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Responding to the Good

I talk a lot about how companies should monitor the blogosphere for mentions of their names – good and bad (if they don’t already). I was having a conversation with a public relations manager from CarMax (interview here) before the holidays and he told me about how he responds to bloggers.

He responds to bloggers that write positive and negative things about CarMax. If they write about how they were unhappy, he makes sure they know how to get in touch with customer service and offers any help that he can provide. If they’re happy, he sends them a thank you note and a little gift such as a tire pressure gauge or a road atlas.

This PR manager has the right idea. It is important to thank the people who write positive things about you as well. Many companies focus solely on the bad reviews. This is of course a good thing to do, but it is also worth spending time and effort thanking those who write good things about your company and service. If they feel appreciated, the chances of those people continuing to write good things goes way up.

It is always a good idea to thank someone when they do something nice for you. The exact same principle / etiquette guideline that your mother taught you as a child applies to business and public relations. If someone writes something nice about your company, thank them. They will appreciate it. All you have to do is post or email something simple like:

Hi John,

I saw your post about Company XYZ today and wanted to thank you for the kind words. We try our best and it makes everyone happy to see customers write about exceptional, positive experiences they’ve had with us.

Thank you again for thinking and writing about us. Feel free to call on me if you need any assistance in the future.

Best wishes,

Bob Bobsen
Public Relations
Company XYZ
212-123-4567

Some people may disagree about giving the small gift. I’m personally okay with it, but can see how some people might think it’s a bribe. As cliche as it sounds, it’s the thought that  counts with this sort of situation. As long as you post the thank-youthank you comment or send the thank you email, then you’ve done plenty. Sending the gift is optional – feel free to do it if you want to. It probably won’t hurt and it is certainly a nice gesture.

To take it a step further (in a good way), include a hand written thank you note with that little gift. The note can just be a nice little piece of paper with the logo on it (your company has a branded notepad somewhere, right?):

Thanks again for the nice words about Company XYZ!

– Bob

What are your thoughts on thanking people for writing nice things about your company? What about gift giving?

Service Untitled Year End Numbers

I’ve been using a detailed analytics program (Google Analytics) to track Service Untitled’s traffic and such since late March. So, the year end numbers are really late March through today (evening of December 28), but I feel they are accurate enough to be useful.

  • The blog’s traffic and and number of subscribers have all increased significantly since March.
  • I’ve met a lot of interesting people and companies. I’ve had the pleasure to interview quite a few interesting people, feature their guest writer posts, and more.
  • Since January, I’ve written 283 posts about customer service, the customer service experience, and related topics. Excluding a few holidays, I think I have only missed one or two days of posting.
  • I’ve seen hundreds of comments about various companies including Spirit Airlines, Verizon, United Airlines, HP, and more. If I know someone at the company, I forward the comment there and the customer usually gets a resolution.
  • Aside from my regular writing and consulting, I’ve spoken in front of a sizable audience, helped organize a conference, and have been quoted by ABC News.

Here are the most popular posts on Service Untitled since March:

  1. Sample Client Thank You Notes
  2. Sample Email Signatures
  3. Interview: Dick Hunter, VP of Customer Experience at Dell
  4. Spirit Airlines doesn’t care about your call.
  5. Dick Hunter of Dell – Part 2 of 3
  6. Jack Hightower of CarMax – Part 2 of 2
  7. Interview with Jack Hightower – VP of Sales at CarMax
  8. United Airlines Customer Service
  9. Interview: Robert Stephens – Founder of The Geek Squad
  10. Verizon Customer Service Does Well!

It looks like readers like interviews and travel posts. Ironically, of all the categories on Service Untitled, the angry customers category is the most popular. The next most popular category is customer service.

Most of all, 2007 has been a great year for me personally and professionally. I’ve made a lot of great new friends and contacts. Service Untitled continues to be a lot of fun to write. I’m thankful to have the opportunity and I thank all of you for continuing to read Service Untitled and refer it to your friends and colleagues.

I’m looking forward to an even more exciting 2008.

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7 Steps to Great Customer Service

I read an article by Joe Takash over the weekend about some simple strategies to keep in mind when trying to deliver great customer service.

The bold titles are Joe’s suggestions. My comments and own suggestions are below the titles.

1. Make a great first impression.
You only have one chance at making a first impression. How you start off a customer or customer service experience will definitely set the tone for the rest of the experience.

2. Be a name-learning machine.
It takes more than just learning names. You also want to be able to use names. Be able to recognize faces, names when they are written out (such as in emails or tickets), etc. When you know and can use names, it will make a huge difference.

3. Be a fantastic listener.
This is extremely important. Great customer service representatives are even better listeners. They also practice “active listening” where they confirm what the customer is saying, ask appropriate questions, and subtly poke around for additional (and useful) information.

4. Create common ground.
The article suggest asking questions like “did you do anything fun over the weekend”, “where are you from?”, “are you looking forward to X,” etc. to help create some common ground. Creating some common ground not only helps the customer service experience by killing what would otherwise be dead air, but if it works out well, could make it a memorable experience.

5. Show constant appreciation.
Showing constant appreciation according to Joe is sending handwritten thank you cards (constantly). Send them to people who refer you customers, new customers, returning customers, etc. The point is to show you appreciate their business, their thinking of you, and them choosing you. You can also call or see customers to show your thanks.

6. Apologize and admit fault.
Not much else needs to be added to this point. It is important to admit it when you mess up. It is even more important to handle those mess ups properly. One of my favorite customer service quotes is “the road to success is paved with well handled mistakes.” It makes a lot of sense.

7. Be positively contagious.
Joe ends the article by suggesting that you should be positive. Use positive words, be friendly, show your passion. Yawning, negative terms, complaining, etc. won’t make for a great customer service experience. Be happy! Smile!

Happy National Customer Service Week!

388197432_f33a941ab8 I’d like to wish a very Happy National Customer Service Week to everyone. While I never advocate customer service being a weekly, monthly, etc. theme for your company (it should be permanent), there is nothing wrong with a week to recognize customer service.

The official web site has some tips here. As my friend and fellow customer service writer suggests, just take a few moments and say thanks! Thanks to your customers, friends, employees, and so on.

Here are some helpful links:

Thank you for reading Service Untitled! Thanks for telling your friends and helping to spread the word. It has been (and continues to be) a lot of fun.

Photo/image courtesy of juniperberry.

A little customer service tip for bloggers.

In the spirit of Little Things, Big Differences, I would like to provide the readers of Service Untitled with a little story/tip. If you subscribe to Service Untitled, you have likely experienced it already.

Here’s the little inside tip: Anyone who subscribes via email to Service Untitled gets a personalized note from me.

This little email is rarely more than a line or two, but I send it out anyways. I thank the user for subscribing and usually ask how they heard about Service Untitled. I also encourage them to post comments, send in post suggestions, and so on. If they heard about Service Untitled from a specific blogger or web site, I usually check out that web site, too.

Before emailing the person, I try to find out a little bit about them. I’ll Google their email address, look at their email’s domain (i. e. bob@company.com), and so on. I then try to use that information to customize the email as much as possible. I try to learn about my readers and try to write posts that will interest them.

Then, at the bottom of the email, I throw in a little note: This is *not* an automated message. I try to have this email represent what a little thing that makes a difference is and how even bloggers can practice great customer service.

I would do the same thing for RSS, but there isn’t a way to track down specific RSS subscribers. Plus, I have a lot more RSS subscribers than email subscribers.

However, I usually do the same thing for people who comment at Service Untitled. I often email them a quick thank you note with some more information relating to whatever they posted about or just thank them for reading. I’m trying to start replying in the comments (instead of email) more and have been working on that.

My blog is small enough where I can still do things like this. Service Untitled has been growing a lot, but the blog is still relatively small. I’m happy with it that way and look forward to sending many more personalized thank you notes to subscribers and commenters.

Do you make customer service a part of your blog?

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The golden rules of customer loyalty

It’s well recognized amongst all business owners that it cost more money to find new customers than to keep the customers we already have while trying to attract more clients to climb aboard our growing organizations. No matter how we try to dazzle, the golden rule of presenting the best product and doing it right, continues to successfully align our future for growth and success.

The ultimate satisfaction for customers is receiving the best product at a reasonable and competitive cost. We must strive to deliver all that we have promised on our websites, in our flyers, and on social media. To add to the best product or service we can supply, can we then deliver more? How do we step out of the box to help our customers realize the extra mile is what we are anxious to provide? Most of us have experienced customer service at its best and its worst. I treasure the shoe store where the salesperson knows me by name, knows what I like, and sends me a quick email when new merchandise comes into the store. And when I get a moment and arrive at the boutique, I am greeted with a big smile by my name and can always be assured the best is yet to come.

Now on the other side of the customer service grid lies the company only interested in viewing me as a dollar sign. “Look around, and if there’s anything we can help you with, just holler,” was the only interaction I received after having been in the store for 15 minutes. Those were the words the salesperson uttered as she looked up from the customer she was assisting seemingly annoyed; as if I was going to interfere with her lunch break.

Studies have shown that retail and restaurant customers will spend 40% more if the service provided is outstanding, so everyday we as business owners, should try to do better. Understanding their reality and adapting our programs, efforts, and products to enrich our customers lives show how we value each person.

Here are the Golden Rule suggestions of showing customers how much we value their business:

  • Treat all customers equally. Of course, some customers may spend more than others, but the referrals are what help us to succeed and grow. One never knows who just might walk into your store one day or call upon you for your expert services.
  • Value each customer and make everyone’s experience as efficient and as pleasant as possible.
  • Appreciate people and show them your appreciation by being on time, listening, acknowledging them as they walk into your store even if you are with another client, be polite and smile, and be well informed.
  • Have a process formulated to thank your customers; whether you send out personal thank-you notes, email appreciation letters, small gifts, or coupons for discounts on subsequent business.
  • Use loyalty reward programs. Especially useful now during the holiday shopping season when customers are plentiful, plan something special for after the holidays when business slows. Take that time to work on customer retention.

Although it is human nature to cater to the top tier of our business customers, we must never forget that earning the trust and respect of everyone is what helps us to succeed.

Image courtesy of Andres Rodriguez

A practical approach to dealing with customer service frustrations

irslogoNo doubt, it has been a tough week for customer service. Internal Revenue Service acting agency head, Steven T. Miller who is resigning from his post stated earlier this week:

“I can say generally, we provided horrible customer service. I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selections.”

And if that didn’t capture enough of America’s attention, how about the Maserati owner only identified as Wang who smashed his $420,000 Quattroporte with sledgehammers to protest the dealer’s poor customer service while shocked onlookers watched?

Of course, the normal customer service experience for disgruntled customers rarely take on the profound consequences as these two examples, but the importance of being able to successfully and calmly maneuver through a maze of frustrating obstacles before getting problems resolved can seem insurmountable to consumers at any moment. With that in mind, the better part of valor calls for the customer to wait until he is calm before instituting contact for a bad product, poor service, or any project requiring the help of an organization’s customer service department.

In businesses that continue to concentrate on the value of great customer service, “chat” lines have become great assets for a positive link between customer and service personnel. The lines of communication are open immediately, and consequently there may be a quicker and friendlier resolution to the problem. Winding one’s way through the phone maze may be infinitely more challenging however, but staying calm and listening to the voice commands will hopefully get you to a representative. Of course, one can always just punch in “0” for operator; that works fine on some systems. If you get the music and are asked to hold, why not place your phone on the “speaker” option and continue with your other work while waiting?

Have all of your paper work available when speaking with the customer service representative. Have the notes in front of you of people you have already spoken with, what correspondence and emails you have already received, customer reference numbers, and any other pertinent information you may have to make the process move along quicker and more efficiently. As you speak with the representative, remember not to be rude, never curse, hold back on sarcasm, and remember that the person you are speaking with isn’t the enemy and probably is not the person responsible for the defective product, lack of promised return, refund, or the cause of the poor service. Human nature commonly follows the basic premise of the more gracious you might be, the more interested the customer service agent will want to extend her arms of helpfulness.

Suppose the telephone conversation and subsequent actions or promised actions of the customer service department doesn’t solve your problem or meet up with your expectations? A popular solution is to take it to social media. Post on Twitter or the company’s Facebook page that the action taken has been less than what should have happened, or that no one has ever returned your call. More than likely, that action will garner attention. And when it’s clear that you need to move up the complaint ladder to a supervisor, again it is suggested to be cooperative and complimentary to the representative you have been dealing with – please don’t say you don’t want to deal with them anymore, but thank them for their time and ask to speak with a supervisor.

By this time most customer service problems have been resolved, but if it’s a fight to the bitter end, then it might be time to email the CEO. Surprisingly enough, some correspondence does make it to their desk while others have had to rely on television news anchors for the latest IRS complaints.

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 2 of 4

This is the second of a four part interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob discusses how Zappos motivates members of their customer loyalty team, what programs they have in place to recognize good service, and what service metrics the company tracks and how.

You can read part one of the interview here. You can also jump ahead and read part three and/or four. To read this part, click “read more.”

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