What’s more satisfying than seeing the number of your customers steadily grow. It’s a palpable representation of your hard work; a vindication of your business.
But all that lovely, celebratory stuff aside, a growing customer base also means increasing amounts of admin. Ultimately, this is where your real work begins.
In business, there’s no time to rest on your laurels. What should be a watershed for your business can become a nightmare if your business’s infrastructure isn’t updated to deal with the influx. Increased client demand can run you off your feet.
There’s the obvious answer: hire more staff. That’s the brute force option. But for those that don’t want the added overhead but need the extra capacity, here are three steps you can take.
Take it outside
Steve Pym runs Black by Design, an online homeware retailer he co-founded in 2010. “We started as a very small business working from home,” says Pym. “We live in an old farmhouse where we have outbuildings. That’s what we used for warehousing.”
Initially, Black by Design was very much DIY. They stored goods, completed postage, did the marketing and provided customer support. But by 2015 it had got too much. Pym decided to focus on exclusively on customer support and use third-party companies for order fulfillment and marketing.
It’s helped to keep the business lean and reduce overheads. The core business is only four people. By removing distraction, this skeleton crew is able to helm the website’s live chat service, emails and phones. “We don’t use canned replies,” says Pym. “We’re not from a script, we can talk to people.”
Ecomnova, a London based ecommerce provider, went a different route. According to customer service manager Simon Sharp, the company doubled its in-house customer support from five to ten people and bolstered the ranks further by contracting a customer support company based in South Africa.
“At peak times, like last week Valentine’s rush, we had 30 additional temporary staff,” says Sharp.
Consider a CRM system
“We started off initially trying to have as little contact with customers as possible,” says Nikolay Piriankov, CEO of online jewellery retailer Taylor and Hart. “After all, we thought we'd scale like Amazon, letting the technology do all the work for us.”
But this proved difficult to achieve in their luxury space. “So we decided to become a high touch ecommerce company, and to find ways to scale not by reducing contact with customers, but in the systems and processes we used to deliver that contact,” Piriankov says.
Taylor and Hart quickly implemented a CRM system, opting for Salesforce. “The tool is very hard to learn, expensive and it’s design looks a little outdated,” says Piriankov. “But, in hindsight, it is incredibly powerful because it integrates all our other systems and tools together, is very scalable and has fantastic reporting capabilities.”
A crucial step when implementing a CRM system, however, is training. Taylor and Hart have introduced a formal training process and documentation to on-board new hires. “This had to be done to keep our service consistent,” says Piriankov.
Automate, automate, automate
Pedals is a London-based bicycle courier service, founded by LSE graduate Richa Bhalla. According to Bhalla, Pedals was initially an extremely manual operation with both customers and riders being serviced by phone. “We would book orders over the phone and pass details on to cyclists,” says Bhalla.
As client demand increased, this wasn’t a scaleable way of operating. “When we started getting orders at all times of the day it became too much for one person so we started to build out the tech to start doing this automatically. There was so much to tackle all at once, so we would prioritise manual tasks to become automated by those that currently took up most of our time.”
The first step toward alleviating the pressure on Pedals’ phone lines was outsourcing customer orders to their website. “We would collect those orders and then get back to them with a price,” explains Bhalla. “It immediately cut down the number of calls we were having with customers as we were then able to email them directly with quotes and service multiple people at the same time.”
Another easy step towards automation is setting up an IVR, or interactive voice response, system. That’s the fancy term for those automated “press one for customer support, press two for sales” phone tools.
They are an established part of modern life that consumers will know and understand. For you, it enables the identification, segmentation and routing of callers to the most appropriate part of your business.
IVRs can be awful if you do them badly. There’s a best practice to it. eReceptionist, an IVR provider, recommends actually having a script to keep prompts and actions consistent. Telling a customer to “select two” and then to “press three” could be confusing.
Therein lies the key to any automation: make it easy on customers. For Pedals, automation immediately cut down the strain on customer support - but it also made the service better, says Bhalla. “We were then able to email customers directly with quotes and service multiple people at the same time.”
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About Francois Badenhorst
Francois is the deputy editor of BusinessZone and UK Business Forums.