How your small company can deliver customer service like the big players (and how to use Zendesk for it) 

By  Nils Rebehn

Nowadays it’s easy to start a new business, especially if it’s online only. You have your idea, you launch it, and then it happens – you get your first customers through the virtual door. Boom! You are in business. Ok, I’m skipping a few essential steps about the idea and the launch, but dozens of books and blogs and whatnot exist around those topics already. Here we’ll look into customer service for small companies

Here I’ll focus on the moment once you have your customers. More importantly, once they ask questions. Once you take the first hurdles and have customers buying your product or service, the next challenge comes up: “how to deal with them?” – or the better question: “how to help them best?”

The challenge for small (and even mid-sized) companies is that customers expect a great customer service these days. 

Your advantage is that customers like dealing with smaller businesses and it’s easier for you to adapt and make changes than it is for bigger companies. 

Hi, my name is Nils. I’m the founder of Guidoo Services, “your guide to Zendesk”, a customer service consultancy and official Zendesk partner. I’m a former Zendesk employee and have a decade worth of experience in the customer service and support sector. 

Today, I will share with you the results from the report “Big Expectations, Small Businesses: What Customers Want”, created by Dimensional Research.

Findings from the research

There are a lot of great takeaways from the survey and you can get a lot of great details from it. Here we’ll focus on the findings, and then I will give you actionable advice, specifically for your use of Zendesk.

  • Opportunity
    • Customers are happier to support your small businesses over bigger ones: 95% are happy to do so if it’s convenient, and apparently, 66% would even go out of their way to make the purchase.
    • One of the key advantages over larger companies is the customer service: speed and flexibility matter significantly. In short: your customers expect better service from smaller companies.
  • Impact
    • When done right, 4 out of 5 people will choose to buy from your company after a positive service experience. They are more likely to come again and even recommend it to their friends and family.
    • However, the opposite is true as well. 9 out of 10 people are inclined to stop buying from you or switch to a new brand after a bad CS experience with your business. 
  • Channels
    • It matters where the customer can reach you. Over half of customers have used chat or messengers to communicate with small businesses. 
    • The younger the customers, the more they tend to go towards social media. 
    • 4 out of 5 check out the self-service options of your company before contacting you directly. 

So now we know that consumers are happy to buy from your small business, but they expect a quick and exceptional service. In return, they reward you with repeat business or recommendations. In order to achieve this, you need to know where they are first and provide sufficient help along the way.

Personally, I’ve set up 100+ Zendesk instances and my company has worked with hundreds of companies. In the following bit, I want to share my tips on how to take advantage of the opportunity you have as a small business with Zendesk:

Be where your customer is

When implementing Zendesk, I would say that at least once: “be where your customers are” – or to put it into one buzzword, “omnichannel”. Zendesk does a great job of pulling several channels into one platform so that your (potentially) small team can cover a lot of ground. Use it! 

Help your team by uniting the most important or most frequented channels in one place. This saves them time where they don’t have to hop between different apps and it streamlines your efforts because you set up all templates and workflows in one system. 

And this is actually where a lot of larger players struggle. They often have legacy systems in place and can’t usually switch or add channels that easily. This is opportunity #1 for your team: cover the channels important to your customers.

Omnichannel, a cross-channel approach for companies to improve their user experience across points of contact.
Omnichannel, a cross-channel approach for companies to improve their user experience across points of contact. 

Let your customers help themselves

The outdated buzzword for this would be “ticket deflection”. It’s an awful term but who knew that this is actually what your customers are very likely to do first: trying to find an answer to their question or problem themselves.

The big companies or larger teams often have a fully fledged FAQ with dozens, maybe hundreds of articles and that can leave you wondering how you will ever be able to catch up or create all that content.

Good news, you can start small and create 3 to 5 pieces of content.

Good news, you can start small and create 3 to 5 pieces of content. It’s really that simple. Years ago I attended a conference (when that was still a thing) and there was one company talking about their approach. It was a startup in the tech space and they had the same challenge: “what do we put in our help centre (or knowledge base or FAQ or customer portal, use your favourite term here)?” So, they put nothing in there. Zero content. Nada. Then, they observed what customers are asking in their Zendesk and put up articles accordingly. Within days, they had content and within weeks, they had the most frequent questions answered within their help centre. Boom.

But I need to plan all the content!

The classic approach here is to plan the whole content, come up with categories, write it up, proofread it, and release it in one big launch. This usually takes months. This means hundreds – if not thousands – of tickets will be submitted to your team that could have been prevented. If only your customers would have found the answer before asking your team…

This is what large companies do. Even smaller companies we worked with have that in mind. Don’t be slow. Launch your help centre sooner than later. Not comfortable with 0 content? Create 3 or 5 then add more over time. Zendesk has a great app that allows your agents to create content based on tickets (https://www.zendesk.com/apps/support/knowledge-capture/). Get the content out there and improve over time. This is opportunity #2  for your team: allow your customers to find answers themselves.

Respond to your customers in real time

To meet the steep expectation of your customers, you need to respond fast to them, especially as a small company. That’s why I recommend turning on chat (and social messaging if relevant).

Zendesk allows you to turn on chat rather easily. Add a bit of code to your website and you are live. If you have a mobile app, you can implement it too since Zendesk provides an easy way to do so for your developers. 

Chat and messaging allows communication in real time
Chat and messaging allows communication in real time

Chat (and social messaging) allows for conversations in real time. There is no faster way than real time. And if you and your team respond to them via chat or messenger, they don’t need to send an email. Thanks to instant help, they will tend to be more satisfied with your service rather than having an email-conversation.

Are you worried that you don’t have enough staff to cover chat? Don’t. In most cases, the chat volume compared to website visitors is really low and an agent can have 3 to 5 chats at the same time, depending on complexity. If they are not too busy, they can work on email tickets at the same time – thanks to Zendesk multi-tasking ability.

Worried that you have to be online 24/7? Don’t. People don’t expect you to be available around the clock. On messengers, they know it can be hours before you reply. On chat, if you are offline, Zendesk simply shows the form to submit a ticket. This is opportunity #3 for your team: faster replies result in happier customers.

Bonus – Three in one for great customer service

When I started this article, I only wanted to talk about the three things I already mentioned. Even if you apply only 2 out of those 3, you are already doing a better job than most larger companies. But if you apply them, you actually qualify for a quick win – the web widget!

The Zendesk web widget is a little container that you can implement on your website. Despite the name, you can embed it into your app too. It brings your self-help content, chat, and ticket form to your website (or app).

Web widget in action showing the contact form
Web widget in action (bottom right) showing the contact form – displaying one of the configuration options of this handy feature

This means a visitor of your website (or user in your app), who is looking for help, can open the widget. 

  1. First, they will find the option to search your help center content (opportunity #2);
  2. And if anyone is online to talk to someone in your team (opportunity #3);
  3. If all else fails, they can leave a ticket for your team to get back to (opportunity #1).

If you implement this, you are leveraging the strengths of all your assets. Your content, your live support, and the tickets that your team can reply to. This is opportunity #4 for your team.

About the author 

Nils Rebehn

Founder of Guidoo Services and former Zendesk employee #100. Nils is a Customer Service Expert and a certified Zendesk Administrator.

Guidoo Services is "your guide to Customer Service” - the team offers a range of professional services and are specialised in Zendesk. Guidoo is a Zendesk Select Partner, assuring sophisticated solutions for your help desk.

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