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A quick “good job” to an employee.

Whenever you “catch” an employee doing something right or exceptionally well, you should make it a habit to to let them know they were doing a good job.

A lot of supervisors and managers underestimate the importance and value of praising employees. The size of the gesture is irrelevant – a simple email or positive tap on the shoulder can mean a lot to an employee. Customer service employees are typically under appreciated, so going just a little bit out of your way to make an employee feel good can make a huge difference. Praising publicly is another good way to encourage employees to do good work. All it takes is a simple email to make an employee feel good.

Letting the employee know they have done a good job will not make them feel good, but also encourage such behavior in the future. If someone is acknowledged for doing something well, chances are they are going to be more motivated to continue doing so in the future.

The idea is to do something to acknowledge good work. Some type of recognition is a lot more than what most employees get. And despite its simplicity, it can end up making a huge difference.

Make positive feedback easy.

Picture 1-1A reader recently wrote in and told me about how she struggled to give positive feedback to Alaska Airlines. She had a positive experience with the airline and wanted to write them a simple note thanking them and showing how satisfied she was with the customer service experience.

However, Alaska Airlines made that more difficult than she would have liked. To get to the customer feedback form on their web site, a customer would have to go through this entire process:

Home > More > Contact Us > Customer Care > E-mail Post Flight Comments

When you manage to the find the page (which you can jump to by clicking here), you are presented with a rather lengthy form that asks for a whole bunch of personal and flight information. The form doesn’t make it easy to just whisk off a quick comment (good or bad) and it makes the act of giving positive feedback quite a tedious process.

While it makes sense for Alaska Air’s form to be thorough, it would make more sense to have a way to expand the form if the customer wants to provide more information. For positive comments, a name and email address would be plenty. For negative comments, hopefully the company has a way to search for reservations using basic information (such as a name and flight number) and doesn’t need to ask for a whole bunch of information.

The page could ask “Is this a positive or negative comment?” If the customer chose positive, it could present them with a simple form. And if the customer chose negative, then the form could expand. It’s a simple thing to do, but it can make a big difference. Companies should never make it difficult to submit feedback – good, bad, or neutral.

Don’t lock customers into long-term contracts.

I have always believed that locking customers into long-term contracts is a mistake for any business that hopes to become sustainable and stay in business more than a year or two.

Companies that find themselves having to lock customers into long-term contracts probably aren’t doing their jobs right in the first place. If a company is completely confident in its abilities, it will find little to no reason to lock its customers in. Happy customers that believe in your company and what it offers are customers that don’t have to be locked in. They will not only continue to use your company, but most likely refer it to their friends and colleagues.

Long-term contracts, on the other hand, lock customers in – including the unhappy ones. Unhappy customers that are locked into a contract rarely (if ever) become happy customers as a . They get even more frustrated and they start to dislike the particular company even more. They may actively tell others to avoid your company (and its restricting contracts).

A lot of companies with long-term contracts tend to employ some questionable measures to get customers into those contracts. Reduced prices for the first couple of months, waiving of setup fees, reduced prices for locking into a contract, etc. A lot of the methods are effective and long-term contracts undoubtedly reduce risk and make cash-flow more manageable. However, it can often do that at the risk of customer satisfaction. And if the customers aren’t happy and word gets out, there will almost certainly be bigger problems to address.

The Birthday Offering

Bbigbirthdaycake-1My mother and I essentially share a birthday (we’re three days apart), so when we go out for a birthday dinner as a family, we usually combine the two birthdays into one nice dinner. This year, we decided to celebrate our birthdays at a nice restaurant with great food and great customer service that we’ve been to plenty of times before and have always had good experiences.
As we sat down, I told the host (who I am pretty sure is one of the managers) that we were celebrating two birthdays and he asked if we wanted the staff to sing. My mother and I simaltensouly said that wasn’t necessary.

We had our nice dinner and by the end of the meal, we began to wonder if they had forgotten about our birthdays. No one mentioned it after we were seated or even after we had asked for the check, so we assumed the low key that we had we requested meant non-existent. However, the restaurant came through at the end and delivered two very nice piece of cakes with a couple of candles of them. There was no singing, but a couple of staff members did come over and wish us a happy birthday. They were also nice enough to give us the two pieces of cake for free and wish us a happy birthday on the way out as well.

Overall, the restaurant handled the birthday well. I’m not sure if waiting until the very end is the best way to do something like celebrating a birthday, but they did do it before the end, which is what ended up counting. Good restaurants (like this one) and exceptional companies take the time to make a special occasion not only enjoyable and fun, but memorable.

When you fortunate enough to have a customer decide to celebrate a special occasion at your restaurant, hotel, or business, take the time to make it special. Anything would certainly be unacceptable. We chose the particular restaurant we went to because we knew we would have a good experience and the restaurant came through exactly as expected.

Offering to follow up with (additional) answers.

No one is expected to know everything. If you expect every one of your employees to know the answers to every question that could possibly be asked, you will be in for disappointment. At most companies, there is simply too much to know and a nearly limitless number of questions that potential and existing customers can ask.

Even with that fact of life and of customer service in mind, the answer of “I don’t know” is completely unacceptable. Any employee who says “I don’t know” and leaves it at that is actually an employee who does not care. Especially with technology and the Internet, looking up answers to problems and questions is even easier than before. It isn’t difficult to IM, call, or find a supervisor or another employee. It also isn’t difficult to Google a problem and figure out what it might be. It isn’t at all difficult to send the customer in the right direction with a few web links.

The point is that customers don’t want to be left at “I don’t know.” They want to hear “I don’t know that off hand, but I will be more than happy to find out for you.” As a service provider, you can offer to get back to the customer with the answer or ask them if they’d like to wait. Some customers will want to wait, others will want an email or a call back.

Do whichever they ask and do your best regardless of which way they prefer. Ask who you need to and look up what you have to look up. The goal is to find an answer for the customer that is both useful and accurate. If it isn’t useful or if it isn’t accurate, it doesn’t do the customer much good. If there is no direct answer that you can find, offer up alternative solutions (“X might not be possible, but Y is certainly possible”). Whatever you do, never leave the customer at “I don’t know.” “I can find out” is much better for you and the customer.

The Technical Person’s Guide to Customer Service

I have worked in the technology industry for my entire professional career. My first job was with a tech company and my current job is working with tech companies. While I would say that I understand technology, I am definitely not a technical person. There are so many people out there that know infinitely more about technology than I do and I respect them for that. However, technical people sometimes have trouble providing quality customer service service. It usually isn’t because the technical employee is rude or inconsiderate. It’s usually just because the person hasn’t quite mastered the “attitude” part of customer service.

Here are some tips:

1. Rule number one is there is nothing to gain by proving a customer wrong. You have a lot to gain by explaining an issue to a customer and perhaps even explaining why they’re incorrect, what’s wrong, and how they can correct it, but essentially nothing to gain by proving a customer wrong. Proving a customer wrong is completely ineffective on both a business and a psychological level.

2. Always try to use positive language. Positive language are words and phrases that make you sound happy. If you aren’t a jubilant person, that’s okay (neither am I). As long as you give off the image that you’re polite, willing to help, and patient. Use phrases like “All you have to do is”, “To do that, just go do this”, “I’d be happy to help you with that,” etc. Don’t order customers (never say “You have to”). Instead, suggest what they can do to get the solution.

3. Try to explain the cause and effect in simple terms. Customers are usually interested in what caused their problem and they want you to take a little bit of time to explain it. You don’t have to and should not go into the exact technical details, but you should try to explain explain things at a basic level that the customer will hopefully be able to understand and make sense of.

For example, instead of saying “Your order was delayed because our processing system did not sync with our order fulfillment processes, thus causing your order to be removed from the order batch that was run at the end of the day,” say something like “Your order was delayed because of an error in one of our internal systems.” (Both of those examples are entirely made up. I’m not even sure if that technical problem is even possible.)

4. Tell the customer what has been fixed and how you did it. For the above mentioned issue, you would want to say something like “I have corrected the problem by changing a setting on your account in our internal system and have expedited your order so you will still receive it in the same amount of time.”

5. Tell customers how to prevent the problem from happening again. An important part of customer service is not only fixing the problem, but ensuring it won’t happen again and/or educating the customer to prevent it from happening again. A ticket closed does not mean a problem resolved. It makes more sense to invest some time now and resolve the issue completely instead of investing a lot of time later to resolve an issue that was only half-fixed the first time around.

These should serve as some good general rules of technical people that need to provide customer service themselves. For more reading on this subject, check out this post (general) and this post (specific).

Feedback Survey from Skype

Not that long ago, I wrote about how I received a terrific auto-response from Skype. It took them a lot longer than 72 hours to reply (the reply was useful when it finally did come, though) and now I am writing about their feedback process.

Firstly, they sent a very nice looking email less than 24 hours after the issue was resolved (click for full size):

Not only was the email nice looking, but the message was well written – it was both personal and professional:

You recently contacted Skype Customer Support and we’d love to get your feedback on the support you received – good, bad or indifferent. By answering a few questions about your experience you can really help us improve Skype.

When you click on the big Get Started button, you are led to a third party survey web site that asks the following questions in a survey that was divided into two parts:

Skype Survey Part One

  1. Overall, how would you rate the experience you had with Skype Customer Support? (multiple choice)
  2. To help Skype continue to provide a high standard of service, would you please tell us what we did to earn your satisfaction? (open ended)
  3. Was your question to Skype Customer Support resolved? (yes or no)
  4. How would you rate the ease of contacting Skype Customer Support? (multiple choice)
  5. How satisfied were you with the speed in which Skype Customer Support responded to your question(s)? (multiple choice)
  6. How many times have you contacted Skype Customer Support regarding this issue?

Skype Part Two

  1. Overall, how satisfied were you with this specific Skype representative’s service? (multiple choice)
  2. Did our Skype representative treat you like a valued Skype customer? (yes or no)
  3. How would you rate your Skype representative’s email response? (matrix, see below, click for full size)
  4. How quickly do you expect a response from Skype when you send an email? (multiple choice)
  5. How likely are you to use Skype in the next three months? (multiple choice)
  6. How likely is it that you will recommend Skype to a friend or colleague? (Net Promoter scale)
  7. What is your main use of Skype? (multiple choice)
  8. If you were given the choice, how would you prefer to contact Skype Customer Support?
Overall, a fairly lengthy, but very thorough survey. It is one of the better written and most relevant surveys I have seen. It asked a lot of great questions that support organizations could learn a lot from. The questions cover the actual issue handled as well as the broader product and support focus at Skype.

Have an escalations team (or person).

If your customer service is savvy and is responding to customers on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, you should have a simple email that people can email if they’re having trouble.

The email can be anything that signals that your escalations team (or person) is ready and willing to help. I’ve seen We_Can_Help, letusknow, executive.service, and pretty much every variation in between. Customers don’t really care what the email address is, but they do care what happens on the other end. They want a reply relatively quickly (12 hours or less is ideal) and they want a reply from someone that is intelligent, courteous, and empowered.

The escalations team (or person) should be made up of the same people who explore the blogosphere and the social media sites and offer to help. Having the email forward to a regular customer service department doesn’t do much good. Having it forward to a special team that is empowered to make a difference can result in a lot of solutions and a lot of good will. Pro-active customer support depends on great people and on a commitment to the people you’re serving. Make it easy for customers to get in touch and they’ll make it known that you’ve been helpful.

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