Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’

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.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Customers Hate Your Business?

5-12 businesses customers hate smallDo your customers hate your business—not because of anything you’ve done, but simply because of what you do? For example, most of us dread going to the dentist, meeting with our accountants to prepare our taxes, or taking our cars in for repair. The best-case scenario is at least an hour of pain and suffering; the worst-case scenario is suffering plus a huge bill at the end.

So how can you turn customers’ thinking around and transform a business people hate into one they look forward to visiting (or at least don’t dread)? Transform the customer experience, that’s how. Here are four tips to do just that:

  1. Speed things up. Do whatever you can to serve customers quickly so they can get in and get out fast. This could include emailing them forms to fill out ahead of time; having them complete forms online; using technology such as tablet computers to gather information instead of written forms; setting (and sticking to) appointment times; and streamlining your processes to eliminate time-wasters and delays.
  2. Calm customers down. Little things like comfortable seating, soothing background music and attractive surroundings can help to boost customers’ moods. I recently had my car serviced at a business with a luxurious waiting room, wide-screen TV, gourmet coffee, free Wi-Fi and even a breakfast buffet available while I waited. I got lots of work done and was so relaxed, I almost didn’t mind when my car needed a major repair.  
  3. Hire and train right. When your business is unpleasant, your staff needs to be extra-nice. At my dentist’s office, for example, everyone from the receptionist to the technicians is unfailingly friendly and greets me by name. No wonder I’ve referred tons of friends there over the years. Look for customer-facing employees who have a great “bedside manner,” never lose their cool and help customers maintain theirs, too.
  4. Build relationships. Reaching out to regular customers with thank-you notes, special offers, reminders when services are due or products are in stock, event invitations and even birthday or anniversary cards help to build connections that create a positive opinion of your business.

By taking these steps, you can gain loyal customers who’ll recommend you to others.

7 Things You Do Every Day That Hurt Your Company

Posted on by Barry Moltz

5-8 harming businessEvery business owners works hard daily to help their company. Unfortunately, there are many actions they take that do more harm than good. Here are the top seven and what to do about it:

1. You’re busy, but not productive.

Emails, phone calls, and meetings get in the way of accomplishing critical tasks. When these interruptions dominate your day, you become busy, but not productive. Instead, start the day with two goals that need to be accomplished. Do these two things before anything else and your day will always be productive.

2. You don’t ask for feedback.

The old adage says that no news is good news. You haven’t heard any complaints from your customers lately, so everything’s fine, right? Not necessarily. People typically do not tell you what they think. They usually just go away dissatisfied (and tell their friends and post in on the web).  Many times you need do some research to see what people are saying about your company.  Google your company’s name and pay attention to the search results. Read Amazon, TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. Send an email or post a comment to ask “what can I be doing better?” Don’t be afraid of what you’ll hear, but rather excited about the opportunity to make your company better.

3. You post to social media without thinking of your brand.

Many companies have designated social media pages that they carefully craft to represent their brand. But what about your personal social media pages? You should be just as careful there. Your social media connections are made up of friends, co-workers, clients and even potential customers, and your actions always represent your company. Do not post snarky comments about customers or competitors. Think twice before posting a controversial political article or a picture of your alcoholic drink of choice that evening. Social media posts are an easy way to damage your reputation.

4. You don’t update your website.

Your website is a resource for both prospects and customers; if it’s not updated, you are hurting your company. The most common place for companies to fall behind is on their blog. Since the posts are dated, it’s easy to tell how much attention the website getting. Old posts give the impression that the website isn’t being maintained. Make sure your most recent post isn’t more than a few weeks old. Not only will posting more frequently give a better impression, it gives Google more to index so that your search rankings will be higher.

5. You ignore a client’s complaint.

If you have an unhappy customer you have not dealt with yet, you are hurting your business. The best course of action is to apologize as soon as possible and offer a generous solution. Don’t underestimate the power of a person’s angry voice. In this case, the time you’d spend doing damage control would far exceed the time it would’ve taken to remedy the situation.

6. You make critical decisions in the afternoon.

The time of day affects our brain’s functioning. According to neuroeconomist, Baba Shiv, we should make more decisions or hold important meetings in the morning when serotonin, the calming hormone, is at its natural high. It makes us feel less risk averse, so we can make harder choices.  Later in the day, it’s common to postpone decisions because we favor indecision or just avoid making a choice at all.

7. You fill every waking moment with activity.

A lack of downtime during the day hurts your company because you aren’t performing your best. The human body is designed to labor in short pulses and requires physical and mental rest at regular intervals. Schedule at least two times during the workday to reflect and recharge for a few minutes. This is done most effectively by wandering around outside where you work. Remember that taking care of yourself means you are taking care of your company.

Which one will you commit to improving?

I Wouldn’t Serve You (Like This) If You Were the Last Customer on Earth

5-7 Last customer on earth smallAdvocating and helping your employees sustain a “treat each customer like the last customer on earth” attitude is one of the most important leadership responsibilities you have in your company, one of your key weapons against losing customers through employee and organizational neglect. When you treat each customer as if she’s the last remaining customer on the planet–the customer on whom the very existence of your business depends–things start to change in your perception, and, almost simultaneously, in the results you get from your customer relationships: Every customer request is an opportunity, not an imposition. Everything about your customer is worth learning, and remembering, in order to help you serve this last remaining customer better. Every opportunity to connect with, assist, serve, and ultimately sell (and re-sell) your last remaining customer is one you’ll want to maximize.

Here’s an exercise to start your employees off in this new mindset: to help them habituate to thinking about each customer as a singular, irreplaceable entity. Ask a group of your employees to imaging the following customers, Mrs. Jones, Jane Anderson, Raymond Washington and Jeanine Chamberlain, all in a line waiting to be served.  (Use actual customer names in this training exercise.) Confer with your employees on how it feels to think about customers in this context. Your employees will probably be affected by picturing them en masse, waiting in line for service; it will up their internal pressure to rush these customers through the system, to minimize the personalization offered, to minimize the service enhancements offered, rush through or even eliminate the greeting and the goodbye they offer to each.

Second, encourage your employees to think about Mrs. Jones all by herself.  This feels different, doesn’t it? Your employees’ thoughts linger on what they know about Mrs. Jones as a person, and as a customer, as well as on the cues they can pick up on from her demeanor today.  They’ll be able to think about ways they can personalize their greeting and their good-bye for her, and about upsells that might be appropriate to offer Mrs. Jones.  All in all, there’s a lot that employees were leaving out when they thought of customers only in the plural, wasn’t there?


Now, I need to concede right here that delivering this level of service to Mrs. Jones without inconveniencing the rest of your customers can be a significant challenge, involving investments in training, processes, and technology. In fact, you will not–I repeat: not–be able to execute a “last customer on the earth” approach to your satisfaction all of the time.

But if you don’t start with, strive for, this last customer on earth approach, you’ll end up compromising on the service you provide and not even realize that you’re making compromises in your service standards. By contrast, if you set out explicitly to play the “last customer on earth” way, every time you are forced to compromise your service ideal–due to limitations of time, staffing, technology, or other resources–you’ll acutely feel the discrepancy. You’ll know that you’re not living up to your ideal. And you will be motivated to work on the staffing, systems, technology, and processes that can bring you closer to the ideal.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Customers Love Loyalty Programs

5-5 customer loyalty programs smallDo you have a customer loyalty program? If not, you’re missing out—because loyalty programs drive sales. Sixty-three percent of customers in the 2015 Loyalty Report say a loyalty program makes their relationships with a brand better, and 34 percent say they wouldn’t be loyal to a brand without a loyalty program. In addition, 64 percent modify the brands they buy, and 76 percent modify when and where they buy, in order to maximize their loyalty program benefits.

So what makes for a successful loyalty program? The top criteria for customer satisfaction include:

  • How appealing the program rewards are
  • How easy the rewards are to redeem
  • The amount accumulated per $1 spent
  • Being able to build up meaningful rewards in a timely manner 
  • Having different options for how rewards/benefits can be earned

Customers also want loyalty programs to be simple, easy to understand and fun to use.

What about mobility as part of loyalty programs? The data is inconclusive here—while about half the respondents say they would like to engage with loyalty programs through a mobile device, just 12 percent of them have actually downloaded a mobile loyalty program app to do so.

However, there are a few ways in which loyalty programs are falling short—not for customers, but for brands. For instance, only 49 percent of consumers report that joining a loyalty program leads them to spend more with the brand. That means you might be throwing away money on a loyalty program that isn’t bringing in enough financial returns.

In addition, almost half (44 percent) of consumers polled agree that “…it would be easy to replace the program with a competitor’s program.” In other words, loyalty programs aren’t differentiating themselves enough from the competition.

Interestingly, the survey notes that some of America’s most popular brands don’t have a formal loyalty program, but achieve many of the same goals without one. By focusing not solely on transactions, but also on treating customers as individuals, making them feel valued and providing personalized experiences, they build a relationship that makes customers willing to pay more for and be loyal to a brand.

In other words, whether you use technology or just plain old human interaction, loyalty is all about creating a human connection.

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