amazon-600x300Thanks to their size and/or level of turnover, smaller companies occupy a particular place in the market. It’s tempting to look only to similarly-sized businesses for inspiration. But that would be a shame: even a 4-employee online perfume business can learn from an online giant like Amazon.

Indeed, when it comes to customer service, Amazon can teach all of us a thing or two. Previous studies have shown that Amazon boasts a 91.7% customer satisfaction rate, and it continually tops the customer service rankings. While no SME is going to be able to rival Amazon for sheer big-budget buying power, there’s nothing to stop you learning to use their tricks of the customer service trade on your own scale.

Lesson 1: Use live chat. Amazon customers love it!

Are you offering live chat as a contact channel yet? If the last time you tried online chat was when AOL Instant Messenger was king, you’re way behind the times. Online discussions have come a long way since the bad old days of “A/S/L?”

It’s tempting to think that live chat is only for companies that can afford a full staff of customer service reps all busily typing away, but that’s just not true any more. Many customer service applications provide a hybrid chat feature that allows your SME to offer live chat without having to have someone available online at all times. And that’s good news, because it’s not good for the team spirit if you all go for lunch together – everyone, that is, except one of the support people ‘because he’s on call’. Let him off the hook, because if nobody’s online the customer question will be sent to your inbox by email.  Easy as that!

Lesson 2: Love your customers in good and in bad times.

No matter how hard you work to perfect your business’s offering, there’s going to come a time when things go wrong. Slightly wrong or awfully wrong – but either way, you need to think in the long-term when dealing with customer issues. Each time, you are faced with a choice. Option 1: do you make a loss on this particular transaction (or simply make less of a profit), but hopefully make a good impression on the customer? Or option 2: do you do whatever it takes to make sure that you don’t lose a penny on the deal, even if it means disappointing the customer? For Amazon, the answer is always, always, the former.

‘That’s all very well for Amazon,’ I can hear you thinking. ‘They had a £64 million profit just in the first quarter! They can afford to lose a few bucks here and there.’

The thing is, those losses on individual transactions are exactly what bring customers back to the company time and again. That’s right: when you buy something from Amazon, you can dare to take a risk on a new product or a new Amazon seller because you know you won’t be out of pocket if anything goes wrong.

When customers aren’t scared to buy from your business, you end up selling more and bringing in even more customers. Proactive customer service = more happy customers.

Lesson 3: Consider the customer in every single thing you do

There’s a story going around that Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos insists there’s always an empty chair at company meetings. The chair is kept empty as a reminder to all attendees that the most important person at the company isn’t present. And that person is the customer.

I’m not suggesting that businesses around the world should be literally bringing an empty chair into meetings (and for a lot of SMEs it might be tough to find a chair even for yourself). But you do need to consider the customer in every single thing you do. When you’re designing your website: think of the customer. When you’re discussing whether to take on a new staff member: think of the customer. When you’re investigating new payment solutions: think of the customer. Without the customer, none of you would be doing what you’re doing. Always keep that in mind.

It’s human nature to constantly try to categorise things. That’s how our brains work and how we make sense of the world. The problem is that closed-minded thinking can cause us to shut out large amounts of useful information because it’s just not relevant to us – or so we assume. This is particularly dangerous for SMEs. They tend to ignore both positive and examples by major companies. While there is of course much to be gained by studying your direct competitors, don’t make the mistake of taking your eye off big boys like Amazon.