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As the customer experience continues to become a key differentiator for businesses and organizations across all industries, providing top-notch customer service has never been more critical. According to research compiled by Salesforce, 75% of consumers expect a consistent experience when they engage with a brand, from visiting the company’s website to connecting via their social media channels.

Whether summer is your busy season or a period to regroup before back-to-school and the holidays, now is the time to review your customer service initiatives. If your strategies feel stale in light of current trends, refresh your processes as needed to ensure that your small business delivers on your customers’ expectations.

Be Attuned to Trends

In order to provide a quality customer service experience, small business owners need to understand what customers expect and what matters most to them. Keeping current with the latest trends in customer preferences as well as leveraging your own customer data can show you where to focus your efforts.

For instance, in its 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report, Microsoft found that the majority of customers want to get their problems resolved easily and deal with friendly, knowledgeable customer service agents. When asked about the most frustrating aspect of a poor customer service experience, respondents cited having to contact a company repeatedly about an issue and customer service staff who lack the know-how to resolve their problem. The takeaway here is to be competitive, small businesses need to provide customers with a quick and hassle-free experience when it comes to problem solving.

Offer Multiple Service Channels

Most people use a variety of channels for customer service assistance, depending on their needs. Customers want the power to choose how they contact your business, whether that means calling, emailing, or using live online chat. The more alternatives you provide, the more people you are likely to satisfy.

Make sure you give customers the option to help themselves. Many people like to go to the company’s website to get answers to their questions. Support this self-service approach by posting frequently asked questions on your site and keeping them up to date. If your product or service is complex, consider adding how-to videos or online tutorials to help customers learn to use it.

Don’t Ditch the Phone

Despite the fact that we live in a digital world, the telephone remains the most effective customer service tool. According to the Harvard Business Review, customers today are split between the value of phone and self-service options, a shift that may impact the future of phone-based customer service. However, current data confirms the necessity of continuing to provide high quality phone support. For example:

While email and social media support are helpful in many cases, they do not replace the personal interaction of a phone call. Rather than setting up a complex phone tree to direct calls, connect customers immediately with a representative who can address their needs. Also, avoid making customers wait for any length of time. The Microsoft survey reported that the majority of people would not wait on hold for more than five minutes for service. Given the fact that 52% of respondents to the Accenture survey said they switched brands recently because of poor service, it is critical that your communications system quickly directs callers to an available agent.

Be a Good Listener

Many customer service issues could be avoided if small business owners paid close attention to customer feedback. Listening when customers voice their opinions and encouraging them to express how they feel will not only help you understand their preferences and spot issues that need improvement, but it will earn their loyalty and differentiate you from the competition. Nearly half of respondents to the Microsoft survey aged 18-54 and more than half of those aged 55+ believe brands do not act on customer feedback.

It is also important to listen to your customer service team. Their insights are invaluable when it comes to understanding customer behavior and establishing the ongoing engagement that builds customer retention. You can also use this time to explore areas for improvement, reinforce the reasons for making top-flight service a priority, and make sure everyone is on the same page. If you plan to hire seasonal staff this summer, include your entire customer service team in any training sessions so everyone has a chance to refresh their knowledge.

Make it Personal

One of the simplest ways small businesses can keep customers coming back is to reward them for their loyalty. Loyalty programs have been shown to increase brand awareness and generate a positive return on investment. However, more and more customers are showing a preference for a personalized approach to marketing. This means you will need to tailor rewards to their shopping habits.

The good news is that many consumers are willing to provide businesses with personal data in exchange for customized shopping experiences or for product recommendations that match their needs. The Salesforce report found that 63% of Millennial consumers and 58% of GenX consumers are willing to share data with companies in exchange for personalized offers and discounts. Even more surprising, 51% of consumers believe that, by 2020, brands will anticipate their needs and make suggestions before consumers even make contact.

Small Businesses are Big on Service

Consumers value personalization, prompt service, and proactive resolutions when they engage with small businesses. The majority of Americans believe smaller companies place more emphasis on customer service than larger companies. Small businesses are earning their customers’ trust by paying attention to their needs. 43% percent of small business owners say improving customer experience and retention is their top strategy to improve revenue growth.

Retaining customers is a huge challenge for small business owners, but resolving issues the first time you engage with them can help you avoid losing more than two-thirds of those customers. At Summit Financial Resources, we understand that making high quality, personalized service a part of your company’s culture will foster loyalty among your customers, who will pay more for the positive experience and happily share it with others.

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Summit Financial Resources specializes in working capital financing for small to medium-sized businesses that need increased cash flow. We provide working capital financing through invoice factoring, asset-based lending, inventory lending, and equipment financing.