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Sales After Service

Not that long ago a reader asked me to write a post following up after a sale to thank the customer and then offer any help. This is an issue I sort of talk about in a post I wrote about closing the sale on a good note, but not exactly the same.

A lot of companies incorrectly assume that when the customer has paid and gets his or her product, the sale is over. This is anything but true. When the customer’s credit card has cleared and they’re received their product, the company shouldn’t forget about the customer. They should be making an effort to ensure that the post-sales experience is remarkable.

It isn’t hard to set a reminder up to ask a customer about their experience and order a couple of weeks after the order is “completed.” When contacting the customer, take some time to talk to them about their experience ordering, what they think of the product / service, and if you can be of any help. You could send something like:

Hi Bob,

This is John from Company XYZ. I just wanted to thank you again for your order and make sure your Product 1000 arrived and is working as expected. I’d also be curious to hear any feedback you might have about the ordering experience. We’re always looking to improve and feedback from customers is the best way to help us do that.

If you have any questions or comments whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m more than happy to help you however I can.

Warm regards,

John Smith
Customer Service
Phone: 212-123-4567 x 123
Email: jsmith@companyxyz.com

This is just a draft and should obviously be customized appropriately for each company, each product, and each customer. If it gets too generic, you’ll be defeating the purpose. You want it to be personal.

An important part of this interaction is not to sell the customer anything. Unless they start asking you about other products or services, don’t try to sell them. If you try to sell them new products or services, you’ll lose a lot of the customer’s trust.

If you do this, though, you’ll earn a lot of customer trust. They will appreciate you taking the time to reach out to them without any (apparent) ulterior motive. Of course, the long term goal is to generate repeat sales and increase customer loyalty, but for each call, the goal is to help the customer.

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Creating Passionate Users with Email Tips


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.

By golly, I think Dell gets it!

I read this post today on Dell’s corporate blog and I smiled. I told myself (out loud) – “I think Dell is starting to get it.” They are a large company that is finally catching on to the whole “listen to the customer” thing.

The quick story is that Dell is going to offer Linux (Ubuntu) on certain systems. They formed a partnership with a company called Canonical, which is the company of sorts behind Ubuntu. Judging from their press release, Ubuntu is happy about it. There is a lot of positive feedback for Dell as well.

The more interesting part, though, is that Dell openly asks for feedback through their IdeaStorm site. The idea related to pre-installed Ubuntu had over 131,000 votes. It’s hard to ignore that, but kudos to Dell for 1) giving users a place to voice that feedback and 2) actually listening and acting on it. Here are the other top suggestions (in order of most positive votes – what’s in brackets are my comments):

  • Ability to have OpenOffice pre-installed
  • Have Firefox pre-installed as default browser
  • No Extra Software Option [this is available to XPS customers, and Dell is expanding the option to other lines in the future]
  • Option to have no Operating System pre-loaded [they sort of offer this, but from what I gather, not in the sense that the votes on IdeaStorm want]

I have no idea whether or not Dell will do any of those (I imagine they conflict with some of Dell’s agreements with Microsoft and other companies, especially the first three), but it will be interesting to watch.

Dell has been working really hard on improving their image and listening to customers. They have been sending people around the blogosphere to respond to comments, created their IdeaStorm site, worked quite hard on their blog, and more. To top it off, the company lists what they’ve done so far on their “Ideas in Action” site.

That is a lot more than HP or Lenovo does. It’s a lot more than many of the larger Web 2.0 companies do as well. Dell’s moves towards listening to customers is very progressive and they seem to be doing it at least somewhat right.

Granted, Dell still has a lot of room for improvement. They are getting much, much better at responding to feedback, but I hear the actual customer service they are providing is not improving nearly as much. Improving the actual customer service provided is a lot harder and a lot more costly. However, I think their actions so far show that Dell is motivated and they are working hard on improving.

Here are some quick things we can learn from Dell:

  • Go all out. If you are currently regarded as a company that doesn’t really listen to customers or respond to feedback, go all out. Start a blog, have people respond to comments, create an “IdeaStrom” like site.
  • Stay with it. Going all out for three months doesn’t count. You have to remain dedicated. Dell has dedicated more than a few employees (some of whom I have interacted with) to their “respond to feedback” cause. These people are working all the time on these types of issues.
  • Provide customers with a way to voice their opinions. Dell has their blog, the IdeaStorm site, and responds to comments on other people’s blogs as well.
  • Watch what people say about you. I’ve talked about this plenty! Use software to monitor what people are saying about your company. Then, respond to it.

This is a related post (entitled: Corporate Transparency) here at Service Untitled that you might find interesting.

Here are some suggestions about responding to customer issues that Robert Stephens of the Geek Squad and Best Buy told me (his words – only minor style edits by me):

  • Companies need to make it easier to communicate (all companies that have a phone number should adopt GetHuman standards)
  • It’s worth the investment in time. Whether you get 10 or 100,000 inquiries – deal with every one of them. Divide and conquer – meaning – the larger of a group you are, the more you should enlist in helping to respond to customer inquiries.
  • It’s therapeutic.  Executives often are too removed from the real action. Even handling 3-4 customer incidents a month really helps me to “stay alert” and keep a person fueled to constantly review every part of the experience and work to improve it. 
  • Every reaction should lead to action. I use every letter, e-mail, phone call, or blog entry as the beginning of an almost forensic process of 4 stages:
    • 1. what the customer reported. Should then cause:
    • 2. What was done to resolve it to the customers complete satisfaction, which then leads us to:
    • 3. What caused the problem and finally to answer:
    • 4. What will we do to prevent this from ever happening again.

Who would think there would be a day when a customer service person would say we can learn something from Dell.

Close the sale on a good note.

I’ve noticed some interest on how to close a sale. It seems like a good topic. Sales isn’t really my specialty, but I think I can provide a customer service perspective on the topic.

Before you have convinced the person that buying is a good idea, here are some things to consider:

  • Don’t upsell. I talked briefly about upselling here. If you are in any sort of business where you want repeat customers, loyalty, and referrals (most businesses), don’t try to upsell customers. Suggest what you think is right for them and what you think will meet their needs.
  • Don’t hide the fees. If there are any hidden fees or something like that, don’t hide them. The price you give should include (or at least, plainly mention) any of the fees that may apply. Things like sales tax are expected, but if there is a “processing fee”, you should mention that.
  • Follow-up. If a customer shows interest, but doesn’t buy – follow-up the next day. See if they are still interested, if there are any questions you can answer, or anything you can help them with. Don’t be pushy, but simply offer to help.
  • Don’t discount. I prefer to add value instead of blatantly discounting. Throw in a free printer (instead of just taking the $50 off). However, make sure it’s something the customer wants. Ask them what they’d like and you may be surprised.
  • Address concerns. If a customer is on the fence about something, ask. Try to address those concerns.
  • Be honest. Seeing a theme? You want to be honest and build a positive relationship with the customer. Tell them what you think of various products, what you think will work for them, what the warranty covers, and so on.

These things generally help close a sale. You want to be attentive and honest. If you are those things, the sale is likely to happen.

The next question is, what do you do after the sale is closed and it’s time to check out?

  • Speedy checkout. Try to make it so your checkout processes are as speedy and streamlined as possible. Go get the box or whatever so the customer can see it and look at it while you are doing the paperwork.
  • Go over charges. Go over charges and anything else that is relevant. Highlight the number that they need to write a check for or that will be charged on their credit card.
  • Go over support options. Talk about anything they may need in terms of support, service, etc. down the road. Go over the options and how it is relevant. What’s included, what isn’t, etc.
  • Thank the customer. Obviously, you want to thank the customer for their purchase.
  • Help them if needed. Offer to help carry things to the car, wrap things, etc.
  • Thank again. You can never have enough thank you’s.

And once the customer has left the store:

  • Follow-up 1: Follow-up in about 48 hours to make sure everything was setup and in the box as expected.
  • Follow-up 2: Follow-up in about two weeks to ensure that everything is working well so far and works as expected.
  • Follow-up 3: Follow-up about a month before the expected service period (i. e. 6 months, 12 months, etc.) and make sure they’ve been happy and ask if they need any assistance.

What are your suggestions to close the sale on a good note?

Car Dealer Customer Service Tips

Here is part three of three of the series on car dealers and customer service.

After lots of phone calls, several talks to multiple managers, and so on, I finally got my car. It took another trip for them to remember to bring the temporary license plate, but I finally got it and it can now be legally driven.

So what can car dealers do to improve their customer service? Here are some of my suggestions:

Have a point of contact.
Throughout my experience, I didn’t really have a point of contact. I had like 5 or 6. Plus, almost all of them were useless. The point of contact should be able to help you with all your questions and concerns, or at the very least, point you in the right direction. Something like that Rackspace Team Structure, perhaps.

The car dealers I dealt with lacked the ability to follow up. I was the one who constantly had to call and bug them. They should follow up with the customer, ensure that the customer is happy, and that the experience was as expected.

Have comfortable places to sit.
Why couldn’t they do the whole car buying, fill out the paperwork, etc. in a nice conference room? Why couldn’t the various people from various departments come into that conference room? The room could have some comfortable chairs, some magazines, a television (that we set), etc.

The dealership had a blasting stereo at one side and a blasting television at the other. There was not a piece of carpet in the entire building. Dealerships should try to at least respect some noise concerns and at the very least, have a quiet part of the dealership.

Less people.
While this is more a business thing, the going back and forth to get the price OK’ed is a pain. Just have the manager come in and do the haggling. It’ll take 5 minutes instead of 20. Again, see the “point of contact” part.

Faster and less small talk.
When you walk in, you shouldn’t have to wait around for people to find you. Then, when they do find you, don’t do the overly enthusiastic “we’re going to get a great deal” type thing. Instead, do what they do in retail. Say “How may I help you?” It works a lot better. Then, when people say they are looking for such and such a car, say “OK. Great. I’m sure we can find you a great car and a great price.” or something along those lines.

Don’t hide the fees.
After I negotiated the base price on my car, there was nearly $1,000 in dealer fees, title fees, etc. That makes a big difference. Mention that when people are looking. Better yet, say you can waive the fees.

Extensions and cell phones
Each person you deal with should give you their card with an extension number and phone number. It was annoying to have to call the central number, push 2 for sales, and then ask for the people.

Food and beverage.
There should be food and beverages available to customers who want it. In fact, employees should offer the food and beverage to the customers. It should then be provided, for free. This should definitely be done if the customer is in the process of actually buying the car.

These are just a few things. They aren’t too drastic or hard to do. In fact, most of them could be implemented fairly easily. They will definitely result in happier customers and quite likely, more repeat business and referrals. More often than not, customer service isn’t too hard. It’s just having the right mindset for it. Car dealerships don’t seem to have the mindset.

Overstock.com watches the blogosphere.

A while back I read about Tom’s negative experience at Overstock.com. Then, a day or two later, I read how Overstock.com made it right and got the problem resolved. Tom had a similar experience with the Geek Squad. Bad experience, post about it, company’s leader responded. It’s interesting to see these two large companies handling issues like this. Dell has been doing it (more about that later this week probably) and other companies are making an effort to do it.

Tom’s experience at Overstock was bad. They kept giving him false promises and stalling. If you give a customer a promise that a “specialized representative” will be in touch shortly and no one contacts the customer, it makes the experience worse. It’s very important to follow through with what you say you are going to do.

For example, if a “specialized representative” (my guess would be one who deals with shipping issues or complaints in general) did contact Tom, he or she could have resolved the issue, and Tom would have been happy. Having an easily accessible, second level of support is a great idea if you can actually follow through with it.

As a matter a fact, I like the idea of a second level of support specifically for dealing with complaints. To me, it seems like a good plan and would allow regular CSRs to focus on what they do and have other representatives be in charge of dealing with complaints or elevated issues. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Overstock was unable to follow through with their second level of support, so Tom posted about it. I don’t see the time that Tom made his post, but Patrick Byrne, the company’s CEO replied at 2:07 AM. He said he would have someone contact Tom to resolve it in the morning. About three hours later, the company’s customer care director posted a comment as well. as well.

Tom points out that Overstock did the following, which helped make the situation right:

  • Responded quickly. This includes watching the blogosphere to begin with)
  • Apologize. Apologizing is important. If you don’t, the customer probably won’t be happy.
  • Take responsibility. Overstock didn’t try to say it someone else’s fault or problem.
  • Make it right. Overstock resolved the issue by overnighting the item in question to Tom for no extra cost.
  • Count the cost (and savings). Mistakes cost relatively low margin businesses like Overstock a lot of money. Overstock credited Tom the money the item cost and said that him making Overstock aware of the issue was well worth the money.
  • Invite the customer back. The customer care director offered Tom to shop at Overstock again. Since the experience was handled well and resolved, Tom was willing to do so.

Bonus points for Overstock: follow up with Tom in about two weeks and make sure everything went okay and he was happy with the resolution. Maybe send him a t-shirt, or an Overstock mousepad. That would show that they were really paying attention.

If you had an issue with Amazon.com and posted about it on your blog – do you think they would respond? I doubt it. What about with Apple? I haven’t heard of them responding. I am surprised that more companies don’t watch and respond to the blogosphere – it isn’t hard to do and can make a big difference.

Good job Overstock. Keep up the good work!

Proactive vs. reactive

The next generation of customer service is going to be proactive. Currently, customer service is reactive. This means that when you have a problem, you tell the company. Then, they work to fix it. Customer service will/should eventually be proactive. This means that the organization will fix problems as they occur and stop even stop problems from occurring.

Proactive customer service is what I believe is Customer Service 2.0. It’ll make a huge difference in how customer service works and an even bigger difference in the customer experience.

For example, can you imagine your computer notices that your hard drive is having a problem and lets Dell know about it. Then, Dell would call you or email you and suggest replacing the hard drive. A bit Big Brother, yes, but also very helpful.

Some companies are already proactive about their customer service. For example, many hosting companies monitor the uptime of their various services (web, databases, email, etc.). When they get a report that a problem is occurring, the company works to fix it. If the company is quick about it, they can fix the issue before customers even notice.

Other things that can be done would be simply paying more attention. For example, if a customer usually sends in a few customer support inquires a week and the company notices a lapse in the inquires, it may be worth sending them an email. That way, the company can find out if something is wrong with the person, if they have switched to a new provider, etc.

Companies can also notice when usage goes way up or way down for a certain service. Following up and trying to be proactive about solutions and customer service in general will greatly improve the customer service experience.

A lot of companies and individual support representatives like to ignore problems. Oftentimes, they won’t fix it because they think it’s more work. However, when the customers complain, it’s even more work.

What can companies do to be proactive? It’s almost a state of mind. It requires a mix of hard work and technology to become a proactive customer service organization. I think, though, that the ones that can pull it off will be the true winners.

HP handles a bad experience.

I usually hear about my friend’s technology problems. They tell me either because they know I know about customer service or they know I know about technology. Sometimes I can help them fix their problems, othertimes I can provide the person with a suggestion as to how they can go about getting their problem fixed.

A week or so ago a friend of mine had a laptop charger that started smoking. The charger got really hot and burnt a hole through the wire on the cord. I suggested that she call the laptop manufacturer (HP) and see what they could do. The next day my friend told me that she had called HP and since the laptop was out of warranty, they would not replace the charger. My friend paid for a new charger and overnight shipping for it. She wasn’t happy, but was hoping the situation would be getting resolved soon.

The next day my friend got a charger, but there was a problem: the charger wasn’t the right size for her laptop. HP had sent her the wrong charger. It was noticeably too large for the laptop and was useless. She called HP again and the company told her that she would have to send the wrong charger back to HP, and then HP would send a new charger. It was getting ridiculous. She would have to wait for HP’s mistake. She went ahead and ordered another charger and paid again for overnight shipping. At least she could use her laptop.

When I mentioned that I had interviewed someone at HP and could try to help her out, she said it would be welcomed and appreciated. I sent Janice Liu and a PR person at HP an email about the issue. Both of them replied promptly and asked for some more information. After I provided the information, they said they would at getting a resolution.

HP followed through. Yesterday, my friend got a call from HP. The guy apologized and offered to send her a check for the charger and pay any other related costs. He also asked my friend to send back the defective charger so HP could check it out. Shortly after the first guy called, another person called to ensure the experience was satisfactory and that my friend was happy. She was delighted.

HP handled this situation well. It wasn’t an amazing experience, but it definitely made my friend confident in the company and happy with the end result. It also gave me some added confidence in HP and I’m glad that it worked out well.

The question is what could have been this experience a great one? One that would cause my friend (and everyone she told) to use HP because of the company’s tremendous recovery.

  • Obviously, not messing up the first time. If they had sent the right charger to begin with, it would have been a much better experience.
  • Making it so the frontline representatives can deal with the issue. Not all people have access to an executive at HP or are aware of Service Untitled – HP should try to empower representatives (or at least their supervisors) to resolve issues like this.
  • Extra bribes. HP could have offered them a free printer, a gift certificate on a future purchase, or something of that nature. Since I believe that HP makes more money on the ink for the printers, the free printer wouldn’t be a bad idea.
  • A further apology note. HP still has a chance to do this and the item below. Whoever called them should send a quick letter or card to my friend and again issue a further apology and thank them for using HP.
  • A follow up. In two or three weeks, HP should call my friend again and make sure that she received the check, that the charger is working okay, etc.
  • Send a survey. HP should send a survey over mail and/or email about a month from now to gather some additional feedback.

Overall, HP did a good job. Like with everything, there is room to improve, but they did a good job. Kudos to HP.

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