Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Reflect Your Brand?

Barbeque: Waiter Seating Guest at TableHave you ever stopped to think about how well your company’s customer service reflects your brand? As workers on the front lines of your business, customer service employees are often the first contact customers have with your company, making their role as “brand ambassadors” crucial.

How do customer service employees convey your brand? Consider the different types of customer service you might receive at a fancy, white-tablecloth restaurant vs. a casual, ‘50s-style diner. Waiters at the fancy restaurant might be formally dressed, speak quietly and address you as “Sir.” Waitresses at the diner might chomp gum, call you “Hon” and slide into your booth to take an order. In both cases, they’re conveying the business’s brand.

Here are some aspects of customer service that can build your business brand.  

  • Uniforms: If your customer service employees interact with customers in person, uniforms are essential to building a brand. Uniforms should tie in with your business’s colors and logo, its mood (formal or informal, fashionable or functional), and the demands of the job.
  • Grooming: Along with uniforms, grooming standards reinforce your brand. If you own a hip graphic design firm or restaurant, you might want staff to show off their tattoos and nose rings. If you own a conservative accounting firm, you probably want these covered up removed during work hours. To make sure your grooming standards don’t discriminate against any category of employee, allow for work-arounds. In other words, you can’t refuse to hire someone because of tattoos, but you can require the tattoos to be covered on the job.
  • Speech: The ways your customer service representatives talk to customers says a lot about your brand. You might require a more formal conversational style, such as always addressing customers as “Ms.,” “Mr.” or “Mrs.” And saying “Please” and “You’re welcome.” Or you might be fine with employees addressing customers by their first names or using casual expressions like “Sure” and “No problem.” Either way, setting guidelines for employees to follow—such as scripts for customer service reps who deal with customers on the phone–creates a level of uniformity that reinforces your brand.
  • Assistance level: At some businesses, customer service is more of a DIY affair; at others, it’s a white-glove approach. Set standards that are in line with your brand. Should customer service reps guide customers through every step of a complicated process, or get them started and then let them finish on their own? Can an employee assist more than one customer at the same time, or must they handle one customer’s issue before interacting with the next? When transferring a customer to another phone line, should the employee stay on the line and introduce the customer to the other service rep, or just transfer the call and hang up?

When it comes to customer service, little things make a big difference in how your brand is perceived.


How to Get Your Business Email Delivered

Stocksy_txpf1294e40taA000_Small_354765Spam has been a problem since 1865. When a group of British politicians received unsolicited telegrams promoting a local dentistry shop, they were angry. One of the recipients wrote a letter to the editor of The Times asking “by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is evidently simply the medium of advertisement?” He proceeded to request a stop to this “intolerable nuisance”.

Flash forward over 100 years to 1978. Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., sends a message promoting a new computer model to 393 users on ARPANET (the precursor to the internet) and becomes the “father of spam”. The reaction was almost completely hostile and Thuerk was harshly reprimanded.

So after so much backlash, why does the sending of spam messages continue? Because this marketing technique works. Thuerk’s company sold more than 20 computer systems for more than a million dollars apiece from this type of message.

In the years since, spam has continued to be sent and continued to be fought by email gatekeeping filters. Some estimate that 90% of all email sent is actually spam.

So how do you get a company’s email through all that spam filters?

  1. Use double opt in when possible. A subscriber fills out a form and then confirms that subscription again via email. While this two-step process is a bit cumbersome and will result in a reduction of the list, it is the best way to preserve a reputation and therefore the deliverability with the email provider.
  2. Keep complaints low. When someone does complain, remove them from the list immediately. It is surprising how these people do not remove themselves when they make the complaint.
  3. Use a reputable email marketing provider. Most professional services like Infusionsoft, and Constant Contact have strict standards of mailing. Every email address on a subscriber list must be verified by the sender or the receiver to keep deliverability high.
  4. Do not use Yahoo, Gmail or AOL domain names. Since these types of accounts represent the domains where most spam is sent from, they have a higher likelihood to be filter out as spam.
  5. Stop using trigger words. This increase the chances of the email being labeled as spam. For instance, do not use the words “free”, “you have been selected”, “24 hours”, “test”, “hello”, “help”, “percent off” or “reminder”.
  6. If images are used, include more text. Images alone have a greater chance of going into the spam bucket. Use plenty of text along with those images to improve deliverability.
  7. Always spell check the email. A lot of spam is from non English speakers who have a tendency to misspell words. Always spell check the entire email to get past this filter.
  8. Use 25 character subject line. Keep the subject line short. Not only does this help to get past the spam filters, it increase readability on mobile devices.
  9. Watch the “From” field. Always use a real person’s name and not Sales@Mystore.com. These have a greater probability to get caught in the filters since they are viewed as less authentic.
  10. Encourage recipients to add the domain to their address book or white label list. This will ensure that the emails always land in the inbox.

What is the deliverability of your email like?


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.)


The Customer Experience Can Always Be Improved

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.

Customers place a certain value on consistency and familiarity when it comes to painlessly ordering or experiencing goods and services. For example (as a customer myself):

  • When I order something online from a company I’ve visited before, I expect the menu screen to be essentially the same as I’ve become accustomed to—I don’t want to bother with relearning the ordering protocol.
  • When I phone my heating oil company to place an order, I expect the usual protocol: to be told the current price per gallon, to be given a reasonable time frame for the delivery, and to have the delivery driver already know exactly where my fill spout is and how to get to it, without requiring me to be home at the time.

However, while customers value a feeling of consistency, a masterful company knows it always needs to improve, even to maintain that semblance of consistency, because customer expectations are continually getting more intense.

In the early twentieth century, just about thirty years after the telephone was invented and greeted with awe, the great writer and observer Marcel Proust made note of how unappreciated the phone had already become. Within a single generation, the telephone had gone from a miracle to an ordinary nuisance, spending more time complaining when hum or static broke up the line than on recognizing the essential wonder of this still quite new technology.

What was true of the telephone then is true today of all aspects of the customer experience.  And today, of course, the timetable in which perceptions change is much shorter than thirty years. What was a groundbreaking improvement in customer convenience last year is ho-hum today; what was timely last week feels as slow now as a dial-up modem.

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

A masterful company understands this and adapts and retools continually. For instance, a retail chain could have a simply stated goal as follows for each new location: “Make this store better than the last one we opened.” This simple approach is an optimal way to improve with every store opening and also avoid endless second-guessing and regrets about past shortfalls.

“Better,” sadly, is always going to be subjective.  And “better” very likely does not mean “change up everything.”  To do so will unnerve your existing customers who have gotten used to things the way they are.  And it may also deter not-yet customers, who are surprised by something so outside the norms of your industry.  A subtle, deft hand is necessary.

And, sometimes, the success or failure of your intended improvement won’t be clear for some time.  This stuff isn’t easy.  But standing still doesn’t work either.  Because it will feel to your customers, and your prospective customers, as if you’re moving backward.

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Sooner or later as you continue to improve the customer experience you provide, you’re going to run into another issue:  “Is this [our customer experience, our customer service] better than it needs to be?

Think this through carefully.  Features (even very subtle features and nearly invisible touches) that your customers value need to be shielded from willy-nilly cost cutting. At the same time, there are undoubtedly excesses built into some customer encounters and services. A specific sort of excess you should tune your antennae for is called lily-gilding. (The term comes from an approximation of Shakespeare:’‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily’’—to overdo the already perfect, in other words.)

Lily-gilding is the brilliantly hand polished finish on an end table—when the end table is always hidden by a tablecloth. It’s an air conditioning compressor too powerful for the space it cools.

In customer interactions, lily-gilding takes the form of fancying up your offering beyond what your customers are interested in (or interested in paying for). This has both obvious and hidden costs. The hidden costs include excess features that can make your offering less attractive by complicating it for customers or implying to customers that they’re paying for something they don’t need.

This is rarely a central problem in customer service.  But it is absolutely one to keep half an eye on as you strive, always, to improve. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Use Incentives for Your Customer Service Employees

Salespeople typically get incentivized to motivate better performance, but do you offer incentives to your customer service employees, too? After all, they have the arguably harder job of keeping customers happy after the sale. Creating a customer service employee incentive program can not only improve your customer service, but also boost profits and help retain valued customer service workers.

Here are some tips for setting up a successful incentive program:

  • Set specific goals. What behaviors do you want to reinforce with your incentives? Take time to think about what customer service activities have the biggest effect on customer retention, profits and word-of-mouth. For example, rewarding the customer service rep who handles the most calls in the shortest time won’t be effective if those customers aren’t truly satisfied. In this case, rewarding employees who get the best customer reviews might be a better criterion.
  • Share the standards for obtaining incentives. Make it very clear to customer service employees what behaviors or actions you are rewarding and how you will measure their activities. This way, employees will know for themselves if they’re working up to par.
  •  Mix it up. Use different types of rewards depending on the behavior you’re trying to encourage, what your customer service reps want most, and what you can afford. You might want to use cash bonuses for some behaviors, gift cards or certificates for others, and recognition (such as “Employee of the Week”) for others. Also consider letting employees choose their own rewards from among a “menu” of options.
  • Make it fun. Customer service is a tiring job, so re-energize employees with game-oriented rewards that encourage friendly competition. For instance, you could wrap up a mystery prize and award it to the employee or team who most exemplifies going “above and beyond” at the end of a day.
  • Set a budget. Put money aside for customer service employee incentives—it’s important. If you’re on a tight budget, barter with other local businesses to get gift cards or free products and services you can use as rewards.
  • Make it a group activity. In addition to individual and team-based incentives, consider adding a departmental incentive such as an annual outing to a local theme park, sporting event or spa if the customer service department meets specific goals. Make sure the event is something all your customer service employees will enjoy and aspire to.

 

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+  and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.


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. 




 
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