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This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout.

As the web continues to drastically change how we shop, entrepreneurs are finding a renewed faith in the power of a great customer experience.

Why might that be?

Online store owners need to be keen as to what their unique selling proposition is. In other words, why should a customer buy from you if they could pick up what you're selling at Walmart?

In addition to the uniqueness of your products and the prices you're able to offer, there is one other point of difference that can tip the scales in your favor—delivering an outstanding customer experience.

It's been proven in a number of consumer studies that a vast majority of consumers will pay for better service, and since a great experience is a known cause for increased brand loyalty and word of mouth referrals, you'll also be happy to hear that Nielsen reported personal recommendations as far more trustworthy (and effective) than ads from a consumer standpoint.

If you can't go toe-to-toe with the big guys on price, amazing service should be your winning proposition.

But how can you deliver that vaunted "amazing" service? You're likely not surprised to hear that great customer service really boils down to taking care of customers, and providing them with a 'WOW' experience that leaves a lasting impression.

Below, I'll highlight 6 exceptional ways to 'WOW' the socks off of your customers, without breaking the bank.

1.) The Classic Freebie

If you've ever read that fascinating study about the power of mints—where waiters received a 21% better tip when they left two free mints—you know that reciprocity is a powerful psychological trigger, and that it doesn't take much for a gift to leave an impact.

Small gifts to customers (a free comb after a haircut, etc.) are nothing new, so today I thought I'd highlight a great example of a company that took things to a whole new level.

The amazing team at UserTesting.com asked for my home address out of the blue one day. After telling them, about a week later I got a package in the mail filled with delicious beef jerky!

Why beef jerky? UserTesting.com sells, well, user testing software, so that's a little odd isn't it?

Here's where things get crazy: I had briefly mentioned on Twitter that quality beef jerky was putting a dent in my wallet:

In that thread, you'll see I mention the exact type of beef jerky that they sent me! It's really astounding that their marketing strategist Harvey Rañola would remember something like that, and I think it serves as a great example of how far some companies will go to make sure people feel welcomed.

Can't afford gifts?

Keep reading...

2.) A Thank You Note

With the endless amount of options out there, is it really so much to ask that a business say "Thanks!" to a new customer? You might think that thank you notes have lost their impact, being that they are such a tried and true tactic, but you would be dead wrong:

In fact, it's been argued (and I would agree) that technology has actually made the handwritten note somewhat of a lost art, allowing it to leave an even larger impact today than it would have in years past, especially from a business.

There are so many instances of customers being truly appreciative of thank you notes. Grasshopper, a company known for great service, regularly sends out notes to customers and even for kind folks who mention or feature them:

In the example above, Matt, the recipient of the note, sums up what the experience is like perfectly:

"I feel appreciated as a customer... based on the principle of give to get, I feel like I want to reciprocate and help Jonathan and Grasshopper in the future, either through recommendation–or even in writing this article!"

Another great example is Jim Shuky's auto service, where the owner regularly sends out handwritten notes to new customers.

One such example was posted on Reddit, and the responses were incredible.

Take this example from one commentor:

“It’s little things like this that earn business. If I got this card I would never use another mechanic in my life.”

Well said, and a sentiment that many people share.

Thank you notes serve as an element within customer service that show you're willing go that extra mile for those that give you business. In many spaces, service really is the defining factor—as long as your mechanic gets your car fixed, most people don't sweat the details outside of price, but they do care deeply about how they are treated.

Here are some quick tips on writing a killer thank you note:

  • If it's financially feasible, try to use quality stationary. Some of the stationary sets on sites like Pinhold are quite nice for the price.
  • Be sure to mention the customer's name, and not for some gimicky persuasion reason, but because it's common courtesy!
  • Express your gratitude, clearly stating the reason for sending the note.
  • Mention details about what you enjoyed about your experience with this customer (a fantastic opportunity to be specific and thoughtful).
  • Allude to your future interactions with the customer (when will you make contact next?)
  • Close with professional but warm sign-off and a signature (examples: Best, Kindest Regards, Sincerely, Cheers, etc.)

Can't you find the time to show customers you care with a little handwritten gratitude?

3.) Check in With Customers

In what is perhaps one of the more adorable forms of customer service ever, doggy day care center Bark Park sends out regular updates to customers on how their dog in doing... from the perspective of the dog!

Even if your business doesn't lend itself to something that personalized, remember through the power of email marketing (and tools like Mailchimp, Intercom, Campaign Monitor, or AWeber), you could always set up a follow-up email to check in with customer and see how they are doing.

This can be especially powerful for large purchases or "habit forming" purchases. If you sell products for a hobby, for instance, it might be nice to check in with those who have purchased a beginner's set or beginner equipment to see how they are doing.

Imagine the impression a business would leave if after buying your first set of golf clubs, you got an automated email from "Jim" asking you how they were treating you, and if you've been able to hit the driving range yet? Pretty powerful stuff, and all hinging on the very frugal cost of a personal follow-up email.

This is also useful for birthdays, holidays, or even better, some other personal event that you learned about from a customer.

Here's a candid example: my local watch/jewelry shop recently sent me a card wishing my mom a happy birthday (I had bought a bracelet for her birthday and told them the date). Guess where I'll be shopping next time I need a watch?

4.) Get Proactive About Service

Too often, businesses see customer service as a reactionary task rather than an opportunistic one.

Just take a look at how companies with legendary service, like Ritz-Carlton, get proactive with their customers by anticipating needs:

"Ritz-Carlton employees are trained to anticipate the unexpressed wishes of their guests. During one stay the receptionist called me and said, “We see that you are scheduled to leave very early tomorrow. Can we leave a pot of fresh, hot coffee outside your door?”

Think this sort of service can't be carried over online?

Take a look at how Archival Clothing treated this customer over email:

(view full version)

In short, a potential customer had added a few clothes to their shopping cart, but upon seeing the shipping costs (it was international), they had to leave without a purchase.

Seeing that the cart had been left full, the Archival employee reached out to the customer vial email with some creative solutions on how they could ship the products to the customer for less. The customer ended up completing his purchase and buying more from Archival, and I think his comment in that second email say it all:

"Wow. My mind is blown. This is potentially the best customer service I have ever experienced."

You don't even have to do sleuthing like this support rep—just take a page out of Derek Sivers book and slow down when interacting with customers. This places priority on finding out what's really bothering them, rather than on superficial ticket times.

For instance, if a customer is having problem getting "started" (whatever that may mean for your product) and is stuck on step 3, after solving their problem, ask if you can be assistance on step 4.

This form of "social sensitivity"—or understanding of how others feel—can be a great asset in predicting where customers may run into trouble next, so you can swoop in and help them before it happens.

5.) Sweat the Small Stuff

In many ways, great customer service really is just about sweating the details. It's been proven that "even a dime can make a difference" in reciprocity. People respond with goodwill for even the smallest acts of kindness.

This point of view was beautifully expressed by L.L. Bean's CEO and president Chris McCormick:

"A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, persevering, compassionate kind of activity.”

Consider this tale from the legendary Nordstrom...

When a woman in the store lost the diamond from her wedding ring, she became distraught and began crawling around on the ground looking for the ring. A Nordstrom employee saw her crawling under the clothing racks. Once he found out what was wrong, he immediately got on his hands and knees and joined the search!

When the duo came up empty-handed in the search for the ring, the employee asked for assistance from two building service workers. Together, they sifted through vacuum bags until they found the diamond mixed in with dust and dirt.

Now that's going above and beyond the call of duty, and it's the sole reason why Nordstrom has a reputation like this:

(Long story short, speaker asks the crowd what clothing company has good customer service, large crowd unanimously responds "Nordstrom!")

And when you consider that Nordstrom has done well year after year by investing in their biggest advantage—their superior service—it's easy to see why great service is damn good for business, especially considering how competitors like JCPenny fared when they tried to eliminate their competitive advantage (sales and coupons).

Try to "default to yes" for small, reasonable requests that customers make, most of which are sincere and simply looking for a helping hand.

6.) Go Beyond "Help" Content

I've always thought the term content marketing was a bit odd, given that the "marketing" part of the equation really just comes from helping customers. In that sense, relationship marketing, through the act of building relationships with customers by being genuinely useful, seems far more relevant.

The problem is that many companies stop at help content and FAQs alone, forgetting that all content is marketing. What this means is that helping people solve their problems decreases the likelihood that they'll "date around."

You're actually seeing an example of this in action right now! The Shopify blog regularly delivers great ecommerce related content to their current and prospective customers, all of which goes hand in hand with the ecommerce software that they sell.

Let’s say you own a local shop that sells golf clubs (I have golf on the brain). How cool would it be to hold regular events where you bring in experts to talk about equipment and proper form? The more educated your customers become, the more they will appreciate what you sell, thus the more valuable they are to your business.

Great information not only educates, it motivates.

This is often even more apparent for online businesses. You can use your blog, webinars, whitepapers and free coaching to help people make the most of your product or service. The Help Scout blog reguarly gets new customers to join and switch over thanks to our content, which is geared towards helping entrepreneurs and support managers provide better customer service:

Help customers get better at doing what they do, and help them understand how your service can become a key component of improving. In the age of the web, education can be used to take the place of promotion in winning over customers.


About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing guy at Help Scout, the invisible email support software for small businesses that love their customers. Get more from Greg by checking out our free resource on providing good customer service.


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