This is a guest post by Meredith Wood who is the Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at Fundera.
If you own a small business, your biggest priority may be sales. But the single hardest thing to get right is probably customer service. Fortunately, most U.S. customers are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt: 81% of consumers think that SMBs deliver better service than big businesses.
Unfortunately, 60% of consumers also believe businesses haven’t increased their focus on good customer service. And 56% have at one point lost their temper with a customer service professional. Even with advances in customer-facing innovations, customer service as a whole seems to be declining.
A few years ago, the general consensus from business owners and analysts was that automation would improve customer service. But it doesn’t seem like customers agree. In fact, 7 out of 10 Americans are willing to spend 13% more for better customer service. It could be that customers prefer human service, which simply can’t be replaced by automation.
In an attempt to see what SMBs are doing right in terms of customer service today, we’ve rounded up the winners of the 2016 American Business Awards (also called the Stevie Awards) for ““Best Customer Service Department” award. The awards are industry-specific and based on at least 30,000+ votes.
Here are this year’s “Gold Stevie” winners for Customer Service:
Globoforce helps firms boost employee engagement by encouraging managers to recognize and acknowledge contributions from all their workers. “The leading recognition provider” has also been recognized by The Boston Globe as one of the top places to work for two years running (Europe and Ireland).
This isn’t too surprising: Globoforce was built in 1999 around creating memorable experiences at companies around the world, and they even have a platform for employee recognition (Strategic RecognitionTM). In other words, they started with a mission, which many SMBs don’t necessarily have.
And they practice what they preach. Aside from their Gold Stevie in customer service, Globoforce won eight other business and technology awards in 2016.
MyCase is an SaaS company that helps lawyers with their cases. In 2014, they won a Silver Stevie Award for Customer Service, and in 2015 their Marketing Department won Gold. Then in 2016 they won Gold for Customer Service again.
The secret to their approval may lie in their transparency. MyCase provides all the customer reviews they’ve ever received on their homepage through a third-party ratings and reviews system. While most of the reviews are five stars, you’ll see a four-star write-up every once in awhile. If you scroll down enough, you’ll even see a few that are three stars or lower.
Most enterprise companies would never do this. But they should. In fact, according to ratings and reviews experts like Daniel Lemin, customers trust businesses with a few negative reviews more than businesses with only positive reviews.
Another secret to MyCase’s success may lie in their “rapid pace of innovation”, which “continues to impress legal professionals.” Legal software is definitely an underserved niche, so they’re able to be a big fish in a small pond.
Stride Health is one of many Obamacare providers that sprung up in recent years. Located in San Francisco, Stride has managed to set itself apart from the competition and win Gold at the 2016 Stevie Awards by providing “competitive metrics”, and “a passion for delivering clarity in a complex industry.”
In other words, unlike the poorly trained healthcare representatives that you or someone you know may have spoken with over the phone after Obamacare went into effect, Stride actually takes the time to explain what they offer in laymen’s terms.
Healthcare is notorious for being riddled with industry jargon, so much so that healthcare.gov made a glossary. For example, many Americans may not know the difference between a copay and a deductible. Knowing how to speak to customers in a helpful, conversational manner is a game changer.
Fareportal and its subsidiary CheapOair (one guess what they sell) have unique capabilities in the travel industry and an “impressive contact center.” Despite being a small company, they receive over 30,000 daily calls, manage over 450 emails, and handle 800 instant messages each day.
The key to Fareportal’s customer service excellence? They don’t outsource at all, and only rely on in-house staff. Their training is obviously top notch. But despite their success, Fareportal focuses on decreasing the percentage of abandoned calls year over year.
Even with industry-best software, there’s something to be said for having competitive fire in the first place.
Finally, there’s FreeConferenceCall.com, which is used by over 20 million callers each month. The hook is in the name—unlike a lot of the competition, FreeConferenceCall.com is totally free.
Not only is the basic service itself free, features that are usually paid at competitors are also free. For example, users can record, playback, and download conferences at no additional cost. They can even add up to 96 callers to one conference call that lasts up to 6 hours for no extra cost.
How does FreeConferenceCall.com make money? By forming partnerships with small, rural phone companies that charge termination fees to big phone companies whenever someone dials into their area code. It’s a little hard to explain, but they’re basically getting paid by companies like AT&T and Verizon instead of their customers.
Today, there are more channels than ever for customers to reach companies and complain about bad products, bad experiences, and bad customer service. In other words, customers are in control—and that’s how it’s going to stay.
While enterprise corporations can afford to create customer service centers with SaaS that costs tens of thousands of per month, small businesses are at a disadvantage. Customers expect them to deliver better customer service, yet small business owners and their teams have to wear more hats than ever before.
In order to stay competitive, SMBs will have to watch industry trendsetters (like these five Gold Stevie winners). Consistency will always be key to great service, but SMBs must continue innovating customer service in response to what their customers want. It’s a tall order, but the best companies will be able to answer the call.
This is a guest post by Meredith Wood from Fundera.
Bio: Meredith Wood is the Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith manages financing columns on Inc, Entrepreneur, HuffPo and more, and her advice can be seen on Yahoo!, Daily Worth, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, Intuit, the SBA and many more.