* You are viewing the archive for February, 2008. View the rest of the archives.

The 5 Rules of Self-service

I read an article in Inc. Magazine about self-service in customer service. Self-service is extremely important to a lot of companies (like the company mentioned in article, Carfax) because it helps reduce the number of necessary customer service interactions, thus keeping costs low. It also keeps representatives from going insane because they keep answering the same questions, which reduces turnover and saves money by itself. As a customer service consultant, I advocate self-service, as long as it isn’t the only option and isn’t forced upon the customer.

I found it difficult to get a live demo from any of the companies mentioned in the articles without going through a lot of hoops, but did I manage to track down these two pages, which are good examples of self-service at work (and I think use software from RightNow and eGain, respectively):

Quite frankly, I think both of them are terrible (which is often the case with self-service). I like how the Carfax articles show related questions and how the LucasArts one has a “did this help answer your question” prompt with a comments box. If you look at a third example such as Google’s Help Center, you’ll see both the “was this helpful” and related articles feature. There is also a contact us link for all three, which is good.

Self-service FAQs are terrific, but there should be some quick rules associated with self-service:

  1. It should not be forced. Companies should never require their customers or users to use self-service. They can suggest it or make it more noticeable, but they should never force it.
  2. It should be intelligent. FAQs and self-service options that are static are worthless. The systems should update based on popularity, helpfulness, etc. There should also be humans watching the self-service systems and how customers are using them. Use Google Analytics if your system doesn’t already have an analytics tool.
  3. It should ask for suggestions. Like Google and LucasArts, good self-service centers should ask if articles were helpful, if they helped resolve issues, etc. To take it a step further, human representatives should ask if customers tried self-service. If they say no, ask why. The answers may be surprising.
  4. It should be up-to-date. There are very few things that are less helpful than an out of date help center. Make sure yours stays up-to-date and contains relevant information.
  5. It should be easy to navigate. It should also be easy to search. Make sure your help center is easy to navigate. It should be easy to go back, easy to explore relevant entries, and all of those good things.

There you have it, the 5 Rules of Self-Service. Try to apply them to your self-service systems and see what sort of results you get.

Technorati tags: , ,

Blockbuster Customer Service

blockbuster I had a positive experience at the DVD rental store Blockbuster yesterday. I’m not a frequent movie goer and not a frequent movie renter, but I had some time over the weekend and it was expected to rain yesterday (it did), so I decided I would rent a couple of movies.

The problem was I had no idea what happened to my membership card and the last time I rented a movie at this particular store was probably a year ago. I walked into the store half expecting I would have to drive down to that other store (where I used to live). I found someone to help me – an assistant manager named Wayne and he was willing to offer assistance.

The first thing he did was to look my account up with my driver’s license number and date of birth, which produced no result. We tried my name, but because I hadn’t rented at that store in 90 days, there were no results. He asked me what store I usually rented from and I told him where it was. He looked it up on the computer and gave them a call. They were able to search based on my name and address and give him the national membership number for me. He was then able to find it in his computer system and print me out a new card.

Needless to say, Wayne went through a lot of trouble to make it so I could rent my $10 worth of movies. However, that’s what made the customer service experience positive and it’s why I will go back there. Wayne’s customer service delivery was great – he was able to help me and still pretty seamlessly help other customers in the store. He was polite and knew some of the regular customers by their first names.

However, there are some things we can learn from this experience:

  • National systems. National systems, searchable by many fields, are extremely useful. Blockbuster’s policy of keeping customer data at a particular store for only 90 days seems a bit antiquated in the times of national systems and databases for large companies (it could be a privacy issue). I’m not sure how often a customer with my particular issue walks in, but if it is at all frequently, Blockbuster might want to consider overhauling their systems. (Wayne told me that franchise stores, as opposed to company owned stores, don’t use the national system.)
  • Privacy concerns. Giving out your date of birth and driver’s license number to someone you don’t know could cause some privacy concerns to arise. The company might want to base their national system off of something less sensitive (like a phone number first) and keep the driver’s license number as a backup.

I think it is interesting that the biggest problems of the experience are related to Blockbuster’s databases. I think that could say something about the IT setup of the company and how that relates to customer service.

What are your thoughts about this experience? What about your previous experiences with Blockbuster?

Four by Four Things About Me

Maria Palma tagged me on the four by four (sixteen) things you don’t know about me meme. Maria was tagged by Becky Carroll, another customer service and customer experience blogger. It looked interested, so here are my responses.

Four Jobs I’ve Had:

  • Independent computer consultant. You know the neighborhood whiz kid you would call when your printer wasn’t working? I was the person that most of my neighbors called when I was younger.
  • Frontline CSR. I have worked on the frontlines before and did so for about a year at a small web hosting company. I learned a lot (about the aptitude and attitude parts of the job) and had a lot of fun.
  • Freelance journalist. I have done freelance writing for a variety of web sites and magazines. I used to write about the web hosting industry and technology in general, but I now write almost exclusively about customer service and related topics.
  • Event staff. I had not been involved with event planning or management since I was on student government in high school when Get Satisfaction hired me to help with Customer Service is the New Marketing. While I was still more of a content than an event planning person, it was a new (but very positive!) experience nonetheless.

Four Places I’ve Been:

  • All over Hawaii. I took a vacation to Hawaii several years ago and went all over for about two weeks. It was a great trip.
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ve traveled to Puerto Rico twice, both times as a vacation.
  • Big cities. I’ve been to most of our country’s big cities – New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Charlotte, Atlanta, and San Francisco were the main ones.
  • All over California. The year before my Hawaii trip, I took a two and a half week trip to California with my family. We went basically everywhere from San Diego up to San Francisco.

Four Music Artists I’m Listening to Right Now:

  • John Mayer (favorite song: Waiting On The World To Change)
  • The Shins (favorite song: Saint Simon)
  • The Killers (favorite song: Mr. Brightside)
  • The Fray (favorite song: Over My Head: Cable Car)

Four Favorite Foods:

  • Brownies. I have a huge sweet tooth and love brownies. I usually leave with a brownie when I go into a bakery.
  • Salmon. My family eats a lot of salmon and I am a huge fan of it.
  • Milkshakes. I am a big fan of milkshakes, especially the brownies-a-la-mode one from Haagen-Dazs (it’s like $6, but well worth it!).
  • Teriyaki chicken. I really like teriyaki chicken for some reason.

I’d like to tag some of my friends who I think might participate in a meme like this and who I don’t usually link to, including: Sean Kelly, Kevin Palmer, Rico Mossesgeld, and Darlene McDaniel. Go for it, guys!

Two Simple Ideas to Solve the Knowledge Share Problem

KS14591 I was talking to an executive at a large, rapid growth company (it isn’t an oxymoron believe it or not) today. One of the company’s key challenges is dealing with the problems associated with “knowledge sharing” as they grow.

When the company was small, everyone knew what the other was working on and the solutions they were tacking. There were end of shift meetings and the entire company could fit in a small conference room. Now that the company is 250 times bigger, they have trouble doing that now.

This is an issue that seems to be common among growing companies. Once employees pass the 100 or 200 employee mark, it becomes difficult to share best practices and solutions. Those good ideas that used to be easy to communicate among a small group are now impossible to effectively communication across an international company.

There are several things companies and employees within them can do, though. I shared these two ideas with the particular executive:

Use internal blogs.
Well run, internal blogs (more about them here) are a great way to keep employees up-to-date about what is going on from shift to shift. Employees in general or teams can post some things they learned throughout the shift or an explanation about how to deal with an especially challenging problem they saw. If this is done every day or a couple of times a day by different people and is easily and effectively searchable, it can serve as a valuable resource to all employees.

Use the “coolideas” email idea.
I’ve never written about the cool ideas email idea because I just remembered it happening today. I worked with a startup that had a simple email address (something like coolideas@company.com) that all employees, ranging from customer service representatives to senior engineers, were encouraged to email their ideas, problems to tough solutions, and best practices to this email address. There were signs all over encouraging employees to do so and they did. The email had a designated keeper / organizer (the office manager did it) who would talk to employees if further explanations were needed and who added the ideas to the company’s internal wiki. The idea worked really well and the company benefited tremendously.

The executive thought both ideas (especially the coolideas one) were good ideas. The most important part  of grasping the idea of knowledge sharing and how to do it is understanding the need for effective tools.

Effective tools can make or break the process, regardless of how motivated the employees are share to the ideas. The tools need to be easy and fast use to use (like an email address). If it’s easy enough for employees to share their best practices and ideas, they are a lot more likely to do so.

Pay for Response Times?

300px-Wall_clock I was talking to a client of mine who wanted to let customers pay for faster response times. The CEO of a company with about 100 employees, he had drawn up a chart that looked basically like this:

  • 5 Minutes: $5
  • 1 Hour: $1
  • 3 Hours: $0.50
  • 24 Hours: Free

The way the chart worked was that a customer could pay $5 and their ticket would get be guaranteed to get a response in 5 minutes. If it took longer than 5 minutes for them to get a response, they would get double what they originally paid back ($10). So, they could buy the 1 hour option for $1.00 and would be guaranteed to get a reply within 1 hour or they would get $2 back.

He had a way to get it to work on his backend without too much trouble. Employees would know how much time was left on tickets. Rules would be in place about what constituted a reply depending upon the amount of time purchased (“hello” within 5 minutes doesn’t cut it for $5). The system seemed pretty simple to me. There was little I could find to complain about from a purely operations point of view.

What the CEO missed, though, was the significance of the issue as a whole. Whenever the issue of premium support is discussed, customers inevitably ask the question of “why can’t you do that for free to everyone?” Most companies want to tell the customers the real answer (because it isn’t doable based on the cost of the product or service), but that doesn’t sound very nice. The question, and to a larger extent, the overall idea, puts companies in a stick situation.

I’ve discussed this notion of premium support before as well as its various relatives (the idea of charging for certain types of support). It is a popular think among companies today – especially because the cost of the products and services are going down while other costs go up.

I asked my client about this and he said he thought it would be okay because the 24 hour service level would be free to all customers. Therefore, it wasn’t mandatory to pay for response times.

I told him if he made the 24 hour time period an actual service guarantee (backed by $1 in credits for each time missed), he could do it. If that wasn’t there, though, customers would get upset. In those cases, customers usually feel they have to pay or they won’t get a response for a week. While that usually isn’t the intention of companies in the beginning, after about a year, it becomes the case.

I thought this way of looking at premium support might interest some companies. As long as your lowest level is backed by a real guarantee and gives customers a reasonable option for either an extremely low price (if your service is already for pay) or free, customers should find themselves accepting the change.

Communities as Parties

1408057351_cd42bb3ab0 At the Customer Service is the New Marketing Summit a little under two weeks ago, Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress project and the company Automattic) used a great metaphor to explain how good communities function – he described them as a party.

I’m really surprised more people didn’t latch on to this metaphor when they wrote about the summit. It seemed to be very well received at the time and I still think it is a fantastic metaphor. It is almost certainly a metaphor I will use when I find myself having describe the function of communities to my clients.

Before you dismiss this as some buzzword loaded rubbish (which is what I sometimes do when I hear comparisons like that), listen to my interpretation and summary of Matt’s right on metaphor.

Parties that are successful bring the right number of people together. Those people end up having a good time and having fun. They will hopefully come for whatever their purpose is and achieve that sort of goal (having fun, learning, meeting people, etc.). When people achieve their particular goals and have fun, they leave feeling happy.

Good parties almost always have good hosts. It is their job to keep the size of the space appropriate for the number of guests, plan the party, get people involved, and keep things rolling. The host not only needs to be the organizer of many things, but sometimes the life of the party and cheerleader. Sometimes this is is necessary, but not always.

One or two bad guests can ruin a party and make it miserable for almost everyone. A space that is too large or too small for the number of guests can make for a bad party. A party with a terrible host will likely be bad. Sometimes parties are really great or really bad for no apparent reason.

Now replace every use of the word party with community, every use of the word guest with member, and host with community leader. Matt didn’t take his metaphor quite as far as I did above, but as I thought more about parties and as I thought more about communities, I couldn’t help but see the striking similarities.

Think about some of the points listed above and how they tie into communities:

  • If communities are too big or too small, they may lose their desired effect.
  • Great communities have members that have fun and achieve their appropriate goals and purposes.
  • Great communities seem to have great community leaders / facilitators behind them. There are ones that don’t, but a majority of the time, they do.
  • If you take part in a community with 50 forums or 150 community features for 10 members, it is the wrong sized space. 3 forums for 5 million members is the wrong sized space as well.
  • Community leaders have to keep communities engaged and entertained. They also have to deal with the administrative side of running a community – keeping the community clean, dealing with troublesome members, organizing things, etc. Again, this isn’t always necessary, but it is needed most of the time.
  • Bad members can sour a community very easily. Dealing with them is a big challenge, but they’re necessary.
  • A community with a bad community leader will have a hard time being successful.
  • Communities are sometimes ridiculously successful or unexplainably terrible for absolutely no reason.

If you don’t understand or appreciate this metaphor, then I’m not sure if you really get communities and what they’re all about. This is one of my favorite non-technical metaphors for sometime relatively technical like an online community. Big thanks to Matt Mullenweg for thinking of it! (Apparently, Lee Lefever also/originally came up with this idea.)

Enterprise Encourages Exceptional Service

enterprise I can’t quite remember if I read it in a book or magazine, but I did read a story about how Enterprise (the car rental company) has a policy that encourages its employees to provide exceptional service to customers. The policy is simple, but if used, has the potential to be extremely successful.

The policy encourages Enterprise employees to stop and assist customers that they notice have a flat tire or are pulled over on the side of the road. If the employees pull over and assist the customer, they get $100. The policy is as simple as that.

I imagine there is a sticker or something on the license plate indicating the cars are from Enterprise. I can imagine how pleasantly surprised a customer would be if he or she was having car trouble and someone from their car rental company pulled next to them and offered to help.

While I’m not 100% sure how often this actually happens in reality, it is a good idea in theory. Having policies and procedures in place that actually encourage and provide a motivation to employees to provide better service are far more effective than most.

Do you have policies for your employees to follow that are specifically designed to impress and wow customers? If not, you should think about ways that customers could use the help and then encourage your employees to provide it.

Customer Service is the New Marketing Wrap-up

The Customer Service is the New Marketing Summit held last week in San Francisco was a big success. Attendance was great and so were the presentations and panels throughout the day. It seems that a vast majority of the attendees (and speakers) had a great time and agreed it was well worth the trip.

Several people have asked me for information and insight I took away from the conference. Until I get a chance to write some things up (which I think I will do soon), here are some insights and tips that other people got:

Overall information and round ups from Customers Are Always, Web Strategist, Demand Satisfaction, Wordyard, Damn I Wish I Had Thought of That, VentureBeat, CS: The New Competitive Edge, and Second Verse.

Posts about the lunchtime workshops from PixelBlog, Customers Rock, and Brian Solis.

Posts, summaries, and related insights from Tony Hsieh’s (CEO, Zappos) presentation can be found at Rolf Skyberg, Christine.net, Blog Bites Man, Darien Library, and even here at Service Untitled.

A detailed post about Alex Frankel’s talk can be found at Christine.net.

Takeaways from the Customer Service as Community panel can be found at Christine.net, Darien Library, and Damn I Wish I Had Thought of That.

A detailed post about Michael Murphy’s (Group Brand Manager for Customer Service, Virgin) talk can be found at Christine.net.

Posts about the Scaling Customer Service panel can be found at Damn I Wish I Had Thought of That, The M Word, and Christine.net.

And last, but certainly not least, posts about Robert Stephens’ (Founder and Chief Inspector, The Geek Squad) presentation can be found at Ross Mayfield, Blog Bites Man, and Christine.net.

The plan is to have video of the presentations and panels available within the near future. I’m not 100% sure of the timeline with that, but I’m told it should be coming. In the mean time, though, the speakers’ slides are available on SlideShare.

If I didn’t use the preferred name of your blog, misspelt anything, have any broken links, missed your post, etc., just post in the comments and I will fix it.

« Previous Page  Next Page »