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Now using FeedBurner

I’ve been using FeedBurner to handle some of the feeds for Service Untitled, but not the main one. Today I made the switch over to FeedBurner for all of Service Untitled’s feeds (except email).

The new RSS feed URL is:


Feel free to unsubscribe from the current URL you’re using (serviceuntitled.com/feed/) and switch to this one. However, you are free to stick with what you are currently using. To my knowledge, both will work.

I’m still troubleshooting, so if you notice any issues, please let me know.

NOTE: All new feed requests go to FeedBurner now. Old ones should still work, but we’ll see.

Book Review: How to Talk to Customers

I finished reading “How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC®” the other day. It was an interesting book and one I’d like to review here at Service Untitled.

The book was written by Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin of a company called Communico Ltd. Communico calls itself a customer service training and consulting company. They have this proprietary process/set of processes they called MAGIC.

Here’s what MAGIC is in a nutshell:

M: Make a Connection – Build the Relationship
A: Act Professionally – Express Confidence
G: Get to the Heart of the Matter – Listen and Ask Questions
I: Inform and Clarify What You Will Do
C: Close with the Relationship in Mind

MAGIC also stands for “Make a Great Impression on the Customer.” There are 33 steps associated with the process – some of which are quite obvious, but still useful. The 33 steps almost serve as a checklist of sorts for many types of interactions, especially face to face and telephone interactions.

The book is divided into six parts: The Essence of MAGIC (what it is, what the benefits are); MAGIC – It’s Your Choice (setting the stage/defining the culture for MAGIC); Build Magic Relationships (the actual “how to do it” part – concentrating heavily on Little Things, Big Differences); Express MAGIC Accountability (more “how to do it” stuff); The World of Magic (specific instances, culture building, face-to-face interactions); and MAGIC n Real Life (stories and closing thoughts).

The book has a lot of real world examples filled with stories and firsthand accounts of various customer service or a lack thereof experiences (the stories are labeled as MAGIC or Tragic; good and bad, respectively). Each chapter contains a nice little summary (MAGIC Maxims), some good exercises (Experiment with MAGIC), and so on. Each chapter has a lot of plain language, practical advice in addition to a few statistics and study summaries that help back up what they are saying, and more importantly, the relevance of good customer service as a whole.

The book started out a little slow for me, but got very good near the middle. If you are new to customer service and its importance, the beginning would be more relevant, but if you already realize that customer service is important, it is a slight drag. The book picks up later, though, and starts coming out with some great, practical, and effective advice.

I’d suggest reading the whole book as an executive and picking out the practical, do it this way things and asking CSRs to read those sections. Get your highlighter out and mark sections you think would be useful to your employees. There is definitely something for everyone in the book. I learned the book was written to apply to different levels, so everyone could get value from it.

As with many customer service books, “How to Talk to Customers” includes a lot of stories and examples. I really liked the exercises (the 33 point checklist of sorts was the best part of the book) and can see how they would be tremendously useful for a wide variety of companies and employees. I would print out the “33 points” and pin them to every CSR’s phone if it were up to me. Some of the stories of great and terrible customer service seem a little extreme, but overall, they are believable and realistic enough where the advice is useful.

I spoke to Tom Larkin, co-author of “How to Talk to Customers” last Wednesday. From talking to him, I could tell that he really believes in the power of customer service and the “Little Things, Big Differences” that I talk about. How close the topics I talk about on my blog and that Tom talks about in the book were surprising

Tom told me that the book was designed so it could be read by all levels (frontline, executive, etc.) and that all of the readers could get value. He also provided me with two, solid customer service tips worth considering:

  • If you use your last name in a greeting, it increases confidence. For example, you should say “Good afternoon, this is Tom Larkin” instead of “Good afternoon, this is Tom.”
  • When you ask permission to get more information, it is a huge benefit. The customer and the representative end up listening more, and the representative gets more influence over the call. All it takes is a simple “May I ask you a few questions to resolve this quickly?”

Before the end of our call, Tom told me that what’s common sense always isn’t common practice. A lot of companies will experience a situation where they say they will do things, but don’t end up doing anything. Following through with a dedication to customer service is definitely the hardest, but still the most rewarding part of the entire process. It truly is MAGIC when someone can deliver all 33 points that How to Talk to Customers addresses in a 4-5 minute interaction.

If you like the topics I talk about on my blog, you would probably find “How to Talk to Customers” a good read. They cover a lot of the “Little Things, Big Differences” aspects of customer service that I constantly preach about as well as the extremely important “big picture” element of customer service. This well written, informative book blends a nice combination of practical, “do it this way” tips and exercises with more strategic, “have your company act this way” advice.

Bottomline: A good read for an executive/manger interested in customer service, especially how to make a big difference through little things.

Pros: Well written, great stories and examples, healthy amount of “do it this way” exercises and tips mixed with some “academic” information to back it up

Cons: “MAGIC” as a concept is good, but how the book words and embellishes it can get somewhat tedious (simply cosmetic issue); starts off slow if you already know customer service is important.

I’d suggest checking out this link. It’s an interesting (though slightly exergerated) quality assessment exercise using MAGIC. The best part, though, is it lists the 33 points and lets you hear them in action. You can also download a free chapter here [PDF format]. I’m working on getting another chapter available to Service Untitled readers.

Those interested in the book can buy it on Amazon.com.

On a side note, I’m going to try and do book reviews every few weeks. I read a lot of books on customer service and business in general and I think books are a great way to learn. Hopefully, I can help you select the best books to read. If you have any books you’d like to see reviewed, please feel free to suggest them and I’ll check them out.

Jack Hightower of CarMax – Part 2 of 2

This is the second part of the interview with Jack Hightower, VP of Sales at CarMax.

This part of the interview talks about how they tie customer service into the car buying process, whether or not customer service is a key competitive advantage, what they offer that customers seem to appreciate the most, their hiring/training process, stuff that goes on behind the scenes, and their efforts at monitoring (and being a part of) the blogosphere.

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Interview with Jack Hightower – VP of Sales at CarMax

I’ve talked more than a little bit about car dealers and customer service (post 1, 2, and 3). After having my miserable experience shopping for cars with some other companies, I decided to contact CarMax and see if they were interested in an interview. I got an interview with Jack Hightower, who is CarMax’s VP of Sales.

In part one of this two part interview, I talk to Jack about how CarMax started as an edavor of Circuit City, how they took big box retail and applied it to cars, their model, the challenges they face, and most importantly, what they do to make the car buying experience better.

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Five W’s of Telephone Interviews in Customer Service

Another searched topic on Service Untitled is related to telephone interviews. Readers seem to be interested in telephone interviews, so I’ll talk about them! I’ll try to do a 5 W (and 1 H!) spin as well.

All companies, regardless of size hiring customer service representatives (and other positions) should do at least one telephone interview with qualifying candidates. A brief telephone interview (15 minutes) should be done with basically all applicants who meet the minimum requirements (experience, education, etc.) or seem to have some experience that may be relevant (i. e. 2 years in marketing instead of 1 year in customer service).

A telephone interview is very much like a regular, face-to-face interview. An interviewer (an HR person, a supervisor, etc.) usually asks some standard questions about an applicant’s experience, motivation, and so on. It can be standard interview questions (like tell me about yourself) or a less formal situation.

Employers should do telephone interviews to:

  • Get an idea about a candidate’s telephone skills.
  • Talk to the candidate and see what he/she is like (mainly personality wise).
  • Ask some initial questions, cover some initial concerns, and so on.
  • As a cost effective way to talk to a lot of candidates and hopefully find some good ones.
  • Quickly eliminate bad candidates.
  • Plenty of other reasons.

Over the telephone, of course! Candidates should pick a quiet place that is distraction free to do a telephone interview. Have a copy of your resume, the company web site, and so on up on your computer so you can check facts and look up things quickly. Interviewers should also give phone interviews the proper attention (don’t be distracted, have a quiet room, etc.).

Interviewers should request a phone interview right after they see a resume that interests them. Candidates shouldn’t change too many things for a phone interview (they are usually very initial – don’t bet the farm on them), but should try to do it at the interview’s convenience if possible.


  • Employers: Start by asking some basic questions about their background and enthusiasm/attitude related to customer service. Listen carefully to their tone of voice, word selection, and what they are generally saying. You want someone who’s friendly, seems intelligent, and listens. If they interrupt you a lot or don’t listen to what you say, not a good sign.
  • Candidates: Listen to what the interviewer says and answer the questions. You can
    “pad” things to make them sound better, but don’t really change too much. Don’t interrupt and use your good customer service skills. Ask how they are doing, and all of that jazz.

Both parties: remember to follow up. Send a little thank you email or letter and thank the employer/candidate for their time and interest.

6 Solid Tips to Reduce Hold Time and Increase Profits

Here is part two of my mini series on hold times (a follow up to Tom’s post on the subject). Six simple tips and steps to improve your hold times, and subsequently, your customer retention and profits.

Analyze your calls.
How much of a call is spent doing X? Try and cut down on call time without jeopardizing quality (it’s possible). Some obvious things that can usually be cut down are:

  • Repeating information (use ticket/case numbers!)
  • Unnecessary transfers (use operators and/or simple menus)
  • Account verification (have passwords and/or pre-authenticate using your IVR system)

Break the call down into sections and find out what’s taking long and how you can make it faster. You’ll also notice all of the above mentioned things not only make the call go faster, but improve the experience from both a customer and employee perspective.

Hire more people.
This is obvious. Call centers are expensive. Customer service is expensive. Losing customer is even more expensive. Hire enough people to cut down your hold times to at least an industry standard level. (For some industries, the standard is 30 seconds, for others, it’s 20 minutes.)

Hire better people.
If you can’t afford to hire more people, hire better people. Hiring better people and spending more on their training is a good way to spend money. As Tom points out, customers are more forgiving of long hold times if the customer service is good.

Get rid of transfers.
I get very angry when I wait on hold for 20 minutes and then find out that I have to be transferred to someone else. It’s incredibly frustrating for the customer. It also costs the company easy to measure, “hard” money (waste a representative’s and phone minutes) as well as “soft”, harder to measure money (customer gets frustrated, some leave, etc.). Improve your phone systems, use intelligent operators, do something.

Use hold music.
While it may help your abandonment rates, use hold music that customers can hear. One company I had to call had their hold music cut out after three minutes. Every time I call them, I wait more than three minutes. Companies need consistent (not necessarily loud) that can easily be hard on both land lines and cellphones. It should loop indefinitely and never stop. If it stops, customers will hang up. And when they do hang up, they’ll be really mad.

Ask your customers.
As Tom suggests, ask your customers what amount of hold time is acceptable to them. Some may not mind waiting for 5 or 10 minutes, others will mind. You have nothing to lose by asking your customers. You may find out that a vast majority of your customers find 15 minutes acceptable. If they do, you can work accordingly. If they don’t, you need to make changes.

Now, you need to wait 24 hours for another post. Or, if you are instant gratification type, you can check out the archives. By the time you are done reading every single post, I bet it’ll be tomorrow.

Competitive markets don’t allow for long hold times.

I read this post on QAQNA this morning about hold times. The question that Tom poses is “will being on hold too long make you change providers?” His points are right on:

  • Some customers have no choice.
  • Others are willing to have higher hold times if the actual customer service provided is good.
  • You don’t know if you don’t ask.

Regarding hold times, I’ve gotten spoiled. I remember the days not too long ago when you called Dell, had to wait on hold for an hour, and then got to a person. The person wasn’t that bad, but having to wait on hold for hours or more was terrible.

Now I call companies and find myself incredibly frustrated if I wait more than 10 minutes. I want to be connected to a human instantly. Sixty seconds is acceptable, but not good. Two to three minutes isn’t ideal, but tolerable. See my point? When I, like most other consumers have choices, I get spoiled.

  • I can buy my computer from anyone – Dell, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, Sony, Apple. Why wait on hold for two hours with Dell if I can get to a human in 30 seconds at Dell?
  • I can get my cellphone from anyone – Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Cingular. Why should I wait for ten minutes with Verizon if I can get to T-Mobile in 15 seconds?
  • I can buy my books from anyone – Barnes and Noble, Borders, or Amazon.com. Why should I have to wait 5 minutes to talk to a human or a store at Borders when I go to Amazon.com and find the book right away?

Remember, hold times aren’t limited to just phone interactions. Retail companies make customers wait all the time. I can buy a shirt at Macy’s and no one will help me (or I have to wait for someone to help me) or I can go to Nordstrom and get better customer service. Same product, essentially the same price. I don’t want to wait for someone to check me out at Radio Shack when I can go to the drug store and get the same batteries.

Take it a step further. I can use Facebook because it’s faster and more reliable than MySpace. I can use Google because it’s faster than MSN. Consumers are very spoiled when it comes to getting what they want in a very short amount of time. It may be software help, cellphone questions, batteries, or web searches.

Other companies, as Tom points out make it so the customers have no choice. Companies that are corporate suppliers, “lock in” companies (like cellphone providers), government organizations, utility companies, and companies that have (near) monopolies (i. e. Microsoft) don’t worry so much about your hold time. Quite frankly, how happy you are is not a relevant concern to those types of companies.

If you are like a majority of companies and do have competition, you probably want to know how to reduce your hold times. No fear, I have another post planned for tomorrow with six simple tips on how to reduce hold time and improve profits.

Verizon Recap

I briefly talked about my terrible experience with Verizon the other day. The experience was definitely terrible. Even though, the issue has been “resolved”, I am still left with a fairly bad taste in my mouth about Verizon.

The problem.
I had been having problems with my cellphone. The bottom of the touchscreen kept breaking. I still have no idea why it happened. Sometimes, it’d work, but sure enough, it’d stop working again. I called Verizon once and got a replacement phone. A week or so later, the same problem started happening again. I had not installed any programs on my phone, so I knew it was either hardware related or an issue to do with Windows Mobile. I called Verizon once again. Here is a summary of the experience:

  1. I call the number for technical support. After about 10 minutes on hold, the phone system says I have to hang up and call back.
  2. I call back and am transferred to a lady. She informs me I need data support. I wait on hold for 5 minutes and am again disconnected.
  3. I call back once again and am connected to another representative. I explain my issue and he connects me to data support. He said he would wait on hold with me, but didn’t appear to when I asked a question a few minutes later.
  4. After 25 minutes in your hold queue, I am connected to a representative. He explains I need to be transferred again. I ask for the call to be elevated.
  5. I speak to a supervisor. He tells me I can get a new phone overnighted. I asked if it would be possible to switch to another phone. He explains I would have to go to the Verizon store, pay the difference in the two phones, and extend my contract. He explains that if I have another issue with my newest phone, I can send it to Verizon and they will send me a new phone (as opposed to a refurbished one). That would be a total of three phones. He isn’t very helpful and I seem to have no other choices.
  6. I am connected back to the representative and give him the details to send me the new phone. I am given a confirmation number and the phone is overnighted.

Total time from when I first decide to call Verizon to resolution (in Verizon’s terms) is over an hour and a half. The experience was completely unsatisfactory. I then wrote a letter and sent an email to Verizon explaining my problem and my general opinion about their company.

The resolution:
The next day, a lady from the company’s executive offices (read: frustrated customer department) calls. She asks for some more details, apologizes about the inconveniences, and all of that. The apology wasn’t the most sincere one I’ve ever heard, but I am pretty sure she was genuinely trying to help me and resolve the issues.

I explain that I’d like to get another phone. I tell her which model I’m interested in (it costs about 40% more than my previous model) and she tells me that she’ll look up my account and see. An hour or so later, she calls me back and says that I can pay the difference and they’ll overnight the new phone. I don’t have to extend my service contract.

Throughout the entire process, the lady was good about returning calls and following up. She answered my questions, ensured that I would get my car charger replaced (which I did), and so on.

A few things I didn’t like and where I think Verizon could improve:

  • I had to pay the shipping to send my phone to her.
  • The 10 day window is kind of small, especially when you have to send things yourself. Many companies use 30 days.
  • She said they couldn’t replace the phone with a new one because it was what the manufacuter warranty provided. That’s true, but it is a classic not our fault, but it is our problem situation.
  • They shouldn’t make it so you have to go through 3-4 phones in order to change. That has to cost Verizon a lot in technical support and shipping.
  • I haven’t gotten a satisfaction survey yet. Let’s see if I do.

On Wednesday (I believe), I called Verizon to ask a quesiton about my bill and then later, to activate my phone. Both times, the employee were friendly and helpful. I also got a call from the lady in the executive offices about my billing question, which was impressive. She must have been watching it to ensure I didn’t have any problems.

Oh: the new phone is working fine. So far, so good.

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