Today’s smartest small business owners are relying on technology to ensure that they are serving their customers as fast and as accurately as possible.

Here I discuss the six types of technologies that you should be using – I’ll also recommend a couple of examples, but please remember that there are usually dozens of great applications for each category.

Customer Relationship Management System

Many people think that CRM applications are only for sales and marketing teams. But this is just not true. Good CRM systems have service modules in which users can create customized tickets (or cases) that are linked directly to accounts and contacts in the system. Although the service capabilities of a CRM system many not be as deep as a full blown help desk application (see below), I’ve found that their features are usually very sufficient for the typical small- or medium-sized company. And the biggest advantage is that your sales and marketing people will have an instant view as to whether those customers are experiencing service issues before they call them to sell that next big product. In this category, I suggest trying Insightly or ZohoCRM.

Help Desk

Sometimes also called service desk, these applications provide similar functionality as offered by a mainstream CRM system but with more powerful capabilities. With a good Help Desk system (examples: ZenDesk, Freshdesk) you’ll be able to create very specific service tickets for cases and calls and then ensure that each ticket is directed to the right person based on the issue raised. The system will be able to take information directly from an email request and turn it into a ticket, and also provide a self-service capability so a user can submit their own ticket right from your website. In addition, a good Help Desk system will come with automation to alert your service techs or automatically create scheduled tasks or appointments. There’s also phone system integration and of course mobile capabilities. If you have a dedicated support group for your product, a stand-alone Help Desk system is pretty much required.

Chat

Today’s customers want instantaneous answers to their questions. Some prefer calling, others prefer sending emails or filling out a form online. But many will want to engage in a chat conversation with a help desk representative right on your website. For this, you want to make sure you have a good online chat application running – like Zopim or Live Chat. These applications will automatically pop up once a user is on your site, inviting them to speak to a representative directly. Once the user engages, your tech or customer service person will be alerted, whether they’re at their desk or on their mobile device. Depending on the application you get, these conversations can then be integrated into the customer’s history in your Help Desk or CRM system for others to follow. My best clients keep their chat software going 24/7 with technicians assigned to respond depending on their availability.

Knowledge Management

This is also called a knowledge base. It’s a database of problems and answers that your team has created so that users can get information based on the issue they’re having – without having to engage with a customer service person. Knowledge Management products, like Desk and Answerbase take a lot of time to setup (remember, you have to transfer all the “knowledge” you have into these databases”) and sometimes, even more time to keep up to date – you don’t want these articles to get stale and outdated. But if set up and maintained the right way, you can provide your customers with the quickest way possible for them to get answers, and enjoy a cost-efficient tool that’s not taking up the daily time of a support representative.

Communication

As your service people are on the move, they need a good desktop and mobile application to help them communicate issues with each other. For this, I recommend Slack, Microsoft Yammer of HipChat. These applications provide text, instant messaging and also integrate with most popular email systems. This way, conversations are saved within their databases for easy retrieval by search. More importantly, you can create groups and categories so various people within your organization can have real-time dialogue about a customer issue, share documents, even video chat – all with the objective of solving a customer’s problem through collaboration.

Remote Connection

If you’re in the technology business, like my firm, you’ll need a good tool to remotely connect to your client’s system so you can see the problem and even take control of their device to fix the issue right away. I like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and Join.me.

So go forth and serve. Just make sure you’ve got the right tools at your disposal!

Join writer and small business owner Gene Marks each Wednesday on the Small Biz Ahead podcast. You can submit a question for Gene to answer on the podcast.

Leave a Reply