When you're running a large company or one with a long history of performance, customer service often means preserving a reputation that already exists, or remaining consistent with policies and expectations that have long since been in place. With a new business, you'll need to build a reputation from scratch - and that presents a number of different challenges
The problem grows if you’re a company working with an international audience, or if you’re operating exclusively online, as you won’t get as many opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Still, if you acknowledge the unique challenges of building your startup’s customer service, you can compensate for them with targeted strategies. Strategies for new companies
So what can you do to build a better reputation through customer service when you don’t have many customers to begin with?
- Publicise your commitment to customer service. Your first job is to make sure your audience knows about your commitment to customer service by publicising your efforts. Zappos, for example, has made a name for itself in online customer service thanks to its heavy marketing of its 365-day money-back guarantee and free two-way shipping. You may offer the best customer service in your industry, but if nobody knows about it, they can’t use that information to make a purchasing decision. Go out of your way to show your customers how much you care about them, and what you’ll do for them as a business.
- Make customers a top priority. This may seem like an obvious strategy, but it’s amazing how many startups neglect their customer service in favor of other areas. They worry about developing the product, reshaping the brand, polishing the advertisements, and getting the sales team up to speed. These are all important, but if you don’t spend at least some time working on your customer service procedures (and training your customer service reps), you won’t be able to perform as well as your competitors.
- Improve your communications. One of the most important ingredients in successful customer service is communication—so yours needs to be effective from the beginning. When working online and with international customers, language barriers and messaging clarity may become an issue. Ensuring customer access through multiple channels–such as live chats, emails, and phone calls–can mitigate this problem. Make sure someone is available at all times, even before you have customers. You can also use an app like LivePerson to better manage your customer interactions.
- Ensure satisfaction with every customer. No company has a 100 percent track record of success, but when you’re first starting out, every customer’s impression of you will count. You need to make sure every customer who buys from you is satisfied. You can start by making the best product or giving the best service you can, and then follow up with a survey through an app like SurveyMonkey, or even personally contact your customers to see what they think.
- Nab some early reviews and testimonials. As soon as possible, get some personally written reviews and testimonials from your customers. You’ll be forced to work without these for your first few interactions, but they’re near-essential if you want to continue growing your reputation. Customer reviews help you understand what you’re doing right (and what could use some improvement), and also serve as social proof to other potential customers that your company is worth doing business with. Third-party directories like Yelp may be able to help you here, but you’ll also want to host reviews on your site directly (or wherever your customers are converting online).
- Offer guarantees. Even with a good starting reputation and a handful of reviews, new customers won’t fully trust your brand-new business. That’s why it’s a good idea to offer any guarantees you can. The easiest one for product sellers to make is a money-back guarantee on your product’s ability to perform (with free return shipping, if necessary). You could also guarantee a specific result, particularly if you’re offering a service. It’s an extra signal of trust that can help you win early customers—and it can also serve as an analytical tool to gauge your products’ and services’ success.
- Include trust badges to prove your worth. Nearly half of all online customers look at trust badges when evaluating the trustworthiness of a brand or website. Trust badges are small markers that represent your brand’s affiliation with other trusted organisations and institutions, or your fulfillment of certain criteria of those organisations. For example, you may be labeled a “secure” site by Norton, or you may list your affiliation with an industry organisation that conducts regular reviews for safety and quality. In any case, an assortment of these badges will increase your conversion rates and will serve as a way to demonstrate your reputation by proxy—at least until you earn one in your own right.
Your customer loyalty and brand reputation won’t be based on one or two “good jobs.” You’ll need to serve a number of customers—well and consistently—before your customer base starts to stabilise. That means you’ll need to remain consistent
in your execution of the above strategies, and make corrections whenever you get negative feedback or criticism. Starting a new business is exciting, and you want success all at once, but you’ll need to remain consistent if you want to achieve your goals.