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The Last Name Question

11099758_522c1ccab6 A client and I recently had a discussion about whether or not to address the company should address customers by their first or last name. This is something that quite a few companies debate internally.

Personally, I suggest companies stick to first names. If your company culture and your customers are the type that should be called by their last names, this is what you have to do to make it work.

Collect information.
You have to collect information about the customer’s preferred title. Ask them if they want to be called Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc. Keep that information on file and have it displayed during all interactions.

Use that information.
You have to then use that information you collect during all interactions. Every time you address a customer, it should be on hand. If you use the wrong thing (especially after a customer has provided it), you’ll look bad.

Those reasons, among others, are why I suggest using first names. They just seem to be easier for everyone to use.

Besides not having the problem of dealing with titles and gender, you don’t have to worry about finding their last name. A lot of people will sign emails by only their first names or will have an email address like firstname@company.com. If you only use first names, you can avoid those sorts of problems.

Your greetings should be friendly and welcome the customer.

The Telemarketer That Was Better

1238664937_4d7dc8aace You should read this post written by Liz of Successful Blog. Because her son is about to graduate college, Liz has been getting a lot of calls about his student loans. Apparently, the telemarketers call and have no interest in Liz – just her son.

Well, recently one telemarketer named Maria did something better. Maria asked if Liz was was his mother. Maria asked the question with a genuine interest and caring. Liz was pleasantly surprised. She event listened to what Maria had to say and passed on the message to her son.

Liz’s story about Maria shows how positively consumers can react to above average customer service. It is a sad, but known truth that customer service in general isn’t that good. Sometimes all it takes is to be a bit better than everyone else. And a lot of the times, that doesn’t take much at all.

You should try to train your customer service representatives to be like Maria. They should take an interest in the person they’re talking to. The first person is often the gatekeeper so being nice and taking an interest is often beneficial. If your business is like Maria’s, chances are you deal with people that aren’t the direct customer a lot. You want to be nice to them.

Having friendly representatives and having operating procedures that encourage representatives to be friendly is a great step in the right direction. Again, great customer service is more a matter of being nice than having some sort of magical powers.

Photo courtesy of djbrady.

How Yahoo! Dealt With A Big Change

ma_ph_1 An area of customer service that really interests me is how companies deal with really big changes. I wrote a post about this back in May and it is a post I find myself consistently sending to clients. What a big change is is of course relative, but companies of all sizes find themselves undergoing big changes all the time.

One I would like to highlight in particular is a recent big change from Yahoo. They decided to shut down Yahoo! Photos and instead send their users over to Flickr, a service they acquired in May 2006.

I found this great post on the 37signals blog about how Yahoo Photos managed the changeover process. They obviously put a lot of time and thought into the process. It is a big change and deserves a lot of attention.

It seems like Yahoo did a fair amount of work to ensure the process went smoothly:

  • They emailed the users with an informative message explaining the change, where they could go (besides Flickr), etc.
  • The company provides a lot of detailed information on how Yahoo will help you move your photos to Flickr or any of the other services they mention.
  • They setup another web site with a specific link (http://closing.photos.yahoo.com) just for the closing and moving processes.
  • If you are a customer who just wants his or her photos back, all you need to do is download the images you want (individually, unfortunately) or buy an archive CD (they reduced the price).
  • Yahoo spent a lot of time writing a lot of informative FAQs that explain everything you can imagine.

Let’s see which of my guidelines and suggestions Yahoo! followed with their big change:

  • Explain the benefits. They did this to some extent. They explain Flickr is a good service.
  • Pace yourself. They do the entire change at once (as in, not a staggered shutdown – it just turns off), but they do give customers plenty of time to do it.
  • Constantly update your customers. This isn’t really applicable to this type of big change.
  • Provide lots of service. I’ve heard customers that have had issues aren’t able to get in touch with Yahoo.
  • Have one on one help. Yahoo did not do this. Their reasons for not doing so is understandable, but they did not do it.
  • Follow up. I am not sure if they followed up (I’ve never used Yahoo! Photos). Have any Yahoo! Photos users gotten any follows up from them?

How do you think Yahoo! did with their change from Yahoo! Photos to Flickr? Where could they have improved?

Three Areas Where Companies Fail

Maria of CustomersAreAlways has posted an interesting summary of a study of 100 online retailers. The results are baffling. Here are some interesting facts and figures:

  • 34% of emails to the online retailers were ignored.
  • 97% of the retailers did not have a knowledge base or similar online self help tool available to interested customers.
  • A remarkable 49% of emails and 28% of phone calls provided inaccurate information to the customers.
  • 89% of online retailers don’t provide their employees with a history of the customer’s interactions with and across the company.

I feel that the results of this study are really sad. It shows how much room for improvement there is when it comes to online retailers’ customer service departments. On the other hand, there are retailers like PrintingForLess.com (not so much a retailer, but similar) and Headsets.com that provide terrific customer service day in and day out. One would think there would be more companies with customer service that is at least in the middle.

The issues mentioned in this study aren’t little things. They are huge things. Not responding to emails, not having any self-help tools, providing inaccurate information. These are huge issues.

I usually tell potential clients that I help bring their customer service to the next level. Pretty much every company I work with has these huge things out of the way – they respond to their customers in a relatively timely manner, they provide accurate information, and know what they need to improve upon.

However, companies need to get the big things out of the way before they can think about bringing things to the next level. These companies are likely providing horrible customer service and have a lot to improve upon. Hopefully your company is better. And if it isn’t, hopefully you are in the process of making some big changes very soon.

Happy National Customer Service Week!

388197432_f33a941ab8 I’d like to wish a very Happy National Customer Service Week to everyone. While I never advocate customer service being a weekly, monthly, etc. theme for your company (it should be permanent), there is nothing wrong with a week to recognize customer service.

The official web site has some tips here. As my friend and fellow customer service writer suggests, just take a few moments and say thanks! Thanks to your customers, friends, employees, and so on.

Here are some helpful links:

Thank you for reading Service Untitled! Thanks for telling your friends and helping to spread the word. It has been (and continues to be) a lot of fun.

Photo/image courtesy of juniperberry.

How Toyota Messed Up

Toyota_logo_2 I wrote my post about a positive experience with my local Toyota dealership on Saturday. Less than 24 hours after I wrote that post, I had trouble with my car. The engine was smoking and something (which I later learned was anti-freeze) exploded all over my engine.

To me, it seemed awfully odd. I had my car in on Friday and then it started to mess up. I had never had a problem with it until I brought it in to get fixed. One would think it would be the opposite, but mistakes happen.

The point is how companies deal with those issues and end up fixing the problems.

Initial experience.
When I noticed my car was smoking (in my friend’s driveway), I opened up the hood and saw there was a liquid splattered all over. I called the direct line of the guy I had worked with on Friday, but he wasn’t in. I then called the dealer’s central number and was transferred to service. The guy I spoke to was kind of short and gave me the number for a tow truck.

The tow company.
I called the tow company and said I needed my car towed to the dealership. After about a minute of silence, the guy started to ask me questions. I’m not sure why the silence was there, but it was definitely noticeable. He collected my information and explained the tow truck would be there in an hour or so. It was there earlier than expected and the tow truck driver tried to say it could have been just a coincidence. It was a somewhat annoying thing to do, but at least the car was on the way to the dealership.

The dealer experience.
The person I dealt with on Sunday wasn’t as good at following up as Shawn was on Friday. I called a few times and got friendly and accurate updates each time, but I had to call myself. The car was going to be done pretty quickly (before they closed at 2 PM). The problem was because of a faulty cap.

Apology?
No one actually apologized for the inconvenience. They gave me a certificate for a free oil change and the towing and fixing was free. They also washed the car, which was nice. I was happy with the result and glad the car was fixed so quickly, but no apology was ever given.

It’s about how you handle the mistakes.
The road to success is paved with well handled mistakes (a post about that here). You will make mistakes and there will be faulty parts. Anti-freeze will explode, computers will break. It is inevitable. How you deal with those mistakes, though, is what will set you apart from your competition.

A Positive Experience with Toyota?

Toyota_logo_2 I have talked about how I hate car dealers before. My hate of car dealers was the subject of several of my posts around April 2007. The time also included an interview with the somewhat anti-car dealer CarMax.

On Friday, I went to a car dealer for the first time since my series of negative experiences. My car (the one purchased in April) was due for routine servicing and I had to do it. 

Here is how the experience played out:

Simple appointment.
I called the dealership (the local Toyota dealership – not the one where I bought my car) on a Saturday. I expected to get voicemail, but instead spoke to a friendly woman named Mary. She explained that it was really busy and offered to take my phone number and call me back in a little bit. She called back about 10 minutes later. I made my appointment and she answered my questions.

Check in was simple.
When I got to the dealership, I pulled my car into the “have appointment” line. A guy walking by quickly acknowledged me and said that someone would be right with me. Within a minute or two, a guy named Shawn came out and helped me. He took down my information, looked me up in the computer, and got everything noted. I asked a few questions, which he answered right away. Check in was simple and painless.

They followed up with me frequently and promptly.
One thing that I really liked was that my point of contact (Shawn) followed up with me a couple of times during the day. He called me on my cellphone to let me know they had checked over the car and everything was fine. He asked if I wanted the A/C filter replaced (sure). As soon as the car was done (ahead of schedule!), he called me and said that the car was done and that there were no problems. The follow ups were nice, especially because they happened before I started wondering about what happened to my car.

The guy recognized me by name.
This is obviously a very little thing, but when I walked up to Shawn’s booth on the service floor, he opened the door and said hello to me. However, he used my name. Definitely not a big deal, but something that makes a positive difference.

Check out was prompt.
Shawn said I was all done and pointed me to the cashier inside. I waited in line for about a minute and the fairly friendly cashier got me all checked out. Total check out time was about five minutes.

My car was ready.
And this is what many customer service experiences boil down to: the work and how quickly it was done. How quickly and how well your computer was fixed, how long it took to get your billing error corrected, etc. My car was ready before I was expecting it to and the customer service experience that went along with it was top notch.

To be continued.
Less than 24 hours after writing the first draft of this post, there was a turn in events. Apparently, the fix wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

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