As website professionals, we function mainly as a service-based business. And like any service based business, customer service is critical to our growth. It’s also critical to manage a client list that doesn’t drive you crazy. As some would say: happy client, happy web pro!
Since we are our own boss, it’s easy to avoid common customer service rules. We excuse ourselves from doing certain outreach or extending extra care because there is no one looking over our shoulder. Avoidance, however, only ends up costing us greatly later down the road.
Client retention should be our top priority because it encourages recurring revenue and referrals.
Retention of our clients begins with their satisfaction working with us, and it should always be top priority as it encourages recurring revenue (clients contracting more business) and referrals. Referrals are not happenstance — if a client is pleased with their experience, they will share it more readily with those they encounter. Following some basic customer service rules will help you earn loyal clients.
“But I got out of corporate work to avoid rules!” you tell me. I agree, being our own boss does free up our responsibility of doing things we felt never helped the bottom line and wasted time.
What you will find, however, is that you will become the worst boss you ever worked for if you don’t enforce rules on yourself.
Let that sink in.
How many times have you worked a weekend “working for yourself?” How many times have you been forced to do work on vacation “working for yourself?” You need rules, for the better and the worse.
10 customer service rules for a better business
Make these 10 customer service rules a mainstay of your web design or development business:
Respond to email within 24 hours.
Update project status at the end of every week.
Specify “Next Steps” in emails that require action from the client.
Separate out long emails into separate emails by action items or subject matter.
Don’t answer calls or check emails if you are not in a place to address them.
Don’t send angry emails; wait a few hours or until the next day.
Offer ongoing website care and support or refer to a company that provides it.
Have the ability to schedule a call, avoiding email-only communication.
Take the blow from the blame.
Educate your clients.
Ready? Let’s dive into each one the customer service rules aimed at creating happier clients — and pros.
1. Respond to email within 24 hours (one business day)
Poor customer service: “My inbox gets full so fast I forget to email back clients. I usually wait until there’s an answer to their question.”
Great customer service: Always follow up on an email, even just to say you’re in the process of getting the answer. Now, this does not mean you should respond to email on the weekend. It’s OK to still check email for emergencies but always respond during business days when not an emergency.
2. Update project status at the end of every week
Poor customer service: “When we do projects, our designs can take up to a couple weeks. Once I have them, then I’ll email the client.”
Great customer service: If you have an active project (and you have yet to send an email to the client that week) on Friday send an update email just to let them know how the project is coming along. They’ve taken a risk in investing in you and want to know how their investment is going.
3. Specify ‘Next Steps’ in emails that require action from the client
Poor customer service: “Clients should just know the steps they need to take from our initial conversation. It’s also clearly marked on my website.”
Great customer service: Always be specific with what actions the client needs to take in every email that needs them to complete a task. I usually bold the words “Next Steps” to make it stand out. Remember that most of your clients are running their own businesses and have long lists of “to-dos.” Make it clear and you’ll avoid missed action on the part of your client.
4. Separate out long emails into separate emails by action items or subject matter
Poor customer service: “I sent my clients everything they need to do in a long email. If they can’t follow that, then they are not the kind of client I want to work with.”
Great customer service: The shorter the email the better chance the client will read the whole thing and respond. If the email is long, the client may assume they got the point in the first couple paragraphs and just skim to the end. Important information will be lost and their answer may only be part of what you were looking for.
Related: How to write a professional email
5. Don’t answer calls or check emails if you are not in a place to address them
Poor customer service: “I was with my family at a restaurant and missed half of the meal trying to coach the client how to login. He had the nerve to get upset with me that I was being so short with him!”
Answer calls or emails when you are in “work-mode” and can give the client your full attention. It’s up to you to address their need with quality and care.
Great customer service: It’s easy to forget and fire off an email or answer a call from a client when sitting with family, out at a restaurant, or going about daily life. The problem is that when you are not focused, you are not really in a state to give that your full attention and your reaction/reply might not be at it’s best. Let the call go to voicemail, even if it’s an emergency, then when you are in “work-mode” address the call or email.
Power tip: More often than not, the client can wait. Good customer service isn’t addressing the need of the client every time they demand it, but addressing the need with quality and care (which often is NOT ASAP).
6. Don’t send angry emails; wait until a few hours or the next day
Poor customer service: “I couldn’t believe they were trying to make this all my fault. I fired off that email so fast to show them all the ways they did it wrong. I was firm about where we stand on this matter.”
Great customer service: Tone is a challenge to convey in an email, and is only made worse when we write the emails fuming with anger. Our clients can make us angry, but what you may think comes off as firm and clear may actually only make the situation worse. Drafting it, walking away, the revisiting after you’ve cooled down will help you revise carefully.
7. Offer ongoing website care and support or refer to a company that provides it
Poor customer service: “I am so done with this website. I just handed it over with documentation on how to edit. They don't have the budget to really stay on as a client of mine.”
Great customer service: It’s poor customer service to send clients on their way after a site launch without a means to support their WordPress install for security and performance. Make sure you have services in place to either support them or refer them to someone who can.
8. Have the ability to schedule a call, avoiding email-only communication
Poor customer service: “I hate talking on the phone. My schedule changes too much to make the time. If it’s important the client can send an email.”
Great customer service: All clients and situations are not the same, and not all can be settled by email. While clients requesting calls makes your schedule unpredictable, an online schedule calendar allows you to block off time for calls to book, as well as limit by minutes (like 15 minutes). That way the client knows it should be a quick call. By also having a field required for what the call is about, this will allow you to prep and expect the nature of the conversation.
9.Take the blow from the blame
Poor customer service: “The client never made it clear that this was such an issue on their website. We would have addressed it if they had explained it better.”
Great customer service: When something goes wrong with the website and they accuse you, assure them you will do everything to prevent it from happening again. It’s futile to fight about whose fault it is when communicating with the client and only escalates the issue back and forth.
Taking the blame is more about absorbing the blow from the client so you can move past it.
Then, after that point, educate the client on their portion to prevent this from happening again, not in an accusatory way, but as part of this being a team effort.
10. Educate your clients (use screencasts and documentation)
Poor customer service: “Clients should be able to figure out what to do in my emails. There’s also tons online about WordPress.”
Great customer service: Great customer service arises out of wanting to make sure the client is cared for. Much of that rests on clear communication and educating the client when needed. I’ve never known a client to turn away clarity or more knowledge to understand their website or issue.
Power tip: All clients learn differently. For visual learners, creating a quick video to explain an issue helps you provide a clear and concise reply. Text is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. With a screencast tool like Loom you can also see when they watched your video.
Staying in business
One of the top reasons website professionals leave their business is because they no longer want to be their own boss. It’s not easy defining rules and boundaries for yourself.
There is connection between poor customer service and difficult clients.
Even though there are those difficult clients who can never be saved, defining good customer service rules will curb difficult situations and poor communication with any client.
Be a better boss to yourself — establish rules and stick to them. Of course, you want to be flexible as your business grows to adjust to your changing work situation. Use these 10 rules as a starting point. They are rules that have helped me establish great working relationships with my clients — clients who continue to send me quality referrals due to great customer service.