* You are viewing the archive for December, 2006. View the rest of the archives.

Treat Employees Well

Comedian (of all things) Fred Allen said: “Treat employees like partners, and they act like partners. ” Boy, was he right and that is the subject of today’s post.

How do you treat your customer service representatives? Think about it for a moment or two and once you have thought about it, jot down some keywords and phrases. You can write them down (better) or just think about them. Include about 7-10 things.

Got that done? Great! Now click here. It is a link to a little table with some words. There are six general categories. If you listed a word or phrase I included specifically, take 2 points off. If a word or phrase you included fits in one of the categories, take 1 point off.

Once you have calculated your points, look at this image. It has a few other keywords. Give yourself 2 points for words or phrases you had that I included specifically, and 1 point for general category matches. What was your score?

This test isn’t scientific, but I hope it provides you with an idea of what treating employees well is.

The first group of terms are what I call “HR benefits.” They are very objective and while I am sure employees appreciate them (and want them), it doesn’t set you too far apart and is extremely easy to copy.

The second group consists of more touchy feely terms. They are far more subjective, generally hard to get right, and they end up making a big difference for employees both long term and short term. As a result of the first two characteristics, they are harder to copy.

So the question is: does your company use compensation packages to attract and keep employees or does it promote a supporting, fun, and intelligent work culture?

Personally, I believe it is a better work culture that keeps good employees at your company. Someone who is motivated by money will leave your company as soon as he or she can get more money somewhere else.

Building a strong company culture focused around treating employees well is crucial to success.

More about that on Tuesday. On Monday, there will be a short post. Happy New Year’s!

The Auto Response Emails

With most companies, when you send them an email, you get an automatic response confirming that they received your email and what not. The text that they include in these emails varies a lot and it’s interesting to see what they say.

First of all, you need to understand what you are auto responding to. Sometimes it is for a new ticket (sales, technical support, etc.), sometimes it is an order confirmation, sometimes it is a confirmation of an account change, etc. The text for each of these should similar, yet different.

Here are some examples using my favorite company in the world, Company XYZ. Three simple emails. I think they cover the basics – if you have anything to add, feel free to post a comment.

By the way, when telling customers you have sent the auto confirm email, don’t say “You should receive this email within 30 minutes.” I would say people almost always receive it almost instantly. Alterative wording would be: “We’ve sent a confirmation email your way. It should be in your inbox in a few minutes.”

Ticket Confirmation (Technical Support):


Thank you for contacting Company XYZ.

This email is to let you know that we have received your email to our technical support department. Here is some information about your email:

Subject: Help me!
Tracking Number: 123456
Department: Technical Support

Please note your tracking number. You should receive a response from a human at Company XYZ within about 24 hours. In the mean time, here are some sites to check out that may be helpful:

Our online support center contains video tutorials, FAQs, an extensive knowledge base, and more.

Talk with other clients of Company XYZ and get answers to your questions there.

All of the latest happenings at Company XYZ from new product announcements, maintenance notices, and more.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact us. As always, we are available via email (support@companyxyz.com) and over the telephone (800-BUY-STUFF).

Again, thank you for contacting Company XYZ. We look forward to serving you soon.

Best regards,

Technical Support
Company XYZ

Ticket Confirmation (Sales):


Thank you for your interest in Company XYZ.

This email is to let you know that we have received your email to our sales department. Here is some information about your email:

Subject: Product inquiry
Tracking Number: 123456
Department: Sales

Please note your tracking number. You should receive a response from a human at Company XYZ within about 24 hours.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact us. As always, we are available via email (support@companyxyz.com) and over the telephone (800-BUY-STUFF).

Again, thank you for your interest in Company XYZ. We look forward to serving you soon.

Best regards,

Company XYZ

Order Confirmation:

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your order with Company XYZ!

This email is to let you know that we have received and are currently processing your order. Here is some information about your recent order with us:

Products ordered:

  • Widget 1 – $5.00
  • Widget 2 – $10.00

Subtotal: $15.00
Tax: $0.00
Shipping: $2.50

Order Grand Total: $17.50

Ship to: Bob Bobsen, 123 Main Street, Anytown, USA 12345
Bill to: Bob Bobsen, 123 Main Street, Anytown, USA 12345
Payment Method: AMEX credit card ending in 1234

Shipping Method: FedEx Overnight Shipping
Estimated delivery date: Friday, December 29, 2006
Tracking #: 123456789

Any action required on your part to complete this order? No

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact us. As always, we are available via email (support@companyxyz.com) and over the telephone (800-BUY-STUFF).

Again, thank you for your order with Company XYZ.

Best regards,

Company XYZ

Scripts vs. Operating Procedures

A lot of companies don’t seem to realize the difference between a script and an operating procedure. Companies that use scripts almost never understand what an operating procedure is (a customer service representative can think independently, no, that isn’t possible) and how to use them.

This post explains a lot about scripts and operating procedures. Look at the difference between the two.

A Script:
Rep: Hi, thank you for calling company XYZ. My name is Bob. How may I help you?
Customer: I’m having a problem with my computer.
Rep: Okay, I will help you with your problem with your computer. May I have your first and last name please?
Customer: Mary Smith
Rep: Thank you. May I please have your email address now?
Customer: msmith@smithinc.com
Rep: Thank you. What is the problem with your computer?

An Operating Procedure:
Thank customer for calling company XYZ. Introduce yourself and ask how you can help the customer. Gather client’s personal and contact information (name, email address, etc.) and when ready, ask customer to describe problem. Try troubleshooting as necessary.

The operating procedure above isn’t as well done as it could be. The script is more of a transcript, actually. However, you can get the point about the differences between the two.

Here is an example of an operating procedure for dealing with angry, profane customers (first posted here):

  • Tell the customer that cursing/using profanity will not help solve their problem and that they should calm down.
  • If the customer continues to curse, say if they curse again, you will have to hang up on them and they can call back once they’ve calmed down.
  • If the customer continues to curse, say “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have call back once you’ve calmed down.” and hang up immediately.
  • Describe the situation in the call log and make a note of it in the customer’s account.

That is a good operating procedure. It gives the customer service representative guidelines for actions – it doesn’t spell out what they have to do word for word. When you spell out what the representative should say word to word, you are doing a few things that negatively impact the customer service experience:

  • Your employees sound like robots.
  • Your employees think they are or at least treated like robots. (No one likes reading from a script all day.)
  • Employees will likely get quite flustered if something isn’t on the script and they have to deal with it.

Those are three fairly big issues that seem to happen a lot with highly scripted customer service calls. Call scripts and like are things that Tom at QAQNA could talk about more intelligently than I can, but it is an interesting subject.

Which does your company use and why?

Managing Returns

I hope everyone had a nice holiday. However, that doesn’t mean you are home free – far from it, actually. The holiday rush is over, yes, but now you have to deal with returns – and probably, lots of them.

First off, it is necessary to make this clear: A vast majority of your customers don’t wake up wanting to rip your company off. Stores seem to think this and I don’t believe in treating your customers like criminals when only a very small percentage will actually try to rip you off.

Yes, some people may take advantage of your policies, but it happens. A lot of customers will appreciate the policies and tell their friends and family. You’ll build customer loyalty and create word of mouth marketing. In the end, it’s probably well worth it. Think about long term success through successful customer relationships as opposed to short term gain.

I have no idea what percentage of people return X percentage of gifts they receive, but I imagine the numbers are fairly high. Based on what I got, I would guess somewhere around 80% return 10% or so of their gifts, at least. That number is completely unscientific – simply based on what I think is the case.

The point, though, is that you will probably be getting a lot of returned products. Here are some tips:

  • On your web site’s home page, put a “Returns are easy” button in a prominent location that links to a page that explains the return process and what’s involved.
  • If you have a physical store, consider putting a sign near the entrance with a few sentences about what to do when returning a product. For example: “Welcome to Store! / Have a product to return or exchange? / No problem. / Visit the customer service counter on the second floor in the back. / If possible, please bring your gift receipt.”
  • Use bullet points, tables, lists, etc. to make information easier to read. Check out a blog like Copyblogger for information on how to write copy that is easy to understand.
  • Depending on the size of your company and your historical return rates, it may be a good idea to setup a group that is dedicated to handling returns.
  • Ensure that all related employees can use the return systems, understand the policies, know the procedures, etc.
  • Staff accordingly – you may need some extra employees to help deal with a large amount of returns.
  • Do not treat your customers like criminals.
  • Don’t interrogate your customers about why they are returning the product. Many don’t want to say they don’t like what their grandmother sent them for Christmas. Assume that if it is fairly close to the holidays, they didn’t like the gift and want to return it.
  • Don’t require a ton of paperwork to return it. A gift receipt should be enough. If they don’t have it and you stock that product, assume they are telling the truth and take it. Issue a store credit.
  • Bonus points: Follow up with the customer after they return/exchange the product (about two weeks after) to ensure that everyting is okay.
  • As always, use common sense.

For some more posts about returns on Service Untitled, check out this one, this one, this one, this one, and last, but not least, this one. They are examples of what approaches different companies take when it comes to returns.

Firing Your Customers – Part 3 of 3

You’re fired!

Note: The title of this post has nothing to do with Donald Trump’s reality series, The Apprentice. I promise.

Yesterday I promised I would write a letter as a general template for firing a customer. It was pointed out (correctly) that the type of letter varies greatly from industry to industry and from service to service. A letter from a web hosting company saying you are fired is very different than a letter from say, your bank. While web hosting can be very important (and in quite a few cases, critical to your business), what is involved with firing a customer in the two industries is very different.

I have decided to write my “you’re fired” letter for web hosts. Maybe Homestead will decide to use it. I’m going to try and keep it as industry unspecific as possible so that it can be easily modified to fit your business.

In this situation, a hypothetical customer (Bob Bobsen) is receiving a letter via mail and email from an executive (say, VP, Client Relations) at his web hosting company (Company ABC), Betty Name stating that his service is being terminated because he constantly complains and refuses to come up with a solution. Company ABC has already done the following:

  • Tried to work with Bob to resolve all of his issues.
  • Elevated the problem to an executive.
  • Warned Bob that they can’t seem to help him the way he wants and that he may want to consider finding another web host.
  • Asked a consultant they deal with to evaluate the situation.
  • Called Bob and offered help once again.

The letter is a mix between a personal break up letter and a letter to an employee saying that you are firing them. I can’t say that I have had to fire a customer before, but I think this letter isn’t bad. As always, I am open to feedback and appreciate your comments/suggestions.

The letter is after the “read more.”

Continue Reading

Firing Your Customers! – Part 2 of 3

As I introduced in my last post, Justin Kitch, who is the CEO and founder of Homestead.com suggests that companies should fire their customers when they become ongoing problems. The decision to fire customers is based upon his prioritized management/decision making model called the Homestead Creed.

This post is going to talk about why and how to “fire” your customers. Note: I would never suggest “firing” a customer unless all options have been exhausted. It is not a good thing to do and should be avoided at pretty much all costs.


  • No need to deal continually deal with bothersome customer
  • Easiest on staff
  • More profitable


  • Generally a bad practice from a customer service point of view
  • Lost business
  • Likely bad word of mouth (customers who get “fired” have a tendecny to let others know about it)
  • Lots of room for error
  • Further bad publicity if story gets noticed or if situation is mishandled by staff

Reasons to “fire” a customer:

  • Customer is constantly rude to employees
  • Customer does something that violates Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policies, that is illegal, etc.
  • Customer does something that is against a company’s ethical or moral values
  • Customer not willing to work with company to resolve an ongoing issue
  • Customer seems to only want to cause problems and annoy people

As you can tell, most of these issues are very subjective. What is constantly rude to employees? What are the company’s ethical or moral values? It is very hard to tell and firing a customer is usually (and should be) very much a case-by-case basis. Even when to warn the customer (as opposed to “firing” immediately) is very subjective and is hard to judge.

If you determine that it is necessary to fire a customer, here are my suggestions as to how to handle it:

  • The situation should be dealt with by an executive (not supervisor, above them – at least manager of some sort, if not an actual executive).
  • If possible, the customer should be warned before “firing.”
  • The company should consider asking for outside (neutral) advice before acting. Good people to ask are advisors, consultants, and other people who are fairly aware about your business and customer service, and can provide a relatively un-biased opinion.
  • The customer should be called and told what is going to happen.
  • After the phone call, the customer should immediately be sent an email (and optionally, a letter in the mail) with the information in the section below entitled “The Notice.”

The Notice:
Once the moment comes, here is what the notice should contain. Put some effort into writing it and modify each one accordingly. Once you do one or two, the rest should be fairly easy to do (hopefully you will not need to use it often).

  • A statement that their service is being terminated and when that will happen.
  • The reasons for “firing” them.
  • A statement saying that you had tried all possible solutions, none of which worked. List what was done and the outcome.
  • If applicable, a copy of the client’s data, etc.
  • A statement about any outstanding bills, charges, etc.
  • A way to find an alternative service provider (do not list any specfic companies – it is best to point the customer to some sort of industry listing, review site, resource, etc.).
  • An offer to help them move to a new provider.
  • An apology that it could not work out and a closing wishing the customer the best of luck in the future.
  • A signature and direct contact information of the executive who handled the situation.

While I usually encourage following up with a customer, I do not suggest it in these cases. Do not follow up or contact the customer further after “firing” him or her. I would, however, watch the customer over the next few weeks/months and ensure that they aren’t going around saying bad things about your company. If they do, it is probably best to ask a lawyer and/or an experienced consultant about what to do next.

So there you have it – how to fire a customer. Again, I don’t suggest it, but if you have to do it, might as well do it right. Tomorrow, I am going to write up a sample situation and sample letter and post it here.

Fire Your Customers! – Part 1 of 3

Well, that is what Justin Kitch, the CEO and founder of Homestead.com suggests – to an extent. He talked about it on his blog. Basically, Justin has adopted a model where his company priories. They make decisions of what to do based on their priorities.
This isn’t a new thing, but I haven’t heard of it done like this before. Justin calls his list of priories the Homestead Creed, which he summarizes like:

  1. We put our employees first, who in turn…
  2. Build world class products and services, which…
  3. Delight our customers, and in doing all of the above remember to…
  4. Serve our community, all of which allows us to…
  5. Build shareholder value.

I have never seen products make such a list and I find it interesting that they include it. The others are pretty common among such lists (including the order). However, I don’t like to see a list that includes customers as the third priority.

Justin explains his views about this here and here. He says that products are solid intellectual property that a company can always have. His points are justified and make sense, but it is just weird to see customers as a business’s third priority. I respect him for posting them with such explanations, but it is just odd.

I have seen what is involved with providing web hosting and I am almost positive that any leader of any successful web hosting company will tell you that providing great customer service is much harder to do than the technical (product) aspects of the service. Providing good customer service is far more unique and much harder to do than web hosting, or for that matter, many products or services.

Web hosting giant Rackspace believes in it (see question #3 in Service Untitled’s interview with David Bryce of Rackspace), Mike Faith does (see question #8 – his company sells telephone headsets – pretty simple product), and so do other companies that have set themselves apart through customer service.

Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group (talked about here) believes in something he calls Enlightened Hospitality. It is quite similar to Homestead’s Creed, but prioritizes slightly differently:

  1. Employees
  2. Guests (customers)
  3. Community
  4. Vendors (suppliers/partners)
  5. Shareholders

Personally, I think Danny’s system makes more sense. True, a big part of the reason why people visit restaurants Danny owns like Union Square Cafe is the food (their physical product), but the service is what gets them to come back. Service is important and the philosophy can be applied to Homestead as well.

Many customers want good service almost as much (if not more) as they want a good product. They will pick companies that provide great service and remain loyal to them. That is how customer service can be so powerful.

Justin is a firm believer in empowerment and encourages his employees to treat the customers they deal with as their customers, and Homestead as their business. So, how and why would you fire customers? All about that tomorrow.

Happy Holidays from Service Untitled!

Image from Getty Images

Happy Holidays from Service Untitled!

Thank you for your time, loyalty, and suggestions over the last few months. Service Untitled looks forward to helping you learn about customer service and the customer service experience well into 2007 and beyond.

– Service Untitled
December 2006

Next Page »