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Customer surveys can make a difference in business

SurvsIf you never measure how well your business products or your services affect your customers, chances are you may have lost customers, your reputation may have suffered, or negative word of mouth might have dried up your referral lists. No matter how sophisticated a business owner thinks he might be, there is always the need to focus on “key issues” related to overall customer satisfaction and thus – customer loyalty.

Whether you choose complicated and intricate customer survey software, or if you are just starting out and have even created your own short survey online with the compliments of free web-site surveys, always remember to keep the survey brief, informal, and easy to understand. Most customers don’t have much of an affinity for industry jargon, but are willing to give their opinion as long as it is quick, easy, and at some later time their answers and suggestions show up as what someone  actually read, worked on, and later applied to their day-to-day business.

For instance, one of our favorite lunch spots served superb food, and gave great service for those of us with time constraints – that is until the bill was due, and then we would continuously have to wait for the server to finally bring the check. A few months later when a casual survey of only five questions was placed in the billfold with our tab, we were able to make the suggestion that servers stay on top of hurried lunch patrons and have checks ready as soon as possible. Not even a month later, servers were getting  the lunch tabs to us in a much more expeditious manner.

There are a few classic questions that most businesses almost always find useful, and I’ve seen these questions used quite often:

  • How likely would you be to recommend ABC Luncheon Restaurant  to a friend or colleague?
  • How likely would you be to continue dining with us at ABC Luncheon Restaurant two years from now?

Make your rating scales easy to understand. The most popular range is from 0 to 10, ranging from extremely poor to extremely likely to recommend. Feel free to use a few open-ended questions and ask customers what your company could do to earn the highest rating. If 100 surveys are filled out, and 70 come back with excellent ratings, then you know you are doing a great job, but if the ratings are low, open-ended questions can provide that needed feedback to help your organization to improve.

And one more requirement of a successful customer survey is to have your customers divided into subgroups since there are sometimes obvious differences in service requirements. In the example above, many retired people love to take their time when eating lunch and might think if a server dropped off the check prematurely, the customer was being rushed; in this circumstance knowing the age groups of survey recipients could draw completely different results. Other subgroups can be based on geographic locations, or economics; depending on what is applicable to a particular organization.

Keep surveys meaningful and use them often enough to have a consistent key to helping your business grow.

photo credit: Gustavo Pimenta

Don’t forget to say thank you for your business

217 KindWhether you’re a small business or a large business, saying thank you is a timeless pathway to stronger relationships. Never underestimate the power of a few sincere words. Didn’t our mothers teach us just that?

There are many ways to show our appreciation, so depending on your budget, time restraints, size of your business, or even the type of business, here are some tried and true examples that might come in handy:

  • Have a thank you party with a theme. In my real estate office, my co-worker Steve B. holds an annual picnic and accompanying invitation to the nearby baseball park in Jupiter, Florida. Steve invites his past clients and their families and friends to a neighborhood park area and has everyone bring a covered dish. It’s a fun time for families, and a great time to catch up with old friends.
  • Invest in quality thank you notes. If you run a bakery where you design the fanciest of wedding cakes, why not purchase stationery to reflect the elegance of your product? In real estate, I design my thank you notes to reflect Keyes Real Estate Services with a hint of additional personalization to make it uniquely me.
  • Make it warm and personal. This is the time to just thank someone. There should be no agendas; not even the hint of asking for a referral.
  • Thank someone in a timely manner. Have your thank you notes out within 48 hours of the sale or service. Find some way to show your appreciation immediately.
  • Continue to send out gratitude expressions by sending out value newsletters or educational material that will benefit your customer now or in the future. For instance, in the real estate profession, the economy has made such a profound impact on both buyers and sellers, customers and clients appreciate the updates. And again, it is not being used as a sales ploy; it is meant to be helpful and educational.
  • Send follow-up thank you notes, business birthday cards, and greetings at the right time. Use different times of the year or holidays to remind your customers and clients how much you appreciate their business. Now it’s springtime – why not send a greeting?
  • Thank your employees for a job well done. It is not just customers who need to be thanked. The staff who work for an organization are the people who have helped you to climb the ladder of success.
  • Don’t forget to thank the customers who complained. While you might have found them frustrating and at times irritating, if you have taken the proper steps to resolve problems and enlisted their help to make changes, it is very possible these are the people who might very well be carrying the torch of new business.

photo credit: Creations by Ro

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

Building customer service for your eBay business

StirrupMy friend Linda is a power-seller of long-standing on eBay. For years she has been getting up on Saturday mornings at 5:00 AM to scour local garage sales for equine clothing, bridles, halters, and saddles. She purchases the gear, cleans it up, repairs it, and sells it on eBay. She has reached gold-level power-seller status and prides herself on great customer service. She has hundreds and hundreds of positive feed backs. I thought I would offer some of her advice, observations and suggestions for the entrepreneurial online eBay sellers, and at the same time show how excellent customer service continues to have a positive impact on our lives.

If you have decided to sell something on eBay, research your item thoroughly. Let “Google” become your friend, and use the search engines to capture more information about the items you are selling. The more specific the headlines and description of your items, the more attention you will get. It’s also a good idea to look at what your competition is selling and how your similar items are priced, and marketed.

Take pictures with a digital camera, and take the photos from all angles. This will give bidders a good idea of the condition of your merchandise. Many sellers use a third-party hosting site to display additional pictures to save money. You can place the link on your description.

Make sure you monitor your emails. Potential buyers often have a lot of questions. Seasoned sellers commonly create a FAQ which gives buyers information about policies. For instance, be clear about delivery charges, possible problems, refunds, and procedures. Confirm by email when a buyer has won the bid, and at the same time add the payment terms, and the postage charge information so there can be no confusion. Some sellers send out all items first class so it can be easily tracked, but make sure to specify if the buyer has the choice.  Thank every customer for their payment, and confirm when an item is shipped and instructions on how to contact you with any problems.

Take customer service even further by professionally wrapping any items you are sending out. It gives a buyer a good impression when you use the right sized boxes and the safest packing material to ensure the merchandise arrives in pristine condition. Don’t forget to include an invoice which should include the picture of the sold item.

Follow up on your sale in a few days. Excellent customer service reduces complaints. Let your customers make suggestions for the future which will reduce bad feedback that definitely can affect your eBay reputation.

photo credit: BinaryApe

Customer service training in progress for NJ toll collectors

For the upcoming July 4th weekend, I thought I would update you on the widely publicized drama when the Smoking Gun website revealed information from the US Freedom of Information Act concerning the 550 customer complaints about toll road collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

Of the 550 complaints, 341 were based on rudeness. Other complaints were more egregious. One collector told a woman to pull over for the toll collector to do a strip search. Another toll collector told a motorist to get on the road and die. Other contentious issues centered around using pennies to pay tolls and collectors throwing the pennies back at the drivers.

According to Commissioner of Transportation James Simpson, complaint rates have declined 28% since customer service programs have been instituted. PowerPoint presentations began in May, and both full-time employees and seasonal employees have been required to take the courses. Plaza managers are also required to attend training sessions. Simpson states that complaints dropped from 100 at this point last year to 72. Most complaints were profanity and inappropriate comments. Punishments range from verbal written warnings to suspensions.

According to Simpson, the customer service training is working. Now toll collectors are getting compliments for helping drivers when their vehicles have broken down or someone needs medical aid while on the roads. Toll collectors are doing charity work as ways to connect with the public and improve their public images.

And as far as paying with pennies? Drivers are permitted to pay with pennies, but now must wait until the collector counts them out. I still think it’s more convenient to pay with passes than with cash, but it’s bound to be more pleasant with less sass.

photo credit: 300td.org

Realtor follow-ups keep customers

FireplaceThe follow-up in real estate transactions can make or break one’s real estate career since so much of one’s business is based on referrals. The most important aspect of being a “stand out” real estate agent is for you to gain a customer’s trust.

And after the sale, asking for post sales feedback will help you to improve and make your customers feel special ensuring them that you are always working on your professional ethics. Ask them what they liked about you and what needs to be improved.

Staying in touch is important, but you want your communication to be viewed as helpful and not just another annoying phone call or piece of junk mail. Everyone appreciates a personal thank you note acknowledging their loyalty and business, follow-up phone calls, e-newsletters of timely and informative nature, and snail mail keeping your property owners updated on the latest news of the community. While you are at it, send tips about selling or buying, ideas about home improvements, gardening, mortgage rates, the economy, and other relevant news.

In the world of the real estate agent, it’s all about getting personal with your sellers and buyers. Don’t hesitate to send out anniversary cards celebrating the first year and thereafter of their home purchase and greeting cards at holiday times. One sales representative from my office organizes a picnic event every year and supplies hot dogs and hamburgers in a community park area. It shows people he cares about them.

Have lunch with your buyers and sellers, get to know their hobbies and when you show people that you really care about them, you can be quite sure they will keep coming back.

photo credit: ChrisBohn

Inform customers (even if you don’t have to).

A lot of people say that customer service departments should under promise and over deliver. The goal is logical and practical. Customers will become disappointed if you over promise and under deliver, but they’ll become delighted if you under promise and over deliver. One of the many ways to apply this thought process to your customer service operations is by letting customers know about what you’re doing even if you don’t have to.

For example, say I email a company asking about special pricing for a service. A conscientious company would reply back in a timely manner and let me know that they are looking into the special pricing and inform me that they will get back to me within a set of amount of time, say three days. If the company replied in two days, they would be over delivering and I’d be happy.

But what if I checked my email 24 hours later and saw a simple email that said something like, “Just to let you know, I am in contact with our sales director to secure this special pricing for you. Thank you for your patience.” That would be going an extra mile while simultaneously raising the bar. There is a good chance that the frontline sales person would go through this process anyway, but by letting the customer know exactly what process he or she is going through, that helps show the customer that the company cares about him or her and is working to get the necessary answers.

It is a very simple thing, but it can make a significant difference. As a company and service provider, you have to consider the line between giving customer useful updates and being annoying. It isn’t worth trying to define a set of rules or guidelines (simply use your best judgment), but it is important to keep in mind that there is such a thing of contacting a customer too frequently.

If you have that in mind when you reach out to customers and inform them of your progress, you’ll continue to over deliver.

Offering to follow up with (additional) answers.

No one is expected to know everything. If you expect every one of your employees to know the answers to every question that could possibly be asked, you will be in for disappointment. At most companies, there is simply too much to know and a nearly limitless number of questions that potential and existing customers can ask.

Even with that fact of life and of customer service in mind, the answer of “I don’t know” is completely unacceptable. Any employee who says “I don’t know” and leaves it at that is actually an employee who does not care. Especially with technology and the Internet, looking up answers to problems and questions is even easier than before. It isn’t difficult to IM, call, or find a supervisor or another employee. It also isn’t difficult to Google a problem and figure out what it might be. It isn’t at all difficult to send the customer in the right direction with a few web links.

The point is that customers don’t want to be left at “I don’t know.” They want to hear “I don’t know that off hand, but I will be more than happy to find out for you.” As a service provider, you can offer to get back to the customer with the answer or ask them if they’d like to wait. Some customers will want to wait, others will want an email or a call back.

Do whichever they ask and do your best regardless of which way they prefer. Ask who you need to and look up what you have to look up. The goal is to find an answer for the customer that is both useful and accurate. If it isn’t useful or if it isn’t accurate, it doesn’t do the customer much good. If there is no direct answer that you can find, offer up alternative solutions (“X might not be possible, but Y is certainly possible”). Whatever you do, never leave the customer at “I don’t know.” “I can find out” is much better for you and the customer.

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