Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


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?


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Provide Outstanding Customer Service

The real secret to keeping customers coming back is to deliver great customer service. Find out how to deliver the "wow" from Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson:


Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Revenue with Recurring Fees

While some of us derive great satisfaction from the role our business plays in the community, the services we offer our clients, and the rewards of having built a successful business from scratch, we’re all – at the end of the day – concerned about growing our company’s revenue.   In order to keep the lights on and pay the staff, we have to bring in money, and it seems like we need a little more if it each year.   One of the most effective methods I’ve found for managing and increasing revenue is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan. 

Here’s how it works:

Say you’re in the office equipment repair business.  Your average visit costs $200, and you visit each of your customers an average of twice per year, for a total of about $400 annual revenue per client per year.  If you were to offer an annual service plan, billed at $40 per month, you would be providing a solution that benefits both your company and your clients.  You give your clients predictable expenses, alleviating the stress of funding the entire cost of a repair all at once.  You get the benefit of predictable revenue.  You can count on the monthly payment and bridge the gap that slow months can create, and at the end of the year, you’ve brought in $480 per client, increasing your overall revenue. 

Makes sense, right?  Now here’s why it works:

In addition to establishing consistent expenses and income, there’s another key benefit.  Once you’re no longer billing for the service itself, you have new motivation to operate as efficiently as possible.  Your new goal won’t be increasing billable hours, but will be doing every job quickly and properly.  You know that poor quality work will end up costing you more in the long run, so you provide the best service possible the first time.

Stocksy_txpd093e56ePf2000_Small_27507Skeptical about your customers’ willingness to commit to a contract?  Think about gym memberships.  Millions of people pay $29 monthly for a gym membership they seldom use.  They sign up (usually in January,) go regularly for a little while, and by the time they stop using the gym, they’re so used to the monthly debit that they don’t even notice it.  Sure, some members will cancel, but others will not.  Once your clients are used to the monthly premium, they will cease to think about it.  You’ve gotten them accustomed to a steady-as-she-goes expense that lands in your bank account each month.

Think that your business won’t support a recurring fee structure?   Think again!  Nearly every business has an aspect that can be transformed into a regular fee cycle.  If you own a candy shop, you can sell monthly subscriptions with seasonal offerings available exclusively to your subscribers.  They get special treats, and you get regular revenue.  Own a bookstore?  Offer an annual reader rewards card with a modest fee that entitles customers to exclusive events and special discounts.  Challenging yourself to find ways to reward customers for committing to you in the form of a recurring fee can – if managed properly – yield both steady income and consumer loyalty: a magical combination.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Give Your Customer Service a Checkup

Is your customer service up to par? Even if your business starts off with stellar service, it’s easy for your standards to slip as your business grows and you become less hands-on with all aspects of the company. Plus, consumers’ standards for service are higher than they’ve ever been,–and they have many options if your business doesn’t live up to their expectations.

How can you make sure your customer service stays stellar day in and day out? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my website user-friendly? Can customers easily tell what to do when they visit your business website? Make sure key information, like your business’s phone number, hours, address and directions, are visible right near the top of the home page.
  • Stocksy_txpc1714160lD3000_Small_130635Is my physical location welcoming? A clearly-marked entrance; an inviting store window or lobby; and employees who make eye contact, smile and greet customers with a friendly welcome as they walk in the door all combine to kick the customer experience off on a positive note.
  • Are my employees empowered to give great service? If employees have to “get a manager” to make any exception to a rule, irate customers are likely to get even more annoyed. Set parameters, but within those guidelines, give your employees leeway to make their own decisions about how to satisfy a customer.
  • Are my employees educated about my product or service? These days, customers can instantly turn to the Internet on their smartphones to get a wealth of information about the products you sell—and the other companies that sell them. It’s crucial your employees know your wares thoroughly so they can answer questions, make suggestions and offer expert advice before customers turn to your competitors.
  • Do I listen as well as talk on social media? Social media is a great way to engage with customers, but make sure it’s not a one-way street. Don’t just share info about your business; also listen to what customers are saying about your business. If what they’re saying is negative or critical, or if a customer is asking for help, respond immediately and take steps to make changes.
  • Do I offer lots of customer service options? Customers today want choices in everything—even in how they communicate with your company. Offer as many options as possible for how you provide customer service—from in-person and by phone to email and live chat. If you have something for everyone, you’ll keep everyone happy. 



 
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