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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business (Contribution from Keith Coppersmith)

The following post comes to us from Keith Coppersmith, an experienced business consultant who serves small businesses and startups.


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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business

Did you know that 51% of customers stop doing business after just one negative experience? Research further shows that businesses lose over $62 billion every year on poor customer service.

Precisely because of that, wise small business owners don’t look at great customer support as a cost. For them, this is a chance to increase sales and boost brand loyalty.

Now, when it comes to providing spotless customer support, there is always room for improvement. Here are a few great tactics that will help you take your customer relationships to the next level.

Don’t Overcomplicate Customer Conversations

Providing customer support is not an opportunity for you to showcase your impressive industry knowledge. When reaching out to you, a customer expects to get a specific answer that solves their problem.

Using overly complex technical jargon may cause miscommunication issues and hurt user experience. It may even seem as if you yourself don’t know the answer to the question. To keep your customers happy, you need to speak their language. Simple and effective explanations will boost their satisfaction and motivate them to buy from you again.

Help your Customers Make Payments Faster

The flexibility of your services can get you a long way. Let’s take an example of invoicing, as this is one of the major problems businesses face. Stats say that 64% of businesses have unpaid invoices that have gone unpaid for at least 60 days.

Sure, in the short term, you need to find the right financing method to boost your bottom line. For example, you can improve cash flow with invoice finance. This financing option brings numerous benefits to small businesses and startups. First, invoice finance firms usually pay businesses about 80% of the total sum within 48 hours, meaning you’ll get your money fast. Second, unlike with bank loans, there are no high-interest rates. Finally, invoicing doesn’t hurt user experience and helps you maintain stronger client relationships.

Sure, these are all short-term solutions. To boost your cash flow in the long run, you need to manage your late payments strategically. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your customer support:

  • Offer multiple payment options to boost their buying experience and encourage them to buy from you.
  • B2B businesses should also have a billing policy, where they would clearly state when and how you want to get paid and how you will handle late payments.
  • Send invoices on time to get customers to take them seriously.
  • Automate your rebilling process. With the help of the right software, your customers will be able to track their payments directly from an app, get informed about any failed payments, and get actionable tips to solve these problems faster.

Answer Customer Questions in Real-Time

The demands of a modern customer have changed. They now use multiple channels to communicate with brands. Unsurprisingly, they expect businesses to use these channels, too. Research says most customers expect to get an answer within 2 hours, while 84% of them don’t want to wait longer than a day.

Precisely because of that, you need to need to provide multichannel customer services. Update your contact information on your site regularly and get listed on all major business directories. You should also provide your email address, links to social media support profiles, and live chats. Multichannel communication increases user satisfaction and helps them resolve the problem faster.

Leverage the Power of Social Networks

Many brands have started seeing the value of social networks in building customer relationships. First, you can use AI-powered software like chatbots to provide customers with timely and relevant answers. Today’s chatbots are smart and they’re constantly learning from customer interactions to understand their intent and give relevant feedback.

You can also use social monitoring tools to track your brand/product mentions on social networks and participate in customers’ conversations instantly. These tools give you a great opportunity to identify customers experiencing problems with your products, help them fix these problems effectively, and turn them into brand advocates.

Collect Customer Feedback Regularly

There are numerous metrics you can track to assess your small business’ performance. And, one of the most important ones is customer satisfaction. You need to understand how your customers feel about your brand, what they like, appreciate, or hate about it.

Collecting customer feedback is one of the most significant aspects of customer support, given that 91% of unhappy customers won’t complain about poor experiences with your brand. They will simply leave you for your competitors.

There are numerous ways to do gather user feedback. I’ve already mentioned the importance of social listening and AI-powered chatbots. These tools let you see what questions your customers usually ask and what problems they experience.

You could also create a dedicated feedback form on your website and even reach out to a customer that abandoned the shopping cart. Live chat support can also be effective. Once a customer support agent helps a customer, they can send them feedback. Finally, you can always call a customer and ask them for their opinions directly.

Over to You

With the rise of sophisticated customer relationship management tools, providing subpar customer services are not acceptable anymore. You need to provide timely customer support, answer customer feedback professionally, and customize your customer services. This way, you will build stronger customer relationships and increase brand loyalty.

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About the Author: Keith Coppersmith is an Adelaide based business consultant with a degree in Media Management. With experience in numerous small businesses and startups, he enjoys giving advice on all things marketing.

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5 Things My Clients Have Taught Me About Public Relations

5 Things My Clients Have Taught Me About Public Relations

Throughout my career as a public relations consultant, sure I’ve taught my clients a lot. But what’s been most surprising is how much they’ve taught me in return! Working in a wide range of industries has afforded me the ability to track some powerful trends and spot inconsistencies that require us to rethink strategies.

It should be obvious, yet all too often it’s overlooked at larger firms, that every single organization must have its own unique public relations strategy if they want to see the best return on their investment. Even for businesses in the very same industry, no two strategies should be identical. It simply doesn’t work!

So what are the most valuable PR lessons my clients have taught me along the way? Here are the top PR “best practices” I have learned, not from a textbook, classroom or industry group, but from my clients!

  1. Public Relations is a lot more than writing.

When earning my Public Relations degree it felt like the vast majority of what I was doing was creating content in some form or another – pitches, press release, op-eds, video scripts, media talking points, website content, social media content – and the list goes on infinitely!

However, now as a PR consultant in “the real world” I see that content is only the starting point. My clients have taught me that the real value I bring to the table is what I do with the content I create for them. Never should this fall on their shoulders! Rather, I take the lead with our dissemination strategy, never giving up until we get the full attention the content deserves.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

My clients have also taught me that I cannot be (nor should I desire to be) a one-man-band of solutions. Rather, I’ve learned to rely on my network of fellow contractors and consultant who serve in a variety of fields and specialties. These counterparts lend advice and expertise to the unique challenges my clients face from time to time. Whether that’s monitoring new SEO trends, understanding advertising best practices or learning how to save some money on the way we design and print a marketing piece, having a network of trusted professionals is what allows me to see my own blind spots. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know!

  1. There is no template or formula that works for everyone.

I love the vast variety of industries my clients expose me to. It’s challenging yet rewarding to be able to develop a mini expertise in so many different categories.  What this has taught me, more than anything else, is that there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating a public relations strategy. Everything I do must be custom built. Sure, some similar tactics may carry over, but they will be heavily tailored so that no two email blasts, no two direct mail pieces and no two press releases will ever be the same.

Even the same event for the same client, year-after-year will continue to morph until it’s almost unrecognizable from its first year. That’s a good thing! Through this, my clients teach me that there are no shortcuts, no templates and no magic formula. The value of what I provide is complete customization in everything I do.

  1. Complacency will kill your business.

I love when clients come to me with new ideas for how they can revamp their communications efforts! It shows they value the power of communications and also that they’re keeping their eyes and ears open to new trends. What they’re also teaching me is that complacency is a business’s worst enemy. I learn from example. This same passion and drive for trying new things is what inspires me to also try new things! It’s the kick in the butt I need to always strive to take my offering of services to the next level, to forge power partnerships and to restructure business relationships so that everyone benefits.

  1. Persistence is key.

Finally and most importantly, I’ve learned that in order to see the greatest return on your investment when it comes to public relations strategy, you have to remain persistent and consistent with your efforts. We live in a society where instant results and instant gratification are expected. However, communication takes time! It also takes many touch points with your target audience for them to really start to pay attention to what you’re saying.

Through having many of my clients serve as examples, I’ve been reminded time and time again that investing in forming real, meaningful relationships with your target audience always yields the great return – and this simply takes persistence!

In your own industry, have you found that your clients or customers have actually helped you to learn things you didn’t know before? Share your story by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Win Back a Client

how to win back a client

Clients will come and go. If you are a contractor or consultant, you know that it’s a way of life. Often this will be an obvious and amicable parting once a client no longer needs your services. However there will also be times when a client leaves you, possibly for another consultant or because they believe they can handle the services in house. This kind of parting can leave you a little sad and sore, as it feels unexpected or unnecessary.

But I want to share some good news.

Throughout my career as a public relations consultant, I’ve had many clients, who once paused services or parted ways, return for a variety of reasons. These returns are a wonderful surprise and for a long time I chalked it up to luck. However, it’s much more than luck. It’s the way you run your business that keeps a former client’s coals burning, awaiting to reignite the fire upon their return.

Today I share with you some steps you can take to win back a former client. The most important idea to keep in mind is that winning back a client isn’t merely what you say when you re-pitch them your services, it’s everything you do in the interim of your relationship leading up to this reengagement. Take a look!

Part on Good Terms

This first step is critical. To the extent it is realistically possible, you should try to part with each client on good terms. Be understanding, offer them access to any materials or information that is rightfully theirs and help with the transition process to a new employee or consultant who will be taking over your work, if asked to do so. If this isn’t feasible or they choose to completely shut you out, it’s a good indication this isn’t a client you’ll want to work with again in the future anyways.

Leave the Door Open

Once you part on good terms, you should also make sure they know your door is always open to them. Weeks, months or years later they may have a question for you. Remain accessible and attentive to their needs (so long as it doesn’t require more than a few minutes of your time). This demonstrates, professionalism and class. Knowing your door is open makes it easier to return without feeling like you will shame them for it.

Touch Base in a Non-Salesy Way

There may come a time when an article or piece of information emerges that reminds you of that client. Use this as an opportunity to touch base with them by offering something other than a sales pitch. Believe me, this is exceptionally refreshing! For example, maybe you find an article that offers helpful advice to a problem they frequently encountered or maybe it’s a piece of news announcing a new trend in their industry. Share this with a thoughtful note. Wish them well and leave it at that. This is a seed that I have seen blossom into a new working relationship time and time again.

Check in On Their Progress

If you find yourself thinking about that client, check in on them to see if they are maintaining the progress you used to help with. Have they kept a consistent presence on social media? When is the last time they published a blog? If you’re still on their email list, what’s the last communication you received? If all of these efforts have gone radio silent, you have a solid reason to move onto what about I’m about to suggest next.

Remind Them How You Can Help

Call or email that client with a direct offer. This time it is essentially a sales pitch. Be sure to complement any efforts they are maintaining or improving. Then call attention to the items you noticed were lacking. Remind them that you used to help them maintain these critical efforts and that you’d welcome the opportunity to talk with them about assisting them in a similar way again. You just might hit them at a time where they feel like they can’t get their head above water and you will be a welcome source of help. What’s the worst they can say? No?

Offer Advice, No Strings Attached

If a past client should ever reach out to you asking for a simple piece of advice (i.e. it should only take a few minutes of your time to answer), be open to sharing your expertise a time or two. For the couple of minutes it takes you to answer their questions, you could open up the door to a renewed client in the future. It’s extremely smart from a business development standpoint! If you find they have A LOT of questions for you, offer a meeting. In person you can make a case for the benefit of your expertise and how an ongoing relationship would again benefit you both.

Be Responsive

Finally and most importantly, be respectful and responsive, even if this person is no longer an active client. Demonstrating these qualities, regardless of whether you are receiving a paycheck, speaks highly to your reputation. It will also remind the client of how nice it is to work with someone who is competent and responsive. Many times I have clients return because they realize that responsiveness is not a quality every consultant possesses. Many skills can be trained, responsiveness/reliability really isn’t one of them.

Have you ever won back a client? What steps did you take? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!

 

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

When you’re fortunate to have new business come knocking at your door, it’s still far from a done deal. Winning over a client takes time, patience and strategy. In my industry, things always begin with an initial client phone call or an in-person meeting. This casual, first meeting is the opportunity for both parties to feel each other out. Do our visions and values align? Do we share realistic expectations for what can be accomplished with the given budget and time frame? Most importantly, is there chemistry? No, nothing romantic, just a good synergy that will help create a productive working relationship.

Even if all of these things appear to be on target, there are still quite a few ways in which I can push away this new business, if I’m not careful. While the ability to read a client and build a strong connection from the start isn’t something you can necessarily teach, there are a few obvious mistakes you should avoid when trying to win over a new client. Save yourself some future regret but taking note of the next seven items on this list!

  1. Being unresponsive

The first mistake you can make is to be anything but highly responsive to your prospective client. This is the first impression you make. If they call you to learn more about your services, respond to them same day. Even if you’re not able to connect by phone, the least you can do is email them to set up a time for a future phone call or meeting. Carry this level of responsiveness into every phase of working with this client. Chronically late responses are a red flag to the client that you may not be the easiest person work with.

  1. Acting like you have all the answers

In your first client meeting, don’t come in there like you have all the answers. You don’t. You’re meeting this client for the first time and you likely know little about the industry and nothing about their business (more than a website and social media can tell you). I know in my case, people call me in because there are serious internal problems taking place. This is something you can’t know simply by Googling them. Come ready to listen, take notes and ask questions.

  1. Lacking examples of your insight and experiences

While you don’t want to come in acting like you know everything about the client’s particular business, you do want to walk in ready to prove your knowledge and expertise. Offer plenty of examples of past client success stories that relate to the services you may provide to this new client. Real-world examples are not only powerful, they are memorable. Additionally, be prepared to offer some examples of new ideas you have, tailored to the client’s needs. Make them feel like you’re offering fresh solutions and not something canned that you provide to every client.

  1. Pushing a client toward a final decision in your first meeting

Let the first meeting be a no-pressure zone. If you do a good job selling yourself, there is no need to pressure a new client into making a final decision as to whether they want to work with you right then and there. In fact, it’s likely going to be in your favor to have them sleep on the ideas you presented and to get even more excited about them! Don’t be so desperate to close the deal that you end up closing the door on yourself.

  1. Leaving the first meeting with no action plan

Just because you’re not going to pressure the new client into a final decision doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear path for the next steps you will take toward that final decision. You need to leave the meeting with an action plan in place. If possible, leave with the ball in your court. That means it’s on you to get the client a proposal or follow-up with additional information to help them make a decision. This gives you the power to reach out to them on your terms, rather than waiting to hear back from the client.

  1. Not following-up

This loops back to mistake number one and the need to be responsive. Just as it’s important to be responsive, it’s equally important to initiate a response. Give the client some space after your first meeting and after you’ve provided them with a proposal and an outline of next steps. Then, about one week later (or if they specified how much time they need), follow-up! Keep it short and sincere. Ask them if they have any additional questions you can answer. Or if a new idea has come to you, share that with them – along with your enthusiasm for working with them soon. These techniques enable you to stay in touch without nagging them.

  1. Charging a new client for your business development time

Another mistake that pushes away new business is charging for things like your first consultation meeting, putting together a proposal or any other initial communications. If you’re properly vetting your leads, you should be closing just about every new client meeting you take. Your time spent in business development stands to yield far more profit in the long-run than the couple hundred dollars you may make charging your client for every interaction. Furthermore, the practice of nickel and diming a client is sure to make them question your business practices and possibly scare them off altogether. Do your homework, qualify your leads and then invest that initial time at no cost, knowing you have a great shot at making it back ten-fold!

Have you made any of these same mistakes and found that it pushed away new business? Or can you think of something else that is missing from this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

 

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5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your Business

5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your BusinessWhen meeting with a prospective client, we can get so caught up in wanting to help them see the value or our services, that we overlook the signs that they wouldn’t be a good fit for our business. I’m guilty of having done this a time or two. I know because the client was a headache to work with and ultimately didn’t work out long-term. So how can you avoid wasting time and energy on the “wrong” clients? Start by watching out for these common warning signs.

  1. They can’t really tell you why they want to meet with you

This first warning sign should throw up an immediate red flag of caution. If you receive an email or phone call from someone who wants to meet with you to discuss your services, but they can’t really tell you specifically what service they need or the major challenges they’re facing right now, don’t be too quick to schedule an initial consultation.

It may seem like a good idea to sit down with them to gain more information, but from my experience, this isn’t the case. A good client can communicate why they want to meet with you, and what they need from you. A client who doesn’t know enough about their business’s problems to know why they need your services is likely going to be a waste of time.

  1. They use the initial consultation to get as much information out of you as possible

If you leave your initial meeting with a prospective client feeling like you just left an interrogation, there’s a good chance you may not be hearing from then again. I never charge for an initial consultation because I see this as an “information-collecting” phase and not an “information-giving” phase. A warning sign that a client is not a good fit is that they use this first meeting to try and get right to the meat of things. How do I do this? What are the best practices for this? How can I solve this problem? These are all great questions I’m happy to include in a strategic communications plan, but as for this first cup of coffee together, let me understand more about your business and current tactics.

  1. You pick up on the fact that they’re “shopping around”

If you meet with someone who references the multiple other companies (who offer your same services) that they’re talking to, this is a sign that they are making a game out of this. I understand – and encourage – clients to talk to one or two other companies for comparison, but when a client is taking months to “interview” a dozen consultants, this isn’t going to be a good fit. First, you’ll end up waiting on hold for a long time until the client can sort through all of their proposals and notes. Second, this is a warning sign for how they do business and it’s likely they will overanalyze and hold up progress on your efforts, too.

  1. They don’t seem serious about making a commitment

When I meet with a client, there’s a pretty clear process that results in a signed contract and the commencement of services. A big warning sign of a bad client is one who doesn’t have any idea of when they’d like to start their project. They’re just beginning to test the waters to determine if your services are the answer to their current challenges. What you want is a client who has already worked through this process and determined that they need the services you provide and have clear start date in mind.

  1. What they need is not really what you provide

A final warning sign to watch out for is when you get the gut feeling that your services are not the answer to their problems. Maybe they need business development, not PR. Or maybe they are already doing everything you would tell them to do and they just need to give it time. There are a lot of scenarios, but the end result is the same. If you know your services are not a good fit for their business, do a favor for both of you and be honest with them.

Do you have a warning sign to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Power of Collecting Client Testimonials

the-power-of-collecting-client-testimonialsMost recently, I’ve been working with a client to interview their customers and collect information to create testimonial articles. Given my love for communications, I was intrigued by the project, but I had no idea just how much it would teach me about client relations.

In the process of collecting 30 testimonials from clients who have invested, on average, $50,000 with this business, I was inspired by each and every story of how this product was drastically changing the way they do business. Depending upon their business model and the region they served, each story was different. Each client saw the value of the product differently and each had a unique angle that has now given my client a pretty cool archive of stories they can share with prospective clients who can relate to any one of these businesses.

What I want to share with you now is four key benefits of collecting testimonials from your clients on a regular basis. A quote is good, but if you can dedicate little more time to dig deeper and develop a full article (or hire a communications professional to do this for you), you’ll reap far more benefits from these testimonials. Here’s why:

Create a valuable database of promotional content

By creating short articles from your testimonials, you not only paint a brighter picture of the full benefits you have provided clients, you also give yourself a far more useable database of promotional content. These articles can be used as blog posts on your website and shared on social media. They can be shared with prospective clients as a “case study” and can be used in e-newsletters that then drive content back to your website. As your business progressed and list of clients grow, you’ll be grateful to have this archive that captures the satisfaction of your clients over time.

Discover unique ways your product/service has benefitted clients

In the process of collecting testimonials from your clients, you will get to ask critical questions that will help you really understand how they are using your product or service. And you will be surprised how drastically this can change from business to business! When you discover a new or innovative way your product/service is being used, you can use this to market your business in a whole new way and potentially reach an untapped market.

Help clients see the full value of your service/product

The last time you likely spoke with your client was when they were just beginning to use your product/service. It’s so important to follow-up to be sure they are staying committed to getting the full value out of what you sold them. Asking for a testimonial is a great reason to check in with them to see how they are doing. Do they have questions or concerns? Are they unsure how to implement a certain feature? Are they struggling to train their employees? This gives you the opportunity to talk through any issues and right the course before they are left feeling like they made a poor investment.

Touch base and strengthen your relationship with clients

Finally and most importantly, collecting client testimonial’s gives you yet one more valuable touch point to strengthen client relationships. You will keep your business top of mind and possibly even sell additional products or services to them in the near future. By doing the leg work to interview clients and create a client testimonial article on their behalf, you are essentially highlighting their success and building good will that gives you a foot in the door for future sales.

Do you have any ideas related to the topic of collecting client testimonials? Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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Why Your Blog is So Important for Adding a Human Element

blog personal touchHow would you describe the content on your website right now? Is it attention-grabbing, accurate, fun, outdated, stale or boring? I can’t stress enough the importance of quality content on your website. When trying to squeeze as much information as we can into the limited time and space we have to make a first impression, we often lose one of the most important aspects of any business – the human element.

Starting a blog is one of the best ways you can thoughtfully incorporate a human element into your business or brand. A blog is a valuable marketing tool for a variety of reasons, but the platform it creates to connect with your customers and clients on a personal level is among its best features. Let’s take a closer look at why blogging is a powerful way to personally connect with your audience.

It is ever-changing

Changing the content of your entire website week after week would not only be exhausting, it wouldn’t let you get much else done with your business! While much of the content on your website will remain unchanged (until it becomes outdated or inaccurate), your blog will pump fresh life into your website on a regular basis. Use your blog to highlight news, announcements and changes taking place within your business. Let it reflect the seasons, themes and trends. Be sure and link back to older blog posts when you can. Using these techniques will turn your blog into an SEO powerhouse.

It can get personal

Limited space and limited attention spans often prevent you from telling the full depth of the story behind your business on your homepage. I have had many clients struggle with feeling like they didn’t have a way to fully communicate their history, values and mission. A blog is an excellent way to highlight all of these things! Each post can be dedicated to telling a different piece of your story.

On my own blog, some posts are about Public Relations and Marketing-related topics, but others are my own ramblings about life lessons, favorite quotes and things that inspire me. Get personal on your blog so readers can connect with you on a whole new level.

It can have many different voices

The beauty of blogging is that there really are no rules, so feel free to mix things up! I like doing this by featuring guest bloggers every so often to help lend a different voice to my blog. For your own blog, let different employees share their thoughts or even feature a blog written by a customer. The key to making your blog really feel human is to help your readers get to know the author. Include a short bio and photos of your contributors to showcase the person behind the content.

It starts a conversation

Your blog is a great way to allow readers to share their own comments and questions. Be sure and encourage this – and respond! Unlike the static content on other areas of your website, your blog has this thing called a “comment box.” Maybe you’ve noticed by now that I always end my blogs with a call for comments. Explicitly ask your readers to join in the conversation and use a compelling question to get the wheels turning.

It doesn’t have to “sell” you something

Your blog is meant to be a free resource for your clients and customers; be generous with the information you choose to give away here. Share advice, lend your expertise, help solve a common problem in your industry or simply make people laugh. Shift your focus from “How will my blog earn me money?” to “How will my blog grow a relationship with my readers?”

It builds trust

Finally, your blog will help to build trust and loyalty with your readers. After reading a book, don’t you feel like you get to know the main character like a real-life friend? Consistently publishing new content to your blog, week after week, will have a similar affect. You will build a virtual friendship with your readers and they will look forward to hearing from you on a regular basis. Remember that consistency is critical here. Going radio silent with your readers will make them feel like they’ve been “stood up” and weaken this trust.

Ready to get started? First, learn the essentials for a successful blog. Then, learn how to promote it for even more impact. Happy blogging!

Does your business have a blog? Share how it has affected the way in which you connect with your customers and clients by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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