Posts Tagged ‘customer experience’


Six improvements to make in your customer service experience (that you can begin today)

Here are six areas of your customer service experience that may be ripe for a review and overhaul: areas where you may be able to make a significant improvement due to their importance and how often these areas are overlooked in many businesses.

1.      Become scientific–and traits-based– in your hiring. The reality is that not everyone is cut out to work face to face (or phone to phone, or terminal to terminal) with employees. For success with customers, hiring needs to be a scientific process.  Hiring on a hunch is deadly, and — quite often — discriminatory.  So: Hire to a profile, study your results, revise your profile, and keep at it.  (For a shortcut to get you started, use my acronym WETCO as your rule of thumb for the five traits most crucial in employees with frequent customer contact:  Warmth, Empathy, Teamwork, Conscientiousness, and Optimism. )  

2.     Reinforce your customer excellence standards daily. The very best organizations talk about the importance of customer service every single day, every single shift.  The Ritz-Carlton has been doing this since the 1980’s and they don’t miss a single shift.

3.     Pay special attention to the two parts of the service experience that are most memorable to a customer: the beginning and the end of the customer’s interaction with you. Also: be sure to recognize that the beginning starts before the beginning”—that customers are picking up info and implications about you before they ever arrive at your official website or the front door of your establishment.

4.     It’s crucial that you have a customer service recovery process in place for when things go south. It doesn’t work to wing it every time a customer is irritated, frustrated, or flat-out furious. No matter how superb your product or service is, every company needs a service recovery process with the goal of restoring (or even enhancing) customer satisfaction, as well as reducing the possibility of a recurrence.

5.     Be as timely as your customers expect you to be: A perfect product, or perfect customer service, delivered late, is a defect. Being late or misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers, is problematic.  Great institutions are doing everything possible these days to adjust themselves to the customer’s perception of time: this includes self-service options for project tracking (for example, USAA Insurance allows you to see the progress of your insurance claim online, 24/7), flexibility on delivery times, guaranteed times for menu items in fast casual restaurants, and more.

6.     Strive to see, taste, feel and even smell your company the way your customers do? You can learn a lot by parking where your customers park, entering via the same entrance your customers use, calling in on the same phone lines and using the same retail website and perhaps-laborious login routine you make your customers go through. You learn a lot this way. If you use reserved parking and the employee entrance and your intranet, or–worse–spend the day holed up in your office, you won’t.  You’ll, tragically, find out about your company’s problems on Yelp rather than from your own eyes.


Tuesday Tip: Lessons From the Number-One Customer Service Retailer

What can your small business learn from the best of the best? StellaService’s list of the online retailers with the best customer service is out, and for the second quarter in a row, L.L. Bean is the top-rated company. L.L. Bean ranked in the top 10 for four out of five customer service areas that StellaService ranks: phone, email, chat and returns.

Apparently, speed is of the essence when it comes to customer service. When calling by phone, StellaService analysts were able to connect to a live L.L. Bean customer service representative in less than 30 seconds. When emailing, analysts received responses from Bean reps in slightly over an hour on average.

That's a huge advantage, considering that just 10 percent of companies in L.L. Bean’s industry connect callers to reps in the same timeframe; at three out of 10 companies, it takes more than two minutes to reach a live person by phone. And when it comes to email, four out of 10 companies took more than 12 hours to respond.

How to ensure your company responds quickly to customer service contacts:

  • Staff adequately. Reviewing historical sales trends will help you identify periods when you're likely to need more customer service reps due to higher than average sales.
  • Watch weather. If delivery of your company’s product or service is likely to be affected by severe weather, keep an eye on forecasts 10 days out so you can staff and prepare accordingly. It is also smart to have a backup plan for what you'll do if your own location is affected. Can your customer service reps work remotely? That way, you won't face the double whammy of angry customers and a short-staffed customer service department. Using cloud-based communications makes it easy to handle customer service calls, no matter where your reps are.
  • Take advantage of technology. Features like auto-attendants, greetings, and announcements guide callers to the correct department. Routing and queue delivery systems can also be used to ensure that callers don't wait too long on hold. With the right technology, you can even prioritize calls on hold to make sure they get answered quickly.
  • Set goals and track results. If your call hold times are currently unacceptable, set realistic goals for improvement. Reward customer service reps for attaining these benchmarks, then continue to challenge them with higher standards while still enabling them to deliver great service.
  • Consider implementing live chat. StellaService reports that in 2015, 16 major retailers added live chat to their websites, while four major retailers stopped offering customer service support via email. Live chat offers faster response times than email, which keeps customers happy. In addition, chat enables you to provide proactive customer service by answering customer questions before the sale is ever made.

Take these steps, and you just might find your customer service topping your customers’ personal “best” lists.

 


How your business can make a great last impression

1-21 lasting impression smallAll of us, at one time or another, have had the importance of a first impression drilled into us.  But what about last impressions? Both the beginning and the end of a customer's experience with your business are disproportionately important parts of the customer experience, because of the way a customer's memory works.

Yet while we often do manage to focus on and refine our “hellos,” customer goodbyes are often rushed—or skipped altogether. After all, you as a service provider are frequently so relieved to have gotten one job wrapped up successfully and to be able to move on to the next one. The result is that a transaction often ends with nothing more personal than an invoice.

What a wasted opportunity! If your customers are happy, the goodbye is your last, and one of your most notable, chances to bond with them, to add an important final chapter to the service story.

Try to close each interaction with your customer in a way that is memorable and sincere. Make sure an otherwise-fine service experiences doesn't come to a miserable close that consists solely of handing back a credit card or ‘‘OK’’ or ‘‘NEXT.’’ How much hard-earned good will can be lost that way? A lot.

So, try to never close an interaction without providing a personalized farewell and an invitation to return. If handled properly, this farewell will be personal, resonant, and long lasting (see below)—but before you move to the closing, make sure you ask a final question, slowly and sincerely. This question should be some form of (but doesn’t have to be these precise, scripted words), ‘‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’’

If the answer is ‘‘No, thank you,’’ then move to the closing, as follows:

1. Personalize your goodbye: Use the customer’s name. Offer your business card, if appropriate for your type of business. Beyond these obvious things, customize your language to fit this customer’s history with you. For example, if this is the last day of a convention or holiday, add your sincere wishes for safe travel. If you are a retailer, express your hope for satisfaction with the item purchased.

2. Make your goodbye resonant: If appropriate, give a parting gift. It can be a lollipop for the customer’s child, a vintage postcard, or a book. An ideal gift is something that is emotionally resonant with your brand as well as appropriate to the customer. Invite your customer to come back again as she leaves.

3. Extend the goodbye in a memorable way: If appropriate for the type of purchase and your relationship with the customer, send a follow-up note. Personal and handwritten is better than preprinted—this is the best $1 investment you may ever make.


Tuesday Tip: Americans’ Top Customer Service Complaints

12-22 Customer Service trends smallWhat are customers' most common and biggest gripes about customer service? Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey to find out. Consumers were asked about their experiences with customer service in the past year and what complaints they had. Here are their top answers (customers were allowed to choose multiple options):

  • Can't get a person on the phone: 75 percent
  • Rude or condescending salesperson: 75 percent
  • Got disconnected: 74 percent
  • Got disconnected and could not reach same representative: 71 percent
  • Transferred to representative who can't help or is wrong: 70 percent
  • Company doesn't provide customer service phone number, or makes it difficult to find: 68 percent
  • Long wait on hold: 66 percent
  • Many phone steps needed: 66 percent
  • Repeatedly asked for same information: 66 percent
  • Proposed solution was useless: 65 percent
  • Unsure whether on hold or disconnected: 62 percent
  • Can't speak with a supervisor: 62 percent
  • Phone menu doesn't offer needed option: 61 percent
  • Voice-recognition system works poorly: 61 percent
  • Salesperson is too pushy/makes sales pitch for unrelated products or service: 60 percent

Consumers clearly have a lot of complaints. How can you eliminate these issues? Here are some suggestions.

  • Make sure customers can easily reach a live person for assistance, whether by phone or by online chat. If you don't have enough staff in-house for this, consider outsourcing customer service. Whatever you do, don't hide your company's customer service phone number, or require customers to fill out an online form on your website to get service.
  • Simplify your automated phone system as much as possible. Ideally, don't make customers go through more than one or two levels of number-punching to reach their destination. Avoid having customers input information such as their account number if you're just going to ask them for that information when they reach a rep; people hate to feel like they're doing something useless.
  • Empower your customer service employees. Creating an online knowledge base of company information that will help customer service reps resolve common issues is a great way to ensure that every rep has the information they need to do their jobs. Hold regular meetings with reps to go over tough issues they faced and how to solve them so that reps can learn from each other.
  • Always take a phone number from the customer when starting a customer service call. This way, the rep can call the customer back if they get disconnected. Before transferring a call, tell the customer who or what department they are being transferred to, and give them a direct number to reach that person or department if they get cut off during the transfer.

We've all been on the receiving end of poor customer service. Take a moment to think about what kind of experience you'd like to have when you call a company, and make sure you give your customers that same feeling.


The customer is not an interruption of your work (so don’t make them feel that way)

12-3 Customers are not an interruption smallIs your business unintentionally giving customers the feeling that they’re an interruption of your work? Are there ways that you, your business or your employees may be making your customers feel ignored, feel unimportant, feel that their patronage doesn’t mean that much to you?

The question essentially comes down not to whether customers are entirely ignored by employees, but whether they’re served with speed and enthusiasm.  In many business situations, of course the customer will, ultimately, be served; there’s no way to definitively ignore them.  If a customer’s standing at a counter awaiting service, they’re not going to be flat-out turned down. But will they get served after the nearest employee puts down her cell phone with a tiny accompanying grimace? After she finishes the note she is writing? After she finishes the sentence or paragraph she is sharing with her co-worker? Or right away, and with a smile?

The difference here is a matter of seconds, or even just milliseconds. But that brief time span, and the attitude it evokes, makes all the difference in how the customer feels about your company.

Here are a couple pointers that apply to most customer-facing situation. I’m sure after you examine your daily routines looking for “feel-like-an-interruption-points,” you can find some more:  

• Never talk with your co-workers—never—without situating yourself in a way that allows you to use your direct or peripheral senses to allow you to stop when a customer approaches, before the customer is made to feel that they’re taking you away from how you’d rather be spending your time.   (To put this bluntly: Your customer probably won't appreciate coming in contact with your backside before your face, and to have to get your attention in order to get you to turn around.)

• If you do talk with co-workers, never—even for a minute–make a customer or potential customer wait for you to finish your conversation, even if your conversation is work-related. Drop that conversation mid-sentence, assist the customer, and then come back to it after.

• If you work in a situation (such as a restaurant) where you are likely to intersect moving customers, remember to yield at any potential collision point. In fact, not only should you be yielding if a collision is otherwise imminent, you should be using your senses to allow you to yield before the guest even realizes that there is a potential collision point.

• When you pick up the phone, be ready to talk, and ready to listen.  Don’t be finishing up some previous work—they’ll be able to hear this in your voice even if they can’t hear the rustling of papers or the clicks on the keyboard.


Five “New Normals” That Your Customer Experience Needs To Keep Up With


A neon sign with the words "Open 24 Hours" against a brick wall. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.Here are five places where your customer experience may have fallen out of sync with what today's customers are looking for. Check the list and see where you stand.  It can make a real bottom-line difference today, and a sustainability difference over at least the next several years.

1. Good self-service options are a must: No matter how good your human-delivered customer service, customers expect self-service options as well. Self-service includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling. This is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust.

There are various factors driving the self-service trend: customers' round-the-clock lifestyle, a buying populace that is increasingly tech savvy, and even in some cases the higher comfort level of socially anxious customers when doing business with machines rather than face to face or even on the phone.

2. Extended hours are the new 9-5 Customers expect extended hours: hours that you’re open, hours that you provide support.  This may mean 24/7 or as close as you can get. For example: For its advertising clients, Google now not only offers support in 42 languages, it does so nearly around the clock, and offers English language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support.

Customers also expect more flexibility and options during traditionally “off” hours. For example, if you’re in foodservice, consider letting customers order from either the dinner or lunch menu in the mid-afternoon, and consider offering a cold sandwich menu available late in the evening after the kitchen has closed but your bar is still open.

3. Faster, faster, faster Do you still have internal company documents with obsolete standards like “We strive to respond to Internet inquiries within 48 hours”?  Maybe such a time frame made sense a few years ago (I actually doubt it, but maybe), but today, such a response time is he equivalent of 36 years in Internet time.  Your customer support standard needs to be response within just a few hours; after that, your customer is going to assume that you’re never going to get back to them. An intensified expectation of timeliness also applies to product and services delivery, an area where amazon.com is obviously one of the leaders. Amazon’s example, and the twitchiness that apps and the Internet itself invoke, means that your company’s traditional definition of “fast enough” probably isn’t, anymore.

4. Customers are looking for fun even in what used to be dull: On the one hand, there's a new expectation that fun, adventure, even ‘danger’ can be incorporated in potentially mundane interactions. Business travel is a great example of this: More and more travelers try to integrate some adventure and some local exploration into what are ostensibly business trips. Conversely, airlines whose long-haul flights offer a “quick dine” option so the tray isn’t in the way when passengers are trying to work have their heads screwed on right.

5. "If I don't have a picture of it on my phone, it didn't happen": Social consumption is now the norm. Lisa Holladay, branding and marketing guru at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, tells me she's heard this sentiment lately from young customers.  This means that if business isn't building opportunities for social sharing into the customer experience, you're missing out on a chance to delight–rather than drive away–your customers. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What’s the State of Service Today?

11-17 Customer Service top performers smallHow well does your company’s customer service measure up? Salesforce.com recently released a survey of nearly 2,000 global companies that are leaders in customer service. The study looked at common service benchmarks, service trends for the year ahead, and the factors that define high-performing customer service teams. Here’s what the survey uncovered about top-performing customer service organizations, and the lessons for your business.

Top-performing customer service companies…

  • Have three priorities: “always-on” service, personalized service and faster service. For a small business, outsourcing customer service can offer your customers 24/7 assistance, CRM tools can help you maintain records enabling more personalized service, and setting goals and monitoring results can improve response speed.
  • Value efficiency. Speed is still the number-one metric top performers use to measure their customer service reps’ success. When asked to name their top three metrics, 47 percent choose average handle time, 38 percent say the number of cases handled and 32 percent name customer satisfaction.
  • Empower customer service employees to do whatever is needed to make customers happy. Top-performing companies are more than three times more likely than poor performers to have empowered employees.
  • Are more likely to be heavy users of technology. For example, high performers are more likely to be providing service via mobile apps or to be exploring video streaming as a customer service tool.
  • Excel at predicting what customers need. You can use CRM tools as well as social listening tools to assist in these predictions.
  • Use analytics and dashboards to learn and improve. You can use these tools to measure your customer service team’s key performance indicators, as well as to collect and analyze customer feedback.
  • Tap into the power of self-service and community portals to enable customers to find their own solutions to problems. (That’s a smart move, because the same study shows Millennial consumers overwhelmingly use self-service options first before initiating any type of interaction with a customer service representative.) Creating self-service options can be simple, like putting up a list of FAQs or more complex, such as a searchable database of solutions.

Is your small business on track to be a top customer service performer—or are you already there?


Never Stop Believing in the Importance of Every Single Customer

11-13 importance of every customer smallSad but true: The level of focus and attentiveness that’s common when your business has only a few customers tends to slide when your five customers become 50, or 500, or a thousand. The commitment that you had in the early days to keeping close to your customers, with the high level of care and knowledge of the customers that requires tends to fall by the wayside as you grow.

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 how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn't in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Now, 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. 


Developing a Style of Customer Service that Suits Today’s Customer Sensibilities

When it comes to communication, customers today and younger customers in particular are “disillusioned by anything canned and artificial,” as business and marketing expert Andrew Jensen puts it. A stilted, overly formal service style, even from the most caring providers, puts a ceiling on how intimate and inviting the interactions can be between employees and customers.

Which means that developing an authentic customer service style is a requirement for success with customers in the new economy. Customers in today’s marketplace (including the enormous millennial generation, their Boomer parents and the GenX’ers in the middle) favor a straightforward, down to earth, even slangy style of communication from most types of business with which they interact.

Your brand will appear out of touch or even condescending if you retain an excessively formal style. For example, traditionally prescribed hospitality language has included the use of phrases like “my pleasure” and “certainly, Sir,” which work up to a point but sound wooden when overused or used inappropriately. “It was really my pleasure to visit with you during your stay, Mr. Jamison” is fine, but never: “It will be my pleasure to clean your toilet.”

A good way to enforce reasonable language standards, without hobbling the verbal footwork of your employees, is what I’ve named the Danny Meyer Method, after the great New York restaurateur. With the Meyer Method, although you ask your employees to nix certain phrases (“it’s our policy,” “to be honest with you,” “uh-huh,” “you guys,” or this pet peeve of Danny’s: “Are we still working on the lamb?”), you don’t prescribe specific replacements, leaving that up to the creativity and individuality of your staff.

This approach has the additional benefit of keeping your employees comfortable in their own skins, using their own shorthand as needed with customers. You’re providing employees with boundaries in their interactions but empowering them by letting them use their own style within those parameters.

Now, with the authentic style of service I am suggesting, I don’t want to accidentally encourage you to be too familiar.  Instead, I suggest the approach that service designer Tim Miller has articulated: “What I look for from my staff in terms of authenticity is approximately a ‘first date’ level.  Best-foot-forward level.”  This is a style that’s going to work for your customers very well. 




 
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