The Ten Commandments of Small Business Customer Service, Part 2

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If you read Part 1, you know what this is all about. If not, go read it!

Let’s jump right in and check out the second tablet before Moses’ arms get any more tired.

VI. Thou shalt always offer a solution, workaround, or timetable for resolution (when possible)

There are few worse customer experiences than contacting a company about a problem, having them acknowledge that there’s a problem, and...that's it. At a previous job, I would sometimes have customers write in about known bugs that we simply had no intention of fixing, even though they were clearly hampering user experience. There’s something soul-crushing about telling someone who wants your help, “Yup, that’s broken...well, thanks for writing in!”

A good customer service rep always offers the customer a solution or at least a promise of a solution. An annoying workaround is better than nothing. If you’re not going to be able to add or fix something for a while, give an estimate of how long it’s going to be (without promising).

Sometimes the answer is just, “No, we don’t plan to do that.” That’s fine, but never acknowledge an issue and then let a user/customer walk away completely without the tools to move forward in an informed manner.

VII. Thou shalt be a person, not a company

The great advantage of being a small business is that you get to have personality and humanity. Don’t waste that opportunity!

When users write into Less Annoying CRM, they get an email back from my personal email address. I try to be colloquial with people whenever possible to avoid sounding like a robot or a miserable person in a call center. I only use “we” or “us” when I’m talking about the company -- if something is my personal thought or advice, I use “I” or “me.” I am not the mouth of the company, I’m a human being who works at the company.

Think about how you’d write an email to your friend or family member about your product. Now, remove all those curse words, add a dash of professionalism, and that’s how you should be talking to your customers.

VIII. Thou shalt couch and qualify thy statements

This is in a somewhat different vein of most of the other things on this list, but it is important not to make promises you can’t keep. Be careful about how you word things!

For example, we make our development projects extremely transparent to our users at Less Annoying CRM. Often we’ll get emails asking, “When will the new feature be ready?”

Usually a reply looks something like: “We think it should be done within the next week or two, but it could be up to a month or more depending on how smoothly development goes.” I am constantly couching my timelines in reminders that development schedules are rapidly-changing beasts. Offering a potential timeline is important (see Commandment VI), but qualifying your statements is equally important.

This helps you avoid the emails that say, “You promised this new feature would be done a week ago!” That’s a rough email to respond to -- there's no winning reply to that. It’s much easier to answer one that says: “You said you thought the new feature might be done now, how’s that coming?”

Don’t offer firm timelines on things unless the project/product is completely done and you have a firm release date. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. In other words: cover your ass! (But be polite and frank about it.)

IX. Thou shalt make things right

You’re going to screw up. Accept that now. Customer service can be rewarding, but it comes with it’s share of horrifying moments where you realize you’ve really let someone down.

It’s important to take the long view on making things right, particularly if there’s money involved, or if you’ve wasted a great deal of someone’s time. It's better to be known as a company who cleans up their messes than pinch pennies.

Sometimes you owe your customer something -- at Less Annoying CRM, that means we’ll give an account a free month in some cases. At another kind of business, it might mean a cash register discount or a gift. Just remember -- you can really impress your customers by owning up to a mistake and making it right. Those customers might stick around for a long time, and their business more than makes up for what you comped them.

X. Thou shalt have a sense of humor

Customer service can be a grind. You will go insane if you don’t keep your sense of humor active at all times. Remember to have a good time when talking to people on the phone or in person. Even a lame joke is better than a robotic, bland interaction. Leave an impression. Laugh.

This goes doubly for interactions with your co-workers, if you have any. Laughing about your job, the mistakes you make, little user nuances -- that helps keep everyone upbeat. Having a positive attitude and a sense of humor is a great trait in almost any area of life, and in customer support it will endear you to your peers and to your customers, and help keep things in perspective when you get bogged down.

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That wraps up the Ten Commandments of Small Business Customer Service! Of course, much like the real Ten Commandments don’t cover all the rules of morality, this post doesn’t cover everything about proper customer service -- if I forgot something, let me know!

Tweet me at @mojowo11. I’d love to hear your tips!

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