A business aiming for a sale begins by marketing the product or service to win the customer. Excellent customer service can help.
Again, think of the customer path. “Can they get the information they want and need in a way they want and need?” explains Simmons. “Is your organisation able to provide information in a format the customer wants?”
This could be through data, images, video or plain text. Do they then know what the next step is on their path to a completed purchase?
Signposting is vital. A customer needs to know how to contact your business and what should be the next contact in the transaction process. Does it move to a salesperson or a website?
If they email you, what is the response time? Is someone available to follow up? If so, when? Startups need to be prepared or risk losing benefits gained from the first step.
Social media is an important marketing and customer service tool but can be used ineffectively or in a way that repels customers. “Be careful not to just keep pushing messages out there on multiple channels as startups need the resources to respond effectively,” warns Simmons.
Decide on the best channels linked to where your customers are and what they use and focus on them.
Once a customer responds positively to marketing messages, they may be ready to buy. You need to be ready to give them the information they need, have linked systems, clear pricing and accurate, fast payment systems to provide customers with a seamless transaction.
“Quotes and purchase orders need to be linked to the finance system, so they don’t act as a blocker,” advises Simmons. Ensure the next step is signposted to create a positive customer experience.
The sales role is key for any business, so salespeople must respond quickly and courteously to customer requests. This promotes repeat business and customer retention. It is an opportunity to install the brand qualities you want to permeate the business in a key area.
Logistics involves interactions with both suppliers and customers and an area where quality customer service is very important.
Startups should provide realistic expectations of delivery times. “This feeds into the psychology of customer wellbeing,” says Simmons. “Customers have expectations and need to know what is happening so they feel informed.”
Systems for delivery notifications and tracking must work properly and for online services, communication is vital. Make sure you provide the correct contact details.
Customers need to know what happens next. Clear timelines need to be set out; who will be in touch? When? “This helps customers feel empowered,” points out Simmons.
For startups with minimal resources mapping out the customer journey is vital and a worthwhile investment. Decide what you can implement as ‘minimum viable customer service levels.’ Then, as your resources grow, gradually add to this, aiming for high quality customer service throughout your business.
Integrating customer service into finance is a challenge, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis. Startups need to balance their own financial obligations with those of their customers.
“Organisations should take a flexible approach and focus on empathy with customers,” advises Simmons.
This is important for customer refunds as customers may face bank charges if authorised refunds are not processed quickly.
“Allow customers to be heard and feel understood,” Simmons continues. “Have flexible, mapped out frameworks in place and if you outsource finance functions such as credit control, communicate policies to external providers.”
The customer user experience should run through your entire business. By mapping different customer paths, a startup gets insight into the priorities and concerns of customers.
“If your customer is your user, at what point do you engage and who do you engage with?” asks Simmons. For example, with subscription services, if there is a query, who is authorised to speak to the company. Just the bill payer or also the registered users?