Customer service is an afterthought for most small businesses due to limited resources and short-handed staff.
This is unfortunate because poor customer service hurts future sales efforts.
Why customer service = sales
In a roundabout way customer service and sales serve the same purpose.
Your sales efforts drive the first buy, but your customer service efforts drive future buys from existing customers, referrals, and recommendations.
If customers have a bad experience with customer support they’re less likely to buy from you again refer you to others.
In fact, if the customer support experience is bad enough, they may even post bad reviews online, speak poorly about your brand, and hurt your hard-earned reputation.
How to improve customer support (the easy way)
Despite the limited resources and short-handed staff that most small businesses struggle, we’ll cover some cheap and easy tactics to improve the experience your customers have when they need help.
These tactics will also lower the volume of customer support requests you receive. Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover:
- Basic website information
- Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
- Contact forms
- Email-based help tickets
- Support integrated phone system
- Interactive map/directions
- Gallery with work examples
- Online quotes and estimates
Help customers help themselves
As you reviewed the list above you probably noticed that most of these are self-help resources that your customers can help themselves to.
Remember, your customers don’t want to need help. They just want to be able to quickly and easily get things done.
Your customers don’t want to contact customer support, they only do it because they feel they have to. If you give them quicker and easier alternatives to contacting support, most will use them.
There will always be that subset of customers that call customer support just because they can, but they’re the minority. Most would rather help themselves.
In this guide our focus is on helping customers help themselves by 1) providing the information they need in an easily accessible way and 2) ask the right questions when they do need to contact support.
Basic website information
The first step is to make sure you have all of your basic information on your website. This includes information like:
- Contact information
- Products and services
- Business hours
- Menu (restaurants)
- Specials, sales, and promotions
- Return policies
This is basic information that your customers will want to know, so it should all be easily accessible on your website. Adding this kind of stuff to your website is an easy win and puts you ahead of most other small businesses.
Only half of small businesses have websites, but those that do are losing out because most don’t list basic information on their website.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
What are the most common questions your customers ask when they contact customer support or call your business? Answers to these questions should be listed on a FAQ page.
In fact, adding a FAQ page with answers to your most frequent questions could cut your customer support request volume in half!
If you have your contact information (phone number, email address, etc.) on your business website, the next step is to add a contact form. Contact forms are great because they make it even easier for customers to contact you.
You might be wondering why you need a contact form if a customer can just email you. That’s a great question, so let’s talk about why using contact forms is better than email for communicating with customers.
Contact forms allow you to shape the conversation. When customers communicate with you via email they control the conversation. Unfortunately this often results in email support requests with insufficient information. This is a bad experience because then you have to send another email asking for the information you need, which just frustrates an already frustrated customer even more.
The solution is to use your contact forms to shape the conversation. How you do this largely depends on the type of business you have, but here are a few examples:
- Reason: Why are they contacting you? If you have multiple departments or sort support requests by type this is helpful. This could include reasons like pre-sales question, customer support issue, feedback, etc.
- Priority: What’s the urgency of the requests? This might come in handy in prioritizing support requests for businesses that offer 24-hour customer support for business-critical services. If you offer emergency services you’re better off having customers contact you via the phone.
- Emotional state: Sometimes it’s helpful to ask for the customer’s emotional state, i.e. frustrated, curious, angry, confused, etc. Asking how customers are feeling often has a calming effect. It also helps your customer support team respond more appropriately since it’s difficult to convey emotion through text.
- Product information: Ask for product information like version number, model, etc. if it’s relevant.
- Attachments: If screenshots, pictures, or files would help provide better support you can ask customers to attach them to the support request.
- Account number: If required, ask the customer to give their account number, invoice number, etc.
- Phone number: If speaking to the customer makes things easier than you can ask for a callback number.
Note: Avoid asking customers for sensitive information (passwords, credit card numbers, etc.) in contact forms, especially if they’re unsecured.
It’s best to make the fields on your contact form conditional based on the type of request submitted. For example, a support request for a problem would ask for different information than a request with pre-sales questions or general feedback. This way, the correct fields will be shown or hidden based on why the customer is contacting you.
Most website builders also allow you to mark some fields as required. If certain information is needed to deliver proper support you can mark these form fields as required (*), which means that question must be answered to send the form.
You’ll need a custom form builder to create advanced forms like this. Make sure the CMS or website builder you use has this functionality built-in like our website builder does.
If your website doesn’t have a form builder, there are third-party form builder that you can use to create these forms. If using a third-party form builder you likely can’t embed it directly in your website. This can negatively impact the customer’s experience, but it’s typically not a deal breaker.
Email-based help tickets
There are many support ticket systems and help desk packages out there, but most are overkill (and too expensive) for small businesses.
Of the ones we’ve tried, we really like the email-based help ticket systems because they integrate well with Gmail (our email app of choice) and make the support process seamless. With these you can fully manage customer support from your email inbox, but you can also log into the dashboard if you prefer.
As a small business ourselves, we’ve found Help Scout to be the best solution for small businesses. It’s great because it has a great free plan for businesses just starting out. As your team grows it’s only $15/user/month.
Help Scout also integrates with other apps like MailChimp, Grasshopper, Freshbooks, and more to further simplify the customer support process. If Help Scout doesn’t work for you there are plenty of others out there, just keep trying them until you fine one that works for your business.
Support integrated phone system
Support integrated phone systems are great because they integrate directly into your help ticket system. This is useful when customers contact phone support and leave a voicemail (e.g. after hours).
With this setup voicemail messages automatically create help tickets in your help desk software to make sure they are tracked and taken care of. Some phone systems can even transcribe voicemail messages so you can read them in your email.
We prefer Grasshopper as a small business phone system. It’s affordable and works just as well as the expensive office phone routing systems, but with cell phones to make it even easier. Grasshopper also integrates with Help Scout, the help desk software we recommended above.
Interactive map & directions
If you’re in a hard to find location (and even if you’re not) consider making it easier for customers to find you by offering directions.
Though most people can pull up directions on a phone in a few seconds, older customers often aren’t as comfortable with technology and do it the old way.
There are different ways to do this, but the simplest way is to embed a link to a map with your address.
But to make it easiest for your customers you should embed the map directly into your website so customers can just type in their address and get directions to your location. For example, this feature comes with all of our business websites because of how effective it is in helping customers find you.
Gallery with work examples
A picture is worth a thousand words, so consider adding pictures of your work to your business website.
If you’re a landscaper, carpenter, interior decorator or any other profession with a strong visual element to your work your customers will want to see examples of your past work.
Most website builders (including ours) have built-in image galleries where you can show your work. Not only will this show off your quality of work, but it also will show potential customers what to expect when they work with you.
Online quotes and estimates
It’s best to show your pricing (or price ranges) directly on your website, but this isn’t possible for all businesses. If you work with quotes then give customers an easy way to ask for quotes and project estimates on your website.
Just like for the contact form section above, use a custom form builder to create a form on your website that potential customers can fill out. Since you’re creating the form, you can add all the essential fields so you have everything you need to give an accurate quote.
With advanced form builders like ours you can add conditional fields and even let customers send attachments (e.g. photos of the work they need) for more accuracy. You’ll receive these quote requests via email so you can respond back directly to your customers.
Over to you…
We hope the tips in this guide do as much for you as they did for our customers.
This guide is a work in progress, so if you have any corrections or suggestions to make it better let us know!