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Dell watches the blogosphere.

I’ve talked about the blogosphere’s effect on customer service before, but a few days ago, I got a firsthand experience about a company that actually does a good job of watching the blogosphere. That company is Dell.

About a day or two after I posted about too many phone numbers, Dell responded. I didn’t even mention Dell besides including them in a general list. It seems like they picked the post up and they responded.

Their comment was fairly useful and while it seemed slightly canned, it still addressed the issue. They provide some specific numbers about how they have improved their customer service and some of the metrics associated with it.

Dell has been putting a lot of resources into keeping up on what is being said about them. They have a fairly large team that works to watch the blogosphere and respond to feedback, a digg-like voting feature for product and service suggestions, a frequently updated blog, and have been putting a lot of time and effort into improving their customer service.

They’ve been tough throughout the whole process as well – Dell has gotten a lot of negative feedback on their blog, over email, and so on. The company has responded to it and has been doing a good job at keeping their spirits up and moving on.

Dell has a lot of competition from formidable companies like HP, IBM/Lenovo, Toshiba, Sony, and plenty of others. They seem to be working very hard on being open and accessible and making it clear that they are working to improve. So far, it seems like they are getting closer to achieving that goal.

I haven’t had a customer service experience with Dell as of late. My father, though, had an experience with them lately. His speakers weren’t working, but when he plugged in headphones, sound worked. He called Dell and was on the phone with them for two hours. The representative wouldn’t elevate the call to a supervisor and apparently there was no solution. They ended up calling their corporate sales person, and I think they got the issue elevated after that.  However, the experience seemed pretty terrible and was enough to make my dad think about using another company with better customer service.

Turn arounds are very interesting. Some companies are able to pull it off, while others aren’t. Michael Dell is back in control of the company and he seems to be dedicated to improving the company’s customer service and reputation.

A little test for Dell, though, is that I asked the guy who responded to my blog post to put me in touch with the person who runs their customer service for an interview. A few days later, he replied and said I should hear from someone soon. We’ll see.

Follow-up if you say you will.

While false promises in general really frustrate me, I am going to focus on companies and people who say they will follow up, but don’t. (I sure have been ranting this week!) This happens a lot in customer service and it frustrates customers, other employees, and some management members to no end. 

Companies will promise the customer they will follow up, but don’t. Management members will promise the employee they will follow up, but don’t. It’s just what a lot of people seem to do (or rather, don’t do).

Here are some tips:

  • Follow-up when you say you will. If you tell a customer, an employee, or anyone that you are going to follow up, do it.
  • Set a reminder. If you use a calendar, set a reminder. Make your ticket system remind you. Have the calendar remind you until you until you follow up.
  • Make someone the follow-up police. Make someone in charge of following up. Every week make someone the follow-up police who is in charge of bugging people to follow-up.

Your follow ups should remind the person about what you are following up about as well as the actual content. You should also introduce who you are again and what the status was before. It makes it much easier for the person who is getting contacted.

If someone asks you to follow up with them, add it to the calendar and do so. It doesn’t matter if they ask you to follow up two years from then, it can’t hurt. If they keep asking you to follow up, keep doing so. The persistence is important and if they are asking you to, do so. You may even get business from it.

However, the most important part (by a lot) is simply to follow up when you say will.  Now, go look at your calendar and see who you should follow up with.

The ChaCha Guide’s (Quick) Guide to Customer Service

I’ve already written an Executive’s (Quick) Guide to Customer Service and my post about the experience I had using ChaCha generated a fair amount of interest (they had a topic about it on their forums), so I thought a quick guide to customer service for ChaCha guides might be useful. Here it goes.

Think about what you do.
Your job is to help people find the most relevant search results to their question. Your personal goal is to get high ratings. Even if you can’t find the best search results – searchers will likely give you a good rating if you are friendly and they think you tried. 

Some of the questions are harder than others, but don’t get discouraged. Try to think about each search as something that you are looking for yourself. Try different ways, approaches, and use all the tools available to you to find the perfect site for the customer. 

Be friendly.
While you don’t actually do too much chit-chat type talking during the chat, try to be friendly. Remember – it is usually not what you say, but how you say it. Here are some tips:

  • Say hello and thank the user for using ChaCha at the beginning of the chat.
  • Compliment users. (That’s an interesting question! Let me do some research and find an answer for you.)
  • Use terms like “Absolutely”, “My pleasure”, “Sure – just a moment”, and “I’d be more than happy to do that for you. Just a moment.”
  • Use please and thank you. (Thank you for clarifying that for me.)
  • Provide updates every minute or so. (I’m not finding exactly what you are looking for, but I’m going to try a few other search terms. Just a moment, please.”
  • Related to the above: Don’t let anyone fall in the “black hole.”
  • Thank searchers for their patience. (Sorry this is taking so long! Thank you for your patience!)

Little things like this can end up making a big difference in the overall search experience. It’ll definitely make the difference between an “okay” and “great” rating.

Brush up on spelling and grammar.
My spelling and grammar is not the best. It isn’t bad, but it’s not the best. Be sure to look over things before you click “send” or push enter. Read some of the stuff at the Online Writing Lab and this page, which lists some of the most common errors in English usage and how to avoid them.

When clarifying the question, don’t just ask the user to elaborate. If I put in blogging as the search term, don’t ask me “Could you please tell me more about the search term?” Instead, ask me something like “What would you like to know about blogging?” A little thing, but it makes a difference.

Describe search results.
Just don’t send search results and offer the generic response of “Are these results sufficient?” Instead, describe each result. Say, “This site outlines what you wanted, but may be slightly outdated.” Unless the search result is perfect, include an action. For example: “This site outlines what you wanted, but may be slightly outdated. I’m going to look for a more recent example.”

When offering further assistance, probe.
The canned response of “Are these results sufficient?” is terrible. Instead, say something like “Have I helped you find what you were looking for?” Optionally, include “exactly.” If a searcher says “I guess.” – probe. Ask them what else they are looking for. Include phrases like “That doesn’t sound too confident. How else can I help you?” Frankly, you need to be somewhat pushy. See this post about being insistent.

Offer to follow-up.
During one of my ChaCha searches, a guide offered to take my email address and email me if she found anything. This is cool and a great idea. I’m not sure if it is allowed by ChaCha, but if it is, it’s a great thing to do.

Thank them for using ChaCha.
Closings count. After you are sure the searcher is happy, be sure to thank them for using ChaCha. Say something like “Thanks so much for using ChaCha!” or something equally happy and friendly.

I think everything I suggested is allowed/accepted according to ChaCha policy, but if I am wrong, please let me know. I like ChaCha and hope this guide can be useful for ChaCha’s great guides. There are definitely ones who really care and really want to help, and as a result, do a great job.

If someone from ChaCha is interested in publishing this article in the guide FAQs, etc. just contact me (email address is in bold on this page).

Robert Stephens Interview – Part 4 of 4

Here is the final part of the interview with Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy. In this part, Robert tells about how they find employees who are passionate about both technology and customer service, how they gather feedback, how the Geek Squad monitors the blogosphere, and lastly, his customer service tips for companies. Robert also talks more about his belief that employees should “protect or improve” the company’s reputation.

This is one of Service Untitled’s most popular interviews and I hope everyone found it informative. Tomorrow, I will post a wrap up of the interview which will be a short post with links to all four parts, along with a quick summary of what is in each part.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed. We already have our next interview done (just need to type it out) and another, shorter one with someone else in the works. Also coming up in the next few weeks are two guest writer posts.

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Papa John’s Customer Service – A Pizza Experience

I’ve written a very popular series on service calls, but as far as I can recall, I’ve never written about delivery experiences. I read about one the other day at Phil’s blog, Make it Great. Meikah, Becky, and Maria all wrote about Phil’s experience and I’ll also add my two cents.

  • Redundancy. I don’t know about the pizza delivery industry, but in technical industries, redundancy is important. Can’t they call in another driver or like Maria suggested, have another employee deliver the pizza? Redundant solutions should be available to prevent problems.
  • Work around the system. Robert Stephens says that his employees can break policies if it is for the purpose of “protecting the company’s reputation” – the store manager should have broken a policy and issued a gift card and/or refund to Phil.
  • Keep everyone in the loop. When Phil arrived at the store, the pizza was on a truck somewhere. They should have made him a new pizza for him while he was there and/or started making it as they knew he was leaving – for free.
  • Keep everyone in the loop (part 2). If the store knew there were going to be delays, they should have called and/or emailed Phil to let him know about it and offer other options.
  • Follow-up. The company should have followed up with Phil after the experience. He should have gotten a phone call later in the evening to confirm he got the pizza and later, a nice email or letter from a corporate executive or the manager apologizing and including a $25 or $50 gift card. Don’t be afraid to bribe customers – it may really help make the peace.
  • Apologize. Throughout the entire experience, Papa John’s should have been apologizing, explaining, and fixing. They should train their employees and managers to know how to apologize and to fix things.
  • Watch. If Papa John’s watched the blogosphere, they would have seen Phil’s blog post and dealt with it. Now, they would have to deal with the post on several other customer service blogs and all of the commenters who read about Phil’s experience on them.

I know that if I were in Phil’s situation, I would have given up and ordered from someone else. He was extremely patient and much more mellow about it than an average customer would have been. I admire his patience.

Have a great weekend! If you decide to order pizza, hopefully it will be a better experience.

The Disadvantage in Numbers

The bigger your company gets, the worse the customer service will get. There is actually, in most cases, a disadvantage in numbers. As I mentioned in my post about small businesses and customer service, smaller businesses have an advantage over larger ones because they can give more personalized attention. 

Here are some things that larger (as in more than 2 or 3 employees) can do to help themselves compete with small businesses in terms of service personalization.

  • Follow the Rackspace model and assign smaller teams that deal with customers. This way, you can have the customer interact with 20 people instead of 1,000. It makes a big difference.
  • Make an effort to collect information about your customers and use it to improve the customer service experience. Always keep your ears open when the customer is talking and record anything that may be relevant – at that time or down the road.
  • Use a CRM application or some sort of system to keep track of all of this information. You would be amazed at how powerful the “notes” section of most billing systems can be.
  • Use customers’ names. Plus, try and keep other little things that make a big difference in mind.
  • Have a “go to” person for customers. They want someone they can talk to or email whenever they have a problem. This person doesn’t necessarily need to know all the answers – just be able to find them and/or get the customer in touch with the right person. Then, the go to person should follow-up.

Following these suggestions and always being pro-active will help turn your disadvantage into an advantage. Do other things that big companies can do that smaller companies sometimes have problems with such as having great training programs, hiring consultants to help, doing large scale surveys, using better software, etc. These will help you use your company’s size as an advantage and not a hindrance.

Short post today, but there is going to be a fairly big announcement early next week.

Look mom, I got a lollipop!

I bought a memory card for my phone through Amazon’s marketplace from a store called thememstore.com. I wasn’t expecting much – it was just a memory card that cost like $30 or something. I wanted the card to get to me in a reasonable amount of time and work. Those were my expectations. They were met when I received the package about 5 days after ordering and it worked fine in my phone.

However, the company went the extra mile through a little thing that ended up making it a fairly notable experience. In the box with my memory card and the packing list were two lollipops. They were the good types of lollipops (my favorite type) and I was impressed. A friend of mine was with me when I opened the box and she noticed there were lollipops in the box and was impressed.

Now how much did that cost The Mem Store? 50 cents? Maximum? Wouldn’t that be cool if Amazon or even a different, smaller retailer like Headsets.com included a lollipop with every order? It is a pretty cool idea and makes a difference. Not everyone will like the lollipop specifically, but it definitely makes the experience less run of the mill.

It is a series of little things like including the lollipop in the package that collectively can make a big difference in a customer service experience. If you can find five or six other “lollipop” things that you can add to your customer service experience, it will make a noticeable difference.

There are lots of opportunities to do things like that. For example, Kayak.com could send a postcard to customers who make travel reservations from the location they are about to go. If it is a major location like Florida, New York, San Diego, etc., it wouldn’t be hard to keep the postcards around and send them out with some text saying “Hi from New York! We look forward to seeing you and thank you for using Kayak.com.” That is just one idea – I am sure there are hundreds of other things that can be done.

Remember when they used to give lollypops at the bank? I’m not sure if they do that anymore, but I remember as I got older (even from like 5 to 7), it became harder to get lollipops from the banks. I’m not sure what, if any banks give out lollipops now, but it is a good idea. The cost is low and it makes people happy.

I’ve had back luck with technology today. The USB cord for my phone (which is like a week old) stopped working and the monitor for my desktop (which is like 6 months old) also stopped working. Who knows? There may be two more customer service stories over the next week or two.

A well handled situation by Amazon

I talk about Amazon fairly often at Service Untitled. As I’ve mentioned, I do a vast majority of my online shopping on Amazon (in fact, I bought an SD card for my new phone from Amazon on Friday) and have had very few problems with them.

I’m not sure if you are aware of it, but Amazon has a 30 day price matching guarantee. It works like this: say you buy item X for $35 on January 1st. Then, on January 9th, item X is marked down to $20. Amazon’s policy would let you get a credit/refund for the difference ($15) as long as the price is lowered within 30 days. I use a free service called Refund Please that watches the price of the items I enter into it (each Amazon item has an easy to find product ID) and notifies me of when the price drops.

A week or so ago, I got an email from Refund Please telling me that an item I had bought for about $40 about two weeks earlier had dropped by about $10 on Amazon. I went to Amazon’s customer service page, gave them the order information, and asked for the credit.

A day or so later, I got a reply from them saying they couldn’t issue the refund because it was from a marketplace seller. I didn’t quite understand why (it said the item was sold by Amazon) and asked if they still had the policy and such. About a day after I sent that email, I got a reply from another representative at Amazon telling me that she looked into the issue and though Amazon does not provide refunds for marketplace items (which apparently it was, though I’m still not 100% sure as to why/how), but since I was a good customer, she would give it to me anyway. The credit was applied to my account and I was set.

Was this a smart move on Amazon’s decision? It sure was. They could have looked at my account in two seconds and see a few things:

  • I frequently shop on Amazon.
  • I spend a fairly good amount of money on Amazon.
  • I buy lots of different things from them (books, DVDs, computer stuff, etc.).
  • I bought a lot of stuff over the holidays from them.
  • I have about 70 items on my wish list of things to get at Amazon.
  • I have bought quite a few books about customer service from them.

Just one of those would probably be enough to convince them to give me the benefit of the doubt and simply give me the credit. Amazon did thing right by empowering their representative to credit me without having to go through some long and drawn out process. It was definitely the right move and made the customer service experience a great one. It is another motivation for me to keep shopping on and referring Amazon.

Amazon is also pretty good about following up. Though their survey is by no means advanced (it asks if your issue is resolved and if you want to provide more information. If you say you want to provide more information, you are taken to a standard email form).

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