Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Learn From Your Company’s Customer Service Mistakes

1-13 customer service mistake smallWhat happens at your small business when somebody makes a customer service mistake? Do you reprimand the employee and then forget about it? Big mistake. Everyone on your team, not only customer service employees, can learn valuable lessons from customer service goofs.

To gain value from errors, just as with everything else in your business, you need to create a system for doing so. Here are six steps to keep in mind.

  1. Start by writing down problems. In the heat of the moment, you may not have time to do more than quickly deal with the issue and satisfy the customer. However, you and your managers should always record what happened so you can discuss better solutions in more detail later.
  2. Set up a system for collecting customer input on an ongoing basis. This can include online reviews and ratings on external websites, comments from customers on social media, emails or letters that your business receives from customers, or comment cards in your business.
  3. Once a month, go through the information you’ve collected about customer service mistakes and problems. Note any recurring trends. For example, maybe several customers have complained about being put on hold for long wait times when they call your business to make an appointment. Clearly, this isn’t just an isolated incident.
  4. Dig deeper. Do long hold times occur on certain days or at certain times? How is your business staffed at these times? Is the issue one of inadequate staff, staff unresponsiveness, or technical issues with the phone system?
  5. Get input. Hold a monthly meeting to discuss customer service issues with your team. Depending on the size of your business and the nature of the issues, you might want to start by going over problems with key managers first and then bringing customer service employees in for a bigger meeting to discuss challenges and solutions. Involving front-line employees will often uncover issues you didn’t know about that could be solved easily. For example, adding a self-scheduling appointment app to your website could eliminate the need for customers to wait on hold at all.
  6. Don’t accuse. The group meeting is not the time to put individuals on the spot. The focus should be not on who made the mistake/s, but on what everyone can learn from them and how they can be prevented in the future. 

Three Ways To Stop Frustrating Your Customers

1-9 angry customer smallWhile customers love being wowed by exceptional customer service, they also appreciate simply being served, without frustration, by a company whose systems, processes, and approaches make sense and are well-executed.

If this doesn’t describe your company and the customer experience it offers at present, here are three ways to turn that around. Time, I have to warn you, is not on your side here: Clunky systems are becoming less and less acceptable in today's marketplace; respect for and anticipation of what your customers want are the watchwords for a successful customer experience.

1. Help Customers Find It For Themselves Customers appreciate the ability to have genuine, meaningful contact with a company, especially if the company has empathetic, intelligent, empowered humans working for it.  However, customers only want to be in touch with you when they need you, not when you force them to contact you because of bad process design and lazy systems implementation. Customers don’t want to have to call you just to find out that their order has shipped; they want an automated confirmation.  They don’t want to call you for your GPS address because your site only lists your PO Box.  And they eventually will stop calling. If you want word about you to spread, don’t let the word that spreads be how hard it was to find something in your FAQ’s—or to find your FAQs in the first place. You, in other words, need to be the expert here, providing expert information where the customer can easily find it, so they feel informed and at ease when they work with you. 

Amazon.com obsesses over these kind of stupid inquiries from customers (note: the customer isn’t stupid for making the inquiry; a company is stupid if it's forcing the customer to make the inquiry) and searches them out (the inquiries, not the customers) for destruction.  Most elementally, they were the first well-known company to replace all the irritating calls you have to make to see if your order had actually been received with that instant automated confirmation that customers now all pavlovianly depend on.

2.  Personalize and Curate Results for Your Customers Apple’s personal assistron, Siri, may seem like a bit of a toy, and certainly has her limitations, but she’s good at finding the question within the question: I tell Siri "I have a headache," and she comes back with “I have found 4 drugstores not too far from you.” (One time she responded “I found 8 emergency rooms not too far from you..” “Siri,” I retorted, with some dismay, “Isn’t that a bit alarmist? I don’t think it’s that bad a headache.”) While Siri seems like a bit of a novelty act, she’s one of the most visible (make that “audible”) manifestations of an important phenomenon that is well on its way to transforming customer service: the trend toward, and desire on the part of customers for, information that is electronically curated for them in a personalized manner, and is delivered to them instantly. Here are some examples, ranging from the mundane to the literally lifesaving, from which you may find inspiration.

Amazon.com (again with the Amazon, Micah!)'s magic mix of crowdsourcing and algorithmic magic  that allows it to know the item you want to buy (even if it’s not the one you thought you wanted)

Route Happy —  sorts air travel options for you based on a “Happiness Score,” which in their words reveals “shorter flights with better planes, seats, amenities, and flyer ratings”

PECO Energy in Pennsylvania: Automated messaging system lets customers know—based on phone they call in from – if problem has already been reported or if it needs customer to provide more details—and lets you know how long until it is resolved

National Weather Service’s pinpointed “stay inside” messaging vs. searching weather underground etc: this can (at least this is the intention) be pinpointed as closely as the nearest cell tower to ensure you don’t get extraneous messages or miss the one that will save your life.

3. Get to Customers First–Before They Know They Need You A third master skill of creating a great customer experience and superior customer service is what I call "Get To Them First" customer service: Developing a mindset–a companywide customer service policy, in fact–of striving to have customers hear from you before they have to ask for anything themselves.  If you want to learn about the "Get To Them First" subject,  stay tuned for my next article!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Resolutions for 2015

1-6 CS resolutions smallIncreasingly, customer service is the standard by which companies are measured, and the service you provide can make or break your small business. To achieve better customer service and more sales in 2015, here are five customer service resolutions for your small business.

  1. I will listen to my customers. You can read everything written about new technology trends, customer service on social media and more, but the reality comes down to one thing: What do your customers want? Don’t make customer service changes based on Top 10 or Hot Trends lists—make them based on what your customers are asking for. Listen to customers in every possible channel, from social media and online reviews to in-person conversations, surveys and emails. They’re giving you feedback every minute of the day if you’ll only open your ears.
  2. I will listen to my customer service employees. Equally important as listening to your customers is listening to your customer service reps and any other frontline employee who engages with customers. They’re the ones who use your tools and systems every day, hear customer complaints and praise, and know when a process is unwieldy, wasting time or annoying customers. Don’t assume they’re just griping—take their complaints seriously and regularly ask them for input on how your customer service could be improved.
  3. I will invest in customer service. Customer service is paramount today, so don’t skimp when it comes to spending on the technology, tools and training your employees need to provide standout service. Carefully weigh the costs of various options and assess how much they could potentially save you. If an investment enables you to spend less time on training, less money on employee salaries or less time getting new employees up to speed, chances are it’s worth the cost. 
  4. I will offer options. Some customers love to talk on the phone to live customer service agents. Others hate dealing with humans and prefer filling out online forms. Still others opt for the speedy resolution of online chat while they multitask on their computers. No one customer service option is right or wrong, and to reach the widest range of customers, you need to offer all the options that your customers express interest in and use.  
  5. I will always remember customers are human beings. This is the most important resolution of all. As customer interactions become increasingly enabled by technology, it’s easy to forget there’s a person at the other end of the online review/chat box/phone line. When you or your team are struggling with difficult customers, stop, take a breath and remember to engage with them on a human level. That means listening to them vent, acknowledging their frustrations and offering a solution that makes them happy.

What are your customer service resolutions for 2015? 


Saving Your Customers From Customer Satisfaction

got loyaltyHave you ever had a customer tell you on a survey that she is "satisfied" or even "very satisfied"–and then leave you the next day for one of your competitors? An experience like this, where nothing goes wrong yet the customer goes away, can lead a business leader to wonder if satisfactory customer service–a solid customer experience, in other words–is enough to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.

The research on the subject would confirm your doubts that there's a connection between self-reported customer satisfaction and what a business really is looking for: customer engagement and customer loyalty.

Various research, including the work that provides the conceptual basis for the entire Net Promoter Score methodology, has found a weak link at best between a self-reported satisfied customer and repeat purchases from that customer. (And most of this research was done before it became as easy to switch suppliers as it is today in our globalized, de-frictionalized, broadbanded economy.)

So here's the deal. Here's the reason there's no clear-cut connection between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. It's quite possible to satisfy a customer without leaving an indelible impression on him or her.  Getting a customer to return depends on more than satisfaction.  It depends on giving the customer a reason to come back. 

The most bulletproof reason you can have for a customer to return, of course, is to have a product or service they absolutely can't get anywhere else, and that they really, truly need or desire.  Apple (if you're hooked), Google (if you're alive), Oxford (if Mum and Grandfather attended and will disinherit you if you don't follow suit) all fall into this enviable category.  Also falling into this category, due solely to geography, are (if you don't like to drive) your corner dry cleaner and (if you don't like to drive after drinking) your corner pub.

For the rest of us in business, those of us whose services or products aren't absolutely unique and irreplaceable, the best way to give a customer a reason to come back is through a customer experience methodology I call "homebuilding." This means building a customer experience that feels to your customer like an ideal vision of home. Think of it as having three parts:

  1. The customer needs to know that you're happy to hear from them and are dropping all other concerns except the customer's own pleasure, safety, and success the moment they enter your establishment/call on the phone/email or chat with you.
  2. The customer needs to feel, while they're experiencing your service or the purchase and use of your product, that they are receiving something special.  Specifically, that you are tailoring your service to their particular needs, interests, and wishes in an anticipatory manner that doesn't even require them to ask or explain themselves.  That you are serving "even the unexpressed wishes" of this customer, to use the Ritz-Carlton's trademark phrase.
  3. The customer needs to know, as they are leaving your business at the end of the transaction, that their business matters to you, and that it matters to you that they return soon.

The business-killing hazard of “Who Cares?” 

These three, somewhat fluffy-sounding customer experience elements are important because the problem of the satisfied-but-not-loyal customer comes down to this: You are always at the mercy of a great big “who cares?" from the customer.

Think about it: Do you think passengers mentally thank Delta every time it doesn't lose their bag, doesn't overbook their seat, and so forth?

Generally they don't. They don't even think to do so.  The airline didn't lose their bag, didn't overbook their seat, but who cares? It's not really their job as customers, actually, to care.

There is a way to build customer loyalty via customer satisfaction. But it's hard.

There is, actually, a way to build customer loyalty via satisfactory customer service.  You can, eventually, build customer loyalty via cycles of repeated, unrelentingly "satisfactory" service. In other words, the correlation between satisfactory service and customer retention increases the more iterations that the customer experiences satisfactory service: if a restaurant treats a guest fine once, it's no big deal, and it's not going to correlate very well with customer retention; that guest may go anywhere for lunch the next time. 

However, if for whatever reason the guest happens to come back, and if she then gets at least temporarily in the habit of coming back, and if she's treated fine-but-not-exceptionally-memorably every time, after, say, 5 visits the likelihood of a 6th visit becomes a pretty good bet.  The tricky thing is that that's a lot of "ifs." For each of those first five iterations, the customer is an open target for other marketing, passive or active.  Who knows where she may go for lunch the 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th time; anywhere in there she may get distracted and wander over to a competitor.

So I try, as a customer service and customer loyalty consultant, to warn businesses away from thinking their best path to a customer’s heart is year after year of giving good-enough service and hoping that nobody else’s good-enough service catches their eye.

The better way to kickstart customer loyalty

Better, I argue, is to give extra consideration and do the extra customer experience and customer service work needed on the important touches–the attention, the recognition–that can directly break through customers' apathy, that can break through a customer's default position of "who cares?"– a default position that unfortunately is likely to be held even by customers who are "satisfied" with everything about you as a brand.

Because that's the way to build customer engagement and customer loyalty, directly and reliably. And it's worth it.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Make Your Employees More Productive

12-30 Office Environment smallThe holidays are the season of giving, so since we’re just days away from the New Year, why not think about ways to give your employees a more comfortable workplace in 2015? This might sound frivolous, but in reality a comfortable work environment has been shown to make employees more creative, productive and happier with their jobs. That type of “gift” can’t help but translate into better interactions with customers!

Here are five ideas for ways to improve your employees’ work environment.

  1. Seating: Ergonomic desks and task chairs have become very affordable. Try letting workers pick the options they want on their own chairs (within a certain price range), such as with or without arms, with different back levels and with height-adjustable options.
  2. Lighting: Natural light is best—it helps keep employees alert, happy and engaged. If your office space doesn’t provide much natural light, look into getting light bulbs that mimic natural light. Also consider creating a break space outside so employees can get some sunlight during their downtime.
  3. Air quality: Since most office spaces don’t have windows that open, keeping air quality high is vitally important. Make sure your business’s air ducts are cleaned regularly so employees aren’t breathing polluted or allergen-laden air.
  4. Heating and cooling: In general, cooler temps are better for keeping workers alert and energetic, but you don’t want it so cold that people have to wear gloves at work or that they start bringing space heaters, which can be a fire hazard. Work with your team to find a comfortable level, and make sure your HVAC system is well maintained.
  5. Variety: Who does their best work in a beige box? Add life to your office with indoor plants, framed artwork and colorful carpeting or paint on the walls. Offering variety in seating and working arrangements can spark creativity and energize workers. For example, a few comfy couches or chairs scattered in inviting areas will encourage employees to chat, which might lead to informal brainstorming and innovations for your business. A cozy break room will get people to hang around work at lunch instead of leaving the building; that means less likelihood of late lunches and more employee bonding.

By implementing these five simple changes, you can create a more inviting workplace where people are happy to spend time and feel “fired up” to do their best. 


When Your Customer Service Can’t Be Any Faster Than It Is, Here’s What To Do

12-26 moving to fast smallA young chef and I were recently discussing how customers today can be prone to unmatchable expectations, because they have instant everything in so many arenas of their lives.

For example, the divergence between instant news —finding out about the pope's resignation within eight seconds of the event, on your cell phone–and the reality that a well-done steak takes 10 minutes on the grill, “makes guests expect me to magically cook the steak in half that time, which is literally impossible,” the young chef told me.

Hmm. What to do? While it’s no secret that customer expectations for speed have accelerated (almost daily, it seems), there are instances where you can’t increase your speed of customer service, your delivery of your product, the deliverables of the customer experience. The reality of such situations is that customer expectations have rushed ahead of what you, being a reality-based business, can provide.

So while generally my advice, as a customer service consultant, has been "get with the program already and meet these new customer expectations–before somebody else does!" there have to be exceptions.

Here's the approach I suggest when your business hits an immovable wall as far as time is concerned:

  • Make sure the wall is really immovable. The chef’s example of a well-done steak taking as long as it takes is a good one.  So is the wait at USAA Insurance (see below) when they are awaiting a grudging eventual response from an opposing insurance company.

If you can't go any faster…

  • Make sure whenever possible you control/clarify customer expectations–and then match or beat those expectations
  • Work on improving how the time spent waiting feels to your customers

Here are nine examples of making timeliness more closely match the expectations of customers–even when actual speed of service cannot be increased.

  1. Five Guys burgers actually take a while to cook, because they are from scratch and need to be cooked beyond the e coli stage, thank you very much.  So Five Guys distracts customers with bags of peanuts—a filler for the hand, mouth, and eyes–during the cooked-from-scratch-burger wait.
  2. Ari Weinzweig, the gregarious co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli, kibitzes with and entertains the epically long line around his block every morning before they open, making the time there in Ann Arbor fly. As does the legendary Batali family here in Seattle, taking care of the epic lines outside their Salumi sausage boutique with fine cured-meat samples that almost make a longer line a better line.
  3. USAA Insurance's claims department offers an excellent online "my account" system that gives the customer (or in USAA terminology, the "member") a feeling of control while awaiting resolution of their claim: it lets you know the status 'round the clock so you know if the opposing driver's insurance company has responded, etc. rather than feeling like your concerns have fallen into a black hole.
  4. One of my favorite examples: Capella Hotels have no set check-in or checkout time; instead they contact their guests ahead of time and ask them when they want to check in and check out.  As long as it's not more than the 21 or so hours that is the maximum if you consider housekeeping time, they accommodate the customer's wish as far as start and end times.
  5. Apple Stores allows you to schedule appointments, via the Apple Store app, so you get devoted, no-wait time even within their hectic retail environment.
  6. Virgin America doesn’t restrict passengers to set meal times. You can order (and pay for) food at any time during the flight other than takeoff, landing, and “unexpected turbulence.” Other airlines are starting to follow suit.
  7. In retail malls, buzzer-alert technology that allows you to shop throughout the mall without missing your turn in line at your original destination is an excellent innovation.
  8. In healthcare, Vocera technology and other solutions allow patients to summon a nurse without waiting for them to notice your light on.
  9. Forward-thinking restaurants are learning to use “lunch,” and “dinner” time slots as guidelines only, not discouraging patrons from coming in in between these periods nor restricting choices during them. Which is especially millennial-savvy (millennial-age customers choose to dine during off-peak hours twice as often as their elders) but has an appeal for almost any age group today, considering the varied schedules of customers today, in a world that is so different from the 9 to 5, rush hour-ruled, blue-lawed society of yesteryear.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Recovering From a Customer Service Slip

12-16 customer service mistake smallHow your small business recovers from a customer service slipup is one of the most important aspects of good customer service. Why? Because one bad customer service experience runs the risk of running your good reputation—even with loyal customers.

Let me share an example. This holiday shopping season, I seem to be encountering an unusually high number of shipping problems with my online shopping. Recently, I realized that one of the online retailers I normally rely on hadn’t shipped an order placed more than a week ago. This made me nervous: In the past, everything I’ve ordered from them has shipped within two days.

Despite years of history with this retailer, and their standout performance all the rest of the time with something like 20 orders a year, I was so annoyed that immediately, their sterling reputation with me was in jeopardy. Here’s what happened next—and what they did (and didn’t) do right.

I contacted the retailer to find out what was going on.

Wrong: Their customer service contact information was difficult to find. I wanted to talk to—or at least email or chat online with—a live person. For a while, I was panicked that this was one of those sites where that was impossible.

Right: When I did find the contact info, I was pleased the company offered email, phone and chat customer service. You should always offer the widest possible number of options for people to contact you; not every customer is the same. I picked chat.

I started a chat with the company.

Right: I immediately got a response, as well as a notification that there might be longer than normal wait times due to high volume. I understood; it’s the holidays. Always let customers know what to expect—it eases their stress, and eliminates unnecessary anger in dealing with you.

During the chat I got distracted multitasking and stopped responding to the customer service rep. (That was a goof on my part!)

Right: She politely asked me several times if I was still there, then politely told me she would need to end the chat since I hadn’t responded for 10 minutes.

Mortified, I started a new chat, copying the text of the old chat into the window and apologizing for dropping the ball.

Right: The next customer service rep smoothly picked up where the previous one had left off. Realizing I was a flake, he asked me if I could stay on the chat for three minutes.

Right: He told me there was a problem with my order that was keeping it from shipping. He fixed the problem and sent me a detailed status report of my order with the new delivery time.

Wrong: I should have received notification that my order was “stuck” in the system. What if I hadn’t remembered the order until it was too late to get it in time? Develop systems for your business ensures this type of error doesn’t happen. Depending on the size and nature of your business, you can set up automated systems, or use simple manual systems like a checklist employees must go over before shipping an order.

Right: To make up for the delay, the customer service rep gave me next-day shipping for free. I was already pretty happy that the problem was solved, but this “something extra” made me fall in love with the company all over again. Always recognize when you have caused a customer to feel stressed, and take steps to not only fix it, but make up for it.

How do you handle customer service slipups in your business? 


Yes, The Customer Is Wrong Sometimes. However…

Is the customer always right?

For whatever reason, I'm asked this question more than any other. Doesn’t matter the forum, or the context: In interviews, keynote speeches, training sessions, seminars, workshops–it always comes up.

So, here's my definitive answer.

No. The customer isnt always right. But you want to make her feel like she is.

Stocksy_txp24de892bFK9000_Small_315517"Right" and "wrong," even in situations much more crucial than a mere customer service misunderstanding, are hard to sort out. Think of the sworn – but completely misremembered – eyewitness testimony that has convicted so many innocent men and women.

So in working with customers, your goal needs to be the polar opposite of trying to play Sherlock Holmes, by and large*.  It's not your goal to make it clear to the customer how inaccurate their position is.  Instead, focus on putting yourself in your customer's shoes, their eyes in your sockets, until you understand why they feel, and in fact “are,” "right.”  And make them feel good about it.

She’s your customer, after all.

*Are there exceptions? Absolutely.  Including safety and health-related scenarios, where sorting out the facts matters more than anything else. And expensive, ongoing B2B situations where there are disagreements on details of contracts that truly need to be resolved in a factual manner.  Though even in such situations, there likely are gracious ways to demonstrate your factual correctness without proving the other party baldly "wrong.”

 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Social Media and Customer Service Mix?

12-8 Social Media Customer Support smallA few years back there was a flurry of interest in using social media as a customer service tool. Reports in the media of big companies ignoring customer complaints on Facebook and Twitter—then facing backlash—led businesses to worry so much about their online reputations that some companies started moving their customer service to social media. 

But using social media as a customer service tool has some key weaknesses you should know about. First, while customers do want to feel their venting on social media is heard by the business in question, the vast majority does not want to use social media as a customer service forum.

According to an American Express survey on customer service expectations released earlier this year, just 23 percent of respondents have ever used social media for customer service purposes. However, the majority of those customers used social media to praise a business for good customer service, while half used it to express frustration for poor service, and nearly half simply wanted to spread the word about the business on social media. Relatively few used social media to reach out to the business in search of a response or to deal with a specific problem.

Overwhelmingly, talking to a live person on the phone is still the way most consumers want to resolve customer service issues, especially complex ones. In fact, 48 percent of those surveyed want to deal with customer service problems by phone; only 3 percent want to do so on social media.

So what does this mean if you’ve launched a social media customer service effort? Don’t drop it completely and start ignoring customer complaints or questions on social platforms. No matter what your customers are posting there, it’s important to be responsive. But don’t put all of your customer service support into social media. Make sure you have a website that can answer customers’ basic questions and problems, and sufficient phone support to deal with more complicated issues. That’s what customers want—and isn’t giving customers what they want Rule No. 1 of customer service? 




 
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