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See You At The Top: A Guide To Winning At Customer Service

If your customer has a beloved cat, as one company learned, ask after the feline; you’ll get results.

Toby Nwazor

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Quality customer service is one of the major ingredients that make for the success of any business, regardless of its size. You could employ all the native advertising, traditional advertising or content marketing strategies you know. You could get loads of patronage, at least initially. But unless you know how to turn those customers into repeat customers, you may as well kiss your business goodbye.

Poor customer service, in fact, can be just plain detrimental: Dissatisfied customers, by word of mouth, may discourage new customers from trying your product or service. On the flip side, satisfied customers, using the same medium, may win you referrals.

That’s why your business needs to win at customer service. Below is a guide for succeeding at this important function.

1Know your customers

Most customers love to be known personally. Get to know them, then. Remember their names, personal details and even previous contacts. Of course, this could be difficult if your business has grown and you have a lot of customers.

Related: Improve Your (Superior) Customer Service By Focusing On The Little Things

The solution, according to this article on Recruiterbox, is to create a database about your customers, to help you remember vital things about them so you can relate with them on a personal level. In the author’s words, “I’ve got a client who is crazy about her cat, whose name is Brutus. Her file in my database lists information on the cat, so that when she calls, I always remember to ask after her favourite feline; and this has helped me to develop a great rapport over the years.”

2Quality customer service should be your priority

quality-customer-service

Once you know your customers and their preferences, the next goal should be to prioritise their satisfaction. One company that does this particularly well is Nordstrom.

While answering a Quora question on why she thought Nordstrom has excellent customer service, Ambra Benjamin listed a couple of things the company does that endear customers. One item listed was separate checkout bays in different departments; another was well-trained salespeople, who offer to “ring up your purchase without you ever having to stand in line.”

Salespeople walk customers to where their desired sales items are located, Benjamin wrote; music and ambience are also helpful features.

Related: Zappo’s Customer Service Excellence Comes Down To Company Culture

3Recruit and train the right people

The next thing after setting quality customer service as a goal of your business is to hire and train the right people.

People with the right attitude are critical to a successful customer service strategy. Excellent customer service delivery requires constant training of these staff. Important here are efforts to sustain for your staff a planned training programme in both job skills and people skills.

Customers want to encounter well-informed and professional customer-service representatives who have an effective system at their disposal to resolve their, the customers’, issues. This can go a long way toward helping companies retain customers and enjoying repeat business.

4Create a feedback channel for your customers

customer-service-channels

Creating a means for customers to give feedback helps you learn from your customers about the areas of your business that need improvement. It can also prevent unhappy customers from expressing their disapproval on public platforms such as social media channels.

You can obtain feedback by using a phone survey at the end of a service call or an email survey sent directly from your customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

Related: 8 Keys to Award-Winning Startup Customer Service

5Get yourself help-desk software

To achieve quality customer-service delivery, you must be available and accessible. Your customers must be able to reach you whenever they need to make their order, make a complaint or ask a question. But this can be difficult if you are handling customer comment manually, especially if you have a high volume of customers.

To make things easier and more efficient, use help-desk software. That way, your IT department won’t have to manually log in issues, or sort through tons of disorganised mails to address a customer’s request or complaint.

Sarah Lahav, the CEO of Sysaid, describes helpdesk systems as an IT department’s best friend. In her own words, Helpdesk software [programmes] are the definition of efficiency, a way to put your IT personnel on steroids – and that is a good thing.”

6Resolve customer disputes quickly

Stay calm when your customers express tension due to an issue they have. When you stay calm, you douse the tension, which will make them to relax and talk to you.

Next, recognise the problem, accept responsibility and apologise, even if you think the problem is not your fault. Then agree to follow through to fix the problem.

Excellent customer service is not rocket science. Companies like Amazon, Chick-Fil-A and Apple have been listed by authoritative publications like USA Today and Talkdesk as customer service hall of famers. Your business may not be as big, but by using the steps above, your company can excel at customer service, too.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Toby Nwazor is an consumer-goods entrepreneur and freelance writer. Get in touch with him for ghost writing, website content creation and other professional writing services.

Company Posts

Sasfin Is Gearing Your Company For Growth

How trade and debtor finance solutions can enable business growth beyond self-imposed ceilings created by cash flow restraints.

Sasfin

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When an entrepreneur running a manufacturing business approached Sasfin for Trade and Debtor Finance, he had four things going for him: Experience, reliable customers, orders and a relationship with Sasfin. When other banks let him know via email that his financing had not been approved, he approached Sasfin, knowing the organisation would take a deeper look at his company than a spreadsheet analysis.

“He approached us because we had a working relationship with the business and they were looking for a facility that would enable them to purchase the stock they needed to fulfil their orders,” says Linda Fröhlich, Head of Business Banking, Sasfin.

“They didn’t have any assets, but they did have those orders, which meant they could bring their debtors to us and we could advance cash against them, getting them started.”

Solutions to enable growth

Today, Sasfin offers a full suite of inter-connected products designed for entrepreneurs and SME owners, but the bank, which operates under the slogan, ‘Beyond a bank’, was built off a base that began with trade and debtor finance.

Related: CEO Michael Sassoon Shares Sasfin’s Successful Strategies To Stand The Test Of Time

“Sasfin’s founder, Sydney Sassoon, went into trade finance in the 1960s because as a textile importer he recognised the need for trade finance amongst SMEs and importers,” says Linda. “It takes an entrepreneur to understand entrepreneurs. This business has never been about products — it’s about the best solutions to enable our clients to grow their businesses.”

When Sasfin first launched trade finance it was because of the challenges around importing goods: The time it took for the shipment of raw materials to arrive, manufacturing to take place, the finished article to be sold and then a further 60 days for payment was crippling for SMEs.

Not only were no facilities available that understood that time frame, but traditional overdrafts require security and are not designed for specific needs. Trade and debtor finance on the other hand work hand-in-hand and provide SMEs with the most valuable commodity: Cash.

Cash is King

“Through trade and debtor finance, we can finance the purchasing of your goods and I can give you terms that fit your cash flow cycle,” says Linda. “Now that’s meaningful for the business owner. Yes, we charge for the facility and the risk we carry, but if you have to make a payment upfront to an exporter, you can also negotiate discounts and off-set a portion of the discount you will receive from the supplier to our fees, which is win-win.

“More importantly though, the biggest challenge that SMEs face is cash flow. Cash flow is king, and that’s where trade and debtor finance comes in. If you borrow money that enables the growth of your business, the finance cost is part of the cost of your sales. The upside is that you have access to cash, enabling growth.”

Many SME owners are familiar with the challenges of growth: You work hard, build your client base, get traction in the market, and suddenly you’ve signed a large order or client whom you can’t service without assistance, because your own cash flow doesn’t cover the raw material costs of the order.

“This is true across all product-based industries,” says Linda. “Instead of slowly building cash reserves to grow the business organically, or waiting between 30 days and 60 days for clients to pay, we advance our clients up to 80% of the value of fulfilled invoices, enabling business owners to grow beyond a self-imposed ceiling created by cash flow restraints.”

Related: Think Beyond The Box

Gearing up

Over the years, Sasfin has watched its clients grow from strength to strength.

“One of our SMEs started out with a R5 million facility. Today they’re operating a R50 million facility and continue to grow. That’s the power of cash flow,” says Linda.

“There’s always a good time to gear-up the growth of your business, where it will enhance the growth and profitability of your company. If the time is right, a financing solution that suits your needs can make all the difference.”

The benefits of trade and debtor finance

  • Converts sales with proof of delivery into cash for day-to-day expenses
  • Extended terms of repayment, with up to 120 days for local purchases and 150 days for imported goods
  • A fully disclosed factoring facility or a confidential invoice discounting facility
  • Match sales to repayments, enabling cash flow management.

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Performance & Growth

My Business Is Growing… What Now?

Unplanned growth can be disastrous for a business, particularly a start-up where most of the departments consist of one person – the founder – or where the business has been based in one city or town or focusses around one service or product for some time.

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It is a known fact that most growth and change are uncomfortable – especially in business. However, when your business grows, you grow with it and so will the business revenue, employment numbers and contribution to the country’s economy. Planning for growth is not only a good way to stay motivated through tough times in business, it will equip you for when the moment of growth arrives– to take your business to the next level.

Make the mind shift

James Cash Penney, founder of JC Penney, said:

“No company can afford not to move forward. It may be at the top of the heap today, but at the bottom of the heap tomorrow, if it doesn’t.”

Business growth should be actively pursued and be a constant part of your business planning acumen. Frequently ask yourself and your staff members: Where do we want to go to next, and what will we do to get there?

Take time out to plan

Research and planning lead to informed decisions which will be critical for your business growth. Consult all stakeholders – external and internal – through meetings or Strat sessions. Whether you bill by the hour, or bake by the truckload, it is critical to remove yourself from operations at least twice a year to take figurative stock of your business growth. This process requires you to be quiet and give it the importance it demands.

Related: Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage

Reasons for growth

Studies have shown that the top five reasons for growth include:

  • To increase the business’ market position
  • To increase profitability
  • To improve the use of company resources, better economies of scale
  • To increase frequency of use or number of users
  • To remain in business.

Know your obstacles

Know what challenges you may face on your journey to growth and be ready for them. Listing the obstacles will bring reality home and help you prepare for how to tackle these obstacles. Think of creative ways to sidestep these barriers to growth by being flexible.

Be brave

Continuously look for planned, achievable and sustainable growth opportunities. Calculate the risk, be mindful of the pitfalls, but do take up new growth opportunities in your business. See growth as the opportunity – that big break – you have been waiting for in your business, and it just could be that. Start slow or small but do continue to grow your business. In the words of Virgin’s Richard Branson: “There are people in this world who choose to see the glass half empty instead of half full… Personally, I see any glass half full as an opportunity to top it up, start a conversation and perhaps spark a great new idea.”

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Company Posts

Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage

Successful internationalisation is often recognised as generating considerable business benefits, which can include increased efficiency, innovation and productivity, whilst also generating growth for the wider economy. However, recent reports have indicated that SMEs in South Africa are not growing and expanding as expected when compared to its international peers.

ACCA

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Internationalisation refers to the increasing participation of businesses in international markets. Commonly associated with exporting, internalisation is far broader than just this activity alone. Importing, supply chain participation, establishing business partnerships and foreign direct investment are all notable examples of relevant activities.

Key findings

Evidence from ACCA SME members revealed some of the following insights:

  • Just under half (45%) of SMEs said the main benefit of internationalisation was access to new customers in foreign markets. Increased profitability (35%), faster business growth (33%) and access to new business networks (30%) followed.
  • Both SMEs and Small Sized Accounting Practises (SMPs) considered ease of doing business and high growth potential as the most important factors when choosing an export destination. Geography was seen as less important, which may be a result of new technologies reducing its significance as a perceived barrier.
  • Both SMEs and SMPs recognised foreign regulations as the most significant barrier to internationalisation. For SMEs, the second most important was competition (27%) whilst for SMPs it was foreign customs duties.
  • In terms of the future, SMEs’ international ambitions are focused on building the capacity of their business (45%), building networks in foreign markets (45%) and introducing or developing more products and services to market (44%).

Related: How SMPs Can Support Businesses Looking To Internationalise

Small businesses’ call to action

SMEs see the capacity of their business as the most significant internal barrier towards internationalisation and expansion. This may be linked to a limitation in resources, often associated to either the ability of employees to respond to the workload or access to financial capital.

Accordingly, 45% of SMEs also planned to increase their international activities by upscaling their business’s capacity. SMEs looking to successfully enter into the foreign markets should focus on development across the following areas:

1. Adopt cloud technologies from the start

Providing a valuable platform for future international expansion, appropriate applications will provide SMEs with a real-time flow of information, offering detailed measures across various workflows and complementing existing reporting processes. However, each business will need to adapt their business models and management processes to suit these applications, rather than the other way around.

2. Create a business strategy with global ambitions

Internationalising businesses should ensure relevant activities form part of a wider strategic plan and detailed in specific growth objectives. This could form the basis of agreed relevant working priorities and the investment needed to achieve international growth. Such an approach can facilitate a managerial mind set around international growth to be channelled across the business’s wider operations.

3. Develop the scalability of your finance function

An internationalising SME’s growth trajectory can often be unpredictable, often requiring the business to scale up their operations rapidly in order to meet the demands of suppliers, customers and partners.  It is therefore crucial that SMEs develop a finance function which has the flexibility to withstand these challenges. Building the right finance function early on can provide greater operational agility allowing better management of future challenges.

4. Identify where external advice could support your international journey

It is important to consider where external advice may be able to support businesses international objectives, depending on the stage of international growth reached by the SME. This should be conducted as part of a business’s planning process, such as through an internal review programme or through regular meetings with senior management.

Related: Technology In Accounting – Race For Relevance

Technology enabled solutions

SMEs today have access to a wide variety of cloud-based technologies that enables businesses to develop their finance function rapidly when internationalising.

In particular, relevant software can help businesses to monitor operations in international markets. Activities such as processing payroll, compliance events and employee expenses can now be managed centrally with the use of innovative software solutions.

This technology also allows SMEs to understand the flows of data within their own systems as well as with business partners and suppliers. This becomes increasingly necessary with the added operational complexity of participating in global value chains.

Working with professional advisers, this data can be used to support the development of one’s finance function which in turn can cater for international growth. This allows for new business streams to develop as external professional insight with these new technologies is required.

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