Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’


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.

 


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.


Customer Service is the New Marketing (it’s even better than the old kind).

Customer service is the new marketing.  And it's even more powerful than the old kind.  Here’s what I mean: Once upon a time, you could guarantee success for your product or service if you just slathered on the mass-marketing real thick. You could hire a real-life version of Don Draper or Peggy Olson and have them add that that coating of marketing magic to the product or service you wanted to sell.

It didn’t matter so much if your washing machines weren’t reliable; what mattered was that the marketers working for you had dazzled the buying public with a brilliant mascot like the lonely Maytag repairman, making sure that your appliances seemed reliable.

It didn’t matter if your product was Coke and had a lot more to do with cavities than with world peace, suddenly in these genius’s hands, buying a coke was magically made to relate to creating “perfect harmony” worldwide.

With such marketing genius at your disposal, and a purchasing public that still believed that there was truth behind these kinds of mass marketing messages (“if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t let them say that, right?”) your product would sell.  Your work would be done. Your business would be on its road to success.

Over time, the business landscape became more challenging. It came up against consumer cynicism, and it came up against enhanced word of mouth made possible through cheaper and faster communication methods (including such now-forgotten factors as the reduced cost of air travel and even the move from expensive to essentially-free long distance calls).

And, of course, the biggest chinks in the armor of marketing-driven products and services have come via the Internet, especially the websites and social media outlets powered by user-generated commentary.

Businesses are agitated about this changed landscape, and rightly so. This new, transparent marketplace is a scary place in which to do business. But it’s where all of us have to do business today. The balance of power has changed, with that power now weighted toward the customer in a big way.

Don Draper’s obsolete world of the “4-P’s” (product, place, price and promotion) has now been replaced by the dominance of human interactions, customer-on-customer and employee-on-customer, the “big H” as I call it, for human beings.  Today, all customers care about is how their fellow humans, online and off, have been treated by the humans who work for your company. This is the reality of our new, customer-driven world.  

And we all need to adapt: When customers no longer care what some actor on TV–the Maytag repairman, for example–says about your product, because they can look to their Facebook friends to find out the truth, you’d better make sure those Facebook friends are, in fact, inspired to say something nice about you–about how you responded to their service inquiries and product concerns. Inspired, that is, by how you treat them as customers.

There’s no better way to grow your brand, customer by customer by customer, than by getting this right.


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.


Great Customer Service Reps are Born, not Made

11-25 Hiring Employees smallAll new hires need some formal or informal training to learn the ins and outs of their jobs, including customer service reps, who need to master basic company policies and procedures connected with customer interactions. While most employees who master training become great workers, perfect policy and procedure proficiency does not automatically make customer-facing employees good at their jobs.

Great customer service requires a special breed of people. Whether they sell to customers, help them navigate the aisles or resolve their issues on the phone, they display a genuine caring and helpful spirit, while being authentic. You can't teach that spirit, so your job is to seek it out from the time you write the want ad and throughout the interview process.

Advertise and Assess for Character Traits Before Technical Skills

Exceptional technical skills are meaningless in a customer service rep who doesn't deal well with people, so ask for people skills in the heading of your employment ad. A heading like, "Customer Service Rep with Computer Experience" attracts people who can log calls. A heading like, "Do People Come to You for Help?" draws in people who really like to help others. By all means, list minimum qualifications within the ad, but focus on attitude and people skills.

Of course, the interview requires the same type of focus. Be prepared to pose customer-related scenarios to find out how the applicant will handle them. And, even if some applicants fall slightly short of the skills requirements, listen for signs of trainability. Friendly, helpful people with basic computer skills can learn how to log calls, even if they have never before worked in a customer service environment.

Identify the Right Character Traits

You probably have no training in psychology, but that doesn't mean you have no capacity to recognize applicants who have a natural affinity for customer service. Here are some of the character traits to look for — and how to identify them:

  • Strong communication skills: Face it; angry or frustrated customers often do not communicate clearly. The reps you hire must be able to listen and understand long before they deliver a clear, unambiguous message. During the interview, applicants with the knack for two-way communication rise to the surface when you ask unclear questions. If they tactfully ask for clarification, they are better communicators than applicants who answer the wrong question.
  • Patience and compassion: Customers seldom seek out support when they are happy. In the worst cases, they are so livid that no solution seems to satisfy them. Your reps need a thick skin to avoid striking back at unearned verbal attacks. Then, they need the stamina to find resolutions that meet the customer's needs, while displaying a genuine degree of compassion for the customer's circumstances (no pity, please). A good way to test for these traits is to present an unsolvable issue and monitor the applicant's patience levels every time that you reject another solution.
  • Proactive problem-solving: Your company may have a rule book for resolving typical complaints. But even when reps memorize every rule, undocumented issues frequently arise. If you empower your employees to make decisions on the fly, raise some hypothetical situations to make sure that applicants have enough common sense to respond appropriately — and when they recognize the need to seek management intervention.

Mirror the Work Environment During the Interview

Traditionally, short phone interviews are a first step before bringing applicants in for one or more face-to-face meetings. But, does this really tell the whole story for a phone support applicant? Sure, these people may need to interact with other employees, so meeting in person makes sense. Still, the phone interview may be the best way to assess what their on-the-job performance will really be like.

If the position involves phone support, maybe the phone interview is most important because it lets you listen for a smile and get an idea of how well applicants read emotions over the phone without of the benefit of facial queues. Similarly, consider meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant to see how traveling sales reps handle business conversations in noisy environments — and to check their table manners.

Put Yourself in the Customer's Shoes During Each Interview:

You may be interviewing as the boss, but you need to listen to each answer as if you were the customer. Customers quickly recognize the difference between genuine support and scripted problem-solving. You can certainly teach new reps about the support process. You can even teach them to avoid certain stock phrases — like responding to a thank you with "no problem."

But helpfulness and winning personalities come from the heart. Bruce Nordstrom, of the third generation of customer service-oriented Nordstrom management, said it best: "We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can't hire salespeople and teach them to be nice."


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. 




 
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