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Let Twitter help provide customer service

What used to be just for techies, Twitter has now evolved into a cheap and easy solution to enhance customer service. Ideally it should be one of several solutions which include telephone, email and online resources. In fact, the digital age of Twitter is used by more than 50% of Fortune 100 companies to recruit, send news announcements, and add a positive spin to customer service issues.

When using Twitter, a company must first figure out what they want to accomplish when using it as a customer service tool. For instance, Comcast employs a team of tweeters to help with customer service problems from the very simple to the more complicated when a technician is needed and sent out to solve the problem. Comcast has a tremendous presence on Twitter, and as the team monitors the conversations, they can join in and follow through until the issue is resolved.

What makes it all even more effective is  the conversation  between actual  company people and consumers. Employees from Comcast tweet from accounts that give their first name and photo; they are able to build relationships with customers. It doesn’t replace basic customer service using phone centers and live chats, but Twitter certainly compliments the actions because two-way conversations are out there using those 140 characters producing questions, answers and testimonials. It can be an effective way to diffuse the temper of the most angry individual and turn something negative into a positive situation.

Twitter can offer promotions and tips, but companies need to realize they have to offer value and can’t just talk about themselves. Whole Foods sees Twitter as a FAQ, and uses the philosophy if one person has a question, others will too.

According to Bob Warfield, CEO of Helpstream, which provides customer service technology to companies, he states, “It is a cool way for companies to engage customers in social media, but the experience can be loud and crowded.”

Consumers look for help, but companies don’t always have enough help to handle all of the tweets. Over 58% of tweeters who have tweeted about a bad experience, have never received a response from the particular company, but customers want immediate gratification. With people being on the internet day and night, responses on Twitter might depend on the scope of the problem or the availability of staff members. If a consumer is unhappy, can’t sleep and tweets at 2:00 AM, the odds of getting a response is unlikely. Where consumers should save tweets for urgent issues or ones that are still unresolved for customer service, the tweets lose their effect when the complaints are minor and most probably easier to work out on the phone.

Twitter should augment customer service, and companies should not expect it to be the magic solution. A company has to dedicate itself to responding and listening to customers immediately in a polite and professional manner. There is no technology that can replace that.

Customer service technology can monitor your emotions

Just imagine being a customer service representative and having the ability to read and monitor a customer’s emotions so you know exactly what to say and when to say it. If a computer program could tell you such descriptive phrases as “Struggling to contain excitement,” “Getting angry,” or “Warm and fuzzy,” you would know how to address each individual customer to maximize customer service excellence.

And that is what the new computer program called Magnify may be doing. The software is able to predict how interested a customer is in one’s product and when to stop, within a minute  if a customer is getting angry; the computer will then suggest the representative end the call. Of course, a customer service representative doesn’t need a computer program to tell them how a customer is feeling when he starts screaming in the phone, but Magnify claims it can predict that outcome before it actually happens.

The Israeli company, eXaudios developed the computer program to decode the human voice and identify a person’s emotional state. The phrases read like a psychiatrist talking to a patient on a couch and can actually suggest various tactics a customer service representative could take to pitch their product or service. The program can even tell if a customer is unlikely to buy. It does this by separating frequencies and qualities of the person’s voice through wave length intensity and modulation which is the pattern of pitch changes in connected speech.

The program claims a 75% accuracy rate.

Cogito Health uses similar programs to diagnose depression, drug compliance and post traumatic stress. It is also being tested in diagnosing such medical conditions as autism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, heart disease, and prostate cancer. According to Senior VP of Business Operations for Magnify, the program can detect a disease from the impact it has on a person’s speech. For instance, patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease may develop a form of mumbled speech still undetectable in normal conversation.

The next time you hear that your phone call may be recorded for quality purposes, it just might be figuring out if you just had a fight with your spouse.

photo credit: pixxiestails

Exceptional Customer Service Starts at the Top – Are You Setting a Positive Standard?

We’ve all heard the saying “it starts at the top.” Typically, it’s in reference to how the attitudes of company leaders determine the attitudes of that company’s staff members. A month or so ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience of a presentation from a company leader who sets a fabulous example for the employees and franchise owners of his company, Biggby Coffee.

“Biggby Bob” Fish is the CEO and co-founder of the Michigan-based chain of what I’d call happy little coffee shops in 1995. Fast forward to 2010 and he’s now watching it grow past 100 stores – in spite of today’s challenging economy – as new franchise owners get on board with the company’s fabulous philosophy.

What has Biggby done right? So many things, though we’ll focus on the company’s positive ideology, which is clearly stated and reinforced to all franchise owners and employees using several methods. Here’s one quick example:

Franchise owners live by an “in-store operating philosophy” using the acronym PERC, which refers to the following four tenets:

Perception by customers that we respect their time and move them as quickly as possible
Every customer leaves the store in a better mood than when the customer arrived
Recognize each customer as an individual
Consistently produce a high quality beverage

Biggby has well-defined core values, corporate vision and mission statements, and a closely guarded corporate culture that come together to define who they are as a company and brand. They use coffee-related acronyms so the details of the philosophy are easy to remember and they reinforce it throughout the franchisee and employee experience.

My personal favorite lines of Biggby culture-defining statements are “B-Happy” and “Love People.” Biggby Bob embodies these statements in both his presentations and his social media persona. He’s an active participant on Facebook and Twitter and if you follow him, you’ll know that his positive energy is genuine.

Want to meet Biggby Bob? He’s likely found in one of his franchise stores, working on his laptop, watching the servers create happy caffeinated moments for customers. Besides creating a great corporate culture, he’s also an involved leader who sets – and lives by – high service standards.

What do you think? If you’re a manager, are you setting a positive example of service for your staff? Have you defined your corporate mission, values and culture?

Guest Writer Bio: Lori Jo Vest, co-author of the bestselling book “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan,” has been involved in relationship-based sales and customer service for over 20 years. In addition to her work as managing director of the Emmy-winning television production studio Communicore Visual Communications in Birmingham, Michigan, she consults with small businesses on methods to enhance their sales and customer service efforts through personal connection and long-term relationship building. Find out more at www.whosyourgladys.com/blog.

Yes, the customer is always right!

I won’t reveal my name, but I am a customer and may very well be or have been a customer of yours. I want to tell all of you business owners and entrepreneurs that I am always right. If you don’t agree, many more customers just like me will agree to leave you for your competition.

While I can be demanding, rude, and unreasonable at times, you have taken my money for either a service you promised or some kind of merchandise. Simply stated – what you sold me has not met my expectations.

I may stomp my feet in frustration, yell at your service representative, and act in an unprofessional manner, but if you don’t want me to do business with you again, and  if you don’t bend over backwards to fix what’s wrong or try to calm me down by listening to me, I will leave your business and take my friends, co-workers, and family with me. Surely that will be a lot less customers for you to deal with in the future.

You see, my frustrations come from poor customer service. I have issues with owners who never come out of their offices to speak with me when my day is ruined by a faulty product or lousy service. I take it personally when a customer service representative tells me that he will put me “on hold” for a few moments, and I’m still on hold some ten minutes later. I take exception being referred to another department again and again without any resolution.

For the most part I just want value for my money that you have taken from me. Maybe you can relate to the time I purchased a pair of running shoes from the store, and only tried on the left shoe for the fit. When I got to the park, I found I had two left sneakers; the store clerk didn’t notice on check-out? Bad went to worse when I tried to return the two left shoes the next day, and the customer service representative told me it was a final sale, and it was my responsibility to make sure I had the correct shoes.

Perhaps you restaurant owners can relate to sitting at a table when the server comes over, pours four glasses of water, spills one and hands me the towel to wipe the table. The server said she would be right back with our order.

Does it make you wonder how angry you would get if you ordered furniture months and months in advance to be sure it would arrive in plenty of time for a gala Christmas party I had planned for months in my home, and even ten weeks later than promised the furniture was never delivered, nor did anyone from your store ever bother to notify me? Think about my 40 guests roaming around in a beautiful new home decorated to the “nines” for a holiday party with no furniture other than rented chairs?

I really have to adamantly disagree when you, the company owner or service provider tells me that the customer is not always right. When your business decreases and you start wondering why your customers have left, remember  consumers like me and how we feel. Maybe I should tell the world or write about it on a blog?

photo credit: TheeErin

Customer satisfaction due to tire wear issue

IMG_4873Tire Kingdom started in 1972 in a small stall at the West Palm Beach Farmer’s Market. There they would sell tires on consignment ranging in prices from $50 to $150. The customers started coming in more frequently and asked that someone install the tires at the time of purchase, so with $500, the equipment was purchased, and Tire Kingdom formally came into existence. The company is now owned by Sumitomo Corporation of America and is headquartered in Juno Beach, Florida with 730 company owned stores, and 8400 associates nationally.

Not only does Tire Kingdom sell tires, but they aim to become a leading tire and automotive service retailer in the nation. Their pledge states:

– Convenient hours of operation
– Unlimited selection of tires
– Lifetime tire rotation
– Courteous and certified professional staff
– Tire service in one hour or less
– Low prices

    My first visit to Tire Kingdom was in November, 2009. I purchased two rear tires from Tire Kingdom; the tread only wore out on the inside. The customer service representative told me it was a typical example of over inflated tires. I declined the alignment since they were rear tires, and I had no idea my car required all four wheels to be aligned. Six months later, I see the same baldness pattern happening on one rear tire.

    I called the store, and the store manager told me to come right in. She explained to me when the wheels are misaligned the tires wear unevenly, and a technician would take my car out for a test ride and use a state-of-the-art computer to analyze the problem. She showed me a photo of my car’s wheels, and there was the right rear tire at an odd angle as compared to the other tires and thus the problem for the uneven tread wear of the tire.

    It was essentially my fault since I opted out of the alignment, but I did explain to the manager that the representative who originally sold me the tires told me the problem was over air inflation and never explained to me the overall suspension of my type of automobile. Without any hesitation, Richele Ward, the store manager promptly entered a generous price discount on a replacement tire and honored the discounted price of an alignment from when I first purchased the tires in November. I walked away with a very reasonable bill, a new tire and an alignment on all four wheels. That’s customer service.

    photo credit: Grant.C

    Promoting a small business through excellent customer service

    Karen has a new online business selling custom dog collars, matching leashes, and dog accessories. She uses designer-like fabrics at discounted prices so you can, for example purchase a “Gucci inspired” dog collar and matching leash for a fraction of what you would pay in Italy.

    When you have a small online business, you need to promote sales which will in turn increase income, but when you are in competition with huge stores, just how do you set yourself apart? We know that customers are loyal when they have positive experiences, and a good rapport with those customers are an integral part of developing one’s new business. Each successful sale is a new opportunity for a new client, so each sale presents a new opportunity for the future.

    We need to train ourselves and our staff how to communicate effectively either by email or telephone. We need to listen. In this particular example, even though pet collar sizes are clearly described and  measured on the website, customers still call or email with questions. Sometimes a customer will request a designer-like fabric not offered. Here’s where Karen has the opportunity to increase her business with a customer service approach not offered by her larger competitors; Karen can customize her products. She can purchase new fabrics and increase her line as her demand for new products increase.

    It’s also important to keep communication lines open, and emails need to be kept short when clients write in for more information. This is not the time to make a sales pitch; we want the potential customer to know we care about our product and stay within the parameters of information – not selling more stock. The same philosophy should apply with telephone communication. Customers are most likely calling in for additional information; we need to know how to say it as well as what to say. The manner of speaking on the telephone can turn someone on or off in the first few moments. We need to be good listeners and ask the right questions so as to promote the new customer’s confidence. If a customer reaches out for help, now is the time to make that extra effort.

    When promoting a small business, rewards and incentives build future relationships. Discounts, promotions and free services motivate customers to try new businesses and new ideas. If a new business can fulfill expectations, build a confident and friendly rapport, and show the transparency and honesty needed in today’s intense competition, they are most likely to succeed.

    photo credit: hinagiku

    Patient satisfaction and customer service

    Dealing with angry patients and their families can be extremely difficult. Many times the disability or the illness itself can leave patients anxious, demanding and angry, but health care professionals owe it to every patient and their family to provide the best of customer service no matter how difficult the challenge.

    Some health care providers react to anger from a patient by becoming angry themselves or by just leaving. Any customer service agent would find that behavior unacceptable. In order to defuse patient’s anger, the health provider must remain professional, empathetic and clearly communicate. It is the time to reestablish clear, calm dialogue.

    Patient anger is usually not related to the physician or the health care worker; it is more than likely to a particular situation or the quality of care. We need to let the patient tell their story, and we need to listen. First of all, it will have a therapeutic effect on the patient because you are listening, and you must listen to the entire story. If you argue or offer an opinion before the patient finishes their story, it will create more of an argument. The listening skills are to be just like any responsible customer service representative would do:

    • Listen carefully to the patient’s entire story and what is their dissatisfaction specifically.
    • While listening repeat what they are saying for accuracy.
    • While listening summarize what they have said for accuracy.
    • Have empathy for the patient the entire time.

    If the anger is an emotion derived from the consequences of a medical condition, the health care professionals can still maintain excellence in customer service by adhering to the following suggestions:

    • Be attentive when the patient is speaking.
    • Do not get defensive if the patient shows anger.
    • Listen to their story and acknowledge the difficulty of the situation.
    • Become an advocate for the patient and refer the patient to helpful resources.
    • Show empathy.

    Patients should feel welcome in doctor offices, and when you factor in pricing, location, ease of getting an appointment and parking, those conveniences can fill the office, but extended waiting times can quickly change the mood of the most calm disposition. At times like this, the outer office staff can mean the difference in patient anger, and the staff should not become defensive. They should be able to acknowledge the difficulty, figure out why it is happening, and express empathy for the situation. When the patient finally sees the health care professional, whether it be the nurse who takes a patient’s blood pressure, the technician who does impressions in a dental office, or the doctor who examines your heart, it should be acknowledged that a 45 minute wait time is too long, it is frustrating and a promise to see what caused the delay and a promise to take action to avoid the same inconvenience again is investigated and resolved. Are you listening medical professionals?

    photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

    Customer appreciation demonstrated by thank you notes

    This morning was the closing  of one of my real estate properties that had been listed for nearly a year before it finally sold. At the time I listed the property, the market had been soft, but the competing active listings in the area were still priced relatively high, and the property owners insisted we start higher and slowly bring the price down to where I thought the home would sell. Needless to say, the home market had continued to drop, and it took a long time with many disappointments until we successfully closed the sale.

    Everyone wants to be appreciated, and homeowners – both buyers and sellers are no exception. In real estate, repeat customers are our livelihood, not only because they provide us continued business through their loyalty, but we gain referrals and new customers through this very important avenue.

    When I earned my real estate license and ordered my first 1000 business cards, I also ordered my first box of business stationery which included quality note cards that I could use for prospecting, sending invitations to special events of interest to customers I work with, and for writing thank you notes. After my trip to the bank to deposit my commission check this morning, I came home and wrote out my thank you notes.

    Some of my colleagues send thank you notes by email, but I prefer to write them by hand. I think my customers and clients appreciate the effort when they know I have taken my personal time to write to them, and I always address the envelopes myself. I have a private supply of fun postage stamps – most of my clients know that I am a consummate animal lover, and my stamps are always about animals. I include only one business card in thank-you notes; I never want it to seem as if it is a sales pitch hidden by an insincere thank you.

    So what do I write? Usually I get to know my customers quite well because of the time I spend with them during the selling process of a home, and I address them informally. I normally start my message with, ” It’s been my pleasure…”  I always thank them for their kindness, and I express my gratitude for allowing me to help them. I never forget to tell them how they have helped me to succeed and with that, I praise them for their loyalty and patience. At the end of my note I ask them for referrals.

    Just from my own experience, I have yet to ever find a person who did not appreciate receiving nice mail.

    photo credit: Creations by Ro

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