Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Do Customers Want From Your Customer Service?

Woman working in restaurant taking payment from customerGood customer service makes life better for your customers—but it also makes your profits better. Need confirmation of that claim? Check out the results from the latest Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express.

Customers today don’t feel very positive about customer service in general. Maybe that’s why those who do get good service really appreciate it. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of consumers surveyed say they have spent more with a company because they had a history of positive customer service experiences with that business. On average, customers are willing to spend 14 percent more with companies that provide good service.

Good customer service not only boosts your sales with current customers, it’s a major factor in landing new customers. More than four in 10 (42 percent) say a recommendation from a friend or family member is likely to get them to do business with a new company. What’s more, 34 percent say such a recommendation is even more influential than sales or promotions.

On the flip side, last year six out of 10 consumers say they had an experience where they planned to buy something from a business, but changed their minds after a poor customer service experience. And 37 percent of respondents say they only give a business one chance to mess up before they switch to the competition.

While nearly half of consumers tell people about good customer service—and they tell an average of eight people—a whopping 95 percent of shoppers tell others about bad customer service experiences. Even worse, customers who have negative experiences tell twice as many people as those who have positive experiences.

So what constitutes good customer service? It’s pretty easy to do: To exceed U.S. consumers’ expectations, simply deliver the value you promise at the right price. While that’s the most important factor in customer service, consumers also say “ease of doing business” and “personalized service” factor in to good customer service.

When it comes to interaction with customer service reps, consumers overwhelmingly agree that good service means being able to provide satisfactory answers to their questions (86 percent) or connect them with someone who can (78 percent).

Beyond these basics, customers value efficiency (they want their transactions handled quickly and competently) and empowerment (they want employees who are able to make decisions on their own). 


Great Customer Service Requires Effective Language

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

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

Language underlies all other components of customer satisfaction.

For example:

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

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

Establish a Consistent Style of Speech

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

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

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

Heres how to make it happen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to worry about  “No worries!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Stop language best versionCROPPED 0415001219


Make Your Business the Quadruple-Threat of Customer Service

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

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

Create an Enjoyable Customer Experience

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

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

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

Trade on Service

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

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

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

Make it Right

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

Create a Personal Relationship

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Should Employees be Tipped?

10-23 Tipping SmallI stay at Marriott Hotels over 50 nights a year. I was surprised to learn that with the help of Maria Shriver, Marriott Hotels recently started a formal program to encourage guests to tip employees that clean their hotel rooms.

The campaign, called "The Envelope Please," places envelopes in 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada to solicit tipping by guests. The "name of the person who cleans the room will be written on the envelope along with a message: "Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts." Source 

One of the motivations behind this campaign is that these employees want an increase in their compensation. The company's assumption is that this increase should come from tips, the same way other hotel employees accomplish this. This is a surprise coming from a company like Marriott that has $13 billion a year in revenue, and $626 million in profits. Arne Sorenson, the CEO, who suggests you leave $1 or $5 a night, makes $7 million a year. Source 

Is this fair to the guest after paying hundreds of dollars a night? Should a small business support the tipping of employees through various solicitations like signs and tip jars?

Unlike the rest of the world, restaurant tipping is a large part of employees’ compensation. It allows employers to pay less than minimum wage in some states. Expected tipping is a terrible custom. It allows the employer to pay low wages and puts that burden on the customer. For example, in Chicago, a meal costs 30 percent more when tax and tip are added in. Pricing on the menu almost amounts to false advertising!

People that argue for tips will improve service. In fact, TIP stands for "to improve performance". But evidence suggests something else.

Brian Palmer of Slate writes that “Tipping does not incentivize hard work. The factors that correlate most strongly to tip size have virtually nothing to do with the quality of service. Credit card tips are larger than cash tips. Large parties with sizable bills leave disproportionately small tips. We tip servers more if they tell us their names, touch us on the arm, or draw smiley faces on our checks. Quality of service has a laughably small impact on tip size." Source

Small business owners should not encourage tips for employees. This sends a strong message that they value their employees and pay them fairly. It states that they do not ask customers for more money beyond what is charged for the service. 

If a customer wants to leave an extra tip for exceptional service let them, but the company should not expect customers to supplement employees’ wages.

When I stay at a Marriott, I expect a clean room. I shouldn't have to pay more to get one.


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. 



 
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