Ready for the secret? Prioritizing customer service.
Before I say anything, I want to drive home one thing: You must be good at what you do. Great customer service isn’t going to make up for bad work (i.e. the thing people actually paid for).
…But I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this is committed to their work and constantly improving. So that brings us back to what I believe is the secret to succeeding with a service-based business. Prioritizing customer service.
What is customer service?
When we talk about customer service, we tend to think of it as how a business responds to a customer’s query or complaint. For example, “I called them because my glass vase arrived broken, and they immediately sent me a new one at no charge! Great customer service.”
But I think customer service should be your entire offense, not just your defense. It’s not about making clients happy when they’ve become upset; it’s about making the whole process of working with you blissful. Answering their questions before they ask them, always being the one to “check in,” over-communicating at every turn, and adding in moments of delight they weren’t expecting.
Put simply: Customer service is everything you do to shape your client’s experience.
Why is customer service more important than we think?
Only real geniuses have the option to not prioritize customer service.
I like to think about this using the restaurant business as an analogy. Most restaurants have to hire friendly staff, create a comfortable atmosphere, and make things easy for their patrons. I typically don’t want to eat at a restaurant where they make you stand to eat or require that you chase your server around the dining room to order. But, hey, if the restaurant is really that good and is known for being run by a genius (if moody) chef… then many people would happily suffer through a standing meal for the quality of the food and the bragging rights of having eaten there.
The reality is that very few chefs are geniuses, and very few restaurants serve food amazing enough for patrons to ignore all the other aspects of eating at a restaurant—the ambience, the plating, the servers’ attitude, the communication about wait times, etc. In short, how the whole experience made them feel.
So, if most professional chefs are capable of creating meals that taste pretty damn good, customer service often becomes the differentiating factor. (Self-described foodies may disagree with me here, but for most people, the subtle differences in taste don’t make a huge difference to their satisfaction overall.)
Whatever you offer—graphic design, virtual assistance, illustration, accounting, branding, search engine optimization, etc.—most of your clients are hiring you to do it because they don’t know how to do it themselves or can’t do it at professional level. And like guests at a restaurant, if your work is good, your clients won’t split hairs over precisely how good it is, how the texture of your Wild Spanish Octopus and Saffron Aioli is slightly drier than the place’s down the street.
What they will notice immediately? How you made them feel throughout the process.
Unless, of course, you’re a world-renowned genius.
How prioritizing customer service can skyrocket your success
I once had a client refer me to another business before I had even started her work. This client was so impressed by the process of working with me that she gave me a glowing review to someone in her network before she saw anything I had written for her.
Let’s think about that for a minute. She had no idea if I would be able to do what I’d promised. We were strangers. Yet, because I prioritized customer service and made her feel extremely taken care of from the beginning, she trusted me so completely that she was comfortable making a referral to someone who trusted her.
I’m bringing this up to illustrate that customer service is often the thing that leads to impactful testimonials and referrals. (Also, yes, I’m bringing it up to brag.)
Amazing customer service what makes people say something beyond, “I loved the final result!” and instead show their honest-to-god excitement. For example, a review like:
“…If you hire Krista, YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED! Well worth the investment!!! The experience from first communication through final delivery far exceeded my expectations.” (Still bragging here.)
Here’s my list of how prioritizing customer service can help your business:
- Leads to testimonials that drive home sales, because your clients are so delighted by the end of working with you that they can’t wait to share their experience
- Leads to more referrals, because clients inherently trust that you’ll always deliver
- Makes it easy to smooth over any mistakes, because clients are already happy before you deliver your work
- Forces you to anticipate your clients’ needs regularly, so you’re primed to upsell another service that they could honestly benefit from
- Helps prevent things from dropping through the cracks, because when you’re on top of the client experience, you notice when you’re missing something
- Overcomes hesitations clients might have about working with you (such as a high cost, a slim portfolio, or that your company is new), because great customer service inspires trust
- Makes you feel confident about running a business, because you’re in control of your client’s experience every step of the way!
How do you make sure your customer service is top notch?
There’s no blueprint for providing great customer service, because every business is different. But there is one thing every business should do as a starting point:
Write down all the steps a client goes through to work with you, from the first contact to the final delivery and beyond. Then, look for ways to make every step clear, simple, and delightful.
Here’s what I do:
- I have email templates to send to clients every time they do one of the steps. For example, if they pay the deposit invoice, I have an email ready to go that thanks them and lets them know what they need to do next.
- I use software that make things easier for my clients. For instance, using HelloSign for my contracts means that clients don’t have to sign a PDF (which can be confusing) and are walked through the digital signing process via a link they click on.
- I make expectations unbelievably clear. On my proposals, contracts, and emails, I always include what my client needs to do next and when they need to do it by (and what happens if they don’t). At first, this felt a little a pushy. But it’s actually part of creating a blissful client experience—eliminating the possibility of misunderstandings later on.
- If there’s a significant lead time before I start their project, I email the client weekly to confirm our start date and remind them about anything I still need from them.
- At the start of every client meeting, I reiterate what the objectives of the meeting are and why they’re important.
- Everything I send out is branded. I’m a writer, so most of my client forms and documents are just Word docs, but I’ve used the same fonts and colors and logos on everything. So, if clients get something from me, it feels like it’s from me.
- I follow up a month or two later to see how things are going. This shows that I’m not forgetting about them post-project, and that I care about their success.
Prioritizing customer service doesn’t mean personalizing customer service
I’ll leave you with this kind-of controversial idea: You don’t have to go above and beyond for every client with personalized messages or unique things “just for them.” In fact, trying to do that will very likely slow down your business growth.
As small business owners, freelancers, or solo-entrepreneurs, we can internalize the idea that the way to compete with the big companies is by offering personalized service at every turn (in the spirit of Michael Scott and his giant gift baskets). But I think we should lean the opposite direction, toward automating and streamlining customer service wherever we can.
That’s because when we try to personalize everything, we end up spending way too much time on customer service and not enough time growing our business. Or, we find that we can’t possibly keep it up for the long-term…so our clients get special treatment one week and then don’t hear from us for three. That’s bad customer service.
Instead, aim for building great customer service into your replicable processes. Make templates for common emails. Automate the emails themselves. Use automatic scheduling tools. Answer FAQs with a canned (polite) response.
It’ll still feel personal to your clients because it’s coming from you, and you are not a Random Corporation, Big Agency, or Franchise.
Content courtesy of Krista Walsh, creative copywriting for purpose-driven companies and passionate people
Contributing Author, Krista Walsh
Krista Walsh writes website copy, blog posts, and product descriptions for small eCommerce companies and service-based solopreneurs. Her writing and messaging strategies help her clients speak to their customers’ values and emotions, for meaningful sales.
In her free time, she writes about purpose-driven business and freelance life at kristawalshcopywriter.com. On the off chance she’s not writing, she’s volunteering to walk the big ole’ dogs over at the Dog Café LA or watching (pretty bad honestly) TV dramas on Netflix.
Connect with Krista through her website, Krista Walsh Copywriter