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Blogroll & Links

You may notice that the Links section of Service Untitled is now a little bit shorter and there is a new page called Blogroll. Basically:

  • The links section is now for blogs that are pretty much exclusively about customer service or a heavily related topic like quality assessment.
  • Links to blogs that are primarily about non-customer service topics will be placed on the blogroll page.

The blogroll page is linked to in the main Links section as well as on the right hand side of the page. I’ll be adding some other blogs to the blogroll page within the upcoming weeks and months.

HR & Customer Service (Part 1 of 2)

This post is talking about how Human Resources departments (at least the part that hires people) generally need to improve their customer service. Surely everyone has experienced at least one nasty HR executive telling you “We will let you know when we have an opening.” in the nastiest tone they can come up with.

Note: This post is not against HR people. Some of them provide great examples of customer service, but it seems that a vast majority do not.

Note #2: This started off as a long (two – three times longer than average) post, so I’ve split it up into two days. A mini-series of sorts.

The reality is that HR people should be nice to potential employees. The company needs these employees to grow, to gain new customers, to keep existing customers, to keep the store running, to keep the technology up-to-date, to clean the bathrooms, whatever it may be – chances are if they are posting an opening, they need that employee.
The job market is very competitive, but the best people (which your company should be trying to recruit) can probably get a job at quite a few places. As an HR person, you need to impress the candidate and make it seem like your company will be a great place to work.

This post at The Brand Builder is an excellent post about HR and customer service. The company there did a very good job. Furthermore, he brought up some good points:

  1. The friendlier and most engaging companies will most likely land the better employees.
  2. To get a glimpse of a company’s mindset and culture, replace any reference to job applicants / prospective employees with “customers”, and “positions” with “products”.

It’s a very good post and definitely one that I’d recommend people who work in HR and anyone who deals with job interviews, applications, etc. to read. They should also read this post, of course.

HR people represent their company. They show potential employees what type of company they work for and what their company values. This is a very important group of people that need to think positively about your company or they may not want to work there. HR people who seem disorganized or rude may cause the candidate to think the company is disorganized or rude. Make sure your HR experience is a good one.

Have project managers.
Large corporate accounts have sales representatives, many support issues have an assigned representative, so why can’t candidates have one person they deal with through most of the HR process? It makes the experience much quicker, smoother, personal, and more accurate than just shuffling the candidate through several people in a department.
Some people don’t do very well when they are shuffled from person to person in a series of 15 minute phone calls. Having a candidate deal with one person allows the candidate and the employee to build a relationship and the employee can get a better idea of who this person is (besides applicant #93548).

The second and longer part of the mini-series is coming tomorrow.

Customer Service & Blog Networks

There are almost as many blog networks as blogs. There are blog networks that do cover pretty much every imaginable category and then some. However, blog networks, like bloggers, are not exempt from providing customer service. They have a responsibility to do so and if they wish to set themselves apart, providing good customer service never hurts.

Customer Service to Readers:
Though it is ideally the blogger’s responsibility, blog networks should try and provide as much customer service as possible to readers. They need to be:

  • Responsive. Like bloggers, blog networks should not ignore emails. A simple “No thanks – may want to try such and such.” is a better response than no response. They should be respond to comments, suggestions, questions, etc. through all of the required mediums (comments, email, etc.).
  • Friendly. Don’t snap at the readers or tolerate bloggers who do. Blog networks should make sure that none of their bloggers have a superior attitude towards their readers and they also value customer service.
  • Safe. Blog networks (as well as bloggers) have the responsibility to ensure that readers’ security, privacy, etc. is not compromised when they visit a network blog. If the network is serving ads with spyware, it is the blog network’s responsibility to stop that.
  • Understanding. Blog networks also should be understanding of reader’s concerns and viewpoints. If a reader doesn’t agree with a particular blogger or blog, the blog network needs to explain the situation and be understanding and tolerant of different views, opinions, and more.

Customer Service to their Bloggers:
Blog networks also have to provide customer service to their bloggers (the bloggers in the particular blog network). Besides the main topics like being responsive, friendly, ensuring safety and security, and hopefully being understanding if something goes wrong, blog networks should also try to be:

  • Helpful. If a blogger is having a problem, it is likely in your interest (as a blog network owner/manager/person/etc.) to help the blogger. Even if the issue isn’t necessarily related to the blog, it’s best to help out. Building relationships is important and being helpful is a great way to do so.
  • Do what you say. As a blog network person, you need to do what you say. Don’t promise bloggers things that you can’t deliver and don’t promise bloggers things that you don’t have the time, skill, or connections to get done.
  • Follow-up. From both a business and customer service perspective, it is beneficial to the blog network to follow-up with their bloggers. Send out regular emails making sure everything is okay, that they don’t need help, that content is as good as usual, etc.
  • Be understanding. More blog networks have to realize that things do happen. Family members get sick, computers die, natural disasters occur, etc. – be prepared to give bloggers a chance and look at them as humans instead of just ways to generate pageviews. If you as a blog network person give the blogger a chance, they may very well pull through sooner than later and it’ll definitely increase their loyalty to your network.

Customer Service to other Bloggers:
Blog networks also have a reasonability to provide some level of customer service to non-network bloggers. They are the ones who may also be linking, spreading the word, etc. about network blogs and sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with a non-network blog.

Again, be responsive, friendly, and all of those things. If you ignore their emails, they won’t think too fondly of you.

  • Make it easy to contact you. You should have an easy to find, clearly published contact page available for bloggers and readers to see and utilize. Include links for submitting requests to be included in the network, general questions, feedback, suggestions, etc. Make sure the emails published on the page are checked regularly.
  • Common courtesy. If other bloggers have replied to your emails and helped you in the past, you better reply to their emails and help them when they need it. Even if they haven’t helped you in the past, it’s probably in your best interest to help them as well.

Customer Service to other People and Parties:
Like any person or organization, there are lots of people and parties that blog networks are obliged (and should) provide customer service to.

This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to: other blog network people, lawyers of companies or individuals that your bloggers may offend or violate some rights of, service providers (advertising companies, hosting companies, payment companies, etc.), media sources, and so on.

Use the same principles when dealing with any person or party. Be nice and respond quickly, and try your best to helpful. The point is, you should try and supply great customer service to everyone you interact with.

Customer Service & Bloggers

Some bloggers think they don’t have to provide any customer service. They don’t seem to realize that they are the company competing for something (customer visits in the blog world as opposed to customer dollars in other industries) in an extremely competitive market.

When the going gets tough and companies find themselves in an extremely competitive market, they should try to focus on customer service more. It has been proven again and again that customer service is really something that can make a difference, and I don’t think it is too much different with blogs and the bloggers who own and run them.
A competitive marketThere are tens, hundreds, thousands, and maybe even more blogs on pretty much every imaginable topic from Apple to Vista and every letter, operating system, computer maker, music genre, pop-culture phenomenon, and more in between. Many subjects (i. e. technology) have lots of worthy competition.

Why do I read one particular blog about productivity instead of another? – no real particular reason, but it does show that there is competition out there. The same goes for blogs about customer service, entrepreneurship, marketing, relationships, venture capital, and the likes – there are thousands of other (good) blogs out there that your visitors can read so might as well try and set yourself apart through customer service as well.

Now that you (further) understand that your blog probably has 3,000 other blogs on the same topic with information that very well may be just as good and better marketed – let’s see how you can use customer service to help your blog.

Community and Customer Service
In his interview with Service Untitled, Joe Kraus discussed community and its relation to customer service. As a blogger, you need to build a relationship with your customers (readers) and let the relationship continue to build. The community your blog has around it will be what eventually sets you apart from the other blogs.

  • Respond to comments. A crucial part of building your community is to respond to comments. If a reader posts a comment saying “I agree, but I also think you should look at how company XYZ does such and such.” you (as the blogger) should respond to the comment with a reply saying something like “You’re right. I’ve added that to my post.” or “I don’t necessarily agree with you. Here’s why: .” It shows the reader that their opinion does matter and is seriously considered.
  • Respond to emails. Responding to emails is as important as responding to comments. If readers ask for some sort of help, try and provide it to them. Try and help people when you can – it’ll pay off in some form eventually. And if you can’t help people – at least be nice and say “I’m not really a great person to help you with that. However, my friend the freelancer (who provides great customer service) can. His email address is bob@bobdesigner.com.” If readers send you a link to an article they thought would interest you, reply back with a quick “Thanks, I checked it out and it made some good points.” Even if you didn’t like the article, you should at least thank the reader for sending it. It’s called common courtesy (which is a big part of customer service).
  • Don’t forget other bloggers. As a blogger, you should also try to be nice to other bloggers. If a blogger emails you and asks where you got your blog skin or how you got your blog to change colors when they enter a different search term, try and provide a coherent and helpful explanation. In the long run, it’s much more effective to be nice to the people who ask you for help. You may need their help at some point and if you’ve been rude to them, they probably won’t provide it.
  • Accept help graciously. If someone offers to help you, you should accept it or at least provide a good reason why you don’t want it. If someone offered to redesign Service Untitled (for free) and I didn’t care for the designs in their existing portfolio, I’d thank them nicely for their offer and provide them with a bit of advice (try posting it on a site where free WordPress themes are distributed) and wish them the best of luck. Though it takes longer than just deleting the designer’s email, it is far better customer service.

Just remember the golden rule: treat others how you wish to be treated. If you want someone to help you down the line, be sure to be nice to others or it may not happen. Treat your customers (your readers) well and they’ll continue to treat you well by referring others and coming back to you for whatever you offer as opposed to someone else (your blog instead of another blog on the same topic).

Two new posts on the pipeline that will appearing Friday and Monday respectively:
Customer Service & Blog Networks
Customer Service for Job Applicants

Could you confirm?

You have likely experienced it – you call for something and you are given question after question to confirm your identity. The process is extremely annoying, especially if you have had the account or product for a long time and may not remember some of the details.

Here are tips to make that information confirmation process a bit smoother.

Don’t dwell on it.

This is something the guys at AOL actually do right. Their manual on customer retention (discussed here) actually says not to take too much time with the information confirmation/verification process. Though their intent seems to be to make the call go quicker (as opposed to enhancing the customer service experience), it has the same result.

Make it objective.
The security questions I can’t stand are ones like “Where did you go to high school?”, “What was your first car?” and things of that nature. Those questions aren’t 100% objective and many companies will say you are wrong if you say your first car was a “Ford” instead of the “correct” answer, which could be something like “1998 Ford Focus.” Or for your high school, you could say “JFK High School” instead of “John F. Kennedy Jr. Memorial High School.”

Try and stick to more objective questions like: What is your mother’s maiden name, what are the last four digits of your social security number, what year did you graduate high school, what college did you go to, what year did you get married, etc. Some of the these questions are much more high security than others, but you should get the gist of it.

Don’t be obsessed with details.
Somewhat like the above points. If the answer to the question about what college the customer went to was “Harvard College” and the customer says “Harvard,” accept it. Some systems make you enter in what they say and if it’s not exact, the system will say it’s wrong. Don’t use a system like that and if you have to use a system like that, make it accept partial matches.

Don’t use credit card numbers.
Many people (especially Americans) have lots of credit cards and a common fact about credit cards is their numbers change when they are lost or stolen and they expire. How am I supposed to know what credit card I was using when I ordered my television 5 years ago? Try to avoid the “last four digits of the credit card” question unless the customer has an easy way to check what the company has on file (example: by logging into the account manager) and is able to access such a system (if the customer is calling about their inability to login to the client manager, don’t bother asking about credit card numbers).

Use longer fields.

A good thing to verify is something like an address. Most people don’t move as often as they change or get new credit cards and most people remember their address more than their old credit card numbers.

Consider setting a password.
Consider asking the customer to choose a password they would like to use. Some customers will want to do this, others won’t. Advise them to make the password something that not everyone will guess and is actually secure.

Don’t tell them they are wrong.
Another thing that AOL was actually right about. Do not tell the customer that what they said is wrong. You can spin it different ways, though. Say “I’m sorry, but that’s not what our system is showing as your address. Maybe you have a different address you used – like an office or a second home?” Provide useful information that the customer may not have considered, apologize, and don’t say “Nope! Try again!”

Use common sense and be nice.
Like most things in customer service, if you use common sense and hopefully continue to be nice and friendly, the experience of verifying personal information should be okay.

Sales as Service?

A few days ago I got a call from the domain registrar I usually use. The call started off as a “Hi, I’m calling from –company- and want to make sure you aren’t having any problems.” I said that everything was okay and the guy was very nice and said he was glad that there were no problems and that everything was okay.

Then, the sales pitch started and I realized how ignorant I had been. He said “You know, your subscription to –service- is expiring soon, did you want to renew it?” I said, “Nope.” and in fairness to the company, he didn’t hassle me at all. He cancelled the subscription and it saved me the time and hassle of trying to find out how.

Then, the representative (sales and support, I suppose) moved on to tell me about other things I had that were going to expire soon. He offered me a slight discount and I took it. I renewed some of the things I knew I’d be renewing eventually anyway and saved some money.

The call was fairly quick (under 10 minutes) and the company definitely profited from it. Do I agree that it’s right to disguise a sales call as a customer satisfaction call? Not really, but it does seem to be fairly effective.

If you want to do something like this for your company, here are some tips.

Have people who can fix things too.
That is not having people who just sell things – they also need to be able to fix things. If I said “Yeah, no one responded to my support email from a week ago.” the representative hopefully would have been able to address that. It is important to make sure that your call is still effective as a customer satisfaction call.

Have people who can sell.
But make sure they aren’t obnoxious. The representative I spoke to had his slightly “too pushy” moments, but after a time or two of me not responding well to them, he figured out it wasn’t the way to sell me. Make sure your sales people can take a no or it’ll turn into a “sales harassment” call.

Give them power to do things.
The representative I spoke to had no access problems and therefore didn’t have to shuffle me around to different departments. He was able to check the status of a coupon code I knew of, check on my renewals, cancel a service I didn’t need, and pretty much anything that I needed. Don’t make it so the person calling can’t do things that they very well may be asked to do. This will not only inconvenience the customer, but really reduce the chances they’ll buy anything.

Get it right.
If the representative says the domain unimportant.com will be renewed for 1 year, make sure it is. Same thing if the representative says the subscription to such and such a service will be cancelled, make sure it is. If it isn’t done (but is promised), that’ll turn into a customer service disaster.

Send a confirmation.
After the phone call, send a confirmation of what happened during the conversation. What was renewed, what was cancelled, etc. That way, if there are future problems, the customer has a record of what was supposed to be done, but perhaps wasn’t.

Don’t ask for personal information.
If your company is making an unsolicited call to a customer, do not ask for personal information. Many customers will not feel comfortable giving out too much personal information to an unsolicited caller that says he or she is from a certain company (which may or may not be true).
Note: I wrote this post yesterday morning. I then got caught in something, saved it as a draft, and forgot to publish it. Sorry about that! There will be another post today as well.

Freelancers & Customer Service: Conclusion

Today is the closing of Service Untitled’s series on freelancers and customer service. The series has been well received and I’m glad some freelancers have found it useful. So, here is the conclusion.

Do the right thing.
In his interview, Craig Newmark said “Well, I think everyone should do the right thing.” That applies to everyone from freelancers to the biggest companies in the world. As a freelancer, try and do the right thing. Don’t cheat your clients, be nice to your partners, and try and do the right thing whenever possible. In a different interview, Craig said something along the lines of “Screwing people can produce short term success, but never long term success.” Try and think of that all the time.

Go the extra mile.
Remember to go the extra mile whenever you can, especially when you aren’t that busy. It’ll pay off in the long run and most of your clients that you do go the extra mile for will really appreciate it.

Be appreciative and follow-up.
When you finish a project for a client, do something nice for them. Order them a book they mentioned they wanted on Amazon, send them a bottle of wine or a fruit basket, or at least send a personalized thank you note. If your client ending up paying you two, three, four, or five thousand dollars (and up), it is worth it to send them a nice bottle of wine. When a month or two has passed, follow-up with your client and make sure everything turned out as they wanted and ask if they need anything else.

Pay attention to little details and try and make keep the principle of “Little Things, Big Differences” in mind whenever possible. Your clients are using you for a reason, so make sure that every little detail is exactly how they want it.

Do what the client wants.
On a similar note, do what the client wants. Unfortunately, good design, great writing, etc. doesn’t always pay the bills – it has to make the client happy in the end to get the money and to get referrals. Some clients will listen to you and do what you say, others will want it their way. You can try to reason with the client and present some supporting facts for your opinion (and better yet, examples), but remember about the power of the purse. Some of your clients may not care if it looks good, they want it their way and unless it is done how they want it (or at least to a point where they agree it makes sense), you won’t get any referrals.

I hope everyone enjoyed the series on customer service for freelancers. If any freelancers have anything they’d like me to elaborate on or post about, feel free to suggest it by posting your idea in the comments.

Serivce Untitled & SOB

Service Untitled has gotten a big honor – we are now considered SOBs (Successful & Outstanding Bloggers).

For those of you wondering what it means to be an SOB (like I did when I first heard about it), click here for an explanation. I’m delighted to be given such an award and would like to think Liz at Sucessful Blog for giving it to me.

The series on Freelancers & Customer Service will continue on Monday. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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