Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


7 Conversation Starters to Never Use (and What to Say Instead)

Senior male and female executives chatting with city views in backgroundEvery customer relationship starts somewhere. Classic "in person" questions like “so, what do you do?” rarely lead to memorable conversations that can get the small business leaders noticed. Some awkward questions can even lead to making a bad first impression that ends the relationship even before it starts.

Here are 7 conversation starters you should avoid and what to say instead:

1. Did you hit heavy traffic on the way here?

Talking about traffic does not put anyone in a good mood. The lesson here is to not just ask any question. Put some effort into thinking about ones that will start a meaningful conversation that will give a relationship a chance.

Instead try: What inspired you to come here? Find out what they are hoping to get out of the event. Maybe you can help each other out right now!

2. Where do you live?

This question can be too personal when initially meeting.

Instead try: Where are you from originally? followed by What was your favorite part about growing up there? This gets them to start sharing immediately on a deeper level which builds the relationship.

3. How about this weather lately? So much (snow, rain, heat) right?

It doesn’t get any more cliché than this. You don’t want someone thinking “Wow, really? That’s all you’ve got?” This sounds like elevator talk.

Instead try: What are you most excited about for the (Spring, Summer)? Put a twist on the weather question by using it to learn more about someone. This question gives them a chance to talk about upcoming events they’re attending or their favorite hobbies outside of work.

4. How boring is this (speaker, event, job)?

Complaining about anything and negativity in general absolutely ruins a first impression. Even if your statements are valid (and they are thinking the same thing), never start a relationship over a negative. Keep the tone positive.

Instead try: What have you found most helpful in the (speakers presentation, the event, the job)? Asking people to reflect on what they have just heard or experienced and how it will help their business gives insight.

5. I am looking to try a new diet. Do you know of any good ones?

Generally, health topics will make people feel uncomfortable. They make think you are making a statement about their weight or appearance which is dangerous.

Instead try: Im looking for a new book to read. What business books have you read lately? This is a great go-to question for someone without getting too personal.

6. Did you hear about that guy who went to jail for ___?

Just like health topics, creepy topics (criminals, for example) can make people really uncomfortable or can lead to a discussion about politics! (always a topic to avoid).

Instead try: Did you see what happened on the last episode of ___? Television series and pop culture topics are usually a safer bet! Figure out a show you both watch and share what you think about its latest developments.

7. I can't seem to get anything done. I feel like I dont have five minutes for myself. Do you feel that way?

Don’t make people think of their long to-do lists back at the office. Connect in the moment.

Instead try: Im planning to a vacation soon. Do you have any fun trips coming up soon? Most people have a trip on the horizon or will at least enjoy talking about the last one they took. Ask for recommendations for places to travel!

What is your best conversation starter?


Using Adventure, Even Danger, To Improve The Customer Experience

Adveturer man sitting on a rock with his feet dangling on natural landscape. Adventure travelCustomers of all ages, from older “bucket-listers” to the young and increasingly important Millennial generation of customers, crave adventures and discoveries, whether epic or everyday. The more stimulating and surprising an environment, an experience, a “movie” you can create for your customers to engage with, the more your customers will want to text, Facebook, and talk about your business.

Virgin America: Consciously Creating a Tweetworthy Airline

This is a powerful phenomenon.  Think about how much people love to tell/tweet/FB their friends that they’re flying Virgin America, because the airline is intentionally providing an experience that’s worth talking about.

The details crafted by Virgin America offer a story that people want to retell: purple lighting, wildly catchy dance-based safety videos, abundant TV options, leather seats, great waiting rooms and the “Here on Biz” app that lets you meet other passengers with similar interests. These details make people talk, tweet, post and write about Virgin, because of the distinction and immersion of the experience the airline has created for them.

Smart Hospitality Operators Are Learning This Lesson

The more forward-thinking operators in the hospitality and travel industries have, perhaps not surprisingly, embraced this message more quickly than have other industries. For example, Dove Mountain Resort, a new and relaxed Ritz-Carlton property in the Sonoran desert outside Tucson, where adventures range from those you can engage in while seated to those that challenge all of your muscle groups and mental acuity. 

The adventure starts, in a sense, with the design of the hotel, a conscious effort to bring guests outdoors through large windows and doors that invite them to wander everywhere without interruption from visible and obtrusive barriers.

As the sun starts to set, guests hear a Native American musician playing wooden flute on a nearby hill, playing modal melodies that echo off the surrounding mountains in a way that gives you an auditory impression of the unique landscape in which the hotel is sited.      

In the morning, guests are challenged to pick their adventure: trail riding or Addle Addle lessons (addle addle is an ancient form of projecting arrows that predates the invention of bows) or a hike to learn about the prehistoric petroglyphs in the land trust property through which the resort and its guests have a protected right of way.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like it applies directly to your business, your entrepreneurial pursuits, but I suspect you’re wrong.  This craving for adventure, even for “danger” (more about that in a moment) can be made use of in many, if not most, industries and business niches.

When shopping, for example, many customers (including the majority of younger customers — the millennial generation) prefer what’s known as an “experiential lifestyle environment”_ (a retail environment where shopping is not just a transaction and the pleasure of being in the store isn’t limited to the goods customers take home). And when dining out, more people than ever before are looking for something exotic, adventuresome, memorable or new to explore during their dining experience. Especially among younger food enthusiasts, this has helped transform cuisine searches (“tastespotting”) into an adventure—and food truck-following (a concept sure to evoke fears of stomachache in some of their elders) into its own culture. 

Many customers — primarily younger — even say that they are are willing “to encounter danger in pursuit of excitement,” according to research by Barkley. This may sound irrelevant to you as a businessperson if you don’t sell bungee ropes or the like, but consider the idea of “danger” more broadly than actual risk to life or limb. For a customer, “embracing danger” can mean traveling across the city for artisanal cupcakes, knowing that there’s a high risk of disappointment since the bakery famously sells out each day before 10 a.m., or shopping, as a lark, at a popup store with no history and nothing but word of mouth to recommend it.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Really Satisfying Your Customers?

3-24 Customer Satisfaction smallWhile consumers’ expectations of customer service are rising, very few brands are keeping pace, a new study by Accenture reveals. Mobile, social and digital are converging with traditional channels of doing business, and customers are eager to take advantage of this omnichannel world. But only 11 percent think companies are doing a good job of melding digital, mobile, social and traditional channels, Accenture’s latest Global Consumer Pulse Research found.

Instead, customers are still suffering from the same customer service issues they’ve been reporting for the past several years of the survey. For instance, customer satisfaction with companies’ ability to resolve problems quickly has remained flat for the past six years. Dissatisfaction with resolution time is the number-one reason customers switch from one business to another.

Specifically, 86 percent of customers are frustrated by companies that can’t resolve a problem in the first customer service interaction; 85 percent are frustrated by lengthy hold times and 84 percent get annoyed when customer service representatives can’t answer their questions.

Although online customer service channels have been around for quite a while now, customer satisfaction with these channels has also remained relatively flat, suggesting that businesses are holding steady but not improving in these areas. Still, traditional customer service is falling behind: Just 51 percent are satisfied with the customer service they get from traditional call centers, while 57 percent are satisfied with online chat customer service.

Companies’ “coasting” in customer service terms may be why only 28 percent of respondents in the survey say they are “very loyal” toward companies they patronize.

How can your business beat those odds?

  • Integrate all your customer service channels. Customers may expect to start a customer service interaction in chat or email format, then move to a phone conversation without having to provide all of the same information to each representative. It’s important for the experience to be simple and seamless.
  • Educate customer service teams. Your customer service reps need access to the latest knowledge about your products, services and policies so they can quickly respond to questions without having to find a supervisor. Ongoing training programs and updated, online “knowledge bases” can help.
  • Help customers help themselves. Provide as much information as possible to help customers find their own solutions. FAQs, community forums, product guides or even how-to videos can educate customers in using your product or service so that they can resolve their own problems.

There’s more opportunity than ever to provide good customer service to employees in whatever format they want it. Don’t miss out on that chance to differentiate your business.


10 Trends in Customer Expectations

3-20 Customer Expectations smallHere are 10 trending ways that customer service, customer experience and, most of all, customer expectations are changing.

  1. Customers’ definition of what’s fast and what’s not has grown more extreme on an almost daily basis. An escalating expectation of timeliness doesn’t just apply to product and services delivery (where amazon.com has so dramatically set the lead). It applies to the speed of response they expect from you to any issue they have or query they shoot your way. Remember, “we respond to all inquiries within 24 hours” means you’re answering in about 46 days, I figure, if you do the conversion to internet time.  It’s simply not good enough.
  2. Customers, more and more, expect omnichannel integration. I hate to get buzzwordy, so I apologize for this one, but omnichannel at its essence just means that customers expect you to honor the same offers in all channels (web, in-store, phone, mobile), and they expect you to let the customer move between channels without it being a hassle. A credit card given over the phone should be on file when you try to shop in the store. A purchase made in a store across town should be returnable by ups. And so forth.
  3. Customers expect extended hours: 24/7 or as close as you can get. When I interviewed Google not long ago, they quietly mentioned to me that they offer support to their adwords advertisers in 42 languages, including offering English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support. And it puts pressure on those of us who aren’t Google to up our game, or at least our support hours.
  4. Customers expect accuracy. Typos are no longer acceptable in a cut and paste world. Nor are inaccurate claims of what is in stock, or missed delivery dates, considering the technology and process improvements that your competitors have made, and that customers have grown accustomed to. However…
  5. Customers are more willing than ever to assist you (or, I suppose, assist themselves), participating in the service process on a self-service basis, including typing in their own contact info and hard to spell names to avoid the unacceptable typos I refer to in point #4.
  6. Customers expect just about everything to come with a money back guarantee, implied or explicit. You can put in all the fine print you want, but they’re going to expect you to waive it and take the damn dog back, period. Even if pulling it off means, ultimately, sticking it to your own vendors. Amazon of course set the lead here, both in offering the guarantee and in doing the back-office vendor stickage [which I don’t actually encourage] required to pull it off.
  7. Customers don’t want to pay for shipping, or other “hidden fees,” for that matter. Amazon yet again set the lead here.
  8. Customers especially expect you to be monitoring their communications, complaints, and compliments, regardless of channel–and bending over backward to respond both quickly and thoroughly. If a customer says something about, or to, a company via twitter, a web form, or any other channel, they expect the company to notice, to react, to respond.
  9. Customers dislike overly scripted service. This is a prominent aspect of a larger trend: the desire for authenticity.
  10. Customers feel empowered. It’s not just that they know they’re “always right,” they know they always have a voice due to all of the social media options at their disposal, if you forget that they’re “always right.”  The good news is that while they know they have options, just a click or two away, by and large customers hope you realize this too, and that you don’t make them use that twitchy clicking finger. They’d rather stay than switch, but only if you treat them right.  For which, as a start, refer back to points 1 through 9 of this article.

Improve Your Customer Service–By Letting Us See Your Tats!

2-20 tattoos at work smallResponding to tens of thousands of employee requests, Starbucks recently announced sweeping changes to its tattoo policy, now allowing customer-facing employees to exhibit them everywhere except on the employee’s face. (Previously, employees had to hide tattoos under long clothing, which as you can imagine made things uncomfortable in a long day working over hot steam.) Dress codes, too, have been loosened to allow more expression in accoutrements, scarves, and the like, and piercings have been significantly deregulated.

Are these sensible, bottom-line minded moves Starbucks is making, and that you should consider for yourself as a leader and businessperson? I would argue that the answer to both questions is yes.

Customers are searching for the genuine, the authentic

Today’s customers have a well-developed sense of the genuine, and "genuine" is something that they look for from a brand.  I find as a customer service consultant that my clients who allow their employees self-expression on the job–in language, clothing, and, yes, tattoos–are better able to deliver a genuine customer experience that connects with the customer.

Letting employees express their personal style, tats and all

In other words: letting employees revel in their own style is a way to project how genuine you are as a brand to employees and to the customers they support. Your customers—including the important millennial generation that will soon be the dominant breed of consumer in the marketplace—project their own style through their clothing choices, tattoos, and hairstyles, and by and large they're fine with your employees doing the same. As fellow customer service designer Tim Miller expressed it to me recently, in a customer-facing business you should strive for a visible symbiosis between the people working at your establishment because it fits their lifestyle, and the customers doing business with you because it fits their lifestyle.

Choosing the best employees, not just the ones without tattoos and piercing

The second reason is even more important: Employees with the potential to be great all share certain key personality traits (Warmth, Empathy, Teamwork, Conscientiousness, Optimism [WETCO] is my list),  but what they don’t share is a particular look. And as an employer, what you’re looking for, praying for, dreaming of, are great employees. Not necessarily Darien-bred or Oxbridge-accented employees (in fact, sometimes these are exactly the kinds of employees you want to avoid in the service industry, if they come with an attitude to match), but employees with the potential to be great in all the empathetic and creative ways that a customer-facing employee needs to be great.

This principle is epitomized by a front-of-house service professional in Bermuda named Nick DeRosa, about whom I've written before.  Mr. DeRosa is head doorman at the Fairmont Southampton and one of the greatest front-of-house employees you’ll ever meet.

DeRosa has a tattoo on his neck, all capital letters that says “NICK” so large and visibly that his much-smaller name tag serves pretty much as decoration rather than identification.

Based on an appearance checklist, Nick would hardly be the likeliest candidate to be chosen as the first person guests encounter at this grand luxury hotel, yet they selected him anyway, based on his personality and smile, and it’s clear it’s one of the best personnel decisions the hotel has ever made. Not only is his own performance stellar but he is an inspiration to the employees who work for and with him to up their own game. So I hold the example of DeRosa out to you and ask you this: Why lose a potentially great service person who made a questionable (to you) stylistic choice earlier in their lives—or even made one last night?

Get over your hiring inhibitions

You may get some pushback from whoever your pushbackers are, saying that some studies do show that, all things being equal, an untattooed, unpierced employee is viewed more favorably by mainstream customers than one who is decorated in the modern fashion. But all things are never equal. All employees are not equal. And I would argue that you want the tattooed employee if the tattooed employee is otherwise a future star for you.

Revise your HR guidelines

So: Are you reluctant to (and/or do your hiring guidelines prohibit you to) employ otherwise-qualified candidates who sport tattoos, weird hair, cheek piercings, and the like?

Well, if so, I do understand. I really do. But I want to challenge you to consider that, perhaps, your thinking is out of date. Anachronistic. Please evolve as quickly as you can, for the sake of your employees, your customers, and your bottom line.


Refreshing Your Customer Service Experience (Without Losing Your Core Identity)

2-12 hotel guest checking in small

Once you've initially succeeded in interesting your customers in your brand, once you've succeeded in pleasing them with your customer experience and customer service, you need to work on keeping their interest by adding clues and cues to the plot.

Any meaningful service, any meaning customer experience will start to grow stale over time. Service signatures, scripted interactions, and product offerings that delighted customers at first will get copied, replicated, and bastardized over time. They'll lose their intended meaning (Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's signature phrase, “My pleasure,” for instance, has lost some of its freshness now that you can get a $2.99 rendition of it from a server at —I kid you not—Chik Fil A. This has led Ritz-Carlton to  change up its language of late to keep it fresh and authentic, authenticity being a key attribute that Ritz-Carlton is striving for in its revamped modern-day hotel brand.)

And, of course, design and product offerings will get stale and tired. What's fabulous to a customer on visit one will be "fine but nothing new" on visit five.  And, especially in this era of intensive and friction-free social sharing, you need something fresh, something, literally, to write or tweet home about, to tantalize your customer.

Retelling a story too many times

Retail is perhaps the most ruthless of businesses in the extent that customers are expecting change–regular seasonal changes and special holiday revamps. Restaurants can also feel stale after a few visits and need new menu items, a fresh cocktail list, or new art on the wall to keep customers engaged and coming back from visit to visit, and after three-ish years, most restaurants need a major overhaul to stay successful. The same is true to only a slightly lesser extent for many other service businesses.

For a business to stay relevant, it needs to be relentlessly reinventing itself, including its once cutting-edge practices. A friend of mine described to me his reaction to the practice at Nordstrom of coming from behind the counter to hand you your shopping bag. “This was pretty cool the first five times or so. Around the sixth time, it became annoying; it just seemed like they were slowing me down for the sake of their internal ceremony.” And I’ve seen a similar loss of love for the once-fresh idea of printing a guest’s name on a menu at a destination restaurant. The first time you see this by your plate, you're undoubtedly amazed. The third time, you’re bored and ready for a new trick.

Businesses need to realize the shelf life of any such scripted or quickly-expected service interactions and change it when the expiration date hits. To keep today’s customers coming back a business needs to constantly improve, update, and appropriately add to its line of products or services –on a schedule faster than ever before.

"Freshen the guest experience without changing its core identity"–Patrick O'Connell

On the other hand, change for change's  sake is very, very hazardous.  Because the goal of customer service and the customer experience isn't buzz–it's loyalty; it's repeat business that keeps you alive. So while it's true that customers seek innovation from the companies they frequent, if a company only invests in change, then how can a customer remain loyal–what, to put it bluntly, is left for them to be loyal to? So there’s a tension to navigate between innovation and maintaining quality through tradition.

In an interview I just did with the celebrated restaurateur and innkeeper Patrick O'Connell – proprietor of the Inn At Little Washington and President of Relais And Chateaux – Chef O'Connell puts this well: “Cultivating loyalty is a tricky business. It requires maintaining a rigorous level of consistency while constantly adding newness and a little surprise—freshening the guest experience without changing its core identity.”


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Reps

Waiting Room: Receptionist Takes Insurance CardWhen hiring customer service reps, you need to do more than assess the job candidate’s experience and dot the i’s and cross the t’s on a job application. Here are five factors that are just as important as experience, and how to assess them during the interview process.

  1. Friendliness. Natural curiosity about others, openness and willingness to engage and ask questions are key characteristics of a good customer service employee. Small talk during the interview is a good way to explore how friendly a job candidate is. (Just be sure you talk steer the conversation to topics interviewers are forbidden to ask about, such as whether a candidate is married, has children or how old they are.)
  2. Ability to handle negativity. Good customer service representatives deal with negative emotions (their own and other people’s) in a mature way and, ideally, turn negative situations around. In addition to asking employees about a negative person at their prior job and how they dealt with him or her, try putting them to the test by incorporating stressful situations into the interview, such as telling them the interview is delayed and having the receptionist observe how they behave while waiting, having other employees continually interrupt the interview, or having your receptionist purposely be rude to them so you can see how they react.
  3. Multitasking ability. Customer service requires being able to multitask. A representative might be on the phone with one customer while dealing with a queue of other customers on hold. He might be assisting an indecisive customer at the point-of-sale in a store while the line of impatient customers is growing by the minute. Try setting tasks that incorporate multitasking or distractions, such as taking a written test in a room where the candidate has also been told to answer the phone, or interrupting the test to have the candidate complete a form or sign a document.
  4. Pleasant demeanor. A calming presence and soothing speaking voice can go a long way toward making ruffled customers feel better. If the employee will be dealing with customers on the phone, try conducting a pre-interview by phone to see how he or she comes across. You might be able to eliminate candidates who don’t present themselves well by phone and save yourself some interview time.
  5. Emotional awareness. Often called “emotional intelligence” or EQ (like IQ), emotional intelligence incorporates many facets, but basically it’s the ability to sense and respond appropriately to others’ emotions. A customer service rep with high EQ will know when a complaining customer just wants to be heard more than he or she wants an actual solution, when customers are in a rush and need to get off the phone quickly, or when customers need to be escalated to the next level of service before the situation deteriorates.

When interviewing customer service candidates, be sure to trust your gut. If a job candidate doesn’t put you at ease and you don’t enjoy interacting with the person, your customers probably won’t, either.


The Customer Service Speed Trap

2-6 stop watch smallI finding myself carrying on quite often about the need to speed up customer service and the customer experience, because customer expectations for speed of service have become so frenzied. This is thanks to mobile and amazon.com and Starbucks, and is a phenomenon that’s even more intense among the important millennial generation of customers. (Born 1980-2000, Millennials are the biggest generation in history. And they've never known a world without a smartphone.)

But there's a speed trap here, so to speak, and I want to encourage you to be aware of it: In most business contexts you should be equally leery of sacrificing the customer's experience due to some enforced speed march. What you will find–and what you should emulate– is how the companies most cognizant of time are also the ones who allow time for lingering, for connection. Which is the approach you should take as well.

Take Starbucks, since they are such a paragon of consistent timeliness. Even though Starbucks spends a lot of time measuring and improving how well they match their customers’ speed expectations—delivering a custom (truly from scratch) beverage in a matter of minutes—they don’t let the need for speed suck the life out of the Starbucks experience.

In fact, they go in the other direction: They want the world to linger with them over coffee. Everything is designed to facilitate this lingering, which puts them right on track to please the millennial generation (as well as the rest of us). In spite of their penchant for mobile and online socializing, customers today also yearn for face-to-face interaction and collaboration—from their peers and, often, from your more empathetic employees. All of which takes time and the allowance of time.  

Customers today want the stupid, transactional stuff to take less time, less of their time. They want to wave their phones and have their purchase paid for, but they want the meaningful parts of the customer experience to take more time, or at least better time.

Think about Apple, specifically the Apple Stores: When you're face to face with the genius, you want the breathing room to state your problem, to understand the solution. No rush, thank you very much, now that I've driven across town to meet with you. But you do want to be able to pre-schedule that meeting, and you do want to be able to pay and leave without a lick of paperwork or delay.  Getting this dance just right is the sign of a master approach to respecting the customers' time, and it can be a real competitive advantage. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Personalize Your Customer Service

2-3 personalized customer service small2015 has barely begun, but already personalization has emerged as one of the hottest buzzwords in customer service this year. How can you take advantage of this trend and make your customer service more personal?

Of course, small businesses have always had an edge in that their smaller size inherently makes them more personal. But today, with huge companies using automation to personalize the customer service experience (how ironic, right?), your small business needs a combination of the human touch and automated systems to stay ahead of the pack.

Here are some suggestions for how customer service reps can personalize their interactions with customers:

  • Human touch: Always find out and use the customer’s name, whether addressing him or her over the phone, in an online chat or by email. People love to hear their own names—it makes them feel “heard.”
  • Automated system: Give customer service reps access to appropriate tools, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, so they can quickly review a customer’s history with your business. For example, being able to see order history and details of the most recent order placed enables ecommerce sales reps to dive right into solving problems (“I see that your order placed two weeks ago still hasn’t shipped. Let’s see how I can expedite that for you…”) without the customer having to provide a lengthy explanation.
  • Human touch: Humanize reps by using their names in communications and conversations. Getting a response from Tracy.Wilson@yourcompany.com in response to an email complaint feels much more personal than getting an email from customerservice@yourcompany.com. It also makes customers feel someone is taking ownership of their issue.
  • Automated system: Have reps input details of their interactions into your customer service or CRM system. This enables new reps to pick up where the original rep left off if the customer is “handed off” or has to re-contact the company later on.
  • Human touch: If possible, have the same rep deal with an issue from beginning to end. If not, humanize the handoff, too. Don’t just transfer the customer to another rep and hang up; instead, say something like “Mrs. Smith, I have Joe from Accounting on the line, and he is going to help you resolve this billing issue,” or CC the new rep on an email to the customer so that the two get introduced.

As you can see, a few simple steps can make the difference between treating customers like cogs and treating them personally. 




 
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