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The Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service (1-3)

I discovered this post at CustomersAreAlways and thought it was interesting. I’ve covered the Top 10 Customer Service Frustrations before and I should probably cover the top 10 things companies should do when it comes to customer service as well. A good thing is, I have talked about most of these before, but there is always more to talk about!

Today I’ll talk about (briefly) points 1, 2, and 3.

  1. Know who is boss. This point is obvious. Where is your money coming from? Your customers! Customer service is customer service to and for customers. If you don’t know this, you need to re-examine your entire company. Remember the stool – it is very important.
  2. Listen to the customer. This is another one that is so obvious that a lot of companies just ignore it. It is important to pay attention to the little thing and learn about your customer. Just don’t collect tons of personal information about them, but pay attention to everything you can. Do they sound angry? Have they called 3 times in the last 2 days? Do they have 5 accounts with your company and have referred 25 people? It these types of things that make a difference when you are talking to and listening to customers.
  3. Identify and anticipate needs. This is something that you can likely tell from listening to the customer. If they have called 3 times in 2 days relating to the same issue (which is not resolved), chances are their next phone call will be about that. What the company should do is confirm the issue is related to the previous problem and is not yet resolved. Then, they should elevate the call and say “Mr. Smith, I see you have called a few times and have not yet gotten your issue resolved. I am going to transfer you to a senior technician if this is okay with you?” This is a simple operating procedure that will help customers.

    Another example is when you call up two weeks later to follow up on an issue. You should use a different number or extension that way the call can be routed to someone who specializes in follow ups. This person should have the power to get things resolved (if the issue is not yet resolved) and be able to ask intelligent questions so the company can benefit from the follow up.

    The point the article talks about is similar to keeping customers in the loop as well as knowing your customers as a group. Are they generally good with computers? If not, you may want to increase how much your help documents explain things, etc.

There will be the second part of the interview posted tomorrow. On Friday, I will continue this little series.

Do you speak Call Centerese?

I saw this link at QaQNA and thought it was pretty funny. It is certainly worth listening to.

I’ve actually had pretty good experiences with Microsoft’s outsourced support. Their English seems to be better than average and it’s not nearly as bad as the person on this message (if it is really a Microsoft employee). At least Microsoft was trying to follow up!

Either way, the little movie/sound clip is funny.

It’s a Carnivale of Customer Service & a Retirement

Today is a mix of things. First of all, the Carnivale of Customer Service was hosted by Meikah. You can find the links to a whole bunch interesting posts on quite a few blogs related to customer service and a few other topics here.

Secondly, Anonymous Cog at Call Center Purgatory has called it quits. After (approximately) 655 posts, 2 years, 7 months, 3 days, he said it was enough. The blog was a good read and he said that he’ll be leaving the posts up for a while.

I’m waiting on getting an interview edited and approved before I publish it, but for now just two little updates.

For a little content, I called Amazon.com’s Customer Service Department today to check on the status of an order I had placed. The web site said it was expected to arrive tomorrow, the automated telephone order tracked said the day after, and I hadn’t recieved an email to tell me either way.

I found the phone number on GetHuman and got to a person fairly quickly. The person sounded American, seemed nice, and was helpful. I got the information about my order (it is in the shipping process and I should receive the tracking number by the end of the business day today) and was instantly sent an email asking me to provide my feedback.
Here are all of the questions they asked:

Your Name:
E-mail Address:
(Please enter the e-mail address associated with your Amazon account.)
Subject:     Feedback to Amazon.com
Comments:

Kind of disappointing to see a simple email form one of the largest Internet companies as the way they measure customer feedback for phone calls, but whatever works for them. I was expecting  a least a 5-10 question survey, but this shows that some companies view the feedback process differently than others.

A Little Thing That Made A Difference

Yesterday I was made aware of a company through an email that was sent to me. I’m not going to name the company, but the story is interesting none the less. The company’s web site had a live chat on it and I was curious to see if anyone answered and if so, how quickly. I clicked the chat button (the icon indicated that there was someone online), waited a minute or so, but there was no answer. No big deal, I continued to explore the site, and found it interesting.

However, what made the difference was the next day, I received an email from someone at the company saying that they had a technical error, apologized about not being able to answer my chat, offered to answer any questions I may have had, and promised to what the online chat status more carefully and work on improving it to avoid future issues.

The company did an excellent job of 1) addressing my immediate concern (my question – if I had one), and 2) giving me some faith in the company. An abandoned live chat doesn’t give existing or potential customers faith, but a friendly and informative follow-up really makes it seem (rightfully so) as if the company is on top of things.

Companies that offer features that allow for customer interaction have to monitor them constantly. If you don’t monitor what is going on in your helpdesk or live chat, you’ll run into problems.

Watch the logs.
This company knew that I requested a chat, but it wasn’t answered. They had my name and email address from before I started the chat and decided to follow up. E-commerce stores pay attention to their abandonment rates for checkout – so why shouldn’t you pay attention to your abandonment rate for support options?
Some companies do, but they are looking to increase abandonment rates instead of lower them. You have to look at each support experience as an opportunity to “wow” a customer and give them faith in your brand and service.

Follow-up.
Don’t look at it an abandoned chat or help request as a lost cause – look at it as an opportunity. Email people and say “Hi, I saw you tried to initiate a chat request earlier today. Did everything work okay? Is there anything else I can help you with?” If the customer deletes the email or says no, no big deal. If they reply with a question, great.

Make your email good.
When you do decide to email a customer, make it good. Include a nice greeting (address by name if possible), state who you are (Bob from Company XYZ), the purpose (I saw you initiated a chat request yesterday evening), the apology (I’m sorry your chat wasn’t answered or that you encountered any problems), the offer (Is there anything else I can help you with?), the thank you (We appreciate your interest in Company XYZ), and the closing (Sincerely, Bob). This is an email that covers key information and is quite effective.

Do it often.
Don’t just do it some of the time – do it all of the time. If you notice customers are giving up before they talk to someone, start finding out why. If you don’t keep on top of things like this, your customer satisfaction ratings, sales, etc. may go down.

Media Relations & Customer Service

If you have ever dealt with a company’s media relations department, you’ll know why I am posting this. A vast majority of companies have media relations departments that act like receptionists with communication degrees who have the sole objective to make it so you cannot contact the people you want or get the answers you need.

However, not all media relations departments or people are like that. A surprising amount of them are actually helpful, but unfortunately, helpful people in media relations don’t seem to be all too common.

Note: I have a feeling if you write for The New York Times or Fortune, you get a different response than I do. However, people should try to be nice to everyone, even if they don’t write for a major publication. I have readers who do care quite a bit about customer service and consider customer service when making buying decisions.

If you have ever called a company’s media relations department, they generally ask you two questions. What publication do you work for and what is your deadline? They are first deciding if you are even worthy of being asked the second question, and if the person deems you worthy, they then see how long they can ignore you before you start to complain. Again, not all media relations departments are like this, but quite a few are.

Tips for media relations people:

  • Be nice. Positive media coverage is a good thing for any company, despite how big the publication the article will appear in may be. Positive media coverage is a good thing, so be nice to the journalist.
  • Be prompt. Return calls and emails, do what you say you’re going to do, do it quickly, and do it accurately. Journalists (especially those on deadlines) will appreciate quick responses.
  • Listen. If a journalist asks to interview a specific person about a particular subject, keep that in mind. If they wanted a statement regarding that particular subject, they would ask. Same goes if it is the other way around. Listen to the journalist’s questions and requests and try to act accordingly.
  • Treat equal. If possible, treat all journalists equally. Chances are, the journalists at The New York Times and Fortune or the actual publication already have contacts in the company, so it is likely going to be less known journalists contacting you, so try and treat them equally and go the extra mile for all of them.
  • Get it straight. If I had a dollar for every time I had to repeat the same information to different people in the same company’s media relations department, I’d be awfully rich. Make a file for each person and have a piece of paper or something for each article they are writing. Include contact information, deadlines, article pitch, etc. and make it so everyone in the department can access it.
  • Keep them in the loop. As there are updates, be sure to tell the journalist (especially if deadlines are approaching).

These tips may seem obvious, but from my experience, quite a few people in media relations may need them. It is amazing what being nice and actually following up can do to someone or a department that has to provide service to anyone. As they say: “It’s not rocket science!”

On a somewhat related note, I’m working with a very helpful media relations person at a Fortune 100 company to secure an interview with the company’s general manager of customer service.

HR & Customer Service (Part 2 of 2)

Here is part two of two in the HR & Customer Service mini-series.

Send nice notes.
A friend of mine applied for a job at Nordstrom. She didn’t have much retail experience and wasn’t hired. However, Nordstrom sent a very friendly letter (not an e-mail – even though she applied online) that addressed her by name and wished her the best of luck in the future. My friend continues to shop at and respect Nordstrom.

Another friend of mine applied for a job at a highly respected retail company (for their products, at least) and went through quite the opposite experience. The company called and left a message saying they were interested in interviewing him. He called back and everyone told him to speak to someone else. At one point, someone told him to talk to a person who had a position that didn’t even exist! He called every other day or so to get some updates and at one point, he was transferred to a manager who rudely told him “We’ll call you when we’re interested” and hung up. Keep in mind, the company called my friend and said they were interested in hiring him. It’s a combination of disorganization, lack of communication, and just poor customer service that caused this experience. My friend lost quite a bit of respect he had for that company and doesn’t shop there anymore.

When someone applies for a job, you should send them a nice note thanking them for applying and outlining when they should expect to hear from you. If they are rejected, they should be sent another nice note and wishing them the best of luck in the future. A lot of companies keep resumes on file, and if your company says it will, actually do it.
Have the process written down.

Have operating procedures.
Use operating procedures for the hiring process. Be sure to write them down or they won’t be followed as closely. Outline who deals with what process, what is the timeline for hiring, who is authorized to sign the paperwork, etc. If there are formal operating procedures, there is a far greater chance of the hiring process going smoothly.

One interview at a time.
It seems that more and more, companies are tending to do group interviews instead of individual interviews. I find this to be kind of absurd. Chances are, in a group interview setting, the candidate will not have a chance to explain things like above-average achievements, prior jobs, etc., and the questions will be more general.

Can you imagine if you called customer service and said your computer won’t start up and then they put you into a conference call with 5 other people who said their computer isn’t starting up? The process not only takes much longer, but chances are you won’t get a chance to fully explain your problems.

Make the interview a pleasant experience.
As a HR person, you need to make the interview a pleasant experience. Turn off your cellphone, ask the secretary not to interrupt you with phone calls or messages, make sure your schedule is clear, etc. Be ready on time, dress nicely and look presentable, and be prepared. You ask for the candidate to be all of these things, so you should be as well. Keep in mind, you are representing your company.

Let the candidate talk.
It is important to give the candidate a chance to talk about themselves in a non-structured manner. Ask a general question like “What is your background?” and see what they say. If they are applying for a customer service position, ask questions related to customer service or ask them to expand on things they have said. For example, if the candidate says he or she is interested in volunteering, ask who they volunteer for and how what they have learned/experienced from volunteering that they can apply to a customer service job.

Make sure they have done their homework.
It also important to make sure candidates have done their homework. Ask them “What do you know about our company?” and you’ll get a good idea of how much they care about the position and the job. If they don’t know that much, good chance is they don’t care very much about the position.

Be nice and thank candidates!
As always, be nice to candidates and thank them for their time and effort. Tell them when they will hear from you and what will happen next. Remember, you represent your company and you need to make the interaction with potential employees count.

Tomorrow’s post will cover how company’s media relations departments can better improve their customer service.

HR & Customer Service (Part 1 of 2)

This post is talking about how Human Resources departments (at least the part that hires people) generally need to improve their customer service. Surely everyone has experienced at least one nasty HR executive telling you “We will let you know when we have an opening.” in the nastiest tone they can come up with.

Note: This post is not against HR people. Some of them provide great examples of customer service, but it seems that a vast majority do not.

Note #2: This started off as a long (two – three times longer than average) post, so I’ve split it up into two days. A mini-series of sorts.

Reality.
The reality is that HR people should be nice to potential employees. The company needs these employees to grow, to gain new customers, to keep existing customers, to keep the store running, to keep the technology up-to-date, to clean the bathrooms, whatever it may be – chances are if they are posting an opening, they need that employee.
The job market is very competitive, but the best people (which your company should be trying to recruit) can probably get a job at quite a few places. As an HR person, you need to impress the candidate and make it seem like your company will be a great place to work.

This post at The Brand Builder is an excellent post about HR and customer service. The company there did a very good job. Furthermore, he brought up some good points:

  1. The friendlier and most engaging companies will most likely land the better employees.
  2. To get a glimpse of a company’s mindset and culture, replace any reference to job applicants / prospective employees with “customers”, and “positions” with “products”.

It’s a very good post and definitely one that I’d recommend people who work in HR and anyone who deals with job interviews, applications, etc. to read. They should also read this post, of course.

HR people represent their company. They show potential employees what type of company they work for and what their company values. This is a very important group of people that need to think positively about your company or they may not want to work there. HR people who seem disorganized or rude may cause the candidate to think the company is disorganized or rude. Make sure your HR experience is a good one.

Have project managers.
Large corporate accounts have sales representatives, many support issues have an assigned representative, so why can’t candidates have one person they deal with through most of the HR process? It makes the experience much quicker, smoother, personal, and more accurate than just shuffling the candidate through several people in a department.
Some people don’t do very well when they are shuffled from person to person in a series of 15 minute phone calls. Having a candidate deal with one person allows the candidate and the employee to build a relationship and the employee can get a better idea of who this person is (besides applicant #93548).

The second and longer part of the mini-series is coming tomorrow.

Customer Service & Blog Networks

There are almost as many blog networks as blogs. There are blog networks that do cover pretty much every imaginable category and then some. However, blog networks, like bloggers, are not exempt from providing customer service. They have a responsibility to do so and if they wish to set themselves apart, providing good customer service never hurts.

Customer Service to Readers:
Though it is ideally the blogger’s responsibility, blog networks should try and provide as much customer service as possible to readers. They need to be:

  • Responsive. Like bloggers, blog networks should not ignore emails. A simple “No thanks – may want to try such and such.” is a better response than no response. They should be respond to comments, suggestions, questions, etc. through all of the required mediums (comments, email, etc.).
  • Friendly. Don’t snap at the readers or tolerate bloggers who do. Blog networks should make sure that none of their bloggers have a superior attitude towards their readers and they also value customer service.
  • Safe. Blog networks (as well as bloggers) have the responsibility to ensure that readers’ security, privacy, etc. is not compromised when they visit a network blog. If the network is serving ads with spyware, it is the blog network’s responsibility to stop that.
  • Understanding. Blog networks also should be understanding of reader’s concerns and viewpoints. If a reader doesn’t agree with a particular blogger or blog, the blog network needs to explain the situation and be understanding and tolerant of different views, opinions, and more.

Customer Service to their Bloggers:
Blog networks also have to provide customer service to their bloggers (the bloggers in the particular blog network). Besides the main topics like being responsive, friendly, ensuring safety and security, and hopefully being understanding if something goes wrong, blog networks should also try to be:

  • Helpful. If a blogger is having a problem, it is likely in your interest (as a blog network owner/manager/person/etc.) to help the blogger. Even if the issue isn’t necessarily related to the blog, it’s best to help out. Building relationships is important and being helpful is a great way to do so.
  • Do what you say. As a blog network person, you need to do what you say. Don’t promise bloggers things that you can’t deliver and don’t promise bloggers things that you don’t have the time, skill, or connections to get done.
  • Follow-up. From both a business and customer service perspective, it is beneficial to the blog network to follow-up with their bloggers. Send out regular emails making sure everything is okay, that they don’t need help, that content is as good as usual, etc.
  • Be understanding. More blog networks have to realize that things do happen. Family members get sick, computers die, natural disasters occur, etc. – be prepared to give bloggers a chance and look at them as humans instead of just ways to generate pageviews. If you as a blog network person give the blogger a chance, they may very well pull through sooner than later and it’ll definitely increase their loyalty to your network.

Customer Service to other Bloggers:
Blog networks also have a reasonability to provide some level of customer service to non-network bloggers. They are the ones who may also be linking, spreading the word, etc. about network blogs and sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with a non-network blog.

Again, be responsive, friendly, and all of those things. If you ignore their emails, they won’t think too fondly of you.

  • Make it easy to contact you. You should have an easy to find, clearly published contact page available for bloggers and readers to see and utilize. Include links for submitting requests to be included in the network, general questions, feedback, suggestions, etc. Make sure the emails published on the page are checked regularly.
  • Common courtesy. If other bloggers have replied to your emails and helped you in the past, you better reply to their emails and help them when they need it. Even if they haven’t helped you in the past, it’s probably in your best interest to help them as well.

Customer Service to other People and Parties:
Like any person or organization, there are lots of people and parties that blog networks are obliged (and should) provide customer service to.

This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to: other blog network people, lawyers of companies or individuals that your bloggers may offend or violate some rights of, service providers (advertising companies, hosting companies, payment companies, etc.), media sources, and so on.

Use the same principles when dealing with any person or party. Be nice and respond quickly, and try your best to helpful. The point is, you should try and supply great customer service to everyone you interact with.

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