When consumers are deciding which company’s products and services they want to buy, quality and pricing aren’t the only factors they consider – they also consider the customer experience.
That’s what the management consultancy PwC found. In 2018, it surveyed 15,000 consumers from 12 countries and found that customer experience is an important factor in purchasing decisions for nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers worldwide. PwC also reported that 4 in 10 (42%) global consumers would pay more for a friendly and welcoming experience, and for two-thirds (65%) of American consumers, a great customer experience is more influential than advertising.
People want to do business with companies that offer excellent customer service – and they’re ready to reward those that do, which raises a question: How can small businesses up their customer service game?
Because you can’t provide good customer service without competent, empathetic staff, hiring and training are two important pieces of the puzzle. Another important puzzle piece is the right technology. That’s where customer relationship management (CRM) software comes in.
You might already have a CRM application that tracks customer interactions. If you’re not using it to improve customer service, you’re not getting the full value out of your CRM system.
When businesses implement a CRM application, it’s usually with the primary intent of streamlining sales pipelines and storing customer information, but modern CRMs offer much more than that. By utilizing extensions and add-ons, and creating processes that support your goals, a CRM can help you improve communication with current and prospective customers. The result is a better sales experience for consumers and better performance for your company.
What is CRM software?
A CRM is a database in which businesses store information about their customers – including customers’ contact information as well as records of customer interactions and transactions – to assist the sales and marketing staff with acquiring and retaining customers.
“Many small businesses today still handle customer interactions and data using old-fashioned Excel spreadsheets or filing systems. These methods, while useful for a time, offer little long-term value on scalability, shareability and customer insights,” said Arun Upadhyay, founder and CEO of LionOBytes, maker of cloud- and mobile-based CRM solution LionO360. “A CRM, however, can help small businesses better understand the needs and concerns of its customers, and be more precise and deliberate in nurturing those relationships.”
Basic CRM functions include managing customer data, tracking leads and answering customer feedback requests. “When looking under the hood of a CRM solution, however, you’ll see that there are far more powerful features that can give a company the edge it needs to compete and grow,” said Upadhyay.
How can CRM software improve customer service?
When small businesses expand their use of CRMs to not only to store customer information but to improve customer service, it can be a game-changer, according to small business owner Ben G. Smith, CEO of BioXskincare, a Phoenix-based maker of botanical-based skin care products. [Need help picking the right CRM software for your small business? Check out our reviews and best picks.]
“Imagine tracking all the touchpoints with each client – phone calls, emails, orders,” said Smith. “Now imagine your CRM opens every time you want to communicate with that customer. You can see prior responses from your team, issues and what they have done. Now you are prepared for anything.”
David Pietig, general manager of Arlington Plastics Machinery, sings the praises of CRM for customer service. “CRM software has allowed me to personally connect with each of our customers who make a purchase. I take the month’s sales from a report and follow up with each one. As a small business, we have 20 to 50 sales per month, so it’s manageable. But all the information I need about the customer is in the system, from where the lead came from to how long they have been a customer to previous communications, etc.”
This information is especially helpful when engaging with unhappy customers, according to Pietig. “It’s not the customers who are happy that are the key. It’s the ones who are not that you really need to be in touch with,” he said. “We sell mostly ‘as-is’ machinery, so there can be unforeseen situations on both sides. But I’d rather know what happened and see if I can do right by the current customer and at the very least make sure we don’t have the same issue with the next one.”
It’s all about communication: A CRM helps you stay in touch with customers so you can continually gauge their level of satisfaction with your business. “As a customer, sometimes just knowing that someone cares is enough to bring you back from the brink,” said Pietig.
To further understand how CRMs can help you elevate your customer service, consider some of the most impactful ways you can use them.
Sending automated emails
Automation is one benefit of CRM tools. Business owners can streamline early communication with clients by sending automated responses. Giving customers instant confirmation that their request has been received is one major benefit to automated emails, but it’s more functional than that. Canned email responses are an excellent way to add links to request forms, FAQ pages, wikis, price lists and other relevant documentation.
Creating different canned responses for each departmental email address (e.g., customer service, IT, billing, HR) can reduce the number of basic questions from customers and employees. Too often, companies spend time creating FAQ guides and technical documentation that no one uses, but automated emails are a great way to direct people back to the resources you’ve already created.
Creating consistent communications
Email templates are an easy way to ensure email communication with customers is consistent and professional. When you’re previewing different CRM systems, check whether email templates are available and ask how customizable they are. Lightweight systems usually offer some leeway in terms of customization, while more sophisticated solutions, like Salesforce, allow users to create their own templates from scratch using a drag-and-drop interface.
Users can add images, including logos, to their templates, and save and share them with other users. Templates are also helpful for seasonal promotions and direct email marketing, especially for small businesses that don’t have in-house graphic designers.
“Imagine sending campaigns to certain customers based on orders or issues and doing it automatically,” said Smith. “We have developed dozens of templates that trigger based on events and send on behalf of a rep after a call but are done automatically by the CRM. Also, we flag customers to reach out to every three months and check in. A CRM can assign those calls and put them on a daily task list for your team to follow up on.”
Remember, customer service isn’t just about responding to queries; it’s about creating consistent communication across all channels.
Quality CRM software is loaded with reports that summarize valuable analytics and key performance indicators. Some systems even allow administrators to compare customer interactions based on employee, enabling managers to see which associates have the longest and shortest response times, and who gets the most customer complaints. As with most features, the more sophisticated your CRM system is, the more options you have for pulling reports.
“One of my personal favorites is to have reports that tell me who is buying what and where,” said Smith. “For example, we have found that our skin care products are being bought by an almost equal number of men as women, which is not what I expected. This directly alters our advertising design.”
If you make reviewing customer service reports part of the employee evaluation process, you can increase accountability and let your staff know that every single call and email matters – not just for customers, but for the employee as well. Reports can also help you identify patterns and create appropriate training opportunities to teach customer-facing staff what works and what doesn’t.
Resolving issues and complaints
CRMs can help you resolve customer issues and complaints. “One way to improve customer service is through a CRM help desk ticketing system, which allows internal teams to prioritize customers where managers can assign accounts to team members,” said Upadhyay. “It can also organize all tickets and cases to ensure customer issues are resolved promptly and with recorded notes.”
Additionally, your CRM can circumvent future issues and complaints by helping you learn from past encounters. Without a CRM, client complaints can come down to an undocumented exchange between your associate and an angry customer. Drilling down into how things went wrong, how long responses took and what was said is much easier when you fully utilize your CRM software.
Most CRM systems automatically log emails, but nowadays, many record and log phone calls. If a customer complains about rude service, you can listen to a recording of the call they’re referencing. On the flip side, if an associate swears they responded quickly and politely to a query (even after getting a customer complaint), you can cross-check the claim by looking through your associate’s communication log.
Personalizing customer interactions
One of the most valuable features a CRM offers is the ability to capture in-depth client information. Unfortunately, many companies spend time and money implementing CRM systems without subsequently training customer service agents and other employees on how to use the information that’s at their fingertips. When an associate answers a phone or places a call to a client for whom information exists in the CRM, they should be using data to inform the conversation.
Personalizing a call with a name is the bare minimum. Understanding the type of business the client is in; reviewing past orders; and reviewing previous communication can give customer service agents, sales reps, and other customer-facing employees real insight into how to best communicate with each customer.
Many CRMs allow you to create custom fields so you can personalize interactions further. “For companies that want to go above and beyond, little additions to your interactions being captured can make a real bond,” said Smith. “For example, in our company, we have a field [in our CRM] for the names of customers’ pets. It sounds silly, but getting a person to talk about their pet is easy, and capturing that takes less than a few seconds. Then on a future call, our team can casually ask, ‘So Janet, how is Rex doing?’ That bond creates a warmth and humanity even though we do not sell products that relate to pets.”
Increasing productivity and profitability
Although CRMs are designed to help you manage customer relationships, they can help you manage other aspects of your business, such as employee productivity, that have an indirect impact on customer satisfaction – and, hence, revenue.
“Because small businesses operate with fewer employees, it’s important to know how and if individuals and teams are working efficiently and effectively,” said Upadhyay. “Most CRM solutions have an integrated field service management feature. This enables you to know what customers your sales representatives have visited with real-time tracking and check-ins. Field representatives can access this feature on their mobile devices, and input information about site and customer interactions, ensuring maximum productivity.”
CRMs extend into inventory management. “Small businesses that have inventory needs but lack internal resources can utilize a CRM to manage purchase orders, customer product orders and even monitor all inventory in multiple warehouses,” said Upadhyay. “With real-time tracking, you can know where products are always, from sitting on a shelf in a warehouse to sitting on a truck waiting to be delivered. Additionally, all associated invoicing, billing, and accounting are contained in a single place and connected with individual customer accounts. The ability to fulfill product requests is paramount to customer loyalty.”
The bottom line
Although hiring and training are the foundation of good customer service, friendly employees aren’t enough. In order to keep up with your competition, you need strong technology. When you have a solid CRM solution in place, improving customer service – and the entire customer experience – becomes easy, elegant and effective.