We all know that to have a successful business, you need a good business plan. In the same vein, if you want your customer support team to be successful, you need a customer service plan.
In today’s competitive marketplace, many small and medium-sized businesses claim to have superior customer service. They position it as the defining characteristic that separates them from big corporations that can afford to offer cheaper and sometimes more complete services.
It can certainly be a competitive advantage for businesses that have the ability to move quickly and decisively. However, that doesn’t mean you should operate by the seat of your pants. In fact, the opposite is true.
If you want to be able to react to situations on the fly, you must have a customer success plan in place. This will be your anchor as you build and grow your customer service team.
Let’s look at five ways your company can benefit from implementing a comprehensive customer service plan.
Use Customer Service as a Competitive Advantage
We’ve already touched on this concept, but let’s dive a little deeper.
A lot of small and medium-sized businesses pay lip service to the idea that they can support their customers better than large faceless corporations. The owners of these businesses might honestly believe that, but is it just wishful thinking based on an outdated mindset?
It’s obvious that customer support is an important pillar of any sustainable enterprise. In fact, a recent survey found that 60% of consumers said they would be unlikely to return to a business where they had received poor customer service. So you better get it right every time, or you’ll risk losing customers after the initial interaction.
Also, many large corporations have tightened their focus on customer service. A large company with the proper structure in place can employ skilled customer service reps (CSRs) not only in the U.S. but also overseas.
So if you claim that you can compete with these companies, you have to not only provide the same quality of service (or better) as they do, but also you have to add a personal touch to try and differentiate your approach.
For example, if you called Dell Computer a hundred times, could you get the same person on the line twice? I think it’s unlikely.
But, if you own a small business, and you put the right plan in place, you could implement a system where customers speak with the same representative each time they interact with your CS team. This type of approach can create something akin to a partnership, with your CSR understanding your customer’s needs and your customer hearing a friendly, familiar voice right when they need one.
When mistakes happen (and they will), it helps your customers to know that there is a real human being on the other end of the line who understands their issue and wants to help. By speaking with someone who is invested in your company and not in a call center thousands of miles away, they will be less likely to run to your competitor at the first hint of trouble.
And that is what we call a competitive advantage.
Implement a Straightforward Customer Service Plan
As I said, something will go wrong. A manufacturer’s defect will derail a project or a bug will bring down a software system. If you own a small or medium-sized business, you know there are always customer support fires to put out.
With a customer service plan in place, you can maximize your problem-solving efficiency and minimize stress and confusion among your customer service team.
The benefits of this effect on your company are tremendous:
Your employees will feel more enabled to do their jobs. They will stop asking questions and take care of customers, and they will feel like management (you) actually cares about them as people, especially regarding their professional growth. There is nothing worse than hearing a long-term employee say they don’t know what they are supposed to do.
But if you communicate regularly with your team about your customer service plan, your CSRs will feel like they have ownership in the process, and your team’s morale will benefit.
Ironically, if you can point to a pre-established plan for dealing with crises, employees will feel more liberated to do their jobs.
Resolve Problems Quickly and Efficiently
Sick of getting calls and emails every time a small issue comes up? With a strong customer service plan, you can minimize your involvement when it comes to minor problems with your products and services.
You can create a hierarchy to deal with unexpected issues and a set of principles by which your employees deal with those issues.
This way, small problems can be solved at a low level, instead of interfering with the important revenue-driving activities of your high-level employees – you have enough to worry about!
If everyone knows what the company’s customer success team stands for and how to approach problems, you can effectively cut yourself out of the loop when little problems surface.
Grow Your Business in a Healthy and Sustainable Way
If you are expecting to expand geographically or think there is a chance your growth might spike at any minute, your customer service plan needs to be able to accommodate this expansion. Anyone who has worked at a fast-growing business knows that if revenue starts flowing in without the proper structure, the results can be catastrophic for the long-term prospects of the business.
If you take on 50 new customers next month, but your customer service team only has the bandwidth to handle ten, then you will be in big trouble. Avoid this problem by having a comprehensive customer service plan that has built-in processes to handle growth. This should account for the possibility of fast expansion or the contraction of business.
You should know how you will ramp up if your sales team finally closes that big lead and your business takes off.
Smoothly Expand into New Regions or Channels of Service
Are you planning to grow into new regions or countries? You should know how you will handle new hires and clients that might speak a different language, or how you plan to operate in a different time zone.
An excellent way to provide superior customer service is to offer different channels on which customers can reach your team.
For example, you can support your customers through email, web chat, Twitter or text messaging. As you grow, will you be offering these new channels of engagement?
You will inevitably have to create layers of management as your customer service team grows. Will you be reorganizing your team? What happens when your team becomes unmanageable? You need to know how you will layer your organization. Will you hire a VP, or promote a Director from within in order to better manage your team? What will your budget be for this?
Seasonality is a concern as well. Do you work in retail or another seasonal business? If you know you will need twice as many CSRs in the month of December, you need to be thinking about that in Q1.
All of these items need to be taken into account. The last thing you need is a big sale to go belly-up after six months because the customer is unhappy with your customer support team.
Bottom line: be thoughtful and diligent. If you want your business to have a strong customer service element, you need first to create an intelligent and strategic customer service plan.
Parker Davis is the CEO of Answer 1, a leader in the virtual receptionist and technology enabled answering services industry. He believes that the application of data analytics, investment in technology, and fostering a positive company culture together create highly efficient and scalable growth companies. In 2016, Answer 1 will achieve record revenues while also being awarded the Top Companies to Work For in Arizona award. Parker is also the Managing Partner of Annison Capital Partners, LLC, a private investment partnership.