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

Do you talk to your customers?

When you read the title of this post (and my last post of 2008), I’m sure you instantly said to yourself, “of course.” But what if I qualify the question and instead ask, “do you talk to your customers with no intention of selling them anything and without them asking for you to call them?” Chances are, you’ll need to think about that question in more detail.

Interacting with customers in an informal way is an essential part of customer service. Great companies talk to their customers frequently. They ask how they’re doing, what they think of the company, and if they have any feedback to share. More often than not, interesting and useful feedback comes about from calls like this. If useful feedback doesn’t come about, that’s okay, too (you’re still making a positive impression on the customer).

You generally get the most out of these calls when you get on them with a few things at hand:

An informal agenda. These calls or meetings should not be ultra-formal “get things done” meetings with a notetaker and a stop watch (complete overkill). However, you should have an idea of what you want to talk about and what you think the customer will want to talk about. The idea is to let the customer talk and for you to respond when necessary. Be sure to have an agenda that reflects that.

Some information about the customer. Don’t go into the call with just a name and a phone number. Check how long the customer has been with your company, what type of services they use, their support history, and so on. See if they have referred any of their friends or colleagues to your company. Check out what they’ve purchased, how many account managers they’ve had, etc. The more you know about the customer, the better. If you know something about them, you can tweak the content and direction of the call accordingly.

Do a couple of these calls a week and make sure different people do them. The CEO can do one, the VP of Engineering can do another, and so on. If these people don’t regularly work with customers (and even if they do), they’ll get a lot out of these calls. Make it a New Year’s resolution to have ten senior managers / executives call at least two customers a week. That’s over 1,000 customers a year and it will make a difference.

Happy New Year!

If it’s broken, tell them.

It isn’t unheard of for customer service representatives (myself included) to take a look at an issue and notice something is broken or not know the answer. If the product or service that a representative supports is complicated, not knowing something or something being broken is essentially inevitable. It’s okay not to know, but it isn’t okay not to be honest.

If you have learned that the customer has discovered a bug, that’s fine – just tell them that and let them know that you’re working on getting it resolved for them. Chances are, there are bugs in your product or ways to break it and that customers will find these eventually, so if a customer does discover one, apologize for the inconvenience, let someone know that can fix it, and communicate with the customer about how long it will take and what you can do to help them (maybe there is a workaround or something that can be done on your end). Most customers will appreciate you being up front with them and will thank you for communicating so well.

If you come across a weird problem that you can’t find the answer to and your colleague can’t find the answer to or something like that, then just be honest. Say something like “I looked into this and asked a colleague of mine as well, but we can’t find out what is wrong with your account just yet. I am going to ask one of our engineers and then give you a call back as soon as I hear from them. Thank you so much for your patience.” Again, you’re being up front with the customer and the customer will appreciate this.

There are of course customers that won’t appreciate your honesty and would prefer to be lied to. Nothing works for everyone, but for most companies and most customers, being upfront is the way to be. Very few customers expect absolute perfection and letting them know that you aren’t perfect is just fine (as long as you are going to do something about it).

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from Service Untitled! 

Enjoy some time off from work and spend time with friends and loved ones. 

Thanks for your comments, emails, suggestions, and kind words over the past year. Let’s have a great 2009!

Does your IT department provide great service?

If you really want to be a great service organization, an important question to ask is: does your IT department provide great service? And with that in mind, you can go on to ask any number of similar questions:

  • Does your website development team provide great service?
  • Does your HR department provide great service?
  • Does your accounting department provide great service?

If you didn’t pick it up already, the core issue is the quality of internal customer service. 

If your customer service department is providing excellent service on a consistent basis to all of your customers, that’s great. It means that the people in that department understand the importance of customer service and are both motivated and empowered to deliver superior customer service.

However, if those people go to inquire about their health insurance or how to get their computer fixed and they have to work with an angry employee who is obviously not committed to the same level of service excellence, it can be discouraging. It can really wreak havoc on a corporate culture when some people are highly motivated and others don’t care.

It is important to try and motivate encourage people outside of the customer service department to provide great service. If these people aren’t providing great service to their colleagues, it will negatively affect the working environment. Do what you can to ensure that all of your departments are providing great service and that the culture of internal customer service is as strong as the culture of external customer service.

Holiday Greetings

seasons_greetings_snowflakes_b_resizedIf you haven’t noticed already, a lot of companies send out holiday greetings in December. I’ve gotten several emails and several cards from various companies and organizations over the past few days and I imagine it’ll continue right through the main part of the holiday season. 

Holiday cards are a nice gesture. I’m not sure how much business they’ll get your company, but the number of customers who will be annoyed by a nice holiday card is very small. They’ll help your brand and help to show customers that you are thinking about them. Some customers will really like the cards, while others will just look at it briefly and then throw it out.

Some companies put promotional certificates or other such promotions in the holiday greetings they send out. These can be effective, but I also think “polluting” the card with promotional material can detract from the “we care so we are sending you a card” message. The choice is obviously yours and as long as you include your promotion subtly and within the context of a holiday greeting, you should be fine.

Holiday greetings should also be attractive and well designed. If you don’t have professional designers in-house, hire someone to come up with your cards or buy cards that are particularly stylish and fit in with your overall brand. Use a nice font, high quality card stock, well written text, and so on. If your brand is ultra-formal, don’t pick a playful design – be consistent.

And remember to be politically correct with your cards. Happy holidays, season’s greetings, etc. are all nice things to put without having to associate yourself with a particular holiday and risk offending or alienating someone.

Communicate information with charts.

A lot of companies underestimate the usefulness of visual displays in communication. Charts, graphs, and the like can all work wonders when it comes to explaining the intricacies of different processes or programs.

Beyond the literal chart, visual communication as a broader way to put a message across is almost always helpful. Charts and tables that are well designed and well thought out can really clear up a lot of confusion. The companies I have seen use charts the best are the ones that compare different options (i. e. plans and packages) and communicate dates and actions that need to be taken.

Customers tend to like charts and other visual displays because they are (hopefully) easier to understand than the same information presented in a large paragraph or in a letter or on a web page. Communication is a large part of the customer service experience. If your customers don’t understand what you are trying to tell them, they won’t find the service you do provide to be much help.

It is worth spending some time and effort and thinking about how to communicate information in the simplest way possible. In the long run, it will save your customer service department and your customers a lot of time and effort that could have been easily avoided.

Upgraded to 2.7

Service Untitled has been upgraded to WordPress 2.7. I’ve gone over the site pretty thoroughly and it looks like everything is okay, but if you do notice anything wrong, please feel free to post a comment or send me an email.

Inform customers why you need information.

I called my bank today and after introducing myself, the customer service representative asked for my social security number. Then she asked for my date of birth and zipcode. This is obviously standard operating procedure within a bank, but by just asking for any of those personal details, the representative didn’t follow an important principle of customer service.

When customer service representatives ask for sensitive customer information, they need to preface it with the intended use of the personal information. For example, “May I have your social security number so I can look up your account?” is a much better way to ask the same question.

During any given customer service call, a representative will usually have to ask for at least some type of personal data. Name, address, social security number, phone number, etc. My general rule is to explain why you are asking for anything besides a first and last name. “May I have your address so I can look up your account?” “For security purposes, would you mind verifying your phone number for me?” are all good questions to ask in a delicate manner.

A lot of customers are very weary of getting out personal information to people they don’t know. Obviously, saying what the information will be used for will not eliminate fears in an extremely concerned caller, but it will certainly help a customer feel more comfortable and confident. There is very little to lose by prefacing a request for personal information and a lot to gain. It is truly a little thing that can end up making a big difference in the overall customer service experience.

Next Page »