How can small businesses effectively cope with customer enquiries?

How can small businesses effectively cope with customer enquiries?

To cope with the challenging economic environment, small and medium enterprises need to strengthen their customer relations and services to help them stand out from the crowd. Martin Brown, CCO at FM Outsource, explains in this article how efficient customer service will lead to business growth and should not be ignored. But it doesn’t have to be taken on by a member of the team and can be outsourced, on a flexible basis.

The cost of doing business is rising with fuel, wages, raw materials and energy all continually increasing. This is, unfortunately, resulting in a high number of corporate insolvencies, with levels reaching 1,964 in December. That is 32% higher than the same month in 2021.

As small businesses continue to feel financial strain, maintaining good customer relationships is paramount. In fact, research shows that 75% of small- and medium-sized businesses are seeking to strengthen their customer relations and services to cope with the challenging economic environment.
The importance of customer service

Small businesses should not underestimate the role customer service has in brand reputation. When we asked 1,000 people for the factors that are most likely to have a positive impact on their perception of a brand, efficient customer service was the most widely cited response, with half (50%) of respondents valuing it most highly.

There is a tendency among businesses of all sizes to treat customer service as an additional overhead, rather than an integral growth opportunity. However, there is a powerful ripple effect that a positive or negative customer service interaction can have on a business’s reputation.

Poor customer service can have a huge impact on customer retention: our research shows that nearly half (47%) of consumers have stopped purchasing from a brand altogether due to a negative customer service interaction. This can be crippling for a small business.

Considering the challenging business landscape ahead, protecting reputation will be critical to small businesses’ on-going success. Not only to retain customers, but also in attracting new ones.

Outsourcing customer service for flexibility

Early-stage businesses, in particular, may not recognise the necessity or value of having a customer service function. They may have experienced some customer enquiries, but not on a large scale yet. This means too often that small business founders take on the role of customer service agent themselves, creating more tasks for their already lengthy job list. Consequently, the business is unable to give customer service the care and attention it deserves, which is potentially dangerous for business growth and revenue.

An outsourced customer service team can fill this role. Having a highly trained and well-prepared team available on a flexible basis offers protection to small businesses. Using an outsourced team means the founder doesn’t need to take full responsibility for customer care or employ and hire someone specifically for the role. Instead, they can enjoy peace of mind that if an enquiry comes in, it will be handled efficiently.

Furthermore, an outsourced team can scale operations, dependent on demand as the business grows. In the early stages of a business, paying for just a few hours a month of service may be appropriate.

However, as the business grows, or it experiences a busy period, this won’t be enough. With a flexible outsourced team, the company can quickly increase service levels if necessary – saving time and money and protecting brand reputation at all times.

Introducing a tech-enabled system

Tech-enabled customer services can also play a pivotal role in small business operations. Using technology – carefully and appropriately – can allow for a greater volume of customer requests to be dealt with in a shorter space of time.

Also, as business finances continue to be stretched, making the shift to web chat and social media channels can offer some cost savings. In fact, moving conversations from telephone to web chat can quarter the price of customer service operations.

Implementing chatbot technology is another option to consider. There is certainly some scepticism among consumers about chatbots, this is most likely down to previous bad experiences. However, this doesn’t need to be the case and businesses should not be put off.

While it’s always essential for customers to have a direct route to an operator, so they can speak to one, if necessary, the quick reply features enable businesses to engage with customers automatically. This will be highly valued by customers, as according to our research, when asked what they believe are the main components of a good customer service conversation, the vast majority of people said short waiting times (61%).

Like any technology, it’s important to recognise its limitations, but businesses can absolutely be using it to their advantage without damaging their relationship with customers.

Final thoughts

Being a small business owner is a fast-paced and demanding role. With much of the responsibility falling to them, it can leave them spread very thin. This makes it easy to neglect some aspects of the business, including customer service. When enquiries are minimal, the impact they have on business reputation may not be fully appreciated.

However, with our research suggesting the importance of effective customer service, it should not be underestimated. By using an outsourced service, alongside implementing the correct technology, small businesses can give customers the care they deserve to maintain satisfaction and encourage new customers.

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