Posts Tagged ‘Communication’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Automation Go Too Far?

5-26 automated customer service smallDo you think crotchety senior citizens are the only people who still complain about not being able to talk to a live customer service rep? Think again. When a recent poll asked 1,000 U.S. consumers for their number-one customer service gripe, not being able to get from an automated phone system to a live person was the top complaint among Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers alike.

Although often portrayed as wanting to interact with businesses entirely online, 32 percent of Millennials say their biggest frustration is being unable to reach a live person. Thirty percent of Gen X consumers and 47 percent of Baby Boomers feel the same way.

Of course, this doesn’t mean customers are opposed to automated customer service systems—90 percent have used them and nearly 60 percent say, in general, such systems have improved customer service. But the key is making intelligent use of your automated customer service system. How can you do this?

  • Always offer the option to reach a live person. Don’t make callers guess which button they need to push to get to a live representative, or wait through three minutes’ worth of options. When you run a small business, customers expect to get through quickly and to receive a personalized touch, so make sure you provide this.
  • Provide alternatives. If call wait times are unusually long at a specific time, for instance, offering callers the option to leave a voicemail that is then forwarded to a customer service rep’s email enables them to get their messages through with less frustration.
  • Choose customer service tools that integrate with your CRM. You’ll gain access to historical customer data that immeasurably improves your customer service reps’ ability to provide personalized, relevant service. If customers have been on hold for a while, having their data at the rep’s fingertips does a lot to ease their frustration.

With 87 percent of consumers polled saying customer service systems have a significant impact on their choice of businesses, and two-thirds reporting they’ve stopped doing business with a company due to poor service, using customer service technology the right way is more vital than ever.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why You Need Customer Service Meetings

People in a Business MeetingHandling customer service is a 24/7 job for a small business, so it’s tempting to let regular meetings with your customer service employees fall by the wayside. Don’t. Meeting regularly with your team is essential to keeping your customer service stellar. Here are topics you and your team should discuss at your meetings:

Weekly:

Weekly customer service meetings should be fairly quick—30 minutes to an hour at most—to keep the team energized and enthusiastic (and informed).

  • Briefly review issues that have come up since the last meeting, such as specific customer service problems that representatives had difficulty resolving. Discussing these with the whole team enables you to tap into everyone’s experience to come up with guidelines that all your customer service reps can follow if the situation arises again.
  • Review the prior week’s customer service metrics such as average time for a call to be answered, average time spent on a call, average number of contacts for an issue to be resolved, etc. This can be done quickly to see if you are on track to meet your goals or if you’re falling behind.
  • Introduce new business such as new employees on the customer service team, new systems or procedures, and new products or services that customer service employees need to know about.
  • Reward outstanding customer service representatives by honoring employees who went “above and beyond” in the past week. Be sure to explain how what the person did can be a model for other customer service employees in the future and what lesson should be learned from the actions.

Monthly:

At monthly customer service meetings, it’s a good idea to focus on one subject in depth. This could include:

  • Explore your metrics over the past month in depth to note trends and, if necessary, brainstorm ideas for improving performance. For instance, if you notice calls are taking longer than desired, is this because employees are having trouble resolving problems, or because they’re spending more time interacting to build customer relationships? If the former, find a way to fix it—if the latter, perhaps you should set longer goal times for calls.
  • Providing extensive training about new products and/or services. You might bring vendors in to demonstrate new products, or offer in-house training in how to resolve potential problems with a new product or service.

While technology can help streamline service, there’s no substitute for meetings with your customer service employees if you want to help them be the best they can be. 


VoIP Speed Test: Is Your Network Ready?

Reliable Internet is essential to conducting business today. As a business professional, you need to be able to email, search for answers to your questions, back up and store your important files, collaborate with team members via virtual meetings, and even make and receive phone calls. In order for the various communication technologies your business relies on to be successful, you need to have enough Internet bandwidth.

When you’re looking to switch to a reliable and affordable cloud phone service, such as Nextiva, you’ll need to ensure your network has enough bandwidth to support the volume of calls your business handles and your other devices. That’s where the VoIP Speed Test with Nextiva comes in.

The Nextiva Speed Test tells you important information about your network such as:

  • Download and upload speed
  • Ping and Jitter times
  • Overall capacity

Take the Nextiva Speed Test to find out if your network is ready for your switch to a hosted phone service. Once you have your results, a Nextiva Account Executive can go through them with you to determine if any changes will need to be made to your current network.

Speed Test 3

Once your network is ready, the fun part begins! You’ll then move on to deciding which features will improve your communication with customers, increase your team’s productivity and efficiency, and will help you reach your business goals.  

To learn more about Nextiva’s business cloud phone service and speak to an Account Executive, please visit nextiva.com.  


What is Business Cloud Phone Service?

Cloud Phone ServiceWhat is the Cloud?

The “cloud” has been a hot term in tech for a while, but what is it? If you ask your grandmother, she may say it’s the white balls up in the sky. And if you ask a computer science engineer you may get a technical answer about servers, data centers and networks. But what does it mean for you and your business?

Moving your business to the cloud, and specifically your phone service, allows you to access your files, software programs, and phone from anywhere, at anytime, as long as you have an Internet connection.  You don’t have to worry about lugging stuff around with you, losing important information or missing a call. Today’s business environment demands that we are always available and connected to our customers—whether its over the phone, via email, or replying to a post on social media. Running your business in the cloud allows you to meet your customers’ demands no matter where you are.

Why Your Business Needs a Cloud Phone System

While cloud technology is still relatively new, it can save your business a significant amount of time, resources and money, especially when it comes to your phone system. A cloud phone system, also know as a hosted phone system or VoIP, is managed and maintained by the provider, such as Nextiva, so you don’t need to have an IT person on staff. Everything is done virtually.

A few of the benefits include:

  • Unlimited calling to the U.S., Canada & Puerto Rico
  • Flat monthly fee per line of service
  • No on-site IT professional needed
  • Lines of service can be added or reduced quickly
  • Advanced call routing based on your needs and preferences
  • Call forwarding
  • Connect multiple offices and remote workers to easily transfer calls
  • Voicemails sent to your email via audio file or transcription
  • Provider handles system maintenance
  • Always have the latest technology

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A cloud phone system can provide your business with features that will take your communication to the next level. To learn more, visit nextiva.com.   


Millennials Are The Biggest Generation Of Customers In History (Here’s What They’re Looking For)

Friends shopping together and using smart phoneHere’s the story you already know. Millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen return from World War II to the embrace of millions of riveting Rosies, apparently very riveting, judging by the fruitful output of these couples during the postwar decades: 2.4 children per couple, the biggest generation America has ever seen. These kids, the Baby Boomers, grow up to transform the social and economic landscape of a nation.

Now, here’s the story you’ve heard less often: The baby boom has happened again, and then some. The Boomers themselves, in the fullness of time, have given birth to an even bigger generation. Their offspring, the millennials (also known as Gen Y), are the young adults and teenagers born between 1980 and 2000 who are poised to transform a nation once more.

Specifically, and of most importance to those of you in business, they’re about to become the most important consumers–customers–in history. Their wallet power, already significant, is rapidly expanding, and will soon equal and then eclipse that of the Baby Boomers. In fact, it’s estimated that Millennials in the U.S. alone will be spending $200 billion (or nearly that amount) annually by 2017.

[And to compound the effect, it’s far from only B2C dollars they’ll have at their disposal. Remember these young customers are also becoming decision makers at major corporations, thus controlling purse strings that affect the success and failure of those of you with B2B companies.]

These customers have had an upbringing that's different from that of previous generations in ways that are commercially significant. For their entire lives, broadband internet has been the norm. "Telephone" has by and large meant a smartphone. The economy has been global, and competition for their business has been only a click away in the event that their first choice of brand proves to be a disappointment. Parents, educators, coaches and mentors have invited them to participate, to have a voice, to collaborate–which they now want to do with the brands and companies from which they buy.

But enough with the history and sociology. As someone who will be dependent on these younger consumers for a significant portion of your revenue, and a large portion of your word of mouth, you need to know how they want you to serve them, the customer service and customer experience that they’re looking for. Here are five areas you need to look at, five changes in approach that are required.

1. Deploy human beings in ways that actually provide value to customers

Millennials, having grown up in a connected, app-ified, Amazon-defined world, have different ideas of where humans should fit into customer service delivery. The last thing they want is for human beings to gum up the works if they don’t add value. So make use of automated service solutions, self-service, algorithmically assisted service, in addition to deploying the brightest, most empathetic human employees you can find.

To put it another way: Be careful not to do a "half Zappos": If you decide to emulate Zappos, home of the warm and fuzzy 10 hour customer service call, be sure you also emulate their highly efficient, automated, algorithmically enhanced ordering process.  Because this combination is required to win the millennial heart; the warm and fuzzies alone aren’t enough to do it if they’re combined with the slow and sloppy rather than the up-to-date and efficient.

2. Spice up the customer experience with adventure

The millennial generation of customers are particularly likely to view a commercial interaction as an opportunity rather than as a burden, as long as there are experiences, even adventures to be had along the way. New service models need to focus on helping customers discover and enjoy experiences, not just on getting them, figuratively or literally, from point A to point B. Take, as an example, business travel. According to Jay Coldren, who helms EDITION hotels, a cutting-edge hospitality collaboration between Marriott and Ian Schrager, “Millennials view business travel not as a necessary evil but as a perk and an opportunity to view the world.” Embrace and support this worldview and you win their business.

3. Stop controlling your customers. Focus instead on collaborating with them.

Allowing customers to control their own destiny needs to be a component of your new, millennial-friendly service model. Give up old notions of control and replace them with a transparent model that allows, wherever possible, your customer to be in the driver’s seat. Embrace crowdsourcing: You can’t control product ratings, product discussions, or much else, except by providing the most extraordinary customer experience possible and letting your customers, and your critics, hash out their discussions of it in public.

The crux of the matter is this:  Millennials don’t necessarily see a clear boundary between the customer and the brand, the customer and marketer, and the customer and service provider. Alex Castellarnau at Dropbox, the popular file transfer service, put it to me this way: With millennials, “a new brand, service or product is only started by the company; it’s finished by the customers. Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge.”

4. Speed up your service, but never rush your customers

Millennials’ internal time clocks and customer expectations are shaped by the instant gratification they’ve grown accustomed to from the online/smartphone experience. They’re by and large superb multi-taskers who put a premium value on convenience. Speed and efficiency are of the utmost importance: in how quickly you respond to a customer, ship to a customer, and offer up choices of product or service to a customer.

However, the millennial generation is also a very social generation, yearning for face to face interaction and collaboration – from their peers and, often, from your more empathetic employees. So the combination of speed and leisure can be powerful, as Starbucks continues to show. While the millennial generation wants their custom-brewed coffee in their hand in no more than a few minutes, they also want the world to linger with them over coffee.

5. Make sure your customer service style is genuine and rings true.  And never talk down to this generation of customers.

Authentic, caring communication is in, scripted service is out. Dress codes, prohibitions on visible tattoos, stiflingly choreographed customer service?  That’s not what Millennials are looking for from service providers. The new generation is exceedingly informal, and has different words and methods of communicating.  Jay Coldren from Marriott again: “The Millennials want to converse in their own language, according to their own rules. They speak in tweets, texts and Facebook posts. If you want to reach them, you have to speak in their native tongue. And you have to be completely authentic.”  Candor and transparency are very important to millennials, and are used as a proxy for them for deciding overall how much to trust and ultimately engage with your brand.

Condescension is in particular a no-go with this generation. Boomer parents by and large avoid talking down to their children, as did the educators and even the television they watched as youngsters–Blues Clues, Barney, and Bob The Builder–which taught them a style of peer to peer, eye level communication that puts them on level with the society rather than being subordinate to it or in conflict with it. For this and other reasons, the best style to engage a millennial is a peer-to-peer, eye level style of service, rather than standing up on a haughty brand pedestal and looking down your company’s nose at them.

When I say "be genuine," I mean it, and I'm not just talking about funky looking fontography and the like. I'm also talking about behaving in a way that proves that your values match your stated claims.  Values matter a lot to millennials; because of increased competition and increased transparency, millennials have more opportunities to engage in values-based buying than previous generations, and they exhibit a strong inclination to do so. When millennials do business with a company, they’re more likely than previous generations to care about the social values of that company: its social responsibility, green profile, and how ethically it does, or doesn’t, treat its own employees and those of its suppliers. They will reward your company if its behavior mirrors their own ethics, and punish your company if it doesn’t.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Your Employees Have Emotional Intelligence?

Business Team Chatting at Their OfficeIn my recent post 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Reps, I mentioned the concept of “emotional intelligence.” Since emotional intelligence is a very desirable quality in a customer service employee, I wanted to explore this topic a little further.

In the workplace, emotional intelligence (sometimes called EI or EQ for “emotional quotient”) means being able to identify, understand, manage and use emotions—your own, and others’—in positive ways to build teams, lessen stress and communicate more effectively.

There are four aspects of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions is the first step in EI. By paying attention to their own emotional reactions, employees can learn to recognize the physical, mental and emotional signs of emotions such as stress, anger or sadness that can hinder good customer service.
  2. Self-management: Self-aware employees are in a better position to manage their own emotions. For an example, an employee who recognizes that a stomachache is a sign of stress can take steps to ease the stress before it becomes overwhelming. When they realize that emotions are interfering with their job, employees can make positive choices to defuse these emotions.
  3. Social awareness: The third part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand what others are feeling, empathize with them and react appropriately. For instance, if a customer is sighing heavily during a customer service call, an employee with social awareness will recognize this might indicate growing frustration, and “check in” on the customer’s emotional temperature.
  4. Managing relationships: Employees who possess the three other aspects of EI will be more successful at managing their interactions with other people. By being aware of their own emotions, managing them in a positive fashion, and responding appropriately to others’ emotions, these customer service employees can defuse conflicts, improve customers’ moods and build customer loyalty.

Want to assess and improve your employees (or your own) EI? Here are some emotional intelligence exercises and an emotional intelligence toolkit to assess and improve EI. 


Mondays with Mike: 15 Email Mistakes To Eliminate

Man Writing an E-Mail on a LaptopGiven that many of us can conduct business without ever touching a piece of paper, email has become the single most important method of business communication.  Appointments, negotiations, confirmations, even billing can be handled via email, which means it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re communicating carefully and professionally.  Here are 15 mistakes you should never make in your business emails:

  1. Irrelevant (or missing) signature lines.  Your signature line should contain your contact information and nothing else.  That inspirational quote from your favorite author is just clutter in business communications.
  2. Cutesy emoticons.  Just don’t. 
  3. Using “Reply All” for every message.  Think about whether your reply really needs to go to everyone on the list.  Send information only to those recipients who really need it.
  4. Speling and gramer erors.  Nothing makes professional correspondence look sloppier than misspelled words and careless grammar errors.  If your email program doesn’t have spellcheck, take the time to copy and paste your messages into a word processing program to clean up any mistakes.  Put your best foot forward.
  5. Including long previous conversations.  Forwarding irrelevant portions of earlier conversations just means folks have to wade through more noise.  Strive to keep your emails clutter-free.
  6. Being too long-winded.  Email is supposed to make us more efficient.  Get to the point and wrap it up.  Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary information.
  7. Altering previous conversations.  Never, ever, ever should you edit earlier conversations to alter their meaning.  Not only is it completely unethical, but you’re likely to be called out for pulling an underhanded stunt.
  8.  Revealing you’ve been BCCed.  If you’re blind copied, it’s for a reason.  If you hit “Reply All,” you’re outing the sender of the original email.  Make sure you’re careful if there’s under-the-radar communication occurring.
  9. Irrelevant or vague subject lines.  If you’re sending an email, it’s because you have important information to share.  Using specific subject lines helps your colleagues wade through their inboxes and identify the emails which need their attention first.  A subject line like “Oh, by the way” is far less effective than “Change in meeting time.”  Be clear.
  10. Burying your point.  In the cases in which you do need to send a lengthy email, make sure your main point is covered early on.  You want to avoid the TL;DR effect – Too Long; Didn’t Read – by getting to the point right away.  Don’t make folks wade through a bunch of fluff to figure out what’s important.
  11. Babysitting your email.  It works just fine, even if you’re not watching it.  Email is supposed to enhance efficiency, but it doesn’t work that way if you’re interrupting your day every time you hear a “ding.”  Similarly, I see people pretending to be busy with their inboxes when they really could be doing something far more productive.  It’s a tool.  Use it at your convenience.
  12. Ignoring critical emails.  Don’t be a lousy correspondent.  So often we read an email and intend to come back to it later.  What ends up happening, though, is we forget, or when we do get back to it, we have to reread it to refresh our memories.  It’s far more efficient to handle important emails right away, or if you can’t, flag them so you don’t miss them when you’re reviewing your inbox.
  13. Replying too quickly.  We often get sucked into the trap of replying in a less than professional manner, simply because email is so quick.  Just because you’ve read a message doesn’t mean you have to answer it right that minute, though.  If you’re upset or confused, sometimes all you need is to take a little time and handle the email when you’re better equipped to do it calmly.
  14. Using a gushy closing.  These are business communications, and there’s really no place for flowery sign-offs.  Keep in mind that if your sig line has your name and contact information, you may not even need to sign off at all.
  15. Attaching enormous files.  Bear in mind that email has limits.  If you absolutely must send a large, critical file, compress or zip it so it doesn’t fill up the recipient’s inbox.

In short: be concise, be professional, and be clear. 


Can You Beat the Marshmallow Challenge?

1-30 marshmallow challenge smallHow can twenty sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow help build a stronger team?

The Marshmallow Challenge has become a popular exercise in which small groups are asked to build the “tallest free-standing structure” out of the materials provided. The teams have eighteen minutes to complete this task including the entire marshmallow on top. It’s a fun and instructive exercise that allows teams to experience simple lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The challenge has been conducted with business school graduates, CEOs, architects, engineers, and even kindergarteners. There have been surprising findings for which groups perform most successfully. Surprisingly, recent business school graduates are among the worst performers and kindergarteners often excel at this challenge. The children don’t spend time fighting to be the leader of the group. Instead, they just start playing and in the process begin prototyping. Business school grads spend most of the time talking, planning and building, which means they don’t have much time to change the design when it finally comes time to put the marshmallow on top which is usually too heavy for the structure that was built.

The teambuilding lessons from this challenge include:

Always test assumptions through prototyping: Participants think that marshmallows are light and will be easily supported, but when teams start building the structure, it suddenly tips it over. Only through realizing that every idea has value and then prototyping various solutions can the teams find out what works.

Don’t focus on being the tallest. When the instruction is given that the tallest will win, teams assume that height will win the contest. As a result, they wrongly focus on how high they can build the structure instead of the stability its base. Many times, companies try to grow too fast before they have a solid business.

Use what is available. Development of every product has limitations and teams can only use what they have and not get resources they want to build something better. In business, there is never unlimited resources or the perfect environment to grow.

Use only what is needed. There are some things that are given in the exercise that do not need to be used like the string. Teams have to figure out what is useful and what needs to be discarded in developing any solutions.

Give up perfection. Teams start out dreaming about building an elegant structure like the Eiffel Tower. They have to give up this idea of perfection and build something (even if it is ugly) that works that can be “good enough” to win.

If you’re looking for a fun way to kick start a meeting or get a team into a creative frame of mind, try running a marshmallow challenge of your own. Is your team up to it?


Help Out Your Customers Before They Know They Need Your Help

1-15-15 Alerting Customers small

What do customers prefer–strongly prefer–to having to ask your company for help, or for information, and then having to wait for an answer?  They like it if your company gets to them first with what they need as customers before they have to ask for anything themselves.

So, if you want to become irreplaceable to your customers, it’s time to develop a mindset–a companywide customer service policy, in fact–of “getting to them first”: providing customers with the information or assistance they’re going to need before they have to reach out to you to ask for it, before, in fact, they even know that they need it. 

Depending on the scale of your business, you will likely be doing this using modern communications technology and automation.

Anticipatory Customer Service Messaging

Like much else involved in creating great customer service and a superior customer experience, this requires a masterful touch, far removed from the hamfistedness of a spammer. Applied properly, the principle of ‘‘getting to them first’’ is a powerful way to make customers feel remembered, cared for, and, ultimately and paradoxically, left alone and unbothered, since they can now relax knowing you will, for example:

• Notify passengers if flights have been delayed or gates change, and if the worst happens (a cancellation) rebook them and alert them to the new arrangements, without any work on the passengers’ part.
• Reach out to customers if there’s a delay in shipping the item you’d promised to deliver before the holidays, so they can make alternative plans
• Remind customers of something they ‘‘should’’ be keeping track of themselves, but that you, in your quest to become their irreplaceable vendor, are happy to put on your own shoulders. For example, you can remind them, before they ask, when their mortgage payments are due or when a medication needs to be refilled.

Along these lines, you've perhaps noticed that your credit card company has cozied up to you by taking what should be your responsibility—posting my payments on time—off your shoulders and put it on the company’s. Now, as a result, I’ll bet you're a lot less frequently late on your credit card payments these days, and think a lot less about the idea of switching companies anymore, thanks to that simple automated alert sent to your inbox:

Alert: Your Payment Is Due in 10 Days to X Card Services
To: slowpayer@slackfest.com
Your payment to us will be due in 10 days, for your account that ends in 1111.

Leave ways for them to reach a (fabulous) human being

But you can't do everything with automation.  The effect of being cared for effortlessly (or at least with no effort on the part of the customer) that you've started electronically is enhanced by making sure that every automated addition to your repertoire is accompanied by an option for the recipient to easily reach a human being.

Remember, your marketing department would spill its blood to reach a live customer one on one, so talking with customers isn’t an overhead expense. It’s an opportunity. So strive to offer customers a chance to talk with a human, if that’s their preference, even when you’re reaching out to them through automation.

Where to find opportunities to "get to them first": 

  • With anything you think about more than/more frequently than your customers do. If your business is a mail-order pharmacy, it means you work all day on the intricacies of injectable medications. These are expensive and involved medications used for managing multiple sclerosis and other chronic illnesses, requiring pre-approvals from insurance agencies, typically shipped to the customer every ninety days. Your customer, on the other hand, has a life. She’s doing everything other than thinking about her medication supply in the eighty-nine-day span between reorders. So, you set up the ultimate in bulletproof reminder systems, check for her that insurance and physician verifications have remained up to date, etc., and handle everything for her as transparently as possible, thus becoming her indispensable dispensary.
  • Any time your customers would otherwise be waiting in the dark. Projects and products built or shipped in stages, from insurance applications and disaster relief efforts to cross-country relocations and event planning, are important opportunities to get to your customers first. ‘‘No news is good news’’ isn’t something customers assume or should assume. Regular updates should be your mode of operation.
  • With anything that customers need to know about, if you’re aware of it before they are. This could be protection from a new software virus; many stitches are saved when electronic patches are provided to customers before they need them. Or, let’s look at an application from the fine-arts world: Don’t make your patrons find out for themselves that a sporting event has closed off the normal route to the ballet. Courteously and cannily, the ticketing service used by the Philadelphia Ballet makes sure to send an automated call to ticketholders' phones to alert them to leave extra time so as not to miss the opening curtain.  It also couples the phone call—just for safety—with an email, for example, as follows:

An important message regarding your performance on Saturday at 12 p.m. The International Dragon Boat Festival and the U.S. Pro Bike Race will take place Saturday. Throughout the day Kelly Drive will be partially closed and MLK Drive will be completely closed. Please allow extra time to arrive at the Academy of Music for your 12 p.m. performance.

Sure, the ballet could rationalize to itself that the ballet patrons have already bought their nonrefundable tickets. Which is literally true this time–but the way to have them buy tickets repeatedly, and perhaps become that legacy donor you’ve been looking for is to avoid permitting them to encounter an aggravating experience that leaves a poor taste in their mouths.




 
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