Your customers are (or will be) the heart of your business. Your business simply won’t exist without customers. The beauty of being a small business is that you can offer exceptional customer service, unlike retail behemoths that are too large to develop meaningful, personalized relationships.
While customer support is an advantage for small businesses, it can also be incredibly time consuming. Here are key steps you’ll want to take before you receive that very first support question, and then as your business grows, implement to maintain an organized and streamlined support process.
Small Business Customer Service Strategies Checklist
- Find Value in Support Tickets
- Publish Key Web Pages
- Set Up a Contact Form and Email Hosting
- Choose a Customer Service Software
- Consider Live Chat and Messaging
- Have a Plan
Before we dive in to the logistics of setting up a customer support program, let’s do a quick mental exercise.
What comes to mind when you think of customer support? Do you shudder at the thought of getting a support ticket?
It may feel scary when a customer reaches out, because the assumption is that the customer is upset with your business. Sure, they may have an issue they need resolving, but your customer interactions can be beneficial for many reasons:
- 86 percent of consumers that rated their most recent support interaction as excellent were likely to repurchase from that retailer.
- 77 percent of customers would recommend your brand after an excellent support experience.
- Finally, support tickets give you an opportunity to better understand your customer’s wants and needs.
The best way to mitigate a flurry of support tickets is to have your policies, contact information, FAQ (frequently-asked questions), etc. posted prominently on your website. Not sure which pages to include? Here are a few popular ones to consider.
When your customers have a question, they’ll likely start by checking out your FAQ page. This page can include a wide variety of questions, including:
- What is your company?
- What do you do or sell?
- Where are you located?
- How can customers get in contact with you?
- How can I stay up to date on new products and releases?
- How do customers use and/or care for your product(s)?
- Do you offer membership perks or a subscription?
- What countries do you ship to?
- How long is the fulfillment process before my order is shipped?
- What carrier(s) do you use?
- How long is your delivery estimate?
- How much does shipping cost?
- What is your return policy?
- How do I submit a return request?
Some of these questions may get answered on other pages, but it doesn’t hurt to have a central hub with all of your most-popular questions. As your business grows, circle back to your FAQ page periodically to update it with new questions or policies.
Terms and Conditions
It’s important to list your terms and conditions, because it protects your business, limits your liability, and explains your processes. What’s more, some marketing channels, like Google Merchant Center, won’t let you create an account without terms of service visible on your website.
If you decide to use a template to create your Terms and Conditions, make sure your contact information reflects your business email address and physical address, since sometimes those are pre-populated to match your personal details instead.
You’ll definitely want to highlight your return policy on your website, since many consumers use it to influence their buying decisions. In fact, an inconvenient returns policy deters 80 percent of consumers.
When you draft your return policy, you want to make sure it is fair for customers, won’t hurt your bottom line, and is comprehensive enough to cover all potential scenarios. On top of that, you’ll want to customize your return policy for the needs of your customers. Audiences vary by industry. A customer that wants to return a pair of jeans will want a different experience than someone that wants to return a vase that broke in transit, for example. Make sure to look at return policy examples of established businesses in your industry to modify your rules appropriately.
As part of your policy, be sure to explain:
- What is eligible for a return?
- How will the customer get refunded or credited?
- How should the customer submit a request for a return?
If you’re looking to write your own policy, check out our return policy template here.
You’ll want a page that explains how a customer can get in touch with you. Consider adding a contact form (learn how below), company email, physical address, and phone number. This is a great page to show some personality and creativity, since most contact form pages are bland and identical. Throw up a stylized picture of you (or maybe your dog) at your computer. Show that you’re a human and will respond to emails.
If you’re offering a service or software, you might need a help center, so users can find answers about how to use your product. If you don’t think you need one, you’re probably right. You can also add a help center at any time, so if you start to see a lot of technical questions pop up, you set up a help center then.
With that out of the way, let’s cover how you can receive and respond to inquiries from customers. Even the smallest of companies will need some way for customers to get in touch. When business owners are just starting out, they typically start by offering a contact form on their website and linking it with a business email address.
Configure Email Hosting
Start by setting up a business email address. Gone are the days where you can use an AOL email address and be taken seriously. Some business owners may try to get away with creating a gmail account with their company name as the username, but anyone with a little bit of technical know-how will recognize the lack of professionalism. Instead, you want the business name listed as the domain name. See these examples:
There are a few different scenarios you might run into when setting up your email address. It all comes down to how you purchase and host your domain.
Scenario 1: E-commerce Platform Offers Domain Registration
With many all-in-one e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, you’ll be able to purchase your domain directly in the app. During that process, you’ll get assigned an email address associated with your domain name.
However, most platforms like these do not offer email hosting, so any emails sent to that address will get forwarded to the email address of your choice (likely a personal email address). This is fine for all inbound communication, but as soon as you send an email, it will be from that destination address instead of the one associated with your business.
In this instance, you’ll need to find an email hosting platform in order to send emails from the professional email address associated with your domain. Some potential options include:
You’ll need to confirm you own the domain and email address and/or integrate with your e-commerce platform, and then you’re all set to send and receive emails.
Scenario 2: Purchase Your Domain From a Hosting Platform
If you choose an e-commerce platform that does not offer domain registration, you’ll need to buy and host the domain separately (see how in Chapter 3).
Publish a Contact Form
The next step is to add a contact form to your website that customers and prospects can fill out to get in touch. Adding a contact form has never been easier.
When you’re first starting out, you can simply add a contact form to your website and have the submissions forwarded to your business email address. Some e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, have built-in options. You simply create a new page and select contact form. Others, like WooCommerce, will let you create contact forms using free, easy-to-use or paid, customizable plugins.
As you grow, you’ll likely want to use a customer service software (more on that soon). You’ll want the form submissions data to sync with your software, so you can keep track of all of the conversations and interactions you’ve had with a customer. HubSpot, for example, will allow you to create and design a form that you then embed on your website for seamless customer service management.
A customer service software turns all of your support queries into tickets, so you can assign to support staff, prioritize, and track them. With a customer service software, you can even draft up automated responses to popular questions and offer assistance to customers when you’re offline.
We suggest investing in customer service software early, so you don’t lose precious conversations with some of your early customers. Most solutions have a tiered pricing structure, so you can find a software that meets your needs now and will grow with your business.
Here are a few things to look for when shopping for customer service software.
Focus on Retail
There are a lot of customer support solutions to choose from that may have features you don’t necessarily need. For example, SaaS and B2B companies may benefit from Help Centers to explain to customers how to use the product, but if you’re an e-commerce retailer, you likely do not have a need for a Help Center.
Instead, look for features specifically for retailers. For example, the following companies have retail-specific offerings:
Simple Setup and Usability
Of course, you’ll want a solution that you’ll actually use. Attend a demo, so you can see the software in action. Make sure you fully understand the set up and integration steps involved for you to get up and running. Do they have onboarding experts to help? Will you need to hire a developer? Know what you’re getting into before signing any contract.
Many of the customer service tools out there are super powerful. They can integrate with your key services, so your process is seamless. For example, consider software that connects with your e-commerce platform, so you can have order and customer information all in one place. Integrate with your calendar and email service, so you can effortlessly schedule calls, respond to queries, etc.
It’s also becoming increasingly popular to integrate your business social media accounts with your customer service software. That way, if someone complains on Twitter and tags your business, you can still prioritize and address it within your main support flow.
One of the best benefits of using customer service software is that it will help you scale and respond to queries faster. To do that, you’ll want to leverage automations when you can. As your business weathers the seasons, you’ll start to see the same questions popping up over and over again. Even if you put the answers smack dab in the middle of your home page, sometimes you’ll still get customer queries. This is where a bot comes in.
Only a select few retailers need to schedule phone calls or in-person appointments with customers. But, if you are one of those businesses, you know how cumbersome and time consuming that process is. If this is something your business needs, you can find a solution that almost completely erases the communication back and forth. Integrate your software directly with your calendar tool, so customers can seamlessly choose an appointment with you and you can stay on top of your schedule.
Support When You Need It
Take a close look at the support offered by the software company to make sure it fits your needs. Typically, you’ll find different levels of support offered with each pricing tier. Types of support available include: email, phone, live chat, a private slack channel, etc.
While you’re thinking about the support you might need, consider what you’ll do in the unlikely event that your customer support software is down. While occurrences like this are rare, it’s important to have a plan in place so that you’re not scrambling during an emergency.
Many customers want to be able to get their questions answered in real time. As you grow, think about ways you can be more accessible to your customers without taking on more than you can chew. There are two common platform types for real time messaging: messaging apps, like Facebook and What’s App, and live chat on your website. Thankfully, there are automated solutions out there to make these additional support options manageable for small teams.
Live chat is a software you can add directly to your website, so visitors can submit questions and receive help. Most websites have the live chat widget in the bottom right corner of the screen. You can customize how the widget pops up—maybe after the visitor has been on the web page for a few seconds, for example. Typically, the widget will ask an introductory question, like, “Hi there. How can I help you?”
While live chat might be useful for support queries, it’s also useful as a sales tool. If you’re looking to prevent abandoned carts and/or bouncing visitors, live chat might be a good solution.
Start your live chat search by looking at what options integrate with your e-commerce platform of choice. Then, look to see what automations it offers. Most live chat software can be set up to have programmed responses to common questions. Typically, these responses will offer relevant web pages to your visitors that may help them find the answers they’re seeking. For example, let’s say they ask your live chat bot, “What size sweater should I buy?” Then, the software can automatically suggest your Size Guide page in a response.
These automations allow you to strengthen your customer support without requiring an increase in time or staff.
Social media is not a tool to be overlooked nowadays. In addition to using social media as a customer acquisition tool, it has also become critical for customer support. In fact, 61 percent of consumers said that it is very or extremely important to get a response from a brand after providing feedback on social media.
The challenge for business owners is that it’s hard to stay on top of support questions coming at you from multiple platforms—email, social media messaging, live chat, etc. Most customer support software offers some type of integration with messaging apps. You’ll need to be prepared to respond on every social media platform where your business has a profile. Most common apps are Facebook (and Facebook Messenger), Instagram, and Twitter.
We’re also seeing some businesses, especially those that reach a global audience, using WhatsApp to communicate with customers. If you’re worried about adding another platform to your mix, you can probably wait on adding this one until you see a need for it.
Once you have your software and integrations in place, you can set up your plan of attack for incoming support queries. For many business owners, the support process may feel like it’s on the brink of chaos. The best way to prevent this is to put organization and structure in place early on before the tickets become overwhelming.
When you first start out, you may feel tempted to reply to all support tickets immediately. If you only have a couple tickets come in each week, this is certainly manageable and provides a positive experience for your customers.
Once the number of support tickets starts to become significant, you should consider putting time on your calendar and responding to queries only during that slot each day. Maybe you check your tickets first thing in the morning and then mid afternoon each day. Don’t be tempted to check every hour–this severely limits your ability to run the rest of your business successfully.
You might also want to find ways to systematize your process. For example, you might always start by checking your email tickets first and then catch up on social media messages and live chat queries. Set up a tagging system in your customer support software, so you can respond to all questions about packaging and delivery first, then billing, then refunds, and so forth, depending on what questions are most important for your business.
The plan you follow will likely get refined over time. And, the more you create a habitual process each day, the more manageable your customer support program will become.
Download the entire e-book here.