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Notify customers before doing something.

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Communicating with customers consistently is essential to great customer service. Customers like to be kept in the loop and doing so is important to keeping them happy. With that in mind, companies should make a genuie effort to notify customers before doing something to their account or to anything that affects them.

Contact them through different mediums. Most companies have announcements sections of their web sites, but the unfortunate truth is, a majority of customers don’t keep up with these sections. Try to contact customers via email, by posting an announcement on their control panel, by text messaging them, etc. The key is to be creative and to understand how customers prefer to be contacted.

Be clear and honest with timelines. If something is going to take two hours, say so. Don’t say it will take an hour and a half – be on the safe side. Tell customers how likely something is to be delayed, how routine the change is, etc. Being honest with customers will save you problems and upset customers in the long run.

Communicate what is being done and why. If you tell a customer that their account is being upgraded to a new software version, that doesn’t mean much to them. Explain exactly what is being done and why it is going to help the customer. If you say that the software upgrade will make their service more reliable or easier to use, the customer will be much receptive.

Be prepared to answer questions. Communication almost always results in questions. Being clear and concise is extremely important, but you should always be prepared for customers to ask questions. Questions are fine. Answer them honestly, quickly, and with a smile. Doing so will help ease the customer’s mind and assure them that you have the situation under control.

Give customers your own email address.

Personalizing a customer service experience is difficult. But one way to personalize and give accountability to the customer service experience is to provide customers with your own email address.

This doesn’t work for every company and can certainly be abused by persistent customers, but in general, it makes customers feel better. If customers can talk to or write to someone they feel confident in, they tend to feel better about having to contact customer service. In my experience, the representatives that do this most successfully tell customers to go through the normal support procedures first and email them personally if someone goes wrong. Surprisingly, most customers do honor this.

For the customers that don’t honor that simple agreement, the best thing for the representative to do is gently nudge them towards the standard support mediums. They submit a ticket for the customer or forward their request to support and send the customer a quick note explaining what they did. If the representative does this consistently and only helps when things don’t go well, then it reinforces the relationship of helping when things don’t go well.

Some companies choose only to give out personal email addresses if the customer is a particularly important customer or if the customer has had a lot of problems in the past. This is fine, too. The point is to give customers extra attention if they need it and to prevent relatively minor issues from escalating into big issues.

Be creative with error pages.

Picture 1-3Have you looked at your error pages recently? Your 404’s, 500’s, and so on and so forth? Probably not.

After reading this blog post, I just updated the 404 error page on my own blog. The idea is that a helpful error page will be more friendly and help prevent customers from getting frustrated.

A page that just says “this page can’t be found” or states that there has been a “server error” doesn’t help anyone. Including a form (like the company I linked to chose to do) or some alternatives and information for the customer (like I did) provide customers with a more productive alternative.

Designing a good error page is not complicated. Just keep the customer in mind. If you were a customer viewing that error page, what would you find to useful? If you were the developer, what would you want the customer to know and what would you want the customer to tell you? Simple questions with answers that could help you as you develop your product or your web site.

Take a few minutes and update your error pages. Add some links and useful text. Mine used to say “The page you are trying to access cannot be found.” I updated the page to include more information, look better, and be friendlier. It took 15 minutes and I’m sure it will prove to be worth it.

For more examples of interesting 404 error pages, check out this post at Smashing Magazine. Not all of the examples are “good” 404 pages, but a lot of them are creative and interesting.

A Little Humor

Just a little customer service Lolcat humor for your weekend.

I doubt all of my readers will find this to be funny, but I’m sure some will.

Don’t worry, though, these won’t be posted very frequently (the frequency of Lolcast postings to date is about once every two years).

Both photos from the very funny I Can Has Cheezburger.

Bug Fixes to Design

I’ve made some bug fixes to the design. There weren’t links to next or previous pages of posts or to continue reading a post that was broken up into two parts. These should now be corrected. If you notice any issues or have any suggestions, please¬†let me know.

Pass on praise to everyone.

I was reading an article in Fast Company about the importance of passing on praise to deserving employees outside of the call center. The point was what I called a duh-ism, but it makes sense and it is something that many companies forget about almost completely.

Many companies are very good about passing on praise to the customer service department. Not all companies are good at this, but at most well run call centers, emailing in and saying a good thing about Bob will eventually make its way back to Bob. If Bob happens to get negative feedback, chances are that is discussed with him as well.

But what if a customer writes in praising the visual design of the product? Does that feedback make it to the product design team? Or if the customer writes in and says he or she respected how eco-friendly the packaging was. Does that make it to the team in charge of the packaging? What if the customer writes in about how clean the bathrooms were? Do the custodians hear about this? Unlikely. Chances are, it makes it to corporate communications or customer service. The customer will get a nice reply back, but in most companies, the feedback isn’t passed on to the actual people who worked on that aspect of the product.

If your company isn’t already, a process should be made to forward feedback to the relevant people. Forwarding positive feedback about a customer service representative to the actual representative makes sense. Forwarding positive feedback about the cleanliness of the restrooms to corporate communications does not make sense. It should be forwarded to the custodians so they can see it (and know that their hard work is appreciated) and then to corporate communications to actually reply. The actual employees probably don’t care as much about replying (so, corporate communications shouldn’t worry about someone taking over their job) as they do about getting the actual feedback.

A steady stream of positive feedback can encourage employees to keep doing great work. A lot of employees feel under appreciated because their efforts aren’t recognized. Developing a process for recognizing the hard work of employees by doing something as simple as forward them customer feedback can make a huge difference in employee morale and motivation.

And be sure to check out this post about making it easy to provide positive feedback in the first place.

Poach good service employees.

Applerecruit-Lg I came across a blog post about how Apple recruiters are finding people to work at the technology company’s popular retail stores. Their method? Have a clever business card that says that the recruiter enjoyed his or her customer service experience and wants to get in touch with the employee if he or she is interested in changing jobs.

The card isn’t overly aggressive, but it does make a point – if you want to change jobs, consider the Apple Store. It is surprising that more companies don’t do this – especially considering how easy it is. It’s more direct (and I think effective) than a recruiter giving his or her card to an employee and it is obviously has a very specific purpose.

Apple, like Nordstrom and other customer service leaders, realizes that you can hire the smile and train the skill.

This tactic isn’t limited to retail. Assuming you train your employees and there isn’t a large amount of prior knowledge needed to work in your customer service department, this can work for your company as well. Look for great customer service and offer the card to people who seem like they might be a fit.

If they work out, great. If not, oh well. Hiring is just as much an art as it is a science and a fact of both aspects is that it is hard to find and retain great people, so it is important to work hard at doing so.

[Image courtesy of MacNN.]

Don’t do a “blind” transfer.

I wrote about how to properly transfer customers quite a while ago, but I think the issue needs to be brought up again because it is so important. There are primarily two ways to transfer a call: blindly and not blindly (I’m sure there is another term, but I think not blindly is sufficient). A blind transfer is when the original representative puts transfers the customer to the new department, person, etc. without doing anything. They enter in the extension on their phone and off the customer goes.

Good customer service companies do not do blind transfers – ever. They don’t do blind transfers because blind transfers confuse customers and employees. They make the customer repeat the same information to another person and essentially start from scratch after spending at least some time on the phone with another person. When customers are transferred properly, they get on the phone with a representative who knows about their problem and is familiar with what has been done already and what needs to be done now. The customer and the new representative can get right to work. A seamless transfer ends up leading to a seamless customer service experience.

And for the companies that care about their bottom-line in addition to their customers’ happiness, blind transfers don’t make business sense either. If the original representative invested a couple of minutes and explained the issue, what he or she had done already, and so on, it’d save the new representative time. Getting the original representative off the phone and then making the new representative stay on the phone (which is what happens with blind transfers) is not efficient.

So if you are concerned about your bottom-line and your customers’ happiness (as you should be), then consider training your customer service representatives to transfer customers properly. You’ll save time and money and your customers will appreciate the extra effort.

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