When I'm asked, “How can I make more money, especially in tough economic times?” You'll be surprised that the best answer is not in finding new customers.
It's in uncovering the gold in your own backyard, so to speak. It's in creating repeat sales, increasing referral sales, and, most importantly, keeping existing sales.
Like it or not, all of those three rely on and inexorably revolve around one specific area of your business. And that's good customer service.
Now, you might think that you provide customer service right now. But I can bet you dollars to donuts you're not. You're lying to yourself if you think that simply answering questions is enough. That's not serving customers. That's just informing them.
Whether you own a business, sell products, or provide services, or simply deal with customers either directly or indirectly and for whatever reason, one of the most important and often ignored areas in your business is your customers.
How do you give good customer service beyond merely answering emails?
The answer is that it takes a team.
When I started in business, a mentor once told me to always hire a third party to sell to and deal with customers. Why? Because, as he said, “A third party will always sell you better than you will ever be able to sell yourself.”
Chalk it up to appearing less self-serving (as shameless self-promotion can often be viewed as arrogant and less objective), or to avoiding shame itself (as timidity, humility, and self-criticism often limits our ability to trumpet our own skills and benefits), either way having someone else is proven to dramatically boost sales.
I witnessed this dramatic boost myself when I hired Supportibles.com, my late wife's company, which is how we met, by the way, to handle my customer support. (She often jokingly adds that I'm her only customer that got the extra bonus.) 😉
She made me realize that my business increased substantially, not because of having a mere customer support team, which in itself helped me tremendously in freeing up my time to focus more on building my business and marketing my services, but because customer support is so much more than supporting customers.
It was this erroneous assumption that made me so hesitant for a long time to hire support staff, because I looked at customer support as an expense.
Boy, was I wrong!
Customer support, in the way my wife's company provides it, also helped me make more sales, evangelized for my company, promoted my other products and services, reduced my costs, prevented unnecessary refunds, and much more.
In fact, Sylvie, who's company Supportibles.com provides a variety of tailored outsourced customer support and project management services, tells it like this:
“You don't want a customer support representative, much less a mere helpdesk or software, to screen and siphon emails or support tickets,” she says.
“What you want is a Customer Care Advocate.”
If you think the difference is just the title, think again.
A customer support representative is a representative, sure. But who do they really represent? They represent the company. This might be fine, but for the customer it creates friction. Unconsciously, it sets up a confrontational environment.
(How often has your level of anxiety kicked up a few notches when you were about to deal with customer support, particularly when it was to ask for a refund?)
Support staff also act as gatekeepers or barricades. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. But to the customer, it makes them feel trapped, unwanted, or dismissed.
Plus, if staff can't answer the question, usually with a stock answer, or if they're dealing with a complaint or a difficult client, they'll find no hesitation to lie, pass the buck, downplay the problem, or direct them to someone else to avoid dealing with it.
After all, customer support is just a clerical job, right?
In fact, as clerks, chances are they're paid by the hour. If so, especially if they're outsourced help, then their only incentive is to take as much time as possible assisting clients. The more time they take, the more money they make.
Customer support representatives tend to be reactive. In most cases, their goal is to deal with customers. But only as needed. So they simply answer questions and handle common objections as they come in. And that's pretty much it.
Many of them will also screen for negative feedback, and downplay or even hide it, especially when it's to their detriment. I mean, who would want their boss to know that their product, their website, or goodness forbid, their customer support is terrible?
In short, they are just hired help. No more, no less.
On the other hand, here's a look at a Customer Care Advocate.
A customer care advocate's role is a lot different than that of the representative. In this case, they represent the customer, not the other way around.
They don't act as gatekeepers but as conduits. They are bridges instead of barricades. Their job is to direct customers to the best answer, the best solution, the best resource, the best alternative, or the best department for their specific situation.
Rather than “passing the buck,” if you will, they prefer to take full responsibility of that customer's specific question or problem, and then align resources to match.
For example, if a customer has a problem with a purchase, the typical response is to refund the sale. But an advocate will hear them out, ask probing questions, and even pinpoint the source of their frustration, which may go beyond the purchase itself.
After that, they try to save the sale, sell an alternative, or save the customer.
Maybe there's another product that will fit their needs more appropriately. Perhaps the customer has an underlying issue that needs to be uncovered. Or maybe there's a snag somewhere the company needs to pay attention to and correct.
Ultimately, dealing with the customer without dealing with the real issue (i.e., without first digging a bit deeper) can only provide a band-aid solution to a problem that never gets fixed. Or worse yet, to a customer that never comes back.
That's why advocates are paid (or incentivized) for their overall workload and rewarded for their efficiency, which means they get paid by how many customers they successfully helped, kept, or created for the company.
They are proactive by seeking out opportunities to improve customer satisfaction, increase repeat sales, enhance referral business, and above all, reduce refunds.
They don't hide negative feedback. On the contrary, they encourage it.
Complainers are never shunned, and their complaints are always welcomed and taken seriously. In each complaint lies an opportunity to either plug costly leaks in your business or boost sales that would have been otherwise left on the table.
By the same token, your customer care advocate will actively seek opportunities to promote your brand, tell others about you, monitor your reputation, and even fiercely defend you when a complaint is groundless or unjustified.
Unlike hired help, an advocate is a partner in your business.
There's an old saying that goes, “The customer is always right.”
If you've been in business for any length of time, you know that's not always true. If it were, or if you really wanted to make all your customers 100% happy, you would be giving away everything for free and you would be out of business in no time.
Not every customer is right for your business. That's why I prefer to say that the right customer is always right. Or better yet, the customer is always valued.
Because right or wrong, they are valuable to your business.
And to make sure you have the right customer, or make them feel valued by steering them in the right direction, then you need to have the right customer support team.
The benefit of having an outsourced team is that you don't have to worry about training staff, the need to replace them when they're off or fail to show up, crashed computers and buggy helpdesk software, or tax issues and human resource costs.
So I highly recommend you check out Supportibles' customer support packages, and see how you can zoom in on this overlooked profit center in your business.
Whether you offer no customer service right now, rely on some helpdesk software, or have existing support staff in place — and you want to drastically improve your client attraction, satisfaction, and retention rates — then find out how we can help you turn more customers into loyal, vocal, and profitable fans.