How to talk to customers: 10 tips for founders and small business owners

How to Talk to Customers: 10 Tips for Startup Founders

A guide to (successfully) supporting customers while running every other part of your business.

Whether you’re the loudest one in the room or a techie who somehow got thrown into the spotlight—talking to customers requires more than just answering emails.

But who has the time?

You’re the founder, customer service manager, head of product, head of sales, engineer manager…

Life of a small business owner doesn’t allow for much space to deep dive into the philosophy of customer communications.

I know this, and I don’t expect you to shift your priorities as such.

Instead, I’m giving you the cheat codes.

I’ve worked specifically with early-stage founders for the past six years. My role as customer support manager and CX lead has made me an expert at all things “customer.”

The founders I’ve worked with range from analytical introverts to extroverted sales people. Most of them saw talking to customers as a means to an end. Or they hired me to get the inbox down without really thinking beyond the daily email numbers.

But, interacting with your customers in the early days of your business can wildly affect the trajectory of your company.

I’ve put these tips together over the years to help founders who are talking to customers while juggling a million other responsibilities. They’ll help you save time while maximizing your insights and results.

1. Define your tone to streamline all communications

This is easier than you think.

As the founder of your company, the “tone” of your customer support will likely reflect you. But don’t assume everyone knows what “you” means.

Take a minute to write down a few bullet points:

  • Casual or formal
  • Hip or conservative
  • Emojis and exclamation points or plain text and periods
How to talk to customers: Tone
Will your tone be casual and fun (left)? Or formal and reserved (right)?

This will help materialize the ever-elusive “tone” of how you talk to customers.

You’ll be able to include a personal touch as you write to customers, without veering off style. And when you’re ready to onboard additional customer support, marketing, or sales team members, they’ll have a reference point for crafting company communications.

2. Research your clients to empathize with their needs

I know you intend to do research on every new customer. And you probably spent plenty of time and money on product-market research.

But it’s not really a one-time project. Every time you talk to a customer is an opportunity to refresh your understanding of them.

For B2C (business-to-consumer) companies this might feel overwhelming—you’re likely speaking to hundreds of different people each day. But using customer support software, like Groove, allows you to add notes, edit, and save basic information (like social media profiles, job title, company or school) to each customer profile for reference as you talk.

Using Groove's shared inbox to talk to customers
Groove’s dashboard allows you to view basic information about each customer

Even general information like this helps understand where the customer is coming from and what their expectations might be.

B2B (business-to-business) companies have an easier time researching their client base thanks to Google. Any time I talk to a customer here at Groove, I first search for their business online.

This gives me a sense of their culture and business type. I can suggest more specific solutions and use examples from their own product line or service offerings to ensure customer success.

3. Listen more than you talk!

Listening more than you talk is a common cliche, but a good piece of advice nonetheless. Plus, founders generally have trouble with this one, so I wanted to include it and add an exclamation point.

Your instinct may be to convince everyone that your product is the best. You’ll start explaining how to fix something before the customer even finishes their question.

But the real customer experience experts know that the journey is more important than the destination.

Pause to understand your customers’ thought process:

  • Why are they doing it “the wrong way”?
  • How do they think it should be done?
  • What did they misunderstand?

Those answers will enlighten your UX and product design and help you solidify new feature requests.

Constantly think of ways to prevent the question, not just resolve it.

4. Prioritize responses to keep yourself sane

While we’re taking our foot off the gas on responding to every inquiry as quickly as possible…let’s normalize prioritizing requests rather than answering them all at once.

Frankly, it’s the only hope you have at balancing running your business with talking to customers. The easiest solution is to use a shared inbox with tools like folders, tags, and rules.

Groove's customer support platform with folders and tags.
Start your free trial of Groove to organize your customer requests

Simply organizing inquiries in a shared inbox will enable you to see trends and snippets from incoming conversations without feeling overwhelmed.

Adding folders encourages you to separate conversations by topic, customer type, or urgency. Tags help track and label these conversations. And rules automate the entire process.

5. Lean on templates and automations to keep yourself sane (part 2)

Let’s be real, as a small business owner, you need all the help you can get. And the best help comes from cloning yourself.

Save your (good) replies so that you can insert them into future conversations with the click of a button. Set up autoresponders to clarify expectations and give yourself breathing room when replying to customers.

Groove canned reply
Canned replies are a lifesaver!

It’s easy stuff that takes five minutes to do, but saves you hours each week.

If you’ve been overwhelmed trying to keep up with customer requests, Groove has some really simple solutions that can help you right away. Start your free 7-day trial today to get access to canned replies, autoresponders, and more.

6. Get your customers' details right

This might be the hundredth email you’ve answered today, but it’s the only one your customer will see.

There’s not much room for error. Especially with crucial details like name, business type, customer type, or subscription plan. Typos happen, but you should never be in such a rush to reply that you make glaring errors on basic information.

I use Groove’s custom profile integration to double-check information about plan and customer type. It really comes in handy when your business offers different tiers or access to different user types.

Groove's custom profile integration
Get even more detailed customer information with Groove’s integrations

For instance, if a user laments that they can’t see something that only an admin can access—I can immediately check if they have admin status before running around troubleshooting a problem that doesn’t really exist.

7. Positive vs negative language

Customer interactions involve the popular public-relations term “spin” just as much as any other part of your comms. It’s important to make a good impression.

We “spin” negative language to positive:

  • From: “I don’t know.” To: “I’ll talk to the right team member and get back to you ASAP.”
  • From: “Please calm down.” To: “I’m sorry. I understand. I’d be frustrated, too. Here’s what should help.”

You might not have all the tools available to solve a customer’s problem. But you can try to control how the customer feels.

Keep your language positive to inspire trust, faith, and good will.

8. Break down directions into digestible bits

Format plays a big part in helping the brain digest information. Use this knowledge to explain your product or service to your customers in the clearest way possible.

To pull a list from my previous article on writing for your knowledge base:

  • Use bullet points for general lists
  • Numbers for chronological steps
  • Visuals (pictures, graphs, videos) for examples
  • Bold, italics, underline for highlighting important information

Avoid chunky blocks of text whenever possible. Opening an email with a wall of copy intimidates customers.

Framing content this way enables you to empathize with the customer as well. Rather than offering a general explanation, you visualize the product from their eyes and explain how to move forward.

Sample conversation with a customer

Let’s look at a side-by-side example using a sample conversation with a customer.

In both examples, we explain how to show and hide avatars in conversations within Groove’s Shared Inbox. The one on the left doesn’t use any special formatting to communicate with customers. While the sample on the right makes use of more formatting options.

sample conversation with a customer side by side example of different formats
Which would you rather read? Formatting makes a huge difference when talking to customers!

9. Treat your customers like your colleagues

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that every one of our customers is a real human. This becomes an even greater issue when using customer support software that reduces people to ticket numbers.

There’s a real human behind there. Not just a robot timing how quickly you can reply.

Especially as a B2B company serving similar business types, at Groove we treat our customers like colleagues. We respect their intelligence. We’ll cater our communications appropriately.

When we talk to another tech company, we get a bit more detailed about implementing code. When talking to an e-commerce company, we don’t have to explain what Shopify is.

We tend to think all assumptions are bad. But when you understand your customers and their niche, you can make assumptions that save both of you time.

10. Take responsibility for everything...after all, it’s your company.

When things go wrong—and they always do at some point—remember to take accountability and personally apologize.

Your gut instinct may be to protect your pride. The engineering team screwed up. The marketing team totally missed the mark. The sales team promised something you couldn’t deliver.

It’s all your fault, ultimately. And even if you don’t think it is, your customers will.

Take responsibility for everything and you’ll save your customer relationships in the long run. They’ll appreciate your honesty and have faith in your character no matter what happens.

Cheat sheet: 10 tips for how to talk to customers

Here’s a handy little cheat sheet with all ten tips from this blog post for how to talk to customers:

Tips for how to talk to customers:
1. Define your tone to streamline all communications
2. Research your clients to empathize with their needs
3. Listen more than you talk!
4. Prioritize responses to keep yourself sane
5. Lean on templates and automations to keep yourself sane (part 2)
6. Get your customers’ details right
7. Positive vs negative language
8. Break down directions into digestible bits
9. Treat your customers like your colleagues
10. Take responsibility for everything

Key takeaway: Think beyond responsiveness to pull insights from every customer conversation.

Interacting with customers in the early days of your business doesn’t have to feel like a chore or lead to burn out.

These simple tips should allow you to streamline how you talk to customers and maximize the value you get from each conversation.

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