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Show off your positive feedback.

I’ve written about testimonials before, but I did want to add to that discussion and point out a great page that shows off some testimonials and quick feedback. That page is the support page at 37signals and it is very well done. Just look at the screenshot below:

They have a broad mission statement (great customer service is a promise we keep every day), list some critical information (URLs, support hours, etc.) and then have a series of testimonials and quotes from what I imagine are customer emails. The testimonials are simple: they are short quotes from emails / tickets and the header is just emphasizing one or two words from the actual body of the email. The person who submits the email is credited with their first name and initial of their last name.

A simple testimonials and support overview page like this is well worth the time it takes to create. It can instill customer confidence and can be a morale booster to your support department. Chances are, a well run support department could get 10-20 comments like this in a day or two and adding them to a page would be simple. It’s easy, efficient, and effective. With customer service and business in general, it’s hard to ask for anything better than that.

A special request.

Button Ars-Click 120X120My mom’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago and for her birthday, she asked that I post a link mentioning an organization she works with on my blog. The link she asked me to post was this one.

If you follow that link and vote for the organization I’ve referenced below, the organization will have a better shot at winning a grant that could range from $1,000 to $25,000. It takes about a minute to vote and the cause is certainly worthy.

The charity is called Another Chance 4 Horses and they are based in Bernville, PA. Every year, Another Chance 4 Horses save hundreds of horses from abuse, neglect, and slaughter. AC4H is an all-volunteer organization and there are always more horses to save than there is available money, so this grant could help them (and most importantly, the horses) out.

Voting is simple. All you have to do is:

1. Go to this page.
2. Put in “Another Chance 4 Horses” as the shelter name.
3. Select “PA” from the state dropdown list.
4. Click search and then when the next page loads, click “Vote”.
5. Enter in the CAPTCHA (it is a pretty interesting type, actually) and then click “Confirm Vote”.

It only takes about a minute to vote and you’ll do your good deed for the day. You can vote once per day, so you can come back and do the same thing tomorrow if you have a spare moment.

We’ll return to our normally scheduled customer service posts tomorrow.

Publicize your exceptional customer service.

I was talking to an interesting guy about customer service today. George (the man’s first name) is involved with his alma mater’s athletics department and has made one of his projects responding to feedback from fans and ticket holders.

Not that long ago, George got an email from an American solider stationed in Iraq. The solider explained that the base’s mess hall has flags/banners from a lot of colleges hung on the wall, but none from the college that George was involved with. The solider was (and still is) a big fan of that particular university and wanted to see if it would be possible to get a flag or banner for them to display alongside the other ones in the mess hall.

It was certainly a unique request, but definitely an interesting one. George replied and said that he would take care of the solider and get him what he needed. He contacted some people and was able to get the solider not only a banner/flag, but some photographs, an autographed football, a whole bunch of t-shirts, and quite a few other things. George packed it all up and sent the stuff to the solider in Iraq. After a little while, the solider emailed George and said that he got the stuff, that the base was going to frame a lot of it, and that he was deeply appreciative of George’s hard work. The solider said he would send some pictures of the display on base, and George told the solider he would show the pictures to the coach when he received them.

That is almost the definition of an exceptional customer service experience – it’s essentially urban legend worthy. Even though George is ridiculously overqualified to do so, he should consider working in customer service because he’d do so well at it. By truly going the extra mile, George made an already dedicated and longtime fan even more loyal. I guarantee that the solider will tell his friends and family about that experience and that he will remember it forever. Customer service that can make that type of impression on an individual (and inevitably, their social and professional networks) is what makes certain companies exceptional.

I recommended that George publicize those photos and talk about that experience as soon as he received the photos. It is truly an exceptional customer service experience that people should hear about. It sets the bar high and lets other fans know that there are diehard fans literally around the world and that this college really does care about them. In a future post, I’m going to talk about how sports fans are unique customers and should be treated as such.

Inform customers (even if you don’t have to).

A lot of people say that customer service departments should under promise and over deliver. The goal is logical and practical. Customers will become disappointed if you over promise and under deliver, but they’ll become delighted if you under promise and over deliver. One of the many ways to apply this thought process to your customer service operations is by letting customers know about what you’re doing even if you don’t have to.

For example, say I email a company asking about special pricing for a service. A conscientious company would reply back in a timely manner and let me know that they are looking into the special pricing and inform me that they will get back to me within a set of amount of time, say three days. If the company replied in two days, they would be over delivering and I’d be happy.

But what if I checked my email 24 hours later and saw a simple email that said something like, “Just to let you know, I am in contact with our sales director to secure this special pricing for you. Thank you for your patience.” That would be going an extra mile while simultaneously raising the bar. There is a good chance that the frontline sales person would go through this process anyway, but by letting the customer know exactly what process he or she is going through, that helps show the customer that the company cares about him or her and is working to get the necessary answers.

It is a very simple thing, but it can make a significant difference. As a company and service provider, you have to consider the line between giving customer useful updates and being annoying. It isn’t worth trying to define a set of rules or guidelines (simply use your best judgment), but it is important to keep in mind that there is such a thing of contacting a customer too frequently.

If you have that in mind when you reach out to customers and inform them of your progress, you’ll continue to over deliver.

Responding in public, resolving in private.

If you make it a habit (and you should) to respond to people’s blog posts, Twitter tweets, forum posts, etc., there is a certain way of actually responding to customers or potential customers.

1. Respond publicly. The first thing you have to do is respond publicly. Post a comment, reply to the Tweet, reply to the forum post, etc. Answer the question or address the concern briefly and generally. Then (and most importantly), encourage the customer to contact you directly. Responding publicly lets people know that you are reaching out, but doesn’t clog up message boards, blog posts, etc.

2. Resolve privately. Once the customer has contacted you privately (or you have pro-actively contacted them privately), work with the customer to resolve their issue privately. Resolving the issue over email or the phone is the best medium since it’s private, far more secure than a public communication method, and allows you to say a lot more.

3. Follow-up publicly. There are different schools of thought on this point, but many companies like to ask customers to post an “update” after the company has worked with them to resolve their issues. This is fine if you actually resolved the issue. Be weary about asking customers – if they aren’t 100% satisfied with the resolution, your asking them to update their post could backfire.

I always do items one and two and occasionally will do three. One and two are obviously the most important: showing other people you care enough to respond and then showing the actual customer you care enough to resolve their issues and address their concerns.

Instead of a post.

Instead of a post today, we have a completely redesigned Service Untitled. It is still a work in progress, but feel free to check it out at http://www.serviceuntitled.com.

Nudge employees gently.

Different employees respond to motivation in different ways. It’s unrealistic to expect that every customer service representative you hire will be a highly motivated, self-starting A player. Most customer service representatives just aren’t those types of people and as a result of that, they often require some motivation and nudging.

There have been plenty of books written about pushing employees to their potential and encouraging them to work their hardest so they can reach their full potential. There are branches of psychology and management that focus on the subject. Like a lot of things, over analyzing it isn’t always prudent or feasible for smaller customer service organizations, so these smaller customer organizations just need to follow simple advice with pragmatic solutions.

An effective way to handle many employees that aren’t reaching their full potential is to simply set a deadline / performance requirement. Note that the performance requirement is just that – a requirement. Not a goal or an ideal point to reach in an ideal amount of time – a requirement.

Make it a requirement that they work on X number of tickets and maintain a customer satisfaction rating of Y or make it a requirement that they go through X number of calls with a first call resolution rate of Y. The metrics have to be simple, trackable, and sensical. Anything less than that and the nudge can easily backfire.

It is helpful to initially set the goal low. Set it only a little bit above what they are currently doing. As they meet that goal, increase it further and continue doing so until the employee is at the ideal level. Make it clear at each point that the goal is something that is going to be increased and that X performance level is the ideal level of performance. Praise the particular employee each time they reach a performance requirement (see this post). It is a simple thing to do and it can be very effective for employees that are talented, but seem to just lack the motivation to really do their best.

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