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Businesses using Facebook for customer service

Social Media Word CloudMarket Tools, a software and service provider for management and research conducted a survey of 331 companies with an annual revenue of more than $10 million annually. Of those organizations, 23 percent rely on social networks to support their customer service and to provide feedback. Topping the list with 48 percent was Facebook, 17 percent used Twitter, and another 17 percent relied on company blogs.

Almost every organization from animal shelters to zoos has to be aware of public opinion. With 500 million active Facebook users, logos and pictures and carefully thought out postings create and maintain serious platforms businesses depend on in the social media world. Facebook can spot out the latest trends, behaviors, and what the most influential customers are buying.

So how can a business use social media such as Facebook effectively? To begin, the efficient use of Facebook is not a hit or miss exercise. An organization will want to think carefully about who will handle this – from getting the company profile created, the gathering of data, posting, creating content, and even approval of content. Social media responsibilities can be a full-time job, and an intimate knowledge of the company and its brand and culture have to be serious contemplations when deciding who will be in charge of the day-to-day maintenance of either Facebook or Twitter – or both!

Remember where word of mouth has always influenced your friends, family, and co-workers, it’s not unusual for “friends” meeting up with new “friends” on Facebook and having hundreds and hundreds of consumers and potential new customers visiting your “page.” Fast and friendly personal responses can be very influential. If a business has a social conscience which reflects a particular responsibility, perhaps a local or national charity, social media can launch a company’s approval index substantially. Customers with complaints, for instance expect a fast response; if not there is likely to be more complaints thus creating a poor company perception. On the other side of the spectrum, however compliments from happy customers do a lot for a company. It’s almost as good as sitting at the local pub praising an organization personally.

But no successful Facebook campaign is random. It must be carefully orchestrated so an organization can present itself with a superior product, a welcoming personal message, well thought-out posts, timely responses, and a carefully educated and trained staff whose job it is to deliver great service and do it with pride.

photo credit: Rubber Dragon

Retaining customers require the right people for the right job

HouseThe real estate company I work with in South Florida has one of the most progressive software programs relevant to the ever-changing scope of real estate prices, inventory, and customer service. For instance, a home buyer can call me and tell me they are interested in purchasing a home sometime in the future, and in preparation for the purchase they have requested information about homes for sale in a particular community or homes that have recently sold. All of that is relatively simple – most Multiple Listing organizations for realtors can supply that, but new software and technology can keep potential home buyers informed the moment a new property comes onto the market, can keep track of homes sold, can track price percentage changes, and continue to send out “market trackers” until a new home sale is procured.

There is no trick to retaining customers, but maintaining a strong customer support and service program helps to build one’s brand and deliver better and faster service to customers – taking into account recognizing the value of a customer’s time. Long term success comes from meeting the expectations of your customers. Essentially in real estate sales one never wants to surprise or embarrass a customer, so staying on top of the market and the complicated issues of real estate management in these troubling economic times is paramount to maintaining customer loyalty.

Technology isn’t the answer however to retaining customers because nothing is more important than the right people doing a great job. Long term success depends on the quality of the team and their skills. So how does a company ensure the best people for the job? Human resource departments have to have their priorities when hiring. To have longevity and loyalty from employees, businesses and organizations need to offer competitive employee programs, merit based rewards, and recognition for jobs well done.

Successful organizations have to provide opportunities for success, and with that comes the need for education and resources for the staff to improve their skills. Companies with strong cultures create opportunities where the “right” people will be able to grow and evolve as the company grows and changes. As the staff becomes more efficient so do the tools that can be provided by an organization introducing new features and new products.

We strive to deliver on time, to meet our customers expectations, and to be honest and work hard for all of our customers and clients. We strive to serve our communities, and be the best we all can be.

photo credit: roarofthefour

Take lessons from Disneyland and learn how customers are treated

Corvette Z06Mark Reuss, President of General Motors North American operations has a three-fold plan to increase Chevrolet sales in California. As is the progressive California mindset, Chevrolet production will have to develop smaller and more fuel-efficient models to compete with the imports, make Chevrolet dealerships more physically attractive, and amp up customer service.

General Motors has lagged behind Toyota, Honda, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen for years. Statistically California Chevrolet dealerships are only capturing three percent of the market share for passenger cars. Time for a change? It seems so since Disneyland in Anaheim will be the setting for some intense customer service training with the purpose aimed at making a car salesman into Prince Charming.

Salesmen won’t be riding pirate ships and teacups, but will be concentrating on Disney’s attention paid to detail. Not that there is anything especially wrong with tattoos and body piercings, I wasn’t surprised however to hear a woman tell me about her disappointing first impression with a car salesman who had facial and lip piercings. The customer couldn’t concentrate because she was so distracted by what looked so very painful and offensive. Would the Little Mermaid ever sport a lip piercing?

Sales people won’t be smoking in public view while on the job. Disneyland says that would be equivalent to Cinderella smoking a cigarette. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from Disneyland is that customers are always to be appreciated, and it’s the small things that count which customers always remember. Can you ever remember seeing loose garbage on the sidewalk of any Disney kingdom? Can you ever remember any Disney character ever looking disheveled or having the slightest rip in her costume? The car dealerships can find small but effective ways to pay attention to details also. Service departments can show how their customers are appreciated with a free car wash with every service or a bottle of cold water in the beverage holder when a customer comes to pick up their car.

A big part of the total experience of purchasing a car is about the dealership – more than what the salesman has to say. Once GM brings forth a product that appeals to California car buyers – fuel and environmentally efficient, the physical appearance of the dealerships are next. GM promises to pour in $60 to $100 million into over 100 franchises – primarily in Los Angeles to make a uniform entrance, redesign others and even move dealerships to better areas – all with the intention of creating a brand known for quality and excellent customer service.

Time will tell if Disneyland comes to “Chevroletland”, but it definitely can’t hurt.

photo credit: Hertj94

I’m telling my friends about the bad customer service

Tony HsiehHow many of us really take the time to sit down and Google all of the information we need to make a formal complaint when a business treats us poorly? At the time and day this poor service happens we are angry, and we vow the moment we get home we will get a letter out to the CEO of the company and reiterate the miserable events of either our last purchase or service.

As reality settles in, and the other demands of life weigh more importantly upon our daily lives, often the letter doesn’t get written. Good thing for social media and Twitter however, but will that solve all of the problems we can’t quite condense to 140 characters or less? Sometimes we just need a letter with the chronology of events to point out every wrong either imagined or real done to us while spending our hard-earned dollars.

So who do we tell about bad service? Most of us will tell our friends. We go out for a Saturday night dinner with our neighbors, our relatives or our co-workers and the conversation most likely centers around that last unhappy experience at the airport, the restaurant, or the mall. Sometimes we just observe another shopper losing her patience, and we’re not sure if we should stay for the “show” or join in if the complaint is valid. Still imagine all the damage this entire bad customer service experience has had on the business.

How many times have any of us just left our would-be purchases on the ledge or on the counter because service was so slow? That then becomes a direct hit in the company’s wallet, but what can we do about some of this to make service better and keep customers coming back?

Some organizations seem to have misplaced the concept of customers first. Instead company policy intended to streamline and reduce costs wind up costing an organization more money. For example – a consumer’s cable television isn’t working correctly and the customer is told to call back later to see if the problem has been resolved. Unfortunately the  customer has then to repeat the entire telephone maze process again – thus releasing that exhaled breath of pure frustration and obscene muttered curse words.

What happens to customer service when the right candidates aren’t hired for the job? Customer service requires a certain type of person – one that can effectively demonstrate their patience and knowledge of customer preferences. One size does not fit all in the people pleasing category, but all too often customer service jobs start out as entry-level positions with entry-level salaries. In the nearby mall, there is a young adult clothing store which hires its sales personnel by their physical attractiveness – agreed the young women and men are extremely good-looking, but it hasn’t been any boom to their customer service skills. Many of the representatives have had no customer service training and appear to be incapable of making decisions when required they think “out of the box.”

And what every business needs to succeed and rise above the “bad” customer service is to lead by example. I just toured Zappos last week, and along with all of the camaraderie and team spirit, one aspect of the business plan particularly captured my attention. The CEO, Tony Hsieh’s desk and “cubicle” is out in the arena with all of the associates. There’s no special sign – no fancy glass walls – just a dangling bunch of green vines hanging through the aisle way as if out of a scene from a cheesy island adventure. The point – however – Hsieh is involved with the entire organization and has made customer service a priority – not by telling his employees, but being right there in the middle of the action. That my friends is what makes great customer service.

photo credit: jeffkward

Tour of Zappos HQ

Zappos is a company we’ve talked about a lot on Service Untitled (including an interview with the founder and CEO Tony Hsieh), so earlier this week when I was in Las Vegas for the first time, I made sure I got a tour of the Zappos.com Headquarters in nearby Henderson, Nevada.

The tour was really interesting. Unsurprisingly, the Zappos offices don’t resemble a typical office or call center. And the employees working in the Zappos office also don’t resemble the people you see in an average call center. The main difference? They seem very happy to be working at Zappos. I think you’d have a difficult time finding a call center with as many happy people as I saw walking around the Zappos headquarters. The place looks like a fun place to work and as followers of Zappos (and readers of Service Untitled) know, they clearly do things very differently than a lot of companies.

Some interesting tidbits from the tour:

  • All employees go through Customer Loyalty Training and are taught how to use the company’s various systems. That way, when the holidays come around, every employee can pitch in during their down time or if they want, work some overtime, and help out. Cross training helps make it so Zappos doesn’t have to hire as many temporary service employees.
  • Employees move cubicle locations every six months.
  • Customer service employees are divided into teams by mediums (phone, live chat, and email) and then each team is further divided into groups of about 15 or so with a team lead. Team leads sit at the end of each row on a larger desk. Live chat has been the company’s fastest growing medium.
  • There are no offices at the company and everyone, including the CEO, sit at a cubicle. I also didn’t see any executive conference rooms.
  • Zappos gives tours to approximately 100 people per day, sometimes way more.
  • Most employees are paid hourly, but all have access to the cafeteria that has free light meals and snacks and hot meals available for $3.00. The vending machine is $0.25 and proceeds are donated to charity. There are also unlimited free drinks available.

I’ve included a bunch of pictures after the jump. I’ve also included comments and further information with each picture. Click “read more” to see the gallery with photos and comments. To see a larger version of a photo with comments, just click on the photo. To see the full size version, click on it again.

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New bank fees not conducive to customer satisfaction

Smart CardsBank of America is reaping in some heavy criticism since the announcement of their $5.00 a month debit card fee. Whether you use your debit card once a month or thirty times a month, the bank wants to charge you. Following suit, but without as much public fanfare are Citi Bank, Wells Fargo, and Chase. If those institutions aren’t charging you to use a debit card, read the notices in the mail which explain new checking account fees unless you maintain a certain balance and how you need to have a mortgage with a particular institution to be relieved of certain fees or other special contingencies needed to be spared more monthly fees.

Banks blame fees on Congress and tell us they are being forced to do this, but consumers aren’t convinced. For instance, how is customer service with all of these new fees going to improve? Will lines be shorter? Will someone answer my mortgage questions quicker? How is charging one for using a debit card going to make this a better experience? That debit card merely reflects my money; I’m not using the bank’s money. Why do I have to pay a bank to access my own money?

In this economy banks will be hard pressed convincing consumers they aren’t making enough money – after all didn’t Congress just bail out the banks for billions of dollars? And doesn’t Bank of America already have a terrible reputation of questionable mortgage foreclosures?

Extra fees just make everyone unhappy. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Imagine a student using a debit card making minimum wage; that fee is nearly 70 percent of one hour of work. And where even the most cynical consumers accept the consequences of outrageous interest rates when using the bank’s money for the purpose of dragging out credit card purchases for years, how can any bank defend a fee to “swipe” a debit card and the technology already in use to make sure your account is properly charged?

So will Bank of America relent and reverse the debit card charges or will consumers revert back to the “good old 90’s” when we actually carried cash with us to buy coffee or a new pair of shoes? For the most part my son and his friends have been raised using debit cards, and probably couldn’t tell me whose face is on a $50.00 bill.

Today in my local newspaper, smaller banks  and credit unions are already advertising no fee debit cards and free checking. It might very well be a good time to make a change.

photo credit: JMazzolaa

Self-service in supermarkets not always the best service

Plastic shopping cartIn Manchester, Connecticut Big Y Foods, a chain of 61 supermarkets is phasing out the do-it-yourself grocery shopping check out aisles. What was supposed to revolutionize and speed up a trip to the grocery store seems to falling by the wayside in a trade for the human cashiers. In fact, market studies have shown shoppers do prefer the personal contact.

When the idea was first conceived, store owners had already been anticipating less overhead; surely many of the cashiers were going to be replaced by self-check-out scanners. After all, the self-check-outs are quite popular in Kmart, Home Depot, and Walmart. Supermarkets however seem to be different. For instance,  if a shopper buys tomatoes, potatoes, wine, and bread, can a scanner get the customer checked out quicker than a cashier? Having tried it myself at a supermarket there was a bit of confusion. The scanner stopped at the wine purchase to ascertain if I was old enough, the scanner wouldn’t honor my coupons, and a mix-up on the type of tomatoes I purchased scanned the wrong price. A store manager rushed over and helped me, but that experience cost me time, and from then on I have preferred the live models.

Michael Tami, vice-president for information resources and technology for Big Y felt the automated lines were not  providing exceptional customer service, so instead opted to return to the time honored tradition of humans saying, “Hello, have you found everything you needed?”

I also can’t forget the attachment, we as humans possess for the personal touch. Here in South Florida, Publix’ customer service includes someone always willing to help customers load their groceries into their cars. Even if it’s raining – a customer can use a huge green and white umbrella to get you to your car and then pull around to the front entrance and without even getting wet, someone has been waiting to pack up your trunk.

Self-service-checkout lines undoubtedly have a lot to do with demographics. Younger consumers have grown up with self-service lines, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t expecting superior customer service. As the trend forges ahead to using bar code readings on our Smartphones, another phase of innovation – hopefully the personal touch will still move the grocery lines along quicker and more efficiently.

photo credit: Polycart