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Keep Your Cool on the Phone – Part 1

kx-t7731b_left This is part 1 of a 2 part guest writer post on keeping your cool on the phone. It’s written by Jennifer Harris from Ruby Receptionists.

What do you do when you work primarily on phones and have an irate caller on the line? The easy thing would be to match their annoyance level. Get angry right back, and throw some well places obscenities in for good measure… right? Well, sure, if you want to lose your job. I work for a virtual reception company and all day long we talk to people over the phone. We get happy callers, angry callers, callers with crazy stories, and callers who did not dial correctly. The happy callers are easy; they call in ready to be pleased. The angry callers, not so much.

A receptionist is able to tell right away who the difficult caller will be. They are the ones who, rather than saying, “Hello, may I please speak to Joe Bloggs,” say, “JOE STILL HASN’T RETURNED MY CALL! ARE YOU EVEN DOING YOUR JOB?” The inexperienced receptionist will get flustered in this situation. He or she will make excuses and often end up sounding worse than if they had just yelled back. The bad receptionist will actually yell back. In a situation like this, it is best not to match the tone of the caller. Instead, as one seasoned receptionist told me, “I put on my preschool manners basically. By lowering my voice they have to really listen to hear me and they usually end up matching my tone.” When someone is about to blow their top, she demonstrates the behavior she would like to see from the caller. She speaks calmly and brings them down to her level of calm.

(more about handling angry callers on Wednesday)

Jennifer Harris works as the sales coordinator for Ruby Receptionists, before which she worked as a receptionist for 5 years, learning all the ins and outs of phone etiquette.

Creating Passionate Users with Email Tips

email-pdfpen

This is a terrific guest writer post by Jean MacDonald from SmileOnMyMac. I wrote about the company’s awesome newsletters back in October.

Offering a free trial to download is a standard technique in the software business. The trial may be limited in timeframe or features, but the idea is the same: get potential customers to try out the product. When they see how useful it is for them, they’ll happily purchase it.

But downloading and installing software is not the same as trying it. Many people, myself included, might download something that looks interesting one day, but never make time to actually try it out. This is a gaping pothole on the road to a sale. To fill it in, we decided to try out a technique known as the “autoresponder”.

With the help of our email marketing service company eROI, we set up a series of email tips that customers would receive on a regular basis after they installed the software. The first time they launched the software, an alert appears, asking for a name and email address. The tip emails were designed to say, “Hey, remember me? I’m that useful application you installed. By the way, here’s something cool you can do with it.”

I admit that I was a little skeptical about what kind of response we’d get. People are already suffering from inbox overload — would they really voluntarily sign up for more email?

They did sign up. Not only that, we started getting fan mail for the tips. Nice notes like these:

“Thank you so much for your helpful emails re: DiscLabel.  I like the program and your
support makes buying the program even more appealing.  I’m on my way to download the paid version right now.”

“Just wanted to let you know that I find the mailing list tips for PDFpen and TextExpander enormously useful. What a great idea!”

“The e-mailed tips are welcome, they are interesting and useful, and they do give the impression that you care – even to a cynic like me!”

And some even blogged about [including here at Service Untitled] how helpful the emails were and how they demonstrated our commitment to a great customer experience.

What had started out as a strategy for encouraging more purchases became recognized as a great resource for people who had already purchased. Customers love to find more uses for something they already own. The reason these emails appeal to potential buyers and current customers alike is that they are truly useful. They are not just a sales pitch. Here are some guidelines to help you write tip emails that your customers will find valuable.

Find out what questions your customers are really asking.
Before deciding on the topics for tip emails, it’s important to make sure that your content will be relevant. In my case, the company co-founders are also our lead developers and customer support representatives. We looked at what questions kept coming up again and again.

Find out what questions they don’t know to ask.
When we start planning a new version of one of our software programs, I will survey our current users. I always ask them about how often they use the various features of the software, and one of the options is “I didn’t know I could do that.” If a significant percentage of customers say they didn’t know about a certain feature, that makes it a good candidate for a tip email.

Make it brief.
Focus in on a specific topic and try to keep the length to 150-200 words. It needs to be brief enough for the user to read in less than a minute. A longer email might prompt some folks to say “I’ll read that later when I have time,” significantly reducing the chance they’ll read it at all. If a couple emails pile up without being read, not only will your customers not get the benefit of your tips, they might even unsubscribe from all your emails.

Use an illustration or two, but don’t overdo it on graphics.
Include a screenshot or other graphic that helps explain your tip. It is important to remember, though, that many people don’t load images into their email by default. Your tip need make sense without any illustration.

We just use a small company logo in the signature of our tips. Much more than that, and your tip might be mistaken for a sales pitch. This is not what your customer signed up for, making it more likely they’ll unsubscribe or, even worse, click the “Spam” button.

Encourage sharing.
In a P.S., we ask users to send us their own tips, which we post on our blog. And we get ideas that help shape future tip emails!

Writer Bio:
Jean MacDonald is the Marketing Director at SmileOnMyMac, a software company that develops productivity tools for Mac OS X. Before joining the company, she was the principal of Well-Tempered Web, a web design and internet marketing firm in Portland, Oregon.

Your Secret Weapon – Internal PR

This is a guest writer post by a Service Untitled reader Joseph Wilburn (bio and link below). It’s about a very interesting way to use a less known form of PR to help customer service. Enjoy!

Getting the real prospective on how your organization is functioning is always a good thing. It is especially important in a call center setting where the organization sets the tone for communicating the right message from the executive down to the front line and out to the client. In a high volume call center, there may be thousands of contacts and each one of those needs to be the best possible one it can be. How do we create an environment for that sort of contact? It is not always possible to control the externalities that may affect your organization, but it is quite possible to manage communication with the “internal public” on your front-lines. This concept is called internal PR, an oft talked about yet continually elusive management function. Internal PR functions can give structure to internal dialogue to keep morale high, stop persistent turnover, and provide a way to measure and manage crisis situations.

Internal social networking tools, blogs and Intranet especially are invaluable tools to get the frontline talking and trading experiences. Of course, as with all networking tools there should be guidelines for decorum, but this aside, they can give access to management for suggestions, social functions, and generally enhancing transparency in internal communication as a whole. When employees have a chance to express themselves in a professional environment this helps to support and boost morale amongst the frontlines.

An environment for good morale translates into higher retention rates for employees. Plainly, the more satisfied employees are, the more likely they will stay. This is crucial in the call centre environment where training is often job-specific and high rates of turn over create a persistent learning curve which projects an unpolished image to the outside client.

Creating an environment for internal PR to flourish is invaluable during times of crisis. If your organization is perceived as a competent communicator by its employees, the more faith they will have during times when everyone needs to pull together for mutual benefit. As well, having a greased communications machine helps get the message out quickly, to the right people, in the right manner. Frontline staff need not have a complete training in media relations, but rest assured (and this is from personal experience) the media will call your number to get a statement from an insider, even a call center agent, so plan for that eventuality.

Having a good internal PR machine can be likened to eating well. The healthier the communicative process is from the inside, the better the organization will look to outsiders. That just makes sense, if your organization serves itself well, it will be well positioned to serve its clientele in the same fashion. Of course, it would be impossible to train your frontline to be PR professionals, but with the right structure and process installed they don’t need to be. They will be able to rely on the management structure to help them communicate what needs to be projected and help to protect and build upon the goodwill everyone in the organization has strived to acheive.

About the Writer: Joseph Wilburn, is a Public Relations graduate student at Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, Canada. He has worked extensively in the call centre environment, from agent to management and is now transitioning into a career in PR. He blogs regularly at http://prcogitation.wordpress.com about PR-related issues from a student prospective.

Compliance Posters

Note: I’ve chosen to try out ReviewMe. I won’t do it more than once per week and ReviewMe posts will never be during the week days (and thus interfere with regular content). Service Untitled is being compensated for this post, but the reviews, thoughts, opinions, etc. are our own.

Today I am reviewing a company called Compliance Labor Company. What these guys do is provide the posters that are required in many states by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

The posters that CPC provides cover everything from smoking rules, adult CPR, first aid, wage notices, etc. For example, this California All-On-One poster outlines a whole bunch of laws and rules that the government requires you show. They offer a variety of general office posters, ones specifically for industrial companies, and others for safety training. For HR employees, the company also offers some standard human resources forms and other materials.

My favorite part of the site is their extensive article and resource section. There are lots of useful articles and quite a few pages explaining exactly what companies have to do. The company is focused on keeping posters up to date (the posters are easy to update – they use a Peel ‘N Post overlays that makes it easy to update them) and is constantly researching the laws and regulations to ensure all posters are up to date.

Customer service wise, CPC has a clearly published 800 phone, email address, physical address, a great BBB record, and an email form. They also offer a 30 day money back guarantee, and a satisfaction guarantee. It’s always great to see companies that focus on a small thing, but because of their focus, do a good job at it. CPC seems to be such a company.

Note: Again, this is a sponsored post.

Flash Tutorials – Solving Customer Service

This post is by Vito Ceniti, who is the President Netasis Internet Inc. Netasis owns and operates DemoDemo, a company that provides Flash tutorials (designed for customer service) for a variety of companies.

Any company that plans on running a successful online business understands that customer service is an integral part of the success formula. With growing competition in all business sectors, it is critical that online business owners allocate sufficient resources to their customer support departments so that they are not left behind by their competitors.

Knowledge Base documents are commonly used as a self-serve component to technical support. The problem is that even when companies take the time and effort to create comprehensive KB resources, many end users don’t bother to refer to them. Many find them verbose, dry and boring. Text based documentation serves its purpose, but the challenge is to get customers to actually read them. Many don’t, and end up taking the easier route by placing a telephone call to Customer Support, or at the very least, sending in a support ticket.

More and more, one of the more innovative tools used that has proven to be extremely effective in providing support and reducing support costs is Flash tutorials. People are visual by nature. They prefer to actually see how something is done rather than having to read how it’s done. Most Flash tutorials will have a playbar that allows the user to stop, pause, fast forward or rewind. This level of interactivity is very helpful since it allows the end user to effectively follow along step by step – with the Flash tutorial in one browser and their own control panel in another.

At DemoDemo.com, we have been producing Flash tutorials since 2002. At first, our target market was strictly web hosting companies. While they still remain a large portion of our customer base, we are continually and increasingly receiving orders for custom Flash tutorials from other business sectors – including medical, stock market, software, auction, car rental, and on and on. Basically, any business that requires that their customers perform task(s) online could benefit from introducing Flash tutorials to their customer support arsenal. One important key is to make the tutorials as task specific as possible. This allows the user to find the help they are looking for quickly and effortlessly. Another key is to create a proper “flow” to the overall movie. Too fast – it will confuse and frustrate the user. Too slow – it will bore the user who will end up quitting the session before learning to perform the task.

It’s always tempting for business owners to try to save money by creating their own tutorials inhouse. Some are successful at it, but all too often, the end result does not provide for an effective solution. A poorly produced tutorial will (ironically) drive up the frequency of support tickets. And of course, one should not overlook the initial cost of tutorial creation software as well as the significant learning curve required to use the tool. We always recommend that this work be outsourced to an experienced tutorial provider.

Flash tutorials, when presented properly, significantly reduce the total number of support tickets that an online business receives related to routine tasks performed by their end users. Given that on average, a company’s expenses allocated to customer support can exceed 50% or more, there is a real and valid concern of rising support costs. Outsourcing customer support, while effective, is an ongoing expense. By contrast, Flash tutorials are a one time purchase and need only be updated when the interface in the tutorial has been changed or updated.

From a psychological standpoint, it’s also important to note that “empowering” end users to solve their own problems is very powerful. When users successfully complete a task with the help of a Flash tutorial, they feel a sense of accomplishment that would otherwise not be present when merely submitting a support ticket. Once they feel that immediate reinforcement, they are far more likely to seek out the Tutorial Section on a site before even considering contacting a Support representative. If the tutorials are properly produced, they will provide an immediate solution 24/7. No need to wait for a response from Support the next business day.

At this point, there is no question that Flash tutorials are an extremely effective tool in the Customer Support arena. They increase customer satisfaction, reduce overall support costs and provide the business an added layer of professionalism. In the end, it is a win-win situation. The end users are allowed to solve their support issues on an immediate self-serve basis, and the companies reap the benefits of lowered supports costs, reflecting in a healthier bottom line.

Cut back on phone service? No way! Enhance it instead.

This is a guest writer post by John Federman, the CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives.

As mentioned here about two weeks ago, a number of companies are implementing alternative contact solutions, like click to call, to control the volume and quality of calls sent to their contact centers.

Analysts agree that click to call is an effective means of reaching out to Web site visitors to engage them in conversation. For this reason, thousands of companies around the globe are deploying these solutions to enhance multi-channel sales and support efforts.

Basic click to call functionality is very easy to set up. It requires no additional software or hardware, and calls are routed directly to your existing CRM and telephony infrastructure. By pasting a JavaScript code into a Web site script, a standard click to call button is embedded on a Web site, and customers can start talking with your agents immediately either via their computer, or by entering in their phone number for an immediate call back.

If volume is not a concern, then this is the way to go.

However, if your business is growing and you’re attracting a lot of customers, you face the very real possibility of being overwhelmed with customer sales and support requests.

This is why most companies would prefer not to have every customer inquiry result in a phone call or chat, and invest heavily in providing self-service tools like FAQs and knowledgebase systems. However, in those instances where customer contact is desired or required, click to call not only helps offer quality service, but enhances the customer experience and increase sales conversion as well.

But not all click to call deployments are equal. Before deciding which solution is right for your business, it’s important to understand the deployment options for click to call functionality. These include:

Dynamic/Rules-Based Deployments – Unlike the static click to call buttons described above, dynamic/rules-based deployments are visible only when specific conditions exit. Dynamic buttons are triggered by a series of rules that are predetermined by the business during implementation. Business rules can range from:

  • Number of items in a customer’s shopping cart
  • Total shopping cart value
  • Amount of time a customer has spent idle on a page
  • Incomplete transactions
  • Preferred customer status
  • Hours of operation or call center availability

Because there may be uniform reasons of when customers abandon your Web site or require customer service, rules-based deployments provide a way to automate a call offering to prevent these things from happening and offer customers a chance to speak with a live agent based on their perceived needs.

Proactive Deployments — Like dynamic deployments, proactive deployments offer more flexibility than static click to call buttons, and give contact center agents more control over when to engage online prospects. Using real-time Web analytics, and rules-based triggers, contact center agents can determine if, and when to engage customers to call or chat based on their online behavior. With proactive deployments, the agent can control when and where they decide to offer the click to call invitation to offer a customized online shopping, or service, experience for each consumer.

Integrated Deployments — Integrated click to call deployments can either be static, dynamic or proactive, but leverage unique data integration and collaboration technology to create a truly seamless experience for customers as they transition from an online session to a phone call.

This is done through a process called “cross-channel data passing.” Cross-channel data passing ensures a continuity of customer experience by transferring information about the customer and the context of their online session directly to the call center at the time of call initiation. The call center software can be configured to display this information directly on the agent’s desktop screen, or it can use the incoming data values to trigger lookups into the company’s own databases to retrieve related details (customer records, purchase history, billing information, etc.)

Rather than having the customer start all over again, the contact center agent can use this information to verify account status, identify problems with the online transaction, and more efficiently troubleshoot whichever issue prompted the customer to call.

Additionally, integrated deployments also open up a new level of collaboration between online customers and contact center agents. Using data passed when calls are initiated, agents can push relevant pages to customers, or initiate co-browsing sessions to guide customers through the sales or support process.

Conclusion — Nothing is more frustrating to a consumer than having to “start all over again” when they transition from the Web to a phone conversation. Click to call offers one solution to this problem by integrating the power of Web analytics with the convenience and comfort of the telephone. Given the range of options available, it’s critical to have a full understanding of your business goals and how customers behave on your Website. Doing so allows you to offer the right form of contact at the right time to maximize the benefit of click to call offerings, and not only reduce call center costs, but turn your call center into a revenue generator.

John Federman is CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives. Mr. Federman is responsible for eStara’s strategic direction, growth and corporate vision. He brings more than 20 years of experience with innovative information technology and media companies to eStara, and has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Continental Airlines, DaimlerChrysler and Dell Financial Services, to enhance their multichannel sales and support operations.

Identifying Good Customer Service Candidates

Today’s post is a guest writer post written by Darlene McDaniel, who for a lack of a better term, is an interviewing and hiring guru. She knows her stuff when it comes to interviewing, hiring, and training new and potential employees. I asked her to write a guest post for Service Untitled and this is what she came up with – a very interesting and informative read.

Most prospective candidates walk into an interview and hope the hiring manager likes them. While most Managers go into an interview hoping this next prospective candidate will be the right person for the job. When you are looking for new employees, most of the time it is critical that you find the person quickly, because there is a gap in your organization and you need someone to fill it. As a result many managers make quick decisions and rather than ask one more question, they make a decision and many times, unfortunately it is the wrong decision. It is very important that as the hiring manager you ask enough of the right questions to ensure that you are hiring the best candidate for the job. Interviewing prospective employees is never a guarantee.

Here are a few ideas that will help you interview prospective Customer Service Representatives and find the right employees for your organization:

1. As the hiring manager you must have an excellent understanding of your organizational climate. What type of organization do you work for? Who has been successful and who has not been successful in that climate. Some organizations are very open to creativity and a free exchange of ideas. While other organizations are not interested in what you, as an employee think should be changed. Look for candidates who will flow in the “current” of your organization. It will eliminate placing “square pegs in round holes.” If the person you are interviewing is use to working in an environment that allows creative problem solving, but your organization has very clear boundaries, rules and regulations that must be followed, it would be a mistake to bring them into the organization, no matter how well they say they can adjust to your rules. Unless the organization is moving towards creative problem solving it would be a bad fit.

2. Identify Customer Service Representative in your organization who display the skills and abilities you are looking for in your organization. Identify what makes them successful and develop a profile of the type of employee you are looking for based on someone who meets or exceeds your expectations. Match prospective employees with the profile. Know which skills and abilities in the profile are absolutes and which ones are negotiable. Which skills can be taught and which can’t be taught. Clearly articulate the skills and abilities you are looking for in the published job description and ensure that each of your prospective candidates has at a minimum 80% of those qualities. Two qualities that you should see in prospective CSR candidates is excellent problem-solving and an innate desire to help people. If finding solutions is not enjoyable to the prospective candidates, they may not be the right person for the job.

3. Create behavior-based questions that will be part of the screening process throughout the entire interview process. There should be key indicators that you are listening for during the actual interview. Based on your research, you should know when a prospective candidate is credible and when they are making it up as they go. Listen for inconsistencies during the interview. Look for inconsistencies on the resume/cover letter they provided.

4. Along with skills and abilities, personality does matter when hiring Customer Service Representatives. According to Robert Cialdini, “People do business with people they like.” If your Customer Service Representatives are not pleasant, patient and knowledgeable, they will only hurt your business. It cost more money to find a new customer, than it does to retain a customer. Personality is not something you can teach someone in a new hire training class. The people you hire should bring that to the table when they come into your organization.

Writer Bio:
Darlene S. McDaniel, Motivational Speaker, Facilitator and Coach has 8 years as a hiring manager for various large organization. She has hired 100’s of Customer Service Representatives working for organizations such has American Express and AT&T. She has written a workshop called Tough Questions? Great Answers! This workshop will give prospective candidates tangible keys for unlocking the mystery behind job interviews! She is an expert on both how to interview people effectively and teaching people to sharpen their skills so that “on a short list they get the first shot at the job!” For more information or to contact her send an e-mail to: info.toughquestions [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Customer Service Made Simple

I was kindly given permission to repost the following text by Jodi R. R. Smith, who is an author and etiquette consultant at Mannersmith (which has some cool stuff on it). She has written two books: one for men and another for women about the importantance of etiquette and how to be proper. The male version was given to me by a friend (my manners aren’t bad, I swear!) and I decided to send Jodi an email asking if she had any tips for people who worked in customer service and she suggested I use the text below:

Good help is hard to find. I stood there in utter amazement as the woman to whom I was trying to hand my money, answered a ringing phone and then, instead of putting the caller on hold, told me to wait until she finished the call. If the check had not already been written and had the event not been a fundraiser for a non-profit organization, I would have walked away. As I have said time and time again, etiquette is not rocket science, but it does require a bit of thought. Here are a few small steps that make a big
difference in customer service.

I Am Invisible ~ Even if you can not assist the customer immediately, eye contact will let the customer know that you are aware that he/she is there.

Take A Number ~ Customers should be assisted in the order that they arrived. And those customers who took the time to come in person should be assisted before those who call on the telephone.

Ask The Question ~ If you work in a place of business, the customer service question is “How may I help you?” If you work in a retail establishment, the customer service question is “May I help you?” The second question allows
for the possibility of browsing, the first does not.

Soft Sell Me ~ Any “special” offer that expires within 24 hours is clearly a pressure scam. If you are forcing the customer to make a quick decision, the customer can assume there is something about the product that you are hoping they will not discover.

Acknowledge and Empathize ~ Not all customers are as polite as they should be to you. With that said, a smile and a kind word can help defuse a situation. If the customer becomes abusive, then seek help from a manager; do not respond in kind.

Always Accessorize ~ You know the product better than the customer. If there is something that matches, something that will help the item last longer, or something that will make the customer’s life easier, please say so.

Don’t Look Down ~ You may be working for the chicest restaurant in town, but the customer is still the reason why you receive your salary. Please don’t assume a snooty attitude.

Privacy Please ~ By looking at the customer’s purchases you may be able to deduce a good deal about the customer. And maybe you can… but please do not pry by asking personal questions.

Dozens and Dozens ~ The marketing adage is that a happy customer may tell one or two of their friends. But an unhappy customer tells, on average, 11 others. So for every one customer who is treated badly, there are a dozen people who have discussed the experience. Being polite is your best marketing tool.

Thank Me ~ After the customer has patronized your establishment, do thank him/her for the business. This is not the same as “Here ya go,” or instructing the customer to “Have a nice day.” A simple thank you, with a smile thrown in, will suffice.

Exceed Expectations ~ At some point, customers may appear so exasperated that even the smallest gesture can create customer loyalty. Going even the smallest of extra steps helps to create feelings of good will as well as happy customers.

Here is a real life example of outstanding customer service:

With limited time (and patience) for shopping, I truly rely on the sales people in the stores I visit. I try to visit the fitting room once. Whenever possible I will have a sales person follow me through the store while I choose items. During a recent trip to Ann Taylor, Betsy offered to help me find the perfect, black, presentation pants suit. She followed me around the store watching what I was drawn to and what was rejected. Then, as I tried
the clothing on, Betsy ran in and out offering shirts, scarves, belts and shoes to finish the outfit. Once I had the outfit set, she gently reminded me that by adding the matching skirt I would double the use of the jacket (soft sell). Betsy offered to steam the outfit while I finished other errands (exceeding expectations). When I returned, my outfit was waiting for me near the cashier. I paid and left the mall. On my way out, the parking attendant informed me that had my parking pass been stamped by the store, the parking would have been complimentary. I went from being pleased with my purchase to being annoyed that my parking had not been validated. Not having time to run back into the mall, I drove home. People who also live in big cities know that just a few hours in a parking garage can quickly exceed $30.00. So I called Betsy. Not to complain, but to let her know that the cashier should be asking each customer if they need their parking validated. Betsy and manager, Laurie, both apologized to me (acknowledge and empathize). I thought the situation was over. But then, they sent me an Ann Taylor gift certificate equal to the amount I paid in parking (exceeding expectations). As to be expected, I have told all of my friends and acquaintances this story (dozens and dozens). Ann Taylor has a very loyal customer in me.

Writer Bio:
Jodi R. R. Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith, is an etiquette consultant who creates and leads seminars on social and professional conduct. Working with individuals, corporations, and other organizations, she educates in a way that is both instructional and entertaining, helping her clients to increase their confidence levels and achieve success in today’s world. Ms. Smith is the author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman and From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Man.

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