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‘Social listening’ can help businesses become more effective

Catching up on e-mail...The buzz phrase “social listening,” also known as social media monitoring, can help organizations and businesses be more effective and build stronger brand relationships. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, media marketing software combines both monitoring and analytics to help us listen, understand, and engage. Through Facebook and Twitter, conversations can be measured to help attract new customers, and ultimately these customers can become advocates helping our businesses to grow.

Perhaps the Dell story with the “power to do more” further explains the concept of “social listening.” Dell’s social media 10,000 employees are tuned into more than 25,000 conversations about Dell every day claiming the more information gathered, the better the company will be able to deliver the precise products and services customers want. The company considers social media an extension of their brand, however it’s not that easy, and it’s not just about purchasing the software. Michael Dell’s “direct-to customer-heritage” starts with training. At the Social Media and Communities University, associates are fully trained and then empowered to listen and focus – transforming “online ranters into ravers.” Eleven languages, 24/7 availability, and participating in social media for the sake of the company, help Dell to continue growing stronger brand relationships with customers.

One can’t separate however, customer service with “social listening”; as Dell states it is a key part of the brand. The company combines customer service phone calls, social media engagement, online strategies, traditional print advertising, and everything in between to further Dell’s recognition.

Once upon a time, businesses would learn how customers felt about them through polls, surveys, and focus groups. Now with “data mining,” specific keywords on social networking, websites, and blogs can identify what is being said, where it is being said, and who is saying it. Of course, the anonymity of sitting behind a computer screen can easily make for bogus complaints, (unfortunately there are no mental stability tests required to type on a computer) but knowledge is a way to be prepared for an action plan if needed.

This information can come from Google Alerts to sophisticated applications, but knowing what to do with the results is as important. Obviously, one can’t join every social network on the Internet, so identifying those who need your product or service, and then joining and being active, will help to build a solid customer base and hear what people are saying about your product and services. Search out the competition, and make your business stand out through customer service and excellent products.

Make customers advocates of your organization and ask those who love your products and services to spread the word. Listen and learn because social media isn’t just about a sales pitch; it becomes a reflection of you.

Consumer Reports says Apple does customer service better

2973554634_da5fc5c9b3The ultimate success of a company is predicated on exceptional customer service experiences. For post-sales service, Consumer Reports ranked Apple Customer Service ahead of other companies for best PC tech support with the company scoring an 86 out of a possible 100 points. The survey included 6,313 owners of PCs and laptops and explored their experiences with technical service over the past year via telephone, online communication, and in-store help.

According to Consumer Reports, Apple’s in-house technical support service, the Genius Bar, rated as high as telephone and online services stating as many as 88% of problems are addressed in person. So peeking in at the Genius Training Student Workbook chock full of Apple “Dos and Don’ts,” we can understand the psychological mastery of an organization that clearly understands when you make people happy, they tend to buy more. The training manual concentrates on the psychological aspect of customer service and builds the learning experience with role playing. Within the compressed 14 days of boot camp however, and while learning the emotions and skills of happy customers, the bottom line is always to be in the “business of selling.”

So before the new Genius dons his blue official Apple blue shirt, sales and customer service training teaches:

  • P  PROBE
  • E  END

Apple students learn the lessons taught in most service industry jobs, and that is one of being helpful and knowledgeable. With that comes the soft approach; don’t be pushy. Build a confident relationship with a customer, and find out what they need and then present choices as what to buy. Hear the customer out, and as the deal is finished, let it be done in such a way that the customer feels he is the one who made the choice. In practice sessions, the new Genius puts himself in a customer’s shoes in order to understand every interaction and how to successfully mingle skills and sentiment into one satisfying and successful endeavor.

The learning techniques have become so refined as Geniuses learn to take ownership, have respect,  and show empathy to achieve those good vibes which affect all of us while we consider buying a product. The best sales people are those who customers genuinely like; those of us who know how to make customers happy before, during, and after the sale.

And even if a customer doesn’t rally over to the Genius Bar for personal human contact, Apple Support provides video tutorials, community support forums, online product manuals, and easy, user friendly links. It’s a positive experience wherever one might decide to find help because it’s never a “crash” – rather one’s Apple may have “stopped responding.” It’s never a “disaster” – rather an “error” occurred, and instead of “eliminating” the problem – the problem is “reduced.”

The Apple Genius Bar is a cheery place to visit; perhaps not the “happiest place on Earth,” but darn close in the technical world.

Photo courtesy of kaichanvong via Flickr 

Avoid costly mistakes by creating a better call center for customers

Call centers can range from one or two people in a small office to thousands of customer service representatives in huge office complexes, but a customer’s view is set by their first impression or that first phone call needed for help. Whereas customers don’t ever want to feel that once their purchase was made, the organization no longer cares about them and is just out there fishing for new clients, one of the prime frustrations often deals with call centers and their notorious poor service ranging from finding the right representative, hanging on hold for an extended amount of time, repeating the problem to representative after representative, or to never being able to reach an authorized person capable of making a decision to rectify a problem.

The most lucrative businesses cultivate a base of loyal customers who typically campaign on an organization’s behalf as to the reliability and excellence of the brand. With people spending an average of five hours a week on social media with the average of 150 friends on Facebook and 300 Twitter followers, negative feedback on a business can affect an average sized company’s profit margin. With consumers very willing to switch brands nowadays for better service, and even if it means spending more money, statistics show that 73 percent of consumers will eagerly make the change.

So what can a company do to improve the quality of their call centers? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t outsource your company service outside of the United States. One major turnoff and a significant reason why customers will not recommend an organization to their friends, relatives, or co-workers is the inability with poor language communication skills.
  • Customers want their problems solved in a single call if possible by one customer service representative who speaks clearly, is knowledgeable, polite, and helpful.
  • It is important to have the technology to access a customer’s records quickly and not have a customer “on hold” for more than a few minutes.
  • When a customer calls in for help to a call center, navigating the menu and a path to a human representative should be simple.
  • Customer service training should provide representatives with the knowledge to solve most problems.  And just as important, a customer should also be offered an alternative to be given a credit if they are not happy with the outcome.
  • A supervisor should always be available at a call center if a problem has not been resolved.

An antiquated way of thinking once perceived service and call centers as costs, but the loss of a customer is much more expensive. With repeat customers come recommendations and more customers. It’s not much different than cultivating a garden. As the plants grow and spread, the garden gets bigger and bigger yielding more vegetables. Never cut back on training, and continue to be an inspiration for those employees who make a difference in an organization’s campaign on behalf of their brand. Why not call in one day and pretend to be a customer? In fact, call in with a problem that is not in the usual text training manual and see how the unusual issue is handled; it promises to provide an excellent insight into your customer’s world.

Guest services and planning needed to create a ‘Wow’ experience in buffet style holiday feast

Buffets traditionally save on labor costs and provide an excellent venue to showcase a restaurant’s best food and service. In a resort area such as South Florida, the ‘”WOW” experience includes customer service, atmosphere, cuisine, and of course – location. So how does all of this compare with the Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa located in Jupiter, Florida on a beautiful Thanksgiving afternoon? The resort is located directly on the Atlantic Ocean beach and offers 12,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining facilities, yet no one even glimpsed a view of the sandy beaches nor could anyone boast a “WOW” experience for a poorly planned Thanksgiving feast.

Let’s travel back to the beginning of the experience when there were confirmed reservations made for a specific time. First impressions are important, and the initial customer service coordinator’s poor judgment and lack of planning immediately diminished any well-meaning intentions. When guests are forced to wait for over an hour before they are seated, and made to stand around with no apologies and no direction as to the reasons for the delay, it would seem a new marketing plan would be imminent. When guests with confirmed reservations are made to wait as “walk-in” customers are seated before them, when no servers ever appear in the make-shift lobby crowded with guests waiting to be seated even taking beverage orders, and when hostesses do not communicate with waiting guests, it’s dubious anyone will be wanting to come back for another holiday celebration.

The best advantage of a buffet is the flexible format and of course, it is easier to accommodate more people than offering sit-down menus with table service. Frequently the rule of thumb is one server for 18 guests during a sit-down function as compared to one server for 24 guests at a buffet, however when servers are cleaning up tables, delivering drink orders, and other buffet associated duties to 40 or more guests, service suffers. Diners miss out on the experience of the best a resort can offer, and dining in two conference rooms without even a window certainly suffers the anticipated ambiance of a family dinner overlooking the grand vistas of a beautiful seashore facility.

So what could have been done to ensure a positive experience for guests? The excuse that management could not plan for the length of time a guest stayed at the buffet and therefore backed up multitudes of awaiting guests was not sufficient. Since the 16th century when buffets originated in France, experienced catering and convention managers have been able to estimate the time guests spend eating. Buffet managers should have planned for more staff or at the very least – limited the amount of reservations and of course denied “walk-ins.” A more experienced hostess staff should have been keeping waiting guests constantly informed of the situation, and an apology with an incentive should have been offered to guests for a future visit. And of course, there should have been the same choices of food for the guests at the end of the day as were available for the guests at the beginning of the buffet.

And even though it is a beautiful spot for a peaceful afternoon, the chances of my family ever returning are slim. When we tell ten of our friends and they tell ten others, what might have been a great place to plan a wedding, a party, or a family reunion becomes a place just “off the list.”

Customer service is not an option for medical and dental practices

Medical and dental practices should provide their patients with positive customer experiences; after all aren’t we as patients still consumers who pay for services rendered either through our insurance companies or directly out of our debit accounts? Once upon a time a patient would never think of questioning a physician’s rude bedside manner,  never twitch the slightest dissatisfaction when made to wait hours in an uncomfortable waiting room with outdated magazines, or even speak out when having to deal with a rude staff. Fortunately that has all changed. From digital signs on busy highways showing shortened waiting times in local emergency medical facilities to expedient office staff, the new faces of medical care seek customer loyalty by creating positive experiences.

From the moment a patient calls for an appointment, the expectation for services begins. How long does it take for someone to answer the phone, and are you put on hold for any extended amount of time? Does your call during office hours go to voice mail? Patient satisfaction begins with a member of the staff personally answering the phone. Why not stagger employee schedules so the heavy hours of phone contact – perhaps during lunch hour can reduce patient waiting time thus reducing frustration and anger? Even waiting rooms have come a long way. Straight back wooden chairs used to line the walls of doctor and dentist offices. Now comfortable furniture set in inviting waiting rooms with late edition magazines and soothing music welcome a patient and makes them immediately feel more comfortable and connected in what is now the competitive field of health care.

Physicians can build their own relationships with patients by knowing a patient’s history before entering the examination room, immediately inviting the patient to speak, and then reviewing their chart sitting in front of the patient with direct eye contact. Patients want to know the process, and as doctors and dentists whose positive interaction with patients develop, a new culture for the entire office revolves around making people feel important – not just a human body wearing a white paper gown.

Helping patients to navigate their way through the complexities of medical procedures and jargon, making available community resources convenient for patients, providing a list of support groups and helping patients find appropriate educational tools to aid in their own medical or dental care builds relationships and enhances the productivity of both physician and patient.

How customer service excels during disasters

With over two million customers without power because of Hurricane Sandy, is it within the realm of possibilities that we can expect customer service to even scratch the surface of what we need or what we want? The first priorities must be with emergency services; getting the hospitals back to their work of saving people, and getting emergency public service personnel back to their desks so they may begin the enormous task of helping us to put our lives back together again.

Speaking from a South Florida resident’s personal experience of having “hunkered down” for a hurricane or two, by no means should customer service be  overlooked or ignored. Of course, it’s not going to be the “wow” experience as far as comfort and convenience, but as neighborhood businesses reach out to help their communities, they are not only providing a service, they are building goodwill which will be remembered long after the boardwalks are rebuilt and our children are once again frolicking in the sand of Seaside Heights.

Even before Hurricane Sandy blew into town, retail stores were staying open late with emergency supplies such as batteries, water, and flashlights for last minute shoppers.  Maybe the lines were long, but few of us complained. We were just relieved the stores stayed open so we could have some light. These are the same people who left to go home right before the cancellation of  public transit. These were the same people who also have families and responsibilities of their own, but stayed on to help.

And then during the storm, could customer service ever be better or more efficient when 250 patients in serious medical need in a New York hospital had to be transferred because of a power outage? Ambulances from out of state miraculously appeared every four minutes as medical personnel brought patients out one by one to be transferred to another hospital. A surgical nurse sat on a gurney administering oxygen to a newborn while critical care patients were shielded by physicians, nurses, and support personnel – all to save lives.

But now it’s after the storm, and if it were only that easy to send 25 Jersey Power & Light Company trucks out to Seaside Heights, New Jersey to replace transformers and climb up poles to do some rewiring, life after Hurricane Sandy wouldn’t be looking so ominous. Now we have the help of businesses who are coming out to volunteer to help their neighbors cut tree limbs off of their homes, bring in fresh water, or help to find a child’s dog who wandered off during the confusion of the storm. It’s a time for businesses like Home Depot to offer the use of wet vacs and building supplies to help families get their homes back together again. Electricians, plumbers, and heavy equipment operators who reach out to their neighbors who offer discounts and also volunteer in their communities will far exceed the expectations of most people, but definitely be remembered in better times when neighbor Brad is ready to build an addition to his home or Traci is ready to remodel her kitchen.

Disasters have a long reputation of gouging people when they are at their neediest, and laws do exist which punish offenders, but at the end of the day it’s the community that comes together and helps to rebuild. For everyone involved in the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, we send our prayers and hope you continue to stay safe and far away from harm.

Building a better customer service experience with expert branding

We all know who our favorite designers are, our favorite beverages, and our favorite services. That doesn’t happen by chance, but rather this branding is the result of our own personal, repeated experiences and our perceptions of these products or services having been the best. Proceed one step further to find out that most of us stay with these particular brands because they provide us with reliability and quality. Let’s face it – we want customer service and quality products on our own terms, and if we don’t get it all the way we want it, we are likely to move on to another product or service who properly “wows” us.

Brands get turned into lifestyles. For instance, the universal perception of the Mercedes Benz is one of affluence. It makes little difference to a Mercedes Benz owner if a General Motors automobile’s price tag is higher, the consumer already believes their car is special and unique especially recognized in the customer service department where cappuccino machines and pastries are offered after a customer is greeted by name. It’s a time where customers are infinitely more demanding and want service on their own terms, and as they perceive service should be. Customer service comes with the ability to be humble; how can I provide exceptional customer service on my client’s own terms and make him feel like the center of the universe?

As we build our own brands, we need to help our customers and clients believe that what we offer is the best, because those who aren’t convinced that we don’t cater to their needs, desires and perhaps even some whims will purchase their next product elsewhere. If the next time a previous client decides to sell their home, we want to be the realtor they call because their last great experience with us helped to build our brand and boost customer loyalty.

So how do you build your brand and provide the best customer service experiences you can?

  • Do what you are passionate about and develop your passions to provide your customers with the best product or service. Don’t ever say or believe “whatever.”
  • Develop your talents. If you are new to the real estate industry, take advantage of every training course you can find. Find a mentor who you know is successful with the same core values as you.
  • Know your customers and find out what they need and how you can successfully help.

Competition is so fierce that it really is a customer’s world.  They want to be helped on their own terms and want you to make it easy and convenient. Customers want to find more time to have fun and spend more time with their family and friends instead of having to put in additional time trying to figure out how to install a cabinet, waiting in line at the post office to return a dress that didn’t fit, or having to repeatedly call a service company because the technician is more than two hours late for a house call. If you want that person who purchased a product from you to forever be loyal, then you need to constantly reassure them and convince them that you are the best of the best.

Providing the customer service that your customers deserve

Shopping for products and services are no longer defined by the hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The Internet provides convenient and easy access to product information 24 hours a day. It makes research convenient and allows us to compare prices, services, and even to formulate questions we want answered by one of the many providers out there, but what about an organization’s customer service? How will they treat me, and what will they do to make sure my needs and my problems are solved?

My first impression of a company might very well be their website, whether I choose to shop online or visit the store at the mall in person. It’s quite often a personal decision, as some of us when shopping actually want to feel or try-on the merchandise, view the product personally, or on the other hand, for convenience sake be able to make an informed decision to order the product online. Regardless of how customers choose their shopping venues, outstanding customer service still sets organizations apart from their competition. Here are some time tested suggestions:

  • Business contact: Customers have grown weary of voicemail and automated responses. They want real people available to answer their questions in a timely manner whether it be by live-chat, phone, email or even giving out a cell phone number to contact someone who can help  solve their problem.
  • Convenience: Customers want their questions answered when they visit an organization’s web site or store, and that means a knowledgeable workforce with up-to-date information and employees who are experts in the products they sell or the services they provide. During peak business time, is there enough of a workforce to provide customers with personalized service?
  • Consistency: Can a customer count on an organization to deliver the same high quality service each time the customer contacts an organization? Whether the service or product is serviced via the Internet or in person, a customer wants to be able to count on a high level of service and an excellent product. That translates into customer service employees having the best training, knowing their product, and being able to give a customer accurate information as to competitor products and how they compare.
  • Courtesy: There should never be a rude employee.
  • Speed: The advantages of technology can provide quick delivery. Just those words “next day delivery” inspires that immediate gratification today’s customers expect. Organizations need to deliver faster than their competition.
  • Honesty: Never misrepresent anything to your customer. The high level of service a company provides makes the difference when it comes to customer retention and customer loyalty. The time honored “underpromise but overdeliver” sets the highest standards for outstanding customer service.
  • Appreciation: Remember to offer  “thank-you” after every sale and remember to show appreciation to customers by loyalty programs and special discounts. Keep in touch with clients with timely and helpful information which will benefit their lives or even by sending a birthday card to show that people really do matter.
  • Mobile Access: More people are using their smartphones to access mobile websites and are taking advantage of the conveniences provided as in making reservations or finding the best deals via one’s phone now. Keep a customer’s mobile experience positive; this trend is becoming more popular.

And a  part of customer service that never grows old, but keeps people coming back for more is an organization’s ability to add value to a customer’s experience at no extra cost. For instance, a pool company offering to install an extra light to make the aesthetics more appealing at no extra charge, a service company offering to provide an extra service  for no additional charge, or that thoughtful  hotel employee offering a tired traveler a glass of cold lemonade are just the little things that keep customers coming back.

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