In a feature with Inc. Magazine, Paul English, co-founder of Kayak, revealed that his software engineers answer every customer phone call that comes in. Why does English designate these tasks to Kayak’s engineers instead of customer-service professionals? According to English, “If you make the engineers answer emails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they’re doing and fix the code.”
This anecdote highlights an important aspect of talking to shoppers that many small business owners might not realize. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-days of running your business, and responding to visitor comments and complaints may feel like an unwelcome chore. After all, running a business demands constant time and energy.
By putting shopper communication on the back burner, you’re inadvertently harming your business’s bottom line. Talking to shoppers on a regular basis will help you discover unknown qualms about your business, giving you time to remedy them before anyone else is inconvenienced.
Why shopper perspectives matter
At Kayak, the engineers who answer customer service calls have opportunities to observe new perspectives: those of novice users. It’s a very different point-of-view from that of tech-savvy software engineers. It’s so foreign, it can actually help to highlight issues that the developers wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
Likewise, your business’s fans have unique perspectives that can reveal issues unknown to you. Perhaps a rookie chef reading your recipe blog doesn’t know what “julienne” means, or maybe someone who visits your hardware store thinks that the store’s layout is less intuitive than you initially thought. Fielding customer complaints or comments can make these unidentified issues known.
Engaging with your customers also boosts morale for both the business owner and patrons. It’s easier to understand why this is true for shoppers — people appreciate it when their concerns are heard, acknowledged, and addressed. But the outcomes of these interactions generate positive morale from a business perspective, too. Identifying the problems that need to be solved will leave you feeling confident that your business is constantly improving. Instead of guessing what your shoppers want, you’ll know exactly what they need. This eliminates stressful uncertainty from your business plan.
It’s also worth mentioning that talking to shoppers is simply good service. Good service means happier visitors, repeat purchases, and more word-of-mouth recommendations for your business. The more time that you spend talking to shoppers, the happier shoppers and long-term supporters will be.
The keys to communication
So, how can you get in the habit of regularly talking to shoppers? If you have multiple people working for you, start by encouraging everyone to participate in customer service. Your entire team has a lot to gain from engaging with shoppers — no exceptions.
If you hire a part-time assistant to help with administrative tasks for your freelance writing business, encourage them to draft email responses to customer correspondences. If you’re usually in the kitchen while the waiters at your pizza restaurant serve diners, find the time to personally bring your creations out to visitors’ tables. This all-hands-on-deck approach to customer service is practiced by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com. Every year, all employees are required to spend a week working in customer service so that no one forgets the importance of understanding customers.
If you are your business’s sole employee, shopper communication is fully on your shoulders. Make yourself accessible to shoppers by setting up a contact form on your WordPress.com site that automatically forwards messages to your inbox. This way, responding to feedback will become a part of your daily routine. It’s also important to maintain open lines of communication across your social media platforms. Setting aside a few minutes each day to respond to messages on Twitter and Facebook will go a long way in the minds of your fans.
Talking to shoppers may seem like an extraneous task. In reality, it’s a priority. Not only does open communication with shoppers encourage them to view your business favorably, but it also makes you aware of any pain points they’re experiencing and issues you need to address. By responding to messages, feedback, and questions, you’ll grow and improve your business at an exponential rate.