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Customer Service Quiz and the Blackhole

Going to start with the boring stuff and move onto the more entertaining things today.

You know what a blackhole is, right? Do you know what a blackhole of customer service is? Perhaps you do, but Tom at QaQNA certainly does. It is pretty much that point of dead silence between you (the customer) and the customer service representative. It can occur at anytime, but usually happens when information is being verified, accounts are being looked up, screens are loading, etc. The situation can be quite awkward, and as Tom points out, even alarming to customers, and is actually easy to avoid.

One of a customer service representative’s many jobs are to completely avoid being in a blackhole moment. The easiest way to do this is simply to keep talking. Don’t babble on about things, but let the customer know what is going on. A good situation (in terms of both avoiding a blackhole and customer service in general):

CSR: Thanks for calling Company XYZ. This is Bob, how may I help you today?
Customer: Hi, I’m having a problem with my email account.
CSR: OK, I can certainly help you with that. May I have your name please?
Customer: John Smith
CSR: OK, and Mr. Smith, what is your account number?
Customer: It’s 123456789.
CSR: Just a moment while I look up your account.
CSR: Your account is loading now. Just a second and I will look into the problem with your email account. In the mean time, could you tell me if you are getting any errors?
Customer: Yeah, I get an Error #9024341-K on the loading screen.
CSR: OK, I see. Let me check and see if there are any problems with your email server.

There is no blackhole moment. The representative can say your account is loading now, comfort the customer, and then engage the customer. The best way to avoid the blackhole is to engage the customer. Ask them to describe their problem, ask them for their names, for their email address, for something! Just keep the conversation flowing and you should be able to avoid the blackhole all together.

Now, for the next part.

Remember when I suggested that all of my readers take the SAT? Well, it’s time for another quiz!

This time it is this quiz that I briefly discussed yesterday. Take the test and see what your answers are. I’ve discussed my answers after the “more” link.
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The Blogosphere and Customer Service

A friend and colleague of mine sent this link to me last night. Besides have a word/acronym in the title that I have honestly never heard of before (with an equally interesting meaning), the post is fairly interesting. It talks about how customers and companies now react to poor customer service.

Think about it – what did customers do 50 years ago? They certainly couldn’t write into Service Untitled or Consumerist and complain (I wasn’t alive and I don’t believe Consumerist was even in the works). They couldn’t record the call and post it on YouTube. They couldn’t write a blog post about it or create a web site about it. Access to the general public’s eyes and ears was far more limited 50, 30, and even 15 years ago.

Today, individuals can do so much and get so much attention it is amazing. Perhaps the easiest and most accessible to people are blogs. Anyone can start a blog – it takes about 30 seconds at WordPress.com or Blogger.com and boom, they have a blog. The barrier to entry is zero. In fairness to mainstream media, it is very hard to promote a blog, but some do get well known. If you get a post mentioned on digg, boom your blog is on the map. Here is the key quote from the article:

“One way to make things better: Monitor online conversations about your brand and proactively address problems that come up. Someone motivated enough to post their conversation with a customer service rep on a blog, message board or social network probably isn’t doing it just to cause trouble. They’re likely doing it because they believe they’re being treated unfairly.”

So why don’t more companies monitor the blogosphere and respond to complaints? Things shouldn’t have to be on ABC News to get attention from PR people or companies. Plus, companies don’t even have to hire anyone to do it. You can subscribe to tags on Technorati, use Google Alerts, and anyone of the other hundreds of services out there. You’ll be kept in the loop and know what people are saying about your company.

Take two companies I talk about as an example – Headsets.com and HP. The companies are on completely different scales. Though Headsets.com is larger than a vast majority of Internet businesses, they are not HP in terms of sales or profits. Mike Faith, the CEO of Headsets.com uses Google Alerts to stay in the loop about Headsets.com. This doesn’t cost him anything and pays off in a variety of ways (he discovered Service Untitled, right?).

HP does the same thing, but on a larger scale. I would imagine they use some sort of technology to monitor the blogs and the Internet for mentions of their company. Plus, HP has an entire PR team. They have employees who are responsible for monitoring the company’s brand image and what is said about it. When I was talking to Janice Liu, one of their PR people was on the phone and both of them encouraged me to let them know if I received any complaints about HP’s service or products. They both care about the company and the customers, which is excellent.

Simply put, not monitoring the Internet, particularly blogs and search engines for mentions about your company is ignorant. If you care about your company, you care about your brand. Every time someone posts something bad about your company that is not responded to, your brand goes is negatively affected.

If your brand is giant (like HP) and the posting does not reach many people (like a small blog on Blogger), it won’t do much damage. If that happens a thousand times, it adds up. If one of those posts gets on the frontpage of digg, it makes a bigger impact. If that post remains one of digg’s most popular stories, chances are someone from a mainstream news source has already or will discover it. If the story makes it onto ABC News, it’ll make it to NBC News, then it may make it to Time. See what can happen?

The point is, that now, it is both easier for you to post your dissatisfaction with a company or a product as well as for the company to respond to, and hopefully resolve your issue. Since the customers will keep doing so, the companies need to catch up.

Customer Service Acronym Finder

I’ve talked about the use of acronyms before. They can be fairly useful, but there is a fine line between stupid/annoying and actually useful. Plus, too many acronyms can just create company specific jargon that everyone has to learn.

The acronym I’m going to talk about today is one that Maria at CustomersAreAlways thought of. I found it fairly interesting and she did a good job. There is also a short and entertaining (by customer service standards at least) quiz that goes along with it. I’ll talk about the quiz a bit tomorrow. Maria’s acronym was fairly good – here it is:

  • Care for our customers
  • Understand our customers
  • Share with our customers
  • Talk to our customers
  • Offer to help our customers
  • Make friends with our customers
  • Educate our customers
  • Relate to our customers
  • Solve our customers’ problems

Here is my try. It is pretty much like Maria’s but expanded slightly:

  • Care for our customers
  • Understand our customers and constantly work to understand them more
  • Share information with our customers, all the time (regardless of whether good or bad things is happening)
  • Talk to our customers on a regular basis, and seek suggestions from them whenever possible.
  • Offer to and actually help our customers, both pro-actively and re-actively.
  • Make friends with our customers and do our best to develop relationships with our customers.
  • Relate to our customers and do our best to try and understand and empathize.
  • Seek suggestions, tips, and feedback from customers.

She also thought of an alternative acronym for CRM – Customers Really Matter. It doesn’t describe the software, but it does provide employees with an idea of what the system is there to do.

What would you add to or remove from this acronym? I’m sure there is room to improve.

Speaking of transferring, I had a good transfer experience yesterday. I had called Logitech to get an error sorted out. The first representative collected all my information, helped me some, and then explained he would transfer me to the right department. A few seconds later, a man picked up the phone and introduced himself as the floor supervisor. He knew my name, about my issue, and was very helpful. The issue was resolved within a few minutes and I only had to explain it once. Obviously, the first representative explained it to him and helped make the experience as easy as possible. They didn’t follow the T-R-A-N-S-F-E-R procedure exactly, but they got the core points.

Scoble & Customer Service (again!)

I’ve talked about Robert Scoble’s views on customer service before. A few weeks ago, he made another post that talked about customer, particularly profiling customers.

Robert went to a country club in Silicon Valley and was not allowed to eat inside because he had jeans on. This is pretty common of country clubs – they simply don’t like jeans. Country clubs are notoriously policy orientated when it comes to things like that. You can’t wear shoes with dark soles on the tennis courts, you can’t wear shorts, etc. Obviously, the policies vary from club to club, but they all seem fairly similar.

What I wonder, though, is why this particular club? I’m from the Northeastern part of the United States. I live on the East Coast. People wear suits everywhere in the Northeast, especially in business related functions. The San Francisco area, and the West Coast in general is very laid back. As Robert pointed out, people regularly give pitches to venture capitalists in jeans and collared shirts (if they are feeling formal), so why doesn’t the club cater to its clientele or better yet, its potential clientele?

My guess would be the following:

  • Exclusivity. Though many of the entrepreneurs (what Robert calls the geeks, as opposed to the suits) can afford a membership, the club probably prefers to have members who can “fit in” – like wearing the proper attire to the club.
  • Arrogance. Country clubs can be very arrogant. I know it relates to the exclusivity factor, but I’m not exactly sure why they are. Robert points out that after the bubble bursted there were fewer suits. I would imagine country club membership declined as well. Success often produces arrogance. I imagine if there is another crash, the club may become a little less exclusive.
  • Tradition. Seeing a trend here? Countryclubs in the Northeast don’t allow jeans so why should a club in San Francisco? To the country club, that is a tough question. As an outsider who specializes in customer service, I’d ask the country club “Does your target market (i. e. people who make more than $100,000 per year, etc.) wear suits or jeans most of the time?”

Rules are rules (despite how pointless they might be). On the other hand, the country club acted correctly in asking Robert to sit outside. Many would just ask him to leave, but at least they provided him with a somewhat suitable alternative. They were respecting their policies. If they allowed Robert to eat inside, it is possible some of the other members would get angry.

However, the most interesting part of story was where Robert talked about how he worked at a camera store. A guy, dressed in ratty jeans and a T-shirt walked in and was given the same attention by Robert as he gave to people wearing suits. The man appreciated that and bought quite a bit of stuff over the years and became a very loyal customer. Turns out, the man was worth several hundred million dollars.

Profiling potential customers is not a good idea. I read a story in a book about customer service about a car salesman. The salesman was tremendously successful and he attributed a large part of his success towards to never profiling customers. How do you know the teenager in jeans that walks in the morning isn’t going to come back three hours later with his dad in a suit? You don’t. Profiling customers is not a good idea. Not everyone gets dressed up to go shopping and the fact that people do shows how much sales people do profile customers.

Try this one day. Go to the mall and walk through a high end store in jeans and a t-shirt. Count how many people help you, acknowledge you, etc. Go back a week later (same day, around the same time – some days are busier than others) and get kind of dressed up. Chances are you will notice a difference.

Do you profile your potential customers? Do you let your company culture or the “industry standard” contribute to that?

Interview: David Bryce – Part 3 of 3

This is the last part of the interview with David Bryce of Rackspace. In this part, he talks about Rackspace’s unique team structure, what the company does to ensure customer satisfaction, their most common challenges, some tips, and more.
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Interview: David Bryce – Part 2 of 3

Here is part 2 of the interview with David Bryce of Rackspace. This part of the interview talks about what Rackspace does differently from many other hosting companies as well as their hiring and trianing processes.
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The Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service (1-3)

I discovered this post at CustomersAreAlways and thought it was interesting. I’ve covered the Top 10 Customer Service Frustrations before and I should probably cover the top 10 things companies should do when it comes to customer service as well. A good thing is, I have talked about most of these before, but there is always more to talk about!

Today I’ll talk about (briefly) points 1, 2, and 3.

  1. Know who is boss. This point is obvious. Where is your money coming from? Your customers! Customer service is customer service to and for customers. If you don’t know this, you need to re-examine your entire company. Remember the stool – it is very important.
  2. Listen to the customer. This is another one that is so obvious that a lot of companies just ignore it. It is important to pay attention to the little thing and learn about your customer. Just don’t collect tons of personal information about them, but pay attention to everything you can. Do they sound angry? Have they called 3 times in the last 2 days? Do they have 5 accounts with your company and have referred 25 people? It these types of things that make a difference when you are talking to and listening to customers.
  3. Identify and anticipate needs. This is something that you can likely tell from listening to the customer. If they have called 3 times in 2 days relating to the same issue (which is not resolved), chances are their next phone call will be about that. What the company should do is confirm the issue is related to the previous problem and is not yet resolved. Then, they should elevate the call and say “Mr. Smith, I see you have called a few times and have not yet gotten your issue resolved. I am going to transfer you to a senior technician if this is okay with you?” This is a simple operating procedure that will help customers.

    Another example is when you call up two weeks later to follow up on an issue. You should use a different number or extension that way the call can be routed to someone who specializes in follow ups. This person should have the power to get things resolved (if the issue is not yet resolved) and be able to ask intelligent questions so the company can benefit from the follow up.

    The point the article talks about is similar to keeping customers in the loop as well as knowing your customers as a group. Are they generally good with computers? If not, you may want to increase how much your help documents explain things, etc.

There will be the second part of the interview posted tomorrow. On Friday, I will continue this little series.

Interview: David Bryce – Part 1 of 3

Sorry about the late post!

I’ve been wanting to post this interview for a while, but I had some technical problems that prevented it from getting written out and posted correctly. Anyways, those are all fixed and I have a great interview to share. It is with David Bryce, who is now the Vice President of Customer Care — Intensive at Rackspace Managed Hosting. When I interviewed him a few weeks ago, he was in charge of the Managed division, but that doesn’t really change the content of the interview. Rackspace is a very large dedicated hosting company with a strong focus on customer service.

The interview talks about a lot of things and will be posted throughout this week. In the first part, David shares a store about how Rackspace first started to focus on customer service and what they did, what their system is based off of, and what they do to encourage employees. The first part is “after the jump.”
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