Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’


To Fix Your Service, Fix Your Systems

Man working with electrial componentsLet’s imagine you own a body shop.  Some of your customers start reporting (in person if you’re lucky; on Yelp if you’re not) an unsatisfactory customer interaction with one of your cashiers.  Your first impulse is to bite the young lady’s head off, but I hope you’ll hold that impulse in check and look at the situation dispassionately.  You may see something like the following:  your cashier’s disorganized, doesn’t have proper change, doesn’t have her computer turned on at the beginning of her shift–in time to serve you, the first customer who walks up to her–and can’t find a pen for you to sign the credit card slip.

What you’ll discover, in other words, is a failure of systems.  Including some or all of the following:

• Onboarding: why wasn’t she prepped on what the necessary supplies are for starting a shift?

• Training: has she been instructed in one of the workplace organization systems, perhaps 5S, which is a component of Lean Manufacturing methodology?

• Scheduling:  Was she told to show up at the minute the body shop opens rather than a more realistic 30 minutes earlier so she could both mentally and physically prepare, get her terminal switched on, get her bank ready to make change, and so forth?

• Hiring. Saying that there was a failure in hiring is sort of like saying it’s the employee’s (cashier’s) fault, but not really.  If she is wrong for this position–too shy, not detail-oriented enough, etc.–it’s not her fault, it’s the fault of the system (or hunch, in far too many companies) that is responsible for selecting her, in error, for this position.

So, when the customer service at your business goes bad, it’s almost certainly because one or more of your customer service systems are broken. (As the founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has often said, if something goes wrong once, it might be the fault of the employee.  If it happens twice, it’s definitely the system.) And that’s what’s most important to understand about customer service systems: Gaps in organizational performance are almost always the result of a breakdown or lack of an appropriate Service System.

In my cashier example, it’s clear that a system needs to be developed to ensure that all supplies are stocked before each shift. This could be in the form of a small checklist or a job description that clearly defines the role of each employee. However the organization chooses to deal with the situation is fine – as long as it solves the problem for good. The absolute wrong thing to do is to yell at the cashier for not stocking the items. Not only is this demoralizing for a good employee who is trying her best, but it also doesn’t solve the problem systematically–in other words, in a sustainable manner.

So, how do you discover the systems that are missing or mis-designed? There are systems for that, but it is first and foremost dependent on building a culture where mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities, and guest complaints as opportunities for improvement. Turning every issue that comes up into a witch hunt will make your service team timid to the extent that they’re more focused on covering their, uh, assets than on providing service. You need your employees to tell you when they’ve made a mistake – so that it can be fixed in the future–systematically.


How to Under Promise and Over Deliver to Your Customers

6-17 over deliver smallHow well you connect with your customers through your products, services, and support will determine whether they come back to you to buy again and again. But even if you sell the most amazing products ever, there’s still room to improve your customer service. One strategy is to underpromise and overdeliver. What do I mean by that?

Some may tell you to think of underpromising what you can give a customer as an “in case of emergency” cushion for worst-case scenarios, but it’s better to plan for success than for failure. By promising one thing (5-day delivery, for example) and beating expectations (2-day delivery) you'll surprise and delight your customers. And that will keep them coming back. Here are four ways to ensure that your customers are constantly enchanted with your service, plus one freebie tip for the customer who cannot be satisfied.

When you thank your customer for her business, ask her for feedback.

One way to know how to overdeliver to your customers and also gain valuable insight is to ask your customers what they want. Institute an outreach program that connects with customers within 7-10 days after the transaction is complete. Ask your customer to provide specific ratings and input on a few specific topics. Then look at trends. If you constantly hear that your product isn’t well-packaged and sometimes gets damaged in shipping, that’s something you can take direct action to improve.

Work smarter with Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM).

If you’ve ever called a customer service line, been transferred, and then had to re-explain your situation, you no doubt were frustrated that the company didn’t keep better records on your past interactions with it. Delight your customers by storing detailed records on past transactions and calls with CRMUsing CRM, anyone with access to the software can become an expert in your customer’s history quickly and painlessly and instantly improve your customer’s experience.

When your customer completes a transaction, surprise her with a gesture.

There are many ways to acknowledge your appreciation for your customer’s business. You might send a handwritten thank you note for doing business with you — in this day and age, handwritten notes carry a lot more significance than a canned email. You may offer a small discount if she purchases again within a short time frame. It is important to let your customer know that her business is important to you and that you value it — the incentive or gift is just the icing on top.

If your customer has a problem, find out what the problem is and solve it.

If your business is reviewed on yelp or any review site, you need to stay on top of anything unhappy customers are saying. Make it your mission to solve problems for your customers. In the event that a customer is unhappy with your product or service, make it right immediately. It's not worth them telling their story to 10 more people, is it? Keep that old adage, “the customer is always right” at the center of your actions, and go above and beyond in not only remedying the situation, but making her a glowing fan of your business.

Freebie: So what, if your customer’s demands are unreasonable, Can you say ‘no.’ Yes, you can!

Every now and again you may run into a customer whose demands are unreasonable and who refuses to be pacified with your customer service efforts. While you may be tempted to appease this customer’s demands, it is better to put your energy toward your customers who do appreciate your efforts. Sometimes you may have to tell these challenging customers, “I'm sorry, I couldn't possible do that.” Just say No, and move on, as there is little you can do salvage this type of customer relationship. Save your energy and focus for your rational customers.


7 Things Small Businesses Do To Lose Online Customers

6-10 online shopping smallRunning a small business isn’t easy. Finding and keeping customers is even more difficult. If you don’t make it really simple to buy from you online, shoppers will go elsewhere for their next purchase. There are specific bad behaviors to avoid with the shopping experience on your website.

Here are seven things small businesses do to lose online customers.

1. You Have Confusing Information on Your Site.

As an entrepreneur, time is often your most precious commodity. If you don’t regularly review what’s on your website, you might be turning away potential customers with misinformation or simply old data.

If your newest blog post, for example, was written over a year ago, that’s a turnoff. If your products don’t have a sales page or enough detail to help shoppers make an informed decision about buying them, they won’t.

Remedy:

Periodically review all your web copy. Update it on an annual basis at minimum, and make sure it’s always accurate.

2.  No Contact Information.

Spam is a definite concern when posting your email address online, but there are alternatives that will make it easy for customers to reach you via email while keeping your inbox spam-free. Instead of burying your email address on a never-visited page, post a phone number and set up a contact form for customers to use to reach you.

Use FAQ page to help answer many of the questions people have before they hit submit on that contact form. Being helpful is always good customer service!

Remedy:

Ensure your contact information is clear and easy to locate. Offer multiple ways for customers to contact you (email, chat, phone, social media).

3.   You Don’t Answer Email in a Timely Manner.

Have you even sent an email trying to get help and no one every got back to you? Sure you have, but don't have that happening in your business. Don't set up an info@xxx.com email account no one checks. Time is money when people are shopping online.

It might have been acceptable for you to respond to a customer’s email within 24-48 hours several years ago, but now every minute counts in your response time. As in: the sooner, the better. Taking even a day could lose you serious business.

Remedy:

If your inbox is overflowing, consider hiring a customer service rep or social media virtual assistant to help field some of those emails.

4.  You Use Social Media Inconsistently.

Social media can be a game changer for small business owners…but only if you use it regularly. If you aren’t making an effort to update your profiles at least once a day, potential customers will not know you exist. A steady stream of fresh content, on the other hand, can pique people’s interest and lead them back to your website, which is your best opportunity to generate a sale. 

Remedy:

Focus on only one social media site to engage prospect customers. Update your social media account daily. Dedicate a few minutes each day to the effort.

5.   You Don’t Engage with Potential Customers with Email.

You need to make sure you have at least three ways to capture a potential customers email address when they come to your site, so even if they don't buy that day you can nurture the relationship. Use email to building your brand to attract future customers, share helpful information to a build a like, know and trust relationship with your prospects.

Remedy:

Use email marketing to engage potential customers by demonstrating your ability to anticipate their needs, and offer help.                                                                                            

6.  You Share Too Many Promotional Updates on Social.

One of the best ways to create a relationship with a potential customer is to provide assistanceOf course, you want to bolster your connection with your audience, but it is critical to provide value first especially in social media. Don't start selling relentlessly as soon as you start using social media, Instead, share informational tidbits in the guise of links, tweets and conversations to build community with potential customers. Make it about them and not about you.

Remedy:

Use the 4:1 ratio. For every four useful, informational updates, post one promotional one.


Lifetime Network Value: Even More Important Than Lifetime Customer Value

Roundabout traffic signTaking the time to calculate the lifetime value of a single customer can be a powerful motivator to treat your customers right: Once a company realizes how enormous the value of a single customer can be over her lifetime, it provides a great encouragement to stop nickel and diming your customers, to stop arguing over responsibility for a FedEx upgrade, and so forth.

But there has been understandable concern among businesses about brand fickleness in today’s–and tomorrow’s– generations of customers.  The ability of customers to switch providers at the click of a mouse, as well as the surfeit of acceptable providers in many consumer and B2B categories, is troubling and has created a competitive landscape in which our existing lifetime customer value calculations may no longer valid.

However, this required recalculation isn’t exactly bad news. The occasional straying of customers today due to the ease of switching masks a more important positive change in today’s landscape: the extent to which social media and Internet reviews have amplified the reach of every customer’s word-of-mouth.

Never before have customers enjoyed such powerful platforms to share and broadcast their opinions of products and services. This is true today of every generation—millennials, Gen X’ers, Boomers, and even some Silent Generation customers share on Facebook and post reviews on TripAdvisor and Amazon. (Millennials, thanks to their lifetime of technology use and their growing buying power, are likely to make especially active spokes-customers. Boston Consulting Group, with grand understatement, says that “the vast majority” of millennials report socially sharing and promoting their brand preferences.)

Customers today are talking about your business when they’re considering making a purchase, awaiting assistance, trying something on, paying for it and when they get home. If, for example, you own a restaurant, the value of a single guest today goes further than the amount of the check.

The added value comes from a process that the great Patrick O’Connell, chef and proprietor of the double five-diamond Inn At Little Washington, calls competitive dining: “comparing and rating dishes, photographing everything they eat, and tweeting and emailing the details of all their dining adventures.”

By doing so, they’ve greatly increased what I call their Lifetime Customer Network Value. And this makes them at least as valued as any customers in the past–even if they have wandering eyes and wallets to an extent not expected of previous generations of customers.

*****

It’s easy to underestimate the commercial power that today’s customers have, particularly when the network value of the youngest of these customers doesn’t immediately translate into sales. Be careful not to sell their potential short and let that assumption drive you headlong into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Remember that younger customers are experimenting right now as they begin to form preferences they may keep for a lifetime. A little love lavished on these customers now will likely be repaid in spades in the future.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are Machines the Future of Customer Service?

6-2 call center smallIn the future, will machines be handling all aspects of customer service? As social media, live chat and texting become part of the fabric of customer service, IBM has begun taking customer service even further into the digital age. The Wall Street Journal reports the tech giant is currently testing new software that uses “emotional analysis” to recognize human emotions when customers type into chat windows, or send emails or tweets.

The software analyzes a variety of data, including how fast someone is typing, what words or emoticons they use, how many times they have contacted the company and whether they use exclamation points or other punctuation, to tell if the person is upset or angry. If so, the computer either modifies its own language or switches the contact to a live customer service rep to handle the customer. In the near future, the Journal reports, IBM will develop a version of the software to handle voice calls.

Will the future of customer service be a software program? Many large companies already use chat or “answer” tools that look like a live person is at the other end, but are really just software. (In my experience, they typically deliver a less than satisfactory customer experience.) Of course, for smaller companies, this type of technology is likely quite a way in the future. Still, it’s a good reminder of the challenges you face from bigger competitors, as well as the ways you can use technology to improve your own customer service. For example, you can…

  • Incorporate CRM into your customer service system so customer service reps can access information about each customer to provide better service.
  • Use a customer service tool that enables you to match the customer’s need or level of urgency with an appropriate customer service rep. For instance, angry customers can be escalated to a specific agent with skill in handling their types of issues.
  • Take advantage of greetings, music and recorded announcements to provide information and assurance to callers as they wait on hold.
  • Choose systems that provide as much detail as possible to customer service reps when they receive a call, such as what queue the caller is coming from and what information they have provided.
  • Look for the option to monitor customer service reps’ busy status and route calls in a variety of ways to get every customer handled as quickly as possible.

Yes, machines are becoming more important to customer service. But as the concept of escalating calls to a live person shows, there’s still no replacement for the sensitivity a real person can provide. By incorporating technology with well-trained customer service reps, you’ll be able to offer the best of both worlds. 


Take Ownership of Errors — Even When Customers Make Them

Posted on by Carol Roth

Young businessman scratching his head confusedly.

Young businessman scratching his head confusedly.

The customer is always right … well, maybe much of the time. But when they place an erroneous order or even break a product out of carelessness, it can cost you big time. It’s not always fair, but if you want to retain your customers, you may have to suck it up.

Regardless of who is at fault, it is your job to fix the problem without laying blame. Your goal is to make the customer happy by resolving the problem — and taking measures to ensure that it never happens again.

Strike a Deal Rather Than Laying Blame

Small businesses cannot typically afford to spend time, resources and money fixing major customer-caused errors for free. But, you can often take advantage of the personal relationship that you have with customers to negotiate a mutually-beneficial solution.

Your job is to strike a deal that gets them what they need, but you may not need to take a huge loss to do it. For example, what if the customer provided the wrong specs for a customized product? If you charged $50 per hour for the original software development, maybe charging $25 for the fixes will cover your costs.

Make sure that your customers know that they are getting a special deal in these cases, but don’t use the word, “compromise,” and don’t come right out and say that you’re taking a loss. Your spirit of cooperation will increase their loyalty, even while they foot part of the bill.

Fix it Promptly — and Stay in Touch

Even clients who are fully at-fault for errors should not jump to the back of the line to get them fixed. If the fix is as simple as exchanging one product for another, take care of it immediately.

Unfortunately, not all problems can be resolved instantaneously through a simple product exchange. Depending on the issues, a fix might take a prolonged period —which might be the case if you have to re-tool to produce the custom-sized widgets that the customer did not originally request.

Even in these cases, you can communicate promptly. Tell customers when they can expect to receive the new products or services. Make sure that they know your plans and, for complex issues, set milestone dates. Then, be sure to check in promptly to inform them of your progress.

Learn How to Do It Better Next Time

Every customer error presents a golden learning opportunity for your business. You just have to be willing to recognize that a change in your process might prevent customers from making the same mistakes again.

Could you prevent future issues by carefully reviewing an order with the customer before making it final? Or perhaps the customer who ordered sauerbraten at your restaurant might not have placed that order if the server warned her that she was ordering sour meat.

You cannot control customer behavior. But, if you keep your mind open, you will see that you do have some control. So, whether you prevent issues by better educating customers, or you double and triple check custom orders before doing the setup, you can go a long way toward vastly improving your customer/vendor experience in the future.

Know When and How to Walk Away

Mistakes happen and everyone deserves a second (or maybe even a third) chance. But you can’t afford continued losses from the same customer forever, so learn when to say “no” to their business.

Your bottom line probably plays the biggest role in helping you decide when to turn down business, but other issues can come into play. Perhaps you realize that the customer is looking for a product or service that you cannot deliver. Or, maybe you cannot come to a meeting of the minds when it comes to price or quality.

Even if you are dealing with a toxic customer that isn’t worth your time or effort, do not walk away in anger. Turning down business is a part of customer service, too. Handled badly, you will gain the wrong kind of fame via vitriolic social media complaints. Handled with sensitivity, you can part company as friends who agree to disagree. 


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.


Why your Business Loses Customer Focus as it Grows & How to Recapture It

5-15 lose focus smallThe attention lavished on customers in the early days of a business tends to slide when your, oh, five initial customers became 50, and a thousand, and ten thousand. Back in those exciting, if stressful, early days, the level of detail you kept on each customer and prospective customer, the number of times you followed up, and the care with which you did so, were no doubt impressive. These were big-ticket customers to you when you were just starting out; each of these customers was absolutely crucial to the survival and ultimate success of business.

But now that you’ve grown, 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 to hear how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn’t in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

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.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Take a Summer Vacation and Still Provide Great Customer Service

Blue parasolsDo you want to take a summer vacation this year, but fear you can’t without your company’s customer service suffering? Perhaps you’re worried about how to handle employees’ requests for time off this summer and still provide great service.

Your small business doesn’t need to suffer, nor do you and your staff need to sacrifice time off. In fact, the majority of small business owners (59 percent) plan to take at least one full week of vacation this summer, according to the American Express OPEN Spring 2015 Small Business Monitor. Here are 3 steps you can take to ensure service doesn’t shut down while you or some of your staff are gone.

  1. Plan ahead. If you want to enjoy your vacation instead of working through it, let your staff know what is—and isn’t—important enough for them to disturb you. Identify someone who can “triage” work while you’re gone, handling what’s urgent and communicating with customers or clients for you. Select a couple times a day (if possible) when you’ll quickly check voice mail and email for urgent messages; then try to avoid looking at your devices. Otherwise, you’ll never relax and recharge.
  2. Make sure you have the capabilities you need to stay in touch. Look for a business phone system, like Nextiva, with features such as flexible forwarding. This can route your incoming office calls to your cell phone or other numbers you choose. Services such as voicemail-to-email or voicemail-to-text make it easy to get your voice messages no matter where you are. Last, but not least, being able to set up and hold conference calls from your mobile phone, tablet or laptop will ensure that if an urgent situation arises, you can communicate with everyone on your team that you need to consult.
  3. Streamline the service process. Phone system features that lessen the need for live workers make it easier to give employees time off. For instance, an auto-attendant feature ensures customers get a professional greeting and are quickly routed to the person or department they need without having to go through a live receptionist. Look for call center options that make it easy to switch callers from one service representative to another, track time on hold so customers don’t spend too long in the queue, share information about customers so they don’t have to repeat themselves. All of these features ensure customers never know when your team is short staffed because they always get the same great level of service.



 
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