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The Step by Step Guide to Support Email

This is a simple guide stating the proper etiquette and procedure for replying to support email. It’s mostly “little things” and it definitely assumes that you are able to do the technical end of the job (i. e. the actual fixing). As always, suggestions and feedback are welcomed.

Address all customers by name.
Make an effort to address customers by name. If they don’t mention their name, look for clues (i. e. their name is in the email address) or look up the account using the email address, account number, etc.

Thank the customer for contacting your company.
Tell the customer “Thank you for contacting Company XYZ.”

Offer apologies/recognitions as appropriate.
The next part of your email should apologize for inconveniences, thank them for their sign up, or whatever. Be sure to be empathetic. Something quick like “I apologize for any inconveniences related to your web site being down. I truly understand how frustrating that can be and am sorry that this happened.”

Offer to help.
After apologizing and/or recognizing, offer to help. Lines like “I’d be more than happy to help you do that”, “It would be pleasure to assist you with X”, and so on are great. They show that you want to help and that you are going to be friendly about it.

Offer a fix/solution/etc.
Offer a fix, solution, or anything of the sort. This is the actual content of your support email.

Offer an explanation about the cause.
The next step is to offer an explanation about what caused the issue. You’ll want to explain who or what caused it and why.

Explain why it won’t happen again.
As soon as you say what caused the problem, explain why it won’t happen again. Mention all of the steps you took to ensure that the problem will never happen again. If you can’t make such guarantees, say why.

Thank them for contacting your company (again).
Sometimes being redundant is a good thing.

Offer to help further.
Do the standard “If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us.” line. It may be helpful to state the hours that you are available or similar information.

Offer personal contact information.
Sometimes offering personal contact information can give the customer additional confidence. Something like “If you wish to contact me directly, my email address is x@xyz.com. Alternatively, you can call me at 123-456-7891.” never hurts.

A nice (but still brief) signature should close out the email. Either have your entire name (first and last) or just your first. It looks kind of odd when you do first name, last initial.

Sometime over the next week or so I’ll post a sample “perfect” email that includes all of these steps.

Personalize customer service.

I believe the difference between acceptable and great customer service is usually how much an organization can personalize the customer service experience. Personalizing the customer service experience is quite difficult and organizations really have to think about it to get it right.

So how do you customize the customer service you provide? Here are some of the things I usually suggest:

Collect information about customers.
You don’t want to be “Big Brother”, but you do want to collect information about your customers, especially their:

  • Likes
  • Dislikes
  • Preferences
  • Important dates
  • Reasons for coming to your location/choosing your business
  • etc.

All of that information can be used to customize the customer service experience. More importantly, the information should be readily available. Let’s say a couple of visiting a hotel to celebrate their anniversary. Here are some areas in the customer service experience that companies should note:

  • When the customer calls to make a reservation, the hotel should ask what the occasion is. If they say anniversary, it should be noted.
  • When the customer pulls up to the hotel, the bell staff should find out the customer’s name and immediately wish them a happy anniversary.
  • The front desk clerk should do the same.
  • If the couple orders room service, there should be a note wishing them a happy anniversary or something along those lines.
  • and so on.

The hotel should then pay attention to what the couple orders (drinks, food, etc.) and note that. Many hotels pay attention to what customers use from the mini-bar and store that. Others use that to provide the customers will free gifts every now and then.

Use signals to tell other employees about customers.
I read about a spa that uses different color smocks (is that what they are called?) for new customers vs. old customers. It signals to all employees in the spa that the customer is new and that they should be welcomed. When they see someone that has a smock on that indicates they have been there before, employees say things like “welcome back” and so on. It is a classic example of a little thing that makes a big difference.

Your company can find ways to do this as well. A company I worked with used a certain code in tickets to indicate if a customer had signed up within the last 30 or say days. A ticket ID of NFQ49341 indicated that the customer was new. AFH93341 showed that it was a regular customer (since it didn’t start with N). The key is to be creative about signals you can give to all employees.

Use notes to help the experience in other ways.
Another company I worked with used the previously mentioned “notes on customer” to make notes of customers that were usually demanding, easily frustrated, technically literate, etc. They used that information to ensure customers talked to someone who could best help them.

What types of customer service personalization have you seen? What has made the biggest difference?

Skill level based routing.

Yesterday I told you that Dell was considering asking customers about their skill levels and routing calls appropriately. I briefly discussed this over a year ago (!) and have always thought it was a good idea.

There are some obvious pros to using skill level based routing:

  • Able to better utilize agent skills. Level 1 agents can deal with level 1 issues, level 2 agents can deal with level 2 issues, and so on.
  • Less transfers/elevations. If an advanced issue gets to an advanced representative off the bat, less elevations and transfers.
  • Happier customers. Advanced users don’t need to feel frustrated because they are treated like they are dumb. Novice users don’t need to feel frustrated because they have to keep asking the representative to explain everything.
  • No wasted time/effort. An advanced Windows user doesn’t need to be told how to get to the Device Manager. A novice probably does. Also skips the need to elevate issues.

Just like anything with pros, skill level based routing definitely has cons.

  • People lie. Some people may mark that they are an expert when they definitely aren’t. Or, some people may mark they are a novice when they are fairly advanced (less common I would imagine, but still possible).
  • Interpretations differ. What company X considers to be expert level may be different than what I could to be expert level. Compared to my mother, I’m expert with Linux (I’m not sure if she knows what Linux is). Compared to a senior Linux system administrator, I am a newbie.
  • Areas of expertise differ. It can be confusing to rate yourself as well. I’m great with software, but know almost nothing about software. Does that mean I’d rate myself as a novice or an expert?
  • Subsequent problems. If someone lies or the interpretations differ too greatly, that could cause problems with the system. A person may end up talking to an under-qualified rep, or a person may end up talking to a rep who isn’t stopping to explain everything.

The best part of pros and cons are solutions. Here are some possible ways to deal with some of the cons:

  • Make skill level based routing optional. Ask customers if they would like to rate their skills and be transferred accordingly. Some customers may want to do that, others may not.
  • Ask questions. Instead of flat out asking for a skill level, ask a few questions (see below). Based on the answers to those questions, route the call accordingly. Take it a step further and tell the customer what level you think they are.
  • Tell about skill levels. The IVR could give a few sentence description about each skill level. Something like “Expert users are users who are proficient with operating and configuring Windows, can troubleshoot most issues by themselves, and are confident in browsing the Internet safely and securely.” can help explain what the company’s expectations are.

Sample Questions:
Here are some examples of questions you can ask (this is for PC support):

  • Do you know how to access the device manager? Yes | No | What’s the device manager?
  • Are you familiar with the command prompt? I know the basics | I am an advanced command prompt user | I don’t know what the command prompt is
  • Are you comfortable installing and un-installing programs? Yes | No
  • Do you know how to open your computer (physically)? Yes | No
  • Can you check if internal cables are fitted properly? Yes | No
  • Do you run regular spyware/virus scans on your computer? Yes | No

Those are just some sample questions that you can ask. Depending on the type of issues you deal with most frequently, the questions can be adjusted. For example, if your company dealt with 90% software issues, they would need to focus on that. Questions could also ask about what the customer does with their computer. If they say “gaming”, chances are they are a bit more skilled than the average user.

What are your suggestions for making a system like this work?

Edit: Dave at Angel IVR blog has posted a great follow up to this post.

So what’s Dell doing?

In the next couple of weeks, you’ll see an interview from Richard “Dick” Hunter of Dell posted here at Service Untitled. It’s an interview I’ve been excited about and one I think will be a great read.

Dick is Dell’s VP of Consumer Customer Experience & Support. Basically, he is Dell’s top customer service guy. I spoke to him for about an hour or so yesterday and he shared some great (and very candid) information about where Dell is at with their customer service.

From looking at my notes, here are some tidbits that stuck out:

Getting better.
A year or so ago, Dell’s customer service was really bad. And they admit it. They did some things that Dick called “stupid.” It’ll be explained further in the interview, but needless to say, Dell figured out that cutting corners in customer service doesn’t help. They realize they aren’t anywhere near perfect (Dick rated Dell as a 6.5 out of 9 when it comes to customer service), but are getting better. From he numbers he gave me, it seems that they are indeed getting better, but still have lots of work to do.

Premium offerings.
Dell is thinking about launching a premium service offering. It’ll be the type of thing where you can pay extra when buying your computer and you’ll speak to representatives exclusively in North America, etc. How would you handle this if you were Dell? What if you were a customer – would you pay for it?

Less outsourcing.
I asked Dick a lot about outsourcing. The bottomline is that Dell is cutting back on outsourcing. They really want everyone you talk to to be employed by Dell (not an outsourcing firm). Furthermore, they are working to ensure they are in North America. A bit under 50% of Dell’s calls go to North America now.

Skill level based routing.
Dell may start asking you what you would consider your skill level to be. Dick told me the company deals with everyone from “gamers to grandmas.” Their IVR might start asking you what you would consider yourself and routing your call appropriately. This makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons (a subject I’ll discuss this week, probably).

The customer relationship is king.
Dell really values the relationship with the customer. Not so much how you and I would think about it, but in the sense that Dell knows a lot about their consumers. They know what type of computer they have, what issues they have had in the past, and so on. All of that helps them tailor the customer service experience to each customer.

Team structure coming eventually.
Dell is considering a team based structure (similar to the ones employed at Printing For Less and Rackspace). They want it so that a customer can deal with the same group of people instead of a whole bunch of relatively random call center agents. This, to me, was the biggest piece of news and quite interesting.

My interview turnaround time is quite slow. I’m going to try and get this one typed out and published as soon as possible, though. Feel free to provide your feedback about where you think Dell is heading and how these changes will help in the comments.

Client vs. Customer

I was discussing the differences between a client and a customer with some colleagues of mine the other day. They eventually decided to refer to the people who pay them for their services as customers. However, it got me thinking about the difference between a client and a customer?

To avoid confusion, I’ll refer to the people who pay others for their services or products as users, not clients or customers.

I look at clients as more users of a service having to do with people. Consultants, lawyers, and so on have clients. It is more of a relationship with an individual instead of a company. I also associate clients with services where the user will only use the company one or two times at most. It isn’t a constant or recurring thing. For example, web designers refer to their users as clients. Most companies don’t need a web design monthly.

Clients also has to do with client relations. Some companies just call customer service “client relations,” but that isn’t what I feel client relations is. Client relations, to me, is the pro-active building of relationships with users. Finding out what they like, don’t like, and tailoring solutions to the user is what client relations is to me.

Customers are different than clients. I usually advise companies that deal with recurring services or products to refer to their users as customers. Customers are not inferior to clients – it is just a different type of product/service. Companies like phone companies, web hosting companies, cable companies, and so on refer to their users as customers.

Customer service is also a great phrase and one that customers easily associate with. It leaves plenty of room for responding to service queries, building relationships, and more. It’s not an odd one and rarely feels awkward.

Guests, Members, Patients, etc.
Some industries have specialized phrases to call users. They have guests (hotels and often, restaurants), members (associations, communities, clubs, etc.), patients (doctors or hospitals), and so on. If your industry has a specialized one, remember, you don’t have to use it. Going above and beyond the norm is a great way to show that you care about your users.

Be consistent.
The most important thing when it comes to referring to your users is being consistent. It’ll take a bit of getting used to at first, but after a while, it comes very naturally. You’ll never thinking about referring to your users as clients after a few weeks of referring to them as customers. Just work hard to remain consistent for those first few weeks and you’ll be fine.

Interesting Stats

Though metrics aren’t my specialty, I find web site statistics quite interesting. Service Untitled site uses three (now four) separate statistic programs. One is provided by our web host (server level), another is the very commonly used Google Analytics, the other is 103bees (I use it to monitor searches), and finally, the last one is called Reinvigorate, which I only started using the other day.

I was browsing through Google Analytic’s stats today and came across the section that lists the networks of my visitors. Large companies have their own networks, so from looking at the list, I can tell employees from these companies have been reading Service Untitled over the last week:

  • Verizon
  • CarMax
  • Porter Novelli (HP’s PR firm)
  • Dell Computer
  • PGM Inc (a survey firm)
  • Communico (they wrote How to Talk to Customers)
  • 24 Hour Fitness
  • Interland (a web hosting company)
  • Precision Response Corp (another survey firm)
  • Hewlett-Packard Company
  • Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research
  • TGV Software
  • The Mayo Clinic
  • Grey Advertising
  • Solers (software for defense industry company)
  • Nordstrom
  • AARP
  • Harper Macleod (Scottish law firm)
  • Raecom (software company)
  • National City Corporation (bank)
  • and lots of others.

It’s interesting to see how varied the readers of Service Untitled are. This only represents readers from large companies. On a different list, there are quite a few other companies and surprisingly, a lot of government organizations.

Oh, and Service Untitled’s readers are very much Windows users. 94.5% of the site’s visitors use Windows. 4.6% use Macs.

Just some information/stats that I thought you might find interesting. The more I know about the readers, the more I can tailor posts to specific interests and industries.

As always, feel free to provide your comments, suggestions, etc. It doesn’t matter who you work for – I’d love to hear from you.

Sample Client Thank You Notes

According to some of the statistics reports I get (I’m watching you – kind of, sort of, not really), readers are interested in sample client thank you notes.

So, here are a few suggestions:

1. Random, thank you for being a customer note.

Hi John,

I just wanted to send you a quick note and thank you for being a customer of Company XYZ. We love working with you and are honored that you select us time and time again to be your preferred widget cleaner. Your continued support and and suggestions have help us grow into a better company. For that, I wanted to send you a special note thanking you.

Thank you so much! We look forward to continuing to work with you for years to come.

Best regards,

Bob Bobsen
Company XYZ

2. Thank you for your order!

Hi John,

Thanks for your order with Company XYZ!

Thank you so much for your order with Company XYZ. We appreciate you choosing us to be your widget cleaner. Rest assured, we will work our hardest to provide you with quality widget cleaning services for years to come.

Welcome to the Company XYZ family. Thank you again for your order. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Best regards,

Bob Bobsen
Company XYZ

3. Thank you for a compliment.

Hi John,

One of our customer service representatives, Sam, forwarded me your note from yesterday.

I wanted to send you a quick email [or letter] to thank you for the compliment. We try very hard and it makes everyone, especially the involved representative (in this case, Sam) feel great when customers send us words of praise. Customer service is a hard job and it’s compliments like yours that help us go to work with a smile on our faces every day!

Thank you again for your compliment. It is truly our pleasure to serve and work with you on a daily basis.

Best regards,

Bob Bobsen
Company XYZ

4. Thank you for your feedback.

Hi John,

Thank you for sending your feedback to Company XYZ! We truly appreciate it when customers take time out of their busy days to provide us with some open and honest feedback about our products and services.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to let us know how you feel. We appreciate your business and truly want to make your experience as pleasant as possible.

Best regards,

Bob Bobsen
Company XYZ

Those are just four sample thank you notes. The key things each thank you note most do are:

Address the customer by name and be personal.
Each note should contain some specifics about the situation, the compliment, or whatever. That way, the customer knows it isn’t just a canned response.

Be from someone who is either a manager/executive or directly involved.
In other words, you shouldn’t have a dedicated “thank you note sender.” The note has to come from someone at manager/executive level (hopefully related to the position/situation) or from someone who was is on the frontline.  For example, if someone sends their feedback about an advertisement you placed, either the Director of Marketing or a staff copy writer should reply. Not someone from your PR or legal department.

Be sincere.
If you can’t be sincere with your thank you notes, don’t write them.

Praise the customer.
The point of thanking them is almost to praise them. Thank them for their business, for their understanding, etc. They want to know that you care about what they did and there is no better way to let them know by saying so.

Send them.
You can’t say anything unless you actually send thank you notes. Make a habit of sending thank you notes. Hand write them and (snail) mail them once in a while as well. Email is great, but there is nothing like a hand written thank you note.

As I’ve said before, thank you for reading Service Untitled! I appreciate all the comments, emails, suggestions, and more that the great readers provide on a daily basis. They have helped me grow and develop as a professional and a blogger.

More on thank you notes can be found here and here.

Have a great weekend!

Quick Post: How long should a phone survey be?

I’m going to start a something called a “Quick post.” It’s quite simple – a post shorter than my average 500 or so word post. I’m not sure how often I’ll do them, but for simple questions and posts, they work.

Today’s topic is how long should a phone survey be?

My quick answer would be 2 – 5 minutes. Anything less and you aren’t getting too much from the survey. Anything more and customers will start to get frustrated or looking at their watch.

When calling to do a survey, state how long it’ll take. Don’t lie or the customer won’t trust your company if you call again. Make sure at least 70 – 80% of the calls get done in the amount of time you say. If you say they average 2 minutes, and only 52% of calls are around 2 minutes, it isn’t good.

I have a whole category on surveys. There are some great tips/suggestions in it – go check them out.

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