Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


Saving Your Customers From Customer Satisfaction

got loyaltyHave you ever had a customer tell you on a survey that she is "satisfied" or even "very satisfied"–and then leave you the next day for one of your competitors? An experience like this, where nothing goes wrong yet the customer goes away, can lead a business leader to wonder if satisfactory customer service–a solid customer experience, in other words–is enough to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.

The research on the subject would confirm your doubts that there's a connection between self-reported customer satisfaction and what a business really is looking for: customer engagement and customer loyalty.

Various research, including the work that provides the conceptual basis for the entire Net Promoter Score methodology, has found a weak link at best between a self-reported satisfied customer and repeat purchases from that customer. (And most of this research was done before it became as easy to switch suppliers as it is today in our globalized, de-frictionalized, broadbanded economy.)

So here's the deal. Here's the reason there's no clear-cut connection between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. It's quite possible to satisfy a customer without leaving an indelible impression on him or her.  Getting a customer to return depends on more than satisfaction.  It depends on giving the customer a reason to come back. 

The most bulletproof reason you can have for a customer to return, of course, is to have a product or service they absolutely can't get anywhere else, and that they really, truly need or desire.  Apple (if you're hooked), Google (if you're alive), Oxford (if Mum and Grandfather attended and will disinherit you if you don't follow suit) all fall into this enviable category.  Also falling into this category, due solely to geography, are (if you don't like to drive) your corner dry cleaner and (if you don't like to drive after drinking) your corner pub.

For the rest of us in business, those of us whose services or products aren't absolutely unique and irreplaceable, the best way to give a customer a reason to come back is through a customer experience methodology I call "homebuilding." This means building a customer experience that feels to your customer like an ideal vision of home. Think of it as having three parts:

  1. The customer needs to know that you're happy to hear from them and are dropping all other concerns except the customer's own pleasure, safety, and success the moment they enter your establishment/call on the phone/email or chat with you.
  2. The customer needs to feel, while they're experiencing your service or the purchase and use of your product, that they are receiving something special.  Specifically, that you are tailoring your service to their particular needs, interests, and wishes in an anticipatory manner that doesn't even require them to ask or explain themselves.  That you are serving "even the unexpressed wishes" of this customer, to use the Ritz-Carlton's trademark phrase.
  3. The customer needs to know, as they are leaving your business at the end of the transaction, that their business matters to you, and that it matters to you that they return soon.

The business-killing hazard of “Who Cares?” 

These three, somewhat fluffy-sounding customer experience elements are important because the problem of the satisfied-but-not-loyal customer comes down to this: You are always at the mercy of a great big “who cares?" from the customer.

Think about it: Do you think passengers mentally thank Delta every time it doesn't lose their bag, doesn't overbook their seat, and so forth?

Generally they don't. They don't even think to do so.  The airline didn't lose their bag, didn't overbook their seat, but who cares? It's not really their job as customers, actually, to care.

There is a way to build customer loyalty via customer satisfaction. But it's hard.

There is, actually, a way to build customer loyalty via satisfactory customer service.  You can, eventually, build customer loyalty via cycles of repeated, unrelentingly "satisfactory" service. In other words, the correlation between satisfactory service and customer retention increases the more iterations that the customer experiences satisfactory service: if a restaurant treats a guest fine once, it's no big deal, and it's not going to correlate very well with customer retention; that guest may go anywhere for lunch the next time. 

However, if for whatever reason the guest happens to come back, and if she then gets at least temporarily in the habit of coming back, and if she's treated fine-but-not-exceptionally-memorably every time, after, say, 5 visits the likelihood of a 6th visit becomes a pretty good bet.  The tricky thing is that that's a lot of "ifs." For each of those first five iterations, the customer is an open target for other marketing, passive or active.  Who knows where she may go for lunch the 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th time; anywhere in there she may get distracted and wander over to a competitor.

So I try, as a customer service and customer loyalty consultant, to warn businesses away from thinking their best path to a customer’s heart is year after year of giving good-enough service and hoping that nobody else’s good-enough service catches their eye.

The better way to kickstart customer loyalty

Better, I argue, is to give extra consideration and do the extra customer experience and customer service work needed on the important touches–the attention, the recognition–that can directly break through customers' apathy, that can break through a customer's default position of "who cares?"– a default position that unfortunately is likely to be held even by customers who are "satisfied" with everything about you as a brand.

Because that's the way to build customer engagement and customer loyalty, directly and reliably. And it's worth it.


When Your Customer Service Can’t Be Any Faster Than It Is, Here’s What To Do

12-26 moving to fast smallA young chef and I were recently discussing how customers today can be prone to unmatchable expectations, because they have instant everything in so many arenas of their lives.

For example, the divergence between instant news —finding out about the pope's resignation within eight seconds of the event, on your cell phone–and the reality that a well-done steak takes 10 minutes on the grill, “makes guests expect me to magically cook the steak in half that time, which is literally impossible,” the young chef told me.

Hmm. What to do? While it’s no secret that customer expectations for speed have accelerated (almost daily, it seems), there are instances where you can’t increase your speed of customer service, your delivery of your product, the deliverables of the customer experience. The reality of such situations is that customer expectations have rushed ahead of what you, being a reality-based business, can provide.

So while generally my advice, as a customer service consultant, has been "get with the program already and meet these new customer expectations–before somebody else does!" there have to be exceptions.

Here's the approach I suggest when your business hits an immovable wall as far as time is concerned:

  • Make sure the wall is really immovable. The chef’s example of a well-done steak taking as long as it takes is a good one.  So is the wait at USAA Insurance (see below) when they are awaiting a grudging eventual response from an opposing insurance company.

If you can't go any faster…

  • Make sure whenever possible you control/clarify customer expectations–and then match or beat those expectations
  • Work on improving how the time spent waiting feels to your customers

Here are nine examples of making timeliness more closely match the expectations of customers–even when actual speed of service cannot be increased.

  1. Five Guys burgers actually take a while to cook, because they are from scratch and need to be cooked beyond the e coli stage, thank you very much.  So Five Guys distracts customers with bags of peanuts—a filler for the hand, mouth, and eyes–during the cooked-from-scratch-burger wait.
  2. Ari Weinzweig, the gregarious co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli, kibitzes with and entertains the epically long line around his block every morning before they open, making the time there in Ann Arbor fly. As does the legendary Batali family here in Seattle, taking care of the epic lines outside their Salumi sausage boutique with fine cured-meat samples that almost make a longer line a better line.
  3. USAA Insurance's claims department offers an excellent online "my account" system that gives the customer (or in USAA terminology, the "member") a feeling of control while awaiting resolution of their claim: it lets you know the status 'round the clock so you know if the opposing driver's insurance company has responded, etc. rather than feeling like your concerns have fallen into a black hole.
  4. One of my favorite examples: Capella Hotels have no set check-in or checkout time; instead they contact their guests ahead of time and ask them when they want to check in and check out.  As long as it's not more than the 21 or so hours that is the maximum if you consider housekeeping time, they accommodate the customer's wish as far as start and end times.
  5. Apple Stores allows you to schedule appointments, via the Apple Store app, so you get devoted, no-wait time even within their hectic retail environment.
  6. Virgin America doesn’t restrict passengers to set meal times. You can order (and pay for) food at any time during the flight other than takeoff, landing, and “unexpected turbulence.” Other airlines are starting to follow suit.
  7. In retail malls, buzzer-alert technology that allows you to shop throughout the mall without missing your turn in line at your original destination is an excellent innovation.
  8. In healthcare, Vocera technology and other solutions allow patients to summon a nurse without waiting for them to notice your light on.
  9. Forward-thinking restaurants are learning to use “lunch,” and “dinner” time slots as guidelines only, not discouraging patrons from coming in in between these periods nor restricting choices during them. Which is especially millennial-savvy (millennial-age customers choose to dine during off-peak hours twice as often as their elders) but has an appeal for almost any age group today, considering the varied schedules of customers today, in a world that is so different from the 9 to 5, rush hour-ruled, blue-lawed society of yesteryear.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Recovering From a Customer Service Slip

12-16 customer service mistake smallHow your small business recovers from a customer service slipup is one of the most important aspects of good customer service. Why? Because one bad customer service experience runs the risk of running your good reputation—even with loyal customers.

Let me share an example. This holiday shopping season, I seem to be encountering an unusually high number of shipping problems with my online shopping. Recently, I realized that one of the online retailers I normally rely on hadn’t shipped an order placed more than a week ago. This made me nervous: In the past, everything I’ve ordered from them has shipped within two days.

Despite years of history with this retailer, and their standout performance all the rest of the time with something like 20 orders a year, I was so annoyed that immediately, their sterling reputation with me was in jeopardy. Here’s what happened next—and what they did (and didn’t) do right.

I contacted the retailer to find out what was going on.

Wrong: Their customer service contact information was difficult to find. I wanted to talk to—or at least email or chat online with—a live person. For a while, I was panicked that this was one of those sites where that was impossible.

Right: When I did find the contact info, I was pleased the company offered email, phone and chat customer service. You should always offer the widest possible number of options for people to contact you; not every customer is the same. I picked chat.

I started a chat with the company.

Right: I immediately got a response, as well as a notification that there might be longer than normal wait times due to high volume. I understood; it’s the holidays. Always let customers know what to expect—it eases their stress, and eliminates unnecessary anger in dealing with you.

During the chat I got distracted multitasking and stopped responding to the customer service rep. (That was a goof on my part!)

Right: She politely asked me several times if I was still there, then politely told me she would need to end the chat since I hadn’t responded for 10 minutes.

Mortified, I started a new chat, copying the text of the old chat into the window and apologizing for dropping the ball.

Right: The next customer service rep smoothly picked up where the previous one had left off. Realizing I was a flake, he asked me if I could stay on the chat for three minutes.

Right: He told me there was a problem with my order that was keeping it from shipping. He fixed the problem and sent me a detailed status report of my order with the new delivery time.

Wrong: I should have received notification that my order was “stuck” in the system. What if I hadn’t remembered the order until it was too late to get it in time? Develop systems for your business ensures this type of error doesn’t happen. Depending on the size and nature of your business, you can set up automated systems, or use simple manual systems like a checklist employees must go over before shipping an order.

Right: To make up for the delay, the customer service rep gave me next-day shipping for free. I was already pretty happy that the problem was solved, but this “something extra” made me fall in love with the company all over again. Always recognize when you have caused a customer to feel stressed, and take steps to not only fix it, but make up for it.

How do you handle customer service slipups in your business? 


Yes, The Customer Is Wrong Sometimes. However…

Is the customer always right?

For whatever reason, I'm asked this question more than any other. Doesn’t matter the forum, or the context: In interviews, keynote speeches, training sessions, seminars, workshops–it always comes up.

So, here's my definitive answer.

No. The customer isnt always right. But you want to make her feel like she is.

Stocksy_txp24de892bFK9000_Small_315517"Right" and "wrong," even in situations much more crucial than a mere customer service misunderstanding, are hard to sort out. Think of the sworn – but completely misremembered – eyewitness testimony that has convicted so many innocent men and women.

So in working with customers, your goal needs to be the polar opposite of trying to play Sherlock Holmes, by and large*.  It's not your goal to make it clear to the customer how inaccurate their position is.  Instead, focus on putting yourself in your customer's shoes, their eyes in your sockets, until you understand why they feel, and in fact “are,” "right.”  And make them feel good about it.

She’s your customer, after all.

*Are there exceptions? Absolutely.  Including safety and health-related scenarios, where sorting out the facts matters more than anything else. And expensive, ongoing B2B situations where there are disagreements on details of contracts that truly need to be resolved in a factual manner.  Though even in such situations, there likely are gracious ways to demonstrate your factual correctness without proving the other party baldly "wrong.”

 


What Should I Give Away When A Customer’s Unhappy?

One of the most common and emotionally fraught questions I encounter is this: "How should I compensate a customer for a service or product failure?

No matter how superb your product or service is, everyone in business eventually needs to find the answer to this question.  And the answer to the question is this: It depends. Customers have diverse values and preferences, varying even from day to day as well as from customer to customer—so your employees working with disgruntled customers need to be given enormous discretion.

Still: There are principles that almost always apply:

  1. Most customers understand that things can and will go wrong. What they don't  understand, accept, or find interesting are excuses. For example, they don’t care about your org chart: Your mentioning that a problem originated in a different department is of no interest to them.
  2. Don’t panic. With most customers and in most situations, customers’ sense of trust and camaraderie increases after a problem is successfully resolved, compared to if you had never had the problem in the first place. This make sense, since you now have a shared experience: You have solved something by working closely together.
  3. Avoid assuming you know what solution a customer wants or ‘‘should’’ want. Ask. And if a customer makes a request that sounds extreme or absurd, don’t rush to dismiss it. Even if it seems on its face impossible, there may be a creative way to make the requested solution, or something a lot like it, happen.
  4. Dont strive for ‘‘fairness’’ or ‘‘justice.’’  Creating, or preserving, a customer’s warm feelings for a company isn't about fairness or justice. It's about being treated especially well.
  5. Learn from customer issues, but dont use them as an opportunity to discipline or train your staff in front of your customer. This may sound obvious, but it happens quite often. Watch out for this flaw, especially when you’re under stress.
  6. Dont imagine youre doing something special for a customer by making things how they should have been in the first place. Time cannot be given back—it’s gone. The chance to get it right the first time? It’s gone. So re-creating how things should have been is just a first step. You need to then give the customer something extra. If you aren’t sure which ‘‘extra’’ to offer a particular customer, just make it clear you want to offer something. If the customer doesn’t like red lollipops or doesn’t eat sugar, she’ll let you know. Then you can decide together on a different treat.
  7. …And always, always, keep an eye on the lifetime value–directly and as a vocal supporter–of having a loyal, engaged customer. A loyal customer is likely worth a small fortune to your company when considered over a decade or two of regular purchases, not to mention that customer's "network value"–the value of her or his recommendations online and off.

Perhaps in your business this number is a few thousand dollars, or perhaps it's hundreds of thousands. It's well worth figuring out that number and keeping it in mind if you ever feel that temptation to quarrel with a customer over, say, an overnight shipping bill.

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The Danger Of DYPII (Did You Plug It In?)

In pulling off a successful service recovery (the times when a customer contacts you to complain about your service or product, or needs your help in addressing a service-related breakdown) one factor that underlies your ultimate success or failure is the language at you use.  For this reason, service-recovery language needs to be chosen intentionally in your business, ideally codified and immortalized in a “language lexicon” that all can refer to.

The language of calming, apology, and probing

You’ll never successfully calm an upset customer without the right words and phrasing. ‘‘I’m sorry, I apologize’’ are the words, delivered sincerely, that your customer wants to hear. Phrases like ‘‘It’s our policy’’ and any synonyms for ‘‘You’re wrong’’ must be banished. (If, in fact, the customer is wrong and there is a bona fide – e.g., safety-related or legally required – reason to point this out, you need words that express this obliquely, such as ‘‘Our records seem to indicate…’’ and ‘‘Perhaps… ’’ so that she can realize her error but also save face.

The five words you can never say to a customer: "Did You Plug It In?"

?????????????????????????There is a specific moment in service recovery where the language used (and the timing of when you use that language) comes most crucially into play.  When a customer is looking to resolve an issue, you are often put in an exploratory position that requires you to ask rudimentary questions like:‘‘Are you sure you, uh, typed in your password correctly?’’

I refer to these as DYPII (‘‘Did You Plug It In?’’) questions. DYPII questions (pronounced “dippy”), no matter how justified, are highly likely to raise customer hackles. If you bring up DYPII questions right away, before you’ve taken the time to sincerely apologize to the customer for a service breakdown—and before your customer has accepted your apology—they’ll almost universally be considered offensive.

But after you’ve apologized, and taken the time to help your customer develop a spirit of collaboration with you, the same questions are generally tolerated well, if you use the correct language.

Every industry has its own, often predictable, set of “DYPII” questions. Plan for them. Find new phrases to use. It makes all the difference.

In fact, the classically infuriating DYPII question, ‘‘Did you plug it in?’’ can be rendered as ‘‘Maybe the wall connection is loose. Can you do me a favor and check where it plugs into the socket?’’


Improving Customer Service? Try These 4 Tech Tools

11-21 tech customer service toolsCustomer service can make or break a business, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One post about a bad experience with your company can linger online for years, scaring away business and harming the professional reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

But technology can help businesses, too. A wide variety of tools are available to help businesses manage their customer service, automating processes to prevent calls from falling through the cracks. Here are four tools that can put your business in control of all of its interactions with customers.

Ticketing System

Whether a business is handling an occasional call for assistance or hundreds of support requests each day, a ticketing system can help bring it all together. Each call that comes in creates a new ticket that remains open until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The call is routed to the right support representative and escalated as necessary, with each employee logging notes as they work to help the customer. By regularly extracting reports on tickets, a business can pinpoint trends, including specific issues with a product or service, giving it the opportunity to fix those issues.

Live Chat

As your business grows, your website will receive multiple visits each day from customers interested in learning more about your product. The ability to initiate a chat to ask questions can make a big difference to both new visitors and current customers, some of whom feel more comfortable chatting through an online interface than picking up the phone to call. This technology has evolved even further in recent years to allow businesses to initiate a chat with every guest who visits. As a user clicks around your site, an invitation to chat (usually phrased as “How may I help you today?”) can be sent, with the customer opting to either close it or engage in a conversation.

Virtual Call Center

Cloud technology allows businesses to set up an affordable customer service desk online. Representatives no longer have to drive into an office each day to gather in clusters of cubicles. With a virtual call center, each customer service representatives can login from any internet-connected device to begin accepting calls, freeing up businesses to hire employees to work from home. With reporting and call management features, virtual call centers also provide ongoing insight into call volume trends for resource planning purposes.

Google Alerts

When a customer has an issue with a product or service your business provides, he can easily blast it across the internet before you’re even aware of it. By setting up Google Alerts for any mention of your brand, you’ll know immediately when you’ve been mentioned on social media or online review sites, giving you the opportunity to engage in damage control before the problem spirals out of control.

Quality customer service is essential to a business’s ongoing success. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to implement and manage high-quality customer service desks. With many of these features coming with built-in reporting tools, you’ll have insight into your customers that will help drive future business decisions, improving your efficiency and keeping you in better contact with the consumers you’re serving.


Everyone In Your Company Needs To Be Responsible For Complaints

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Here’s an important question to ask yourself: Whom do you feel should be responsible for the customer experience at your company?

How you (and others in your organization) answer this question can make or break your company.

Here's my answer.

Make everyone responsible for the customer experience.  Responsible for handling complaints. For suggesting improvements in your processes. For maintaining the customer-friendly processes you already have. If you don't,  you'll find the actual responsibility for the customer experience at your company devolves quickly "no one."

This answer isn't as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds. "Everyone" here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’

Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Do Customers Want From Your Customer Service?

Woman working in restaurant taking payment from customerGood customer service makes life better for your customers—but it also makes your profits better. Need confirmation of that claim? Check out the results from the latest Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express.

Customers today don’t feel very positive about customer service in general. Maybe that’s why those who do get good service really appreciate it. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of consumers surveyed say they have spent more with a company because they had a history of positive customer service experiences with that business. On average, customers are willing to spend 14 percent more with companies that provide good service.

Good customer service not only boosts your sales with current customers, it’s a major factor in landing new customers. More than four in 10 (42 percent) say a recommendation from a friend or family member is likely to get them to do business with a new company. What’s more, 34 percent say such a recommendation is even more influential than sales or promotions.

On the flip side, last year six out of 10 consumers say they had an experience where they planned to buy something from a business, but changed their minds after a poor customer service experience. And 37 percent of respondents say they only give a business one chance to mess up before they switch to the competition.

While nearly half of consumers tell people about good customer service—and they tell an average of eight people—a whopping 95 percent of shoppers tell others about bad customer service experiences. Even worse, customers who have negative experiences tell twice as many people as those who have positive experiences.

So what constitutes good customer service? It’s pretty easy to do: To exceed U.S. consumers’ expectations, simply deliver the value you promise at the right price. While that’s the most important factor in customer service, consumers also say “ease of doing business” and “personalized service” factor in to good customer service.

When it comes to interaction with customer service reps, consumers overwhelmingly agree that good service means being able to provide satisfactory answers to their questions (86 percent) or connect them with someone who can (78 percent).

Beyond these basics, customers value efficiency (they want their transactions handled quickly and competently) and empowerment (they want employees who are able to make decisions on their own). 




 
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