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How to use Twitter for customer service

@trib on @leolaporte twitterGreat customer service is active because you want to be sure your customers are aware of your presence. Twitter gets the word out there fast, so why not take advantage of this social media phenomenon? Ask users to follow you on Twitter by placing a button on your website and getting involved.

Twitter employs a relaxed conversational platform. For instance, if someone complains or asks for help, you can reply to them immediately. In a few words, an unhappy customer can get right to the point, and you then have the opportunity to resolve the problem in a single tweet. If the issue becomes more complex, you can have a deeper conversation, but you also can have the option to supply the customer with another means of contacting you so that you may deal with the problem immediately, and isn’t that exactly what customer service strives to do?

Twitter can help you build a positive brand image because great customer service gets the “buzz” which leads to more customers through the attention. There have been many happy customer stories that have led to international news starting from a mere tweet. You can track conversations and see what others are saying about your brand by using keywords. It’s a great way to build your image, but remember honesty and transparency are key factors. It is very easy for customers to research your company, and if you don’t provide what you promise or don’t tell customers the truth, Twitter can have a negative impact on your business.

Twitter can save you money on customer service. It requires less time and less money than traditional call centers. Since Twitter is so precise, there is less time involved solving customer problems. Of course you can’t eliminate entire customer service departments, but how many times have customers called in with questions or issues that could have been happily solved in 140 characters?

A lot of companies use Twitter to promote their businesses almost daily. Starbucks posts new offers and participates in discussions. JetBlue promotes Twitter based customer service and names the representative. Even Home Depot Twitters customers offering home repair and decorating advice.

Twitter works; it’s popular, and it’s free!

photo credit: dnwallace

Customer service procedures and social media preparation

You wouldn’t jump into a swimming pool if you didn’t know how to swim. You would take lessons, learn the skill, and try your newly learned abilities while accompanied by your coach or mentor. Consider using social media the same way. You should not just create Twitter and Facebook accounts and not be prepared for the flood of people who will express their opinions both good and bad; you will need to have a plan. The plan includes teaching employees how to deal with customer support on a different and much larger scale, how to talk to people, create content and answer questions. Depending on the size of your business, opening the causeway to more traffic may also demand more employees. Remember train, train, train. Offer role-playing, mentoring and carefully select those employees who can resolve, address and deal with customers in a positive manner.

When dealing in customer service, the importance of call centers and emails make profound impressions, however the interaction is generally private; that is between the customer service representative and the customer. When you enter the world of social media, service or product problems can immediately become public discussions. A company therefore needs to be unified before ever venturing out into the world of Facebook or Twitter  Employees need to know who will be handling customer support, who will be addressing criticism and negative comments and even what kind of rewards will be offered.

Social media awakens a higher demand for transparency, honesty and action. It is not acceptable to ignore the problem or to make excuses because people aren’t going to be happy, and you can be sure that bad news spreads quickly. Employees need to be trained in handling customers and how to address them. Social media is about engaging and connecting to foster positive relationships with customers, and dealing with complaints means addressing them and fixing them. Think of it as the “telephone” game we played in the second grade. If one person hears the bad news of a rain storm on your company picnic, by the time the news gets to the tenth person, the rain has turned into a catastrophic tsunami.

If you know how to turn criticism around to your advantage, social media can even benefit you more. If your company accepts criticism, corrects the problem immediately and apologizes for the inconvenience or delays, customer loyalty can increase. Even if there is someone chastising who is acting unreasonable, the positive changes can bring more customers to the company’s defense and build a more positive relationship. Just make sure those employees who are the social media experts know how to influence customers, are able to deliver the messages in a positive manner, and are positive role models for your company.

photo credit: jekert gwapo

Promoting a small business through excellent customer service

Karen has a new online business selling custom dog collars, matching leashes, and dog accessories. She uses designer-like fabrics at discounted prices so you can, for example purchase a “Gucci inspired” dog collar and matching leash for a fraction of what you would pay in Italy.

When you have a small online business, you need to promote sales which will in turn increase income, but when you are in competition with huge stores, just how do you set yourself apart? We know that customers are loyal when they have positive experiences, and a good rapport with those customers are an integral part of developing one’s new business. Each successful sale is a new opportunity for a new client, so each sale presents a new opportunity for the future.

We need to train ourselves and our staff how to communicate effectively either by email or telephone. We need to listen. In this particular example, even though pet collar sizes are clearly described and  measured on the website, customers still call or email with questions. Sometimes a customer will request a designer-like fabric not offered. Here’s where Karen has the opportunity to increase her business with a customer service approach not offered by her larger competitors; Karen can customize her products. She can purchase new fabrics and increase her line as her demand for new products increase.

It’s also important to keep communication lines open, and emails need to be kept short when clients write in for more information. This is not the time to make a sales pitch; we want the potential customer to know we care about our product and stay within the parameters of information – not selling more stock. The same philosophy should apply with telephone communication. Customers are most likely calling in for additional information; we need to know how to say it as well as what to say. The manner of speaking on the telephone can turn someone on or off in the first few moments. We need to be good listeners and ask the right questions so as to promote the new customer’s confidence. If a customer reaches out for help, now is the time to make that extra effort.

When promoting a small business, rewards and incentives build future relationships. Discounts, promotions and free services motivate customers to try new businesses and new ideas. If a new business can fulfill expectations, build a confident and friendly rapport, and show the transparency and honesty needed in today’s intense competition, they are most likely to succeed.

photo credit: hinagiku

Customer complaints to be addressed by airlines

New travel regulations formulated by the Department of Transportation become effective tomorrow on April 29th and will help US airlines better serve travelers. According to the Better Business Bureau, complaints have increased by 170% in the last five years concerning delayed and canceled flights, lost baggage and being stranded on the ground.

Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” describes the new rules and is designed to bring some consumer satisfaction from an industry that has consistently ignored the very basics of customer service. Customers can look forward to such new services as:

  • Dealing with customer complaints. Airlines are required to acknowledge customer complaints within 30 days and address the complaint within 60 days. This is still a long time to wait for a response, but it sure beats the previous record of never hearing from anyone.
  • Late take-offs. The DOT will now be allowed to penalize airlines on domestic flights if they are more than 30 minutes late on at least 1/2 of their trips each month for four months in a row. It isn’t a “given” that your flights will leave on time, but at least it whips up an inkling of transparency for the airlines.
  • Tarmac delays. Airlines must provide adequate food and water to passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed. Bathrooms must be made available and operable. If the delay is more than three hours on the tarmac, the aircraft must return to the gate and allow the passengers to de-plane as long as it is safe and causes no airport disruption issues.
  • Website clarity. Each airline is required to display flight delay information for each domestic flight. This requirement might be extended for a period of time to allow airline companies to upgrade their computer capabilities, however it will be nice not to play the “delay” guessing game anymore.
  • Rights. The airline company must display a customer service plan as recommended by the DOT which clearly outlines the company’s policy for such services relating to over booking, baggage handling, customer compliance and other issues that might apply to passengers.

It’s hard to believe that the airline industry had to put up such a fuss just to give consumers back a bit of their dignity; let’s hope it works.

photo credit: AchimH

NJ toll road collectors lack customer service training

Under the US Freedom of Information Act, the popular internet site, The Smoking Gun.com released dramatic examples of complaint letters concerning toll collectors at the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway for the years 2008 to 2009. Some hideous stories released told of a toll collector not wanting to make change for a $1.75 toll from a twenty-dollar bill and then throwing the change and telling the driver to get his change from the road and die, or another toll collector demanding a driver to submit to a strip search because she entered the wrong toll lane. Both toll collectors were docked pay or suspended, but no toll collector was ever fired.

On the flip side, I was able to find complaints from the toll collectors who seemed to be offended by the bad publicity they have been receiving since the FOIA was published. Charges of racial slurs, paying tolls with pennies, paying .75 tolls with one-hundred dollar bills, drivers spitting, and a general lack of respect seemed to rationalize the alleged behaviors of toll collectors reported as defensible because drivers are generally rude and disrespectful. One collector said he doesn’t have time to smile since his job is to give change, roll up coins and bills, and give directions.

Curious as I was since reading this, and since journalism and real estate both encompass miles of traveling, I intentionally stopped at various  different toll booths along the Florida Turnpike yesterday and today and conducted a quick survey among the toll collectors. This was far from a scientific study, but of the six toll collectors I surveyed (while in my car) the employees (and Florida collectors work for the Faneuil Group) stated that rarely had drivers been so rude that the collectors ever thought of retaliatory deeds to get even. In fact, one older gentleman told me he loved his job and smiled at every driver. “Do they all smile back at you?” I asked. With a huge Cheshire cat grin, he replied, “how can they help it?”

New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James Simpson has promised transparency and better customer service and promises to bring excellent service and public safety reforms to the Department of Transportation.

Toll collectors need to have customer service training also. They need to be hired because they can not only do the job, but be able to deal with the customers – just like any other consumer oriented position. What would be the results if a company used representatives who insulted, assaulted or told customers to “die” on the road? Would customer service representatives just be suspended for ten days with no pay?

Short of making it obligatory for everyone traveling the roads to use EZPass or Sun Pass, customer service rules should apply to everyone – even toll collectors.

photo credit: Dan4th

Admitting and responding.

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Twitter has gotten really good at responding to issues. As a rapidly growing, high profile startup, they seem to have some sort of issue they need to address publicly every few months or so.

The last major response that I blogged about was back in June when Twitter was responding to criticism surrounding their less than perfect uptime and reliability. Yesterday, Twitter responded publicly in regards to 33 high-profile Twitter accounts being “hacked”.

Admitting that some of your highest profile users (including the future president!) have had their accounts compromised is no easy task. It is something the company realized they had to approach quickly and correctly, especially given the high profile nature of the company and the accounts that were compromised. Tens of thousands of people probably saw it happen, so Twitter had to respond. Responding quickly and publicly was the first thing Twitter did right.

Twitter did another thing right by responding with a terrific blog post. They provided a concise explanation of what happened (why and how the accounts were compromised, when they noticed it, and what they did) followed by an explanation of what they did to fix the immediate problem and what they are doing in the future. Additionally, they answered a question they were sure was going to be asked about the possibility of another technology preventing the sort of problem that occurred (it wouldn’t help, but they addressed the question regardless).

In less than 400 words, Twitter provided an excellent response that probably went a long way with most of the people who read it. When something happens that you know people will notice, make it a point to respond publicly. Do so quickly and sincerely. Let people know that you have addressed the immediate problem and that you’re working on making sure it doesn’t happen again and won’t affect them (again).

If you do make it a point to admit and then respond, your customers are likely going to respect your honesty and value your company’s transparency.

Thanks to Dan from Shoeboxed for sending me the link to the article earlier today.

How to Respond to Criticism: Twitter Style

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Twitter is the poster child of Web 2.0. It’s pretty hip, it’s innovative, it’s grown exponentially, and despite having no clear business model, is considered to be extremely successful. I don’t use Twitter personally, but I know plenty of people that do, and most of them like the service a lot. One of the biggest criticisms of the product, though, is that its reliability is shaky at best.

Critics and the company itself have blamed the relibality issues on different things. Some say its because the site uses Ruby (a programming framework), others say it is because the site’s infastructure isn’t well designed, and others just say the site has been growing too fast for any team to keep up with. All of the issues have their respective truths, but what is more interesting to me as a customer service person is how they’ve responded and handled their issues of downtime.

The word is that Twitter used to be okay at best when it came to responding to feedback and criticism. However, the company has recently gotten a lot better. They’ve gotten so good that journalists and users have been openly applauding the company for being so responsive. Even, the often negative TechCrunch said in a recent post that Twitter “continues to be annoyingly and constructively responsive to criticism.”

If you read Twitter’s response to TechCrunch’s questions, the commentary makes sense; Twitter has been very responsive and they’ve been doing a great job at it.

First of all, Twitter admits their faults and says positive changes are coming soon. By saying “we know it is not correct and we’re changing that,” and explaining how they are changing that (by bringing on quite a experienced engineers to their team), they’re covering a major issue right there. Once they address those important issues, they answer TechCrunch’s specific questions with pretty good answers. They don’t get too technical (they got a little more technical in another post), but they do answer the questions and address how they’re going to move forward.

Twitter also has a status web site that shows the company is serious about their uptime as well as about being open and transparent. The status page contains updates and useful links (including a link to a third-party uptime monitoring service). It is just an additional level of transparency that makes the company seem even more open and responsive to downtime.

Twitter has done a great job at responding to feedback and keeping a positive image. A lot of companies can learn a lot from Twitter’s actions when dealing with these issues.

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The Rackspace Fanatical Support Promise

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Nordstrom. The Ritz Carlton. Lexus. These are all companies that understand customer service at the deepest level and are able to provide unparalleled customer service consistently, across countries and across continents. As a result of their mastery of the customer service experience, these companies are widely regarded as some of the world’s greatest customer service organizations. Rackspace, an IT hosting company based in San Antonio (TX), aspires to become one of those famed customer service organizations. To help reach this goal, they’ve defined their “Fanatical Support Promise.”

The idea behind Rackspace’s Fanatical Support Promise is to formalize a process in which Rackspace investigates issues that upset customers and subsequently develops a plan for addressing such issues. If the issues can’t be resolved in a way that makes the customer happy, the promise provides a way for the unhappy customer to get out of any existing contracts they might have with the company. By making such a promise (guarantee), Rackspace is admitting that things inevitably do go wrong and that they are making commitment to listen to customers and address those problems when they occur.

Rackspace’s VP of Customer Care Frederick Mendler (who I’ve met and also interviewed here) explained to me that Rackspace doesn’t want to hold unhappy customers hostage. Utility companies hold customers hostage because they’re monopolies and customer satisfaction doesn’t really contribute to the success of the their businesses. Companies like Rackspace, though, would rather provide their customers with an option to move on if all options have been exhausted. It makes more business sense to let the customer move on (thinking relatively highly of the company) than to lock the customer into a contract they don’t want to be in.

Functionally, the promise first comes into play when the customer feels Rackspace has failed them in some way. Rackspace failing the customer in some way can include any number of things from not supporting a service that was assumed to be supported to a failure to communicate something properly. Regardless of the reason, the company then works with the customer to collect specific feedback and come up with a plan of action. If the plan of action is satisfactory to the customer, Rackspace will then do its best to follow through on the plan and ensure it achieves all of the plan’s goals. If the plan isn’t satisfactory to the customer, or for some reason, Rackspace can’t successfully execute the plan, then the customer is given the option to cancel his or her contract without penalties.

As a company, Rackspace lives and breathes what they call Fanatical Support. Part of the Fanatical Support Promise included dividing Fanatical Support into five key areas of focus, each of which have a specific set of goals associated with it (see this page): Responsiveness, Ownership, Resourcefulness, Expertise, and Transparency.

The result is a fairly concrete explanation of a somewhat difficult to grasp concept. Rackspace then ties those five areas into the promise and goes on to describe exactly what it all means for the customer. The promise says, quite simply, if Rackspace doesn’t meet live up to its standards (standards set by both the company and its customers), they will take action to ensure a resolution happens. And if a resolution is impossible or the customer still isn’t happy, they’ll let the customer cancel without any penalty.

Companies can learn from Rackspace’s promise because it sets a standard (based on an existing cultural element within the company) and then backs that standard up with a formal process. If a promise isn’t backed by something, it’s more marketing hype than anything else. The company made their promise simple enough to be easily understood, but deep enough to actually have merit and meaning. This promise addresses both the personal and the professional aspects of a guarantee.

I tend to advocate and recommend concrete service mission statements (or promises or goals or whatever you want to call them) because they provide employees, executives, and customers with something to look back at when they’re making decisions — both long term and short term ones. The Fanatical Support Promise can serve as a great one for Rackspace. What do you have that’s similar?

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