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Ask your customers to stop by.

Though I wouldn’t describe it as a common practice, quite a few companies that deal with a majority of their customers over the Internet or the phone have developed a good habit of asking customers to stop by and talk to them.

For a lot of companies not used to this, the idea of asking customers to come by and hang out for a while is pretty bizarre. But when they think it through and actually do it once or twice, the idea becomes a lot more appealing and rewarding for a few reasons.

It lets employees and customers interact in a different way. When you have a strictly phone/email relationship with 99% of your customers, putting a face to the names and account numbers can be helpful. Customers will likely think more of the people on the other side of the phone and vice versa. Seeing the customers in person lets employees know in a very real way that the customers they deal with on a daily basis are actual customers.

It is a great opportunity to get ideas and feedback. Imagine that your company is working on upgrading a product and you want to test it by asking the customer that is in your office to sit down on a computer and try it out. The customer will likely give you some good ideas and feedback and the dynamic that they’ll have in person is likely quite different than the dynamic they would have over a phone or email conversation.

It improves the brand. Assuming you have a nice office and friendly staff (both of which you should have anyway, but definitely need to have before inviting customers to come and visit), the visit will likely improve the customer’s perception of your brand. You don’t need to give them a seven course meal and a planned set of activities. Inviting them over for the standard lunch fare and a quick workshop/question and answer session is more than enough to make everyone’s time worthwhile.

Because customers are a valuable resource in a number of ways, they should be treated as such. Try inviting a few of your local customers over to your office for a few hours. Try it and see how it goes and what you get out of it. In a vast majority of cases, there is no reason for your company not to do it.

I know of several companies, large and small, that offer regular tours of their offices and informal meetings with employees to customers and other interested parties. If you have done this before, how did it go?

Blogging at Rackspace Today

Instead of my usual post on Service Untitled today, I’m blogging on the Rackspace company blog today.

The post is about my experience judging for The Fanati Award (the award they give to one of their customers that provides exceptional service) and what impressed me about the organization that ended up winning the award.

Customer Service is Not a Debate

There are a lot of (usually very smart) people who work in customer service and think that the customer service interaction is actually a debate between the customer and the representative. This couldn’t be further from the case.

The most important thing to remember is this: there is nothing to be gained from proving a customer wrong. Unlike a debate competition or a political battle, the “gotcha” moments in customer service do nothing to “help your case.” All they do is make a customer feel bad and encourage them to get on the defensive. This obviously doesn’t accomplish anything and usually, makes the customer service experience worse because customers get worked up when there was really no need to get them worked up in the first place.

Instead of debating, encourage representatives to focus on the positives. Focusing on the positives is a great way to shift the tone of a conversation. Instead of debating the customer, have representatives tell them what they are going to do for the customer and how they are going to help the customer resolve his or her issue. In the end, that is all the customer cares about. Who was right or who was wrong isn’t really relevant in the broader scheme of things.

Not debating a customer does not mean that you always have to agree with them. If they’re wrong, representatives can certainly say “from my experience, that isn’t the best way to do that” or say something like “our system is not designed to be used that way, which is why you ran into that problem.” Phrases like that sound a lot better than, “you obviously didn’t know what you were doing and that is why you are having this problem”

With a vast majority of customer representatives, it isn’t what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it. Phrasing the same statement a different way or changing a debate to a friendly conversation will make a world of difference 90% of the time.

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