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Follow-up: When

The when part of this series on follow-ups for customer service and support departments has two parts: the first being when (as in 2:00 PM or 10:00 AM) the follow-ups should be conducted and the second part is how long after the issue is assumed resolved or left inactive (as in one week, two weeks, etc.).

The golden rule of when and follow-ups is don’t bother anyone. The second you bother one of your customers is the second they start to think less of your brand, your company, and your customer service experience. You’ve put in the work to do the follow-up and you shouldn’t screw it by bothering your customer.

Part 1: What Time
Since general golden rules are popular the rule for what time is generally the time they contacted you. However, this is more like a silver rule as it doesn’t always work. I know that I send emails or call tech support every now and then at 1 or 2 AM and I certainly wouldn’t want to get a phone call around then.

This rule does generally work, though, if you do your homework. When making phone calls, see where the person lives and lookup the time zone. I live on east coast of the US, so if the representative bothers to look that up and finds out that it’s 2 AM where I live, he or she can move on to a customer that lives in a place where it’s noon or 1 PM. If you noticed the customer called at a fairly normal time (say 4 PM their time), try and call them around that time.

Don’t worry about what time for email or regular mail. Depending on your business, you should stick to either just the weeks or the weekends. For example, if you provide business services, send emails on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, giving the customer plenty of time during the week to reply. If you provide more consumer services, try and send the emails on a Friday or Saturday, giving the customer at least Sunday to reply.

Do try to avoid calling during meal times and early mornings (before 10 AM their time is probably not a good idea). Emails and regular mailings is okay at basically any time of the day, but you may want to do a follow-up slightly before when you normally receive replies from a customer (say their replies come around 2 PM EST, send your emails at 1:30 PM EST), that way the communication can be kept more instant.

Part 2: How Long
I’m going to try and do general rules for how long.

  • Sales Inquires: one week, then one after a month or so
  • Customer Service & Support: one week, then maybe after a month or so if the issue was complicated
  • Billing: four to five days and then perhaps before the related billing period
  • Complaint: One to two weeks after the complaint being replied to with an update, three weeks after the first complaint to give a progress report
  • Suggestion: One to two weeks after a reply saying it was good, bad, not possible, etc. and another follow-up a month later to give a progress report
  • Misc. Use your judgment. It depends on the type of question/comment.

This was longer than the last few posts, so I’m getting better. When you do follow-ups is of course important, but if you keep the ultimate golden rule in mind (use common sense), you’ll be fine.

Follow-ups: Where

Over what medium a follow-up is conducted is important. It can make or break a follow-up. The general rule of thumb is: follow-up using the same medium. So if they contacted you over phone, call them. If they contacted you over e-mail, send them an e-mail.

The advantages and disadvantages of each medium:

  • Phone. Most personal and quickest method for customer (as far as total time until issue resolved), but some people don’t like to talk on the phone, it’s the most expensive, and requires someone to make the call and sit there during the entire call (i. e. you can’t do 30 an hour).
  • Email. Quickest and cheapest, but longest time until the issue is totally resolved. It’s harder to get additional information and to ask questions on the fly. A lot of people like email, but others hate it. The use of email really boils down to how “virtual” your business is and how techno your customers are.
  • (Snail) Mail. In most cases, snail mail is traditionally very impersonal, but it’s very effective. It makes your company seem much more brick and mortar, but if you send a survey over the mail, chances are it’ll be thrown out. If your follow-ups are more “Thanks for calling us – let us know if you have any problems”, snail mail may be an effective solution.

Regardless of the medium, all of your follow-ups should mention ways to further get in touch. Follow-ups over these mediums need to have this information:

  • Phone. The representative has to say if you need any more help, feel free to give us a call back, send us an email, visit our support web site, etc. and tell the customer how to do all of those things. It’s important to ensure that he or she understands as well.
  • Email. Have a line near the end stating “If you need any further assistance, please feel free to call us at 1-800-555-555.”
  • Mail. Have a phone number, email address, and web site address clearly mentioned on the letterhead and a phone number at the end (similar format as above).

Keep these in mind and your follow-ups should be more effective and none of your customers will get mad.

Follow-up: Why

A lot of people ask why are follow-ups important? There are quite a few reasons why they should be done and they are quite important.

  • Improve the experience. By following-up proactively, your customers don’t have to. This improves the customer service experience and makes it so the customer doesn’t have to be nearly as involved in getting service.
  • Brand. When you call and say “Hi, I’m calling from Company XYZ.” you’re building your brand. The customer is learning about your brand and that you care about service. When you have the customer on the phone, you might as well build your brand.
  • Resolve issues. When a follow-up is conducted, an issue can confidently be marked as resolved. This way your staff members don’t have to keep reading over it and guessing if it’s really finished.
  • Gather feedback. Follow-ups are a great way to gather feedback about a particular issue or just the overall way your support department operates. A customer will likely give some feedback if asked, and customer feedback is required to improve the customer service experience.
  • Make customers happier! If nothing else will convince you to follow-up, this should. When customers get pro-active follow-ups, they think more of your customer service and your company. That way, when they go to buy something that your company sells, they think of you.

A short post, yes, but you should know that following up is extremely important. Just one of these points should be enough to convince you to start following up on certain issues.

Follow-up: What

The next part of our series on follow-ups is what should be done during a follow-up. The obvious answer is following up, right? Not so much, but on the right track.

  • Purpose. It is the representative’s job to guide the follow-up. The rep shouldn’t just dial a number and say “I’m following up with you about your recent issue at company XYZ.” They should say “Hi there, I’m calling you to see if you’re having any ongoing problems with your product from Company XYZ. (see next point)
  • If so. The next part is, “If you are having any problems.” Don’t make it seem to the customer like if they are still having problems that it will end of the world. The rep should say “If you’re still having a problem, that’s fine, I’ll be more than happy to help you.” Comfort the customer and the customer will be happier.
  • If not. The other is obviously “If you aren’t having any problems.” Do something productive while you have the customer on the phone. Not annoying, but productive. Ask the customer if he or she has any comments about the service experience, needs any material (i. e. disks, manuals, paperwork, etc.), or ask the customer if you ask him or her a few questions about the service experience (the quick survey). That makes the call productive and the follow-up worth it.

The point of a follow-up is to establish contact with the client pro-actively. Be pro-active with what you have your reps say and make the conversation effective. It should be an excellent time for your company to say (not directly) “We care about you and you’re an important customer to us.” Make it count.

Follow-up: Who

Following up is extremely important. The first part of this series covers who should follow-up. When following up, it’s important to have the right person do it – otherwise it may actually make the experience worse.

  • Prior contact. Ideally, the person who has been handling the issue should do all of the following up. If the issue was handled by a variety of people, the person who most recently handled it (extensively) should follow-up. This way the person is familiar with the customer and the issue at hand.
  • Senior. If the person who has been handling the issue can’t follow-up, then someone who’s a supervisor or some sort of senior representative should follow-up. This way the customer knows his or her issue is important and that the company is making a genuine effort to make the customer happy.
  • Someone who reads. If options A and B aren’t available, then at least pick someone who reads. It’s amazing that what can happen if the actually reads about the problem and the customer. This way the representative has some background on the issue and can intelligently discuss it with the customer.
  • Someone who likes their job. If whoever is doing the follow-up isn’t nice and/or doesn’t like their job – don’t bother. You need somene who’s very kind and really cares about the customer’s issue to do the follow-up otherwise it will not help at all.

The issue of who should handle a follow-up is quite simple. Generally, if the person is familiar with the issue and is patient and friendly with the customer, the person will do okay with the follow-up. This is a relatively short post, but there’ll be quite a few of these including:

  • Who should follow-up (this one)
  • What should be done during a follow-up
  • Why are follow-ups important
  • Where (over what medium) should follow-ups be conducted
  • When should follow-ups be conducted
  • How to do the perfect follow-up

After this series, you should every know everything you need to know about follow-ups and be a following up pro. It’s truly something that will make customers happier and improve the overall customer service experience.

Little Things Part 8: Follow-up

Following up is something that anyone that knows about customer service goes on and on about, constantly. If anything, following up can make the difference between customer service that’s great and customer service that’s just acceptable (see this post for an explanation).

Some tips to be a great follow up’er:

  • Do what you say. The golden rule is to do what you say. If you say you’re going to follow-up, do so! And do so promptly (or at least in the time you say you will).
  • Offer to follow-up. A customer should never “Could you follow-up with me on that in a week?” – you should always offer (in advance) to follow-up. Say “If you’d like, I can get back to you in a week or so about this.” and if they accept, great. If not, no big deal.
  • Have a system. Have a system so you always do what you say with your follow-ups. A calendar (electronic or non) works very well. Most CRM and support systems have some sort of calendar/reminder/follow-up system built into them, so be sure to use it.
  • Be courteous. When you do follow-up, be very courteous. Never make it sound like you’re doing the customer a favor and always be positive. Call or email them and be happy and they should be happy too. Part of being courteous is also following-up at the time they want (not so much a problem with emails, but certainly with phone calls.)
  • Follow-up when you’re done. If you don’t already, you should send personal follow-ups for a majority of your tickets/cases/etc. You can get away with not sending personal follow-ups for standard things, but anything that gets semi-complicated deserves a follow-up. You should always follow-up after: any elevated tickets, complaints (even if they’re resolved), upgrades/downgrades (to make sure they’re okay), sales inquires, suggestions, etc. We’ll talk much more about when to follow-up (in detail) in an upcoming post.A personal follow-up is when you send an email (or give a call) with something like “Is the issue with your account’s email resolved?” not just “Is your issue resolved?”
  • Give ways to act. All follow-ups should contain or mention ways to get a hold of the company again (related phone number, emails, etc.), any related ticket/reference IDs, the name of the representativeT, and if it was a complaint or anything of that nature, apologies (again).

This post was going to be awfully long, so I decided to make it a series, isntead. There will be lots more on following-up, when to follow-up, who should follow-up, and more in our next series starting Monday. Following up extremely important and something every company involved with customer service should master. There will be a dedicated introduction (quite short) this weekend.

Little Things Part 7: Ask them questions and keep the answers in mind.

This is sort of an extension of “make customers feel important.” When you ask customers questions, and actually consider what they say, it makes them feel important and subsequently improves the level of service.

Some things to ask and tips on keeping the answers in mind:

  • Ask customers about their skills. A customer that truly doesn’t know about technology will tell you if you ask. A lot of people will say they’re experts, but a lot will honestly tell you their skill level. Ask people how familiar they are with the product or type of product, etc. Customers will appreciate you asking.
  • Adjust accordingly. If a customer tells you he or she isn’t good with technology, adjust what you say accordingly. Don’t use technical terms and explain more. Give extra instructions and help when necessary and exclude them when appropriate.
  • Clarify before asked. If you say anything where you think a customer may ask “Could you clarify?”, clarify it right away (before you’re asked). If you think something is unclear, chances are the customer will so clarify it before they have to ask. This is also called explaining things thoroughly.
  • Learn about the customer. Learn about the customer not only on a personal level (what do you do for a living, other small talk), but on a professional level. Ask them questions like how long have you been with us, any problems, anything I can do to help, etc. If a customer says something, note it and if necessary, follow-up.
  • Listen. If more people in customer service (especially sales) listened closely, service would be so much better. Simply listen to what your customer is saying and you’ll learn an awful lot.

Just a few tips on how to anticipate questions and ask the right questions. The best rule of thumb is to do the five W’s and one H.

  • Who is the customer.
  • What is the customer’s general skill level, service type, etc.
  • Why is the customer contacting you? (i. e. the problem)
  • Where is not really that important. It makes for good small talk, though. Ask the customer where he or she is from and currently lives.
  • When is the best time for the customer to receive any follow-up phone calls or emails.
  • How are you going to go about fixing the customer’s problem or addressing the customer’s concern?

Keep your customers’ opinions (listen) in mind and they’ll be happy.

Little Things Part 6: Make customers feel important.

The average customer who calls customer service, technical support, billing, etc. is generally not too happy. Even when a customer calls sales, he or she is often frustrated because the answer couldn’t be found easily on the web site or in the related informational material such as a brochure or mailing. One of the best ways to bring the customer’s mood right up is to make the customer feel important. Despite what people say, they almost always want to feel important.

Some good ways to make a customer feel important:

  • Respond. When a customer makes a suggestion, a representative shouldn’t just go “That’s nice.” The representative should tell the customer “That’s a good idea. I’ll mention that to my supervisor.” and actually do it. Same thing if the customer makes a comment about something – respond to the comment and let the customer know that you heard the comment and value his or her opinion.
  • Don’t be cheap. Accounting departments often don’t like customer service because they do have to give credits every now and then. A good customer service department will give credits whenever there is an inconvenience outside of normal support (i. e. Dell doesn’t have to credit me if I break my OS, but if my computer is damaged during shipping, they should give me a free RAM upgrade or something along those lines.). Billing mistakes should normally get credits as should sales mis-communications. Don’t base the credit amount on the customer’s profitability. Even if you lose money on the customer, be prepared to give an ample credit or that profitless customer may cause you to lose other profitable customers. Give out credits or even better, discounts on services (good ones), without too much hesitation. A happy customer referring you to his or her friends is worth the price of a credit.
  • Tell them. When you’re about to give a credit, add a line such as “because you’ve been with us for a while and have sent us some work, we’re going to be giving you a credit for such and such an amount.” Add a line or two like that, and your customers will feel important.
  • Go out of your way. A great way to make a customer feel important is to actually go above and beyond the call of duty. Do something you don’t usually do, help a customer with something your company isn’t necessarily involved with, and go out of the way to help a customer. When a customer knows you’re going out of your way, it’ll really improve what the customer thinks of your company and service.
  • Follow-up. Anyone that knows about customer service preaches about following up. It is probably one of the most important things in customer service. There’ll be more about follow-ups on Thursday and this blog will constantly echo how important following up is.

Make customers feel important and they’ll be happy. If you make customers feel important, they realize you care, which is extremely important. If you make all of your customers feel important, all of your customers will be happy, and you will subsequently have really good service. However, don’t tell anyone that, because they need to be convinced that making customers feel important is just one of the many things that have be to done.

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