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How to improve customer satisfaction

This year may be fading away swiftly, but a better, new one is on the horizon. So what does that mean? Well, it means that we all make plans for a successful new adventure into a promising new time, however the basic ingredients of success haven’t changed nor does it change with the drop of a brightly lit ball in Times Square at the stroke of midnight.

The four success factors are still the same as it has been for years; technology just gives it a boost, but customer satisfaction is dependent upon what customers want, how they get what they want, the service a business provides to give them what they want, and the partnership of the organization so that everything a customer wants – they get in a smooth and easy to deal with process.

Let us begin with what the customers want. Customers want product quality at the most competitive prices. They expect you to provide a wide array of choices, and make it attractive and convenient from which to choose. As an organization implements the sale with readily accessible product background information and innovative solutions to a customer’s questions, the customer feels they are important and more likely to remain loyal, however there is more to achieving that ultimate customer satisfaction than just delivering the best products, the best prices, and the best answers.

Now customer satisfaction demands the best service – not just the ease of checkout, or the customer service agent being available to address refunds, complaints, or make friends on Facebook, the customer wants to be sure you have their best interests in mind. Are you delivering the most effective level of service with the most innovative solutions?

To say the sales staff and customer service agents are the main characters in the play is not sufficient. The cast of an organization needs to include everyone including the business development people; those who maintain the working relationships between vendors and the organization. Executives who get out from behind their desks and help to further the goals, mission, vision, and value of a company make a profound impact on the entire organization.

To maximize  customer satisfaction for 2011, why not consider the following suggestions:

  • Use surveys to analyze customer satisfaction of your organization. Check out web sentiment on social networks, and use the accumulated data to analyze how happy customers are with the total service experience your company provides.
  • Publicize the results of your customer satisfaction surveys, however do not forget to also explain how your organization has listened to their valued customers and made changes according to customer suggestions.
  • Recognize employees who have stepped out of the box to do something exceptional – either for the company or for the community. Show how proud a company is to have such revered employees, and let these employees shine as examples for others.
  • Have a plan of action for the new year, and keep everyone apprised of what needs to be improved upon or changed in the coming year.
  • Always keep track of the whole organization.

May the New Year bring everyone good health and a lot of satisfied customers!

photo credit: Debs (ò‿ó)♪

Customer experience trends engraved in social media channels

Paul Stockford, president of Saddletree Research, an organization that gauges industry change trends, notes that the changes of customer experience management will continue an upward movement in social channels. Interestingly enough, the social trends since 2008 have grown exponentially. In 2008, social media and customer service were not even on the radar; in 2009 it grew to 13%, and this year 40% of contact centers actively use social media in their customer service.

Stockford provided some suggestions that organizations should be aware of as to the ever-changing environment of social media and its profound influence. For instance, the power of the media can cause a singular customer experience to “go viral.” We all remember JetBlue’s Steven Slater from Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to Kennedy Airport last August. After a heated exchange with a female passenger who stood up before the plane came to a complete halt, and began to pull her luggage from the overhead compartment and hit Slater in the head, a rather heated argument ensued. Slater told off the 100 passengers over the public address system, activated the emergency chute, jumped on the evacuation slide, and high-tailed it out of the airport. The debacle made headlines for days!

There is also a powerful link with companies and customers who actually listen to the suggestions and feedback of consumers. When consumers feel that the phrase, “We take your suggestions seriously,” is more than just an ego rub and feel their suggestions, complaints, and compliments have made a difference, it becomes a positive way to bring about customer loyalty.

Powerful brands help customers make educated choices. Even though established brands are still vulnerable to criticism and loss of revenue, their constantly increasing improvements set new parameters for customer confidence, trust, and convenience. Zappos brought “quirky” to our shopping experience, but their shopping experiences, quality of products, and customer service protocol with devoted employees and branding continues to set them apart.

Also, Stockford pointed out the relevance between the marketing departments of a company and customer service. Once upon a time marketing departments were considered profit centers, and their primary task was to only drive sales. In direct contrast, customer service departments were painted as cost centers – never the two to intertwine. Now, with so much information available over the internet, both about companies and the consumers who buy from them, there are many more methods of delivering positive customer experiences; thus the new connection of all departments urging each other to work together for the total positive experience of the customer.

Let’s face it; the younger generation is driving these changes. Everyone who wants to survive needs to pay attention and be ready to advance as technology demands.

photo credit: MoritzBarcelona

Warm thoughts for customer service during the holidays

Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesYou’re most likely sending out emails, brochures, and promotions with greetings of the season, but what happens after the lights are removed and the tree is packed away? Are you still showing your customers that you appreciate their business all year round? You want to show sincere appreciation for customer patronage and want them to feel valued for making the choice of spending their hard-earned money at your organization.

Here are some suggestions to help convey your warm thoughts of appreciation:

– Be helpful. Share your wisdom and use Twitter or Facebook to enrich people’s lives. Generally as a business owner, you can figure out current trends; use these trends to educate people. Ask your readers as you send out regular emails, what kind of information they want to learn. For instance, if you run a landscaping business, send out updates about seasonal plantings, trends in gardening, herbs, etc. Don’t just promote your product, but give something valuable.
– Take care of your customers and attract new ones. Give or send out coupons with a significant savings to give people a well-appreciated discount. Think about buying some small branded useful gifts to give out as promotions; key chains, cups, coolers, umbrellas, etc. Be a “go to” provider for guides, reports, and information about your industry. If you sell windows and doors, be an informational resource for “green environments” and supply the latest information on tax credits.
– Customer Appreciation Day. Choose a theme to invite clients, customers, and their guests to your store for a special event. A local jewelry store can promote a new designer, and invite customers for wine, cheese, and an exclusive premier of a new jewelry line. A real estate business might present a seminar on mortgages, home inspections, or how to spruce up your home to realize the maximum profit. Promote these events via email, newsletters, or social media.
– Give back. Today our real estate company helped with our local television news station to raise money for the local Quantum House. It helps so many parents and their children. All businesses and organizations should help their community; donate your time, money, and resources to make this a better world we all live in together.

    Do these simple tasks again and again; not just at holiday time. Make it a New Year’s Resolution to find out what is on a customer’s mind; listen to what they have to say, and respond and adapt to compliments and complaints. Customers remember, and isn’t that what we want them to do?

    photo credit: Holidayextras

    Improving the online holiday shopping experience

    SoWa in December, 2009It used to be my father and brothers enjoyed Thanksgiving Day for the good food and football, while my mother and I cleaned up and prepared for the biggest shopping event of the year. We would get up at 5:00 AM, and we were ready to join in the wild bewilderment of Black Friday.

    Now that I’m all grown up and technology has enriched my life with e-commerce, not only do I get to sleep past 5:00 AM and not have to wake up the dog to take him for a walk, I just gather my shopping list and turn on my computer whenever I feel the urge. The holiday campaigns have begun; sales all over television, billboards, and online social media. It can be more confusing than the mall, but it saves the frustration of parking, long lines, crowds, and lack of sleep, but with the added convenience comes more risk and responsible shopping. When you walk into a brick and mortar store, you’re relatively assured the business will be there the next day, while an online store could just be that “404 not found” click.

    So as a seasoned shopper, I look to the companies I trust. Competitive sites are appearing everyday with some unbelievable deals, and these are the things I consider before I purchase online:

    • When I begin my online search for holiday gifts, I am most attracted to professional looking sites that load quickly with pleasing visual graphics, correct spelling, and grammar. If a company can’t figure out the difference between “affect” and “effect” or “wrote” and “written,” it doesn’t inspire my confidence.
    • I want the contact information of a shopping site to be in plain view, and I look for their phone numbers and email contacts.
    • When a site wants my personal information as in my email address, my full name, my address, and my phone number, I want to feel confident that they do not sell, rent, or trade my information to any third parties.
    • I want information about the business. Who doesn’t feel they don’t know Tony Hsieh of Zappos? He’s a real person, and that brings credibility. We’re inspired by his success, and we’re impressed with his humility; all essential elements to the huge success of his online business.
    • Be honest about all fees and time lines. Many of us shop at the last-minute, so customers want to be sure of time lines for delivery. Before even proceeding to checkout, all fees should be listed. There is nothing worse than being presented with hidden fees at checkout.
    • Prominently display warranties and return policies. Make it clear how to return damaged items and what to expect if a product doesn’t work correctly. Headsets.com provides a return policy with no excuse ever necessary.
    • Have a prominent display of good business practice awards. Provide links with social media so customers can feel they are part of the community and have confidence in the store.

    Even though people like to shop online for the convenience, shoppers still want that personal connection as online businesses strive for their corner of the market.

    photo credit: SoWa Sundays

    Product reviews to keep customers clapping

    Choqoa & WIB: Chocolate & Whisky MasterclassHow effective are product reviews? More than 80% of  retailers according to Customer Product Reviews: The New Generation, prominently feature product reviews on e-Commerce or e-Business websites. The best reviews come from people who have similar interests and similar lifestyles; not necessarily just from family or friends. It aids in business performance, feedback, and customer loyalty.

    Channel Advisor which automates day-to-day tasks of online retailers so they may more strategically sell across multiple markets, state that nearly all searches are influenced by customer product reviews. Who among us doesn’t check out a product before we purchase it? Statistically Channel Advisor states:

    • 46% of shoppers  are influenced to buy products by checking customer product reviews.
    • 43% of shoppers are deterred from buying products by checking customer product reviews.
    • 3% of shoppers are unaffected.

    Positive reviews, testimonials, and catalogs often feature “top rated product pages” to boost sales. So what should be done about negative reviews? Chances are there’s always going to be someone or some product that is going to go awry. The best solution is to let the negative reviews teach a company valuable lessons. Is there something wrong with the product? How many people are complaining, and are you as a business owner reading the complaints? Some businesses might hurry and delete the complaints, but if a business watches the bad reviews, contacts the vendor, and demands a new shipment with the flaws corrected, people are impressed. Companies need to pay attention and reach customers at the right time; when the action is happening and not weeks or months down the line.

    So how do you get people to post reviews? Here are some suggestions that can encourage people to share their positive feelings about a product:

    • Offer customers an incentive if they post a review. You can offer a coupon or a discount towards their next purchase.
    • When a customer is checking out, ask them to write a product review and share their thoughts.
    • Follow up with your customers after the purchase, and ask them to give you some feedback about the product.
    • Have a newsletter, and encourage customers to write an article about their purchase and offer to print the five best ones in the next issue.

    Keep your customers clapping; it’s a positive way to build brand loyalty. Just make sure that customers get what they pay for, and work hard to win your customers’ confidence.

    photo credit: EverJean

    Prepare a strategy for social media customer service

    Facebook's new messages on iPhoneBusinesses work social media to help make them successful, but it is wise not to just rush in and set up Facebook and Twitter accounts without having a viable plan. While good reviews about a company’s product or services may build brand loyalty, a problem with a product or service can quickly escalate and get out of control. Social media is vulnerable to circumstances, content, and interpretation. An angry person can cause havoc. So how should a business prepare for Facebook or Twitter?

    A business never wants to get into any kind of social media over a crisis. Those need to be monitored all the time because they get emotional very quickly. That’s where policy procedures come into play. If you’re going to join in, the conversations have to be constantly monitored. In the event of a complex crisis, a customer service representative has to intervene and address the problem privately and quickly. Before Twitter, when a consumer purchased a new product and it failed miserably, the customer would call customer service or return the product, but now Twitter and Facebook afford the opportunities for an angry customer using 140 characters to cause bad feelings and bad business reviews. People want informative and consistent responses; be prepared to have knowledgeable personnel monitoring the situation.

    A good way to break into a more controlled social media environment is using moderated chat groups. Customers can comment on products and services, but a moderator approves or disapproves messages. This provides another chance for a company that is properly prepared to intervene early as soon as a problem is recognized.

    Some businesses are reluctant to even step foot into the social part of the internet citing confidentiality and lack of productivity from employees as excuses. Chalk that up as reverting back to the cave days of technology when employees were denied access to computers at their desks or even the use of cell phones at work. Even if a company doesn’t have any social media accounts, what is to stop an irate customer in Waterville, Maine posting on Facebook about terrible service in a bed and breakfast establishment they had just stayed at while on their trip to Florida? The bottom line is that while Facebook has created many opportunities, it has also created obligations.

    The desire to stay connected continues to expand. Smartphones connect us to everyone; not just the people in our workforce, and the promise of new technology is ever-expanding.

    photo credit: Robert Scoble

    Simple ways to survey customers

    Survs - Asking for YouRarely will our customers confide in us. Instead they just move on to our competition. Of course, that will never do, so periodically we need to assess ourselves, our service, our staff, and our product. So what’s the best way to find out how our customers really feel about us?

    Let’s start out by being specific and using a survey. We want to stay away from general questions. Publix supermarkets sell hundreds of thousands of items, yet this time a survey might concentrate on seafood; freshness, quality, selection, and customer service associated with the seafood department. If we are gathering personal information to go with our survey, whether we are doing the survey in person,on the telephone, or online, we  need to assure our customers they won’t be bothered in the future with spam, junk mail, or unwanted annoying solicitations. Let’s use the least amount of personal information possible so people aren’t put off by having to supply us with information they might feel is none of our business or could be compromising to their privacy. Also, let’s offer our customers a discount or a coupon for their next purchase, so they know we appreciate them taking the time to speak with us.

    If we’re doing a survey for a specialized brick and mortar establishment, here are a few sample survey question ideas that can render interesting and informative feedback:

    • How were you greeted when you entered our store?
    • How was your experience?
    • Did you find what you were looking for?
    • Did our sales representatives make you feel important and welcome?
    • Were you happy with our product?
    • What do you think about the quality of our product?

    If you’re an online store, survey questions need to address your website and the ease of navigation. Here are some example survey questions:

    • Did you have a good experience when you clicked onto our website?
    • Is our website user-friendly and easy to navigate?
    • Was our checkout easy to use and efficient?
    • Did we describe our products well?
    • Were our products delivered to you on time and in good condition?
    • Are you happy with our products?

    There is a large assortment of software available for customer service surveys, and it does depend how much time a company wants to spend, but good customer metrics can positively affect a business. Some businesses prefer to use measurements ranging from “highly unlikely” to “extremely likely.” Other surveys allow customers to write in their opinions. I always like to include the following three questions to my surveys:

    • How likely would you be to recommend my services to a friend, relative, or colleague?
    • How likely would you be to use my services again when you decide to buy or sell real estate?
    • What do you recommend I do to be considered a “10” in customer service?

    These are just some really good tools to help us grow, and which directly affects our bottom line – great service to help us succeed.

    photo credit: Gustavo Pimenta

    The keys to customer retention

    happy shoppersThere are two main reasons an organization is likely to lose customers; the competition has a better offer or the customer is unhappy. Even the smallest interruption on a day a customer is stressed, in a bad mood, or just in a hurry could mean the difference whether he returns as a client at a later time. Today’s economy and sharp competition therefore demands excellence and consistency. Even though a company might offer the best price around town, if  service is shoddy the customer is likely to leave. A business can not compensate in one area for another area of weakness, or rather who wants to buy a product even if it’s a great deal  if there is no one at the company to help if something goes wrong?

    Customer retention relies on two distinct platforms. First there is the relationship with the client. We need to understand and know our clients, which includes their expectations, what satisfies them, their geographic locations, and their likes and dislikes. The easiest way to figure this out is through surveys which analyzes a customer; builds a profile, builds models of their preferences, and often can predict problems before they even happen.

    Customers of service industries will buy more from year to year, thus reducing costs because the repeat business of the client continues to help a business grow. Loyal, happy clients often will pay more; overnight stays at the Ritz Carlton. In addition, there is the benefit of good publicity, social media, and word of mouth. Here are some suggestions to improve client relationships:

    • Always keep your promises. Deliver on time, call back, email back, and solve problems.
    • Make sure all levels of management have the same customer-centric attitudes.
    • Acknowledge a customer’s intelligence, and respect them. Customers don’t want to be embarrassed, lectured, corrected, or have an agent express a “know it all” attitude.
    • Be educated about your products and services through lectures and training sessions so you can be a competent source of information.
    • Perform better than your competition.
    • Don’t let any customer just walk away, and look for the warning signs. Track customer purchases and note when the customer has reduced their business. Find out why, and fix it.
    • Reward sales people for client retention.
    • Value client opinion.

    The second platform is the expectation of the product or the service itself. Even the best customer service isn’t going to build client retention without outstanding goods. Here are some of the expectations:

    • The quality of the products or services must live up to the expectations promised by the organization.
    • Every department has to be involved in the presentation, delivery,and function of the product. From explaining everything starting with turning the product on to trouble shooting,each department and customer service has to be made available.
    • Every department has to be available for follow-up. Most things go wrong at the very beginning, and rapid assistance can make all the difference in the world to customer retention. Generous warranties, easy return policies, and money-back guarantees build customer confidence.
    • Correct design mistakes or service interruptions.

    It’s much more expensive to find new clients rather than maintain the valued customers already happy and satisfied. There’s no shortage of competition, so striving for the best can make a profound positive effect in customer bonding.

    photo credit: zoetnet

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