Article Marketing: 5 Top Customer Service Tips (Especially For An Internet Business)

For a business owner, customer service can be like marmite: you either love it or hate it. Customers can be both challenging and rewarding, but if you pay enough time and attention to your customer service, you can turn a nagging problem into an art form. However, when it comes to an online business, this becomes an even bigger challenge.

If your business is internet-based, you lack the face-to-face experience that can often help establish a rapport. You may be communicating with someone on the other side of the world, and time and distance barriers can put pressure on your business relationship. Communicating via text-based forms such as email and instant messaging can often make it more difficult to convey warmth and friendliness, so providing excellent customer service is a huge challenge.

With that said, I think it is possible for a web-based business to give great customer support. I’d like to share some of my strategies and observations in working with clients, and I welcome any insights that you have about doing online support in your own business.

Here are my top 5 customer service tips:

1. Individual Treatment

Your customers are people, not numbers – so treat them like individuals. Although templates can save you time, the personal approach makes for much better customer service, and only takes a few minutes longer. Use an autoresponder for holding emails, but try to always send a proper, hand-crafted reply.

2. Give Them What They Want

You know your business inside-out – so try to anticipate what they need. You’ll likely get the same questions again and again, so try to predict what your customer wants, and give it to them.

Steering your customers towards a helpful FAQ page can help with this, giving them the feeling of personalised service quickly and easily.

3. Encourage Questions!

Make your customers feel welcome to ask questions or contact you, no matter what the issue or inquiry. Being aloof is off-putting and can seem arrogant. Always give a friendly response to establish a rapport with your customers and make them feel appreciated.

4. Money Doesn’t Matter

Whoever you’re talking to, make sure you treat them with respect and courtesy – whether they’re paying you or not. Even if someone has seemingly no interest in ever becoming a customer, you should still treat them with the same interest and personal attention as a paying client. This improves your reputation overall, and may even lead to a sale.

5. Give Something Back

The best gift is one you’re not expecting, and the same goes for customer service. If you can give your customers something useful without them asking for it, you’ve just given them the best customer service experience they’ll ever have.

Every niche has its online community, so write articles that teach that community valuable information. By investing back into the community in this way, you are producing marketing material for your company, whilst giving your customers something they will love – for free! By sharing your knowledge, your customers will appreciate your insight – and really feel like they’ve got a bargain by benefiting from it.

What about you? Are you a small business owner who is hanging out in the customer support trenches? What are your strategies for providing excellent customer service?

And here’s a fun question: what is the best customer service experience you’ve ever had in your life?

Searching For the Perfect Business

Ah! The perfect deal! How we all fantasize about finding it. No doubt you have heard a story similar to the one about the guy who finds the barely used 1957 Corvette stashed in the back of someone’s garage. It has sat there unused for years. The owner just wants to get rid of it and agrees to let it go for a song.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately it is rare that this ever occurs at auctions and estate sales, and it is even rarer that it occurs in the world of deal-making or business acquisitions.

But still, even in today’s tough economic climate where lenders are tightening their purse strings and our government is conjuring up ways to implement new taxes, I continue to get buyers calling me and giving me a 60 minute exposition on the business acquisition they wish I would help them acquire. But alas, imagine their woe when after my patient listening and patient rebuttal, they are fated to discover that what they are looking for is in fact, a perfect deal, and thus does not exist.

On the surface I understand and recognize they want to make sure they get the best value for their dollar they can possibly achieve. But the reality of the situation is there is no such thing as a perfect deal.

First, let me explain what I am talking about when I say the “perfect deal.” In the world of business acquisitions, the perfect deal would be the buyer finding the convenience store that has the right size building; located at the best spot in town; has updated pumps and credit cards systems; the roof, air conditioning and cooling units are fairly new; has a profitable foodservice program with minimal competition; has a high volume of fuel gallon sales; and has consistently high inside sales (but with not a lot of cigarette sales). In addition, the seller is very motivated and is willing to sell the store below the current market value of a c-store.

Have I got your attention? This would be pretty close to the perfect deal. Everybody has different criteria, but this will give you a general idea as to what I am talking about. Are these kinds of deals out there? Absolutely. Are they plentiful? No.

The reality is that almost all deals will “have some warts on them.” There is generally going to be something that is just not right about the deal. Maybe it has a great location, but the assets are a bit run down. Perhaps it does a great business inside and out, but the size of the building is too small for expansion in the future. Maybe it has a branded obligation that cannot be changed and the buyer is not interested in becoming part of the new brand. There are many different things that will come into play when looking at acquiring a convenience store.

My point is, there are a lot of great opportunities in the world of business acquisitions, but you first have to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect deal. Once this realization has been met, then the search becomes realistic, and you can find a really good convenience store or group of stores that are available to be acquired with most of the criteria you are looking for at a fair price.

Just this week I was presented with a group of eight convenience stores that an owner wanted to sell. Is it the perfect deal? No. Three of the stores are leased properties and five of the stores are owned in fee. But they are all profitable and have a great upside. Upside is the part of any deal that a buyer should be seeking. What is the upside of this acquisition? The buyer knows he will have to invest money to acquire these stores; however, based on his expertise and knowledge in the operation of c-stores, it is also known that by adding certain items and maybe changing the floor plan and a few other things, he can raise the sales too. This means there is plenty of upside for him in this transaction and that the new profits generated from changes made are going to be his.

All of the hard work has already been done. By this I mean it is a lot easier to take an existing business and build it to a new level than it is to build a business from scratch and not know if or when you are going to make a profit. You see, when you buy an existing business, you have a cash flow from the very first day you take over the operations.

So put on your deal-making hat and take off your rose-colored glasses, and you will see there are many opportunities available for those hardworking owners of c-stores who are looking to expand and find some very good (but not perfect) deals In today’s marketplace.

How Success Can Hurt Your Business

By the time you start looking for more work, it is often too late. Here’s a solution to this challenge…

Feast or Famine: The Challenges of Keeping a Business Forward-Focused

Most businesses, especially ones that concentrate on Business-to-Business services, tend to operate in a feast-or-famine mindset. This happens in good times and bad, although it can get worse in times such as these, when economic indicators are worsening on just about every front on which they can be measured.

As a long-time consultant for companies big and small, this feast-or-famine mindset is something I’ve noticed more and more. The interesting thing is that companies actually operate more proactively in times of famine then in times of feast. The problems can start when business is booming, not when business is bad.

It works like this: you get a landslide of business rolling in, which sets your whole company into motion. From your administrators to your people in the field doing the work, your whole company is entirely focused on getting projects completed well and on time. There may even be numerous new jobs lined up, enough to keep you and your staff working overtime for months to come. The ability to grow and adapt to a swelling workload is, of course, the bedrock of any solid business. Not losing your focus, your cool, or the quality of your deliverables keeps your clients happy and your bottom line strong. I’ve seen this sort of adaptation in just about every kind of business, from construction companies to creative agencies to retail-oriented giants to pharmaceuticals. But hidden in this kind of approach are the seeds of a potential problem, one large enough to cause some companies to crumble when the workload begins to dry up. The result can be plunging morale, layoffs, pay cuts, or even bankruptcy.

The reality is that too often, when the workload begins to dry up and the owners and senior managers finally have some time to breathe, they realize there is little to no new work coming in. Suddenly next quarter earnings are in serious doubt. Another scramble must begin – contacts must be made, relationships developed, needs identified, but often the next few big projects can be far off in the future, leaving your company without active work for weeks or even months. This has an obvious impact on your bottom line, but it also affects companies in other ways as well. The sudden lack of work can be toxic to your staff, which can grow bored, develop poor work habits, or lose confidence in senior management. Worries about job security can leak in, and create a rumor mill that might cause some of your best employees to look elsewhere for a more fertile – and stable – company.

There’s an old adage in business: if your business isn’t growing, it’s dying. What I’ve found especially interesting is how truly successful companies take this adage to heart. It is something that is at once obvious and intuitive, and at the same time far more difficult to pull off than most of us realize.

The Role of Business Development in Successful Businesses

The obvious question is how: how do you keep your business growing when you are so busy that you hope for only a 60 hour workweek? One very effective solution is to have Business Development as an integral part of your business model. In many small-to-medium sized companies, the owner/CEO is responsible for this task. The only trouble is when that person gets too busy to focus on new business, and instead has to manage their current workload.

The solution is to hire someone whose only job is to do just that – find, create, and sustain new relationships that, when the time is right, the owner/CEO can help to mature. The job of a Business Development Executive is to go out and make new contacts for the company, especially when times are incredibly busy and the staff overworked.

The Role of the Business Development Executive

Business Development Executives have a reputation as the men and women who “wine and dine” potential clients. Hospitality is certainly part of what they do, but more than that a Business Development Executive needs to know your business inside and out. Just as importantly, they need to be able to self-generate contacts and leads in your industry. A good Business Development Executive will help to “sell” your company to more than clients who need your services in the short-term. The idea is to build enough relationships that as your potential clients grow and come across their own problems, the first company they will contact for help is yours.

This forward-looking approach is the most sure-fire way to keep your business growing, especially when you are too busy to put much energy into it yourself.

Solutions for the Small Company

Fortune 50 companies usually have the bottom line luxury of hiring a six-figure Business Development Executive to help grow the business at all times and in all economic conditions. But many small companies cannot afford that kind of salary output. One possible solution I have seen successfully implemented is to outsource this role to a freelance professional who knows your industry. This person can help you to continue to grow when times are good and your workload is too heavy to wine and dine every potential client yourself. A base salary can be attached to bonuses for any future contracts, which can help to keep things both fair and honest. A freelance Business Development Executive can help your company to continue to add clients even when you’re too busy to worry about it yourself.

“If your business isn’t growing, it’s dying.” My experience says this is true, which is why I’ve always worked with a Business Development Executive. Keep in mind that by the time it occurs to you to start looking for more work, it is often too late. A healthy business stays healthy by always challenging itself to grow and take on new projects. My last blog mentions some ways you can grow your business in busy times without having to hire new employees.

This ONE Thing Can Help Your Business Succeed

Man, do I have a passion. Well, maybe I’m starting a little too far along in the story here – let’s roll back the clock a little bit so you can see where I’m coming from.

I was watching TV the other day and I caught the end of a show about some investors looking to finance the next big product or company. The premise involves amateur inventors and entrepreneurs who try to achieve the American Dream by getting one of these super-rich investors to agree to go in on their ideas – usually with a sizable investment that would allow the entrepreneur to scale their operation in a big way or just launch their product.

During this particular episode, one of the investors was intrigued by the entrepreneurs’ idea, which would do something great for some poor people in Africa while providing a quality product to American consumers at a reasonable price. But this investor, however moved he may have been, responded with something that rang so true I wish I could repeat it to every single investor I meet without coming off as rude or preachy.

What did he say? It was something in the vein of, “this is great and it warms my heart, but HOW WILL IT MAKE ME MONEY?”

Now, before you whip out your list of expletives and email them to me (and compare me to a heartless money monger), let me explain why I think this is a crucial question to ask yourself if you are a serious entrepreneur.

I know most of us have a many things we’re passionate about. Some of these things run so deep in our veins that we feel compelled to make a business out of it. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you like to get creative with people’s hair or makeup, you may want to open a beauty salon or start a cosmetology business. When I was a kid I met a guy so passionate about baseball cards and comic books that he opened a local “Cards and Comics” store (this is where I met him). I loved going there because this guy knew his stuff. He knew everything that was going on in the various series of comics, and he knew which baseball cards would be the next best ones to save in a hard plastic display case.

I remember wanting to buy some cards off of him, and he wanted more than the cards were worth, because he said Darryl Strawberry and a few others were going to be HUGE.

Here’s the problem with this guy’s business, though: he was too passionate about the business and not passionate enough about making money. There was no question that this guy knew his stuff – he knew the product inside and out – but he didn’t know his business inside and out. The sad reality is that the best he could ever hope for, like the cosmetician or hairstylist, is to make a living, rather than make serious money. And again, if that’s what makes you happiest, then that’s almost all you’ll ever need. Maybe the people on that show I mentioned could start a nonprofit to help these African ladies and they could feel fulfilled for the rest of their lives. But… to make it big, this “Cards and Comics” guy, named Rob, needed to focus more on growing his business.

I found out much later in life that eventually Rob closed shop in the early 2000’s, which serves as proof of his biggest mistake. The key here is that, even a small business needs a plan for at least some growth. Even if to offset any unforseeables like a lawsuit, government regulation, or whatever. But his passion for baseball cards and comic books made him blind to shortcomings in his business. I’m willing to bet that, on a bad month, he convinced himself that the next big “crossover event” in a popular comic book would dig him out of a hole. Or perhaps the next Mickey Mantle would have a special limited edition card that would bring him a big payoff and keep him in the black.

His passion for the sport and the comics, however, blinded him to the possibility of Darryl Strawberry having substance abuse issues, or to Jose Canseco writing a bestselling book naming several top players as anabolic steroid users – which, of course, made many of these players lose all credibility as great athletes. So, cards that could have been worth thousands today, are worth $150 or less. Now, that may sound like a pretty good return on a card that only cost a few cents, but we can’t ignore the time value of money, nor the harsh reality of inflation.

The big takeaway here is that if you have a passion that drives you to open a business, you first need to have an honest soul-searching introspection to determine if your business idea is one that can truly make you a millionaire or if your passion for the product or service would overtake your passion for making money. If it’s the latter, you may be dooming yourself to becoming part of that infamous “80% of businesses fail” statistic – and nobody wants that.