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A Dozen Simple Ways to Improve Customer Relations: Page 2

By Jennifer Schiff     Feedback
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Don't over-automate. "Too many sites seem to believe in total automation, to the point where you can't even find an email address, much less a phone number," said Izzy Goodman, the owner of Complete Computer Services. Moreover, "when you write to that email address [or fill out the form], you get a canned response which says expect an answer in three business days," or no response at all. And that can cost sales.

Case in point, Goodman was looking to buy 20 expensive calculators for a school – "and found a dozen merchants on Amazon who seemed to have plenty of them. I emailed several to ask if I could buy 20. Other than canned replies, not a single one answered! I ended up going to Staples. The lack of customer service cost them a $2,000 order and more in the future!" It's also why Goodman has a dedicated staff answering the phone and emails six days a week, 12 hours a day.

Indeed, don't discount the importance of the lowly telephone, cautioned several business owners and customer service experts. And "always have telephones answered by a live person," said Roger Kahn, president of Champion Office Suites. "Nobody likes to deal with an automated attendant or voicemail. A recent Consumer Reports survey in fact indicated that 71 percent of respondents did not like getting voice mail when they made a call. Technology allows us to communicate more effectively and more quickly but nothing beats the personal touch and direct communication with a real person."

Be flexible. While not all businesses can or should offer customized products, services, or quantities, if it's not a big deal, provide it when asked. "If a customer wants to order something which is not our regular package, we customize one," said Goodman. "If they need something we don't stock, we find it. That is how we retain almost 100 percent of our customers and why we constantly get new customers referred by our existing ones."

Have consistent CRM processes – and monitor what's working and what's not. "It's vital that there be an established process in place for data entry and follow-up," said Stephanie Hackney, chief brander at Branding Masters. "Be sure everyone using the system knows the process and is accountable for following it," and periodically check to make sure your processes are working the way they were designed to – and make adjustments as needed.

"For instance, if the system is initially set up to send out automated email responses to customer service complaints, and these automated responses don't initiate a correction of the issue by someone on your staff, or worse yet, aggravate the situation with the customer, perhaps an automated email to the person responsible for fixing the issue and having them follow up personally is a better solution." The bottom line: CRM can be a great tool, but be careful not to get wedded to a solution or process that is not working.

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Personalize the online customer experience. Before a person has ever bought from you, "your business can improve customer relations and impact the bottom line by making [your] website exceptional," said Nicole Carrier, director of IBM Web Experience. And one of the best ways to do this is to "make all users feel like the experience was custom fit for them – based upon their preferences, device, location, social networks and behaviors. Personalizing the experience based upon a full profile of your customers – including information collected by your web analytics tool – can make a big difference in increasingly customer loyalty and satisfaction."

Say "thank you." It is amazing how powerful two little words can be. But as many small (and larger) business owners can tell you, customers really appreciate receiving a thank-you note along with their order. Paper not your thing? Send an email thank-you note or thank customers on Facebook or Twitter (if they are a friend or follower). Also consider offering them a discount coupon or code for referring a friend or towards their next purchase.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to Enterprise Apps Today and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses.

This article was originally published on July 27, 2011
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