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Anthony Rodio from SupportSoft

logo It’s time for another interview on Service Untitled. This one features Anthony Rodio, the Chief Marketing Officer for SupportSoft.

Besides making enterprise customer service software, SupportSoft is the company behind Support.com (which we wrote about here). This interview is going to be a three part interview that will run on Monday, Wednesday, and wrap up on Friday. For those interested in how software and tehcnology ties into the customer service experience, this is a must read interview.

In part of the interview, Anthony talks about what SupportSoft does, a bit about their products, Support.com, and why the company has chosen to differentiate on technology.

Click the “read more” link to read the interview.

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Directory Assistance Service

Here is a funny video about customer service to lighten up your weekend a little bit:

There is some bad language (briefly). If you are having any trouble viewing the video, just click here.

Thanks to Workforce Developments for pointing it out!

Gas Station Customer Service

gas-pump I used to live in a state where other people pumped your gas for you (New Jersey). Now I live in a state where people are responsible for pumping their own gas (Florida). Needless to say, when I first moved to Florida, having to pump my own gas was weird. Since the weather is usually pretty good, it isn’t a big deal, but I have had to learn how to use the various interfaces at gas stations.

I’m not sure if it is Florida, but gas stations seem to have the worst user interfaces. While the systems aren’t difficult to use or confusing, they just don’t work well. The interfaces seem antiquated at best. I definitely think an innovative design firm (IDEO comes to mind) could make huge improvements.

From my experience, BP seems to have the best interfaces. Their pumps just seem to work better than other pumps than do. Their interface seems more up to date and the pumps seem to be designed better.

One gas station I go to does some little things to try and make the experience better. They have little signs up called “quote of the day” with quotes from various famous people. They also have a sign up saying how they do some sort of filtering that most gas stations don’t do.

Things like that help make gas stations better. The individual gas station owner probably does not have much control over the pumps and how they are designed, but they can definitely work to make nice little improvements. They can also work to take better care of the station than many of them.

Unfortunately, customer service is often judged by how service is elsewhere in the industry. The best customer service companies don’t compare themselves to people in their industries, but companies that are known for providing great service in any industry (Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, whoever).

I’ve never worked with a gas station before, but I imagine there are plenty of ways to improve the customer experience. Work on improving the interface, offer some additional services that might interest folks, other things like the quote of the day.

The most important thing is to always be looking for ways you can improve. No matter how small the change, a whole bunch of little things make a big difference collectively.

Good Idea: Put Away the Cellphones

cellphone_lockCellphones are great. I use mine all the time. They are incredibly useful and it is amazing how dependent many of us (including myself) have become on our cellphones. However, cellphones aren’t appropriate during customer service interactions.

I was at a medial facility today (not for me or a family member, thankfully) and at the check in desk there was a sign that said something along the lines of:

Attention Staff: Please keep your cellphone off and in your locker.

While the sign is rather unfriendly and not something that should be displayed prominently at a reception desk for visitors, it has a good point and offers a good suggestion. Lock the cellphones away while you’re at work.

A lot of companies don’t require cellphones to be locked away. If they aren’t required to be locked way, it is inevitable that a staff member will take their phone out and start text messaging or answer a call while they are working around (or even with) customers.

Having a locker or other central location where staff members can put their stuff is a great idea. Asking that employees place their cellphones, pagers, PDAs, etc. in there is also a good idea. If they are locked up in the staff break area, the chances of the employee using it in front of a customer are slim to none.

Little things like a customer seeing a staff member using their cellphone can really turn a customer off. It just looks very unprofessional and is so easy to avoid. Having strict policies about things like cellphone usage in front of customers is extremely important.

However, do not put signs relating to employee policies in front of your customers. Customers do not need to know about your cellphone policies or any other employee policies or procedures. All of those things should happen behind the scenes.

Dealing with Angry Customers: Let Them Vent

VENT1 It is pretty sad that I look for (and notice) customer service when I’m scrolling through channels. On Saturday, I happened to scroll past a show about wedding dressed. The woman works in alterations for a big wedding store and deals with a lot of customers who are often very testy to say the least.

Her strategy for resolving issues with angry customers?

  1. Let the customer vent and ask all the questions they need to ask.
  2. Get to the bottom of the problem.
  3. Try to come to a resolution.

The lady’s strategy is not only time tested and proven effective, but smart. Letting customers vent is extremely important. It is the best way to deal with angry customers.

I usually like to initiate the venting by asking questions like: could you describe the problem? or could you tell me what you think should have happened and what actually did happen? You will also find that a lot of the time the customer will just start venting (without any help from you).

Letting customers vent is a subtle science. There is a fine line between actually letting them vent and just thinking you are letting them vent. A lot of customer service representatives (and their bosses) want to interrupt customers while they’re venting – this doesn’t work.

Part number two is just as important as letting the customer vent. Once they’ve finished venting, your job is to get to the bottom of the problem. You need to figure out what their actual problem is and why it happened. You don’t want to make excuses, but instead want to work towards a resolution of some sort.

Remember, let the customer vent and always be working towards a resolution. Do those two things and you’ll be dealing with angry customers like a pro.

Customer Service in Family Businesses

1339632652_33b2f0f57c Family businesses are all around us. They are especially common in businesses that are around you. The local deli, the local florist, etc. may all very well be family businesses. If you frequently visit those businesses, you probably know the family. You don’t know the business or the owner – you know the family.

Knowing and having a relationship with the family is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. The service they provide and the relationship you have with them are very likely one of the reasons you keep on going back. It isn’t a transaction – you know the people. This is what many companies strive to do (even ones that aren’t family owned or operated) – they want to make it so their customers feel recognized and known.

Family businesses are interesting, though. They often have a tough time finding (and keeping) employees. If they do manage to find and keep these employees, they are often disappointed when these employees don’t provide the lame level of service or don’t have the same passion or dedication to the business as the family does.

What can family businesses do to keep the same level of customer service going? Here are some tips for family business owners:

  • Hire people that are familiar with the business. If you have customers that come in a lot or seem to know a lot about your business, you might want to consider offering them jobs. They know your business – what it’s like to be a customer and what should be expected.
  • Communicate your expectations. You should constantly be communicating what your expectations are. You should let potential employees know this before they are hired, after they are hired, and during training. If you make it very clear about what you expect from your employees, they have a much better shot at meeting those expectations.
  • Have formal training. Many family businesses don’t have many formal procedures (if any). They are used to work with their family and close friends and as a result, often don’t “grow up” into a “real” business (I put quotes around those terms purposely). Having formal training procedures, formal operating procedures, etc. for a family owned business is extremely important. If they aren’t there, I guarantee you will have problems.
  • Consider outside opinions. Small businesses, especially family businesses, are sometimes hesitant to ask for or accept outside opinions. Let me stress how important it is to get an outside perspective and opinion about what you are doing and how it is all working.

Are there any family business owners or operators out there reading Service Untitled? Anyone with experience working with a family business (either as a customer or an employee)? As always, feel free to comment and provide your thoughts and opinions.

Photo courtesy of zesmerelda.

Tailor The Experience

tailor As usual, Seth Godin really understands how things should be – especially when it comes to the customer experience. His suggestion: tailor the customer service experience based on prior actions. Seth calls them states.

The point Seth makes is that one size does fit all when it comes to software and the way people use it. People will want to see different things and will probably need and use different things. So, why not tailor the experience to what they will likely need?

The best applications do this without you even noticing. All you notice is that it works well. They will let you override their “intelligence” (or lack thereof) if the program ends up removing something you actually do want or adding something you don’t, but in general, if your application can “get it” and change its around accordingly, you are really helping the customer experience.

It is also important to keep in mind that things don’t always have to be removed completely. They can just be:

  • made less prominent
  • hidden under another layer of menus
  • be made smaller (smaller font, more subtle colors, etc.)

They’re still there – the program just knows you aren’t using them and changes accordingly.

Other things that companies like to do is (keep in mind – these are all done automatically):

  • have more help documentation and tips show for new users or for features that users haven’t used much.
  • point users towards parts of the application they haven’t used before.
  • provide additional deals and incentives for addons that users might find useful in the software.
  • show the features and such that users use the most right on the front page or main screen (often called the dashboard).

Think about it. Do I need to see that I have a balance of $0 every time I login or just when there actually is a balance, or maybe 5 days before and after the billing period? Like Glen said on Friday, why can’t the ATM address us by name and remember our language preference?

It is all thinking like that. Neither the concept nor the implementation are really complicated. It is just one of those areas of the customer experience that makes a lot of sense once you start thinking about it and is really useful once you start doing it. However, you have to think about it and you have to invest the time and money into making it happen.

Seth also mentions a pretty funny story about a company that used to steal their ideas. So, they tailored the user experience just for them. However, instead of helpful tips and hints, they put up fake announcements and the like. Clever!

When it comes to tailoring the experience, where do you think you have room to improve? What are you already doing?

Use My Name – Especially If You Have it

logo Not too long ago, I got an email from Webmail.us. They host my email and every month, they send me a nice email letting me know my credit card has been charged successfully. I’ve never had a problem with the company and know they are a good company. So, like most customers, I only scan these emails looking for phrases like “did not go through”, “unsuccessful”, “we hate you”, etc. None of those were in the email so I pretty much just ignored it.

However, something I did notice was that the beginning of the email said “Dear Customer:” Half way down the email, it listed my name, so they had my name and were able to use it, but the beginning of the email did not use it.

I sent an email to Webmail.us’ head of customer service customer care and he thanked me for the suggestion. I haven’t seen the email for this upcoming month, but hopefully they changed it. Like usual, they accepted my suggestion very gracefully and were appreciative.

However, the point (and not to pick on Webmail.us – lots of companies like Amazon.com and plenty of others don’t frequently customize email greetings for one reason or another) is that if you have information you can use to personalize the customer service experience, use it! The company should consider greetings like:

  • Hi Bob Smith
  • Hello Bob
  • Hello Bob Smith
  • Dear Bob Smith
  • Dear Bob

All of these personalize the email a bit more. The personalized greetings also help instill a bit of confidence in the customer – they like seeing their name – it helps show the email is genuine (PayPal was one of the first to personalize emails for that reason).

Whenever you can, personalize the customer experience. It never hurts. Customers may not notice it concisely, but it all adds up to make a great customer experience.

By the way, a special congratulations to Webmail.us on recently getting acquired by Rackspace as well as making it to the Inc. 500 list. Two great accomplishments for sure.

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