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The hardest part about customer service.

A majority of this week has been dedicated to the interview with Dick Hunter of Dell. The interview (which I highly suggest reading) is done now, so it’s back to your normal programming.

When going through my usual search checks, one of the questions asked was “What is the most difficult part about providing great customer service?” That’s quite a question and one that cannot be answered easily.

To answer this question, I thought back to some of my interviews. Mike Faith of Headsets.com said the hardest part is providing great customer service day in and day out. Robert Stephens of the Geek Squad said the hardest part is providing the same quality level as you get bigger.

I think those are both good answers. Staying focused on customer service and then keeping quality levels up as you get bigger is very tough. I don’t think one is harder than the other – they are both extremely difficult.

Scaling customer service.
There is a whole section on rapid growth on Service Untitled. Companies that experience a lot of growth have a lot of trouble scaling appropriately. Even companies that are growing at an average pace often have trouble scaling. They don’t know what to do, have trouble hiring the right person, and so on. They just keep growing and can’t do much. Robert Stephens told me it was easy for the Geek Squad to provide great customer all the time when it was just him. However, when there are 15,000 people providing customer service as well, it gets much more difficult.

Staying focused.
Staying focused is another problem that companies of all sizes and growth levels experience. Staying focused on anything, including customer service, can be very hard. When there are bills to pay, people to train, customers to serve, etc., focusing on providing great customer service (consistently) is a very difficult thing to do. Mike Faith said that staying focused and working to always improve is a constant struggle and something they have to work on day in and day out. Not all companies are willing to make that kind of commitment.

How do you work to scale your customer service and stay focused? Needless to say, those are two topics we’ll be re-looking in the future.

Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 4

This is the fourth and final part of the interview with Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com.

In this part of the interview, he discusses the company’s team structure, some of their employees’ unique set of job responsibilities, the employees benefits at PFL, the company’s growth, their dog policy, and some parting advice.

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Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 1

This interview is one that I’ve been excited to post for a few weeks. It’s just taken a long time to get it all written down, edited, and so on (my fault!). However, I think it’ll be worth the wait.

PrintingForLess.com is an interesting company that I first heard about from Robert Scoble, and then more from Christian Long. Their coverage sparked my interest and I setup an interview with the company’s CEO and founder, Andrew Field.

The company is fairly big (about 165 employees) and its average order is about $470. Their common orders range from$60 box of business cards (shipping included) to 2,500 8 x 11, full color brochures. They’ve been growing very fast.

The interview will be four parts. In the first part, Andrew tells me about PrintingForLess.com and its history and how they discovered that customer service was a great way to do things.

Click “read more” to read the interview.

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Wanting is the first step.

I was talking to an executive at a mid-sized (read: ~100 employees) rapid growth company the other day. The company has been having problems with its customer service. They have the basics down – people pick up the phones and do respond to emails, but they have room to improve when it comes to the little things. Their customer service is usually at a level of acceptable, but it isn’t at the point of “great” just yet.

However, this company, especially the executive I spoke to, have one of the most important first steps down: They want to improve their customer service. Wanting to improve your customer service and being dedicated to improving it is one of the biggest challenges. If you aren’t convinced that you want good customer service at your company, it is far less likely to happen.

This executive showed some things that definitely proved to be good news:

  • He was obviously dedicated to improving the customer service experience. As stated above, this is critical.
  • He wanted to know how he could go about improving the customer service experience. Just wanting to isn’t enough, you need someone that is prepared to do what it takes to get great customer service started.
  • He listened carefully. I talk a lot, but the executive listened carefully. He wasn’t, dead though. By his responses, comments, etc., I could tell he was understanding what I was saying and the points I was trying to make.

Those are just a few things that executives looking to improve their company’s customer service need to do/show. They have to be open minded about how to improve the customer service at their organization and they need to be willing to remain dedicated to customer service.

Here is how to get to a point where you want to improve your customer service and the customer service experience:

  • Read about customer service. You can read about customer service at Service Untitled, some of the blogs I link to on the right, in books, in the newspaper, and more. Reading about customer service will not only educate you, but the stories will convince you how powerful (and useful) customer service can be.
  • Talk to a customer service expert. Talk to someone who deals with customer service and realizes how powerful great customer service can be. This could be a blogger, an author, a consultant, and/or an executive. Many of them will talk to you (or at least exchange a few emails) and let you know what they think customer service can do.
  • Look at your competitors. Almost every industry I can think of has at least one company that uses customer service as a primary differentiator. Retail has Nordstrom, web hosting has Rackspace, hotels have the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton, airlines have Southwest and JetBlue, etc. Look at how successful these companies are.
  • Try to model yourself. When you find the customer service-orientated company that is one of your competitors, study what they do. Read articles about them, talk to their employees, and so on.
  • Be creative. These will all help convince you that customer service is important and that you want to improve customer service. Be creative and think about how you can go about convincing yourself customer service is important and that it is well worth the time and effort.

And remember, customer service is hard. There are lots of things that are easy to copy, but consistent customer service across an organization is very tough. It won’t happen right away, but you’ll start seeing changes sooner than later.

Oh, and read the Executive’s (Quick) Guide to Customer Service. It’s worth the one page read.

Cut back on phone service? No way! Enhance it instead.

This is a guest writer post by John Federman, the CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives.

As mentioned here about two weeks ago, a number of companies are implementing alternative contact solutions, like click to call, to control the volume and quality of calls sent to their contact centers.

Analysts agree that click to call is an effective means of reaching out to Web site visitors to engage them in conversation. For this reason, thousands of companies around the globe are deploying these solutions to enhance multi-channel sales and support efforts.

Basic click to call functionality is very easy to set up. It requires no additional software or hardware, and calls are routed directly to your existing CRM and telephony infrastructure. By pasting a JavaScript code into a Web site script, a standard click to call button is embedded on a Web site, and customers can start talking with your agents immediately either via their computer, or by entering in their phone number for an immediate call back.

If volume is not a concern, then this is the way to go.

However, if your business is growing and you’re attracting a lot of customers, you face the very real possibility of being overwhelmed with customer sales and support requests.

This is why most companies would prefer not to have every customer inquiry result in a phone call or chat, and invest heavily in providing self-service tools like FAQs and knowledgebase systems. However, in those instances where customer contact is desired or required, click to call not only helps offer quality service, but enhances the customer experience and increase sales conversion as well.

But not all click to call deployments are equal. Before deciding which solution is right for your business, it’s important to understand the deployment options for click to call functionality. These include:

Dynamic/Rules-Based Deployments – Unlike the static click to call buttons described above, dynamic/rules-based deployments are visible only when specific conditions exit. Dynamic buttons are triggered by a series of rules that are predetermined by the business during implementation. Business rules can range from:

  • Number of items in a customer’s shopping cart
  • Total shopping cart value
  • Amount of time a customer has spent idle on a page
  • Incomplete transactions
  • Preferred customer status
  • Hours of operation or call center availability

Because there may be uniform reasons of when customers abandon your Web site or require customer service, rules-based deployments provide a way to automate a call offering to prevent these things from happening and offer customers a chance to speak with a live agent based on their perceived needs.

Proactive Deployments — Like dynamic deployments, proactive deployments offer more flexibility than static click to call buttons, and give contact center agents more control over when to engage online prospects. Using real-time Web analytics, and rules-based triggers, contact center agents can determine if, and when to engage customers to call or chat based on their online behavior. With proactive deployments, the agent can control when and where they decide to offer the click to call invitation to offer a customized online shopping, or service, experience for each consumer.

Integrated Deployments — Integrated click to call deployments can either be static, dynamic or proactive, but leverage unique data integration and collaboration technology to create a truly seamless experience for customers as they transition from an online session to a phone call.

This is done through a process called “cross-channel data passing.” Cross-channel data passing ensures a continuity of customer experience by transferring information about the customer and the context of their online session directly to the call center at the time of call initiation. The call center software can be configured to display this information directly on the agent’s desktop screen, or it can use the incoming data values to trigger lookups into the company’s own databases to retrieve related details (customer records, purchase history, billing information, etc.)

Rather than having the customer start all over again, the contact center agent can use this information to verify account status, identify problems with the online transaction, and more efficiently troubleshoot whichever issue prompted the customer to call.

Additionally, integrated deployments also open up a new level of collaboration between online customers and contact center agents. Using data passed when calls are initiated, agents can push relevant pages to customers, or initiate co-browsing sessions to guide customers through the sales or support process.

Conclusion — Nothing is more frustrating to a consumer than having to “start all over again” when they transition from the Web to a phone conversation. Click to call offers one solution to this problem by integrating the power of Web analytics with the convenience and comfort of the telephone. Given the range of options available, it’s critical to have a full understanding of your business goals and how customers behave on your Website. Doing so allows you to offer the right form of contact at the right time to maximize the benefit of click to call offerings, and not only reduce call center costs, but turn your call center into a revenue generator.

John Federman is CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives. Mr. Federman is responsible for eStara’s strategic direction, growth and corporate vision. He brings more than 20 years of experience with innovative information technology and media companies to eStara, and has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Continental Airlines, DaimlerChrysler and Dell Financial Services, to enhance their multichannel sales and support operations.

Managing Remote Employees in a Rapid Growth Company

I have talked about remote employees in the past. I constantly encourage companies to utilize remote employees and try to make them work. However, rapid growth companies often don’t have a choice, it is sometimes a nessecity to hire remote employees.

In general, the advantages/disadvantages for rapid growth companies hiring remote employees are the same. I discussed them in this post and will outline them again below:


  • Happier employees.
  • Bigger talent pool.
  • Cheaper.


  • Harder to monitor.
  • Possible problems.
  • Communication.

The rapid growth company I discussed last week is in a relatively small area. The company isn’t in the middle of nowhere, but then again, it wasn’t San Francisco. The cost of living in the area was not really high, but it wasn’t low, either. They are having problems keeping up with the hiring they needed. The bad thing is, though, that they only have one remote employee and aren’t exactly sure about the concept and how it works for their company. And worse thing, is, they really need help.

Firstly, there are some jobs that remote employees are great at and others they are not so good at. Pretty much any job can be adapted so they it can be done effectively by a remote employee, but many are harder than others.


  • Customer service (live chat, email, phone*)
  • Programming (some cases and some setups)
  • System administration
  • Phone* / email sales for lower end products
  • Billing / bookkeeping

Not so good:

  • Some types of programming
  • Phone* support
  • Jobs that deal with confidential information
  • High end sales (where presentations have to be given, clients have to be taken out to dinner, etc.)

* How well a remote employee can do phone support depends on the technical setup of the company. Some companies have it setup so it works really well, others don’t.

It really depends on how the company is and how much the company wants remote employees. Many companies need them, or they will have to accept less qualified candidates and/or pay them a lot more. I believe that making your company “remote employee” friendly is worth it.

For companies that are growing quickly and need them, it is a good idea to hire someone with experience working remotely to help get everything setup. This person can work remotely or in the office, but they need to know what it is like to be a remote employee and be able to see things from an outside perspective. Usually, having this person work remotely helps because they will know exactly what it is like to not be in the office.

A key thing when it comes to having remote employees (as well as in-house employees) is to keep them in the loop. You have to let them know what’s going on and make them feel as if they are included. Otherwise, it won’t help anyone.

What are your experiences having or being a remote employee?

Cutting back on phone support.

I had a conversation yesterday with a lady who runs customer service for a company that is growing very quickly. The amount of customers they are signing up is amazing and the company is really stressed out over all of this growth. It is definitely tough to handle what is essentially exponential growth happening monthly.

With such growth, the number of customer service inquires goes way up. They are growing several percent per week in terms of increased number of phone calls and tickets. That is a lot and a lot to keep up with. The staff is growing and they are having trouble finding good employees as quickly as they need to.

It is a classic example of rapid growth.

One of the issues they are debating now is whether or not, and if so, how to cut phone support. She told me they are getting the same 25 questions over and over again and it is frustrating for the staff, time consuming, and expensive. In the same time they a representative can one phone call, they could do 5 emails, or 3 chats.

So, how do you handle it? Here are some ways that I suggested to her that they could cut back on phone support:

  • Offer call backs. Call backs have a lot advantages. Some of them are discussed here in a guest writer post on Service Untitled. They allow a little bit of pre-screening for calls, save money, and are easier to limit.
  • Limit phone calls per account type. I suggested (and they had considered) limiting the amount of phone support calls per month for each account type. For example, a premium account could have 4 per month, and a basic account could have 1.
  • Charge for phone support. This could either be done by itself or in addition to the above. If a customer needs extra phone support (for technical support – sales and billing would be free), they could pay. I suggested a lower fee (like $10 or something per call). This model serves main purposes:
    • Helps recover some costs – $10 is better for the company than free.
    • It makes the customer actually try to fix it themselves or try other solutions (like reading an FAQ) before picking up the phone.
    • It isn’t so expensive where it will cause a customer to get really frustrated and cancel instead of paying the fee for phone support. 
  • Suggest more alternatives to phone support. The company has their phone number clearly posted on their web site. This is great and I commend them for it. However, they can work on making it clear to customers that phone support is probably the least efficient way to solve their problem and they should try looking at FAQs, tutorials, and such before calling. This is probably the least effective solution, but it can help a little. Do note that it is not encouraging the company to hide their phone number or create impossible to navigate menus.
  • Ask some customers. Though I didn’t suggest it at the time because I just didn’t think about it (the lady I spoke to reads this blog), the company should ask some of its best/oldest customers what they want. Some may be furious if they had to use a callback system, others may think it is a good idea. It isn’t something that should be done by a survey, but by having a few members of the management team call the customers and discuss it with them.

There are lots of ways to cut back phone support without cutting back customer service. They really depend on the company and how the company likes to do things. It is an interesting challenge that is not that easy to solve. It likely requires experimentation.

Another thing that we discussed was customers basically asking the company to teach them how to use the software. They already offer lots of guides, webinars, an extensive knowledge base, and all of that, but some customers simply demanded more. More about that tomorrow. I will also touch a bit more on remote employees and how rapid growth companies really need to consider using them.

Next week I will publish the interview with Robert Stephens, the founder of the Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy.

Rapid Growth: Conclusion

I’m going to finish up the series on rapid growth today. It has been interesting and will definitely be something that I will talk about again. I wanted to talk about a bit more, but will kind of throw a bit about everything into this post.

Rapid growth is usually not a good time to start messing with new technology. Hopefully, by the time you are in rapid growth you already have most of the technology you need up and running. However, here are some things to think about improving or implementing as you grow:

  • Helpdesks and email applications
  • Phone systems
  • Web sites (may need to get more resources, implement some new technology)
  • Collaboration and project management software (good to implement if you don’t already have it)
  • Billing and CRM applications
  • etc.

Most of these applications have to get larger and more powerful as your company gets bigger. Ensure they are able to do this (called scaling, usually) and that you continually test all of them. If you get complaints from customers or employees, try and work with the maker or whoever your contact is to resolve them.

Procedures are extremely important, especially during rapid growth times. You should have solid, well tested, and hopefully efficient procedures for things like hiring, training, purchasing, compensation changes (raises, bonuses), project approval, etc.

Operating procedures will help everyone use their time more efficiently. It will be clear who has to do what, why they have to do it, and what is involved with doing it. Less questions, more work being done.

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