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Customer Service Solutions for Small Businesses

Sara Angeles
Sara Angeles

Customer service programs help you better serve consumers. Check out eight effective solutions.

  • Providing top-notch customer service is key to turning first-time customers into loyal customers.
  • Quality customer service involves understanding your customers' expectations and ways that your business can exceed those expectations.
  • Several low-cost customer service solutions are available to help companies efficiently field consumer questions and concerns.
  • This article is for small business owners looking for ways they can expand and strengthen their connection to consumers through quality customer service programs.

Excellent customer service is critical to running a successful business. Customers expect support to be convenient and fast, and that involves being available wherever they are, whether customers are contacting you on social media, your website, by email or calling you on the phone.

The importance of customer service in business

Unless you have zero competitors, which is unlikely, today's consumers have several options for where they can take their business. Good customer service can create loyal customers, while poor customer service is a sure-fire way to drive them to your competition.

Poor customer service doesn't affect current customers, it influences potential customers too. "Just a few angry customers who leave a negative review on the internet can cost you many sales in the future," Shane Dutka, director of SEO at Three Ships, a performance-based marketing platform, told Business News Daily.

Good customer service is what keeps customers around, said Jenny Massey, a former business operation, customer acquisition, and sales channel development professional for Alltel, CenturyLink, Suddenlink, and Altice.

"Even if a restaurant has the best food in the city, if the people working there are mean and unwelcoming, odds are, not as many people are going to be going to that place to eat," Massey said.

Key takeaway: Providing quality customer service is key to finding new customers and retaining current customers. Consumers value how they're treated, which is a key factor in their decision as to which company they want to buy goods and services from.

8 business customer service tools

Below are eight customer service solutions, including help-desk services, as well as live chat, social media, and mobile support platforms, that can help your small business better connect with consumers:

1. Freshdesk

Teamwork is key to providing excellent customer service. Freshdesk is a help-desk platform that connects your customer support team so it can effectively serve your customers with ease. When a help ticket is opened, all team members can see the ticket. Freshdesk displays which agent is working on the ticket, the status of the ticket, as well as internal notes about the issue. If a help ticket is filed concerning a customer and that customer contacts a member of your team, any member of your customer support team can quickly look up the ticket and work with the customer to resolve the issue. Freshdesk also comes with service level agreement options for your customers, which helps you prioritize tickets and informs your clients when they can expect a response. [Read related article: 5 Ways Customer Service Has Changed (And How to Adapt)]

Freshdesk starts at $15 per agent, per month. It offers a free, 21-day trial that supports an unlimited amount of agents.

2. Zendesk

Sometimes, customers need one-on-one help; other times, they prefer to solve issues themselves. Zendesk features an easy-to-use multichannel ticketing system ‒ which organizes all email, web, social, phone and live-chat communication in one location ‒ as well as a customer self-service portal. Zendesk also provides key data and insights to help companies improve their teams' performance and deliver personalized customer support.

Zendesk's lowest-priced plan starts at $5 per month, per agent and is limited to email and social media tools. More comprehensive plans start at $49 per month, per agent. [If you are looking for live chat software for your business, check out our sister site, business.com, for recommendations.]

3. HappyFox

HappyFox can take help requests reported from multiple channels ‒ phone calls, chat, email, social media, and web inquiries ‒ and automatically convert them into tickets in an organized, efficient help-desk system. The platform can also identify common issues and group related cases, as well as split tickets among multiple agents for more complex problems. Additionally, HappyFox integrates with a range of business applications, including Google Apps, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Insightly, SurveyMonkey and FreshBooks, to streamline customer service with the software your business uses the most.

HappyFox offers four plans. You will need to contact HappyFox for a customized price quote.  

4. ClickDesk 

Want to provide on-demand customer support on your website? Try ClickDesk, a live-chat software platform where your company's customer support team can carry on multiple conversations (including live chat, voice and video chat) simultaneously, stay organized, and answer consumer questions and complaints. An option with ClickDesk is that live chats can also be captured via Google Hangouts.

ClickDesk starts at $14.99 per month. Its free version supports 10 users, 30 chats and audio calling.

5. Olark

Companies can use live chat solutions for purposes other than providing customer service. Olark's live chat solution allows businesses to close sales before customers click away. Agents receive and can prioritize multiple chats to prevent shopping cart abandonment. Olark provides detailed customer information such as a customer's browsing history, how long customers have been on your website, contact information, and whether they are returning or new customers. Olark integrates with many third-party business platforms, including Salesforce and Magento, to streamline customer service with your company operations.

Olark starts at $19 per month, per agent.

6. My LiveChat

If you're not sure if a live-chat solution is right for your website, try My LiveChat, a free service. It offers key functions found in paid services, such as multiple tickets, chat transcripts, and real-time visitor monitoring, as well as prewritten responses to save agents time. My LiveChat is customizable; if you upgrade to the company's paid plans, you can personalize chat windows with your business's colors and branding. The software can be accessed on the web and Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices.

Besides My LiveChat's free plan, the company offers four paid plans, which eliminate the My LiveChat branding. The lowest-priced plan, Starter, costs $15 per month for one seat.

7. Sparkcentral

When customers are dissatisfied with a company, many turn to social media. Sometimes, they'll sound off to their followers; other times, they'll tag or mention you to get your attention. Get a handle on social media customer service and respond to issues with Sparkcentral. This social media support platform features an engagement dashboard to help agents quickly resolve issues and improve response times, a reporting and analytics portal to track metrics and productivity, and real-time collaboration tools to automate workflows and share knowledge with fellow team members. Contact Sparkcentral for pricing information.

8. Helpshift

Does your business have a mobile app? Use Helpshift to provide customer support right from your app. Customers don't have to go to your website, search for answers, or call your business. Helpshift makes getting answers as easy as texting, thus giving customers a better customer experience. Features include image and video attachments ‒ for example, customers can send screenshots to show you their problem ‒ push notifications, analytics, and the ability to customize colors, fonts, and other branding elements. Helpshift supports iOS, Android, HTML 5, Unity, Cocos2d-x and PhoneGap apps. Contact Helpshift for pricing details.

Key takeaway: Customer service solutions, like the programs listed above, can bridge the gap between you and your consumers by offering communication tools that create seamless interactions and improve responses to customer concerns.

Customer service tips for businesses

Great customer service requires more than a smile and upbeat energy. Lisa Trifone, founder and principal of Bright Iris Film Co., suggests dedicating time to understanding your customers' expectations and ways that your business can exceed them. Investing the resources needed to learn more about your customers will deepen your connection, which makes them more inclined to choose your brand. 

"Often, great customer service is possible through small but impactful decisions that make all the difference," Trifone said. "[Like] thoughtful packaging, clear signage, the extra touch to check in on customers."

Social media is also a powerful tool when it comes to connecting with customers. Dutka says businesses are best served being proactive on social media.

"[Social media] is where angry people go to complain," Dutka said. "Your Twitter/Facebook/etc. accounts are the only thing that stands between an angry customer and a negative review left on the internet."

Trevor Rappleye, CEO and storyteller at CorporateFilming.net, suggests answering the phone on the first ring. Doing so, he said, sends a positive message to your consumers, which is an attractive quality. Having a live chat feature is also helpful, too, because it allows you to provide quick answers to clients.

In addition to the software recommendations and advice provided above, whenever you or your employees are speaking with a dissatisfied customer, always be professional and diplomatic.

Mark Rogers, president and owner of MD Organics, advises business owners to encourage employees to apologize for errors or misunderstandings that have led to a dispute or complaint from a customer. In addition to apologizing, Rogers recommends that you and your employees take the following additional steps:

  • Always offer refunds or replacements.
  • Answer a customer's message or call quickly, followed by swift action.
  • Be generous, and treat customers as you would want to be treated.

Key takeaway: To provide great customer service, get to know your clients so you can properly address their concerns and interests. Be active on social media so you can intercept and address complaints and reviews, and make sure your team promptly and courteously responds to consumers.

In addition to this article, our report on small business database and customer relationship management options complement the solutions outlined above. 

Simone Johnson contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

Sara Angeles
Sara Angeles,
Business News Daily Writer
Sara is a Los Angeles-based tech writer for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom's IT Pro. A graduate of the University of California, Irvine, she has worked as a freelance writer and copywriter for tech publications, lifestyle brands and nonprofit organizations in the Southern California area and throughout the U.S. Sara joined the Purch team in 2013.