Ask any small business, the number one most important factor in their business is customers. Obviously.
Many small business have either started online or shifted online to offer their products, services and expertise, which is great! The ability to sell products and services to so many different people so easily, and in many cases, without geographic boundaries is amazing. All of us have access to the technology, tools and templates which make this easier than ever before. However, I worry that many business owners are relying too much on fully automated processes and are forgetting about the human being on the other side.
Support doesn’t mean helping someone after something goes wrong, it means helping them all they way through their journey with you, and even beyond. When people think about customer support, they often think about fault fixing, refunds, complaints and all the other negative stuff. However, support should be treated much more positively and much more proactively. In the bricks and mortar retail world, we generally call this ‘customer service’. But in the online world, customer service and customer support and very closely linked.
Be more human with your business.
Automation is gold. Anyone who knows me well enough knows how many years I have spent working with integration and automated systems and processes. So it might sound odd that I’m asking people to consider a slightly different approach in some areas.
It’s not about being manual and removing automation from the business, but it’s about being more engaged at the right level with your customers. The reason why people enjoy buying from small businesses is very often because of the interaction and engagement they get, in many cases, with the business owner themselves. That aspect is your key, and should be maintained as much as possible. Anything to do with automation should be behind the scenes, away from the customer and focused on reducing inefficiencies inside the business, not with reducing customer engagement. Let’s try and be a bit less robotic, and focus more on helping the customer out on a more personal level – As required of course.
Here’s a great example:
Jane runs a small business making and selling handmade chocolates. Her business does most of it’s sales online. She has a neat, clean, responsive website with great images and everyone says her chocolates are to die for.
Jane sells pre-made packs in different sizes, and customers can choose from her range. She also offers individual chocolates which she packs neatly once a customer has ordered and paid online.
Occasionally, Jane gets messages via her Facebook and Instagram page from somebody who has been told about her chocolates, and is very interested in buying some for themselves, or as a gift for others. Jane has a customer who has made contact and is interested in making an order.
The conversation goes something like this…
“OMG, I love this! My friend told me that your chocolates are amazing, I can’t wait to try them”.
Now, Most people would respond to this with something like.
“Thanks so much, we sell everything online. Head to the online store and choose your pack!… Here’s the link”
This is where the opportunity comes in. This conversation can get real human, real fast. In the same conversation, using the platform the customer engaged Jane on, she doesn’t push them to the online checkout every time. Instead, she offers her assistance.
“Great, I’m so glad to hear it. What did you have in mind? I can help you put an order together if you like”
She guides her customer, offers them help and makes it easy. Jane might even offer them a small one off deal “I’ve got these new chocolate coated peanuts, I’ll throw in a free taster pack for you too”..
Back and forth, looking after the customer as they make decisions and ask questions. Jane is still able to continue doing the work she was doing before this customer reached out.
We once referred to this as customer service, but it seems some have moved a little too far away from good service, in place of automation and potentially complex order processes. I think it’s time to bring it back a notch, and be more engaged with the customer on a more personalised level. Not everything needs to be solved with technology.
Once Jane knows what the customer wants and has confirmed they have everything they came looking for, she offers to look after completing the order for them.
“I can organise this for you now, and I’ll send it off today. The total for those will be $75 and I’ll include the free taster pack too. “I can accept instant bank transfer if you prefer.”
“You can send the $75 to firstname.lastname@example.org and I should receive it right away.”
Or provide your bank details, etc. However you chose to implement the process is up to you at this point. As a bonus here, direct payments mean you save on transaction costs associated with online payment gateways.
In these interactions with your customer, use the term “I” instead of “we”. This might be subtle, but I think it means a lot. “I will look after you” or “I’ve just processed your order” is much more human than “we have received your order” or “we can help you out”. Using “we” when talking about your business, or promoting your brand is fine, but in a human to human conversation, just be you.
Now obviously Jane still has to do the work here, and in this case she goes to her ecommerce dashboard (lets say WooCommerce) and she raises the order manually. She already has the details because she gathered them in the conversation, and can fill in all the relevant details without bothering the customer. This allows her to still track her revenue, manage her inventory, create a contact in her mailing list, etc. – All automated of course – but kept away from the customer engagement. Meanwhile, her customer feels good, she’s barely had to lift a finger other than organising payment and providing her delivery address. She has been told the order is being looked after for her.
Equally, you can be very human in the follow up.
Again, we have great tools and products which can be used for automation and sending thank you emails and confirmations, but wouldn’t it be a nicer experience to make direct contact with the customer? A simple Facebook message, or an SMS letting them know the order was sent and everything has been looked after, or personal follow up:
“Hey Fiona, thanks again for the order on Tuesday. How did you go with them? Hopefully they have arrived”.
This works for both physical products, virtual products and services. Such as the “thanks for your order, I’m just packing it for you now” or “I’ve got your appointment for next Wednesday, I’m looking forward meeting you. Please let me know if you need anything before then.”
Consider bringing this level of engagement into your business particularly if you’re just starting out, and you will find that you have much happier customers, with greater levels of feedback and you will feel good about how you’re helping your customers.
Humans are what differentiate small businesses from the big guys, and help us stand out. And it’s what makes people prefer to buy and trade with other small businesses as well. As society changes and we deal with the impact of events taking shape all around us, more and more it seems that people are going back to the ‘good old days’ of shopping locally, supporting small business and trying to help and promote each other. Don’t let that slip away, and make sure that your customer remains your number one focus.