When talking to most small business owners, they often say I am crazy when I tell them they need an online customer service department. The responses range from, “that’s not in the budget” to “we are too small to need that”. The reality is that no business is too small to underestimate the effect that the online world can have on their business if not properly managed. On top of that, if a small business has a truly effective plan in place it can put them leaps and bounds ahead of the competition by truly endearing their customers and putting them in a good position when new customers are searching for their type of business online.
When using the term “online customer service department”, some would imagine a call center somewhere that is manned 24/7 and this is exactly why the term can scare people. This is not at all what I mean! What needs to be addressed are a few basic elements of the online world and how you are going to react to them in a timely and effective manner. People bring up issues, concerns, and just as important, positive feedback in countless numbers of ways online these days and businesses need to be in tune with that. Although many businesses have targeted surveys to gain feedback from their customers, the reality is that every day many customers are giving feedback where they feel comfortable, not where you direct them. Whether you are a DIY person or would rather hire a pro to take care of it, use these considerations for both Online Reviews and Social Media when putting together an effective “online customer service department” for your business. Not only can it cost your business if not done right, it could also put you ahead of your competitors if you have a solid plan in place.
- Do I have a plan in place to monitor and respond to customers in a timely fashion? Whether business owners like it or not, the expectation is a timely two way conversation on social media these days, between the business and the patron. If someone brings up an issue and you respond 2 months later you are sending a clear signal that the comment was not important to you and this can be worse than not responding at all. Make sure you have a plan in place and know who is responsible for responding and a realistic timeframe to get back to people. Consistency is key because this is all in the public eye.
- Have you communicated to your audiences which channels you participate on? Although it is not 100% your call, if you communicate to you patrons that you are only on Facebook and Twitter, they will know to communicate with you there. A once a month reminder of which channels you are on, across all channels being used, is a good way to keep the traffic where you want it to be.
- Do you have a plan in place to thank people for positive feedback about the business? This is powerful stuff! Make sure you are thanking your supporters as publicly as possible and even with a private message as well. Think about the last time you took the time to give feedback about a business. Probably took you 5-10 min and time is money, so make sure you are thanking them for the feedback, this will help to solidify long term relationships.
- Do you have a plan in place to monitor and respond to all relevant review sites for your industry? With online reviews especially, you do not get to choose what or where your customers are writing about you. Every business, no matter how large or small should have some system in place to make sure they are receiving and responding to reviews. Not all reviews will need to be responded to, but if you have no idea what is even out there it can be impossible to keep up with. Look into hiring a pro or get some system in place so that this is not falling through the cracks. If done poorly it will cost you business.
- Do you have a plan in place to solicit feedback from people? Although many sites say that you should not solicit feedback, this is rubbish! It is shown that positive feedback is more likely the result of solicited reviews than non-solicited, so in order to protect your business you should be asking constantly! Again, whether you are a DIY person or would rather hire a pro, make sure that you are asking and asking a lot! This should be done after recent visits as well not six months down the road when they forgot they even did business with you in the first place. I cannot stress enough, pick a couple channels to work on and ask, ask, ask and ask again! Your competitors are, so you better be keeping up!
- Think ahead about which types of reviews to respond to and what action you would take. I recommend setting a threshold outlining how you will respond to different levels of reviews. For instance 5 stars I thank them and move in and 1 star I may not respond unless there are specific action items that I can address. It is easy to let emotion get the best of us when people are bringing up issues about our business, but if you have a plan ahead of time you are more likely to remain objective and level headed. Do it!
While there are countless considerations, at least do your business a favor and make sure to address to aforementioned questions. If you have a plan in place to attack these specific issues you will at least be in the running with your competitors. If you do these things well, it will only bring your more business by endearing your customers and showing them that you are organized, professional, consistent, and caring. If you do not have time, hire a pro, because I assure you the ROI on having happy customers is very high!