Posts Tagged ‘Tuesday Tip’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How (and Why) to Improve Your Internal Customer Service

6-16 internal customer service smallYou’re all about customer service—but how well does your company handle internal customer service? Internal customers are the employees at your business, all of whom depend on—that is, are “customers” of—other employees to get their jobs done.

Internal customer service is important because if it isn’t up to par, your business will function less efficiently and professionally, and your external customer service will suffer. Here are 4 steps to improving your internal customer service.  

  1. Make sure employees understand the relationships among their roles. As your business grows, employees may become less familiar with what each person does and how their jobs support each other. You can introduce the concept of internal customer service by using an organizational chart and explaining what each department does and how its functions support other departments. For example, your marketing team generates leads that your salespeople pursue to make sales, while your fulfillment department ships the orders. If marketing doesn’t do its job, the salespeople can’t sell. If fulfillment messes up the orders, salespeople’s efforts are in vain.
  2. Cross train employees. Cross training employees to handle each other’s jobs gives them a real sense of how important each job is to internal customer service. It can also open their eyes to the challenges of other jobs, and ways they could be making their teammates’ jobs easier or more difficult.
  3. Improve your systems and processes. Work with your employee to identify sticking points in your existing systems and processes that are preventing good internal customer service. For instance, if salespeople aren't inputting orders in a timely fashion, this slows fulfillment and overloads customer service with angry calls.
  4. Build team spirit. Poor internal customer service often comes from personal rifts or misunderstandings between employees. When employees see each other as comrades and even friends, however, providing great internal customer service comes naturally. Encourage employee bonding by hosting regular events like Friday potluck or pizza lunches, company picnics and other outings. Model the behavior you want to see by being friendly, upbeat and getting to know your employees.

Encouraging employees to see each one another as customers will spark better behavior and greater professionalism. That means a happier team…and happier customers. 


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. 


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.


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.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why You Need Customer Service Meetings

People in a Business MeetingHandling customer service is a 24/7 job for a small business, so it’s tempting to let regular meetings with your customer service employees fall by the wayside. Don’t. Meeting regularly with your team is essential to keeping your customer service stellar. Here are topics you and your team should discuss at your meetings:

Weekly:

Weekly customer service meetings should be fairly quick—30 minutes to an hour at most—to keep the team energized and enthusiastic (and informed).

  • Briefly review issues that have come up since the last meeting, such as specific customer service problems that representatives had difficulty resolving. Discussing these with the whole team enables you to tap into everyone’s experience to come up with guidelines that all your customer service reps can follow if the situation arises again.
  • Review the prior week’s customer service metrics such as average time for a call to be answered, average time spent on a call, average number of contacts for an issue to be resolved, etc. This can be done quickly to see if you are on track to meet your goals or if you’re falling behind.
  • Introduce new business such as new employees on the customer service team, new systems or procedures, and new products or services that customer service employees need to know about.
  • Reward outstanding customer service representatives by honoring employees who went “above and beyond” in the past week. Be sure to explain how what the person did can be a model for other customer service employees in the future and what lesson should be learned from the actions.

Monthly:

At monthly customer service meetings, it’s a good idea to focus on one subject in depth. This could include:

  • Explore your metrics over the past month in depth to note trends and, if necessary, brainstorm ideas for improving performance. For instance, if you notice calls are taking longer than desired, is this because employees are having trouble resolving problems, or because they’re spending more time interacting to build customer relationships? If the former, find a way to fix it—if the latter, perhaps you should set longer goal times for calls.
  • Providing extensive training about new products and/or services. You might bring vendors in to demonstrate new products, or offer in-house training in how to resolve potential problems with a new product or service.

While technology can help streamline service, there’s no substitute for meetings with your customer service employees if you want to help them be the best they can be. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Don’t Let Technology Destroy Your Humanity

4-14 automated customer service smallWhen it comes to customer service, how much automation is too much? For a small business owner, using technology to automate customer service assistance—such as enabling customers to schedule appointments online or request quotes online—saves time and money.

However, it’s important to think about customer service not only from a business standpoint, but also from your customers’ point of view as human beings.

A friend of mine recently had two experiences in medical offices that illustrate this point. When she visited her doctor’s office, she was surprised to see that the entire check-in process had been automated. She signed in on a clipboard next to a sign saying “Check In Here” with an arrow pointing to a computer terminal. The touchscreen guided her to update and confirm address, insurance and other information. The receptionist and two nurses sitting a few feet away never even bothered to glance up.

My friend admitted that while she understood the motivation behind the change, it bothered her a bit. “When you’re about to put on one of those skimpy exam gowns and bare your all to the doctor, it would be nice if someone at least said ‘Hello’ first,” she grumbled. She left the office feeling awfully dissatisfied with the customer service. 

A few weeks later, the same friend went to get some tests done at another medical office. This time, she was given an iPad to check in on, but it was a totally different experience. First, she was greeted by a genuinely friendly receptionist, who handed her the iPad, showed her how to get started, walked her over to a seat, and checked on her a few minutes later to make sure she wasn’t having any problems. What a world of difference! My friend left feeling delighted with the new technology—and feeling positive about the medical office.

Whenever you’re making technological changes to your customer service, keep in mind that…

…Different generations have different expectations. My friend is 50, but a 20-something customer might have loved the concept of the no-human-contact medical office. Seniors, for whom doctor’s appointments are often one of their only social outlets, would likely hate it. In general, younger people love self-service, while older people feel slighted by it.

….Your industry matters, too. A high-touch or social-oriented business like a beauty salon or restaurant may benefit from more of a personal touch in customer service.

…Customers’ emotional state matters. Customers who are stressed about a decision or problem may prefer to talk to a live person; those who just need some basic information may be happy to get it from a FAQ list. If you offer financial consulting or tax preparation, you’re likely to be dealing with the former. If you sell shoelaces, you can probably get away with the latter.

The lesson: When it comes to customer service, don’t let your technology get in the way of your humanity. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Measuring Customer Experience?

4-7 measuring Customer Service smallDon’t look now, but the pressure to provide superior customer service just got even greater. According to new research from eConsultancy, the customer experience is becoming more and more important because products and services are increasingly commoditized. Companies—especially those, like small businesses, that can’t compete on low price alone—are finding customer experience is the best way to differentiate themselves from the competition.

While the report focuses on retail businesses, I believe these three lessons apply to just about any company:

  1. Customers expect consistency. Today’s consumers want their experience with your business to be the same, no matter whether they’re interacting with you in person, on the phone or via email. If your website conveys a lively, fun and lighthearted brand, but your customer service reps are dour and unhelpful on the phone, you’re in big trouble. If your phone reps provide efficient and helpful customer service but your website is clunky and hard to navigate, you’re in trouble, too.
  2. Customers want personalization. Are you using tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) and help desk software to gather, analyze and share customer data? If your customer service reps have quick access to data on a customer’s past behavior, for example, it’s much easier for them to provide personalized service—which creates a bond with the customer and smooths ruffled feathers if there’s a problem. In the long run, a personal approach to customer service helps build lasting relationships with customers, increasing customer loyalty (not to mention your business bank account).
  3. Customer satisfaction is one measure of customer service—but it’s not the only one. While 63 percent of companies measure customer experience based on customer satisfaction surveys, making this the top measure used overall may be a mistake. Customers aren’t always honest or accurate in such polls. Even if they are, you’ll get a more well-rounded picture of how they really feel if you also measure 1) the size and growth of your customer loyalty programs and 2) the percentage of returning customers. (Average order size and total revenue are other measures many companies use to track customer satisfaction, but the report notes these can be misleading, as someone who buys from you today may not come back tomorrow.)

By following these tips, you can boost your service quality—and build your customer loyalty.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Spring Clean Your Customer Service

spring cleaningIs your customer service all that it should be? As a long winter slowly ends, the economy (knock on wood) continues its upward trend and consumers feel the itch to spend, now is the perfect time to do some “spring cleaning” on your customer service. Here are X areas that might need a going-over.

  1. Staffing. Do you have enough customer service employees to handle any seasonal increases in business? Conversely, if your business slows down in the summer, plan how you’ll either staff down temporarily or use your customer service employees productively on other tasks. Also consider using downtime to provide additional training or introduce new technology.
  2. Technology. Speaking of technology, there are so many solutions that can help a small business provide big-company customer service affordably and efficiently, there’s no excuse for outdated systems. Spend some time examining what’s out there and how it could help your business provide better service. Also investigate whether it’s time to take the products you’re currently using to the next level.
  3. Website. Does your business website help customers help themselves by providing up-to-date customer service information, such as toll-free numbers at the top of every page so customers can quickly talk to a live person when needed? Popup online chat options and detailed FAQs help, too. If you have an ecommerce site, detailed information about tax, shipping and returns eliminates lots of customer service calls.
  4. Policies. Are your customer service policies keeping pace with those of competitors? Today, customers have higher expectations and more options than ever before. If your employees are still adhering to “That’s not our policy” attitudes, while competitors are bending over backwards to keep customers happy, you’re going to lose business. Empower your employees to be more flexible. Set limits, then clearly explain and role-play how they might handle difficult situations.
  5. Image. How are your customer service actions (and staff) perceived by your customers and prospects? Don’t just talk on social media—listen, too. By listening to what people say about your business on social networks and in online reviews, you’ll have the information you need to make the changes they want to see—or to keep doing more of what they love.



 
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