Being a solopreneur is an amplification of all of the best and worst about being a small business. When you’re successful, the success is your own, achieved in your own way.
When things don’t go as well, there is nowhere to hide, and if you’re prone to self-criticism you’re likely to dwell on what’s gone wrong. Equally, the relationship with your customers is amplified too.
You can make the decision to change things based on your interaction with the public, and people who like your business will go to bat for you personally.
Being in the front line as a solopreneur does present a lot of challenges, and perhaps the most demonstrable example is when it comes to customer service.
There really is no hiding place – while a business with thousands of staff will have its own customer service team, a solopreneur doesn’t have that luxury. You are the customer service team, and you are also the mailroom, the accountant, and the marketing division.
Along with having all of that responsibility, you have that workload too. This makes it all the harder – and simultaneously all the more important – to provide an exceptional level of customer service.
Tip #1 – Be scrupulous about record-keeping
Whether a complaint or a simple query, anyone calling you to discuss an element of their customer experience will want to talk about details. It could be that they want to query a line of an invoice, or are responding to a letter they have received.
It will be essential that you are able to find and reference a copy of any documentation you have sent, or anything that has been sent to you.
Record-keeping should be primarily (but not solely) digital and cloud-based. If at all possible, a dedicated customer accounts portal should be something you commission for the purpose of the business.
Regardless of what actual method you use, though, you should be able to promptly lay your hands on any information pertaining to a customer who calls. That way, if there is anything they are looking to discuss, you can have it to hand immediately and speak about it with authority.
Tip #2 – Allow for multiple lines of communication
We all have our own preferences when it comes to how we like to get in contact with someone. It is often said that the average millennial hates to talk on the telephone, while older customers may prefer to write letters.
The simple fact is, however it comes, you’re going to need to be ready to deal with communication, and the more means of communication you have, the better.
For those who prefer to communicate via the internet, you might be best served by online chat software which allows you not only to reply to messages you are sent but which can also be programmed to ensure that a customer is aware their contact efforts are being met.
A dedicated business telephone with voicemail capability is also essential. As well as having all of these modes of communication, you’re going to need to check up on them regularly, because you can’t monitor them all at once.
Your outgoing voicemail message, as well as any chat software, should explain that while you are currently busy, you will get back to them – as well as highlighting alternative modes they may wish to try.
Tip #3 – Get back to people when you can
It’s not legitimate to expect a solopreneur to be able to carry on several conversations all at once, so of course, there are going to be times when you can’t answer the phone or pick up a live chat message immediately.
What is essential is that you make a promise to get back to people when you are free – and that you then keep that promise. You will know best when it comes to realistic time frames, so there may be something to be said for having a message that informs customers that you’ll get back to them within an hour, sometimes the same day, or if necessary the following day.
Nobody expects you to have the capability to deal with the call volumes that major businesses have, but if you’re honest with them about timeframes – and attentive when you do get to speak to them – then you’ll be acknowledged as someone who cares.
The time may come when you need to hire dedicated staff for the volume of calls and queries you receive, but initially, it can be beneficial to underline the personal touch, because…
Tip #4 – You can decide your own rules of customer service
If you’re working for someone else, you’re bound by their rules. And while those rules may be arrived at fairly, with full consideration of people’s needs, they sometimes will prevent you from making the gestures of goodwill that you would really like to make.
Customers who have gone through a lot, who have shown a high level of understanding, or for whom you have been unable to remedy an issue in the specified time frame, may merit a higher level of service when it comes to putting things right.
Bringing the personal touch to a customer service call is such valuable freedom to have. Rather than the customer entering a randomized queue to speak to anyone who’s available – when that might be a stressed-out rep who has had several unpleasant calls and is in no mood to compromise – they come through to you.
They don’t have to repeat their story for the 300th time to a different person, and you can bring the personal touch both in terms of being friendly and engaging, as well as having a free hand to offer whatever you deem appropriate in terms of compensation.
Offering a high level of customer service as a solopreneur can be testing and a lot of hard work initially – but when you make use of the full range of benefits solopreneurship offers, you can really make a difference. That’s something that customer service reps in call centers the world over dream of being able to say.