Five Ways to Improve your Customer Communications
By Laura Brown, author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014)
Communication isn't always top of mind for small business owners, but it's important to remember that the core of every small business is its relationship with its customers.
Devoting some care to customer communications can be an important investment in your future business success. Not everyone can afford to hire an expensive marketing consultant or a social media expert, but all small business owners can improve their customer communications using these five strategies.
1) Make communication a priority in your business
Your first step is to make a commitment to quality customer communications, and to make sure everyone who works for you is on board. Customer communication includes everything from phone conversations to e-mails to sales proposals to social media.
Consider creating some communication guidelines for your business -- for instance, all customer calls and e-mails to be returned within 24 hours, and regular follow-up on customer satisfaction. Involve your staff in developing these guidelines.
If your employees help shape your customer communication policies, they'll be more likely to go the extra mile in helping customers on a daily basis.
2) Use templates
If your organization does the same kind of writing repeatedly -- for instance, sales proposals, product descriptions, or sale listings -- you can save time and improve quality by creating templates.
Most companies end up doing this by default, using old documents as models for new ones, but you're better off deciding thoughtfully what you want to include and how the information should be formatted.
Using templates not only speeds up your work, it also helps guarantee that your customers receive all the information they need, and it gives them a more consistent experience of your business and your brand.
3) Clean up your e-mail
One of the reasons customers like to patronize small businesses is the human-to-human contact it involves. Make sure your customer e-mails sound like they were written by an actual human who cares about the customer experience.
It's natural to rush through e-mail, but it doesn't take long to begin a message with a salutation and end one with a proper closing. Don't forget "please" and "thank you." Pay attention to accuracy as well.
Be especially careful about e-mails you write on your phone. It's easy to miss typos when you're writing on a small screen, but a message that's full of errors can make you look like you don't care. Take the time to proofread quickly before you hit send.
4) Improve your website copy
Your company's website is its public face and voice. It can also play an important part in the sales process, if it engages your customers properly.
The #1 mistake small business owners make when writing web copy is to focus on what they want to say rather than on what potential customers need to hear.
Think about who will be visiting your website and why. What are their needs? How can you solve their problems? You web copy should highlight the benefits your product or service offers to your potential customer.
Once you've drafted your web copy, ask a few people to read it from the point of view of a potential customer. Ask them if anything is unclear or if they have questions, and revise according to their feedback.
When you're working on your website, it's easy to focus on design and treat the copy as an afterthought, but taking the time to write killer website copy can set your business apart from the competition.
5) Learn to use social media
Having a vital small business social media presence can be a boon, and luckily it's not hard to learn to use social media effectively.
If you're just starting out, take some time to explore what similar businesses are doing on Facebook and Twitter, and study the status updates and tweets you think are most engaging.
Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and it takes a while to get the hang of writing them effectively. You can say more on Facebook, but remember that everyone's short of time these days.
Your main goal on social media is to serve your community of customers. Of course you'll want to get the word out about sales or new products and services, but your activities shouldn't be exclusively promotional.
It's even more important to offer something of value to your prospective customers: information, related links, images, and announcements from other businesses they might be interested in. If you create a presence that your customers will enjoy and value, they'll keep coming back.
Finally, once you start using social media, make the commitment to keep it up. An abandoned Facebook page or Twitter account creates the impression that you didn't care enough to continue the effort to communicate with customers -- and that's not a message you want to send.
Improving your customer communication requires an investment of time and energy, two resources that small business owners typically don't have in abundance. It's worth remembering, though, that your close customer relationships can give you a real edge over larger organizations.
Putting customer communication high on your list of priorities can pay off in customer satisfaction and loyalty over time.
© 2014 Laura Brown, author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide
Laura Brown, PhD, author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide, has taught writing to just about everyone -- from corporate executives to high school students. She has more than twenty-five years' experience providing training and coaching in business writing, and she has also taught composition and literature at Columbia University. Her expertise encompasses instructor-led training, individual coaching, classroom teaching, and e-learning development. She has worked with clients such as Morgan Stanley, AOL Time Warner, Citigroup, DHL and MetLife.