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The easiest way to get to know your customer.

A search log recently indicated that a reader was interested in knowing what Dell service tags told the company about the reader. From my understanding, they tell about virtually everything. And, that’s the beauty of them.

Service tags are great. They are one form of universal ID for your customers and the company. They give everyone at every level of the organization an idea about what the customer has, what type of account the customer is, etc. They tie service tags in with their IVR systems and call routing. It can be used for almost everything. I am surprised more companies don’t use similar methods.

So, something companies should try to is associate a service tag like process with all of their customers. It should be on every order, every ticket, and so on. Any employee should be able to enter it in their computers and get an idea about the customer. Just how much they would see would depend on their position, department, etc.

To me, this would be a nearly perfect experience:

Rep: Hello, thank you for calling Company XYZ. This is John Smith.
Customer: Yes, I have a problem with my web site.
Rep: I’d be more than happy to help you with that. May I have your name, please?
Customer: Yes – it’s Betty Jones.
Rep: Thank you, Ms. Jones. Do you happen to know your customer number? If I can get that, it’ll allow me to look up your account quickly.
Customer: Oh yes, it’s 123456.
Customer: Thank you, Ms. Jones. Let me check that out. Just a moment, please.

The representative would know all about the customer, her web site, and the rest. The representative could tell if Ms. Jones was a rude or angry customer (assuming it was recorded in the customer notes), how much Ms. Jones paid a month, and all about her recent service issues. See how useful that is?

An important thing to do is not go like: “Hello, thank you for calling. What is your customer number?” That is a bad way to start a conversation and makes the customer feel as if they are just a number. A surprising amount of companies do that.  

Here are some good things to associate with account IDs/service tags/etc.:

  • Name, address, phone numbers, etc.
  • Time customer has been with the company
  • Various products/services ordered or subscribed to
  • Configurations of various products/services
  • Any recent changes to product/services
  • Any current credits that have been issued
  • Open service issues (cases, tickets, etc.)
  • Previously closed service issues (cases, tickets, etc.)
  • Personal notes about customer (whatever may be added by previous representatives)

Basically anything about the customer, the product/service, and the account. Though it may sound creepy, you can never actually have enough information about the customer. Knowing a lot about them (if used properly) will help you provide better service. What is very tough is to organize all of the information and being able to easily access it.

More power to CRM done right! Tomorrow’s post is about replacing mundane ticket case numbers with account IDs/service tags/etc.

The thank you note.

Thank you notes are a somewhat tricky thing. While I am no etiquette consultant, I do know roughly what a thank you note should consist of in a business situation. Clients, co-workers, employees, etc. may to you or your company as a holiday gift, a “good job” thanks, or whatever. In the companies I have worked with, it isn’t terribly common, but it does happen.

If someone takes the time to send you something, something you have to do is thank them for it. Though they may not send it in order to get the thank you card, it is certainly nice to hear that you appreciate their time, money, and effort. Sending fits, quite frankly, is a pain and anyone who sends them probably puts some amount of effort into it.

Some things that a thank you note should include:

  • Personalized greeting (Dear Bob Bobsen, Hi Betty!, etc.). Including the last name is arguable. I personally think it makes the greeting less personalized.
  • Optional: Acknowledge you received the gift (and approximately when).
  • The words thank you or thanks.
  • An acknowledgement about what the gift was.
  • An extra bit about the gift to make it more personalized.
  • A sentence related to the occasion (i. e. Happy Holidays, We are glad you are a client, etc.).
  • A relatively informal closing.

Here is an example. Say my client (who we will call <CLIENT>) sent me a nice box of chocolates for Christmas.

Dear <CLIENT>,

I received your gift yesterday and wanted to extend my gratitude to you for sending it. I really like chocolate (<brand of the box I was sent> is actually my favorite type!) and am sure I will enjoy this box of them. Thank you so much for sending it!

I wish you and your family a very happy and safe holiday.

Yours truly,
<NAME>

Many people believe a thank you note should be handwritten and sent over the mail. I am kind of down the middle with this. Personally, I have extremely bad hand writing and I imagine trying to read the note would frustrate the person. I am personally for sending it via the usual methods of communication (i. e. email). It is definitely nice to send handwritten thank you note, assuming both options are available to you (good handwriting and the physical address of the sender).

This template has worked relatively well for me. It isn’t foolproof and it isn’t what the etiquette book I own suggests (I don’t have the book with me right now, but I will talk about what it says this week), but it certainly works.

Whatever you do, just make sure to send a thank you note! Even you don’t like the gift, thank the person for their time and effort (do not tell them your thoughts, unless positive, about the gift). Send the note within 24 hours of receiving whatever the person sends you and remember to be sincere.

Building a successful business requires customer loyalty

Every successful business has to attract customers or clients. We need to persuade them to purchase our product or service, buy a lot of our product or service, return to do more business with us because they were pleased, and then tell their friends and family how great we are. Loyalty comes with a number of perks, therefore pleasing everyone we can with a “wow” experience attracts more and more business. In addition our loyal customers may pay less attention to the lure of our competition and will often come running to our defense because they have always been treated so well.

So how do we build customer loyalty? When you think that people are moved by emotions, and they want us to make them our priority, success depends on figuring out what our customers need and want and then delivering that service or product to them honestly, in the quickest amount of time, and in the most convenient manner. As an example, my air conditioning unit stopped working late Sunday afternoon, and when one lives in South Florida in the early autumn, a lack of air conditioning can be a “sticky” matter. I called the emergency service of Aspen Air-Conditioning  convinced that no matter how much a service call was going to cost on a Sunday evening, just being able to sleep would have been worth the extra weekend charge. When the technician called me, and I explained the problem he told me to remove the cover from the thermostat and replace the batteries, and indeed that was the problem. He could have easily charged me for a service call, and I never would have known the difference. This was my second positive experience with this company, and will now be the company I choose to use and recommend.

Organizations don’t just arrive at being honest and reliable with the best products and service by chance. Owners recruit and provide the best training for their personnel  as well as treating their employees with respect so they will treat customers the same way. Sometimes an employee vacancy remains that way until the right person comes along; it’s not just filling the spot so the boss doesn’t have to work on Sundays.

Competition in all business venues is so steep, and too often customers run from one place to another looking for the best bargain or the promise of the best service. When success depends on pleasing and satisfying one customer at a time and making each and every encounter that “wow” experience, we develop our customer’s loyalty. Of course we keep in touch by email marketing and thank you notes, we offer rewards and anticipate their needs, but it’s those personal touches when a customer knows they have been made a real priority.

Personalize customer service and make it happen

BaggedPersonalizing customer service consists of targeting an audience and acting on specific objectives to increase business, build brand loyalty, and attract new clients or customers. For instance, a phone conversation between an unhappy customer and a customer service agent is best handled  when a customer feels confident that the first person they speak with will be the last person they will have to speak with until there is a resolution. An online customer will have their information previously stored by the company so service can be provided quicker and more efficiently, and a face-to-face encounter with a customer service agent will present with a patient, well-educated representative who is capable of making an amicable decision at the time of the meeting.

Personalized customer service provides their clients with specific products that appeal to them, offers discounts to good customers, or offers to deliver when others will not; thus standing apart from their competition. Everyone’s favorite local deli emails my office their daily lunch specials, and delivers within an amazingly short period of time. Other area delis are no longer in business.

Well chosen and thoughtful promotional items can also have an impact on personalizing customer service. All of us like to get something for nothing, and if the gift has value, not only does it provide another way to advertise, it also helps to build customer loyalty. If two stores have equal merchandise and similar prices, the store giving away a gift with a purchase is more likely to attract our attention. Most of us however have all the drink coolers, mouse pads, and coffee cups we can handle, so a little ingenuity and creativity can turn those mundane products into more customized ideas and attract new interest. Yesterday I was purchasing some beachwear, and in Palm Beach County that’s a most popular commodity. I happened to notice a store giving away canvas beach bags – the kind many of us now use in supermarkets to eliminate landfill plastic grocery bags. The store has their logo on the front of the canvas bag, so every time I go to the supermarket, not only is the bag useful to me for carting away my groceries and environmentally friendly, it is also one fantastic way for the beachwear store to advertise for free.

And along with everything else, don’t forget to personalize service with thank you notes to your customers, reward programs, and exceptional service. I promise – we all remember and appreciate that personalized customer service.

photo credit: Ktoine

Brick and mortar retailers can compete with their online competition

SucrerieThere is a lot to say about the convenience of sitting down in front of my computer at 11:00 at night shopping for a little black dress I happened to see on a movie I was watching with my friends. Not that it matters what I’m shopping for, since online shopping has grown exponentially.

The most popular products selling online are computer software, electronics, digital books and magazines, yet other online retailers have also taken a notable place in the wallets of American shoppers. When you think of the convenience that online stores are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year, it can certainly make that July 4th celebration where area stores close for the holiday inconsequential, because if you feel like shopping, just hit any key on your computer. Even if you’re bored, there’s no need to get dressed, warm up your car, find a parking place, or wake up your spouse to tell him you’re going shopping.

There are, however in this alleged perfect world of online shopping, distinct disadvantages that all brick and mortar retailers can take advantage of to increase their businesses while building customer loyalty so these very same customers will want to return to your store at a specific street address. Let’s face it – internet shopping is impersonal, dispassionate, and detached. As a brick and mortar establishment, it all adds up to improving and perfecting customer service. Here are some suggestions:

  • There’s nothing more motivating to a shopper than being captured with the “experience” as she walks into a store. Have you ever walked into the Apple store? Even my son has to pull me out to tell me it’s time to go. Make the store experience relaxing, interesting, show plenty of displays, use interactive displays if the product is applicable, and use senses and sounds.
  • Make me feel important when I walk into your store. Have in-store promotions and special sales or previews for customers who have been loyal and continue to shop in your store. Do you do home deliveries? Do you do free alterations?
  • Stay in communication with me by direct email, newsletters, interesting guides, and trends pertaining to your product or service and individual thank you notes and gratitude cards. I never get tired of receiving good news in the mail; it’s a refreshing diversion from mortgage payments, electric bills, and car repair maintenance. When I lived in New Jersey, I used to shop at a boutique in Spring Lake called The Spot. The owner, Isa would always send out something personal in order to stay connected with her customers. It’s a fool-proof and endearing method for staying in touch.
  • Have special occasions in your stores. Internet companies can only display special occasions on their websites, but brick and mortar stores can bring in refreshments, champagne, wine and cheese, and make the experience personal and fun. I don’t especially remember which website was running the anniversary sale, but I remember the champagne Isa served and the fun we had at her boutique when we collectively celebrated her tenth anniversary of her store.
  • Do something very special for your customers. It’s not always about running a sale and trying to compete with the discounted prices of your competition on the Internet. It’s more about you doing something special for your clients. Perhaps buy one and get something free? Perhaps buy a certain amount and receive a certificate for ice-cream at the store two doors down the street? Just make it special so your customers will remember you.

photo credit: besopha

Work on improving customer experiences

Eyseo Standard-Kamera in einer BoutiqueThe Business Impact of Customer Experience Report 2010 examines how customer experiences affect the overall success of businesses:

– It affects a customer’s intent to purchase from a particular organization.
– It affects the likelihood of a customer switching to a competitor.
– It affects the likelihood of a customer to recommend the business or organization to a friend, coworker, or relative.

With the above in mind, we can conclude that a rise in the Customer Experience Index can dramatically increase business and consequently increase revenues. When customers have a great experience, they tend to purchase more from that particular store. They tell their friends who then come over to buy thus increasing clients and revenue.

One of the best ways to improve the Customer Experience Index is to read and listen to feedback. Organizations that show they have followed customer advice by demonstrating improvements help customers to believe their opinions really do count. So how does a company go about getting opinions?

When customers share feedback, whether it be through complaints to a customer service department, comments to an employee working  the front end, thank you notes, or solicited surveys, a company ideally will have a way to communicate with customers when changes have been made. An effective way is through newsletters – either sent separately as a way of staying in touch with clients and customers, emailed, or sent in with monthly billing statements. Here’s an example of a short newsletter I received today from a local boutique where I really love to shop.

“You spoke – we listened.

Thank you for your feedback about our store and our policies. We have read every comment, and our team of sales people and marketing professionals want to make sure all of our clients have the best experience when shopping at ______________. We have addressed your concerns, and this is our update on the progress we have made.

1.The parking situation will now be solved by our very own full-time parking attendant, Mark.

2.Alterations will now be done on premises, and unless the job is really detailed and extensive, Catalina (our loyal seamstress) will try her best to have your alterations done within one week.

3.Coffee, wine, and light snacks will be available for husbands, boyfriends, or significant others.

We hope these changes will add to your wonderful shopping experience at _________________, and we look forward to making our boutique a unique and fun place to shop.”

Maybe the above were only small improvements, but the significance of listening to customer suggestions increase customer loyalty. If a business needs to fix what customers don’t like or improve on positive experiences, it makes a lasting impression on both regular customers and new ones. What better way to woo a new customer to your organization than having other people rave about their wonderful experiences?

photo credit: ABUS Security Tech Germany

Make customer service go from mediocre to marvelous

When you have a small business, your reputation is what drives people to your company. As your business grows and other people start handling your day-to-day duties as well as your customer service, you need to make sure that your employees are setting the same high standards you worked so hard and so long to establish. So what should we do to keep customer service from just being mediocre?

As the owner, you need to be enthusiastic and bring to your office and staff that same dynamic spirit that helped you succeed in the first place. You must know how to treat employees with respect, and you must be able to listen for new ideas and feedback from those representatives who now interact directly with customers and clients, but you can never completely remove yourself from your customers. Do you recognize your regular customers? Do you know them by name? Do you greet them immediately as they enter your business?

The local deli I frequently eat breakfast at before I go to my office is a place that lends special attention to their loyal customers. They have cut out articles in the local newspaper and handed them to me when my son was graduating from high school and was awarded a Pathfinder Award for business achievement. They send out birthday cards and thank you notes. At the end of the year, they often award their best customers with a complimentary breakfast. They share their vacation stories and have listened attentively to mine.

At the end of the day, the best businesses might ask you what you thought of their service or their product. They will want to know how they are doing, because that will likely make the difference when and how often you will come back as a return customer. At the deli, the owners have a short, simple survey customers can fill out. The survey asks what customers like about the place, what they would change, and what they don’t like. Personally, I have no complaints and love starting the day with good food, great coffee, and smiling faces.

photo credit: alancleaver_2000

Christoph Guttentag from Duke – Part 4 of 4

Logo-1This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, Christoph explains how different applicants communicate with Duke, when the best time to contact an admissions officer is, addresses the hotly debated topic of admissions officers looking at MySpace and Facebook profiles, and how Duke gathers feedback regarding its admissions processes. He also provides his opinion about sending thank you notes and courtesy in general, and then finally, provides some tips to those thinking about applying to Duke University.

I want to thank Christoph for taking the time to speak with me and to answer my questions. Hopefully you as readers have enjoyed reading the interview as much as I did conducting it.

To view the rest of this portion of the interview, click “more.” Other parts of the interview include part 1, part 2, and part 3.

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