As a small, but growing business, you might feel that your options are limited for interacting with your customers. This feeling is especially relevant for businesses that have no physical location. You may think that without being able to physically interact with your clientele, you will have a hard time getting to know the people who contribute to your success.
While it’s true that many great relationships have roots in personal interaction, the ever-evolving online world has provided us with a whole new realm of possibilities for getting to know your customers — and for attracting new ones.
In fact, in-person marketing may not always be the best option for a small business owner. Why? You’re busy. It might take a full day to speak to 100 customers face-to-face, while you can interact with at least that many clients via online tools like email marketing campaigns and social customer service.
Likewise, you can address issues of importance to your customers through digital platforms such as blogs, podcasts and videos. In some cases, you may even consider launching a customer service line or offering chat support.
What medium of communication you choose will depend on the nature and size of your business.
Regardless of what method(s) you use to communicate with customers, there are some universal expectations that you should have of yourself — a customer service code of conduct, if you will. It is important to understand these guidelines going in, not just to avoid ugly disagreements, but to foster a sense of trust between you and the public that will reward you with loyal return customers.
Online customer service guidelines
In no particular order, here are some useful guidelines to follow when interacting with customers online:
Mind your P’s and Q’s!
A rude business owner or employee will drive customers away faster than anything else. Respect and courtesy always come first. Never lose your temper with a customer or let them push your buttons.
When communicating in written form, take care to use proper grammar, complete sentences, and spell everything correctly. Use “too” instead of “2,” capitalize your I’s, and know the difference between “your” and “you’re.” Part of professionalism lies in appearance — and if your customers can’t physically see you, you need to be mindful of what they can see.
Be quick to respond.
Whether you are using a real-time chat app, or are emailing back-and-forth, you don’t want your customers to feel neglected. Be mindful of how long it takes you to respond, and consider what an acceptable time-frame for a response is. This will vary depending on your method of contact, but it’s critical to be prompt and efficient in your communications.
Be clear and concise.
You and your customer might not be on the same page. Since you can’t rely on each other’s body language to help clear up any confusion, it’s important to ask the right questions and repeat back your understanding of the issue. Explain to your customer the situation as you understand it, explain to them any policies in place, or why you came to the decision you did.
Offer to help in any way you can, but be clear about your reach. It is good-natured to want to step out of your bounds to help others, but make sure that doing so does not put you in over your head.
Pretty simple stuff, huh? Even if it is a brave new frontier for your business, the basics of online customer service don’t differ too widely from your expectations in-person. Just equip yourself with some foundational knowledge and you will be ready to conquer this new medium in no time.
About the Author
Erik Wong is a small business/tech consultant for GoDaddy and a freelance pop-culture writer. He has written a regular column for a current events blog, and his commentary has been featured on realclearpolitics.com. Connect with Erik on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.