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Customer Service and Non-profits

I’ve been thinking about non-profits and customer service. Shouldn’t non-profits (specifically charities) have some of the best customer of any organization out there?

I had a test. I called the American Red Cross’s published phone number and tried to get through to a human. First impression, there’s menu after menu and it got annoying very quickly. I pushed the number for questions about donating (something you’d think you would get a quick response for) and got another menu. Pushed the number to donate money, got a sales pitch, and got another menu. Then, I was told they don’t want food or clothes (understandable) and asked if I wanted to use the automated system (no). I was on hold about a minute before a woman who seemed almost frazzled picked up and said “Hi, how can I help you?”

I then tried to call the Humane Society of the United States. They didn’t have an 800 number that I could find, but they did have a human pick up after just a few rings. There was no menu at all.

The third and final organization I tried to call was the American Cancer Society. Their phone number was the easiest to find. I pushed the button for donations and was transferred to a human within about 15 seconds.

So from my test, the organizations did fairly well. I didn’t ask any questions, try to make a donation, or do any sort of in-depth test, but answering the phone is a key part of customer service. The Red Cross could get rid of or simplify their menus and if the American Cancer Society wanted, they could get rid of their menus as well.

Think about organizations you give your time, money, resources, etc. to. What type of customer service do they provide? Is there a way that they could improve their customer service by simply eliminating a level or two in a menu or something else of that nature? If so, you could volunteer and try to help them with their customer service.

Charities are just as, if not more competitive than for-profit organizations. They have people paying them and working for them for free, so making the entire experience pleasant is very important. If you run or play a major part in charity, ask your volunteers and donors (big and small) about what you could do to improve the entire customer service experience?

Sometime next week I’ll post an example of service mapping. The example I read in a book used the process of giving blood as an example of what to service map. I’ll post that and it should give you an interesting idea of what you could do to help improve your customer service experience (regardless of what type of organization you’re involved with).

Also, a vast majority of the tips, suggestions, etc. I give, though intended for for-profit companies, can be applied to non-profits. Just be a bit creative and it’ll work out just fine.

On Monday, look forward to the interview with Craig Newmark, Founder, Chairman, and Customer Service Representative of Craigslist. The interview is quite interesting.

Quality Control or Obsession?

There’s a fine line between quality control and obsession. Though Tom Vander Well at QAQNA knows far more about quality assessment than I do, I’ll provide my insights as to what’s the line between quality control and obsession.

Quality Control:
Quality control is when supervisors read call/ticket ratings and statistics to ensure quality. They may listen on random phone conversations or read some random tickets to make sure that everyone is listening to company rules and policies. When a supervisor that is concerned about quality control, but not obsessed with it, notices something bad, he or she will often say something to the involved representative and make sure that the problem is not across the whole department. If it is, the supervisor should then look into the problem and see what can be done to fix.

Quality Obsession:
Quality obsession is when a large percentage of calls and tickets are monitored, reviewed, etc. by supervisors, when rules and policies relating to quality are completely non-negotiable, and if there’s a problem, it’s sure to be made a big one. Employees are scolded if they make a typo or say something incorrectly, and the work environment is very tough for both employees and supervisors.

Though these examples are probably a bit exaggerated, companies should try and find a happy medium. You can call the happy medium whatever you want, but quality focused would be a good term. Quality focused is when you do care quite a bit about quality, but you don’t obsesses over it to the point where the working environment is no longer pleasant.

Supervisors that are quality focused:

  • Care more about satisfaction ratings than average call time.
  • Want the representative to make the extra effort in when it comes to Little Things, Big Differences.
  • Do randomly monitor/listen to/read some calls/tickets, but only to see if there are any representative-specific or department-wide problems – not to micromanage the customer service process.
  • Encourage email support employees to use spell check and watch spelling/grammar/punctuation/capitalization, but do not obsesses over it.
  • Ask employees for ideas as to how to improve the quality of the company or department’s customer service.
  • Reward outstanding employees.

See the differences? Though they may seem subtle, it makes a big difference. When supervisors start becoming obsessed with any one metric (whether it be quality, call times, fewer cancellations, etc.), the work place is sure to become more stressful and in turn, supervisors may notice some good employees either leaving, becoming less friendly and accommodating, or burning out.

If your company’s customer service department is fairly relaxed, try to keep it that way. Employees shouldn’t pass off customer service as “just another thing to do” or “no big deal,” but truly value great customer service. You don’t have to be obsessed with quality to provide great customer service. Focused yes, but obsessed, no.

I hope you liked the yesterday’s interview, because there are going to be a few more within the upcoming month or so. The next interview coming up will be with Craig Newmark, the Founder, Chairman, and a Customer Service Representative at Craigslist. I’ll also be interviewing Joe Kraus, an entrepreneur and investor as well as the CEO and co-founder of JotSpot, a company that makes software that enables enterprise and personal wikis.

Interview with Konstantin Guericke, co-founder/VP of Marketing at LinkedIn

I was exploring LinkedIn, a social network for professionals a few days. The site is very interesting and you can actually meet new people that can help you once you’ve added a few people you know to your contacts list. These guys have seen startup after startup, so I decided to send their press department an email and ask if I could ask someone some questions about customer service. Konstantin Guericke, co-founder and Vice President of Marketing answered my questions.

Question and answers on the More page.

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Customer/Product Evangelism

Most marketers agree that one of (if not the) most effective ways to market your product or service is to make your existing customers evangelists. An excellent way to make your customers evangelists is to provide good customer service.

Product evangelism is a fairly broad term. To evangelize, by definition means to preach the gospel to. I would say there are products I constantly refer to others, but none that I’d consider preaching about.

Some examples of products, services, sites, etc. I evangelize:

There’s plenty of other sites, programs, etc. I refer people to a lot, but these would probably be the ones I recommend most often (because their uses are very general). On the other hand, I lack brand loyalty on quite a few other things (televisions, computers) and only keep using certain things/brands because I’m used to them and know how to use them (cellphones, digital cameras).

Another interesting thing is a large portion of the products, services, sites, etc. I refer to others frequently I haven’t even had a customer service experience with them. For example, I’ve never contacted or asked for support with Firefox, Skype, Audacity, WordPress, or ImageShack.us.

However, don’t start thinking “If I make a good product, I don’t have to worry about customer service.” I’ve never needed customer service, but I have interacted with people at Lifehacker and Guy Kawasaki’s blog, and the experiences have been pleasant. I’ve needed (and have had pleasant experiences with) customer service at ViewSonic and Amazon.com, which is one of the reasons I refer both of the companies to others.

Ideally, what you should try to reach is a happy medium. Make it so your product requires as little help as possible to use, but when a customer does ask for help, make sure the help provided is top notch.

Both Firefox and WordPress are open source projects with wonderful support communities (I’ve never asked either community a question, but I’ve heard good things about them), but the organizations’ ultimate customer service goal (I would imagine, though I can’t guarantee) is to make it so their respective products don’t have problems and are easy to use.

Make it so your customers have reasons to evangelize your product or service. Provide a great product (that’s useful) or a valuable service, and then if they need help, be ready to provide it. A great product with great customer service behind it will certainly help produce customer evangelists.

Good reads for information on customer evangelism:
Guy Kawasaki
Church of the Customer Blog

Some upcoming posts:
– Balance between quality control and obsession

A Trophy!

Wow, I got a trophy from Maria at CustomersAreAlways for telling a customer service story (Headsets.com should get the trophy for doing the actions in the story). However, more importantly, it gave me the idea for today’s topic – how to award employees.

It seems to depend on the employee. Some employees like to be publicly recognized for achievements, other do not. Either way, when an employee does something well, as a manager, you should go up to them and say “Job well done.” Some companies have formal systems in place for doing this, and whatever works, should be done. Everyone likes to be appreciated and when employees do something well, they should be.

Another point that comes up often is whether or not to give employees monetary awards. It seems to be depend on the company’s culture – some are strongly against it, while others are strongly for it. What companies should try to avoid, though, is bribing employees to do their jobs correctly. Their salary and work ethic should be enough – monetary compensation for jobs well done is something extra for when employees do something amazing.

Some good ways to balance effective monetary awards and bribing:

Cards and raffles.
When you notice an employee doing something well, give them a little card stating the time/date, what they did, their name, and your name. Then, at the end of the month or quarter, have everyone put their cards in a bowl and pick one randomly. The owner of the random card gets a prize (money, prizes, time off, whatever). This way, cards don’t directly equal money, but the more cards someone has, the better chance they have of winning.

Consistent service.
Award employees who provide consistently great service. For example, award an employee who got at least one card from a manager 75 out of 90 days. This way, you know the employee is consistently a top performer and isn’t just trying to gain cards at the end of the month or the quarter.

(Slightly) Random.
Give out a prize randomly to a ticket that was marked as “Excellent” (by the customer). This way, the more excellent an employee gets, the better their chances of winning. It provides another motivation to provide consistently great service. Be sure to have rules for your employee stating they can’t ask customers to rate them except for something standard like “Please rate our service: [link to survey].”

Hopefully some interesting ideas on how to award employees. Making employees feel important is extremely important, so be sure to make it a part of your company’s culture. Happy employees almost always perform better than unhappy ones.

Great Customer Service at Headsets.com

A company that has impressed me quite a bit recently was Headsets.com. Besides ordering one headset from them in the past, I don’t have any relationship with Headsets.com, but they have been very impressive.

Here’s my story:

About six months or so ago I decided I wanted to start using Skype more than I did (this was before free SkypeOut). However, the microphone I had didn’t work very well so I went out to the local Radio Shack and purchased a headset. The new headset from Radio Shack also didn’t work very well, so I tried to return it. The guy at Radio Shack said I couldn’t return it because I didn’t have the “original packacing”, which was a piece of plastic stapled around the headset. I eventually called the credit card company and they took care of it, but regardless, I haven’t bought something at Radio Shack since then.

I still needed by headset so I did a bit of research and found Headsets.com. I found a headset I really liked, signed up, and ordered it. A few days later, I got it in the mail, but I quickly realized the headset I purchased was for a phone, not a computer.

I called Headsets.com and spoke to a guy who said I could return the product without any problem. I don’t even think I had to pay shipping or take the product to the UPS store. (Note: When you can’t remember how the product return experience is, it probably wasn’t that bad.) A few days later, I had my headset, which I use (and works perfectly) to this day.

Besides the return experience being really easy, here’s some other things that impressed me with Headsets.com:

  • A few weeks later, they sent me a satisfaction survey in the mail. If I filled out the survey, I would get a $10 (or something like that) credit to my account. I filled it out, faxed it in, and included a handwritten note asking them to email me confirming they got it. About 24 hours later, I got a personalized email saying they received the survey and the credit was added.
  • A few days ago I got a letter from Headsets.com thanking me for being a customer. The letter didn’t include a sales pitch, but was from the CEO outlining how 2005 was a good year for Headsets.com and how much they value their customers.
  • The letter had the CEO, Customer Service Manager, and Shipping Manager’s direct lines on it. I tried calling them and got voicemail for each line. However, I left a message for the CEO and will see if I get a call back. (If you call their 800 number, you do get to talk with a person quite quickly, though).
  • The letter had “7 promises” relating to customer service and customer service satisfaction on the back.

Some impressive statistics:

  • Headsets.com has not had a complaint filed against them with the Better Business Bureau for the third year in a row. (The company is only three years old.)
  • They’ve grown from what I assume is 0 to more than 212,000 customers in three years. They’ve also grown from 12 to 60 employees in that time. (They have a customer counter on their site. When I was there two or three days ago, the counter said 209,000. At the time of posting, it says 212,671.)
  • This page is interesting.

I read an article about Headsets.com saying how a majority of their success was due to their focus on customer service. They seem to be a company to aspire to. Good job Headsets.com!

T-R-A-N-S-F-E-R: Transfer Properly

I actually saw this in a book I was reading a few weeks ago. The book is called Super Service (McGraw Hill) by Val and Jeff Gee (Amazon.com link). It was an interesting read and something that I’d suggest companies have new customer service representatives read to give them a basic overview of what “super service” is and how to do it. It’s not really a book for managers, but for the representatives.

Here is what they say representatives should do when transferring a call (as you can tell, it spells out the word “Transfer”):

  • Take time to communicate: “Linda in accounts will be able to answer your question.”
  • Request permission: “May I add Linda to our call?”
  • Add calls while remaining on the line: “I’ll stay on the line until Linda joins our call.”
  • Never use the term “transfer.”: “Linda will be added to our call. Is that alright?
  • Stay on the line until the problem is resolved: “Thank you for holding. This is Linda from accounts, Mr. Bachman; I’ve explained your problem to her. Linda, this is Mr. Bachman.”
  • Focus on solving all the customer’s issues: “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
  • Empathize with your customers: “I know how frustrating this must have been for you. I hope the problem is resolved to your satisfaction.”
  • Remember you can make this a great experience: “I’m very pleased to be of service. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

I think this is an excellent system. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary for a representative to stay on the line after the problem has been explained to the new representative and the new representative has successfully joined the call.

Once the new representative has joined the call, the first one should say something like “OK, Mr. Bachman, you’re in good hands now. Linda will be able to resolve your billing problem. If you have any other technical questions, feel free to call us back. Have a great evening!” This gives the customer confidence in the new representative he’s dealing with (hopefully) and ensures that he doesn’t get disconnected in the transfer process.

The most important part (as you can tell because I made it bold) is to explain the issue to the new representative. Never make the customer explain the issue again. So many organizations make the customer explain the issue three, four, five, or more times before the customer gets to the right person and subsequently gets the issue he or she called about resolved.

Tomorrow’s post will be about a company that recently impressed me (further) with their customer service excellence. I don’t usually write posts about specific companies, but since I recently wrote one about a bad experience (though not fine, thankfully), it may be time for a good one. I’ve created a new category called “Specific Companies” for such stories or any post where I mention a specific company.

Don’t Know? No problem.

I saw this post on QAQNA, and I thought it was great. What should you do when you don’t know an answer to a question? Lots of customer service representatives ask, and it’s not that hard.


  • Say “Ummmmmmm” or stall unnecessarily.
  • Be embarrassed or upset that you don’t know the answer. Keep it cool.
  • Brush off the situation. You can use humor, but don’t make it so the customer thinks you don’t care or think his/her problem is funny.
  • Say the word “Honestly.” You may think it’s good to say “Honestly, I don’t know the answer.” but that could imply you weren’t telling the truth before. If you want to do something like that, at least say “To be frank with you.” or something along those lines.


  • Admit you don’t know the answer off the top of your head. You can:
    • Say something like “That’s a great question.” or “Hmm, that’s an interesting question.”
    • Then, ask the customer if he or she would mind holding while you research the answer (you could find it in a database, ask someone, Google it, etc.)
    • If it’d be easier just to transfer the customer to someone else, do a proper transfer (tomorrow’s post) so the appropriate representative can handle the issue.

It’s important keep the customer in the loop throughout the whole searching for the answer process. If possible, let the customer know every 2 minutes or so that he or she is on hold that you’re still working on it, and it should only be X more minutes. Be sure to thank customers for their time and their patience.

This is a short post today, inspired by Tom’s post at QAQNA. Tomorrow’s post will be about how to properly transfer a customer.

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