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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

By August 23, 2016 No Comments

Today, customer service is one part of an overall package called the customer experience (CX for short). CX includes every “touchpoint” at which customers interact with your business, from browsing your website to purchasing your product or service, from post-purchase follow-up to customer service interactions. But what matters most in creating a standout customer experience for your target market?

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Tuesday Tips: Smartphones Are Driving More Calls to Businesses — Are You Ready?

By July 19, 2016 No Comments

If you thought the rise of digital technology would make good old phone calls to businesses obsolete, think again. Mobile devices and mobile search are actually inspiring more, not fewer, calls to businesses. According to the 2016 Call Intelligence Index, in 2015 digital marketing drove 92 percent of calls to businesses — an increase from 84 percent in 2014.

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Tuesday Tip: Social Media Customer Service Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

By June 14, 2016 No Comments

Does your business provide customer service via social media—or are you stressed out about the fact that you don’t? For a while, social media was rumored to be the “next big thing” in customer service. Industry experts predicting the death of traditional phone-based customer service were full of advice about how to handle customer service via Twitter.

It seems they spoke too soon: A recent survey reports that the use of social-media based customer service is actually declining. While from 2011 to 2013 the number of consumers using social media for customer service doubled, from 2013 to 2015 that number shrank. In fact, in 2015 more than four out of 10 attempts to get customer service through social channels were abandoned—a higher abandonment rate than for any other customer service method.

Apparently, customers are realizing that social media, at least as it currently exists, isn’t really suited for customer service. Thirty-two percent of those who stopped using social media for customer service say its functionality is too limited; 30 percent say it doesn’t work for complex issues; and 33 percent say it simply takes too long.

If social media isn’t offering what customers expect from customer service, what exactly do they expect? Here’s what customers desire most, and how you can deliver:

  • Desire: Getting their issue resolved immediately. This is by far the number-one factor in good customer service. Deliver by: Having a quality phone system that speedily queues, transfers and routes customer calls. Make sure your customer service department is well staffed with adequate backup staffers, especially during busy times or seasons; a call center can help with this. Monitor reps’ response times and results. If a customer reaches out via social media, be sure to respond as quickly as you can and get them in touch with your support department. 
  • Desire: Not having to repeat information or steps. Customers say information they provide on the first call or first step of the phone tree should be passed on to the customer service representatives they speak to later. Deliver by: Collecting customer data. A cloud-based customer service database enables reps to gather information about customers and document steps taken. That way, other reps can retrieve the information later and customers don’t have to repeat themselves. 
  • Desire: Educated customer service reps. Customers want reps to be knowledgeable about solutions and show an understanding of what the customer wants. Deliver by: Training your reps not only about customer service issues and procedures, but about your business as a whole—including products, services and philosophy—so they can deliver the right solution with the right attitude.

The reality is for most small businesses social media isn’t the best channel for handling customer service. If you don’t want to deal with it, discourage customers from raising these issues on social media by providing detailed information about how they should contact you with customer service questions. Prominently post your phone number, customer service email and customer service chat tool on your website home page.

Of course, you’ll still need to monitor social media (which you should be doing anyway) just to spot any complaints that might arise. When you do find these issues, reach out to the customer immediately and ask for their contact details so you can resolve their issue offline, and in a timely manner.

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Tuesday Tips: Can Your Business Recover From a Customer Service Fail?

By May 10, 2016 No Comments

When a customer experiences poor customer service, what happens next can make or break your relationship with that customer. Can you win back a customer after a negative experience? If so, how?

Survey Says

First, the bad news: According to a study by SDL, when customers have a really bad customer experience, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) either stop recommending the company, start looking for an alternative solution, or actively start to disparage the company via word-of-mouth, social media, or other online means.

Poor customer service occurs at all stages of the customer relationship. In fact, 20 percent of poor customer experiences happen before a customer even buys the product or service, and 16 percent occur at the point of purchase.

Younger customers are less forgiving than most when it comes to customer experience failures — which is bad news, since this generation is the future of your business. More than one-fourth (27 percent) of young Millennials won't try to resolve the problem — instead, they'll just move on to your competition. By comparison, just 13 percent of Baby Boomers will give up on resolving a customer service issue.

Win Them Back

One-third of customers who have a terrible customer experience say they will never return to that company. However, that means two-thirds of customers are still open to continuing to do business with your company — but it requires some effort on your part.

According to the study, there are three things you can do that are highly effective in winning back customers. Put them all together, and these three actions serve as a roadmap:

1. Take ownership of the failure and admit your mistakes. Don't try to put the blame on the customer, even if that's where it really belongs! Taking responsibility for the failure will do a great deal to calm customers down, and 29 percent say this would win them back.

2. Give the customer a genuine, personalized apology. It's important to make sure this apology does not come off as canned, as so often happens with customer service representatives. Following up a phone discussion with an email or even a personal note can do a lot to reaffirm your sincerity. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents say that an apology would win them back.

3. Give the customer discounts, credits, or rebates on products or services where the failure occurred. Interestingly, this is actually the least important step of the three—21 percent of survey respondents say this will rebuild their relationship. However, it's also where the rubber meets the road in showing that you stand behind your product or service.

It’s All About Your People

The study found that customers tend to blame people when they have a poor customer experience, whether that's warranted or not. By the same token, however, people are the deciding factor in winning customers back. Pleasant and helpful customer service employees (35 percent) and well-trained and knowledgeable customer service reps (27 percent) are the top factors in successful customer service, according to the survey.

The takeaway: Hiring good people and training them right is your best weapon against the inevitable customer service failures. Focus on finding employees with the right attitude and then provide your customer service reps with the training, tools, and knowledge they need to do their jobs. You'll be well equipped to prevent customer service failures whenever possible and overcome them when you have to.

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Tuesday Tips: Is Your Customer Service Taking Technology Too Far?

By April 19, 2016 No Comments

Most small businesses these days are using technology to run better businesses — and to provide better customer service. But are you relying too much on technology for customer service solutions? When companies lose sight of the human factor in customer service, they risk losing the very customers they're trying to serve, warns a new survey by Accenture.

The Accenture Strategy report, Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement, says more than half (52 percent) of U.S. consumers have changed providers in the past year as a result of poor customer service. Frequently, the lack of a human touch is at the root of this dissatisfaction. An overwhelming 83 percent of consumers prefer dealing with humans rather than with digital channels for their customer service problems, while 77 percent prefer getting advice from people instead of from digital channels. The human touch is so important that almost half  (45 percent) of consumers say they’re willing to pay more to ensure a better level of service.

What else bothers consumers about customer service these days? About three-fourths (73 percent) expect customer service to be easier and more convenient, and 61 percent want it to be faster.

Many businesses, however, have over-invested in online technology and under-invested in the human element of customer service. As a result, they’re making it too hard for customers to get help with problems, and risk losing their most profitable customers: multichannel customers who want both digital and traditional customer service options.

The good news: 80 percent of consumers who have switched providers based on poor customer service say the company could have done something to retain them; among those, 83 percent say if the company had provided better live/in-person customer service, it would have affected their decisions to switch providers.

What can you do retain your customers? Accenture offers this advice to companies seeking to solve the “digital disconnect:”

  • Put the human element back into your customer service. Think of technology as a tool to achieve a satisfying customer experience, not as an end in itself. Invest in the human side of customer service — hiring good customer service representatives, training them well and providing the tools they need to deliver that human touch.
  • Provide multichannel customer service options. Whether customers prefer to interact with your customer service reps by phone, by email or by chat, it should be easy for them to switch back and forth between these different options. Make sure you’re gathering the right information for each customer interaction, and use cloud storage for customer data so all your customer service reps can easily access up-to-date information about customer interactions.
  • Uncover your biggest problems. Regularly review your customer service results and meet with your customer service representatives to find out what issues are causing the biggest problems across all of your customer service channels. Accenture calls these "toxic customer experiences," and warns that they can directly affect your profitability. Take steps to resolve these problems immediately.

 

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Tuesday Tips: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 6 Lessons From Good and Terrible Customer Service

By March 29, 2016 No Comments

There's a lesson to be learned from everything — even from horrible customer service experiences.  What can your small business learn about providing better customer service from the worst customer service mistakes other businesses make? The 2016 24/7 Customer Engagement Index has some answers.

24/7 polled consumers, ranging from 18-year-old Millennials to seniors aged 69 and up, to find out what makes for a great — or terrible — customer service experience.  Here's what customers want:

1. Have it my way: Customers say the number-one factor in great customer service is being able to contact a company however they want to.  Some customers may want to call you on the phone, but others may prefer to go online, email you or use a mobile app.  Don't forget about SMS messaging and social media, either.

Takeaway:  Even the same person may prefer different channels depending on the situation or time of day — for example, someone contacting your business from work may prefer to email rather than use the phone.  Offer a wide range of customer service contact points, and make all of them as simple to use as possible.

2. Anticipate my needs:  Customers love it when they contact a company and the customer service rep already knows what the problem is without them having to go through a lengthy explanation.

Takeaway:  Maintaining detailed data on your customers will help you anticipate potential problems.  Make sure this data is easily accessible to your customer service reps so they can quickly tap into the information when starting a call.

3. Don't make me repeat myself:  Customers appreciate continuous interactions — that is, being able to start a customer service interaction on one channel, such as online, and finish it later in another channel, such as phone.  Repeating or re-inputting the same information over and over just leads to frustration.

Takeaway:  Use customer service software that enables your reps to record and review information from prior interactions in all channels.  For example, being able to take notes during a phone conversation can be helpful if a call needs to be transferred to another representative or picked up later.

4. Just let me talk to a real person:  Customers' number-one pet peeve is being trapped in an automated, self-service phone system and not being able to reach a live person.

Takeaway:  Don't make customers guess how to get ahold of a customer service rep by frantically pushing buttons.  Make the live-person option available after they have entered one or two self-service choices, or, better yet, from the beginning of the call ("If you'd like to speak to a representative at any time, please press 0.")

5. Hurry up:  As I mentioned in last month's post, having to wait too long to speak to a customer service rep is a hallmark of terrible service.  This applies to both phone calls and live chat.

Takeaway:  Sometimes, long waits can't be avoided, but there are ways to make the time pass as painlessly as possible.  Be sure to let customers know an estimated wait time and/or how many other customers are ahead of them; this gives them the option to stick it out or come back later.  On the phone, play hold music — some companies still don't, making it impossible to tell if you're still on hold or have been cut off.  For live chat, use automated standard responses that post every few minutes so customers know they’re still “in line” for service.

6. Can I speak to a manager?  Customers' third-biggest service gripe is when customer service reps don't have the skill or knowledge to answer their queries.  This can tarnish your business’s image and brand — after all, how competent are you if your staff doesn't know what they're doing?

Takeaway:  Take time to train your customer service reps thoroughly, and have new reps work with trainers until they get accustomed to the job.  Create a knowledge base or database of common questions and responses that your reps can search.  Teach representatives to be alert to signs of frustration, both verbal and written, and make sure they know when to escalate a customer to the next level up.

By paying attention to this data — and to your own customers' feedback — you can ensure that your business ranks at the top of the list for good customer service, not for bad.

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Tuesday Tip: Are Your Employees Scared to Speak Up?

By February 23, 2016 No Comments

Are your employees providing outstanding customer service, or do you just think they are?  A new study by VitalSmarts reveals that in both B2B and B2C companies, many employees fail to speak up when they witness other workers providing poor customer service.  The report estimates that each employee who doesn't speak up about bad service costs the company an average of $54,511 per year.

If you think this can't be happening in your company, consider these stats from the study:

  • The typical employee observes 19 poor customer-service incidents per year.
  • Just 7 percent of employees say they always speak up when they see another employee providing poor customer service…
  • …even though 66 percent say they could help to solve the customer’s problem. 
  • 75 percent of B2C customers and 42 percent of B2B customers say poor service negatively affects the amount of money they spend with a company by 50 percent or more.

OK, that's the bad news.  What about the good news?  Companies can prevent and/or recoup those losses by developing a company culture where employees feel empowered to speak up when they see others providing poor service.

Convincing employees to step in when they see someone else behaving badly is easier said than done — but it can be done.  Here are some ways you can help to develop an empowered customer service culture at your business.

Start by explaining to your employees how failing to act hurts the business — and how that damage trickles down to them.  For example, ask them to consider how a loss of $54,000 a year multiplied by each employee would affect profits and wages.  Conversely, focus on the positive aspects of being able to boost the company's sales simply by stepping and when you see poor service happening.

Don't assume that all incidents of poor service stem from uncaring employees.  Often, employees simply don't know how to provide good service or what resources they can use to help a customer.  Promote speaking up as a way not to criticize, but to educate others on staff and improve everyone's skills.

Encourage employees to assume the best of their coworkers and, when they see poor service occurring, reach out to offer help if appropriate.  To avoid embarrassing others, the report recommends employees talk to each other face-to-face about problems they observe, and do so privately so as not to embarrass the worker.  (For example, an employee could call a coworker aside to quietly ask some questions while the customer is still being assisted.)

Employees can avoid making coworkers defensive by exploring the situation gently, using phrases such as "I'm not sure you meant this, but…" Or "you might not be aware of this…"  Don't make accusations or draw conclusions from what is observed; simply state the facts.  The goal is not to develop a "gotcha” environment, but to learn from each other's mistakes.

Above all, the report states, every employee, no matter what his or her position, should be treated respectfully — and no employee should be above receiving helpful criticism.  If your employees take this approach, there's much more likely to be a positive outcome and better service overall.

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