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Wear Name Tags

I like it when people at a store, restaurant, etc. wear name tags. They might not be the classiest or most stylish addition to a uniform, but they are useful.

I’ve always felt that name tags should:

  • Be clearly visible and not too small. A lot of companies like to do pins with their logo on them, which rarely help)
  • Actually have the person’s name on them. This helps in terms of accountability (good and bad) and simply being polite to the person helping you. It also helps clearly identify that you work at the company and that you’re there to interact with customers.
  • Be classy. Name tags don’t have to be obnoxious, have stickers on them, or anything like that. There are plenty of classy name tags that can be added to even the most formal of uniforms.
  • Actually be worn by all employees. At some companies (especially in retail), name tags are not the not the norm. Again, they might not match with every outfit, but they are help in indicating who actually works at the store versus who is just there and looks like they might work there.
  • Be the same style. When you go to a store or into a restaurant and see one person with the engraved name tag and another with the labeler produced name tag, it looks bad.  Everyone should have the same style name tag.

Name tags are so simple, but are messed up by so many companies. It is just a matter of thinking what looks professional and then keeping that in mind when purchasing and handing out the name tags. They should look professional and they should let customers know who works at the particular company and what they can help the customer with.

Make a quick attempt.

More often than not, going the extra 50 feet can be rather easy. One easy way to go the extra 50 feet and make a big difference is to take a minute to look up a customer’s account before you give them a call or as soon as you have enough information to do so. Chances are, it is something you’ll have to do anyway, so you might as well do it in advance and impress the customer.

If you have the customer’s phone number (from a voicemail or a callback request), put it into your system and see if anything comes up. If you have their email address, look it up. If you have their name, see what you can find. Most of the better systems give you a number of ways to search for a customer. Once you’ve found the customer’s account, see if there is anything obviously wrong with it that could be causing a problem. Check to see who they are. When did they last call? The goal is just to glance at the screen and get a basic idea of who this customer is and what their story is about.

The broader goal, of course, is to make the customer service experience as soon as possible. That way, when you give that customer a call back or send them an email, you can say something along the lines of:

Mr. Smith, thank you for calling. I looked into your account and it looks like your most recent payment to us didn’t go through for some reason. I ran your credit card again and the payment went through successfully. Your service should be restored now. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Boom. First contact resolution. There are an infinite number of ways you can do something similar and make a big difference. The customer will be delighted that you took the time to look into his or her issue before reaching out and you’ll be delighted with how much time and effort you save.

Friendly, but formal.

Companies frequently debate over, wonder about, and consider what tone they should present in their written communication to customers (especially in the support department). Even though it sounds relatively unimportant, it is actually a good thing to keep in mind an excellent thing to think about.

All my writing teachers in school would tell me that everyone leads to tone and I’d say the same thing is true about support responses. And the default answer for tone is that “it depends on the customer.” The more practical answer is that the tone should be friendly, but should also still be formal.

The responses sent or given should be appropriate for the tone the customer sets right off the bat. If the customer writes in saying, “Hey guys, my account isn’t working,” it’s safe to say you can be relatively informal and personable. However, if the customer writes in saying, “Dear Sir / Madam, please be advised that our account is not working,” you’ll probably want to use a more formal tone.

Beyond just the customer, the issue matters, too. General “how do you do this?” questions should be answered in a different way than issues along the lines of “My account has not been working in the last two weeks.” You don’t want to laugh off a serious problem and you don’t want to make a simple request or question sound like a big deal. Choosing the right tone requires some experience and to a larger extent, just paying attention. Look for cues in the customer’s wording (for email/phone) and tone of voice (for phone).

People don’t want to work with robots and you should encourage representatives to engage with customers and use their personality, but you also want to talk about the line between friendly and overly friendly. They are still customers and your business is still a business serving customers. Buddy buddy relationships and interactions should be left to buddies – not to customer service representatives helping strangers.

As a company, you want your representatives to be friendly, polite, and personable. What they say and how they say it should reflect that goal and that idea.

The system won’t let me.

I called a large company today and had a mostly positive customer service experience. I felt the representative I spoke to wanted to help me and that the company was doing what it could to make me happy. All was fine until I asked them to step out of the box a little bit and extend something from the normal 30 days to the obviously abnormal 40 days. The response? “The system won’t let us do that.”

“The system won’t let us do that” and any variation thereof is probably one of the worst things that any customer service department can ever say. Hearing the phrase that is in mind, so closely related to and representative of corporate bureaucracy and inflexibility, definitely reminded me that I was talking to a Fortune 100 company with over 200,000 employees. Systems should be designed to help customers and employees, not restrict them. Systems obviously need restrictions and there are plenty of ways to design systems to prevent abuse and misuse, but there should always be someone entrusted and empowered to go beyond what the system says can be done and make things happen. There are abnormal situations and systems that don’t keep that in mind are destined to fail.

With that in mind, there should always be someone (who is customer-facing) that can override the system. That person doesn’t have to work 24/7, but needs to be available to customers on a regular, daily basis. I’m sure some senior technical manager at the company I spoke to can override the system at some level, but my guess is that person doesn’t get on the phone or talk to customers very often. If the company had some sort of manager that spent his or her day working with customers (and returning phone calls or emails of people needing the system overridden), it’d be a different story.

What was worst about my situation is that I felt the company genuinely wanted to help, but was obviously not able to do so. All of the money that companies invest in hiring and training friendly customer service representatives (and getting them to go the extra 50 feet) is wasted if the “system” doesn’t let them do their jobs and work with customers.

Live Chat as a Support Medium

Chat-Icon-16-OnlineLive chat is a really interesting support medium that continues to get more and more popular. It’s starting to get right up there with phone and email for a lot of companies.

A lot of customers like live chat (I’m not really one of them) because it’s convenient, relatively real-time, and free. It doesn’t take up cellphone minutes, there usually isn’t much hold time, and you can more easily click on links, copy and paste answers, etc. Companies like live chat because it’s convenient, relatively real-time, and relatively cheap. When it comes to providing links, downloads, etc., it works much better than the phone and is still faster than email.

Live chat works well for a lot of companies. International customers really like it because it is much cheaper and easier than calling a US company. Companies like how good live chat representatives can do a couple of chats at once (there are varying schools of thought about how many is too many) and they like how they don’t have to pay for the international users to call them or for the telephone minutes. The best phone representatives can only do one phone call at a time, but a good live chat representative can probably handle two or three live chats without much of a problem.

Just like with phone support, the decision to offer live chat support should stem from customer needs and desires. If you have a lot of international customers who are unwilling to spend the money necessary to call you, live chat is a must have. If your customers are mostly in the United States and live chat is simply “nice to have,” then you might want to think about it some more. If your industry is really competitive and no one else is offering live chat, you should offer it to try and differentiate yourself from the competition.

And also just like phone support (and all other support mediums), don’t try to offer live chat until you’re ready to do so. If you don’t have the manpower, technical expertise, or time to implement a great live chat solution and process, you’re wasting your time, money, and customer goodwill. Customers can live with hiccups, but they don’t want the support experience to be a process of pure havoc and mayhem.

Book Review: The Ultimate Question

Uq SmThe business world is filled with an overwhelming number of questions and uncertainties. As statisticians analyze the uncertainties, the number of questions they ask seems to grow exponentially.

Business consultant and author Fred Reichheld thinks he has found the question that all companies need to ask in order to determine just how loyal their customers are – and he has humbly called it the ultimate question.

Reichheld talks about this ultimate question and what it should mean to you and your business in in his 200 page book entitled The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth. The book, first published in 2006 by Harvard Business School Press, primarily focuses on three key areas: the “ultimate question,” a scoring method called “Net Promoter,” and the importance of “good profits.”

The “ultimate question” is the simple and common question of “How likely are you to recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?”. Net Promoter is a scoring method that subtracts the proportion of detractors from the proportion of promoters. Good profits are simply profits that come from people that actually want to use your products and services (as opposed to those who might be locked into contractors or dissatisfied for one reason or another).

Like many things in customer service, the premise behind the book and the Net Promoter concept is laughably simple: if you deliver an experience that makes people genuinely want to recommend your company to their friends, family, or colleagues, you’re going to grow. Just like many business books, The Ultimate Question takes this relatively simple concept and adds strategically placed healthy servings of jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms to help justify the three hours and $20 that the book will cost. After the first 50 pages, the book starts to drag on and get redundant, but there are plenty of examples and tidbits to make it worth reading until the end.

With that said, I’d still recommend reading the book because it clearly articulates some very important aspects of business and customer service. Recihheld’s core points make sense and the examples he provides are interesting. After reading the book, any competent customer service manager or executive can easily conduct a Net Promoter survey and make use of the results. He clearly explains what Net Promoter is, why it should matter to your business, and how to make it work. Even though I don’t agree with Recihheld’s view that the “would you recommend” question is the only question that needs to be asked (I think you need more information than that), I still think that the “would you recommend” question is a great question to ask and that Net Promoter has its merits.

Net Promoter isn’t exactly new to the business world and that may very well be one of its biggest strengths. A whole host of companies in a variety of industries make use of Net Promoter and many of them are fairly transparent about their scores. It’s interesting to see what your Net Promoter score is and then compare that to some of the big companies in your industry. The average Net Promoter score is around 10 and it’s possible to have a score anywhere between -100 and 100.

I’ve conducted Net Promoter surveys for several companies and have always found the results to be useful when they are coupled with other questions. Net Promoter doesn’t tell you everything, but there is really very little to lose in asking your customers how likely they are to recommend your company to a friend or colleague. You might be in for a rude awakening, but you’ll almost certainly come out of the process knowing more than you did before. Once you have the results from your first Net Promoter survey, you’ll be faced with the true ultimate question, the question of how to improve.

Bottomline: Despite being slightly redundant, The Ultimate Question clearly articulates the importance of and how to measure customer loyalty. You may not agree with all of Reichheld’s points, but a majority of them make sense and are applicable to almost any business.

Pros: The book fully explains Net Promoter and why it matters. It provides a plethora of advice and action items that managers and executives can use to start tracking customer loyalty.

Cons: Some of them Reichheld’s methods are more academic than they are practical and the second half of book gets annoyingly redundant.

Interested? You can purchase the book on Amazon.com for about $20. You can also see some of my other posts about Net Promoter here.

Continental Makes It Easy

I usually fly on Continental Airlines and have had mostly pleasant experiences. However, I’ve never made use of any of their “email me my boarding pass” feature before. I’ve always gone onto their web site about 24 hours before my flight is expected to depart, logged on, and then printed the boarding pass. Not terribly convenient, but also not terribly inconvenient, either. The “email boarding pass” feature, though, is incredibly convenient.

The feature isn’t complex whatsoever – all it does is email you a PDF version of your boarding pass 24 hours before the flight is scheduled to department. It does the exact same thing you do on the web site, but it does it for you. It saves the passenger a step and lets them get the boarding pass as soon as it is available right in their email. It also makes it less of a hassle to remember, since

Continental’s web site developers were obviously thinking of customer convenience when they designed this simple feature. It is a small thing that helps solve two fairly common inconveniences. I’m not sure if other airlines do this (I’m sure some do), but it does make things easier.  It’s a typical example of customer service using features. And it sure can make a difference. It is just a matter of thinking of the little things that can make a difference in the customer service experience.

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