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Is customer service cultural?

I read this article about how customer service is different in Japan.

The example that the blogger (Bill Blew) gave was about his Honda salesman (also named Mr. Honda) who came by Bill’s house a month after he bought the car and asked how everything was. That is completely unheard of in this country and I would be very surprised if it happened to me. It is definitely a lot different than my car buying experience.

There are very few people in this country that will show up at a person’s house just to make sure they were happy. The dealer that sold me my car didn’t even call me a month later to see how things were. I wasn’t expecting a call and was delighted that I finally had my car.

The Japanese have a very different work ethic and culture than Americans. They just look at business and how things are supposed to be done differently. There is a divide in other countries as well. Take India as an example. In India, working in a call center for a big company like a Dell or a HP is a high prestige job. In the United States, it isn’t. That is a cultural thing if you ask me.

I also feel that people in some countries (i. e. the Philippines) are on average very hard working. I’ve dealt with several Filipinos and in all of my experiences, I have been really impressed. It is obviously a small sample of their population and there will always be exceptions (good and bad), but from my experience, I have been really impressed with their work ethic and talent.

I feel strongly that how a country’s culture looks at customer service and dealing with people is important. The Japanese have a very different attitude than their American counterparts. Their culture is very much about respect and I have no doubt that their culture of respect plays a big role in their providing great service.

So I ask the question – is customer service a cultural thing? Or do you think it is more a person to person thing? Was Mr. Honda an exceptional salesman because he was Mr. Honda or do you think that Mr. Honda was an exceptional salesman because he was Japanese? Partly or fully?

Note: I am generalizing. I’m basing the information in the above post on my personal experiences and what I’ve read. Feel free to share your opinions and experiences in the comments.

Dealing with the rush.

Maria posted an interesting post on Saturday about dealing with the rush. Dealing with “the rush” is probably one of the hardest aspects of customer service. It is something that constantly challeneges companies of all sizes. What is the right mix between understaffed and overstaffed and how do you achieve that correct level of staffing?

The rush you can perdict.
The rush you can perdict is the easiest one to deal with. It is one you should know about and should be prepared for. In Maria’s example, the local businesses know that Comic Con is going to be in that area of San Diego on X date for probably a year or so in advance. It has been happening for a while, so there isn’t much of a suprise about how much extra demand there will be.

Look at last year.
Things change year by year, but probably the best way to get an idea about a rush is to see what type of rush it was last year. If you feel that you were understaffed last year, bring on more people. Look at the sales history, the customer satisfaction data, etc. You may notice one week or three months where things were just a lot busier.

My personal feeling is that it’s better to overstaff than understaff. Overstaffing is obviously more expensive. It isn’t ideal, but if you overstaff, at least everyone can be helped. Your customers won’t get upset if you’re overstaffed. If you are understaffed, though, customers might not be able to get the help they need. They may leave and they may never go back. If you are in a business that requires customer loyalty, I would suggest overstaffing.

Only the best.
If you are expecting a really busy time, have only the best people working. They should have the most experience and be the best at working well under pressure. You don’t want your employees who get overwhelmed to be working during the busiest time of the year.

Make it clear.
It should be very clear to both customers and employees about what they need to do. Make it so neither group has to ask the most common questions. Have signs pointing to the bathroom, explaining the ordering choices, etc. If these signs answer just a few potential questions, they are worth it.

The rush you can’t perdict.
There will always be a rush you can’t predict. Things will suddenly get really busy or some big event will occur before you have a chance to staff accordingly. That happens and it has to be something you’re prepared for. How to deal with that rush you can’t perdict is tomorrow’s post.

Advertiser Day

HostColor - Better Web Site Hosting

As a reminder, HostColor is a Service Untitled advertiser. They provide web hosting that ranges from $25 a year on up. For more information about HostColor, click here.

HostColor has also told me that if you signup with the company and mention that you heard about them from Service Untitled (just email their support department saying so), you’ll save 20% on your first order.

Full Disclosure: HostColor is an advertiser. I have never used their service. If you are interested in advertising on Service Untitled, please contact us.

Sample Welcome Email #1

Joe from Family Says and Return Customer responded to my post and let me tweak his welcome email.

Hi Doug –

Thanks for signing up for a Family Says site. Your site is now ready.

You can login with this info:

User Name: Doug
Password: [user’s password]

Access your site here: [user’s site address]

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop us a line at [email address].


Joe Rawlinson
Family Says

Overall, not bad at all. It provides some important data (username, password, site address, email), but could also use some improvement.

  • Include a link to your help site or FAQs. I’m not sure what you have, but a getting started guide is a good thing to write if you don’t already have one.
  • I would briefly mention billing information – when do we have to pay you, when are we getting billed, etc.
  • Not something wrong, but I generally don’t encourage people to send the email from a specific person. If you’d like to, that’s fine, but it is worth considering.
  • Where do you users login? Is that the “access your site here?”

Just a few suggestions. Does anyone else have some tips for Joe? If you’d like your welcome or signup email reviewed (for free), post a comment here.

Three Qualities for Customer Service

Quick post today, but a useful post. What are three qualities that great customer service representatives generally have?

Providing great customer service requires a great attitude. Customer service representatives that have a go the extra mile, want to make the customer happy attitude will do much better than those that seem disaffected and could care less. You should be looking for someone who means it when they say “It’s my pleasure.” Those are the type of people you want on your customer service team.

Customer service requires not only attitude, but aptitude as well – a great attitude can’t get the problem fixed by itself. Your customer service representatives should all have the necessary aptitude to get their job done. They should be familiar with the tools, processes, terms, etc. needed to help and educate customers.

Great customer service representatives seem to have a drive that isn’t found in a lot of employees. They are very driven to get the problem resolved and to help the customer. Going the extra mile is something they do on a routine basis and they don’t know the word no. Reps who have this drive will see a lot of success.

What are three qualities you think customer service representatives should have? Do you have anything to add?

What employees should be kept in the loop about.

Yesterday I shared about how to keep employees in the loop. Today’s post is about what employees should be kept in the loop about. What should they be told? What shouldn’t they be told?

There are a lot of answers to that question. It can depend on what group or department (engineering, customer service, etc.) the employee is in, what level they are at (frontline, executive, etc.), and what type of information it is.

This post is going to discuss mainly what customer service employees should be kept in the loop about.

If there is an outage or similar downtime event, the customer service staff should be the second group that should be notified (engineering or whoever is in charge of fixing it should be notified first). Chances are, though, that they already know about the outage.

As usual, with updates relating to things like outages and downtime, you want to answer the common questions:

  • What happened.
  • What caused it.
  • What’s being done about it.
  • When it will be back up and running.
  • What’s being done to prevent the problem from happening in the future.
  • What, if any, compensation the client will get.
  • Who to ask if you have any more questions.

The customer service team should know all of those answers – that way they can pass the answers onto the customer.

Bug fixes.
Most modern technology companies have some sort of software to keep track of bugs and what is being done about them. Customer service should have access to this software and should be kept in the loop about reports.

Product roadmap.
The product development groups should keep customer service in the loop about about what is planned, what’s coming when, etc. That way, customer service can tell customers about when they can expect certain features and developments.

If marketing is planning a huge campaign, customer service should know all about it. If the campaign is successful, there will be a lot of new customers/upgrades/etc., which is very resource intensive. At the very least, customer service will probably have to answer a lot of pre-sales questions and deal with billing issues.

Even though I claim customer service isn’t about metrics, everyone likes to see numbers. The customer service staff should be given frequent updates about their satisfaction scores, how many emails they are replying to, average number of time it takes for a resolution, total number of elevations, etc. Having numbers allows everyone to see how they are doing.

As a customer service representative or manager, what information do you find useful? What should employees, particularly in customer service, be kept in the loop about?

Keeping employees in the loop.

In my conversations with entrepreneurs and executives, one of the most common challenges is trying to keep company employees in the loop. As companies grow quicker and move faster, it gets more and more difficult to keep everyone on the same page.

We already know it is important to keep customers in the loop, but a lot of companies overlook the importance of keeping their own employees in the loop. It is just as (if not more) important to keep your staff members in the loop as it is to keep your employees in the loop.

As a replacement or addition to staff meetings, I have suggested internal blogs and blog posts. There is also internal PR as a possible way to keep employees in the loop. But besides blog and internal PR, what can you do to keep employees in the loop as your company grows?

Mailing lists.
It is really is (and really valuable) to create a company-wide mailing list. Just sign up with Google Groups and you can be up and running within 15 minutes. A simple, company-wide email list will allow all staff members to provide each other with quick updates.

Most recent changes page.
If you have a wiki, make sure it has a feature for most recent changes. If it supports RSS or daily updates via email, even better. That way, employees can be kept in the loop about any policy changes, documentation updates, etc.

In your meetings, explain what’s going on.
In your company-wide meetings, the engineering team should explain what they are working on, the customer service team should explain what they are working on, etc. Even if each team only has a minute or two to provide a quick update, it is an update that other team members can use to remain in the loop.

Encourage employees to provide updates.
As your company gets really large, this will be harder to do, but while you are still relatively small (under 150 employees or so), encourage employees to provide updates as they happen. When a group makes a big development, has it quarterly numbers, etc., send those numbers out. As your company gets bigger, just have someone filter out what should and shouldn’t go out to everyone.

Have company forums.
If you have a company-wide forum or some sort of more permaent discussion group, it can really encourage the posting of updates, ideas, etc. They are also a great place to have a bit more laid back conversation and not fill up everyone’s email.

Daily reports.
Depending on how transparent your company is, it might be a good idea to send out reports. Report how many calls there were, what they were about, how many new orders, how many emails, etc.

How do you provide updates? As you can tell, there are a whole bunch of ways you can provide updates and keep your employees in the loop.

Make your company fun and see results.

I found that the people who work for customer service companies (especially in customer service) really like their jobs. It makes sense, right? Engineers that work for Google (which is an engineering-centric company) generally love their jobs as well. What’s not to like about being around a whole bunch of incredibly talented, like-minded people?

As you know, a customer service company is one that places a lot of focus and concentrates on customer service. Customer service is what makes customer service companies tick – it sets them apart from their competition and plays a big part in their success.

With that in mind, I’m going to say that it is better to work for a customer service company than one that doesn’t care about customer service. As such, I think it is more fun to work for in customer service at a customer service company. It isn’t any fun to work in a company that is trying to pinch pennies from your department, laying people off, etc. It is fun to work in a group that plays a huge in your company’s success.

I think that is a pretty obvious observation, though.

An important element of a company’s culture is fun. If you need qualified, talented workers, then they should have fun when they’re at work. If customer service representatives aren’t having fun, chances are they won’t be quite as cheery as you’d like them to do when providing customer service.

If you’re asking me how you can make your company more fun, then something isn’t right. You need to think about what your company’s employees enjoy and what they would react positively to. It can be as simple as a ping pong table in the basement or taking the company bowling once a month.

Google, Yahoo, etc. all work hard to make it so their employees have fun. Startups are usually pretty good at ensuring their employees like coming to work every day as well. Learn about what those companies are doing and what’s working for them.

The point, though, is to make your company fun to work at. If it’s fun, people will be happier. If they are happier, they will not provide better service, but look forward to going into the office every day. And who knows, they may even stay later and be more productive. That would be nice, right?

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