Want to improve customer service? Fire your customer service reps.

How to improve customer service in your small business

Okay, “fire” is going a little too far. You need to keep them on your team, but at the same time you need to take over their job, at least on occasion, if you’re serious about improving customer service in your small business.

The most successful small business owners and startup founders that I know continue to field customer service issues. This can be one of the most beneficial things you do for your company.

Some small business owners and managers believe that they can keep tabs on customer service issues and improve customer service by communicating with their customer service reps. For example, I know many who have implemented survey forms or check lists that customer service reps must fill out after each call. The goal is to “categorize” each call and therefore be able to determine what products or services are giving customers the biggest headaches.

This may seem like a good idea – and it’s not necessarily bad – but it lacks the nuance required to get the best information out of customer service interactions. Let me explain why.

Follow up and improving customer service

Many of you reading this are too young to remember that prior to President Ford, during presidential press conferences, reporters were not allowed to ask follow-up questions. Ford was the first to allow them. This gave reporters the chance to dig a little deeper and the American public benefitted by learning more about what the president was thinking or doing.

If you leave all of your customer service duties to a few employees and perhaps relegate their observations to a standardized form, the best you can do is end up with a river of data that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. Improving customer service and your business overall will come slowly, if at all.

Take time to work the customer service desk or make the outgoing calls to find out what customers are really thinking. Further, when you engage customers, be sure to ask the follow-up questions. Barbara Walters was famous for asking the simple follow-up, “What do you mean by that?”

In other words, be sure you truly understand what your customers are telling you. You’ll discover ways you can improve your product or service and you’ll find out what problems your customers are really trying to solve.

Not only will this empower you to do a better job meeting customer expectations, you might even discover things that allow you to launch new products or services. Understanding what keeps your customers awake at night is invaluable, and taking over some customer service duties will give you an opportunity to make these discoveries.

The power of the personal touch

Let me add one more important scenario where you need to personally contact customers. If you have a product or service that is paid for through recurring charges, when someone cancels, you need to know why. Many small business owners try to do this with a survey that is sent via email. This may seem like a low-cost way of improving customer service while it’s not really saving you any money.

A personal call from the owner can be far more beneficial. Make it clear that your call is not a sales call intended to get the former subscriber to re-up. Let the person know that you’re just looking for ways to improve your product or service. In fact, you might offer a small gift card if the person will spend a few minutes on the phone with you.

Success today is closely tied to data collection and analysis and that data need to be lassoed so you can use it for improving customer service, products and whatever is the focus of your business. Some of the best data you have is available through your customer service channels. Don’t entirely farm out that work to others; staying personally involved is an inexpensive way to be sure that you’re mining the best, actionable information in a timely manner.