How Small and Medium Businesses Can Find Their Customer Service Philosophy

Jane Callahan

6min read

The customer is always right….right?

That depends on your customer service philosophy, which is a foundation of any business. Just look at the numbers: American Express found that 9 in 10 Americans determine whether or not to continue doing business with a company based on customer service experience. And this especially holds true for small and medium businesses (SMBs), whose long-term success is inextricably tied to the relationships they have with their customers.

Despite the value of investing in service for existing customers, SMB owners often make the mistake of throwing all their energy into new customer acquisitions, when they should be forming the principles of their customer service guidelines. That blind spot threatens the future of their business; 80 percent of a business’ future profits flow from only 20 percent of current customers. Then there’s the fact that the average businesses will lose about 70 percent to bad customer service.

As a customer support platform that also manages our own customer service, we’ve learned quite a bit about this. We started SupportBee ten years ago because we realized there was no easy-to-use customer support email ticketing software on the market that could serve the 750,000 members of an online music community Muziboo, where we first started.

We knew that if we were going to build out a great customer support system, we had to have our own customer service philosophy nailed down. After some hard-learned lessons, we’ve grown into a globally distributed--yet tightly-knit--customer-centric business. After all, what would our business be without our customers?

Our understanding of customer support has evolved over the past decade, and our customer service philosophy continues to evolve with it. And there have been major benefits to that. For example, it continues to positively influence our product’s design, which has kept us competitive in a market dominated by larger corporations.

At some point, every small and medium business will find themselves at a crossroads in customer service. On the way there, they’ll organically learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. And while we know that each company has its own unique way of interacting with and serving its customers, it’s a common mistake to not work toward a clear set of tenants that make up a business’ customer service strategy.  

So, we thought we’d help. Based on our own experiences, we’ve identified some key pieces of advice we think other entrepreneurs could benefit from, making it easier to identify their mission and improve customer loyalty.

Know what you aren’t.

The first step to uncovering the guiding principles around customer service starts with knowing what your business isn’t, and what you don’t need to worry about. An SMB’s pain points look different than Amazon’s,, and understanding this will inform how technology can serve your customer support philosophy. A small t-shirt printing business has a lot more to lose from a customer complaint online than Amazon does, and will need to focus more on things like how to use affordable automation tools to supplement a small team.

You should also examine the customer service pain points specific to your industry, as well. Statistics show that beauty and electronics industries deal with the highest volume of customer complaints. Figure out where you’re most likely to experience a high volume of customer issues, and what the most damaging of those are likely to be--and keep that information at the forefront of your mind as you build your customer service philosophy.

Finally, know where you want to go down the road. Do you want to keep your small business small? If you plan to grow a bit more or open a second location, think about how to automate customer service in a way that ensures quick, helpful responses while retaining that small business feel customers expect. Because SupportBee is a small but high-touch business ourselves, we were able to expertly design a support platform that does just that.

Practice personalization.

At the very start of a business--in the days where you’re celebrating a third customer win--it’s easier to make judgment calls around customer support issues on a case-by-case basis. But as business grows, it’s not feasible to maintain that level of personalization--at least, not with some help from technology.

The platforms you choose to manage your customer service efforts will determine the degree to which you can continue to personalize your interactions, so think about personalization over time. Determining a customer service philosophy while choosing digital tools for the long game pays off, and Citizens Bank is a good example of this. They’re able to accurately assess what each customer will need next in their journey, which is why the company enjoys a lofty spot in Temkin’s Experience Rating.

It’s all about relationships. Once you’ve gotten the support down for your existing customers, how do you build that with newcomers? 60% of SMBs see huge value in establishing new customer relationships, but it becomes difficult to have these great conversations the longer your ticket queue becomes.

The good news is that every customer has different communications preferences (and again, those will change over time). Some prefer email, while others like text or phone the support line. Increasingly, customers prefer self-service support, like faqs, for simpler customer service queries. (We understand this, which is why our customers get so much mileage from our Knowledge Base feature.)

That means that a good customer support philosophy is not only about the ability to handle the volume, but also about well thought-out responses. With big business, the strategy tends to revolve around responses that deflect; for small and medium businesses, strategy should focus on making sure there’s ample customer context (this naturally breeds better personalization).

SupportBee has learned this throughout our business’s lifespan, which is why we designed it to facilitate such conversations at scale. By readily providing the right context about your customers, paired with tools to craft personalized and useful replies (like customizable snippets), it’s now a lot easier for smaller operations to fulfill their customer service guidelines.

Here’s some useful wisdom on how to handle customer complaints using these types of features.

Don’t be the actor, director, and producer.

Entrepreneurs can be like loving mothers of newborn babies--it can be really hard to let go. As a business brings on new employees, it can be hard to trust that every single one of them will provide customer service in line with their philosophy. Luckily, there are some strategic ways to make sure that happens.

Start by fostering customer relationships through the ones you have with your staff--particularly entry-level staff, as they are often the first point of contact for customer issues. Fast Enterprises made this the Northstar of their customer service strategy; cultivating a highly engaged employee base has translated to staff that care enough to build relationships with their clients, through both good and bad times. As they build those connections, get input from team members about what customer service philosophies they think are realistic (or not), scenarios where policies might conflict with responses, and how they most feel comfortable practicing customer service to inform a holistic, inclusive strategy.

Then there’s collaborative support technology. Support at its best is a team sport, so opt for tools that keep communication transparent and streamlined as multiple parties get involved.

We believe that all companies want to deliver great customer service, but many get bogged down by the complexity of their ticketing system. The challenge is compounded by the reluctance of their entire team to learn and come onboard a new system. That’s why we designed SupportBee features with simplicity and usability in mind.

Need more advice? Read up on our tips for using our team-friendly features to handle multiple projects and clients.

Outsource enthusiasm.

The downside of caring intensely about customer service practices is the potential to burn out. While some business owners continue to love solving problems for their clients, they may dislike the administrative tasks involved with logging and tracking issues. As a team that lives and breathes (OK, obsesses over) stellar customer experience, we’ve seen the benefits of business owners who know what to hand off and what to do themselves. For example, maybe you’re skilled at handling customers face-to-face but are at a loss for words when you need to make customers feel taken care of over email. Or maybe you can compose a heartfelt, personalized email for every customer, but have trouble organizing tickets. Don’t feel guilty about offloading some of your customer service philosophy to technology--after all, 85% of customer service will be automated by the end of this year. Need some ideas? Here are some of our favorite customer service tools to consider.

What are the foundations of your customer service, and how did you decide on them? We’d love to hear about your philosophy on customer support in the comments below!

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