customer serviceSocial Media. Word of Mouth Marketing. Online Reputation Management. Engagement. Listening. We’ve given it a lot of fancy names over the past year, but all we’re really talking about is customer service. It’s about treating customers better than they expect to be treated and surpassing their expectations. And if you’re a small business, customer service is what most separates you from the big corporations. Customer service is your point of difference.

A year ago I bought a fairly pricey pendant. I saw it while on the road at a conference and immediately loved it. I loved not only the pendent itself but the story behind the company, the one the woman who sold it to me spent at least 15 minutes reciting. And I purchased them both — the necklace and the tale of the company. I felt connected to the brand.

A few weekends ago, the chain for the pendant broke and I needed to contact the company to have it replaced.

The company has a Web site. They have a blog. They have a Twitter account. They’re on Facebook. Heck, they even have a YouTube channel. They’ve obviously invested time and money into social media. They “get it”.  However, when I emailed about having the chain replaced, it was ignored. So was my tweet. No response.

Yes, it’s important to use Twitter and the various social networking sites to get word out about your company and attract new customers. But what does it matter if you fail to serve your existing customers? For me, the experience was a good lesson in that it doesn’t matter how “visible” you are online or how savvy. If you’re not investing in real customer service, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re wasting money building a brand that people won’t want to do business with.

Part of the allure of my pendant was the story the woman told along with it. How the business was started out of love, how she was traveling to get the word out, how much the people she sold these necklaces to meant to her. A quick email telling me how I could have easily replaced my chain would have reaffirmed that. It would have reaffirmed that this was a company that cared about their customers. But I was ignored.

If you’re a small business, you can’t afford to ignore your customers. Each point of contact is a chance for you to win them over again and get them talking about your company. We’ve made up a lot of words for customer service because that’s how important it is. When you’re out there being social and trying to bring in new customers and attract new eyeballs – don’t forget the people who have already made the decision to trust you.  The ones who actually walked into your store.  Customer service and personal touches are what separate small businesses from the big conglomerates.

You can reach out. You can be accessible, more personable. Because that’s how you better your brand and build positive buzz. That’s how you create trust and authority. By doing all the little things that make people feel good and want to tell their friends about you.

You build positive word of mouth when you do things like:

  • Answer emails.
  • Call people back.
  • Be present.
  • Empathize with their complaints.
  • Go out of your way for them.
  • Make it your mission to make their lives easier.

Don’t hassle them. Don’t tell them “it’s not possible” when it is. Don’t blame them for the error. And definitely do not ignore them.

Old marketing was based on customer service and it’s even more important than ever. Social media has given us a great way to reach new people, but once you have them – take care of them. Value them. That’s how you grow your business and spread positive word of mouth. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money attracting customers you’re going to turn away a month from now. Don’t forget about real life customer service. There is no substitute.

From Small Business Trends