Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


The Customer Is At The Center Of The Customer’s Universe

Here's a powerful, deceptively simple rule of customer service. Learning this rule is a central principle of successful business. 

The customer is at the center of the customer's universe.

Stocksy_txp0ac24513DK9000_Small_108905It's hard, but necessary, to drill this reality into your staff–not just once, but as often as every day–and to keep it in mind, in good times and bad, yourself.

Here's what "the customer is at the center of the customer's universe" means in day-to-day language:

  • Your hangover doesn't matter to a customer, even though it's making you ache behind your eyeballs.
  • The traffic jam you suffered through on the way to work doesn't matter to your customer, even though it's still rattling around in your head.
  • Your frustration with the new technology in the office doesn't matter to the customer. Even your fascination with nifty new features in the technology doesn't matter to the customer.

What matters to the customer is the customer, and the people the customer cares about, a category that only tangentially at best includes you, the service provider.

Seth Godin once pointed out that "when you hand someone a photo album or a yearbook, the first thing they will do is seek out their own picture."

I would extend this thinking even further. Every minute the customer is with you, the customer is thinking about his own reality. Or the reality of his relationship with the people who matter to him.

Think about this reality–because it is reality. Incorporate it into everything you do in business. You'll be amazed at the rewards you reap.


Stop Dropping The Customer Service Ball On Your Handoffs

I have a pretty good idea of where you're dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.

Although you and I, as far as I know, have never met,  from what I’ve seen in the world of business, I can tell you that the odds are good that you’re dropping the customer service ball when you make your handoffs.

It's easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results. Fair enough: but did the details of the customer's needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball? And did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow-up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And they’re often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

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Going to Lexus levels to eliminate handoffs

When the Lexus brand was being created by Toyota, the company zeroed in on a dealer strategy of reducing service defects through the minimization of ‘‘handoffs’’ between service providers.

Think of what an automotive customer typically experiences: You bring your car for service to a service department. There is a person at the door who greets you and takes you to the service advisor. The service advisor writes up what’s wrong and calls the mechanic. The mechanic takes the car away. At the end, when it’s time to pay the bill, the service advisor reappears, gives you the bill, and you have to go and deal with a disconnected, bored cashier, who is probably not focusing on you, not living up to service standards that match the car this same dealer sold you, and not capable of explaining what the strangely coded charges were for, because she wasn’t even aware of your existence until this very moment.

Imagine instead that a single superbly trained service advisor, Sharon, takes care of you from the moment you enter the premises until the moment you leave the premises. Sharon greets you. Sharon writes up your service ticket. Sharon summarizes your complaint to the mechanic. Sharon alerts you when the car is ready. Sharon presents you with the bill, and Sharon accepts your payment.

Lexus settled on this as their ideal approach, to be used to a greater or lesser extent depending on the size and other realities of a specific dealership.

You may want to consider it yourself. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Steps to Measuring Your Customer Service Effectiveness

Computer Lab: Support Representatives Taking CallsHow good is your small business’s customer service? You’ll never know unless you measure it. As with every other aspect of your business, tracking customer service metrics and assessing areas you can improve on will help your business grow.

  1. Set standards for customer service. Some of these standards will be easily measurable. For instance, you might set a standard to answer each call before the third ring, or resolve 90 percent of issues on the first contact with the customer. Others will be more subjective, but even for these behaviors, try to develop a clear guide to whether the employee is following the behavior. For example, if one of your standards is “Always be polite to customers,” the measurable version of this might be “Always refer to customers as ‘Sir’ or “Ma’am,” “Never interrupt a customer” or “Never raise your voice to a customer.”
  2. Take advantage of technology. There are many customer service tools, such as customer service software or call center services, that make it simple to track and measure customer service effectiveness metrics. For instance, you can measure factors such as the average time a customer spends on hold, average abandonment rates (how many customers hang up before a representative ever answers), average duration of call and average resolution time (how long before the problem is resolved or the question is answered).
  3. Go beyond the numbers. Don’t just rely on numbers—look at what’s behind them. For instance, is one employee great at getting through calls quickly, but only because he always bumps them up to the supervisor level for resolution? Make sure employees understand that speed is important, but it’s not the only factor in effective customer service. Also take time to randomly listen to customer service call recordings from time to time and give employees feedback.
  4. Act on what you learn. By tracking customer service metrics, you can spot both overall trends and individual issues, then take steps to deal with problems. For example, if you spot a trend toward longer hold times during the holiday shopping season, you could solve the issue by putting more detailed FAQs on your website to help with the issues customers are having, or hiring more customer service employees to handle the load. If you notice that one employee consistently has longer than average call duration, find out why. Maybe the employee is new and frequently has to look up information or consult a supervisor. He or she may need more training to get up to speed.
  5. Involve employees. Friendly competition, or competition with oneself, is a good thing. Let your customer service employees view and track their own metrics so they can see how well they’re doing and be motivated to improve. Hold regular meetings to keep employees informed about the team’s performance, reward results and talk about areas for improvement. More experienced employees can share tips with newer ones so everyone benefits. 

Ten Common And Dangerous Customer Service Mistakes

????????????????????????????????????????????Here are ten common but hazardous customer service mistakes.   All fixable (which keeps me in business), but each tragic in its own little, or not so little, way.

1. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.  Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.

2. Forgetting it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use.   Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on

3. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.

4. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned. 

5. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you'll be able to provide good customer service anyway. 

6. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.

7. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of  putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

8. Refusing to say you're sorry.

9. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really. 

10. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers.  Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.


Stop Thinking Of Customers In The Plural

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It's time to stop thinking of the people who patronize your business as "customers."

(Don't worry: I'm not going to ask you to start calling them "guests."  A big box store could start calling me a "guest" and it wouldn't change a thing. When you graft Disney language out of context it only makes you look, um, Goofy.)

I would argue that this group you've been calling "customers" doesn't exist as an aggregation, as an abstraction, as a plural.

There's just one customer, the one you're facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There's only Jim. One Margo. One Alecia.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their Jim-ish, Margo-ish, and Alecia-ishness.

Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn't care how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn't in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Now, every customer's different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  Regardless: I suggest in the strongest terms that you think of every one of your customers as a core customer—and treat the loss of a customer as a tragedy.

Here's why: Because Every single customer is irreplaceable.

Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it's probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business.

If Margo leaves, she's gone, forever. That Margoish opportunity has evaporated for the length of your enterprise.  Your available market has diminished by one: one you already had on your side.

And this is a calamity to be avoided.

(The same principle holds true, by the way, in B2B companies with large accounts.  Stop thinking of a customer called "IBM." There's no "IBM account." There's only Juli in A/P at IBM, Jeff in design, and so forth.  Without them, you're right: there won't be an IBM account.)


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

A secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 


The Four Elements of Satisfactory Customer Service

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Before an organization can even think about delighting customers, it needs to be able to consistently deliver what it takes in order to satisfy customers.

Satisfying a customer is dependent on:

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

1. A “perfect product or service

…perfect being defined as “designed and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.”  (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.  But reasonably foreseeable.)

2. Caring delivery

…no product is perfect in if it’s presented to the customer in a way that doesn’t appear to be “caring” to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t show care for the customer, it’s not going to be a hit.

3. Timely delivery

…a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesn’t match your customer’s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.  Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.

4. An effective problem resolution process

…because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process is covered here.

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Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors

A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. And it’s important to be able to deliver satisfaction over and over and over.  The only problem is, nobody ever shouted “Yeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.”  It’s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe.  To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.  Stay tuned—we’ll talk about it next article.


The Secrets of Customer Service Recovery

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

sign:

(c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Glitches–service breakdowns–are unavoidable when you provide service to customers. A computer system goes down. A key person walks out on you with no notice—on the only day you couldn’t possibly arrange coverage. A waiter drops a tray in a customer’s lap.  (I’ve done that one myself–a tray with six open bottles of beer on it.)

Service breakdowns are uncomfortable, and they require training to resolve. But you’ll find an opportunity hidden inside your company’s worst moments: the opportunity to bring a customer closer to you. Indeed, you can learn to handle service breakdowns so masterfully that these moments actually help you to create loyal customers.

The Four-Step Sequence for Great Service Recoveries

To recover masterfully when something goes wrong for a customer, respond to the service failure with a specific stepwise sequence.  (I with these would form a memorable acronym, but the best I’ve come up with is ARFFD. Not sure that’s very attractive as a memory aid.)

  1. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  2. Review the complaint with your customer.
  3. Fix the problem and then follow up: Either fix the issue in the next twenty minutes or follow up within twenty minutes to check on the customer and explain the progress you have made. Follow up after fixing things as well, to show continuing concern and appreciation.
  4. Document the problem in detail to allow you to permanently fix the defect by identifying trends.

Let me run through these steps in detail.

Step 1: Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. What’s needed is a sincere, personal, non-mechanical apology.

What does a customer want out of an apology? He wants to be listened to, closely. He wants to know you’re genuinely sorry. He wants to know you think he’s right, at least in some sense. He wants to know you are taking his input seriously. Overall, he wants to feel important to you. This means that the key to an effective apology, to getting back on the right foot with your customer, is to convey at the outset that you are going to take his side and share his viewpoint.

Step 2: Go Over the Complaint with Your Customer. In Step 1, you’ve begun an alliance with your customer; in Step 2, those collaborative feelings will let you explore:

  • What actually went wrong, from the customers perspective
  • What the customer needs for a good outcome

These aren’t good places to jump to conclusions. They’re issues you want to take time to explore in some detail with the customer.

Step 3: Fix the Problem and Then Follow Up. So you’ve decided to replace a substandard service or product. That’s a step in the right direction—but it’s only a first step. Remember that the customer has been stressed, inconvenienced, and slowed down by your failings. Merely giving her back what she expected to receive is unlikely to restore satisfaction.

A key principle in fixing a problem is to work to alleviate the customer’s sense of injustice—of having been wronged or let down. You do this through the attitude you convey, certainly, but you also do it by providing something extra. You can find a way to restore the smile to almost any customer’s face, whether it’s a free upgrade or a more creative offering, like one on-one consultation time with an expert on your staff. 

Ideally, the ‘‘something extra’’ you come up with will change the nature of the event for her: your special and creative efforts on her behalf will come to the foreground in the picture of the event she paints for herself and others, online or off, and the initial problem will move to the background.

Follow Up If you’ve handled the problem yourself, check in promptly with the customer after the intended resolution. This underscores your concern. and also lets you catch lingering unresolved issues.

Immediate follow-up is also important when you have reassigned (handed off) the customer’s problem to somebody else: Did the customer end up being (and feeling) taken care of by the technician to whom you assigned her issue? Youll only find out if you check back in with the customer. Besides, customers want you, their original ally, to follow up with them on such questions, not just somebody over in, say,  IT, not even if you know for a fact that the IT person is best equipped to help.

Step 4: Document the Problem in Detail. It’s natural to want to give yourself a breather after solving a customer’s problem. Still, it’s important to record, every single time, the details of what went wrong—promptly, before the memory can fade or become distorted. I call this “the deposition.” Be scrupulous: The only way to prevent serious problems from recurring is to document the problem for careful analysis later.

Your goal in using this documentation is to identify trends or patterns that hint at underlying causes. For example:

  • You might notice that a problem tends to happen around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays when Billy is on the job. This could lead you to consider whether Billy may have missed a particular training module.

or

  • It happens only between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., which leads you to notice that a freight elevator is always under maintenance at that time, creating unacceptably slow service.

or

  • The complaints are always about rear wiper blades you sell, but only in your Eastern and Midwest franchises, leading you to discover an interaction between salted roads and the particular rear blades you stock.  

BUBL: The Secret of Successfully Invading a Customer’s Space

Baby and mom with soap bubbles

Bubbles – (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Those customers who look so normal–to the untrained eye–as they wander around your establishment are actually each surrounded by a transparent protective bubble.

To be able to provide great customer service, your team needs to be aware of this phenomenon and be conscious of the extent to which a customer’s individual protective shell is open or closed at any particular moment. Learn to recognize when and when not to venture into the customer’s protective bubble–the invisible sanctuary within which the customer has expectations of solitude–and for how long.

Learn and remember the principles of this human force field by using my acronym “BUBL.”  

The BUBL method for starting, pacing, and concluding a service interaction

  • B Begin Immediately
  • U Uncode the guests    messages and pacing
  • B Break your schedule
  • L Leave room for more interaction

Let’s take these steps one by one.

B – Begin ImmediatelyThe guest expects service to begin the moment she comes into contact with the employee      

(Busy employees: Sometimes this needs to be accomplished even if you’re speaking with another customer; you may need to learn how to work with one customer while visually acknowledging the presence of a new arrival.)

Determining whether or not the customer actually considers contact to have been made for the purpose of soliciting service is a subtle part of this step. For example, if a guest catches a server’s eye, it may be merely accidental, but if the guest holds the server’s gaze, it usually means he’s expecting to be offered assistance.

U – Uncode: Decode the messages the customer is giving you about pacing, about their level of happiness or distress, etc. and adjust appropriately to their mood and timing. (This isn’t only detectable in person, by the way: such cues can be discerned on the phone, in live online chat, via videoconferencing, etc.)

(Yeah I know: I had to invent a word–“uncode”–to make my acronym work.  If I had stuck with D-Decode, the acronym would have been BDBL, which is actually fun to say, but maybe not so memorable.)

B – Break your scheduleYour customer has let you into their sanctuary for this moment. Drop what you’re doing and work on what they need. True service can never be slave to your checking things off in a predetermined order from a to-do list. Attending properly to a customer means adhering to the customers schedule, not the other way around. 

L -  Leave room for moreIs this really good-bye? Check before you conclude the interaction

It’s the service professional’s responsibility to ask if anything additional is needed, and, if not, to graciously thank the customer before leaving her in the sanctuary of her bubble. This is an important final principle: the ‘‘closing’’ of service. Too many service interactions end with a cold and impersonal ‘‘Bye,’’ or ‘‘OK,’’ or, far too frequently, nothing at all. The closing of service is as important as the opening. It is the last touch point, and it needs to be handled properly. Again, this principle can be applied in a chat sequence, a series of emails, or on the phone, as well as, of course, in person.

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This is subtle stuff.  But its important stuff.  It needs to form a module of your training, with role-playing and reinforcement, and a significant part of your mindset when interacting with (or considering whether to interact with) your customers.




 
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