Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Work Your Biz Wednesday: Make Your Business Recommendable

Are you taking advantage of referrals to get new customers? Find out how to make your business more recommendable to boost your positive word of mouth from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.

How to Respond to a Negative Online Review

Imagine this scenario: You own a small ice cream shop in the middle of a downtown district. You’ve been in business for about a year and things are going well, until one day you notice a negative online review of your store. Immediately your heart sinks, your palms start to sweat and your heartbeat soars. You are livid and want to respond in the most negative way possible.

“This is a normal way to feel,” says Jason McDonald, director of JM Internet Group, a social media and SEO consulting company in Fremont, Calif. “You put your heart and soul into your business; when someone says something negative about your business, it can feel as bad as someone telling you that you have an ugly baby. It is very personal.”

Before reaching for your keyboard, take note of McDonald’s tips on how to respond to a negative online review.

Take the emotion out of it

It doesn’t pay to show a public display of anger when you receive negative press online, because, as McDonald points out, your comments are on display for the world to see.

“Remember that you aren’t only talking to the person who gave you the bad review, you are talking to the dozens of other people who are reading your response,” he says. “You always want to take the high ground.”

Can’t calm down? Take some time. You don’t need to respond right away. Talk to a friend about how you are feeling, go for a walk or engage in another work task to take your mind off of the review. Go back and respond when you feel calm and collected.

Create a proactive review plan

Now that you’ve responded to the negative review, it’s time to try to prevent future bad reviews from happening at all. McDonald recommends small business owners establish a proactive review strategy that includes following up with happy customers a few days (or hours) after their purchase.

“Ask every one of your happy customers to write a positive review of your business online,” he suggests. “Some of them will and those comments will help bolster your status online with potential customers.” 

negative review

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Get Your Customer Service in Shape for the Holidays

Black Friday is only a little more than a month away (in fact, this year there will be two Black Fridays as Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day—a rarity that won’t happen for another 70,000 years). With competition for shoppers’ dollars stiffer than ever, is your small business prepared to offer the kind of customer service needed to stand out in the crowd? Here are some steps you should take now to get your business’s customer service in shape for the holidays.

  1. Staff up. I posted last week about hiring tips for the holidays; if you haven’t already got your team in place, get going!
  2. Educate. “Showrooming”—customers coming into your store to touch and try merchandise, then using smartphones to look for lower prices online—is a game-changer for retailers (and not in a good way). Combat the practice by making sure your retail associates are educated about the products you sell so they can answer all your customers’ questions and basically be more helpful than the Internet.
  3. Equip. Make sure your team has the tools they need for smooth selling this holiday season. That means a well-stocked inventory, up-to-date point-of-sale systems and mobile technology like iPads and smartphones. Mobile tools can shorten wait times if you use software like Square so customers can pay from anywhere in the store (instead of waiting on line). They can also help fight showrooming by allowing clerks to look up product information or check inventory levels. 
  4. Test. If you sell online, make sure your customer service team is ready for the holiday overload. Start by testing your website to ensure it can handle heavy traffic and that browsing, shopping and checking out are clear and intuitive. Provide a variety of ways that users can contact your customer service team, from email and phone to live chat. Speed things along by making sure your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), shipping, returns and other information is current and clear. If customers can answer their own questions, they won’t need your customer service team.
  5. Motivate. Customer service can be a grueling task during the holiday rush, so plan how you will reward and motivate your team. Setting attainable goals, holding regular meetings to bring up problems or concerns, and encouraging employees with rewards and prizes are great ways to keep your customer service reps powering through the toughest times.



Do You Walk Your Talk in Business?

More than ever before, people are inundated with all kinds of fancy marketing campaigns, tactics, offers and strategies via online media, print media, television, telemarketing and even billboards in just about any place that you can imagine (I have even seen ads in restroom stalls!). Businesses put lot of time, money and effort into these over the top advertisements and offers, each seemingly trying to capture the increasingly elusive attention of potential customers.

Don’t get me wrong; getting the word out about your business is extremely important, because as I always say, if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. And having some kind of flashy gimmick may help your business break through the noisy, overcrowded marketplace. But while your slick new offer or campaign may get someone to walk through your door or purchase from you one time,  if your products or services aren’t up to par and you can’t meet (or exceed) the expectations of that offer for that new customer, they won’t ever purchase from you again. And they definitely won’t tell all of their friends and family to purchase from you either. 

bullhorn-guyEven worse, if you really can’t back up the offers or assertions that you put forth in your marketing campaigns, that unsatisfied customer will tell everyone that will listen about their bad experience. And with internet comments, reviews and tweets so prevalent now, that one bad experience can multiply into a storm of negativity with worldwide ramifications, far beyond the scope of someone just telling a few of their local friends or family members, like what was the case in the past. This can be a huge disaster for any company and is extremely difficult to overcome, not to mention just bad business overall.

And this isn’t just true for marketing. It goes for live events, conventions and conferences, too.  You may think that bringing in a big name host, entertainer or speaker will be enough draw people to your event and make a big splash. But if that individual doesn’t do a good job or doesn’t deliver useful content to the audience, your event will suffer the same negative consequences of not living up to attendees’ expectations. And once those negative comments and reviews get out, it’s nearly impossible to get people to attend your future events or do business with your company, whatever your ultimate goal for the event was.

So, no matter what your offering is, make sure that you put your energy and focus on creating the absolute best product, service or experience that you can. Approach it from the perspective of what your target customers truly want and need. That way, when you craft your marketing campaigns and offers, you can really back up your claims with confidence.  This will keep your customers happy and coming back for more. And these happy, repeat customers are the real key to a successful business.

Did you have a bad experience with a marketing campaign or offer that didn’t deliver what it promised?  Please share it below.

How Your Company Return Policy Keeps Customers Coming Back

returnsOne of the most visited sections of any retailer’s site is how a consumer can return a purchase. Hammacher Schlemmer’s return policy stands above all other retailers. It is one place where a consumer can bring back whatever they bought at any time for any reason. This policy is one of their value adds and why they can charge top price for most products in their catalog.

Amazon has a more limited return policy of 30 days, but most importantly, it is one with no questions asked. If the consumer doesn’t like the product, Amazon will pay to ship it back for whatever reason. Many times, if the item costs less than $10, Amazon will actually let their best customers keep the product since it will cost that much to process the return. This definitely increases customer loyalty!

What should your return policy be so customers come back?

  1. Take a return if you want the customer to return. If the product is easily restocked and it will not show wear and tear, then the company should take it back. Thirty days should be long enough for the customer to know if the product is a keeper or not. Remember, if returns are not allowed, the customer will doubt the quality of what the company is selling. Many consumers dislike returns for only “store credit” since they are locked into buying from that company. If this case, what the business is telling the customer is “I know you did not like what I just sold you, but try something else you may not like.”
  2. Reflect customer buying habits. How often do they come back to the store? How often do they buy after a visit? The more frequently they pruchase, the more flexibility there will need to be in a return policy. If the cost of goods for the product is low, take it back and accept it as a cost of sales Think about not this one purchase, but overall value of the customer.
  3. Be Flexible. There are always exceptions to every policy. Has it been 31 days since purchase? Was the product a gift and the receiver is unaware of when the product was actually purchased? Train staff to understand the life time value (LTV) of a customer and not just revolve everything around a single transaction. A flexible return policy will enhance the company’s online reputation which will be its best marketing tool.

How have you used your return policy to ensure customers come back?

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Empower Your Employees to Give Better Customer Service

Empowering-employeesYou talk a good game about customer service—but do you really follow through? When a customer has a problem, do your frontline employees have to call a manager to resolve the issue? Do they get stuck explaining, “That’s not our policy” to increasingly frustrated customers? If so, your employees aren’t truly empowered to solve problems—and your customers aren’t getting the best possible customer service.

Empowered customer service employees are able to make their own decisions about how best to resolve an issue. They aren’t machines who have to follow a set process without regard for the customer’s unique situation or feelings, or peons who have to ask the manager before taking the simplest step. So how can you empower your customer service employees? Here are 4 steps.

  1. Spend time on the front line. As a small business owner, you may be involved with frontline customer service to some degree, but if your business is growing and you’re no longer interacting with customers day to day, it’s time to remedy that. Spend a day with your frontline employees dealing with customers and seeing what kinds of issues come up. Make it clear to the staff that you’re not there in a “Big Brother” capacity to spy on them, but you genuinely want to know what they are dealing with.
  2. Get input from the front line. After you’ve spent some time dealing with customers yourself, call a meeting with your frontline and customer service teams to go over any issues you noticed. What problems commonly arise—not only customer problems, but problems employees have dealing with those issues? What processes are holding employees back from providing truly stellar service? 
  3. Provide guidelines. Empowerment doesn’t mean there are no policies or that employees are free to do whatever they want. You still need to set general guidelines for how employees should respond to different types of situations. For example, one common guideline is setting a dollar limit for how much employees are able to waive or refund without asking a manager. As you create the guidelines, remember to keep the focus on the customer interaction and creating happy, loyal customers.
  4. Reward employees for going the extra mile. Employees are often wary of the term “empowerment” and worry about getting in trouble for making their own decisions. So it’s crucial to keep the conversation going and regularly reward and praise employees who go the extra mile to provide empowered customer service. As you do this, your team will get more comfortable with the concept—they’re embrace being empowered, and you customers will be more satisfied for it.  

3 Ways to Amaze Your Customers Today

Customer service is the backbone of every successful business. Here, Shep Hyken, international customer service speaker and author of The Amazement Revolution: Seven Customer Service Strategies to Create an Amazing Customer (and Employee), offers three unique ways for small business owners to impress their customers.

Give these a try today!

Send a note

Every time you land a new customer, take five minutes to write them a hand written thank you note. Do it right after you sign them as a customer so their account is fresh in your mind. When writing the note, cite the conversation you just had with specifics on their business and express how excited you are to welcome them into your company.

If you don’t have time to write a hand-written note, Hyken recommends employing Gracious Eloise to help you craft computer generated notes that look hand written.

“They will send you a few pages of words to write out in your handwriting,” he says. “Then, when you are ready to send a thank you note, you just type it quickly and hit send. I’ve had people tell me that they couldn’t tell the difference between my handwriting and the note made on a computer.”

Create confidence in your business

Customers need to have confidence in your product or service in order to stay with you or to sign on as a new client. Hyken says there are five main ways to create confidence in the eyes of a customer.

First, be polite by saying or writing “please” and “thank you” in all of your correspondences. Second, show up on time. “It is disrespectful to be even one minute late for an in-person meeting or a phone call,” he says.

Third, always follow through on your promises. Fourth, be proactive. “Just like the best servers will fill a water glass before you ask for a refill, you should be on top of what your customers want and need before they ask,” Hyken says.

His final piece of confidence-boosting advice: set expectations and exceed them.

“If I tell you that I’ll call you tomorrow at noon, I’ll try to call you at 9 a.m. instead,” he says. “If something is due Friday, I will try to deliver it on Thursday. Those little touches really matter in the eyes of a customer.”

Work quickly

Every company should try to answer emails in less than 24 hours, says Hyken.

“Speed is something people want,” he says. “If you can deliver it to them—be it in your phone call strategy or your email strategy—it will wow them.” 


7 Ways to Master the Art of the Customer Follow Up

According to Harvard Business Review, the biggest complaint that customers have when dealing with any business is poor follow up. 56% complain that they need to either re-explain their issue when calling back. 62% report having to repeatedly contact the company to get their issues resolved. As a result, 65% are likely to speak poorly about the company and 48% of customers go on to tell 10 or more people about their bad experience.

How should a small business train their staff in the art of the follow up?

1.    Set expectations first. If you don’t set expectations, your customers will set their own. By being proactive, you can influence how they perceive their satisfaction with the eventual outcome. Be specific about what needs to be followed up on and when you will get back to them. Then, get back to the customer in the promised time frame even if there is not a resolution.

2.    Focus on after the sale. Businesses are usually great following up to get the sale, but then don’t contact the customer until they need to make the next one. This only shows that the business is interested in the sale not the success of their customer.

3.    Pre-emptive strike. If there is a time of year or a product where many customers experience problems, don’t wait for them to call you. Get on the phone or email them. Sage Solutions does this with their accounting business partners around tax time to try to anticipate problems their customers might have in their business.

4.    Remember. Special anniversaries of customers doing business with your company or other milestones is an excellent excuse to reach out to customers proactively.

5.    Be special. Reach out with a special offer and with no strings attached. Too many times, companies only make special offers to attract new customers.

6.    Get personal. People do business with those they know, like and trust. If it fits your brand, be more conversational in customer communication. Use real employee names when sending emails or leaving messages.

7.    Empower your staff to make their own decisions. After sufficient training, give your employees the power to do what is best for customers in specific cases that fall outside normal guidelines.

How often should you follow up with a customer? Jason Brick suggests asking new clients to fill out a "bug me meter." This tells the small business how often the customer wants to hear from them on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, a “10” may suggest weekly contact and a “1” may mean only contact with very specific and urgent communications.

How do you follow up with your customers?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Want to Know What Your Customers Think? Just Ask!

Want to improve your customer service? There’s an easy way to do that—just ask. Don’t be shy or afraid—your customers want to share what they think about your products, your business and your service with you. If you think surveying your customers is a hassle, think again. Here are four simple options for conducting customer surveys.

  1. Calling all customers: You can do customer surveys over the phone using in-house staff or, if you don’t have the manpower, hiring a telemarketing firm to help. Create a script for callers to follow and have them call customers to ask survey questions. Or, keep it really simple by setting reminders (you can do that in your CRM system) to call customers shortly after delivering your product or service to ask, “Hi, I’m just following up on [X product you bought from us]. I wanted to make sure everything was handled to your satisfaction. Were there any issues?”
  2. Get social: Social media is a quick and easy way to conduct customer surveys (although these won’t be very detailed). You can post or tweet questions or polls, or ask customers what they think and get a discussion going. Facebook and Twitter are great for quick surveys, such as finding out what kind of drink special would drive the most traffic to your restaurant this weekend. You can also use social media to drive customers to more detailed online surveys you create (see tip 3).
  3. Go online: There are several companies that offer free or low-cost survey tools you can use to develop online surveys. SurveyMonkey, Snap Surveys and SurveyGizmo are three to check out. Keep in mind, if a large percentage of your customers aren’t comfortable online, this might not be the best option for you.
  4. Paper surveys: Of course, the old-fashioned paper method of surveys still works, too. Consider placing comment cards at checkout or including them when you give restaurant customers the check. If you mail invoices to clients, you can include a longer survey with the invoice (consider offering an incentive, such as a certain percentage or dollar amount off next month’s bill for completing the survey).

Whichever type of survey you choose, remember to keep it short and focused. Customers have short attention spans, so the more quickly you can get their opinions, the more likely they are to share them.  


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