Running a small retail business can be a struggle. You don't have the resources of big retailers, who can offer the lowest prices and wider selections than your store. But even though these larger retailers have so many products so readily available, customers keep returning to small businesses.
Why? Well, that largely hinges on the experience they have while with small businesses.As a small retail business owner, you have the unique opportunity to provide a top-notch customer service experience. This can prove to be an invaluable aspect of your company. Stellar customer service can inspire return customers, increase loyalty, and promote your business through word-of-mouth.
But if you're like thousands of other small retailers, you're running your business during nights and weekends - whenever you have a spare moment, really. So with that limited time, how can you provide world-class customer service?
Let's take a look at some ways you can accomplish just that.
Have readily available contact information
Have you ever needed to contact a company online, but had to search high and low across their website for contact information? That can be a very frustrating experience.
That's not a feeling you want your customers - or potential customers - to feel when visiting your online store.
Having contact information readily available on your site shows right from the get-go that you place a priority on communicating with your customers. This might seem like an inconsequential step to take, but it'll prove valuable in the long run.
So, what kind of contact information should you make available? Well that largely depends on how much time you have to work on your store.
If you can be available during regular business hours, then you should have a phone number that customers can call if they have questions they don't feel like discussing over email. However, if you only have time in the evenings and on weekends to run your store, you definitely need to have an email address and contact form on your site.
Respond promptly and politely
When a customer sends you an email asking for help, you need to respond to them as quickly as possible - that's just common sense.
But one thing a lot of smaller retailers forget to do is to set up an auto-responder. This is important because we live in a world where customers expect answers to their questions instantly. When a customer reaches out to you via email, they should receive an instant response stating that you received their message and are working to answer them as quickly as possible. It's a good practice to also include a time frame in which customers can expect a response from you.
In addition, you may want to include a link to your frequently asked questions page, as well as your social media profiles. By providing customers with more resources, and other avenues through which to connect with your business, you can keep the conversation and interaction between you and your customer moving. Just sending an email with nothing else included feels final and less helpful.
Having an auto-repsonder in place assures customers that their message was received and is being looked at. It's imperative to keep customers informed throughout the entire customer service process.
Now, when you're ready to respond to your customer's questions, complaints, or concerns, you have to be polite as possible. Remember the following advice from a blog post from Sellfy:
"When providing support over email or social media, your customer will not be able to hear your tone of voice or pick up on your body language cues. Remember that sometimes overly short answers might be considered as rude."
Double-check your email responses for anything that could be construed as rude. Don't assume your customers know everything - take the time to explain things out in detail. Make sure that your responses are clear and concise, free of any ambiguity.
Be active on social media
More and more companies are offering customer support via social media. According to a study conducted by GlobalWebIndex, 28% of all online activity happens on social media. Your customers are spending nearly 2 hours every day on social media. It just makes sense to have an active social media presence.
Even if you're working a regular 9-5 job, it's still possible to stay on top of your store's social media accounts. Use part of your lunch break to respond to tweets, comments, and messages. When customers have the ability to engage with you via a number of channels, it further shows that you're willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy.
The same rules that apply to responding to customer via email should be used when interacting with customers on social media. Social media is great because it can often feel more personal than receiving an email from a company.
Have you ever tweeted at a company or celebrity, or left a comment on their Facebook page, and received a response? It's a great feeling, and receiving a response in that fashion fosters a more conversational, friendly relationship than just exchanging emails.
Go the extra mile
If a customer gets in touch with you to discuss an issue that is your fault, or appears to be your fault, you may find yourself needing to give them a bit more than just an explanation to rectify the situation.
Often, customers won't be expecting you to "go the extra mile." Offering something as simple as 5% off their next purchase, or even free shipping, will be more than enough to "wow" your customer and show them that you value their business.
Now, it's worth mentioning here that some customers won't be satisfied no matter what you do to appease them. That's just the nature of the industry. Be careful to not let the few bad apples affect the way you interact with the rest of your customers.
A reputation of great customer service can do wonders for your small business. It'll inspire loyalty and promote your store through word-of-mouth. And who knows? Your stellar customer service may finally push your online store over the proverbial edge, to the point where you can start working on it full-time.