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The Human (Voice) Element

This post has nothing to do with the cool “Human Element” advertising campaign from Dow. However, it does have to do with the importance of the human voice in customer service interactions. eStara sent me this link, which I thought was pretty interesting.

Here is the key quote:

The value of an individual transaction might not be worth the price of the customer’s call, but the long-term value of the relationship is well worth it.

Companies frequently overlook that important philosophy. Most companies will lose money on the individual customer service interaction, but if it improves what the customer thinks about the company, the money for the call can be well worth it.

Scottrade utilizes their local traders, who likely know their customers best, to provide customer service. Building a relationship with the customer certainly makes providing great customer service easier and more efficient.

Their idea is great. The traders are the people the customers work with, so they should be the ones providing the customer service. And since they are providing the customer service, they should be well trained in providing great customer service, how to do it, and so on. This should be done with other industries where there is usually one main point of contact (lower level attorneys, etc. come to mind). Of course, support staff (think secretaries or assistants) should also get customer service training.

When customers have a really good customer service experience, the worse case scenario is that the customer is impressed and continues to use your company. The best case scenario? They tell their friends and family about what a good experience they had. That of course generates new business, better branding, and so on.

Something I ramble about is the importance of the entire customer vs. just one support interaction. It only takes one bad support interaction to kill the entire customer experience, so don’t nickel and dime your customers. And, don’t look at customer service a cost. I prefer to look at as a way to build a relationship with customers, that will eventually have a very positive ROI. This is also known as an investment. How appropriate for a company like Scottrade.

Airline Customer Service – Part 1

While I’m writing this, I am sitting in seat 7C on Frontier Airlines. I’ve already suggested how I think airlines can improve their customer service, so how do these companies actually do? Overall, Frontier Airlines hasn’t been that bad. The staff has been pretty friendly, the seat is okay, and the overall airport experience was as good as it could have been (quick check-in, no security line). Oh, and the plane was on time and clean. Based on this experience, and especially compared to other flying experiences, there isn’t that much to complain about.

That’s a terrific thing for customers, but not for customer service professionals. We always need something to critique in order to be able to do our jobs and make ourselves worth the time/effort/money that people put into hiring us. So what could Frontier Airlines do better? Keep in mind, this is really nitpicking. Overall, the experience was very good and I don’t have much to complain about.

Easier to buy TV.
Frontier offers some television programming to passengers (I keep wanting to type customers). This is great and a lovely way to help pass the time of a three or four hour flight, but getting the system to actually accept a credit or debit card seemed tricky. I tried to get it to work and so did the person sitting next to me, but with no luck. The flight attendant came by and got it to work in about a second. She did not explain what she did (or how she did it), but just kept going. Barely a word was muttered. Frontier should try to make the system less guess work and more teaching people how to actually do it.

The crew didn’t know some of the little things.
For example, there was a lot of hesitation when the flight attendant was saying what snacks the airline would be giving out were. If this happened at a restaurant while a waiter was telling the specials, it would be quite noticeable and completely unacceptable. It isn’t hard to look at the packages before you get on to do the announcement. It certainly makes things easier and when people’s movies (that they paid for!) are being interrupted, it’s best to make things easier and quicker. Another passenger asked about some of the liquor they had in stock and the crew member didn’t really know. Her answer was not “I’ll go check – just a minute!” but more a whole bunch of excuses about a frequently changing stock and the company discontinuing some things.

Not much personality.
While I would much rather have a lack of a good personality than a bad personality, I didn’t notice much personality among the crew on the flight. They weren’t rude or mean by any standards, but they didn’t seem to be enthusiastic. There weren’t many smiles, thank yous, or you’re welcomes. In fact, it wouldn’t be stretching it to call the crew customer service bots.

I’ll have plenty of customer service stories to share over the next week or so. I have to deal with a car rental place, a hotel, and a whole bunch of different companies. One of them has to do something worth writing about (good or bad). We’ll see how these major companies do – what they did right, what they did wrong, and how they can improve.

Someone flaunted it.

The other day, I asked people to flaunt the great service they (hopefully) provide. Jenna of aka Chief Sales Servant did just that. Great job, Jenna!
Come on, show off the great service that you provide!

Response vs. Resolution

One of the favorite things my more “academic” colleagues in the customer service fields like to debate is response time vs. resolution. Which one is more important? What is the perfect mix? What grossly complicated math equation can be written to balance the two? That type of thing.

As a quick overview: response time is how long it takes for a human to respond to a message. Resolution time is how long it takes for the issue to be resolved, problem to be fixed, etc. It could take 10 interactions (calls, emails, etc.) or 1 to resolve an issue.

I’m much more of a practical person and like to take the practical approach to solving a problem. My take on response vs. resolution is that you need a healthy mix of both. It kind of goes along with keeping customers in the loop.

To me, as both a customer service nut guru, and a customer, this would be the ideal experience:

  • I send in an email.
  • Automatic reply stating my email has been received.
  • Reply 15 minutes later saying something along the lines of: “Hi Bob, / Thanks for contacting Company XYZ. My name is John and I will be working with you to resolve your issue today. I’m going to check into your issues now. I’ll send you an update as soon as I have more to report. / Thanks again for contacting Company XYZ.”
  • Reply in another 30 minutes with something like “Hi Bob, / My apologies about the delayed response. I’ve been working hard on figuring out what the issue is. I think I’ve narrowed it down <technical blah blah>. With that in mind, I’m going to try a few troubleshooting steps to get this fixed right away. Assuming one of them works (which is very likely), you should be up and running within 25 minutes. / Thanks for your patience.”
  • Reply in another 20 minutes saying “Hi Bob, / It looks like everything is all fixed now. I’ve done some testing and everything is working fine. Let me know if you run into any problems.”
  • Issue marked as resolved.

That’s a pretty good customer service experience, yes? That’s my stand on response time vs. resolution: respond quickly, but just with updates. Take your time on fixing issues and figuring out the core problem, but do provide regular updates.

As I have said more than a few times, if customers know you are working on their issue, they’ll be more patient. Most of the time, all it takes is a simple “I’m working on this right now” message to put customers at ease. If they have faith in your company (which I imagine they do if they have picked you), then status updates are all they need.

What are your thoughts on response time vs. resolution?

When you go above and beyond – flaunt it.

I saw an ad for Rackspace a while back and I’ve included the text below:

Headline: “Luckily, the hurricane didn’t blow us away. But Fanatical Support did.”

Body: “Hurricane Ivan hit our corporate offices in Pensacola, Florida and essentially shut us down. To our surprise, we got a call from Rackspace offering to handle our phone lines, our support requests, even our sales orders. Thanks to them, we were signing up customers as the hurricane was coming ashore. Now, if that’s not fanatical, I don’t know what is.” – Joel Smith, CTO, AppRiver

Going above and beyond to keep customers online is one definition of Fanatical Support. What will yours be?

Watch Joel’s story at www.rackspace.com/fanatical

Now that’s impressive. I have no idea if that actually happened, how much Rackspace charged for it, etc., but it certainly makes for good ad copy. If it went like the ad says, it is definitely going way above and beyond the standard call of duty. Rackspace has a series of similar ads that promote their Fanatical Support offerings and what they mean.

I always advise companies to advertise it when the company as a whole or at least a particular employee goes above and beyond. When I say advertising, it doesn’t have to be buying an ad in Fortune Magazine (like Rackspcae did). In fact, printing out an email or a letter and posting it on the comapny bulletin board often does the trick.

People love to brag about how well they are doing and tell others about how their actions are helping the rest of the planet overcome its problems. Obviously, people exegerate, but if you can provide your employees with “best practices” examples of employees going above and beyond, it helps. Reward the employees (besides recognition – they often like money) that do go above and beyond to add even more encouragement.

I was working with a company the other day and noticed they offered to do something that many companies in their industry wouldn’t. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was beyond the standard call of duty. I suggested they summarize it in a blog post. They agreed and are going to post soon. That’s all it takes. Not a huge deal – just enough to recongize the people involved and show that your company does go above and beyond.

So that is today’s homework. Recall a time (recently) when you went above and beyond the expected call of duty. Then, feature it somewhere. Write a blog post, post the story on the bulletin board, or buy an ad in Fortune Magazine. Just feature it – somewhere!

Customer Service Bot

Edit: I had this post fully written up, but forgot to publish it! Sorry!

Certain people starting in customer service (usually technical people) sometimes have the tendency to turn into what I call “customer service bots.”

About customer service bots.
Customer service bots are men and women who love their operating procedures and follow them down to the letter. Their statements are very rarely more than a couple of words and lack emotion. Customer service bots never expression emotion, either.

Limited phrases.
Customer service bots have an extensive vocabulary that can ask questions like “What is your account number?” or “What is the error message?”. They can also respond to statements and sometimes say things like “Thank you” or “Hold on please”. There is no small talk – it’s all about business.

They get the issue resolved.
Customer service bots seem to get the issue resolved more often than not. Their etiquette may not compare to that of normal customer service representatives, but from my experiences, customer service bots are pretty good at actually resolving issues.

Lots of dead air.
Because of their short sentences/phrases, customer service bots seem to have an unnatural ability to create dead air [PDF download]. It makes the experience even more awkward.

I’m not 100% sure why people turn into customer service bots. Almost every customer service bot I’ve run into is a technical person. They have had technical training and a tech background. There are sales customer service bots, but they aren’t very effective.

So how do you prevent people from turning into customer service bots? It’s hard, because it seems to be more of a personality thing than something specific to the organization or how they do things. Work with representatives that seem like customer service bots. Try to improve their phone and people skills. Both are possible to teach.

If you find that you do have customer service bots, here is what you can do. Mention their bot like traits and see if they are aware of it. They may not be aware of it and can work to improve it. If you don’t see any improvement, consider putting the person in a job that requires less customer interaction and may better utilize the person’s technical skills.

Customer service bots aren’t bad people. They just aren’t overly friendly.

My Glass is Half-Full

Tom at QAQNA asked if my glass was half-full. I can be quite pessimistic, but in general, I try to see the positive side of things. So, here are the answers to the four simple questions:

  1. How full is your glass? Definitely on the half-full side. In fact, filled to the top.
  2. What kind of glass is it? A high water glass
  3. What’s in the glass? Water, orange juice, or milk.
  4. Reasons for #1, #2, & #3? I don’t drink coffee and I think water, orange juice, and milk are all good for me. I don’t think you can wrong if something tastes good and is good for you.

Let’s see. Meikah? Becky? Joe?  You’re next!

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Work for the 99%, not the 1%

I was speaking to someone who helps run customer service for a large company yesterday. A theme that came up fairly frequently was working for the 99% percent of customers that aren’t trying to scam your company and taking your chances with the 1% that do.

A lot of companies treat their 99% like criminals because of the 1%. You have probably been a store where you have to a dressing room unlocked or get a number saying how many items you brought in. This is because the 1%, or even the 5% steals from the store and they have “had to” implement this policy.

Other companies have ridiculous return policies because they think their customers are out to get them. You have to bring your receipt, it has to be returned within 30 minutes of purchase, it can’t be washed, it must have the original tag, etc. The extent that they take the return policies to is crazy.

Other companies, though, don’t treat their customers like criminals and I think they are doing something right. Nordstrom, for example, has a pretty much unconditional return policy. There are urban myths about Nordstrom accepting a tire on a return (they don’t sell tires). Nordstrom trusts their customers and I would say this has been great for the 99% of customers that aren’t out to get Nordstrom.

Radio Shack’s terrible return policy made me swear off the company forever. Headsets.com’s excellent return policy made me a lifelong customer. Radio Shack subscribes to the “our customers are out to get us” philosophy and that doesn’t work.

In April, I wrote a post about how to handle shoplifters. It was prompted by me reading a passage about a woman who was falsely accused of shoplifting.  It’s not uncommon for stores to force people to check their bags. How annoying.

Newsflash: A vast majority of your customers don’t want to rip you off or scam you. A huge majority.

That applies to all types of industries – not just retail. A lot of industries think their customers are out to get them – it just seems to be really obvious in retail. Lots of software companies make you jump through hoops to get your software activated. Why? They think you pirated the software. We’ve come to accept it, but it’s the same thing. There are plenty of other examples. Actually, they are usually disguised as “policies.”

With that in mind, don’t treat your customers like criminals. Work for the 99% that mean well, not the 1% that don’t.

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