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Five W’s of Thank You Notes for Co-workers

thank-you One of the search queries that someone typed in recently was “thank you notes for co-workers.” I’ve talked about thank you notes for customers (including samples and what to do if you have bad handwriting), but I don’t think I have ever mentioned what a good idea it is to send thank you notes to co-workers.

In fact, it is really useful. Having a good relationship with your co-workers is just as important as having a good relationship with your best customers. Chances are that you need their help and support to be able to do your job.

Who should get them.
Co-workers, contractors, consultants, etc. It is also perfectly okay for a boss to send an employee a thank you note. For more information, see when to send them.

What to say.
Keep it simple and sincere. Say something along the lines of:

Bob,

Thanks so much for helping me out on Tuesday. It means a lot to me that you took time to stay late and help me finish up the project. I know you didn’t have to and I really appreciate you doing so. You were a tremendous help and for that, I think an additional thank you is due.

John

Really brief, but hopefully sincere. Everything has a different style of writing and expressing themselves. The above kind of represents my style, but I think it can give you an idea.

Why send them.
It is extremely important to get along well with your co-workers and other people you need to work with. If you let them know that you appreciate them, chances are they will be a lot more likely to help you out in the future. A lot of people don’t mind helping if they feel appreciated.

Where to send them.
You can send them to the person’s office (probably most appropriate). If you know the employee well, you can send the note to their home. It is okay to hand the thank you note to the person at the office or wherever you happen to see them as well.

When to send them.
Like with customer thank you notes, you only want to send thank you notes to co-workers when the situation calls for it. If they have recently done something in particular that really helped you out, have constantly been helpful to you over a period of time (i. e. a month), etc., then it is time (and appropriate) to send a thank you note.

How they should be.
Thank you notes should be written (hopefully handwritten) on cards. No need for a Hallmark card. Just a simple piece of stationery with your note is just fine. Email is not the best medium for a sincere thank you note, but is always better than nothing.

How to reduce calls to customer service.

AA009679 This week has been a week of some great questions asked by readers. A recent inquiry and post request was “how to reduce calls to customer service.” This is a question that a lot of companies would like to know the answer to. It isn’t a question with a simple answer and the answer depends a lot on the company, their product, and how the company operates.

Here are some basic first steps to reduce the calls coming into your customer service department.

Make your email support better.
A lot of the companies I work with have really good email support. As a result, the number of calls they get is a lot lower. No one ever thinks to email Dell, Microsoft, or HP because they either don’t get a response or it is just so useless that it isn’t even worth it. If your email support is good (and you can prove to your customers that it is), then you will see fewer calls.

More self-service.
Like email support, a lot of companies have terrible self-service options. If you can make your self-service offerings actually useful (consider Flash tutorials, checking out this post, as well as this post) , then customers will be a lot more likely to use them.

An easier to use product.
This may seem like a broad suggestion, but there are a lot of ways to make your product easier to use. A lot of smart companies include useful tips and information built right into the product. One company I worked with that makes web applications for people who aren’t that technically inclined had tips on every page. The first week or two of use after signing up, more tips would be displayed than average. After that, there would be fewer. It is just creative thinking like that which will make it easier for customers to use your product.

Consider alternatives.
Besides a regular call in number, consider some alternatives. A lot of companies like click to call. Some charge just a dollar per call to discourage those “casual” calls where the customer just doesn’t want to read the FAQ. This will obviously depend on your industry and the sort of service you want to provide, but can help cut down on calls.

Do happy employees give better service?

Another question that was asked through the search box here on Service Untitled was “do happy employees give better service?” I think the most appropriate answer is they sure do.

You’ve probably had a job you didn’t like. Were you motivated to provide great service? I know I wouldn’t be. When I like my job, I really want to provide great service. I want to go above and beyond to make the customer happy – that way they have a positive view of the company I’m working for.

There will always be really exceptional people that will provide great service and maintain a good attitude even if the rest of the things aren’t that good. Those people are very rare, though, and I am sure they would provide even better service if they were in a job that they really liked.

You should aim to make your employees happy. If they’re happy, they will be a lot more motivated to provide quality service. It will be a lot easier for them to do so as well. Customer service is at least 50% attitude and people have better attitudes when they’re happy.

I’ve written about how to make your employees happy before:

And of course, you can just search for the word “fun” and get plenty of results.

What are you doing to make (and keep) your employees happy?

Exceptional Customer Service in Action

nordstrom_logo I read a story about an experience that customer service speaker John DiJulius (who I recently had the pleasure of watching speak) had at Nordstrom. His story is pretty typical of Nordstrom and what you would expect from the company.

John had noticed a pair of his shoes were damaged a little. The shoes were a year old, but John believed the shoes were from Nordstrom. He took them to the store and asked for the manager. The store manager didn’t think the shoes had been sold by Nordstrom (they had never sold the brand), but took them anyways. A few hours later, the shoe was fixed and there was no charge for the repair.

However, the story gets better: John later found out the shoes hadn’t been purchased at Nordstrom. The manager was right. When hearing the story, John’s wife told him that she had purchased the shoes at another store.

Look at the experience this way:

  • Even if Nordstrom had sold the shoes, them taking a year old pair of shoes and fixing it for free within a couple of hours is pretty good. That would be exceptional customer service by most standards.
  • However, Nordstrom taking shoes they did not even sell and repairing them for free shows a real commitment to the customer and to customer service as a principle.

Nordstrom’s handling of the situation shows the company is pretty out of the ordinary in the way it handles customer service situations. This situation shows that they value their customers and don’t believe that their customers are out to get them.

Something like this is what causes people to say positive things about your company. John has probably told a lot of people about this experience. Those people will in turn tell others. It reflects positively on Nordstrom each time. The next time you go into Nordstrom, you may remember the story and remember that Nordstrom doesn’t hassle their customers. That way, when you pay a small price premium, it won’t be an issue.

What do you think you can learn from Nordstrom? If you didn’t get anything out of it, I would say you have to re-read the post and think about it some more.

Get people to read the newsletters you send them.

email-te I recently saw this interesting post on the 37signals. The post talks about newsletters that are actually interesting to read because they are useful to the customer. They teach the customer something instead of just boring him or her with promotions and other marketing material.

In a past life, I was a marketing, not a customer service person. My job duties and title were all marketing focused. Customer service came into the picture fairly often, but most of my work was marketing focused. As a marketer, one of my mantras was to answer the customer’s constant question of “what can this do for me?”

For example, customers, clients, etc. could care less about:

  1. 100 GB of storage
  2. 1 TB of bandwidth
  3. 24 / 7 customer service
  4. Choosing to make customer service a core element in their company
  5. A huge selection

On the other hand, they do care about:

  1. Plenty of storage (100 GB) to upload and share the files that matter to your business. Avoid the time and hassles involved with emailing large files.
  2. More than enough bandwidth (1 TB) to share those files with anyone across the world.
  3. Get help whenever you need it and whenever is convenient for you.
  4. Have more fun, set yourself apart from the competition, boost your bottom line.
  5. Get everything you need in one place – and have plenty of choices.

I remember reading about an IBM training tactic. Sales representatives were trained to think there was a little man sitting on their shoulder who always asked “Why do I care?” after everything the representative said. It is rather interesting to think of it that way.

Getting back to newsletters, you should be answering the customer’s inevitable question (which they answer is about a second or two after seeing the email in their inbox or in the mail) “what can this do for me?”

If your newsletters can teach or inform, chances are your customers will want to read them. If the material that you’re teaching or informing about is really well done, customers will even look forward to seeing the newsletter.

Here are some general tips for writing newsletters that people will actually read:

  • Have some product specific tips. Teach your customers about how they can get the most out of your product or service. If you have a really useful and powerful application that can do a lot of cool things if you know how to use it (I’m thinking like Photoshop or Microsoft Word), then customers will likely get a lot out of this.
  • Have general tips. Another thing to consider is having general tips relating to the industry that a lot of customers are in. For example, a company I worked with that was known for their customer service provided customer service tips in their newsletter since a lot of their customers were small businesses.
  • Use plain language. I am a big advocate of using plain and simple language. Avoid jargon, product specific terms, complicated words, etc. You are writing for easy reading – not to get into the New Yorker.
  • Make it look nice. I tend to think emails that look nice get read more. See this related post.

If you follow these tips, people may actually read your newsletters. It worked for SmileOnMyMac – they provide tips about how to use their products in the newsletters they send. As a result, people not only read them, but like them.

What are your suggestions for newsletters?

Late Customers

The biggest pain associated with time slots are definitely people being late. Employees are often blamed for being late, but quite often, they are late because of another customer. What about customers who run late, though? Dealing with that sort of situation is both an art and a science.

Be stern, yet polite.
I read about how one company says something along the lines of “Bob, I’m glad to see you. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to help you today.” This sort of message suggests that Bob was at risk of losing his appointment and that the company is working with him.

Set hard guidelines.
You need to set hard guidelines about how to deal with late customers as well. Some companies like to allow X number of chances before they start becoming more stern with the customer or before they do other things like scheduling the appointment a half hour later on purpose.  What guidelines you set and how strictly they are enforced should depend on your business and your company. There isn’t any general rule of thumb that I can recommend.

Account for late customers in the schedule.
If you see a lot of customers in a day, some of them are going to be late. It is just the way it works. Since you know that it is inevitable, try to account for late customers in the schedule. Make it so if one customer is late, it won’t mess up the rest of the appointments for the day.

Think about fees.
Lots of companies like to charge late or canceled appointment fees. I don’t personally advocate them, but it is up to your judgement (obviously). They don’t show a lot of trust or faith in the customer. I don’t feel that they represent good customer service, but if you feel they are necessary and your experiences to date show they are, you can go ahead and implement them. 

Be patient.
It is generally fair to wait about 10 – 15 minutes before doing anything. Always attempt to contact the customer before leaving or starting to work with another customer. If you have the customer’s cell phone number, you should definitely try to reach them there. If not, call them at whatever number you have.

Choice and Customer Service

z12b026 Seth Godin wrote an interesting post about choice the other day. What was interesting is how Seth neglected to mention customer service in the post. He is usually a very pro- customer service/customer service experience guy. However, his point is still there.

Customers have choices. Like Seth mentioned in his post, there are thousands of retailers, banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies, etc. that are just a few clicks away. Pretty much every industry worth being in is super competitive.

That provides a perfect segue into the topic of customer service. If there are hundreds or  thousands and thousands of similar companies that provide essentially the same product or service for about the same price, how do you set yourself apart? Well, customer service is perfect for that.

A lot of the companies I have interviewed realize this. Many of them are in very competitive industries where the customer has a lot of choices. So, these companies made a concise decision to make customer service their competitive advantage. They are hoping (and their success has said they’re right) that when customers have a choice, they will gravitate towards the company with the best service.

For you as a company and as an executive, it is important to realize that your customers have choices. And it is equally important to realize that one of the factors in making their choice will likely be customer service. If you can keep that in mind and continue to focus on customer service, then you should be okay.

More on Auto Response Emails

Html-source-code3 Quite a while ago (nearly a year!), I wrote about auto response emails and how useful they can be. The examples I gave are still quite relevant, but I decided to add a bit to that post based on some good (and bad) auto responses I have received over the last month or so.

Use formatting to your advantage.
I have also written about HTML and plain text emails before. Since writing that post, I have switched over to HTML email for all of my emails and some of the emails are quite a bit better looking. Assuming you have the capability to provide both plain text and HTML emails: make your HTML version nice.

Be sure to use font size, color, layout, etc. to your advantage. Make the important information that your customers always ask about (order totals, order numbers, when something is expected to arrive) stand out. In a recent email I got from a company, they listed my confirmation number in big blue text and then in bold a line or two below. It was impossible to miss.

Simple, but still visually appealing.
It is possible to design something that is simple and visually appealing. If you are using HTML emails, make sure that your emails aren’t that complicated or fancy. They should have a logo, nice colors, etc., but there is no need to go all out. You want it to look nice, but not be too elaborate where it gets to the point that it won’t work on certain computers, takes too long to load, and/or distracts the reader from the actual information.

Consider including a few FAQs.
In the same email as mentioned above, the company tried to answer some frequent questions for me right in the email. They told me why my order hasn’t been shipped yet, when it was expected to arrive, how I can make changes, and how I can cancel my order. The FAQs are clear and concise and likely answer a lot of customers’ questions before they even go to the FAQ site.

Be intelligent.
In one email I got from a company, they listed the speed of the various shipping options. They know which shipping option I picked, so they should only provide me with that information. Be intelligent about the information you’re providing. The more relevant the information to the reader, the better.

Be friendly,
While how friendly you are depends on your company culture (and other factors discussed here), every email from your company should at least be friendly and courteous. If you want to sign emails as “Your friends” or “Your buddies” at XYZ Company, then you need to think seriously if that is appropriate for your company.

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