urgent.

Include company contact information on your business card, in the phone book, on your website, or all of the above. Your goal is to make this information accessible.

Other forms of communication you can offer on your website include:

  • A contact form (a form that allows a customer to easily fill in blanks with feedback or questions)
  • FAQ page (a page dedicated to answering common customer questions. This is as simple as adding the list of questions you wrote out in the beginning and making a web page where customers can go and read the answers)
  • Chat help (chat help is a form of instant communication via a chat box on your website. As an extension of your existing support system, chat is designed for those who want help, but don’t wish to call in or write an email. This is good tool for ecommerce businesses and can easily be set up using a third party service)

4. Encourage Engagement

If you employ the above methods, your business will be on the right track for dealing with any questions or concerns your clients may have. Most importantly, they will be going directly to the source, which is you, where you can control the information they receive, and take that opportunity to leave a positive impression beyond their transaction.

With that said, don’t let questions or concerns be the only time you engage with your audience. Take time to reach out to them, and build relationships with people.

Social media has made it possible for small businesses everywhere to instantly interact with customers, particularly online businesses that have relatively no face-to-face engagement with their customers.

As the world heads digital, more customers will look to social media to contact you, learn about you, and ultimately, decide if you are worth their business.

For that reason, maintain a presence with your clients beyond contact forms and phone numbers. Go social, join forums, start a blog, send a newsletter, or simply offer discounts for those who follow you. Any incentive that creates customers out of these opportunities is more than worth it, especially if your efforts create a lasting impact that transcends beyond a single consumer.

5. Use Customer Insight to Improve Your Business

As your business evolves, and you communicate with more customers, you can begin to refine your strategies, protocols, business plan, and even make your product or service better.

Collect feedback by asking for it on the phone, through email, or on social media. Conduct surveys and ask for reviews.

Take customer feedback into consideration in order to customize your services, streamline your business model, make your product or service as good as it can be, and still maintain a quality that is parallel with your market.

6. Exceed Customer Expectations

The most memorable businesses are those that take the time to understand a customer’s needs and provide them with a pleasant experience. And many times, it is the small touches that have the greatest power.

Small ways to personalize a customer’s experience and exceed their expectations:

  • Call them by name
  • Listen and empathize
  • Reward loyal customers
  • Hold fun contests or draws
  • Follow up with customers, whether by phone, email, or letter
  • Look out for their safety and well being
  • Maintain a positive attitude

Setting up a customer support system in your small business has many benefits, including creating a trusted reputation among your customers. It also proves you care about delivering your clients with quality products and services, which can not only increase your demand, but also lead to invaluable long-term support and loyalty from your patrons.

What does your business do to actively engage with your customers?

Posted by Kristy DeSmit

Kristy is a blogger, Twitter enthusiast, and company legalese interpreter.