There are so many channels that an entrepreneur can leverage to keep in contact with the customer. A few years back only options were telephone, snail mail or email. With the proliferation of social media, new avenues of customer engagement and interactions have come up. Social media is such a new channel.
Since this blog is mostly for small entrepreneurs who are often running on bootstrapped money, I believe I can keep a few details, like having a team to man the customer channels, out. If most of us (bootstrapping guys) had so much money to start with, we would have hired such a team already.
There are millions of websites which are NOT EBay, Amazon or Google. The owners of these sites have limited budget and they often do not have time to reach customers through all channels possible.
Social media is an awesome channel to engage with your customers. However social media in my opinion may not work out best to address service related issues (this is about small entrepreneurs). Social media users are more impatient and expect an immediate answer to their problems. If you delay it too much because of any reason, they will be happy to forward their issue (which is already broadcast to your brand followers) to their friends, in which case it amplifies pretty much fast. Yes, there are positives about a good comment from a customer but it may not happen that much.
I have not used forums as a channel to engage customers. If the business is such that needs lot of discussion and problems have alternate solutions then a forum seems like a great idea. However there are additional costs like time spent moderating, logging in and answering questions. Also one may need a bigger number of members to make forum effective.
One company that I knew started email based support after deploying a forum for a long time.
My preference for small entrepreneur
I prefer email over most of the channels for support. It has a few advantages over other channels. With emails one gets enough time to read them and respond to them. One can give a well thought of response after providing an initial acknowledgement (which buys some additional time). If you have template response, you can instantly reply to customer with the response.
Email also may help create a personal bond between the customer and the entrepreneur and often may provide the right amount of attention that every entrepreneur craves.
The trick is to answer the questions honestly and offer advice/suggestions wherever possible.
The good thing about email is that it cannot go viral like a social media item, unless one decides to screw things up completely. That means the damage may be limited if responded well in time.
Being on email may mean that a customer might ask your opinion of matters outside of issue. However I don’t see it much of a problem, since customer trust you more and is looking for your advice.
It is very easy to monitor emails though. I have set it up on my phone and I get notification when I get them. That way I never have to worry about checking the inbox.
Choose the channel that works and stay consistent with it
There a number of channels that you can engage customer with. I have not covered them all. The important thing according to me is choose the channel that works best for your business. Be consistent on that channel and build up on the customer goodwill.
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