6 Ways To Kickstart Your Customer Service

Most web design companies are one or two person operations, with little to no free time for items like after-sales service.

You are usually so busy with current projects that answering calls from past customers can seem like an unnecessary and non-profitable chore.

Here is how you can plug back in to your client base and turn customer service into the profit center that you never thought it would be.

 

1. Ditch the “Pump and Dump” Model

Many of us tell ourselves that web design isn’t like other businesses. Therefore, we don’t have to behave as other business people do. We can design websites, get our final payment from the customer once the job is done and move on to the next client. This is completely wrong thinking. Web design is a service just like landscaping, legal representation or car repair. You are providing a service for money. While you may be in demand now, in a downturn you will only keep your business profitable if you provide outstanding service.  While you do need to devote a certain percentage of your time to finding new leads, you should devote the same amount of time each week to helping out your past clients.

 

2. Make Your Terms Clear

Most web design firms offer maintenance packages or charge for updates. While it is important to provide good customer service, you should spell out clearly what constitutes free customer service and what constitutes a paid request.

This is best handled in your initial contract with the customer. Many web designers don’t like to produce contracts as they are worried about scaring off the customer. On the contrary, the customer will often view such a move as a legitimate business transaction and a sign that you are a professional. Be very wary of any company that is not willing to sign a contract for whatever reason.

The contract should include a copy of your quote to your customer with a statement that anything over and above what is included in the quotation will be charged out separately. One-time charges for updates and maintenance packages should be on offer in the contract and on your website so that clients can refer back to these charges.

 

3. Deal With Emergencies

We’ve all gotten that strange call from a client declaring that something is an emergency and needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW, regardless of what that emergency is. While it may not be an emergency to you, your client perceives it as such and how quickly you deal with that emergency will reflect on your business. It may be helpful to explain to your client that something isn’t as bad as it seems after the fact, but don’t even go there unless you have fixed the issue at hand.

 

 

4. Treat Every Contact as an Opportunity

From simple questions about search engines to irate clients, each call is an opportunity for you to reach out and either educate or placate your client. One of the most common complaints about web design companies is their lack of responsiveness after the project is complete. All you need to do to combat this is answer your clients when they phone or e-mail you.

You can build on this by weaving sales techniques into your after-sales service. The key to doing this properly is to address the actual needs of your customer. When a customer calls you, ask them at the end of the call how everything is going and if there is anything more that you can do for them. This is when they’ll start telling you about a form they have been thinking of adding or a new technology that they want to try out. Leave it open-ended and let the customer talk. If they simply say “No.”, then thank them for their call and move on to your projects. At least one in ten of them will probably say “Yes” and give you more business.

E-mails are a tricky subject. One of the problems with e-mail is that we get so many of them in our business day that it is easy to let a customer request fall to the bottom of the pile. Flag customer requests or put them in their own folder for immediate answering so that this doesn’t happen to you. If an e-mail isn’t something that requires an e-mail reply, such as a customer asking for a link to something, pick up the phone and call them. You’ll have a much better chance of impressing the customer over the phone then you will over e-mail.

 

5. Identify and Cultivate “Angel” Customers

Develop an 80/20 list. It is a general rule that 20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your income.  Once you have identified them, treat these clients as “angel” customers. You need to retain their loyalty in order to keep your business viable. This may mean taking each of them out to lunch a couple of times a year or bringing them to a lecture on search engine marketing at a local trade show. Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t just know their names, but can actually come close to calling them friends after a while.  While this concept may seem tacky, it is an old school way of doing business that most people still appreciate. Loyalty is earned by doing a good job first and forging a relationship second. If you don’t forge that relationship, your customer does not have the necessary loyalty to return to you for their website needs.

 

6. Turn The Rest of Your Customers Into “Angels”

Look at the remaining 80% on your list. Ideally, you would like to move them into the 20% column. You can do this by sending out educational e-mail newsletters, sending Christmas cards once a year and occasionally calling them to see if they need anything or have any questions for you. Treat these calls with the same importance as your sales calls – they will lead to just as much business. Consider having pens or other promotional items made with your logo and sending them to your customer, then following up with a phone call to make sure that they got them.

If you can find a way to incorporate at least a few of these customer service ideas into your everyday business, you’ll be making your clients happier and making a little more money in the process.

Written exclusively for WDD by Angela West.

Are you following these principles with good results? What other ways do you use to keep your customers coming back?

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  • http://dsgn.pw-software.com Nokadota

    I like this article. I’ve yet to have an influx of clients but I will file this away for future reference.

    • http://wpcult.com WPCult

      I would have to agree, but It’s a good article…

  • http://www.twitter.com/nicluciano Nic

    I think a lot of web/technology companies neglect their customer service- and it’s a shame. Point 3 is a great one, and I would even consider the stray user who has trouble with your app (but shouldn’t be) an “emergency”. Taking the extra 10 minutes to engage with a customer in need is invaluable and will guarantee their service- and almost definitely get them talking about your product.

  • http://www.interactivered.com Interactive Red – Web Design Company

    Fantastic blog post. Any ideas where we can find suitable templates for contracts? It’s something we’ve been thinking about but have avoided in the past.

    • http://www.designleap.net Yiana

      Creative Public (CreativePublic.com) is a great site for contract and great resources for graphic/web designers. Pay a one time fee of $50 and your set. We’ve been members for years and they’ve recently updated their site with more great stuff. Every graphic/web designer should subscribe to this.

  • http://www.mitchmckenna.com Mitchell McKenna

    and start an account on getsatisfaction.com :)

  • http://blog.insicdesigns.com/ insic

    Very nice article. After sales support is very important. But it stops you in getting new clients.

  • http://www.linesthroughblue.co.uk linesthrublue

    Working client-side I’d say the contract issue is a very important one.

    When I started we didn’t have one to use with agencies, but I’ve developed one with the legal department. It has a section on what we expect post-project including bug fixes etc.

    No agency we’ve used has ever produced their own for us to agree to and sign. But without it how do both sides know the scope of the project? And how are you covered legally if things go wrong or turn sour?

  • http://www.pliggs.com Geoserv

    A lot of companies should read this post. Good post.

  • parker

    Linesthrublue
    I agree all designers should use contracts
    I will post back if I see a good one online but mostly they should be customized by tech lawyer

  • http://www.2ks.co.uk 2ks – Web Design Cornwall

    What a great post!

    It always suprises me how many people try to ‘bump & dump’.

    @insic – I think the point od items 5 and 6 is that if you look after yoru clients as effectively as you can, you won’t need to spend large amounts of time finding new customers. Word of mouth will kick in and they’ll come and find you.

  • http://sellsellsell.salesnexus.com Anh

    @2ks I agree. Taking care of existing customers can and will bring in new clients, and another plus is you probably spend less resources (time, money, etc) than on other marketing.

    Tip #3: There is a difference between emergency and hand-holding. If your client cannot tell the difference, then spell it out in the contract. Taking care of emergency help show your clients that you do care for their business, and improve your relationship.

    Given the current state of the economy, we should focus more on current customers as new customers are harder to come by.

  • http://webitect.net Kayla

    I agree, not very many web designers pay enough attention to the terms or customer service in general. I always make a point to make my terms clear, even with freelance jobs. I’m still refining them yet, because I’ve been in situations that I felt my work was worth more than what I got from it.

  • Jim McMahon

    Responding to Interactive Red above, you can get contract templates at http://www.linktogether.com in their Business Documents section. I think a couple are free, but and then you need to pay, but you can probably find what you need. Incidentally, it looks like all of the business documents might be useful there. Pretty good white papers too and it looks like they’ve started contests. I hadn’t heard of this community before, but I hope it helps you.

  • http://www.melogics.com Amir

    Nice article, Customer Service is very important specially in web design business.

  • http://izzataziz.com izzat aziz

    whatever it is, customer is still king. Once they satisfy with your service they will find you again after this. So feedback and cms is really important, don’t mind whether you are firm or just personal designer. Be the best for everything is must, don’t just look at the quantity of money you can get by doing quick and many.

  • http://www.studio7designs.com Studio7

    Some great points here for sure. From experience as a client working with quite a few design companies, there seems to be an overriding theme of delayed response to basic requests, once payment has cleared the service is almost shut down, even with outstanding deliverables, and no clear follow up after the project is ‘done’.

    From experience, the people who basically keep the communication open, respond to requests with a quick ‘thanks I got your note and will get back to you soon’ is more then enough to keep clients happy. Clients will give you a lot of flexibility and understanding if you can quickly respond to them with an acknowledgment that you got their request and you have at least filed it on your to-do list. Not responding to client feedback, then sending them their updates 5 days ‘late’ is a recipe for a stressful experience. One quick email to let them know you got their feedback and you will be working on it for x amount of time will be more then enough to let the client relax and expect the return work at some point in the future.

  • http://www.revistatruta.com Nelson

    very useful, thanx man

  • http://blog.dileepsharma.com/ Dileep K Sharma

    Wonderful advice. Off-course customer service is the most instrumental part to success of every business.

  • http://www.designsheffield.co.uk Abbas

    Studio7 is talking a lot of sense. Keep the client in the loop, they are your friend, not enemy. I always tell my clients that i’ll be in touch within 24 hours no matter what, even if (as Studio7 says) it’s just a simple email to say we’ve received the message and we’ll be in touch shortly.

    I like to send out a brief thank you letter, with a business card attached, to first time clients after we’ve completed a project for them. I try to avoid mailing lists and newsletters.

  • http://www.brushthis.com Liora

    My “angel” clients reached that status largely due to my sticking to many of the points mentioned above, over the years. The best advice that I can offer is to clearly write and agree upon the cost and terms of work before a project begins. It’s the boring part of the job, and I have seen many designers evade it, but it ensures that everyone knows where they stand and there are no nasty surprises at the end, but rather letters of praise :0)

  • http://www.misty-blue.net Sarah

    I’m just starting out and this post has really got me thinking about how to maintain business relationships. During school, professors and speakers at seminars usually explained how to network for new clients and how to interact with clients until the end of the project, but never how to handle client relationships after the job is done. Really great article!

  • Ian

    VERY good advice.

  • http://www.expresssites.com.au Sebastian

    Coming from a small web development business, this information is very insightful and helps to confirm we are on the right track when developing a solid base of customer service. There are several other good points we will be looking at taking on board in the near future.

    Thank you spending the time to write this extremely helpful article.

  • http://design.unstandardized.com Steve

    Today is my one year anniversary of leaving my job as a web developer and striking out on my own as a freelance web developer. Basically, I make websites for people from the comfort of my own home, and get paid for it.

    One thing that I noticed at my old job was that providing “service contracts” for clients can become a problem over time. We used to charge some fee per year to each of our clients ($5-$10k if I remember correctly), and they would get 60 or so hours of support each year. Well, thats fine and dandy during your first few years, but after 5 or 6 years, you have 70-80 clients. While I was there, the constant specter of supporting our pre-existing clients was killing our ability to service new ones.

    I decided that I wouldn’t make that mistake, so I tell clients up-front that I will help them by answering questions or giving my informed opinion on their ideas once the site is finished, but that ultimately the site is owned by them, and is their responsibility. I go out of my way to make every website that I create usable and update-able for clients. I do this by basing them on WordPress or Drupal, and then providing training screencasts on how to get things done.

    So far, after exactly one year, about 80% of my clients are “angels,” and I often help them more than I said they would. Usually though, if a site is built well from the start, seemingly large fixes can take me a few minutes. I chalk it up to the cost of doing business that I will help out my clients for 20 minutes here and there a few times a week without asking for payment. I think its working in terms of customer satisfaction.

    The problem is, after another year, when my client list has gone from about a dozen to two dozen… what will happen then? We’ll find out!

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  • Tricia

    Thanks for the great tips – I’m fairly new at working for myself and really need lots of this sort of advice. I realised that I really need to look after my existing clients but was at a loss to know just how far to take the relationship. My natural tendency is to make friends with everyone but I wanted also to keep a professional distance. From what you say I can get a little closer – which I like. Thanks

  • http://www.theconstructcreative.com Hernan Valencia

    Thank you for this article. Although it may seem like common sense, this is an area where we could all learn from.