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Customer service benefits by going green

CCC2 MRF Glass2The environment matters! The concern over the environment does affect people’s choices of business. We bring our own recyclable grocery bags to food markets, we use less paper in our offices, we adjust our office lighting, we use more environmentally friendly detergents to wash our clothes, and most of us are willing to spend more for “green” products and packaging.

Green marketing is not just the weekend garden place you can go to buy fresh vegetables, fruits, and home-made goods in your community; it is a tried and true marketing strategy to get more customers and make more money. There are no special customer service tricks in going green, but there are some basic principles to be followed to ensure a successful endeavor.

Most important in green marketing is to be true to an organization’s environment saving campaign. A business has to be consistent. For instance, Mary S. owns a shoe store, and encourages her customers to bring their own recyclable cotton made bags to her store when they go shopping. She no longer accepts cardboard or the plastic packaging in the boxes from the manufacturers; working in her own little way to cut down on paper and plastic goods, and when a customer buys a pair of shoes, the customer just puts them in their reusable bag. Rarely does she ever get a complaint, and word of mouth has brought in new customers just because Mary S has stepped out of the “box” in a very traditional community.

Part two is that Mary S actually educates her customers as to the overuse of plastic packaging and how plastic bags, packaging, and bottles end up in landfills or oceans. She tells people how plastics are made up of petroleum-based, and non biodegradable materials. Since we live within moments of the Atlantic Ocean, she is able to be even more convincing by explaining how plastics are designed to last forever and do not break down, are not digested by marine organisms, and describes the potential danger to our oceans and our futures.

Let’s face it; it’s all part of customer service. We do our best to provide the best products and services for all of our customers. As part of the living planet, we have the opportunity to educate and then let our customers participate. Now more people may choose to utilize better practices in their lives; use less plastic, and even use alternative packaging.

“My customers don’t have any qualms about walking out with a product from my store that hasn’t been wrapped. I give them a sales receipt, and they’re grateful because I reflect my savings back to them, plus I’m helping the environment and actually doing something more for my customers. I’m making them aware of our planet, and they like it! They tell their friends, and we’re all utilizing new ideas to make this a greener world,” stated Mary S.

photo credit: siftnz

Building customer goodwill by giving back

There’s a huge Internet buzz today about a Google Android app called “Dog Wars,” where virtual dog fights using virtual Pit Bulls glorify illegal dog fighting. Using such phrases as “Raise your dog to beat the best,” “puts money in your pocket, and lets you earn more in fights,” provides “guns for police raids,” and even “inject your dog with steroids,” has instilled message boards to light up  demanding that the game be taken off the market and the creators fired.

So what does Kage Games, the creator of the free app, do in an attempt to keep their customers and smooth over the controversy? You’re right if you guessed that the game developer released a statement insisting they are indeed animal lovers and a percentage of their profits from this game will benefit animal rescue groups and tsunami relief. Seem a bit contrived?

Giving back means giving back to customers, and the majority of people when making purchases are only too delighted to know that a percentage of their purchase could be going to benefit a charity, the environment, or even to a great disaster. Goodwill, however is not generated by an obvious public relations ploy. If a company makes a grave error, a charitable contribution can even make it worse.

Using Kage Games as an example, the logical solution would have been to immediately withdraw the game. Let’s face it – one of the characters portrayed in the game is “The Athlete” who wears a red football jersey. Just today, Michael Vick and the Humane Society of the United States came out publicly condemning the game as a training ground for “wannabe dog fighters.”

The prime intention of any organization to give back should go to what the customers want. A company builds their reputation by its day-to-day operations and consistently works on caring and honesty. Charitable contributions are a part of consistent goodwill, and whether the donations go to national charities or even community organizations, it should be the customer base that determines where the contribution is headed.

Companies that make mistakes need to apologize and never make the same mistake again. Of course we all expect them to make retribution, but never say it is a charitable donation. That goodwill every business would like to have is a positive added bonus to the ethical and moral standards mankind depends on to make this a better world.

photo credit: Beverly & Pack

How to say no and still deliver excellent customer service

IMG_6363Sometimes companies just need to say “no.” Organizations can’t honor every customer request not to mention that companies do not have  unlimited resources even making it possible to never have to say “no.” Sometimes we don’t know how people are going to react, but we don’t want to lose someone’s loyalty – much less their business.

Saying “no” is inevitable in all businesses, but to be rational and give a customer or client a clear explanation why you can not negotiate on a specific circumstance or business decision can make a profound difference. As an example, let us briefly discuss real estate commissions. A person wants to sell their home and calls a real estate agent in to list and market their house. The listing agreement commonly calls for a 6 or 7 percent commission to be paid when the property is sold. If for instance, a home sells for $300,000, a 7 percent commission is $21,000. Admittedly, that does seem like a lot of money, and once in a while a home seller will want to bargain the commission down either at the beginning or at the end of the sale. So how do real estate brokers handle these situations?

Real estate brokers, like everyone else in business need to use rational persuasion through logic. All the information has to be readily available and show a client just how the commission system in real estate really works. That $21,000 commission is listed in a multiple listing service as a percentage; 50 percent to both the listing broker and selling broker. Suppose you are the listing agent;  now your side of the real estate deal is entitled to $10,500. Well, that sounds like a lot of money too, but you as the agent must share your side with the broker who holds your license, pays the rent on the real estate office, pays for the phones, and copy machines. Many offices begin with an even split, so now you are down to $5,250. You, as the agent are responsible for placing ads, doing open houses, showing the home to buyers, spending time marketing the home, and most likely negotiating the sale of the home and working on it until closing. That’s a lot of work, and if the entire process takes months to finally get to the closing table, there are a lot of hours spent working. That’s not quite as much money as the home seller thought his agent might be getting by the time the transaction closes.

In essence, the real estate agent isn’t rejecting the idea that $21,000 isn’t a lot of money. It is, but the agent is just rejecting the idea that commissions are extravagant. When a customer or client has all the information on hand, it helps them to rationalize.

“No” isn’t such a terrible word when you’re not really saying “no” to the person. You’re still delivering what you promised; sometimes it just takes an understanding.

photo credit: Chad Jones

How to deliver happiness with customer service

P9100100Did you ever come home with something you purchased that made you really happy? Of course, depending on your budget, the experience could have ranged from modest to extravagant, but I’m betting that nearly everyone can remember that particular feeling of euphoria. It was beyond just satisfied; you as a customer were particularly delighted.

With that feeling in mind, how can an organization delight a customer? Naturally not every product is going to elicit the release of endorphins, but the customer service supplied can make a profound difference by exceeding customer needs; therefore affecting one’s perception in the most positive way. Take for instance my latest trip to the hardware store. I’m not much of “do-it-yourself-er,” but I am in the process of selling my home and needed to replace a piece of wood molding my dog had chewed on before getting over his puppy days. When I went to the store, there had to be 30 different kinds of floor molding, and I had no idea about the differences between fractional sizes not to mention what seemed like dozens of different styles.

Fortunately a very patient and knowledgeable sales representative was able to help me find the exact strip of molding I needed. He used the photograph I had taken on my iPhone and the measurements I attached to the photo and was actually able to make a perfect match. It took him awhile, and ten trips back and forth to the stock room and his manager, but a half-hour later, I was on my way home with the exact match. I have to admit I was ecstatic. If I had to call in a carpenter to repair the damage, it would have cost far more than $48 for a two foot white oak baseboard #1259.

That was a case in point of customer service far exceeding what I expected. It is, however what a customer really searches for when shopping. If I show an interest in your product or your service, and read your website, I want you to show me your ability and your skill. I want you to constantly and consistently meet my needs. I want you to treat me as an individual. And isn’t that what the special customer representative did for me when I needed help shopping – even though it was just a piece of floor molding? Now that’s what I call delivering happiness.

photo credit: mtneer_man

How emotional intelligence can help the customer experience

Delta cancels over 800 flights from AtlantaEmotionally intelligent people are able to know and control their emotions to produce higher sales, better productivity, and assume better leadership roles. Not to be confused with an individual having a great personality which could be  fun or outgoing with a  great sense of humor, emotional intelligence has more to do with how people think in particular situations and decide using clear and sound judgment.

How a customer feels when they interact with an employee can make the difference in sales and customer loyalty. The ability to provide an exceptional buying experience rather than just another sale affects profit, so a customer representative who can respond appropriately to emotions can have a positive influence on customer satisfaction.

Emotional intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence” has five basic principles necessary to become a leader. They are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and the nurture relationships; all necessary ingredients so to speak to engage customers and maintain their loyalty. As an example, an American Express customer care person will commonly engage a client in conversation pursuant to a client’s mood. When I needed to rebook my flight because my traveling companion became ill, I needed the help immediately. The agent could tell I was stressed, and she accommodated me in what I considered to be ‘double time’ in order to reschedule and reconfirm my flight. She was able to procure new car services for us once we landed, medical assistance at the arrival point, and the agent’s empathy towards a serious situation played an integral part in how I was able to better cope with the emergency.

Therefore when hiring customer service representatives, the ability to respond appropriately makes the difference between acceptable and exceptional. Emotional intelligent representatives know how to make suggestions according to a customer’s desires. While a customer representative can’t tell any customer what they should buy or even how they should feel, they can help customers by being clear and concise communicators.

Maybe John Doe has the greatest personality in the entire organization, but will his errors in judgment lose an organization business? Emotional intelligence imparts a clarity in thinking and the ability to keep one’s composure in the most stressful situations. It helps us to manage our behaviors, moods, and impulses.

“Check that bad mood at the door before you meet a customer.” states Joe W. who runs a local fishing store in West Palm Beach. “I want all of my employees to recognize their own moods and employ mood management. I want them to respond with courtesy, consideration, and respect to everyone that walks through these doors. Even if they’re in the worst of moods, I count on their emotional intelligence to help all customers and resolve any complaints or problems.”

photo credit: nesnet

The art of meeting customer expectations

23/365 I always feel like somebody's watching me...Managing customer expectations are closely tied to an organization’s consistent and accurate ability to communicate. When there are poorly managed expectations and neglectful follow-up procedures, customers become confused, disappointed, and frustrated. Basically the problems arise when a service, product, call back, or response has not been delivered or is not what the customer expected.

Let us assume a customer comes into a store to purchase a smart phone. People with experience and some technological knowledge can easily navigate such features as sending and receiving emails, editing Office documents, high-speed Web access, or even using the QWERTY keyboard. Just suppose however, my mother’s monthly book club friends have convinced her to join the technology age and purchase a BlackBerry OS so she can keep up with her children, grandchildren, and other forward thinking senior citizens. So of course, my mother has little technological experience, but the sales person who sold her the BlackBerry OS told her how simple the smart phone would be to use. Unfortunately, my mother is now frustrated and very unhappy; she can hardly even turn the phone on, much less navigate to ever text a message.

Therefore the expectation process may very well have to start with the sales team. If the sales focus is on “closing the deal,” how does an organization prevent unrealistic expectations as just happened to my mother? Shouldn’t there be a balance between what a company has to do and what should be done? She expected a certain level of service, but the company delivered something completely different from what she thought she was getting, and it wasn’t to her satisfaction. Had the salesperson been realistic with her and asked her about her experience or lack of experience with smartphones, the salesperson would have taken a completely different approach.

If sales personnel are eager to close deals irrespective of a customer’s needs or understanding, the product or service fails as to customer expectations. Sales people driven by dollar signs are just eager to take advantage of a situation because it means a financial reward or maybe a sales award at the next staff meeting. Unfortunately customers like my mother will tell her friends at the next book club how unhappy she is with her new phone and her perception of the lack of service provided. She will tell her friends how no one called her back to follow-up, and she will tell everyone how the BlackBerry SO was nothing like it was made out to be.

The art of meeting customer expectations must convey a clear explanation so everyone knows what to expect and find a balance between salespeople and clients. Had the representative clearly explained to my mother what she would need to do to manage the smart phone, she probably would have purchased a simple cell phone with big numbers to make it easier for her to read. Had she known what to expect, she wouldn’t have been as upset.

Make sure customer expectations are fully understood at the start of a purchase or project. Meet with customers, listen attentively to their comments, ask questions as to their expectations, involve them in the decisions, and allow for feedback so you can be sure you have a balance between what you have to do and what you want to do.

photo credit: SimplyAbbey

How Do You Know When Your Customers Are Starting to Stray?

Putnam County Route 12 - New YorkMost businesses tend to focus their efforts on growing along a single dimension: acquisition. Good ones take it step further and focus on “service recovery,” making every attempt to retain a customer’s business after something has gone horribly wrong.

Great businesses recognize and actively work a third dimension by paying attention to those cues that indicate their customer is becoming disinterested. When these leading indicators start to show in the customer relationship, great businesses recognize it and begin cultivating the relationship once again to make sure an event never takes place that requires “service recovery.”

So, how do you know when your customers are starting to stray? A recent dining experience with my family is the perfect example.

My family traveled to another town last weekend for my daughter’s basketball tournament, and with time on our hands before tip-off, we decided to grab a bite to eat. I found a few restaurants in the area using the iPhone app Around Me and picked one based on the menu and reviews.

We were initially happy with our selection. The place was clean, had a nice atmosphere, and a great menu. The restaurant was packed, which is always a good sign. But our initial enthusiasm slowly gave way toward indifference when every “leading indicator” I presented went unnoticed.

What were those cues?

  • The first was little or unclear direction from my “coach” — in this case, our waitress, on the product. I was torn between two entrées, and when I pressed for information and a recommendation on each I got a very tepid, non-committal response. The waitress couldn’t speak to either product, probe with any questions around why I picked those two, and basically left me with little to use as the basis of my selection.
  • The second cue was the most obvious: disengagement with the product. The entrée I selected was not good. I made that clear by leaving the plate of food virtually untouched. Strike two was when I declined another drink, and strike three (you’re out!) was when the waitress picked up the nearly full plate at the end of the meal and asked the standard, “Was everything okay?” question to all of us. Recognizing disengagement with the product and proactively saying, “You didn’t seem to enjoy the entrée. Can I ask why?” would have been the right thing to do.

The customer lifecycle can be measured in years, months, or in some cases, in just a matter of hours. Not recognizing the warning signs can result in lost business and unfavorable word of mouth feedback. Recognizing those leading indicators and taking immediate action to put a customer back on the “happy path” are just as important to business growth as acquisition and service recovery.

Are your customers starting to stray? How would you recognize that and what actions would you/should you take?  Share your thoughts!

With twenty-plus years working in a variety of contact center roles, Larry Streeter now heads up the award winning Customer Support team at Constant Contact, the leader in online marketing tools for small businesses. Insuring the 1.2 million calls, chats, and emails his staff handle each year with nothing less than an “awe-inspiring” experience is Larry’s passion. With a keen eye for recognizing service triumphs and failures, Larry loves to shares his experiences on his blog, www.serviceexcellencedefined.blogspot.com.

photo credit: dougtone

How to deal with angry online customers

[Social Media Week] E se fossero i Social Media ad usare Voi?No matter how hard any of us try to deliver the best products and the best service, something can always go awry. For instance, there’s the online florist who sent Valentine flowers on February 16, or the online dress boutique who sent a little black dress in a size 14 instead of the ordered size 4.

If  similar mistakes had been made while shopping at the local mall, it’s a pretty simple procedure just to go there and work out the details for an exchange or adjustment, but the online business can be a bit trickier, and if you’re a new online business, the effect of unresolved customer service issues could irreparably hurt your future success. Keep in mind, for online issues, there’s no compassionate sales manager to speak with an angry customer to calm them down, nor is there an immediate way for a customer to find a resolution – that is unless you, as an online business, takes the responsibility of dealing with angry customers as a number one priority. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Always start out with a FAQ. The more answers you can provide on your website, the easier it will be for customers to understand your policies, but remember that competition is keen for online businesses, and you will want to compare your policies with your competition.
  • Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility when something goes wrong. If flowers were meant to be delivered on Valentine’s Day, there should not be the excuse that “it was a very busy day.”  What husband, boyfriend, or son wants to hear that the special bouquet he ordered was not delivered when it should have been? Take steps to resolve the problem in the future, but do something to assuage the anger and frustration of the customer. Begin the process as soon as possible, and if you don’t have an immediate solution, then follow-up with an email or phone call as soon as you do.
  • Communicate with your customers. Offer relevant information. Have blogs for timely information. If you’re a florist, why not blog about planting and seasonal flowers in different parts of the country? Make your information useful, so customers and potential customers will want to return to your website. Offer discounts and coupons after you have resolved the customer’s problem.
  • Answer complaints within one day. Imagine how insignificant and angry a customer could become if they don’t hear from the online organization? There’s no one they can face personally and no store they can visit.
  • Ask for feedback. Make customers feel appreciated. In turn they will show their appreciation by clicking on your website again.

No one is immune from making mistakes, but keeping your head and appreciating customers in an honest, upfront manner promises success.

photo credit: Simone Lovati

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