Running a small business is no easy feat – as a business owner, you wear several hats to keep your day-to-day operations running smoothly all while strategizing for your business’ long term growth. But how do you find the time to get everything done?

In OnDeck’s latest Main Street Pulse Report, 61% of business owners surveyed told us they’re constantly racing against the clock, 49% said work/life balance is an illusion and 86% said time management is critical to success. So, we’re launching a Time Management Series this week to help you be more efficient, sacrifice less personal time and get one step closer to achieving that elusive work/life balance.

In this post, you’ll hear from OnDeck’s Customer Service Director Eric Lichtenwalter and VP of Customer Success Shannon Smith on how to manage time effectively when it comes to serving your customers.

Customer Service really comes down to keeping your customers happy so they not only come back but also recommend your business to their friends and family. To achieve this, start by making things personal. As a business owner, this should be relatively easy for you – and chances are, you’re already one step ahead.

For example, if you’re a restaurant owner, you likely remember the favorite dishes of your regular patrons; if you own a retail shop, you know your regular shoppers’ names and tastes; or if you run an auto shop, you recognize your repeat customers’ vehicles and maintenance histories.

As great as these personal connections are, they don’t happen overnight and are just one part of how you interact with your customers. In today’s post, OnDeck’s customer experts – Eric Lichtenwalter, Director of Customer Service, and Shannon Smith, VP of Customer Success – share their time management best practices for customer service and engagement.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Q&A with Eric Lichtenwalter, OnDeck’s Customer Service Director

What areas of customer service take up more time than others?
There are two things we try to focus on: issues that keep occurring, and customers that continue calling with the same question.

For issues that keep occurring, I always ask, “Why do people contact OnDeck’s customer service?” This will help determine if it’s related to our products or the way something is worded on our website, for example. If we can isolate the root cause, we can figure out the right solution so recurring calls on the same issue don’t happen.

For customers that keep calling, we want to make sure they aren’t calling with the same question they had in their previous interaction. That’s not the best use of their time, or ours. But if it happens, it’s a matter of making sure our customer service agents are providing the right information and anticipating follow-up questions that can arise later. The key here is to be well prepared for anything.

What time management best practices have you developed to keep the customer service department running efficiently?
Staffing to your customer volume history and/or foot traffic trends is very important. As a business owner, you know when your busiest times are and should therefore staff accordingly. Additionally, it’s important to know how to manage a call or interaction so it doesn’t take longer than it needs to but isn’t so short your customers will feel cast aside. Train your staff to know how to meet their needs and come to a resolution efficiently – whether that’s creating a FAQs script or putting protocols in place for different types of interactions.

Would you recommend any software programs that streamline customer service?
A good Customer Relations Management (CRM) tool is a must – it allows you to securely store customer information, track your interactions and make any necessary notes you may need in the future. That way, each new interaction with a customer will be more familiar and more personal – increasing the likelihood of them remaining a customer and recommending your business to a friend.

Do you have a go-to customer service book?

  • “The Effortless Experience” by Matthew Dixon and Rick Delisi.
  • “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyers – a great book on customer service and restaurants.

How do you achieve work/life balance?
I’ve been fortunate to work for great companies that promote a strong work/life balance. To be honest, I probably won’t take a job without a strong culture and support around a work/life balance. I have two kids, and when I go home I focus on the family. I’m not against checking emails before I go to bed, or over the weekend, but it should be around checking for any fires. My trick is to keep an ongoing list for what I need to accomplish each day or each week. As long as I check all the boxes (or at least the high priority ones!) I can unplug during my family time.

Anything else to share as it relates to customer service and time management?
It all revolves around the team. We have an amazing customer service team that puts my mind at ease. I know I can trust them to make the right decisions, and if anything doesn’t go as planned, we learn from our experience and improve from there.

CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT: Q&A with Shannon Smith, OnDeck’s VP of Customer Success

What time management best practices have you developed to keep your customer success efforts running efficiently?
Prioritize projects that will have the biggest impact on the customer experience, and as a result, your business’ overall results. Focusing your time and resources there will be well worth it in the long run.

Would you recommend any books that relate to efficient customer success practices?
“The Loyalty Effect” by Fred Reichheld is the classic guide written by the creator of the Net Promoter Score (NPS). While it’s a little dated (from 1996), most of the concepts are still relevant.

Tell us more about NPS.
If you don’t measure your business’ NPS, I encourage you to do so. NPS measures how likely your customers are to recommend your business to a friend and provides a great opportunity for you to understand any recurring pain points to address as well as great features and/or experiences to do more of. You can start by sending a two-question survey:

  1. How likely are you to recommend [your business name] to a friend? Multiple Choice Response: Scale of 1 (unlikely) to 10 (very likely)
  2. What are your primary reasons for giving the score you did in question 1? Open text response

How do you achieve work/life balance?
The three keys for me are prioritizing effectively, delegating when appropriate, and writing everything down! It enables me to feel more efficient with my work time. If something is important to me, I block the time on my calendar as far in advance as possible and protect the time no matter what.

Anything else to share as it relates to customer success and time management?
One benefit we try to offer to customers is useful content to help them manage their businesses more effectively. But we know how busy small business owners are, so we often send out bite-sized bits of business and credit advice in various monthly emails and newsletters, hoping this is a more digestible way to help them. So, think about small ways you can engage your customers that together can have a big impact on their experience.

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