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The easiest way to get to know your customer.

A search log recently indicated that a reader was interested in knowing what Dell service tags told the company about the reader. From my understanding, they tell about virtually everything. And, that’s the beauty of them.

Service tags are great. They are one form of universal ID for your customers and the company. They give everyone at every level of the organization an idea about what the customer has, what type of account the customer is, etc. They tie service tags in with their IVR systems and call routing. It can be used for almost everything. I am surprised more companies don’t use similar methods.

So, something companies should try to is associate a service tag like process with all of their customers. It should be on every order, every ticket, and so on. Any employee should be able to enter it in their computers and get an idea about the customer. Just how much they would see would depend on their position, department, etc.

To me, this would be a nearly perfect experience:

Rep: Hello, thank you for calling Company XYZ. This is John Smith.
Customer: Yes, I have a problem with my web site.
Rep: I’d be more than happy to help you with that. May I have your name, please?
Customer: Yes – it’s Betty Jones.
Rep: Thank you, Ms. Jones. Do you happen to know your customer number? If I can get that, it’ll allow me to look up your account quickly.
Customer: Oh yes, it’s 123456.
Customer: Thank you, Ms. Jones. Let me check that out. Just a moment, please.

The representative would know all about the customer, her web site, and the rest. The representative could tell if Ms. Jones was a rude or angry customer (assuming it was recorded in the customer notes), how much Ms. Jones paid a month, and all about her recent service issues. See how useful that is?

An important thing to do is not go like: “Hello, thank you for calling. What is your customer number?” That is a bad way to start a conversation and makes the customer feel as if they are just a number. A surprising amount of companies do that.  

Here are some good things to associate with account IDs/service tags/etc.:

  • Name, address, phone numbers, etc.
  • Time customer has been with the company
  • Various products/services ordered or subscribed to
  • Configurations of various products/services
  • Any recent changes to product/services
  • Any current credits that have been issued
  • Open service issues (cases, tickets, etc.)
  • Previously closed service issues (cases, tickets, etc.)
  • Personal notes about customer (whatever may be added by previous representatives)

Basically anything about the customer, the product/service, and the account. Though it may sound creepy, you can never actually have enough information about the customer. Knowing a lot about them (if used properly) will help you provide better service. What is very tough is to organize all of the information and being able to easily access it.

More power to CRM done right! Tomorrow’s post is about replacing mundane ticket case numbers with account IDs/service tags/etc.

Airline Customer Service

I have met very few people that enjoy the customer service experience associated with flying. A few companies like Southwest and JetBlue stand out from the crowd, but in general (and even with these airlines that are supposed to be “better”), flying is a terrible experience. Airlines try to get over on you and the government doesn’t make things easier either.

So how could airlines improve their customer service? A few suggestions from me (though many airlines may already be doing this):

Hire friendly people.
I think this is the number one most important thing that airlines should do. If they hire friendly people (for those who interact with customers) for every part of the experience that they can control (flight attendants, ticket agents, reservation people, etc.), it’ll make a huge difference in the overall experience. As always, they should remember to smile! Friendly people can make a negative experience a lot better.

Improve the web sites.
Airline web sites seem to be terrible. I’ve dealt with a few different ones in the past (and recently) and they are bad. They lack consisitency, it’s very hard to find the place you want, and finding a page to explain terms and how things work is even harder. Airlines need to add live chat agents, lots of helpful in-page tips/information, and more. Use bigger fonts, tables, pictures, etc. – all things that help make the site and the experience better.

In our interview with him, Joe Kraus of JotSpot (now Google), said that two elements that are extremely important in business are visual design and customer service. He’s right. You need a well designed product/service and a great team supporting it for the best experience.

Don’t hide things.
Airlines have their little games with upgrades, how to do best in certain scenarios, and all of that. They also charge you if you call them to make a reservation. If they got rid of things like that, I think customers would have more trust in the airlines. Trust is always a good way to help an experience and a customer relationship.

Good magazines.
It’s a small thing, but good magazines in seats would always be nice. The airlines can probably get sample copies from the various publishers and have them in the planes at little to no cost. Other small things that could make a difference and maybe not to add extra cost are different types of foods (maybe a big discount to the airline?), more programming choices for in-flight entertainment, and similar little addons and improvements.

Help people.
I don’t why an airline hasn’t bought a site like Citysearch yet – it makes sense to me. They should encourage people to travel to various destinations and should help them along the way. Airlines should provide guides about the places people are going (if I’m flying to San Francisco, it’d be cool to have a “Experience San Francisco” guide in my seat), how to deal with airport security, and similar things. That information should be available to me before, during, and after my trip. Again, just a little thing that can make a nice difference.

Learn from JetBlue.
JetBlue had some serious customer service problems not too long ago. I wrote a post about what they could have done to make the experience better. While the advice mainly applies to more crisis orientated and not day to day situations, I think it’s useful nonetheless.

Airlines are in a unique position. They really have to watch about how much money they spend and there are a lot of restrictions on what they can do. What would you do?

Over the next few months, I’ll be flying on three separate airlines. I’ll report back about how the customer service experience was with each one. I’m also working on arranging an interview with a few airlines.

Did any customer service people ever watch the show Airline on A&E? It was interesting from a customer service perspective I thought.

Customer Service Tips from FeedBurner

FeedBurner is a company I have always had a lot of respect for. I’ve recently started using their services for my blog and have been impressed with their customer service. I’ve interacted with a few of their executives and have been equally impressed with them as well. The company is generally well regarded and has a good reputation. They were also recently acquired by Google for $100 million. Pretty good, I’d say.

A blog I particularly enjoy is one written by the co-founder of FeedBurner, Dick Costolo called Ask the Wizard. While the blog has primarily focused on aspects related to raising funding and its related practices, Dick recently posted about customer service. Needless to say, that interested me.

Dick talks about his experience with an airline and a hotel. The hotel, which didn’t talk about its customer service at all, provided great customer service. The airline, which gave the typical “we love our customers” bit, provided terrible customer service. His point (and one of the things I try to talk about): don’t just talk about it, do it! Talk is cheap, action is better. Dick then goes on to say:

You cannot provide or foster phenomenal customer service by saying you have it. You can only provide and foster customer service by embedding the customer in your company.

Pretty good advice. His suggestions for embedding customer service?

  1. Serve only the customer.
  2. Be transparent.

I’d agree with these as well.

Claiming you are customer-centric isn’t good enough, you have to be live and breath customer service and the act/mantra of being customer-centric. You have to think about how everything will affect the customer and the customer experience. Your decisions should be based upon what’s best for the customer. In my experiences, companies either do these or they don’t. I’ve rarely seen a middle ground.

Transparency is something I have discussed a lot at Service Untitled. There are plenty of posts here that explain my thoughts on transparency and how important it is to a successful customer service organization.

It’s always interesting to hear entrepreneurs give their takes on customer service. A lot of them look at big picture things (which is good) and their opinions are quite interesting. “Customer service people” have different, yet still very similar ideas of what makes a great customer service. I just like seeing how the opinions and techniques vary.

Sometime over the next week or so, I’m going to talk about how FeedBurner should handle the whole getting acquired by Google process. I’m sure they have a great plan, but you know what they say about opinions.

Oh, and this company recently linked to my blog. I’m curious to see what they end up doing – it looks like it may be pretty cool. If anyone from the company reads my blog (which I assume they do), give me a shout. I’d love to chat. In fact, any reader that would like to chat is more than welcome to contact me.

Quick Post: Monitor What People Say

It’s a holiday here in the US and as such, it’ll be just a quick post today.

I found a cool post at Lifehacker the other day about monitoring what people say about you. This is something that is important for companies to do and the way they described provides a very complete way to see what is being said about your company, product, etc. around the Internet.

The link explains basically everything you need to do. You are essentially importing a series of subscriptions (20+) from various search and other sources to your RSS reader. In my test, some of them weren’t really needed, but you can always add/remove searches as you want.

If you are concerned what people are saying about your company and regular Google Alerts isn’t good enough, this method is as good as any that I am aware of.

How do you monitor the Internet for mentions of your company, products, or services?

Your Secret Weapon – Internal PR

This is a guest writer post by a Service Untitled reader Joseph Wilburn (bio and link below). It’s about a very interesting way to use a less known form of PR to help customer service. Enjoy!

Getting the real prospective on how your organization is functioning is always a good thing. It is especially important in a call center setting where the organization sets the tone for communicating the right message from the executive down to the front line and out to the client. In a high volume call center, there may be thousands of contacts and each one of those needs to be the best possible one it can be. How do we create an environment for that sort of contact? It is not always possible to control the externalities that may affect your organization, but it is quite possible to manage communication with the “internal public” on your front-lines. This concept is called internal PR, an oft talked about yet continually elusive management function. Internal PR functions can give structure to internal dialogue to keep morale high, stop persistent turnover, and provide a way to measure and manage crisis situations.

Internal social networking tools, blogs and Intranet especially are invaluable tools to get the frontline talking and trading experiences. Of course, as with all networking tools there should be guidelines for decorum, but this aside, they can give access to management for suggestions, social functions, and generally enhancing transparency in internal communication as a whole. When employees have a chance to express themselves in a professional environment this helps to support and boost morale amongst the frontlines.

An environment for good morale translates into higher retention rates for employees. Plainly, the more satisfied employees are, the more likely they will stay. This is crucial in the call centre environment where training is often job-specific and high rates of turn over create a persistent learning curve which projects an unpolished image to the outside client.

Creating an environment for internal PR to flourish is invaluable during times of crisis. If your organization is perceived as a competent communicator by its employees, the more faith they will have during times when everyone needs to pull together for mutual benefit. As well, having a greased communications machine helps get the message out quickly, to the right people, in the right manner. Frontline staff need not have a complete training in media relations, but rest assured (and this is from personal experience) the media will call your number to get a statement from an insider, even a call center agent, so plan for that eventuality.

Having a good internal PR machine can be likened to eating well. The healthier the communicative process is from the inside, the better the organization will look to outsiders. That just makes sense, if your organization serves itself well, it will be well positioned to serve its clientele in the same fashion. Of course, it would be impossible to train your frontline to be PR professionals, but with the right structure and process installed they don’t need to be. They will be able to rely on the management structure to help them communicate what needs to be projected and help to protect and build upon the goodwill everyone in the organization has strived to acheive.

About the Writer: Joseph Wilburn, is a Public Relations graduate student at Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, Canada. He has worked extensively in the call centre environment, from agent to management and is now transitioning into a career in PR. He blogs regularly at http://prcogitation.wordpress.com about PR-related issues from a student prospective.

Who’s accountable?

While accounting and the like may very well be interesting, I promise this post is not about accounting.

I read this post the other day at Customers Are Always. A reader at the blog provided an interesting suggestion, which I have re-printed below (with some minor formatting change):

I have a pretty straight forward clear cut idea on how to improve customer service. 

Every business should create a web site that contains a database of numbers, and have each of their employees represented by their own individual set of numbers.  The computer will automatically print the numbers of the employee on the back of the receipt that they give you at the end of the transaction, whether it be a cashier, a food server, a bank clerk etc. 

On the back of the receipt, make note that (upon returning home) if the customer logs in to the site and rates the performance of their customer service agent that the customer will receive a discount or some type of incentive upon their next visit to the establishment.  With this being known to the employees, it will automatically prompt them to perform with a higher level of Professionalism and there should be a reward system set up for them as well. 

People just wish to feel appreciated, therefore treat your employees with respect and appreciation and they will in turn feel inclined to do likewise for your customers. 

Happy employees + Satisfied customers = Thriving Business; it all adds up!

Sounds like the three legged stool, eh? Actually, this suggestion is all about accountability. If there are a few buzz words that make for good customer service, accountability is definitely one of them (along with empathy, resolution, etc.).

When people are held accountable, they generally take more pride in their work. If someone does well, they can easily be recognized and rewarded. On the other hand, if someone does poorly, it’s very easy to find out who is responsible. Accountability is great for things like that.

The suggestion above is practical accountability. It is also a great way to collect feedback – good and bad. The incentive (discount, points, etc.) will hopefully ensure a higher return rate. If representatives are instructed to tell people about it, the return rate may be even higher.

This tackles a lot: give the customers an excellent way to provide feedback, make employees accountable, reward employees who do well, and work with employees who don’t do well.

To take it a step further, let customers do the survey using text messages, regular voice phone calls, IM, etc. The more ways (and the easier it is) for them to complete the survey, the more likely they will be to do it.

In short, great idea. Definitely worth looking into and if possible, doing.

Some quick posts.

Today is a series of quick posts that will make up one average post.

All About No: When and How to Say it
In looking at stats, I notice a lot of people are curious about when and how to say no. Luckily, I wrote about that back in February of this year. Here is the link about when and how to say no. The main point is to come up with alternative solutions instead of flat out saying no.

On etiquette.
While we are on the subject of etiquette, check out the entire category devoted to here at Service Untitled. For a more narrow focus of what not to say, check out the “Big List of Things Not to Say.” I’d consider it a must read.

Spa customer service and outsourcing?
Another reader asked if spa customer service can be outsourced. Sure it can! Almost any process can be outsourced. Some things that spas could do:

  • Outsource incoming telephone calls and appointments
  • Have another company remind customers about appointments
  • Outsourced sales
  • Have a “concierge” service made up out of outsourced employees

Keep in mind that the term outsourced does not necessarily mean people in a place like India. It just means a particular task or process is sent to a third party company. An outsourced firm could be in India or Iowa. When a task or process is sent overseas, that’s called offshoring.

The drone script.
I was shopping at Gap today. Overall, it was a decent customer service experience. I was helped quickly and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not treated like a shoplifter when I went to try something on (no numbers or person guarding the doors). When I went to checkout, the guy had his script:

  • Were you able to find everything today?
  • Would you like a Gap blah [No!] blah save 1000% card? (I said no as he said Gap card and he finished his little speech anyways.)
  • Would you like your receipt or would you like it in the bag?

Pretty boring when representatives use the drone script as I call it. Be original (and genuine)! This is why operating procedures are better than scripts.

My pleasure!
I asked for a straw as I was walking my the Chick-fil-A in my local mall. I said thanks and the lady came out with a genuine “My pleasure!” I’ve been pretty impressed with that Chick-fil-A’s customer service (have never been to any others). They seem to do things right and it definitely shows.

Needless to say, the Chick-fil-A is always really busy. The other places – not nearly as much. I’d like to think it’s the service, but I’m sure the food being good (maybe not for you) helps.

How was that? I got to cover 5 things in one post. Maybe I should start a new category and call it Customer Service ADHD?

Five W’s of Premium Support

I’ve talked about premium support before. It is a subject that interests me. Today’s post is about the five W’s of premium support. The last post on the subject was more “why” and this post is more “how.”

  • Who you should have manning the phones and emails.
    Ideally, you should have more experienced representatives manning the phones and emails of your premium support. They shouldn’t have better training necessarily, but should at least have 20-30% more experience. Relevant experience is key.
  • What should premium support cover.
    Exactly what premium support covers depends on the company and the product/service. In computer support, it might cover specific help with popular programs (i. e. Word or Excel) or more advanced hardware support. My general rule of thumb is to include the lower end of what you charge extra for. (So, if you usually charge $10/hour for Microsoft Word support – offer it with premium support for free.)
  • Why you should have premium support.
    Ideally, it would be because your customers have expressed interest in such a program. That probably isn’t the full story, though. Other reasons might be: some customers have more advanced requirements when it comes to support; some customers need faster responses; and others are willing to pay more for a combination of things.
  • Where the people should be based and how help should be available.
    Where the people should be based is often controversial. I’d say the answer is “where the customers are.” If your customers are in the United States, they should be connected to representatives in the US. If they are in Australia, the representatives should be in Australia.
  • When you should make it happen.
    Do your research, set up the procedures, hire the people, train the people, and so on. Ensure you have everything ready before flipping the switch. If possible, run the premium support offerings by a few groups of customers and see what the feedback is before launching.
  • When people should be available.
    Premium support people should have extended hours, preferably 24/7. They should also have faster and guaranteed response times than regular support.
  • How to make it happen.
    Get started now! Talk to your customers, start planning, begin interviewing people, ask for feedback, and you’ll soon learn where you need to go next.

These are just some things to consider. Obviously, starting a premium support program is a big thing to consider and you should work carefully.

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