* You are viewing the archive for January, 2007. View the rest of the archives.

T-Mobile Customer Service

A few days ago I was on the phone with T-Mobile. I had some questions about my possible smartphone buy and couldn’t easily find the answers online. So I gave T-Mobile a call. Their phone menu was a pain to get through to, but after yelling at the phone menu for a few minutes and waiting on hold for about 15 seconds, I was transferred to a human.

The call started off with the lady sounding very friendly and very happy to talk to me. She asked me how I was (which I don’t advise – but since it was the sales department, it probably isn’t too bad of a question to ask), I said I was fine and asked how she was (great, of course) and she asked how she could help me. I told her I was interested in buying a smartphone and had questions about the T-Mobile Dash.

It took her a few seconds, but she pulled up the page on the T-Mobile Dash. It was in the time it took her to look up the answers that the customer service experience became interesting.

She asked me how I was, how the weather was, if any of my football teams were doing well in the Superbowl (it was the playoffs, but I’ll forgive her. I told her the Giants didn’t do well), she told me that I “had just made a friend” because she was from the NY area and liked the Giants, and so on.

I asked my questions and she answered them and was quite friendly. She knew a majority of the answers off hand and looked the others up. All the time, she avoided “dead air.”  The customer service experience was good. All it took was a friendly customer service representative (attitude) that knew what she was talking about (aptitude).

Have a great weekend!

Small Businesses and Customer Service

Small businesses are really competitive. If you own or work for one, you probably know. A search on Google Maps for the keyword “lawyers near 10023” produces 87,993 results. Somewhat competitive, eh? Accountants, florists, small shops, builders, etc. are all very competitive businesses. There are lots of people doing each one of those things and it can be very tough to set yourself apart.

Can you think of a way to set your small business apart from the other ones? How about great customer service? When done right, it has the potential to work very well.

As a small business, your company has some advantages over larger businesses:

  • You can give more personalized attention to your customers.
  • You can keep track of your customers better, allowing you to be more pro-active.
  • You have better control over who you hire and how well they do.
  • It is easier to ingrain customer service into your culture.
  • It is easier to refine the customer service experience and your customer service processes.

Those are things that companies have problems with as they get larger. Getting larger has its advantages as well, but as a small business, you have the potential to be nimble and efficient.

And the exact opposite can apply as well. If your company is small, in a highly competitive business, and does not provide good customer service, it is at an extreme disadvantage. The disadvantage is having no advantages, which hardly is enough to set you apart.

Here are some tips for small businesses to use their advantages to provide great customer service:

  • Try and learn customers’ names. Pay attention to little personal details that customers will tell you. Make a note of little things that make a big difference (look through Service Untitled’s archives for ideas). Use them when talking to and working with customers.
  • Look at your customers’ records, accounts, profiles, etc. fairly frequently (quarterly, weekly, etc. – it all depends on the type of service you provide or product you sell) and see if there are any opportunities to help the customer and be pro-active.
  • Pay careful attention to hiring and training. Watch how well employees perform, how they fit in with your company culture, concentrate on training (mentor training works great for small businesses), have informative documentation, etc.
  • Make customer service a big part of your company’s culture. Promote it, talk about how important it is, etc.
  • Constantly pay attention to how your company functions. Go through the entire customer experience (as previously discussed) and see where you can improve and what you can still do better.

Do you have any ideas as to how small businesses can use customer service to their advantage? Does your small business do anything that exemplifies great customer service?

Rewarding Employees

I was also reading Fortune Small Business over the weekend. There was an article about the “best bosses” as ranked by an organization called Winning Workplaces.

What caught my attention was that the CEO of Rackspace (Graham Weston) was featured as one of the companies and there was a quote from Daivd Bryce, whom was interviewed by Service Untitled a few months ago. Mike Faith of Headsets.com was also featured.

Some highlights (in my own words):

  • Vitale, Caturano & Company gives gourmet dinners during tax seasons, tuition reimbursement, and more. [Link]
  • Interaction Associates conducts regular “Quality of Work Life” surveys. [Link]
  • Headsets.com encourages employees to submit ideas and feedback and hosts an open invitation dinner at the CEO’s home every Tuesday. [Link]
  • SmartPak Equine has employee stock ownership, open-book management and a quarterly recognition program by and for employees has kept SmartPak’s workforce motivated and focused on the company’s core values. They also weekly meetings with the purpose of of simplifying tasks. [Link]
  • M5 Networks gives certain employees things like a “Trustworthiness Award” and a prize, has monthly late-night jam sessions with the company’s band (made up of employees), telecommunicating options, and more. [Link]
  • At Seventh Generation, the company invests a lot of time and money into training and quality products. [Link]
  • St. Louis Staffing (which I have heard a lot about lately) provides full and part time employees with health insurance, paid time off, bonuses, flexible schedules, and apparel. [Link
  • Digineer provides classes for subjects like time management, health and wellness, and has community activities like an Iron Chef competition, snow tubing, and family picnics. [Link]
  • New Media Strategies has cool perks like movie time for employees, an “Ass Kickers of the Month” award, an open-bar happy hour, a training university, and more. [Link]
  • Rackspace’s CEO lets top performing employees use his BMW for a week, has awards for providing Fanatical Support and more. [Link]

Equity programs for employees were a very common theme. Lots of companies also have training programs for employees that teach both work and non-work related things. To me, those seemed to be the two most common things. Both are extremely useful in enabling and encouraging employees to perform better and go the extra mile.

If you would like to review all of the profiles, and the full articles, click here.

Does your company do anything like this? Would you be interested in learning more about any of these companies? Let me know and I will do my best to make it happen!

Service in Advertising

I was reading Forbes Life over the weekend and on the back cover was an ad for British Airways. What were they touting in their ad? Customer service! The ad’s text is below:

Headline: Dine pre-flight and sleep longer in-flight.
Copy: The best service anticipates your needs. To give you an extra hour of sleep in business class, we welcome you with gourmet meals before you fly. It’s part of The Sleeper Service (SM), allowing you to go straight to sleep in our more comfortable flat beds right after takeoff. Our goal is simple: to deliver the best service you could ask for, without you having to ask. Whether you’re enjoying pre-flight champagne, or more flights when you need them, we think you’ll find our business class like no other.

The emphasis is theirs, not mine. The ad talks about being pro-active in service. Sound familiar? Something I babble about on a fairly frequent basis? Yes!

Companies advertising customer service seems to be more and more common. This hopefully means that customer service at these companies is getting better and they are getting more reasons to advertise it. At least, that is what it should be – doesn’t mean it is true.

I did some research and found this ad from Rackspace:

Full Size

The ad is comical, but still advertises customer service as one of the company’s key advantages. Other types of ads that offer guarantees of sorts (there by 10 AM or your money back, etc.)

Finding ads that promote customer service is still tough. When I read magazines, I see an ad or two that promotes customer service, but relative to the number of ads in the magazine, there are not very many.

Is your customer service worth advertising?

Verizon and T-Mobile: The Showdown

Since today is officially a holiday, the post will be a bit shorter than usual.

I’ve been shopping for a new cellphone. I want to get one of those fancy PDA/smart phone things. I’ve narrowed it down to two choices:  Samsung SCH-i730 (Verizon) and the T-Mobile Dash.

Shopping for a smart phone is really confusing. I have read countless reviews on both of them.  There are lots of different options and some reviews say X phone is the best thing to hit the market, while another review will say X phone should never be used. I still have no idea which phone I want.

Here are my customer service (pre-sales) experiences so far with the two companies:

I am already a T-Mobile customer and they are not bad at all. I called their pre-sales department yesterday and aside from the phone menus, the customer service experience was top notch. The lady I spoke to was very friendly, knew the answers to my questions, and was quite helpful. I’m going to dedicate a post to the experience later this week and include more details.

Though Verizon’s phone menu was far easier to navigate, the customer service experience was not as good. The sales lady I spoke to at first didn’t really know the answer to my questions (and gave me some weird answers when she did), wasn’t overly friendly, and seemed very fake. I had a feeling she was trying to force a reasonably friendly tone of voice and she probably didn’t like her job. To get the actual answer to a question I had, I was transferred to technical support. The lady in technical support was much nicer, far more personable, and actually knew the answers to my questions. I also used the live chat feature on Verizon’s web site. The guy in the chat was acceptable – not bad, not great. He knew the answers to my questions and was friendly enough.

What are your experiences with these companies? The phones I listed?

Different ways to ask for feedback.

I had intended to write about small businesses and customer service today, but will be saving that until Monday. Instead, I’m going to talk about a few ways to gather feedback.

Here are some examples (in no particular order):

Kayak.com – kayak.com/feedback
This form, which is linked to from the bottom of every page is straight forward and asks a few key questions (would you refer Kayak to a friend, would you use Kayak again, etc.). Well done and extremely effective.

Headsets.com headsets.com/headsets/company/contact.html
The contact page has a feedback form as well as some other email addresses for various things. You have to guess a little to find the page to provide feedback (as it says Contact Us, not Feedback), but it is still effective.

Alienware – feedback@alienware.com
Whenever you call Alienware, the representative will say to send your questions, comments, etc. to the feedback@alienware.com email address. They do reply and it is an extremely simple and effective method of gathering feedback.

Craigslist – craigslist.org/about/help/feedback
In the site’s help section, there is a feedback page. They have a feedback forum as well as a simple help@craigslist.org email address.

Dell – dell.com
Dell has a feedback form linked to from their site’s home page. It is actually a feedback link for their web site, not the company’s products. Somewhat misleading, but asking for feedback regardless.

HP – hp.com
Like Dell, HP also has an easy way to provide web site feedback. However, finding a page to provide feedback on products and other things is not easy. There are lots and lots of options.

Remember the Milk – rememberthemilk.com/help/contact/
My favorite to do list application has a “Feedback” link with a simple form at the bottom of every page. When you send in a feedback report (like I did – providing positive feedback) you receive a personal reply. Very simple, very effective.

See the differences? Lots of people ask for feedback in different ways. Some people do it well, others are okay, and others are terrible.

Great: Kayak.com, Alienware, Remember the Milk
Acceptable: Headsets.com, Craigslist
Bad: Dell, HP

Kayak does it the best because they ask some good questions and make the form easy to find. Alienware does it great because it is so simple and convenient to just send an email to feedback@alienware.com. Remember the Milk does well because like Kayak, their system is also very simple and effective.

Headsets.com does better than Craigslist because they have an actual form for feedback (just the term). Craigslist also keeps things simple, but does not have a form and the page is slightly buried. However, both are acceptable (if not better).

Dell does badly because their form is misleading and is more for web design than customer service. HP has a feedback section, but there are too many options and it makes it complicated.

Here is a weekend project: try and model the feedback methods of one of the “great” companies and add a feedback section to your web site. It isn’t complicated (a semi-competent programmer could probably set something up within about 15-20 minutes) at all and the feedback you get from customers will be well worth the time and effort.

Bad to Acceptable

Sorry for the later than usual post. My Internet was out for a lot of the day.

On Service Untitled, I usually babble about how to take your customer service from acceptable to great. I assume (and you know the saying about what happens when you assume) that when people take enough interest to read my blog, they have the acceptable part mastered already.

Well, I am clearly an idiot. A big idiot!

A colleague of mine is trying to deal with a company that makes billing software. While this software isn’t a $3,000,000 CRM application from Oracle, it is not cheap software. It is definitely a few hundred bucks (on the light side) and is quite a powerful application as well. 

The software, though grossly complex to setup and use, is good. The company and the customer service they provide – not so much. As my colleague put it (he is a techy): their support = horrible. To get that wonderful explanation, here is what they have done:

  • He has gotten three different answers about a particular module of the software that he needs to use:
    • It is a premier module, so the company wrote it and it can do recurring billing
    • It is an addon module written by someone else and cannot do recurring billing
    • It is a premier module, but we cannot answer basic questions as to how it works.
  • They told him to call, but did not pick up their phone.
  • Voicemails are not returned.
  • Their replies are slow.

It is very frustrating for everyone. My colleague can’t edit the product and fix the problem himself because it is all encrypted (that is a whole different debate) and now he has to wait for this rather incompetent (at least when it comes to customer service) company to fix the problem. The experience has been terrible and is driving everyone nuts.

They are definitely more on the “bad” side of the bad/acceptable/great scale.

Bad Acceptable   Great
Does not answer phone and/or reply to emails promptly. Answers phones and replies to emails. Has smart, informed, and well trained people answer phone and reply to emails, promptly.
Rude/disrespectful  Average etiquette Great etiqutte. Everything is done right.
Does not care Cares to an extent Lives and breathes customer service

This, of course, is a general table. It isn’t specfic to the company I am talking about, but it can be used as an illustration to see the difference between the types of companies.

To give an example of a company that is literally the opposite, here is a true story. A company that makes a hosted product that also isn’t cheap, but definitely not expenisve donated a copy of their product to an organization I am involved with.

I (blindly – had never spoken to anyone at the company before) asked that they do donate it and though they weren’t really setup to donate it, went out of their way to set the organizatoin up with an account they needed, for free.

The organization had a whole bunch of problems at first, but the company listened (very well) and was always communicating with them about what was going on, what they were doing, etc. You would call them, and if they didn’t pick up right away, they would call you back right away. They responded to emails quickly. They spent an hour or so on the phone trianing a few of the organization’s employees. They even followed up. Throughout the whole experience, one guy dealt with us and was very nice, knew what he was talking about, and helpful.

And they did all of that for a customer that didn’t even pay. Quite frankly, it was a great customer (service) experience. Based on my experience, I am confident the company will continue to do well and provide great customer service.

Oh, and the great company reads this blog, which I like to think helps to an extent. It at least shows they care enough to try and learn about customer service and possibly improve theirs. I wonder (and doubt) if the bad company does.

The (Entire) Customer Experience

A lot of customer service people (like me, for example – this blog is described as a blog about customer service and the customer service experience) talk about the customer service experience. However, many of them don’t realize how important the entire customer experience is, not just the customer service experience.

Customer Service Experience:
The customer service experience usually:

  • Starts when a customer has a problem, question, etc.
  • Is handled by customer service representatives or someone with a similar job title or description.
  • Is handled on the phone, over email, etc. or for physical stores, in person.

Customer Experience:
The customer experience usually:

  • Starts as soon as a customer hears about your company and becomes interested enough to look him or herself.
  • Continues when customers are browsing/searching your web site, browsing/searching your store, trying to learn about products, etc.
  • Continues when the customer buys the product or service they are interested in. This includes ease of purchase, simple buying options, installation, configuration, use, etc.
  • Contains the product experience and if applicable (meaning, that the customer has a question, problem, etc.), the customer service experience within it.
  • How companies handle complaints, feedback, suggestions, etc. from customers.
  • How easy it is to return and/or cancel the product or service.

Do you see the difference between the two? The customer experience contains a lot more. However, many companies and people helping them don’t seem to look at the customer experience as a whole and instead concentrate on many small processes.

While in theory this works (if you work on every small process, eventually you will improve the entire customer experience), it is very time consuming and often very expensive. No fear, though, there are ways to work on the customer experience as a whole without feeling overwhelmed.

Secret Shop:
Secret shopping is the method of choice for many customer service consultants, trainers, and other “experts.” A secret shopper is very simple in theory and in practice. The company or “expert” pays someone (or goes themselves) and shops at the company, uses the product, and/or uses the service as a regular customer. 

Secret shoppers don’t say they are the customer service “expert” or the Vice President of Client Happiness or whatever, but pretend they are regular customers. They see how the company does and usually report back to whoever hired them and whoever hired them comes up with a report for whoever hired that person.

You or your designated “expert” should secret shop your company and see how the customer experience is. Here is what you should look for:

  • Parts of the customer experience that are bad or really bad.
  • Parts of the customer experience that are somewhat bad or just inconveient but are easily fixed (kind of like the GTD (Getting Things Done) concept of it takes less than 2 minutes to do it, do it).

Make a list of what you discover. Go through the list with some of your employees, discuss it with customers, and work with your “expert(s)” to see which items should be tackled in which order. Then, get to work! Once you finish that, repeat the process as necessary.

« Previous Page  Next Page »