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Customer Service Difference #2: Headsets.com

I’ve written about Headsets.com’s customer service before. They are a company that I really find fascinating. They take an ordinary product (headsets), add great customer service and related policies, and they see tremendous success.

Here is what I think Headsets.com does right:

  • Return policy. Headsets.com has a very lenient and simple return policy and procedure. They make things easy, which does a few things: 1) It makes the return experience acceptable and customer stay happy. 2) It builds customer confidence in products, because it is easy to return something if it has a problem or the customer doesn’t like it. 3) It makes Headsets.com (rightfully) seem like an honest company that cares about its customers.
  • It is easy to contact them. Headsets.com is very easy to get ahold of. They have very noticeable live chat links on their homepage, a clearly published phone number (with a simple phone menu and reasonable hold times), and lots of contact pages. It is very difficult to find the phone numbers and live chat links for other major online retailers (i. e. Amazon) and doing something as simple as publishing your phone number makes things easier and likely increases sales.
  • They make it easy to find the right product. Headsets.com doesn’t carry too many products where it is overwhelming. They also have staff recommendations and an extremely helpful headset wizard that helps you find the right headset for you.
  • They are obsessed with hiring right. Just look at their employment page to see what I am talking about. Employees going through extensive training with a variety of people (speech coaches, business physiologists, etc.). They also give employees lots of benefits and above average customer service pay. This helps attract good people.
  • They are personal. Headsets.com has pictures of the live chat representative you are talking to, staff profiles, a letter from the company’s CEO, and more. They even have a stats page that gives potential customers some cool figures and 7 promises. These further increase customer confidence in both the company and the products.
  • They have the rest of the stuff. In addition to these things, they have a customer service-focused culture, a management team that cares about customer service, etc.

Check out my post here for more information about Headsets.com and my customer service experience. They are a top notch company and I am pretty sure they will continue to see success for quite a while.

Two notes:

  • When I wrote about Headsets.com on June 23, according to their web site, they had 212,671 satisfied customers. Their counter now says they have over 231,000 satisfied customers.
  • I had called the company’s CEO (as encouraged by the letter they sent me), but my phone call was never returned.

Customer Service Difference #1: Nordstrom

You can’t write a series about customer service making companies that would otherwise be ordinary extraordinary with mentioning Nordstrom.

Nordstrom was founded in Seattle more than 100 years ago and has embraced customer service pretty much since day 1. Price wise, the company is on par with Bloomingdales, but below Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Service wise, it is far above all three.

Customer service excellence is a major part of the company’s culture and a lot of leading customer service professionals are former Nordstrom employees (Maria at CustomersAreAlways worked at Nordmstrom for quite a while, I believe). Some of these people write books, blogs, newspaper articles, and everything else you can imagine and share their knowledge and insight about what good customer service is with others.

I don’t think I have read a book on customer service that hasn’t cited Nordstrom at least a few times and I’ve read a lot of books on the subject. In fact, I have one book that specifically talks about Nordstrom’s customer service and another one that is also exclusively about Nordstrom on my list of books to read.

Nordstrom is both directly responsible for great customer service (the service it provides in its retail stores) as well as indirectly responsible for a lot of great customer service found at other companies (from its former employees teaching, writing and talking about, etc. the subject).

So what does Nordstrom do to ensure great customer service? From what I can tell:

  • It is a major part of the company’s culture. Nordstrom revolves around customer service and they teach their employees to focus on it. Customer satisfaction is Nordstrom’s ultimate goal and they have subsequent been very successful.
  • They are humble. I called Nordstrom’s PR department for an interview. The lady politely declined saying that Nordstrom still had plenty of room to improve and doesn’t like to tell others what they do well when they aren’t done improving yet.
  • They empower employees. Nordstrom’s only rule to employees is to use good judgment. I can’t think of many companies that empower their employees to that extent.
  • They compete to be the best. Nordstrom promotes competition among employees. Employees are encouraged to try to be best and provide exceptional service to customers.
  • Their management cares. The management team at Nordstrom is as focused on customer service as the rest of the employees. This is extremely important to a company’s customer service efforts. If the management doesn’t care, the employees won’t have the resources to do anything and/or not care themselves.

These are things that you really have to invest time (not so much money in). Nordstrom has some more specific policies such as having operators answer the phones during business hours at their stores, a no-questions-asked return policy, wider aisles in stores, and countless other little things that collectively truly do make a big difference.

Nordstrom is an impressive customer service organization and one that company’s have a lot to learn from.

Upcoming posts on the same subject (in no particular order):
Ritz Carlton
Chick-fil-A (inspired by Maria’s post)

Upcoming mini-posts on the same subject (again, in no particular order):
Printing for Less

Do you have any companies you’d like featured? Suggest them in the comments.

Customer Service in Hurricanes

I live in South Florida. 9 months out of the year I live in paradise (not customer service paradise, just regular paradise). The other three months, living in Florida is absolutely miserable. It is hot, humid, rainy, and a few times a year, very windy and even more rainy when a hurricane or tropical storm rolls around.

When a hurricane or tropical storm comes around it is even worse than the usual hot, humid, and rainy. There are 30 car (if you’re lucky) lines to get gas, it is hard to even see through the lines in the grocery store and when the storm actually comes to the area: power outages, water outages, Internet outages, phone outages, wide-scale damage and destruction of varying degrees of seriousness, no traffic signals, and not much else.

In short, it’s not fun. A hurricane or tropical storm interrupts a lot of things. Businesses for adults, school for kids and the whole process happens over a period of a week or two. About three days of preparing, a day or two of the actual storm, and a week or so for everything to get back up and running. Then, it can literally take years for people to fix their houses, get their businesses up, and all of those things.

So how does this all tie into customer service? It certainly does, especially for companies in natural-disaster prone areas.

First of all, there are a lot of types of natural disasters. As far as I know, you can’t do much to prepare for these types:

  • Earthquakes
  • Tornados
  • Tsunamis

Those are the type of natural disasters that when you hear they are coming, you and your team need to leave. Forget about the tickets and be concerned about your health and safety. Your customers will understand.

Here are the types of disasters you have a better chance of preparing for/more notice:

  • Hurricanes/Tropical Storms
  • Blizzards
  • Severe flooding
  • Volcanoes

First and foremost: you and your team’s health and safety comes before anything else. If it is unsafe for you to operate, do not. Customers may be mad, but most of them will understand that your health and safety is more important than their account with your company.

Second: be prepared. That is the only way you can minimize business disruptions. You have to be prepared or nothing will work out right.

I’ve been through both blizzards and hurricanes (I did live in the Northeast for quite a while) and the preparations that you have to do are quite similar. I’ve never been through (thankfully) any of the other listed natural disasters.

Here are some tips for preparing your business for a hurricane, tropical storm, or other similar natural disaster:

  • Have a generator. If your business can afford one, it is a worthwhile investment. Get a built in generator that runs on natural gas and if that isn’t an option, and it runs on gas, get a guaranteed gas delivery. Make sure it can power what your business needs to operate (computers, servers, lights, etc.) for at least a week.
  • Have food/water. Chances are you’ll need lots of food and water. Have a week’s supply of food and water for the whole team that will stay in the office.
  • Consider the other things. Make sure that the plumbing will work, that people have a place to sleep, that food can be heated, a place to store the extra gas for the generator, etc. You have to consider everything and never assume something will work. You should also have at least one radio, battery powered TV, satellite phone, etc. in the office so you monitor things.
  • Get dialup accounts. My phones usually keep working during the hurricanes, so I can get on the Internet with dialup. Purchase a few NetZero or Earthlink accounts before the storms and make sure they work. You can use these to connect to the Internet and do whatever you have to do (slowly, but surely). Some larger buildings/companies have redundant Internet connections, which is great if you can get it, but not always available.
  • Ask for volunteers. Ask for volunteers to stay at your office during the storm. Explain that it may actually be safer and more comfortable at the office than their house and if there is room, food, etc., let them bring their families. You may also wish to give employees that say a monetary bonus after the storm if they did particularly well.
  • Send staff elsewhere. Equip a few of your staff members with laptops or appointments for a hotel’s business center and send them to somewhere the storm won’t be (be sure to send them ahead of time). This way they can post updates, help respond to tickets, or whatever else needs to be done.
  • Tell clients. Tell clients the truth and give them plenty of updates. Tell them what you are doing to prepare for the storm, how (if at all) their service will be interrupted, and anything else they should know. Some customers will be understanding, others will not.
  • Setup an emergency queue. Explain to customers that you are short-staffed and to only contact emergency@company.com (or whatever) if they have an emergency such as a service outage, etc. Tell them you will monitor that queue, but only to send emergencies. Explain common ways to see if something is actually down so they can know whether or not to contact you. Some customers will send non-emergency requests to that email address. Just move them or delete them and move on.

Basically all you can do is be prepared and do your best. Conditions always change and your health and safety is the number one priority.

Here is Service Untitled’s emergency plan: my health and safety is taken care of, I have a generator and a dialup Internet account if need be (which is quite likely), and plenty of food/water. I’m not sure if the phones and subsequently, my dialup account will work, but you can expect postings to be delayed/non-existent over the next few days.

I’m not too worried about my health or safety, but hurricanes/tropical storms are never too fun.

Robert Scoble knows customer service.

I have to admit that though I have heard of Robert Scoble for a while, I only subscribed to his blog a few weeks ago. The last day or so he (indirectly) talked about customer service.

His post a few days ago mentioned that the spam prevention software Akismet (which I also utilize at Service Untitled) had gone down. I also noticed that I had a lot more spam than usual, but I thought I was doing something wrong or had broken something.

The next morning he posted that Akismet was still down and that someone at the tech-conference (I think that is what it is) Foocamp should wake up Automattic’s (the company that makes Akismet and owns WordPress.com) CEO, Toni Schneider. Apparently, he got up and got Akismet fixed.

Scoble then posted saying why he loved Automattic. His points are valid. It is generally hard to get a CEO or any employee in any company to fix anything outside of normal working hours.

I am not sure if Automattic posted an update about what was wrong, what they were doing, etc. (explained here and here ), but if they didn’t, they should have. Akismet has a big impact on a lot of blogs and spam on blogs is a gigantic problem. I am also not sure what the company’s tech support department did to update people as they sent in complaints, but I’m hoping they provided updates as they had them. Again, if they didn’t they should have.

I’ve used WordPress for a while and am very happy with it. I don’t think I have ever had a problem that has been WordPress’s fault. The only thing that bugs me (aka frustrates me beyond belief) about WordPress is the text editor for writing/editing posts. A lot of people also seem to like WordPress and the WordPress.com service seems very good as well. They are doing a good job.

Scoble makes another good point: watch what your customers are saying in the blogosphere. It makes a big difference. Blogs are important and companies have to watch what their customers are complaining about. Watching the blogosphere, reading emails, etc. can give product designers, executives, and everyone else can gives companies a good idea of what is going on.

Scoble has also compared bad customer service to great customer service. The company Scoble mentions as one that provides great customer (Printing for Less) seems to have a very similar concept to Headsets.com (talked about here). Take an ordinary product or service, add great customer service, and set yourself soar ahead of the competition. This is something that I will be talking about more this week. It is something that a lot of companies have been doing and a fascinating subject.

Stay tuned.

Edit: I found this post on Akismet’s blog. They did a good job.

Edit #2: Toni, the CEO of Automattic commented here (as at Service Untitled). I’m not sure how he found out about my post (maybe he heard of it, maybe he watches for the company’s name in Technorati, who knows?), but it was impressive regardless.


In the spirit of Fridays, let’s talk about something relatively fun. What can you do with your company to increase company spirit, build teamwork, give employees an opportunity to meet each other and make friends, etc.?

Company “events.” Depending on the company, events differ.

Yahoo has Tom Cruise (or someone like that) visit and talk. Small companies go bowling. Regardless of your company size, you’ll be able to find something that will accomplish the task of letting everyone have a good time and make some friends.

Teamwork building and competitive events
Some companies like to do teamwork building events that spark a bit of competition and encourage employees to work together. Some examples of this:

  • Sports event (where employees play)
  • Field day (different events that encourage employees)
  • Bowling (a popular one)
  • Volunteering (not a competitive one, but teamwork building)

Fun events
Other companies prefer to do events that are just fun and don’t really have a competitive edge to them. They allow employees to socialize, wind down, have a good time, etc.

  • Keg parties (a client of mine does this fairly often – keep in mind that they are a primarily tech-orientated company, though, and that 90% of their employees are men under 30)
  • Non-competitive field day (dunk tank for senior employees, etc.)
  • Water or other theme parks
  • Sports events (where employees watch, don’t play)
  • Barbeque or other eating “event”
  • Concert
  • Dance or similar social event

Keep in mind
Keep in mind that a lot of these activities can full into multiple categories. Some groups can make zen-like flower picking (random activity) an ultra competitive activity. What you do depends on your company culture and what your team wants to do. You are allowed to ask your team what they want to do, so feel free to do it.

There are literally thousands of things you can do with your team to build teamwork, have fun, etc. Do some brainstorming, research, and asking and you can certainly come up with some ideas.

Also keep in mind: If you intend to make this a big event, you should probably hire someone to plan and organize it. This way, you can also relax and have a good time (as well as participate in the events – management participation is extremely important) and not worry about if the food will be there, etc.

Customer Service Frustrations 9-10

Today I’m going to cover frustrations number 9 and 10 and finish up the mini-series on the top 10 customer service frustrations. The whole thing is explained here.

Frustration 9: Company’s computers are often down.
As I customer, I think this has to be one of the most frustrating things that could happen during a customer service experience. The excuse that the company’s computers are down is probably the worst excuse a company can come up with and an ultimate customer service failure. This is not a business operations blog and that field is not really my specialty, but I’ll try to give some suggestions:

  • Have operating procedures. Seeing a theme here? Companies need operating procedures. In case the computers go down, have a backup plan. Have agents take notes on paper and input the notes in the computer once the system is back.
  • Have backups. Your call center should already have a redundant system in place in case the Internet goes down or the call logging program breaks. Have lots of redundant systems that can address problems in case things go wrong.
  • Don’t depend entirely on web-based systems. Unless your office has multiple, redundant internet connections, do not depend entirely on web-based systems (helpdesks, customer databases, etc.) or route your network utilities through the Internet. If you do use a web-based ticket system or customer database, at least make a daily backup that can be accessed by all agents in case the Internet goes down.
  • Get better computers. Get better stuff if you notice things are going down a lot. Does your network go down a lot? Get a better IT guy and/or a better network. Does your helpdesk break a lot? Get a new one.
  • Have guarantees. Get guarantees from providers (i. e. internet service providers, web-based application makers) for uptime and reliability. That way, if the systems do go down, at least you don’t have to pay that much and you can tell the customers “We have a 100% uptime guarantee with this company and they broke it.” It usually isn’t a good idea to pass the blame on, but in this case, it works and doesn’t cost the customer any extra time or money.

Frustration 10: Company asks for too much personal information.
I know I have covered this before. In fact, it was covered here. That post explains everything you need to know about asking for and verifying personal information.

See, solving customer service’s top 10 frustrations isn’t as hard it seems? If each company invested some time, money, and effort into improving their customer service operations, they would notice a big difference. When customers are unhappy, it will cost a company money, so why shouldn’t companies invest in making customers happy?

If you have a common customer service frustration that I haven’t covered, feel free to let me know what it is by posting in the comments. I’ll post my thoughts on it and how companies can (try to) avoid it.

Customer Service Frustrations 6-8

Today I’m going to cover frustrations number 6, 7, and 8. I’ll finish up the series with 9 and 10 tomorrow. The whole thing is explained here.

Frustration 6: Company is too slow in addressing concerns.
I’m not too sure what Forbes means by this frustration, either. However, my guess is that companies can’t fix problems fast enough and can’t resolve elevated issues fast enough.

  • Have operating procedures. What are agents supposed to do when issues get elevated? What do programmers do when bug reports come in?
  • Have internal systems with reminders. Have bug tracking and elevated request tracking systems and procedures that make it so agents and programmers are reminded about elevated issues and how to solve them.
  • Set definitive dates. Tell the customer you will follow up with him on September 1, not “in a few weeks.” Then, set a reminder for September 1 so you remember to actually follow up with the customer. Same thing goes for programmers – set due dates and be sure to meet them.
  • Solve issues on the spot. Probably the easiest way to address the problem with being too slow to address concerns is to solve issues on the spot. Get the supervisor, the customer, and the original agent on the phone together and resolve the issue before you hang up.

Frustration 7: Agents aren’t personable.
This is a tough thing to come up with a definitive answer because it varies from agent to agent. Some possible reasons agents aren’t personable:

  • They are too busy and don’t have time to be personable. In a lot of companies, agents have to get through a lot of calls or a lot of tickets and just look at each call as “another call” and want the quickest way to solve it.
  • They don’t smile (http://www.serviceuntitled.com/smile/2006/06/12/).
  • Companies don’t hire for attitude (see above post). Attitude is extremely important in customer service.
  • Companies don’t care about hiring personable agents. They want people who can answer the phones, solve issues, and repeat the process from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Frustration 8: Customized solutions aren’t available.
This is more of a company problem than an agent problem. Companies have to be flexible and give agents the ability to do things. This is often called empowerment. Companies have to empower employees and have set procedures for elevating issues when problems occur.

An agent should never say “I can’t do that.” because it is a lie. The agent just doesn’t have the access or power to do it. The agent should say “I can’t do that myself, but let me check and see if my supervisor can come up with a solution.” This is a better way to spin it and the customer will at least know that the agent tried.

Simple solution: give at least one group that customers can access the power to come up with customized solutions. This may be the agent or the supervisor or manager, but just make it someone.

Customer Service Frustrations 3-5

Today I’m going to cover frustrations number 3, 4, and 5. The whole thing is explained here.

Frustration 3: Agents lack the necessary answers.
This is a hard one to give a definitive solution for (like many of these problems). However, here are some ideas:

  • More training for employees. Consider mentor-based training programs, longer training periods, more intuitive training periods, etc.
  • Have a set operating procedure for agents to get answers when they don’t know them or can’t access them. This could mean asking a supervisor, asking another agent, or whatever.
  • Keep both your employees and your customers in the loop. Update employees often about things like outages so they can provide the latest updates to concerned customers.
  • Provide agents with lots of great documentation they can use and access. Allow them to search the Internet for technical answers, ensure help databases and documentation is easily searchable, and more.

Frustration 4: Agents try to sell other products and services.
I have talked about this before. Don’t pitch customers while they are on hold and don’t pitch them once you are talking to them either. See this post as well as this post. Trying to sell customers other products and services (especially when they are having problems with existing ones) is not a good idea.

Frustration 5: Agents are inflexible about solving problems.
I am not 100% sure what Forbes means by this, but I’m assuming it means that agents don’t have the power to solve a lot of problems. Very few agents will actually go “No, I don’t want to help you.” unless you have been rude to them or done something else that would aggravate anyone. This would be better worded as “Companies are inflexible about solving problems.” In most cases, all the agent can do is elevate to the problem to someone else.

Regardless, here is what companies to do to avoid this frustration all together:

  • Give agents power to resolve things. Allow them to apply credits, upgrade accounts, change subscriptions, etc. Let them do it and save the customer the problems.
  • Have operating procedures for elevated problems. Make it so that when a problem is elevated, that it isn’t A) bad for the agent’s performance record or B) that the agent is done with the issue. It isn’t rare that agents are frowned upon for having to elevate issues. Companies say that if they make it no big deal, then the agent will just elevate every issue. Not true! Make it so the agent has to remain involved and continue to work with the customer until the issue is resolved (even if it is elevated). The ideal situation is the call is elevated and the customer, the original agent, and the manager all talk in one conversation and come up with a solution right there.
  • Ask the customer what they want. It won’t kill the company to actually ask the customer what they want. You’d be surprised with what customers say. Some will want to take the farm, others won’t. Ask them what they want and if the request is reasonable, go for it.

Unrelated advice:
Be nice to the agent. Chances are, if you are nice to them, they will not only be nicer to you, but try harder to help you.

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