Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Selling to Millennials? You Need a Loyalty Program

Stocksy_txp65da3129op6000_Small_134151If your small business doesn’t have a loyalty program—but does have Millennial customers as part of your target market—you may want to reconsider and add some type of rewards program to your marketing mix. The 2014 Loyalty Report from Bond Brand Loyalty reports that U.S. Millennials (defined as aged 20 to 34) are more likely than other age groups to participate in loyalty programs. What’s more, they’re more likely than other age groups to change their shopping behaviors based on a loyalty program, the study says.

A whopping 60 percent of Millennials would switch brands and two-thirds would change where they buy in order to get more loyalty rewards. In addition, 67 percent contend they wouldn’t be loyal to a company without a good loyalty program.

Consumers overall are enrolled in an average of 10.4 loyalty programs, and are active in about seven of those. While loyalty programs are widespread, consumers are getting slightly more unwilling to share personal information with them. Some 32 percent say they worry about divulging personal information, compared to 29 percent last year.

What works to get customers to spill their data? Offering discounts based on prior purchasing behavior, inviting customers to special events, customizing offers for them and inviting them to online communities for loyalty program members are all effective ways to get users to share their personal data. In addition, users say that when a company’s loyalty program makes them feel valued and important, they’re more likely to share personal information with that business.

However, there are some important differences in what works for Millennials as opposed to other age groups. Millennials are more likely to want to interact with your business on a mobile device. They’re also more likely to care about non-monetary rewards, such as getting recognized by their peers or being able to share their experiences with others.

Craft your loyalty rewards program to appeal to your desired customer base, whether that’s seniors who want plain old punch cards or mobile-loving Millennials who want to track everything on their smartphones. Your efforts will pay off in greater loyalty and higher sales. 


A Great Customer Experience Depends on Great Hiring

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 great customer experience depends on great employees. To get those great employees, you need to know what to look for in an employee you’re going to put in a customer-facing position.

The trick is to hire your customer-facing team based on the following psychological traits, even before you start thinking about the specific skill set you’re looking for.  (Yes, the appropriate technical skills also matter. You can’t hire an empathetic surgeon who is also a klutz. But for most customer-facing positions, the technical skills are largely teachable, while the underlying personality traits can be much more easily hired than taught.) 

WETCO: The five crucial traits of customer-facing employees

Employees Only: Do Not Open Door-Snake Pit (humorous signage from Wall Drug, Wall, ND) © Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Wall Drug, N.D. (c) micah@micahsolomon.com

The traits I consider crucial for customer-facing work are contained in my acronym “WETCO.” My suggestion is to picture a big, wet dog at PETCO, and you’ll never forget this acronym.

Warmth: Simple human kindness. Warmth is perhaps the simplest and yet most fundamental of these five personality traits. In essence, it means enjoying our human commonality, flaws and all.

Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling. Empathy is a step up from warmth; empathy moves beyond the plateau of liking other people and is more like reading hearts—the ability to sense what a customer needs or wants, whether or not this desire is even yet apparent to the customer.

Teamwork: An inclination toward ‘‘Lets work together to make this happen’’ and against ‘‘Id rather do it all myself.’’   On the one hand, customers do need the help of entrepreneurially minded employees who will take charge of the situation without prodding, people who are willing to fix a problem all by themselves, if necessary. But that attitude needs to be seasoned by an inclination to favor a team approach, or your organization will soon suffer from the friction created.

Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion. Conscientiousness is a key trait for successfully serving customers, and unfortunately may not always be found in those who are otherwise suited to customer service work. The quintessential ‘‘people person’’ may lack conscientiousness, and this one flaw can be fatal: An employee can smile, empathize, and play well with the team, but if he can’t remember to follow through on the promises he made to customers, he’ll kill your company image.

Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges. Optimism is a necessity in customer-facing positions. Employees who can’t shake off a drubbing from a customer won’t last long. Support from management is, of course, important here, but the employees themselves need a positive, optimistic self-image as well to propel themselves forward in the face of daily adversity.

How to select for WETCO

How to select such people? An ideal approach is to match candidates to the psychological profiles of existing, successful employees. You may not have gathered this data for yourself yet, in which case you’ll be dependent on an outside company to provide it. That’s okay, because some of the available external tools are excellent. But you need to use your chosen methodology consistently: on every hire, rather than as the whim hits you. If you use scientific methods only sporadically you’ll never know what worked and what didn’t. Instead, the selectiveness of your inherently biased—that is, human—memory will trick you and you’ll continue to favor unscientific, ineffective hiring patterns that will hamper your organization for years to come.

If you start with externally generated profiles, as you grow be sure to gather data specific to your company. This process isn’t that complicated. Have your best performers answer profile questions and then bank these results. Have your average performers do the same, and then bank those results. If you show a consistently measurable difference between these two categories of employee, you have a valid test.

The necessity of a trial period

Great companies tend to have a lengthy trial period before newly hired employees become ‘‘brand ambassadors’’—that is, are ready to be foisted on the public. This is important in providing consistently great service, because how your brand is perceived is only as strong as the weakest cliche´—sorry, link. There’s no truer truism than the simile of the weak link; it’s one of the unnerving truths about providing customer service. You never want those potentially weak links out there representing your brand, whether at the returns counter, the contact center, or connected via their workstations to customers.

The trial period is also important for protecting your company culture. Even in the best-handled hiring scenario, it can take ninety days to know if you have a fit. Most often, it takes that much time for the employee to know if there’s a fit. At the Ritz-Carlton, for example, the first twenty-one days are treated as crucial, and if you’re not there for the big, transitional ‘‘Day 21,’’ you’re taken out of the work schedule. They don’t cut corners here, and neither should you.

Article © 2014 Micah Solomon


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Hold an Online Focus Group

Stocksy_txp14c2a2052O6000_Small_64388 (1)Holding a focus group is a great way to learn what your target customers want from your business. Until recently, however, focus groups required physically getting representatives of your target market into a location; rewarding them with money, free gifts, food or some combination of all three; and organizing and recording the focus group session. This could be an expensive, stressful hassle for small business owners.

Now there’s a better way: You can simply go online to host a virtual “focus group” using survey tools and social media. While it may not be as in-depth as a real-world focus group, because you’ll be able to incorporate more people’s opinions, you will actually get a better feel for what your target customers think.

Here are some tips for making online focus groups work.

  1. Be specific. Online focus groups work best when they cast a wide net over a narrow subject, so it’s important to narrow down exactly what you want to find out. For example, if you sell women’s clothing online and you’re considering opening a physical store, you could ask whether customers would drive to a physical store, what local area would be preferred and what days and hours they would be likely to shop.
  2. Keep it simple. Customers get bored and tired if your online survey goes on too long. You can break your survey down and ask one or two quick questions a day right on social media. For example, use polling apps to set up a poll with radio button options on Facebook, or tweet out a question for users to answer. Even if you are conducting a longer survey, it’s best if you ensure it can be answered in just a few minutes.
  3. Provide room for expression. Radio buttons are an easy way to conduct online surveys, but make sure you leave a blank form at the end of the survey where users can add detailed comments or opinions. This can provide valuable insights into what customers want (or don’t want) from your business.
  4. Pay ‘em back. You may not need to order in pizza for customers of your virtual focus group, but you should reward them for their time if they take a survey longer than one or two questions. A good way to motivate users without going broke is to enter all survey respondents in a drawing to win a free product or other prize from your business. You could also offer a discount such as a code good for $5 off their next purchase.
  5. Use technology. Survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, Create Survey and QuestionPro let you create surveys in a variety of formats, then use analytics tools to dig into the results.
  6. Follow up. Ask survey respondents to share their contact information with you if they are comfortable having you follow up with more questions. This enables you to probe deeper into customers’ interests, wants and concerns, just as you would in a real-life focus group. 

Selling Your Customers What They Need — Not What They Want

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txp0272139ak36000_Small_169040The Rolling Stones said it best, “You can't always get what you want.  But if you try…you might find you get what you need.”  Regardless of what kind of business you own, you may find yourself in the unwelcome disconnect between providing what your customer needs to be successful versus what they think that they want.  So, how do you guide them toward the right path without losing the sale?

Outright Refusal is Not an Option

Even though you may want to do it (and sometimes, I really want to do it), the quickest way to walk away without the sale is to flatly tell prospective customers that their visions are two levels short of insanity and then, proceed to explain what they really need.  Even if you’re a rocket scientist in your field, you need to recognize and respect that they not only believe that they know what they need, they also have some important information about their objectives.  Their vision on how to accomplish their goals may take them in the wrong direction, but there may be significant value in what they have to say.  Your job is to guide them in the right direction without rolling over their dreams (or at least doing so without their clear knowledge).

Unless you decide that you do not want the customer, your first response should affirm that you understand their objectives.  Then, tell them how you can meet or exceed expectations while saving time, money or effort, even if it’s with a different product, service or strategy.

Identify Specific Issues

Once you understand the customer’s desired outcome, you can begin pointing out the issues that may prevent clients from meeting their goals.  In many cases, they may be asking for more than they need.  For example, if they want three manuals for a new software system, you can explain how a single well-designed manual can meet or exceed the requirements at a fraction of the cost.  How many people do you know who will insist on paying too much for a project?

There will also be times when customer visions simply will not meet their expressed goals.  In other cases, the entire goal may be unrealistic or even severely misdirected.  A customer who comes to your candy store in August asking you to ship a gift of chocolate-covered cherries to a close friend in Arizona might better maintain that friendship if you suggest a less perishable confection.  But logic alone might not be enough to sway that customer.  If you can tell a story about how people react when they open the box, smell the heavenly aroma and then, realize that the melted chocolaty mess is not safe to eat, you can really drive the point home.

When Offering Alternatives, Focus on the Benefits

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, “The customer is always right” has been the motto that great businesses live by, but that doesn’t mean that you should take it literally.  Customers need to feel that you respect their goals and visions.  But a great way to open their minds to change is to focus on what’s in it for them.  In other words, when you propose changes, lead with the benefits. 

You can’t always convince customers to buy your goods or services just because you know best.  Customers want to hear, “You can double sales and long-term brand loyalty with just a ten percent increase in the quality of the base materials that you use to build your product.”  When you present the advantages up-front, they will listen more closely to solutions that they may have never considered.  With the right incentive, they may choose to pay slightly more to improve their product quality, rather than just modernize the packaging, as they originally requested.

By Remaining True to Your Principles, You Instill Customer Confidence and Boost the Success of Your Business

Here’s a story that illustrates how sticking with your convictions can make a major difference to your customers — and to your own business.  Five years ago, a new customer came to a full service print shop seeking a new supply of the black and white leaflets that he periodically distributed in neighborhoods to sell his lawn services.  The printer advised that people are less likely to toss well-designed color brochures, which convey a more professional image.  The customer recognized the value of this advice and even used the printer’s in-house designer to upgrade the look of his advertising.  He spent more on his new brochures, but that increase was more than offset by the significant increase of new business those brochures generated over the response rate generated by his leaflets during the same period in the prior year. From that point on, he became a loyal customer, turning to the printer for all of his marketing material needs.  And to this day, he continues to send many new customers to the printer. 

Your customers may need convincing, but they rely on your knowledge and experience to get the greatest value from your goods and services, even if you sell them something vastly different from what they initially wanted.  The printer addressed his customer’s wants by focusing on what he really needed.  When you take this approach with your customers, you will not have to rely on a hard sell approach to develop a loyal customer base.


7 Content Marketing Rules to Break

Content marketing is the way to stay in front of small business prospects to showcase expertise. There is a lot of advice on how to do this that is just plain wrong.

For example, here are seven content marketing rules to break:

Rule 1: Send a monthly newsletter to tell customers and prospects about multiple topics they may be interested in. How to break the rule: Send one subject emails to highlight one relevant piece of advice. In this way, the customer will read it quickly and the company will get the brand reinforcement they want. It now takes 21 brand reminders for a prospect to remember the brand.

Rule 2: Don't mix education messages with selling ones. Content marketers advise the company to split out theses two types of messages. How to break the rule: Always be up selling. Condition the audience to always be expecting offers from the company while they are being educated. This will result in more sales annually.

Stocksy_txp47ea4fcagK5000_Small_192861Rule 3: Always be part of the online social media conversation in the company's area of expertise. How to break the rule: Only participate when the company has something useful to say and can contribute value to the conversation. While this should be consistent, a company does not need to be part of every conversation on every platform and website. This will result in being productive, not just busy.

Rule 4: Pre-program posts in advance so they systematically appear throughout the day.  How to break the rule: This can be dangerous because a company could have pre-programmed posts about getting rust off a car and the news of the day is that one of the big car companies filed for bankruptcy! Be part of what is relevant.

Rule 5: Don't measure the outcome because this type of marketing takes a long time. How to break the rule: All marketing needs to be measured for results. If there are no results, do not invest in it. Think of what success looks like before starting a content marketing strategy.

Rule 6: Leave the review process to customers to post. How to break the rule: Some customer sets will naturally post comments on social media sites. Other customers need to be solicited by the company to encourage reviews and references. Don't be afraid to just ask.

Rule 7:  One size fits all. One piece of content can be shared in its same firm across multiple sites and platforms.  How to break the rule: Customize the content to fit the site. Emphasize quick advice or wit on Twitter. Use pictures or video on Facebook. Highlight the post 's educational nature on LinkedIn. Show it in a series of pictures on Pinterest.

What content marketing rules do you break?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Using Twitter for Customer Service

shutterstock_81656434In order to provide the best possible customer service, smart small business owners learn from the big companies’ best practices. One tactic more and more big corporations are using is providing customer service on Twitter.

Doing customer service on Twitter makes sense, since so many consumers are turning to Twitter to share information and, sometimes, complaints about companies that provide poor service. If your small business is using Twitter for customer service—or considering doing so—a study by SimplyMeasured polled the top 100 global brands to find out what tactics they use. Here’s some of what they found:

Consumer expectations have changed. From being pleasantly surprised if your company replies to their tweet about your service, they have now come to expect and even demand a response. Ignoring negative comments on Twitter can lead to a PR nightmare for your business.

Create a dedicated customer service Twitter handle, such as @customerserviceyourbiz. This enables you to quickly spot and flag customer-service oriented tweets. Just 32 percent of the companies in the study did this; however, consumers’ use of these dedicated handles increased 44 percent in the last year.

Be aware that creating a dedicated handle will also raise expectations for a quick response from your business. The average response time of companies in the study was about 4 hours. However, a response time of less than 24 hours is generally acceptable; 90 percent of companies were able to respond to dedicated customer service tweets within that time.

How are companies keeping pace with the increasing flow of customer service tweets? First, they’re staffing up their customer service teams. Second, they’re making their existing teams more efficient by using Twitter as the first step of the customer service process. One common tactic is to direct users to a Web page, such as a FAQ or self-help page. Another is to have the user contact the company directly by mail, phone or direct message. This has the added benefit of taking the problem resolution out of the public eye on Twitter. Finally, using “canned responses” to common problems, complaints or questions speeds response time greatly and can handle most situations.

Finally, it’s important to pay attention to when most of your customer service tweets come in. Not surprisingly, most companies saw the heaviest traffic from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. during business days, and customers were most likely to get quick responses at this time. But if you find that half of your tweets are coming in, say, from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., you may need to add to your customer service staff to handle this. Outsourcing to someone in another time zone can be a good way to handle this issue. 


Mondays with Mike: Words To Strive For – Stellar Customer Service

Most of the entrepreneurs who read my articles and my blog aren’t necessarily famous in their fields.  Most of us aren’t considered industry experts, and we don’t have the Wall Street Journal calling us for our opinions on current business events.  If there’s one way in which we can excel, though, and I mean really stand out from our peers, it’s in our customer service.  You may not be able to service all the customers, but you can service the happiest customers. 

All of my employees who have customer contact are armed with the following four phrases that encapsulate our attitude as a company committed to delivering stellar customer service … every time.

  1. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????“I don’t know, but here’s what I’ll do.”  It’s unrealistic to expect every member of your company to have the answer to every possible question or the solution to every problem.  What is reasonable is to require that they commit to finding that answer and following up with the customer.  Train your staff to clearly communicate their plan: “I’m going to get that answer for you and call you back by 2pm,” or “I will do some research and let you know before noon tomorrow.”  When customers understand that your staff takes their needs seriously, and that your staff will follow up on time, every time, you’re setting yourself up as a leader in customer service.
  2. “I am very sorry.”  When a customer’s unhappy because your company has failed to meet their reasonable expectations, they want you to own up to your mistakes.   Acknowledging that customers are right (when they really are) helps to defuse potentially angry clients and gets your staff started in the direction of resolving the complaint.  One caveat:  save the apologies for when you’ve genuinely made a mistake.  We’ve all dealt with clients who are impossible to please, and apologies for not having met wildly unrealistic expectations don’t accomplish anything productive.
  3. “Yes.”  “Yes” is the magic word that consumers want to hear more than any other, and your customer service reps should strive to say it as often as they reasonably can.  Now you’re going to have to empower your reps with a little discretionary power, but imagine how this scenario plays out.  A customer comes in displeased with their carryout food order from the night before.  Your cashier offers them a free sandwich to replace the one they didn’t care for, and they walk out impressed with your company’s handling of their complaint.  If your cashier has to fetch a manager, the customer seethes, perhaps causes a scene, and still walks out with a free sandwich that it cost you two employees to handle in addition to the potential fallout from an unhappy customer in your restaurant.  If you can reasonably accommodate a customer’s wishes, then do it right away!
  4. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  Whether you’re wrapping up on the phone or in person, using this phrase accomplishes two goals:  it lets you ensure that your customer is satisfied, and it also lets the customer have the pleasure of having the last word.  Whether they leave after telling you that they’re completely satisfied or they give you one more opportunity to meet their needs, you’ve won with this phrase.

The key to superior customer service is authentically caring about your clients’ satisfaction.  Training yourself and your staff to use these phrases creates a climate in which serving customers is the highest priority.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who They Gonna Call (and How You Gonna Answer)?

Stocksy_txpba8ad81dGw4000_Small_178379Is your small business paying enough attention to incoming calls? Today, with so much focus on social media, email and online marketing, it’s easy to believe that providing customer service through live chat is all you need to do, or that customers are content to contact you by email and wait to hear back from you.

In reality, human behavior hasn’t changed—just the technology has. When customers are frustrated about something, have questions about your product or service, or are ready to buy, their first instinct is often to pick up the phone and call your business. In other words, customers who take the trouble to call you are primed—to buy, to vent, to ask questions. What’s more, if your business is involved in any kind of inbound marketing program—whether using SEO, click-to-call buttons on your website or in your ads—you’re spending good money to generate those calls from interested customers.

How callers are treated can make all the difference in whether they move to the next stage in the purchasing process, get over their anger, actually make a purchase…or get turned off of your company forever.

So how are customers and prospects treated when they call your business? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Do they get through right away? Set standards for employees to answer the phone on the second ring (third ring at the absolute latest). Make sure all employees—not just the receptionist or office manager—know it’s their responsibility to answer the phone if necessary.
  2. Are they greeted pleasantly? Do the employees who answer your phone sound excited to talk to customers—or like it’s an interruption in their busy day? Remember, customers are the ones who pay your bills, and they have plenty of options to go elsewhere.
  3. Do employees have the tools they need to help customers? Internal FAQ lists can help employees quickly find answers to questions customers may have. Make sure all employees know how to transfer calls to the proper person.
  4. When customers are on hold, can they tell? There’s nothing worse than being put on hold and hearing dead silence, so you don’t know if you’ve been cut off or should continue to wait. Use on-hold messages or music so customers know what’s going on.
  5. Are calls returned within a reasonable time? The faster you can respond to a customer’s inquiry, the more likely you are to make a sale. If you can’t answer all calls, strive to return all calls within 30 minutes—yes, 30 minutes—for best results. Outgoing voice mail messages should state how quickly customers can expect their calls to be returned.

By paying as much attention to incoming calls as you do to your social media outreach, you’ll rapidly see results—and increased sales.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: The Truth About Negative Online Reviews

?????????????????????????????Are you in denial about negative online reviews of your business? I know plenty of small business owners who don’t list their companies on review sites like Yelp! Others are listed, but never bother to check their listing to see what kinds of reviews their businesses are getting.

While I can understand the impulse to hide your head in the sand when it comes to online reviews, here are four reasons why playing ostrich isn’t a good thing.

  1. Your potential customers are reading online reviews, so you should be, too. A whopping 79 percent of U.S. adult Internet users check online reviews sometimes or always before they buy something, a survey by YouGov reports. Just 7 percent never do. Online reviews have become essential to both online and offline shoppers, so if you aren’t checking them, you’re in the dark about how customers view your business.
  2. The reality probably isn’t as bad as you fear it is. Yes, we’ve all heard horror stories about bad reviews going viral. However, the YouGov survey says Internet users are far more likely to post good or mixed reviews than negative ones. Just 21 percent say they’ve ever left a bad review, compared to 54 percent who have left a good one and 59 percent who have left a mixed one.
  3. Even the negative reviewers aren’t out to get you. Tales of vengeful competitors posting bad reviews of small businesses get a lot of attention in the media. In reality, though, 88 percent of reviewers who write bad reviews do so to prevent other customers from having a bad experience, not out of vengeance. About one-fourth leave bad reviews to help get over their anger, while 21 percent do so hoping the business will take steps to remedy the problem they’re complaining about.
  4. Which leads to the fourth and most important reason not to ignore negative reviews: Bad reviews are a valuable tool for growing your business. Negative reviews show you what you’re doing wrong (or what the customer perceives as wrong, which is pretty much the same thing). They offer a chance to make it right and then share what you’ve done with the world. If you can convince an unsatisfied customer you care about their experience and you’ve got their best interests at heart, you just might earn a customer for life—one who will evangelize your business to their friends, family and online connections.

Did you ever think so many positive things could come out of one negative online review?




 
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