Are You There?

Recently there was a story in the news about a store that didn’t clearly have its hours of operation listed. The store was in a shopping mall, and it kept different hours than its neighbors. One night the front door wasn’t properly secured. A group of shoppers entered the store, selected their items and, confused, left money on the counter to pay for their selected items.

Open sign in Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA

Open sign in Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Customers should not have to guess whether you are open and ready to serve their needs. Hours of operation and support should be clearly indicated on digital properties (web sites, Twitter and Facebook, etc.) just as they should on premise at a physical location. Representatives should be punctual to make sure that the posted hours are consistent with the actual experience. You know that feeling when you call into a call center and the hold message just spins and spins? If you later find out the business wasn’t even open but no notice was given that you should not wait on hold, you will likely wind up feeling cheated out of your time. Likewise, sending a tweet out to the universe with no response can feel like being ignored.

So, clearly post those hours of operation, and then live up to that brand promise. That’s what it is, after all: a promise of service available during a certain time period.

Keep Your Social Media Customer Support Staff Informed

Knowledge will make you free

Knowledge will make you free (Photo credit: tellatic)

You know that feeling when you are shopping for something, and you get to talk to an employee who has all the answers your looking for? And then gives you more information you didn’t even know you wanted? I love that feeling. I tend to buy more from people like that.

Informed staff can provide more than just information. They convey a sense of confidence and faith in the brand, and can put customer fears to rest. There are many areas of information that you can share with your team to ensure happy, trusting customers.

  • Product/Service Information – It’s critical that your team is fully knowledgeable on all product and service information and pricing. If your staff can’t answer questions on your own goods, it can cause a lack of confidence in the ability of the brand to deliver.
  • Mission Statement – A well-written company mission statement tells an employee many things, including the main goal the company hopes to achieve and an indication of the way in which the company hopes to achieve that goal.
  • Brand Voice – Each brand develops its own voice in the marketplace. Correctly training on the tone and tenor that suits your company will really help your team stay true to that voice. Consistent brand voice helps your customers feel confident in that brand promise.
  • Corporate News – Customers have easy access to plenty of news and information about your company. Providing that same information to your staff ensures they appear well-informed.
  • Insider Information – When possible, inform your team of changes before the general public is made aware. This allows them to keep their expert status.

These few steps can help your company look buttoned up and prepared to assist customers with all their questions and concerns. And, aside from creating confident customers, a great side effect is that your employees will feel confident too. That’s great for morale. So, ask yourself what you can do today to get your team prepared to answer the questions customers may be asking them tomorrow.

Infograph: Salesforce Desk’s “Which Industries Get the Most Customer Service Complaints?”

Interesting infograph published by Salesforce Desk on customer service complaints by category.

Using Social Media to Teach Customers

Classroom Chairs

Classroom Chairs (Photo credit: James Sarmiento (old account))

One of the benefits of developing relationships with your customers via social media is the opportunity to provide education.  Customers don’t really want to call you with their questions and concerns; honestly some customers may even prefer to look up the answer for themselves rather than ask you on Twitter or Facebook or other social channel.

The barrier to self service can be a lack of awareness that self-service materials exist or how to locate them. Say you run a dry cleaning service, and you’ve decided to provide helpful information on fabric care and cleaning (I don’t know, I’m making this up. Go with me here.) A customer tweets at 8:30 am panicking over a stain on her suit she’s been trying to get out since 7am for her 9:00 am meeting.

Here are 3 steps to raise awareness and educate customers:

  1. Solve the immediate need –  Step in and tell the customer there is no need to panic. Give quick instructions on how to remove the stain within her current constraints (meeting in 30 minutes, drugstore 2 minutes away, apply these chemicals and voila, stain gone in time for meeting.)
  2. Provide additional information that could help next time (Suzie, here’s a link to our site where you can get information to solve your stain issues in the future)
  3. Advise of relevant services your company provides (Also Suzie, our facility at 9th and Main opens at 7am and will take care of stains for you on-the-spot [pun intended] for a tiny fee. We hope you’ll think of us next time).

We know the spirit of social media is all about community and helping, and not so much about cold selling. However, in this case, Suzie knows that rather than spend 2 hours fixing a stain, she could save the panic and just head on over to 9th and Main next time.

River Pools and Spas has created a blog and educational section to help educate customers about buying and installing in-ground pools. Providing this information to customers, regardless of their intent to buy from your company, not only establishes them as an authority on the subject, but also goes a long way to creating a relationship of trust before consumers have ever stepped foot into their showroom.

Now, take a look at your business model. Could you do something similar?

Make it Easy

2001 Atlanta Trip with Wendy

2001 Atlanta Trip with Wendy (Photo credit: dharder9475)

You may have read my last post about Macy’s, and how I love that she texts me to let me know when the sales are happening. Well, recently my love turned colder when I went to return a pair of shoes and a dress. See, I went to return everything at the Calvin Klein counter (because I love Calvin Klein) and I intended to purchase more items after my return was through. But, that dream came to a screaching halt when the sales rep dumped my box upside down on the counter, saw the pair of shoes in the box and said “oh, you’ll have to return those upstairs at the shoe department.” I said “you’re joking.” She said “No ma’am, I’m sorry, shoes wants their shoes returned upstairs.” I thought “Really?” So, you know what I did? I went upstairs and returned both the dress and the shoes to the shoe department, and then left. No shopping at Macy’s.  I took my money to another store to buy my $300 worth of Calvin Klein dresses that same day.

So, what happened there? I’ll tell you. The store has a policy to make things more convenient for the store and less convenient for the customer. This can irritate customers. And though customers may not say in words that they dislike the process, but they can certainly speak with their wallets. That’s why reducing customer effort is so important. Customers will pay a premium to be treated well.

How could the scenario have gone differently? Picture this. I’m walking into my favorite section of Macy’s, the Calvin Klein section. The sales clerk notices how distracted I am by the new dresses and says “Don’t you just love that blue one? We just got those in and everyone has been looking at them. If you like, I can finish this up for you while you go have a look.”  And then a few minutes later I’m pulling out the credit card. Zip zip. Macy’s makes $300 in a few minutes.

So yes, the clerk would have had to put those shoes aside and later someone would have to come retrieve them. But each time we place a barrier in front of our customres, we run the risk that they will walk out the door with their money. Heck, I exerted EXTRA effort to go to a completely different store to spend my money. I was spending money that day, and if Macy’s didn’t want it I was happy to give it to someone else.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Are all the tasks I ask my customer to complete really necessary?
  • Do I ask my customer questions I don’t really need the answer to?
  • Is there a way that I can anticipate the wants/needs of my customer and solve those needs before they have to ask?
  • If I were the customer, how would this feel to me?

In your business, I invite  you to think about the processes you have in place to reduce your own workload. Now, think about whether those barriers could potentially cost you sales. And then decide if there is a way you could change those processes to make things easier on your customer. If I react that way with my beloved Macy’s, I assure you that your customers, equally loyal or less loyal, may do the same to you.

Say Good Morning

Happy Office Worker

Happy Office Worker (Photo credit: norsez (Thank you for 20,000 views))

Do you have those people at work that come in and cheerfully say good morning to everyone they see? You know when they’re coming; you can hear them chatting with each person they pass on their way in. What about the person who never says anything to anybody, just makes a beeline for the desk?

I have to admit, I vary depending on who the person is and their demeanor. This one lady I work with, who is very nice, would tell you that I hardly ever say hello in the morning and pass her right by. You know why? Every time I pass her desk she looks deep in thought. And to me, the work she does seems complicated, so I never want to break her concentration.

But the security guard at the front desk, he’s not that way. He doesn’t have to, but he’s made it a point to say good morning to every person that walks in the door. Not just half-heartedly, no. Not this guy. Though he’s soft spoken, he makes eye contact, smiles, and says “Good morning!” Then, as you leave his sight, he’s sure to say “Have a nice day.” Every morning. My impression of him over the past months has come to be “what a nice guy.” And now, I catch myself saying good morning to him before he even has a chance to say anything! If you told that to the lady whose office I pass every morning, I bet she would say “Really? Frankie does that?”

So, realizing how I feel when he says good morning, I made a point to share my impression with the nice lady at work that I ignore every morning. We both laughed, and she basically told me that she’s happy to have me interrupt her to say good morning. And now I do. You know what? She probably likes me more now. Why? I’ll spare you all the nerdy social science behind this (that I LOVE), but she probably likes me more because she thinks I like her. It’s the theory of reciprocal liking.

Now, what does this have to do with you? Your customers will like you better if they think you like them. An easy way to make people think you like them is to cheerfully extend social courtesies like saying “Good morning” and “Have a great evening” to your customers. On social, I love seeing the ” Goodnight ‘tweeps, we’re outta here!” posts at the end of the evening and the “Good morning, happy people!” tweets in the morning. They add a sense of positive energy, especially in the customer support arena, where feelings might be more negative. If you also have a physical presence, look up at your customers and say “Good morning, thanks for coming in!” or something to that effect. I do recommend varying the words used; Moe’s may do well shouting “Welcome to Moe’s!” at each customer, but I think personalizing your greeting works better.

So, good evening everyone. Thanks for stopping by the Socially Supportive blog!

Look at me, look at me!

"Here's looking at you, kid."

“Here’s looking at you, kid.” (Photo credit: ⌡K)

One of the most important things we can do to ensure good customer service is to watch it. Literally, to observe the transactions our folks have with our customers. Leaders send memos, make rules, start programs, and then after watching for a bit, let those initiatives be and assume their team is adhering to those decisions. But our teams probably need continual guidance and education to ensure that they fully understand not only the letter of the policies we have, but also the spirit.

Our teams need to be initially inspired with the right guidance on how we want our customers to be treated. We should demonstrate and educate on not only the processes we need to adhere to but also the feeling we want our customers to have as they interact with our brands. But after that first exposure to the concepts, we should continue to check in on a regular basis to help keep our teams on track.

Paying attention to your customer service interactions on a regular basis not only ensures your team has the right level of support and guidance, but also helps limit the number of surprises you may find after weeks or months of being disconnected.

So, have a look at that Facebook page or that forum. Hey, this one applies to bricks and mortar as well, so if you have retail location or call center, pop on in for a visit.

7 Things That Frustrate Customers on Social Media

138/365 Frustrated.

138/365 Frustrated. (Photo credit: martinak15)

You know what frustrates me as a customer of social media? The same things that annoy your customers on social media. Here they are; feel free to channel your inner customer, nod your head and say “me too!” out loud.

  • Ignore me. I’m here, asking you a question or making a statement. If you choose to not answer, I’m likely to feel ignored. I don’t want to be ignored. I matter. Let me know I matter.
  • Make me wait. If I ask a question and you respond quickly with “let me check on that for you,” I’m happy. For now. But don’t make me wait days to answer my question. This may make me grouchy, unless expectations are set up front. Try to set those expectations or check in regularly with updatees. I want to know you haven’t forgotten me.
  • Request that I email you. Yep, I said it. It’s annoying. There are times that I know we need to take it offline. But not every time. And not in every case. If I ask you the address of your store, you can answer me online. I’m impressed anytime I ask a question and get a quick answer online that actually saves me time and effort.
  • Use unnatural language. We’re past that, right? Those scripted phrases from phone calls had their place in a more formal time; however we’re on social media now. Share your personality (within reason) and speak to me as if we’re chatting over a coffee.
  • Argue with me. Especially if I’m already worked up. You may feel that you have proved your point; however I’m still not happy. Better to acknowledge my feelings and understand that I may see things differently than you intended.
  • Go on and on and ON. I’m on social in the first place asking you to engage with me because I’m impatient. Try using journalism tricks to keep your answer clear, crisp and concise. I’m glad you are empathizing with me, but I’m driving/reading/watching TV/talking to my family and my attention is divided. Make it easy for me to understand what you’re saying.
  • Don’t try too hard. Yep, I went there. If I’m on social engaging you, I expect elite service. I want you to know who to reach out to. I want you to think creatively to solve my problem. In short, I want you to make something happen. If you can’t make something happen, I’m probably disappointed and talking bad about you (on social and in person).

Have your own pet peeves? Feel free to add them.

Be Real

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve all been talking quite a bit in the social media world about being transparent and authentic. Those are the go-to buzz words. I think that really breaks down to getting real and being honest. People typically have little interest in being your friend or following you if they get the sense you aren’t genuine. Let’s face it, do any of us need friends that are only there when it’s convenient for them, or friends that don’t tell us the truth? For me, I think time is short, and I have little time for fair-weather friends or folks that are rarely truthful. For those Mad Men fans, Don Draper is great, but all that evasiveness and secrecy causes his personal and professional relationships to suffer greatly.

In the world of corporate social media, executing on “transparent and authentic” can be challenging in controversy. How transparent should you be? Where do you draw the line? I’ve discussed some of these ideas before, but generally, I think you should always try to answer. And the answer should be meaningful and real. Sometimes even saying “I don’t know yet, I’m still checking,” is meaningful enough because it lets the person know that you are still engaged.

What if it’s controversial and you don’t really want to answer? Can’t you just block the person? Well, yes, you could. But if you play it out in your mind, if you have a person that is very vocal on say, Facebook, asking you a question that would be uncomfortable to answer, what could happen if you block that person? That person might just take that same original problem over to another channel, like Twitter, where you can’t block him. And now he not only broadcasts his original problem, but also talks about how you blocked him from Facebook to avoid answering him. And that can make your audience think you’re a fair-weathered friend. Of course, there are times when private or sensitive pertinent data cannot be shared publicly. But if you are responsive, and real, and say what you can, I believe chances are that reasonable fans and followers will see that you are making a valid attempt to address the situation as best you can.

Remember when Dan Hesse had that bad image of Sprint’s to deal with? I thought it was great the way he stood right up and made commercials to be real about the changes they were making. And, as a Sprint customer, I can tell you I have seen the changes. J.C. Penney has also seen some positive press coming off of their openness about their recent changes that didn’t sit well with customers. They were open and spoke simply and clearly about what they felt was wrong and how they intended to fix it. Dell, with the battery issue? We as humans respond well to people that will address things.

So, where you can, I encourage you to be courageous enough to be real.

Macy’s Anticipates Customer Need

English: Macy's Department Store in New York City.

English: Macy’s Department Store in New York City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got a phone call today. From Macy’s. My girl Macy called me to say that the purchase I made online would be shipped in two separate orders to get them here as quickly as possible. You know, just in case I was wondering how I should expect my order to arrive. By the way, this order was prompted by an email that came to my inbox reminding me of the Super Saturday Sale. I was able to click right from the email to the extra 20% off that was calling my name. I say “reminding me” because Macy’s texts me all the time to let me know when sales are happening. Just like a good shopping buddy would.

Wow, did you get all tangled up in my social relationship with my girl Macy? Are you wondering if I feel bothered, irritated or smothered by this? Surprisingly, my answer is no. Because Macy’s is doing a great job anticipating my needs as a consumer. Of course I want to know when Super Saturday is. Of course I like getting a little phone call to let me know they shipped my order in 2 separate packages. And, conveniently, if you don’t feel the same way, you have the ability to opt out of any of these interactions at any time, with easy instructions through each media channel.

I don’t think each company has to go to this level of support; in fact, that may get to be too many phone calls and emails. However, I think what is important is to find the right mix of social support for your customers. Find out what level of service your customers prefer, and in what channels. Then give it to them. Notice how I classify that email from Macy’s alerting me to sales as a customer support practice? On most planets I think people refer to that as marketing. To me, it’s a great service, because I don’t have to check the site or read the newspaper or even watch television to find out about upcoming store events. I just look at texts or emails.

I hope this sparks some ideas. The more we get ahead of customer need instead of running behind it, the better off we’ll be. Need anticipation is a great way to reduce customer effort. So, feel free to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, and see if you can do some of the work for your customer by anticipating their needs. And Macy’s, if you’re listening, keep texting, emailing, and calling. Just don’t tell my husband.