Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


Great Customer Service Requires Effective Language

Your company, I expect, has put quite a bit of thought into the language used in your marketing campaigns and website. And quite a bit less thought into the words that your employees use directly with customers.

At least, this is the pattern I encounter as a customer experience consultant. And it's a serious mistake, because customers don’t generally get their make-or-break impressions of a company primarily from high-minded branding exercises. They get them primarily from day-to-day conversations with you.

Language underlies all other components of customer satisfaction.

For example:

  • A perfect product won’t be experienced as perfect unless you also use the right language in describing it to customers.
  • Even your best-intentioned, technically flawless employees can alienate customers if they use the wrong language.

  • When you have a service failure, the right words can be your best ally.



If you haven’t given much thought to selecting and controlling your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

Establish a Consistent Style of Speech

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. You should therefore work to achieve a consistent (although not stilted or overly scripted-sounding) style of service speech.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve trained them in a different language style.

Happily, engineering a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, my customer service consulting clients have found it to be a pretty easy sell companywide.

Heres how to make it happen

Study the language that works best with your own customers, and identify harmful phrases that should be avoided. Codify this for your employees in a brief lexicon or language handbook that can be learned and referred to on the job. In the lexicon, you’ll spell out which words and phrases are best to use and which should be avoided in various common situations.

Putting together a language handbook is a relatively simple undertaking. It doesn’t require an English degree (although those are great to have). But it does require forethought, experimentation, and some pondering about human nature.

Here, for example, are some good/bad language choices I use in the lexicon I’ve prepared for my own businesses and those for whom I'm a customer service consultant. These are certainly not surgical rocketry, as you’ll see.

Bad: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Good: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’need to do jack, buddy—Im your customer!’’)
Good: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Good: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen to the callers answer)

Time to worry about  “No worries!”

Good lexicons will vary depending on industry, clientele, and location. A cheerful ‘‘No worries!’’ sounds fine coming from the clerk at a Bose audio store in Portland (an informal business in an informal town) but bizarre if spoken by the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan.

Choose language to put customers at ease, not to put them down

No matter what your business is, make it your mission to avoid having your employees use any condescending or coercive language. Sometimes these language put-downs are obvious, but sometimes they're quite subtle. Here are examples of both:

Subtly insulting: In an informal business, if a customer asks, ‘‘How are you?’’ the response, ‘‘I’m well,’’ may make you feel like you're using proper-sounding grammar—but may not be the best choice. Hearing this  Victorian-sounding response may make your customers momentarily self-conscious about whether their own grammar is less than perfect. It may be better to have your employees choose from more familiar alternatives like, ‘‘I’m doing great!’’ or ‘’Super!’’

(Most important, of course, is to follow up with an inquiry about the customer’s own well-being: ‘‘And how are you, this morning?’’)

Unsubtly coercive: I’m not likely to forget the famous steakhouse that trained staff to ask our party as they seated us, ‘‘Which bottled water will you be enjoying with us this evening, still, or sparkling?’’ We took that phrasing to mean we weren’t permitted to ask for tap water.

(In this situation, one that comes up in many restaurants, what is a better choice of words? How about: ‘‘Would you prefer ice water or bottled water with your meal?’’ Or, considering that this question offers an early chance for the waitstaff to build rapport with guests, add some local flavor. In Chicago, a friend’s restaurant a few years back was asking, ‘‘Will you be having bottled water or The Mayor’s finest aqua with your meal?’’)

Danny Meyer-ize or the classic Ritz-Carlton approach: It's your choice.

Getting employees to say the right thing is a tough and touchy subject. And there are two ways to write your company lexicon–your language handbook. You should choose whichever method suits you better.

One is the classic ‘‘Say This While Avoiding This’’ language guide style, made famous for many years by the work of the Ritz-Carlton.   This optimizes customer satisfaction in most businesses and helps bind staff members into a team. It also helps you work with a wider variety of employees, with a wider variety of educational backgrounds, who may appreciate the help choosing the most appropriate phrase.

But if it strikes you as too prescriptive (or too much work) to develop scripted phrases and specific word choices for your employees, at least consider developing a brief ‘‘Negative Lexicon.’’ A Negative Lexicon is just a list of crucial Thou Shalt Nots.

I call the Negative Lexicon the Danny Meyer approach, after the teachings of the New York restaurateur and master of hospitality. Meyer feels uncomfortable giving his staff a list of what to say, but he doesn’t hesitate to specifically ban phrases that grate on his ears (‘‘Are we still working on the lamb?’’)

A Negative Lexicon can be kept short, sweet, and easy to learn. Of course, new problematic words and phrases are sure to crop up as time moves on. Ideally, you’ll update your Negative Lexicon frequently.

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Make Your Business the Quadruple-Threat of Customer Service

10-31 customer service  smallWhile advertising can be a good way to bring new people to your business, the customer experience is what brings them back. Gaining each new customer costs an estimated four to ten times more than retaining repeat customers, depending on the type of business. So, while you need both, you can get a lot of mileage out of taking good care of your existing customers, getting them to buy more frequently from you and to spread the news about your business to other potential customers.

Below are a few great ways to make your business a quadruple-threat of customer service:

Create an Enjoyable Customer Experience

Do you like clothes shopping? Many people that I know wish they could avoid the hassle by hiring a personal shopper. Recently, a friend told me about Von Maur, describing the experience as “like the rich people shop.” As soon as you start shopping, someone offers assistance without pressure and then, reserves a roomy, clean dressing room for you when you’re ready. You do not bump into other shoppers and the restrooms are so beautiful that you want to throw a party in them. Add their no-interest credit cards to the mix and you have a truly enjoyable customer experience.

Von Maur figured out how to remove the drudgery out of shopping and make customers feel like Julia Roberts in the Pretty Woman shopping scene (the second one, not the first). Trader Joe’s is another great example.  While grocery shopping isn’t usually considered “fun”, Trader Joe’s breaks the mold. While I enjoy their mix of unusual products, their customer service keeps me coming back. When you ask an associate where an item is located, they actually escort you to the exact placement instead of pointing out into space. They also engage you in dialogues when you check out about new products

Regardless of your business type, you can take a page from Von Maur and Trader Joe’s. If your consulting services require long meetings with your client, bring in their favorite treats and coffee, even if you have to carry them to the customer’s site. Or, if your sandwich store sports long lines (a nice problem to have), serve a free mini-cup of your home-made soup while your customers wait. These small gestures can pay big dividends.

Trade on Service

When you have a legend about your business’s amazing service, like Nordstrom does with its famed “taking the tire back” story, you know that you provide an exceptional service.  Nordstom’s well-deserved reputation comes from making product returns effortless, without question and, perhaps most important, without guilt. Customers perceive Nordstrom as a company that is willing to do anything for them. If you take good care of customer issues, you cultivate loyal customers and earn valuable word-of-mouth advertising.

Other companies that have done well with this are Nextiva and its Amazing Service promise and CVS’s 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. They represent businesses that put their customers first, with guaranteed service that goes above and beyond that to ensure that customers have a fantastic experience interacting with the company.

Your customers will look forward to buying from you when you stand solidly behind your product or service. Make customer support accessible and guilt-free. Offer friendly and helpful phone support representatives, and make sure that your website prominently displays a customer support link. Then, remember that “the customer is always right” still holds true. You may have shipped the un-plated cap screws that they originally ordered, but if they now say that they wanted plated ones, accept the return without question and get the right product in their hands quickly. Particularly in a challenging economic environment, customers are less willing to risk their hard-earned cash. If they know you back up your products or services no matter what, you reduce their risks and open their wallets- not just once, but over and over again.

Make it Right

Every business will have times when, despite best efforts, a customer is let down.  However, businesses aren’t made on being mistake-free; rather, they are made by how they respond to customer issues.  If there’s an unhappy customer, whether they complain directly or online through social media or review sites, take swift action.  You can quickly turn a ranting customer into a raving fan by making it right.

Create a Personal Relationship

You may not care if restaurant servers know your name, but you probably feel like a celebrity, however, when they remember that chocolate lava cake is your favorite dessert — and they bring a free one to your table just for being a frequent customer. While big businesses offer coupons and other generic loyalty rewards, small businesses have the luxury of developing truly personal relationships with their customers and gaining loyalty for their efforts.

I know a freelancer who took copious notes every time she worked for a new company. When she returned the next time, the employees were impressed when she remembered their names and the company’s unique processes and procedures. In her clients’ eyes, she was part of their team and they asked for her every time they needed help.

Personal relationships with your customers make you a part of their circle of friends.  With technology, it is easier than ever to keep notes on your customers’ preferences and use that to enhance your relationship. When you make customers feel important and cared-for, they will turn to you first for their needs.

Employ the quadruple-threat strategy to make your business a valuable partner to your customers and with focus, this can help you to grow exponentially.


The Customer Is At The Center Of The Customer’s Universe

Here's a powerful, deceptively simple rule of customer service. Learning this rule is a central principle of successful business. 

The customer is at the center of the customer's universe.

Stocksy_txp0ac24513DK9000_Small_108905It's hard, but necessary, to drill this reality into your staff–not just once, but as often as every day–and to keep it in mind, in good times and bad, yourself.

Here's what "the customer is at the center of the customer's universe" means in day-to-day language:

  • Your hangover doesn't matter to a customer, even though it's making you ache behind your eyeballs.
  • The traffic jam you suffered through on the way to work doesn't matter to your customer, even though it's still rattling around in your head.
  • Your frustration with the new technology in the office doesn't matter to the customer. Even your fascination with nifty new features in the technology doesn't matter to the customer.

What matters to the customer is the customer, and the people the customer cares about, a category that only tangentially at best includes you, the service provider.

Seth Godin once pointed out that "when you hand someone a photo album or a yearbook, the first thing they will do is seek out their own picture."

I would extend this thinking even further. Every minute the customer is with you, the customer is thinking about his own reality. Or the reality of his relationship with the people who matter to him.

Think about this reality–because it is reality. Incorporate it into everything you do in business. You'll be amazed at the rewards you reap.


Stop Dropping The Customer Service Ball On Your Handoffs

I have a pretty good idea of where you're dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.

Although you and I, as far as I know, have never met,  from what I’ve seen in the world of business, I can tell you that the odds are good that you’re dropping the customer service ball when you make your handoffs.

It's easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results. Fair enough: but did the details of the customer's needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball? And did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow-up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And they’re often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

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Going to Lexus levels to eliminate handoffs

When the Lexus brand was being created by Toyota, the company zeroed in on a dealer strategy of reducing service defects through the minimization of ‘‘handoffs’’ between service providers.

Think of what an automotive customer typically experiences: You bring your car for service to a service department. There is a person at the door who greets you and takes you to the service advisor. The service advisor writes up what’s wrong and calls the mechanic. The mechanic takes the car away. At the end, when it’s time to pay the bill, the service advisor reappears, gives you the bill, and you have to go and deal with a disconnected, bored cashier, who is probably not focusing on you, not living up to service standards that match the car this same dealer sold you, and not capable of explaining what the strangely coded charges were for, because she wasn’t even aware of your existence until this very moment.

Imagine instead that a single superbly trained service advisor, Sharon, takes care of you from the moment you enter the premises until the moment you leave the premises. Sharon greets you. Sharon writes up your service ticket. Sharon summarizes your complaint to the mechanic. Sharon alerts you when the car is ready. Sharon presents you with the bill, and Sharon accepts your payment.

Lexus settled on this as their ideal approach, to be used to a greater or lesser extent depending on the size and other realities of a specific dealership.

You may want to consider it yourself. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Steps to Measuring Your Customer Service Effectiveness

Computer Lab: Support Representatives Taking CallsHow good is your small business’s customer service? You’ll never know unless you measure it. As with every other aspect of your business, tracking customer service metrics and assessing areas you can improve on will help your business grow.

  1. Set standards for customer service. Some of these standards will be easily measurable. For instance, you might set a standard to answer each call before the third ring, or resolve 90 percent of issues on the first contact with the customer. Others will be more subjective, but even for these behaviors, try to develop a clear guide to whether the employee is following the behavior. For example, if one of your standards is “Always be polite to customers,” the measurable version of this might be “Always refer to customers as ‘Sir’ or “Ma’am,” “Never interrupt a customer” or “Never raise your voice to a customer.”
  2. Take advantage of technology. There are many customer service tools, such as customer service software or call center services, that make it simple to track and measure customer service effectiveness metrics. For instance, you can measure factors such as the average time a customer spends on hold, average abandonment rates (how many customers hang up before a representative ever answers), average duration of call and average resolution time (how long before the problem is resolved or the question is answered).
  3. Go beyond the numbers. Don’t just rely on numbers—look at what’s behind them. For instance, is one employee great at getting through calls quickly, but only because he always bumps them up to the supervisor level for resolution? Make sure employees understand that speed is important, but it’s not the only factor in effective customer service. Also take time to randomly listen to customer service call recordings from time to time and give employees feedback.
  4. Act on what you learn. By tracking customer service metrics, you can spot both overall trends and individual issues, then take steps to deal with problems. For example, if you spot a trend toward longer hold times during the holiday shopping season, you could solve the issue by putting more detailed FAQs on your website to help with the issues customers are having, or hiring more customer service employees to handle the load. If you notice that one employee consistently has longer than average call duration, find out why. Maybe the employee is new and frequently has to look up information or consult a supervisor. He or she may need more training to get up to speed.
  5. Involve employees. Friendly competition, or competition with oneself, is a good thing. Let your customer service employees view and track their own metrics so they can see how well they’re doing and be motivated to improve. Hold regular meetings to keep employees informed about the team’s performance, reward results and talk about areas for improvement. More experienced employees can share tips with newer ones so everyone benefits. 

Ten Common And Dangerous Customer Service Mistakes

????????????????????????????????????????????Here are ten common but hazardous customer service mistakes.   All fixable (which keeps me in business), but each tragic in its own little, or not so little, way.

1. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.  Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.

2. Forgetting it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use.   Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on

3. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.

4. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned. 

5. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you'll be able to provide good customer service anyway. 

6. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.

7. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of  putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

8. Refusing to say you're sorry.

9. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really. 

10. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers.  Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.


Stop Thinking Of Customers In The Plural

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It's time to stop thinking of the people who patronize your business as "customers."

(Don't worry: I'm not going to ask you to start calling them "guests."  A big box store could start calling me a "guest" and it wouldn't change a thing. When you graft Disney language out of context it only makes you look, um, Goofy.)

I would argue that this group you've been calling "customers" doesn't exist as an aggregation, as an abstraction, as a plural.

There's just one customer, the one you're facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There's only Jim. One Margo. One Alecia.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their Jim-ish, Margo-ish, and Alecia-ishness.

Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn't care how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn't in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Now, every customer's different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  Regardless: I suggest in the strongest terms that you think of every one of your customers as a core customer—and treat the loss of a customer as a tragedy.

Here's why: Because Every single customer is irreplaceable.

Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it's probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business.

If Margo leaves, she's gone, forever. That Margoish opportunity has evaporated for the length of your enterprise.  Your available market has diminished by one: one you already had on your side.

And this is a calamity to be avoided.

(The same principle holds true, by the way, in B2B companies with large accounts.  Stop thinking of a customer called "IBM." There's no "IBM account." There's only Juli in A/P at IBM, Jeff in design, and so forth.  Without them, you're right: there won't be an IBM account.)


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

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 secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 


The Four Elements of Satisfactory Customer Service

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.

Before an organization can even think about delighting customers, it needs to be able to consistently deliver what it takes in order to satisfy customers.

Satisfying a customer is dependent on:

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

1. A “perfect product or service

…perfect being defined as “designed and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.”  (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.  But reasonably foreseeable.)

2. Caring delivery

…no product is perfect in if it’s presented to the customer in a way that doesn’t appear to be “caring” to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t show care for the customer, it’s not going to be a hit.

3. Timely delivery

…a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesn’t match your customer’s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.  Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.

4. An effective problem resolution process

…because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process is covered here.

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Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors

A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. And it’s important to be able to deliver satisfaction over and over and over.  The only problem is, nobody ever shouted “Yeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.”  It’s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe.  To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.  Stay tuned—we’ll talk about it next article.




 
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