Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’

Great Customer Service Reps are Born, not Made

11-25 Hiring Employees smallAll new hires need some formal or informal training to learn the ins and outs of their jobs, including customer service reps, who need to master basic company policies and procedures connected with customer interactions. While most employees who master training become great workers, perfect policy and procedure proficiency does not automatically make customer-facing employees good at their jobs.

Great customer service requires a special breed of people. Whether they sell to customers, help them navigate the aisles or resolve their issues on the phone, they display a genuine caring and helpful spirit, while being authentic. You can't teach that spirit, so your job is to seek it out from the time you write the want ad and throughout the interview process.

Advertise and Assess for Character Traits Before Technical Skills

Exceptional technical skills are meaningless in a customer service rep who doesn't deal well with people, so ask for people skills in the heading of your employment ad. A heading like, "Customer Service Rep with Computer Experience" attracts people who can log calls. A heading like, "Do People Come to You for Help?" draws in people who really like to help others. By all means, list minimum qualifications within the ad, but focus on attitude and people skills.

Of course, the interview requires the same type of focus. Be prepared to pose customer-related scenarios to find out how the applicant will handle them. And, even if some applicants fall slightly short of the skills requirements, listen for signs of trainability. Friendly, helpful people with basic computer skills can learn how to log calls, even if they have never before worked in a customer service environment.

Identify the Right Character Traits

You probably have no training in psychology, but that doesn't mean you have no capacity to recognize applicants who have a natural affinity for customer service. Here are some of the character traits to look for — and how to identify them:

  • Strong communication skills: Face it; angry or frustrated customers often do not communicate clearly. The reps you hire must be able to listen and understand long before they deliver a clear, unambiguous message. During the interview, applicants with the knack for two-way communication rise to the surface when you ask unclear questions. If they tactfully ask for clarification, they are better communicators than applicants who answer the wrong question.
  • Patience and compassion: Customers seldom seek out support when they are happy. In the worst cases, they are so livid that no solution seems to satisfy them. Your reps need a thick skin to avoid striking back at unearned verbal attacks. Then, they need the stamina to find resolutions that meet the customer's needs, while displaying a genuine degree of compassion for the customer's circumstances (no pity, please). A good way to test for these traits is to present an unsolvable issue and monitor the applicant's patience levels every time that you reject another solution.
  • Proactive problem-solving: Your company may have a rule book for resolving typical complaints. But even when reps memorize every rule, undocumented issues frequently arise. If you empower your employees to make decisions on the fly, raise some hypothetical situations to make sure that applicants have enough common sense to respond appropriately — and when they recognize the need to seek management intervention.

Mirror the Work Environment During the Interview

Traditionally, short phone interviews are a first step before bringing applicants in for one or more face-to-face meetings. But, does this really tell the whole story for a phone support applicant? Sure, these people may need to interact with other employees, so meeting in person makes sense. Still, the phone interview may be the best way to assess what their on-the-job performance will really be like.

If the position involves phone support, maybe the phone interview is most important because it lets you listen for a smile and get an idea of how well applicants read emotions over the phone without of the benefit of facial queues. Similarly, consider meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant to see how traveling sales reps handle business conversations in noisy environments — and to check their table manners.

Put Yourself in the Customer's Shoes During Each Interview:

You may be interviewing as the boss, but you need to listen to each answer as if you were the customer. Customers quickly recognize the difference between genuine support and scripted problem-solving. You can certainly teach new reps about the support process. You can even teach them to avoid certain stock phrases — like responding to a thank you with "no problem."

But helpfulness and winning personalities come from the heart. Bruce Nordstrom, of the third generation of customer service-oriented Nordstrom management, said it best: "We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can't hire salespeople and teach them to be nice."

Five “New Normals” That Your Customer Experience Needs To Keep Up With

A neon sign with the words "Open 24 Hours" against a brick wall. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.Here are five places where your customer experience may have fallen out of sync with what today's customers are looking for. Check the list and see where you stand.  It can make a real bottom-line difference today, and a sustainability difference over at least the next several years.

1. Good self-service options are a must: No matter how good your human-delivered customer service, customers expect self-service options as well. Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust.

There are various factors driving the self-service trend: customers' round-the-clock lifestyle, a buying populace that is increasingly tech savvy, and even in some cases the higher comfort level of socially anxious customers when doing business with machines rather than face to face or even on the phone.

2. Extended hours are the new 9-5 Customers expect extended hours: hours that you’re open, hours that you provide support.  This may mean 24/7 or as close as you can get. For example: For its advertising clients, Google now not only offers support in 42 languages, it does so nearly around the clock, and offers English language support English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support.

Customers also expect more flexibility and options during traditionally “off” hours. For example, if you’re in foodservice, consider letting customers order from either the dinner or lunch menu in the mid-afternoon, and consider offering a cold sandwich menu available late in the evening after the kitchen has closed but your bar is still open.

3. Faster, faster, faster Do you still have internal company documents with obsolete standards like “We strive to respond to Internet inquiries within 48 hours.”  Maybe such a time frame made sense a few years ago (I actually doubt it, but maybe), but today, such a response time is he equivalent of 36 years in Internet time.  Your customer support standard needs to be response within just a few hours; after that, your customer is going to assume that you’re never going to get back to them. An intensified expectation of timeliness also applies to product and services delivery, an area where is obviously one of the leaders. Amazon’s example, and the twitchiness that apps and the Internet itself invoke, means that your company’s traditional definition of “fast enough” probably isn’t, anymore.

4. Customers are looking for fun even in what used to be dull: On the one hand, there's a new expectation that fun, adventure, even ‘danger’ can be incorporated in potentially mundane interactions. Business travel is a great example of this: More and more travelers try to integrate some adventure, some local exploration, into what are ostensibly business trips. Conversely, airlines whose long-haul flights offer a “quick dine” option so the tray isn’t in the way when passengers are trying to work have their heads screwed on right.

5. "If I don't have a picture of it on my phone, it didn't happen": Social consumption is now the norm. Lisa Holladay, branding and marketing guru at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, tells me she's heard this sentiment lately from young customers.  This means that if business isn't building opportunities for social sharing into the customer experience, you're missing out on a chance to delight–rather than drive away–your customers. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What’s the State of Service Today?

11-17 Customer Service top performers smallHow well does your company’s customer service measure up? recently released a survey of nearly 2,000 global companies that are leaders in customer service. The study looked at common service benchmarks, service trends for the year ahead, and the factors that define high-performing customer service teams. Here’s what the survey uncovered about top-performing customer service organizations, and the lessons for your business.

Top-performing customer service companies…

  • Have three priorities: “always-on” service, personalized service and faster service. For a small business, outsourcing customer service can offer your customers 24/7 assistance, CRM tools can help you maintain records enabling more personalized service, and setting goals and monitoring results can improve response speed.
  • Value efficiency. Speed is still the number-one metric top performers use to measure their customer service reps’ success. When asked to name their top three metrics, 47 percent choose average handle time, 38 percent say the number of cases handled and 32 percent name customer satisfaction.
  • Empower customer service employees to do whatever is needed to make customers happy. Top-performing companies are more than three times more likely than poor performers to have empowered employees.
  • Are more likely to be heavy users of technology. For example, high performers are more likely to be providing service via mobile apps or to be exploring video streaming as a customer service tool.
  • Excel at predicting what customers need. You can use CRM tools as well as social listening tools to assist in these predictions.
  • Use analytics and dashboards to learn and improve. You can use these tools to measure your customer service team’s key performance indicators, as well as to collect and analyze customer feedback.
  • Tap into the power of self-service and community portals to enable customers to find their own solutions to problems. (That’s a smart move, because the same study shows Millennial consumers overwhelmingly use self-service options first before initiating any type of interaction with a customer service representative.) Creating self-service options can be simple, like putting up a list of FAQs or more complex, such as a searchable database of solutions.

Is your small business on track to be a top customer service performer—or are you already there?

Never Stop Believing in the Importance of Every Single Customer

11-13 importance of every customer smallSad but true: The level of focus and attentiveness that’s common when your business has only a few customers tends to slide when your five customers become 50, or 500, or a thousand. The commitment that you had in the early days to keeping close to your customers, with the high level of care and knowledge of the customers that requires tends to fall by the wayside as you grow.

You stop signing your notes by hand. You stop writing “thank you” on the invoices. You get rid of Jackie and Joanne, your quirkily charismatic receptionists, and switch to an auto-attendant to answer incoming calls.

This loss of focus doesn’t happen on its own, or overnight. At every step of this downward journey, there are defining moments, the moments when you answer, one way or the other, questions like: Do we really want to stop including a postpaid return envelope with our invoices? Should we just let it slide when a new employee is sneaking texts in on the job, in sight of customers, where in the past we would have been sure to gently and quickly correct such behavior?

These moments represent your chance to prevent, or slow, the blurring of your initial customer focus, but only if, in every single case, you answer the relaxing of standards with the following retort: “If we would do it for our first customer, we’ll do it for our 10,000th.

The secret, in other words, is to never stop believing in the importance of every single customer.  Never start believing – as cell phone providers and so many companies in so many other industries have – that there is an infinite cohort of customers out there for the taking, if only our marketing and sales get the promotions and discounts out there far and wide.

Tell yourselves instead that 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 customer Jim. One Margo. One Alecia. Which means that even after you have thousands of customers, you need to do everything you can to maintain the mindset that every one of them is a core customer—and to treat the loss of a single 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.  

And this is a calamity to be avoided.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction, as an infinite plurality. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their individuality, their Jim-ishness, Margo-ishness, 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.  But each of them is precious.

Recapture this attitude. Stop thinking "good enough" is o.k. Stop thinking your early reputation (built on those moments when you were treating every customer as precious) can pull you through your current slackness. It won't. Only your redoubled attention to superior service can do that. 

How the Modern Call Center Enhances Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

Smiling young executives sitting with headsets and using computer There are many misconceptions about the modern call center. Most people perceive call centers as large call floors with expensive infrastructure and rows upon rows of cubicles. In reality, the present-day call center refers to a group of features that are geared toward managing call flow, increasing efficiency, and software integration. Cloud communications has eliminated the need for expensive hardware. Now businesses of all sizes can use the same feature set that has long been reserved for large enterprises for a fraction of the cost.

A Call Center in the Cloud will save you Money

In the past, call centers were huge capital investments that required a large floor space. Making updates to a call center was a frequent expenditure. By leveraging the power of cloud communications, companies can now turn over the maintenance and system upgrades to their service providers, such as Nextiva. Soft phones, such as the Nextiva App, are a great tool to increase mobility and lower hardware costs. These applications can be downloaded to a variety of devices and used in lieu of desk phones to make and receive calls. This feature is becoming increasingly popular with SMB’s as no additional equipment is necessary.

Technical support can run diagnostics virtually. They can access your call center system remotely and take care of any unforeseen problems.  There is no longer a need to hire a third-party contractor to come out to your call center location and fix phone issues.

SMB’s Call Center Features

While all call center features have their benefits, the three below will significantly improve your call center efficiency and productivity.

  1. Call Center Reporting– Call center reporting allows for real-time monitoring of call volume, agent performance, and key metrics such as abandoned calls and service levels. It generates in-depth reports that can be analyzed to improve agent and overall call center performance. SMBs are able to generate a variety of reports that accurately predict call flow for more efficient staffing. This simultaneously improves customer service levels while saving the company money.
  2. Call Queues– Call Queues allow businesses to route calls to the appropriate department, team, or individual. This reduces the amount of time wasted from transferring calls and will help your customers get the help they need from agents with the appropriate skill set.
  3. Business Integration- Cloud-based call centers allow SMBs to integrate their various business tools together to create one powerful platform. These third-party applications, such as CRM software, can transfer data seamlessly between the different tools and enable click-to-call functionality.

Developing a Style of Customer Service that Suits Today’s Customer Sensibilities

When it comes to communication, customers today and younger customers in particular are “disillusioned by anything canned and artificial,” as business and marketing expert Andrew Jensen puts it. A stilted, overly formal service style, even from the most caring providers, puts a ceiling on how intimate and inviting the interactions can be between employees and customers.

Which means that developing an authentic customer service style is a requirement for success with customers in the new economy. Customers in today’s marketplace (including the enormous millennial generation, their Boomer parents and the GenX’ers in the middle) favor a straightforward, down to earth, even slangy style of communication from most types of business with which they interact.

Your brand will appear out of touch or even condescending if you retain an excessively formal style. For example, traditionally prescribed hospitality language has included the use of phrases like “my pleasure” and “certainly, Sir,” which work up to a point but sound wooden when overused or used inappropriately. “It was really my pleasure to visit with you during your stay, Mr. Jamison” is fine, but never: “It will be my pleasure to clean your toilet.”

A good way to enforce reasonable language standards, without hobbling the verbal footwork of your employees, is what I’ve named the Danny Meyer Method, after the great New York restaurateur. With the Meyer Method, although you ask your employees to nix certain phrases (“it’s our policy,” “to be honest with you,” “uh-huh,” “you guys,” or this pet peeve of Danny’s: “Are we still working on the lamb?”), you don’t prescribe specific replacements, leaving that up to the creativity and individuality of your staff.

This approach has the additional benefit of keeping your employees comfortable in their own skins, using their own shorthand as needed with customers. You’re providing employees with boundaries in their interactions but empowering them by letting them use their own style within those parameters.

Now, with the authentic style of service I am suggesting, I don’t want to accidentally encourage you to be too familiar.  Instead, I suggest the approach that service designer Tim Miller has articulated: “What I look for from my staff in terms of authenticity is approximately a ‘first date’ level.  Best-foot-forward level.”  This is a style that’s going to work for your customers very well. 

6 Ways to Strengthen Your Connection with Your Customers

10-14 Customer relationships smallYour first sale may feel like a huge validation of your vision, and your first passel of sales may leave you feeling confident. As much as you treasure sales though, it’s your customers that make your business run smoothly. While many of your customers will only buy from you once, other customers will give you repeat business. And once you establish a relationship, they will happily buy from you again and again as long as you continue to deliver great service and products.  So what can you do as a small business owner to build, support, and encourage a long-lasting relationship with your customers? Here are six habits that guarantee they’ll keep coming back for more of what you offer.

1. Make Good on Your Promises

If you promise to fulfill an order, you must complete it in the timeframe you promised. If you said the product will be delivered in a pink box by a bear, and it gets there in red box delivered by an ox, you have failed. Yes, the delivery made it and most customers will appreciate that, but by not following through as you promised, you’ve already damaged trust.

2. Find a Balance Between Value and Profit

When you undervalue your product or service, the quality of your offering will be questioned. Also, if you set the bar too high, you may miss part of your market by charging too much. As a business owner, it is important to fine tune this balance; charge too little and you won’t make any profit; charge too much and people will go elsewhere for the same product at a lower price.

3. Focus on Quality

Whatever specialty you offer, be it goods or services, the quality of your offering will deepen devotion. Yes, you can obsess about details that make you lose focus on the big picture, but you rarely will go wrong when you improve the quality of your product. Ask your customers how you can improve their experience and take action on her suggestions.

4. Stay in Front of Difficulties When They Occur

Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, you will make mistakes. The more quickly you acknowledge them, the more quickly you can correct them. Never let your customer tell you about a problem that you already know about. Reach out to your customer and alert her if you know your shipment is late or you’ve sent the wrong item. Don’t depend on the customer’s lack of attention to amend the situation. You will gain respect and appear extra reliable.

5. Show Appreciation

It really is as easy as saying or writing “thank you for your business.” Of course, if you want to do more, I don't think there is a customer alive who will discourage that. Create a loyalty program, special flash sales, discounts on large orders, gifts with sales, and referral benefits are all ways to show your appreciation. Birthday specials, trunk shows, or exclusive benefits are extra ways to say “Thank you!”

6. Keep in Touch

Don’t just close the sale and move on. Your follow-up after a completed transaction is key to repeat business. You need to find out how everything went. But if a customer hasn’t purchased in a while reach out to them. You don’t even have to bring up future business. You can thank them for past order or share a tidbit of information to reconnect. Just touching base can motivate a past customer to think about your brand again.

Making the effort to build a relationship with a customer will pay off long term. It takes such a small amount of effort to keep a customer happy and buying, just make the effort.

The Power of 90% Customer Loyalty

9-10 Customer Loyalty smallCustomers today have more purchasing options than ever before as well as fewer obstacles afterward if they want to switch to a different supplier. This embarrassment of riches strains traditional notions of loyalty. But it hardly spells the end for loyalty, not for customers in general and certainly not for millennials, despite what many claim. In fact, even in the supposedly loyalty-averse millennial generation, things aren’t really moving in the direction that you might imagine.  Boston Consulting Group research has shown that younger millennials (ages 18 to 24 at the time of the study), “are three times more likely to report strong brand loyalty than their non-millennial counterparts.”

If my take on this sounds more hopeful than what you’ve heard elsewhere, it’s partly because my definition of customer loyalty differs from most. In everything I do, I aim for what I call “90% loyal” customers—the ones who will stick with you through thick or thin, good times or bad, most of the time.

This 10% wiggle room makes the loyalty goal a bit more achievable by bringing the concept of loyalty more in line with what’s achievable in reality. Because every one of us in business knows the score: If a sexy new restaurant or shop opens across the street from ours, even our best customers are going to want to try it—once. But they’ll be back once their itch for novelty, their fleeting need to cheat on their main squeeze, has passed.

And sometimes, it’s not this need for novelty that makes customers stray from you periodically. Practicality may demand it. A 90% loyal Whole Foods mom or dad may do some shopping at Trader Joe’s or Wegmans when she or he is stuck in a different part of town. And if Mom or Dad's preferred airline doesn’t have a direct flight while another carrier does, this otherwise loyal passenger will most likely take the direct flight if that’s what it takes to get home in time for her or his kid’s soccer game.

Even the ever-competitive Richard Branson once recommended his customers use his archrival British Airways—if only to remind themselves all the more of why they love Branson’s Virgin Airlines. Of course, Branson being Branson, he timed his recommendation for the day British Airways offered a fire sale that he knew Virgin couldn’t affordably counter, and on which British Airways was sure to lose money.

Two more loyalty trends

A couple of trends are complicating the loyalty landscape.

Portfolio loyalty: This occurs when customers are equally loyal to every brand in a small portfolio of trusted brands in a particular category. This behavior wouldn’t be possible without the surfeit of choices consumers now have in almost every consumer category. Consumers have the globalization of commerce, improvements in many companies’ return policies due to competitive pressure, and the various defect-reduction campaigns in manufacturing of the past several decades to thank for all these offerings. (Formerly an automotive punchline, Ford is an impressively reliable manufacturer today. Even a Jaguar—should you be so lucky—will rarely leave you stranded these days.)

Micro-loyalty.  Customers today can have micro loyalties, loyalties for very specific parts of a company’s product line, for example, they can be loyal to Apple for this but Google for that, to Reebok for this but Nike for that, and so forth. They don’t buy an overall identity related to a single brand; they mix and match. They still consider themselves loyal, but it’s a more targeted type of loyalty.

How did this come about? Younger customers today were raised with a lot of support for individuation: They were allowed to make their own choices and work with the results. From mismatched socks (ultimately commercialized by Little Miss Match) to tattoos and piercings to control over hairstyles and how they dress for school, this generation was empowered by its parents to shape its own identity. As marketers and generational researchers Van den Bergh and Behre point out, the Internet has further fostered such mix-and-match identities, at least in the commercial sphere of their lives. Easy-to-find product review sites like Gizmodo make it far easier to sample and choose brands, comparison shopping on mobile phones has long been a reality, and thanks to iTunes and many other sites, even the playlists they listen to are easily stitched together song by song from their own choices rather than relying on the decision of any single artist or record label’s vision for their music.

The “New Reality” of Customer Service

Do employees at your customer service call center feel like they’re dealing with more frustrated customers than ever before? New research from Mattersight offers some insights into why this might be. According to Mattersight, more than two-thirds of customers who speak to call center reps feel frustrated before they even place a call. What’s more, 75 percent are still frustrated after the interaction, even if the representative solves their problems.

With more than 70 percent of customers saying a bad customer service experience could keep them from patronizing a business again, keeping customers happy when they call should be a high priority for your business.

One reason for customer frustration, Mattersight notes, is that there are so many ways for customers to reach out to companies for support these days. When a problem arises, most customers start by using the company’s website, FAQs or other online help tools to try to figure the problem out on their own.

By the time customers actually dial in to a call center, they’ve usually tried every other way of solving a problem, with no results. So what may seem from the rep’s end like the customers’ first attempt to resolve the issue is, for the customer, the end of a long and frustrating journey.

However, instead of acknowledging this “new reality” of customer service, most call center reps still focus on getting the customer off the phone as quickly as possible to meet their goals for handling X number of calls in X amount of time.

How can your company improve the customer experience and enjoy higher customer satisfaction? Here are some takeaways from the report:

  • Acknowledge the customer’s frustration and the seriousness of their issue. Be extra patient working with the customer. By validating their feelings, you can help them feel more taken care of.
  • Offer personalized assistance. Your call center reps should be able to quickly access all of the data you have available on the customer on the other end of the phone, such as order history, current order status and recent interactions with the company. Showing knowledge of the customer’s past behavior and history with your business will persuade them your rep is in a position to really help.
  • Take time to understand. A long wait time is customers’ number-one frustration with call centers, but number two is dealing with representatives who don’t understand what they need. Make sure your reps really listen, restate the problem to the customer and clarify that they’ve understood all aspects of the situation.
  • Follow up after the solution. After resolving the problem, don’t just rush to get the customer off the phone. Take time to apologize once again for the difficulties the person encountered, thank the customer for his or her patience, and ask if there’s anything else the rep can assist with. Let the customer be the one to end the call.

By taking a few simple steps to get into the right mind-set when dealing with call center customers, your customer service reps can not only solve problems, but also leave customers with a good feeling about your business.

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