Remember Me

English: Light bulb patent application. Photol...

English: Light bulb patent application. Photolithography reproduction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think that of all the things I might dislike about customer service experiences, having to repeat myself is the thing I find most frustrating. Think about how much time it takes to recall whatever your story is to share it with the next new person you are working with in any customer support channel. Face to face at the bank. On the phone with the doctor’s office. At your pharmacy. Your child’s school. By the third time you I relay the same story, I start to think “Is this really worth all the effort?” in my head.

We know that today, customer churn is top of mind. Keeping customers is less expensive than attracting new ones, and we all want the entirety of the customer experience to be great. What makes a great customer experience? In my experience, the interactions I have with companies are what impact my impression of companies I deal with. For example, when I’m sitting at home wondering “when was that gift basket supposed to be delivered?” I immediately think “well, how can I find out? How long would it take to find out? Do I have to call them? Will they answer the phone at 9pm when I have time to call them, and how informed, articulate and generally amenable is the customer service rep that answers the phone? And, all that sounds hard, so do I really have to call? Can I just tweet to @giftsgalorenstuff ‘hey did my basket make it?’

Sound familiar? So how great would it be if, when I reach out to the company, they act like they know me? Can they just (if they can figure it out from my Twitter handle) respond and say “if you’re talking about that chocolate heaven stack sent to Hoboken, it got there 2 hours ago.” Of course, that’s a convenient case where proprietary information isn’t really an issue, and the Twitter handle can be linked back. But more and more customer support-focused social engagement tools have the ability to link internal account information to customer’s social accounts. And hey, even if you can’t fully answer the question, you can still add whatever personal context is prudent to let customers know that you know them and remember them.

How easy is it to tweet a question to the universe and get the right answer? It’s easier than digging through email to find the confirmation email and clicking through to the company’s website, or even clicking the embedded link in the email that takes you directly to tracking information. If service is really the new retention, then shouldn’t the company dig through their records and click a link for me? (lightbulb goes on.) Yes, we have evolved to that place with social I believe. In customer service we used to be able to say “well, if you can find that confirmation number for me, I’ll be happy to look into it for you.” Social media says “Hey Company XYZ, it’s Frankie, where’s my gift basket?” and infers that you, company XYZ, should go find your own confirmation number based on my name. And I think the company that can accomplish that task regularly probably gets the repeat business by reducing customer effort. I know it works for me personally.

So, tomorrow, when you’re dreaming up ways that you can make a huge impact at work, try a little of this. I bet you can change quite a few customer experiences. And it’s probably easier than you think.

Let’s Not Fight, Shall We?

McDonalds Happy Meal

McDonalds Happy Meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Picture this: a McDonald’s drive thru speaker, a drive thru worker, and a carload of parents and cranky toddlers disgruntled from leaving the park before they were ready. The only thing that separates them from nap time is the Happy Meals that are calling their names. It’s great that McDonald’s offers smaller french fry sizes and sliced apples in the Happy Meals now. That makes my husband happy.

What does not make me happy is the fight about the drinks. The drive thru lady says “what drinks do you want with the meals?” and my husband says “we don’t want drinks.” How do you think the drive thru lady responded? “You have to have a drink,” she says, sounding disgusted.

Ok, it’s really hot outside and the kids are crying. They have ice water in their cup holders. We don’t need the milk or (heaven forbid the sugar rush) soda or juice. Now, I do realize that the price of the meal is discounted by the price of the drink so that your point of sale system can account for and charge the drink. I served as the drive thru queen of a fast food place through high school and am familiar. I’m fine with you charging me for a drink because that’s what the meal costs. But I don’t really have to have a drink, I just have to pay for one.

Fast forward to the window where the drive thru lady tries to hand us the ice waters she’s prepared, where my husband again informs her we don’t want the drinks. Her demeanor changes from disgust to disbelief when she repeats “You don’t want a drink?” Nope. We don’t want the drinks. All six cup holders are full, and as we can’t pass you trash through the window anymore, no, we don’t want a drink.

How could this situation have been improved? Had the drive thru worker listened to and accepted the original customer request to not have drinks, and simply informed us of the necessity to charge for the drinks, my husband would have said “that’s fine.” Time and materials would have been saved because ice waters would not have been prepared, and the customer experience would have been much more enjoyable. Instead, attempts to force customers to comply with rules that make process easier for the business actually makes things harder.

This can be translated to social customer support as well. If your customer makes a statement or request that seems reasonable, take a moment to determine whether it is appropriate and feasible to bend to meet customer desire. The experience delivered can drive customer satisfaction and loyalty, and could turn out to be an easy way to make an ordinary interaction memorable. In my experience, taking a little time to ponder possibilities can provide many more options for customers. This can reduce the number of times the phrase “you have to” is spoken to your customers. Who likes to hear that? Not me.

Make Feedback Easy

Hampton Inn

Hampton Inn (Photo credit: Mark Sardella)

Last night my family and I stayed in a Hampton Inn in Greenwood, Mississippi. It’s a small town on Highway 82. There are several hotels in town, many with (I’m fairly certain) comparable amenities and features. I do recall the bed being pretty comfortable. But that’s not the most memorable part of the stay.

The most memorable part of our stay was Mary. The Hampton Inn offers free breakfast like so many hotel chains do these days. Ours in Greenwood had a rather nice setup, with just about everything you could want, short of a line cook and a hot grill. As my family and I wandered in, Mary came straight out to meet us. She said good morning. She doted over the kids. She made meal suggestions and pointed us to utensils and extra napkins. As a matter of fact, Mary came out of the kitchen every time a guest came through and treated them as though they were relatives in her very own kitchen at her own house. And not the relatives you wish would leave, but the favorite ones you’ve been waiting to see, and really hope have a good time and want to come back.

Before we left, Mary came out with a couple apples and bananas. She said we should take them for the girls, you know, in case they got hungry later in the car. We drove several more hours before making it back to Atlanta, unloaded the car and got situated, and I’m still thinking about Mary.

There were other positive things about the hotel stay, too. The night clerk (I didn’t catch her name) was very nice when I rang down and asked if I could stop by to pick up extra shampoo. She had a few bottles waiting for me at the front desk by the time I got down, and made sure to ask if I needed anything else and assure me that anything I needed, I should let her know.

So… you know what’s frustrating? I was so pleased with Mary that I wanted to let Hampton Inn know right away. I mean, as my husband drove us out of the parking lot I was on the iPhone looking for their Facebook page to tell them. And I couldn’t find them. Well, really, they had many custom pages for different particular hotels, one page that could have been them but it was hard to tell on the phone view. And then when I visited the site I couldn’t clearly find a place for compliments or suggestions. With cell reception in Greenwood being what it is, the slow speed got me frustrated and I decided it would have to wait. The result being that I’m blogging before I’m able to let Mary’s employers know that she is awesome.

My suggestion is to make feedback easy for customers. Where’s your Facebook page? Can I find it? Do I know it’s really the one I’m looking for? Is it easy to find you on Twitter? Don’t make me email you. Don’t make me mail you a letter. That sounds hard. You may miss out on my compliments.

I will do those things for Mary, because man, that lady was awesome. If you’re looking for someone to really make your guests feel at home, run out to the Hampton Inn in Greenwood, MS around breakfast time and go see Mary. But if you want to know before my blog readers do that you already have a Mary in your employ, I suggest you make feedback really easy.

Good Customer Care in Crisis

English: The water towers on the north side of...

English: The water towers on the north side of Tinker Air Force Base are prominent landmarks in Midwest City, OK. Category:Photographs by User:Willy Logan Category:Images of Oklahoma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sitting in the parking lot of the Hawthorn Suites hotel in Midwest City, OK just before midnight. Although this is a much later hour than I usually keep, I thought I should take the time to write about this.

As you may know, Moore, OK has just been through some devastating tornados. There isn’t a hotel room available for over 50 miles tonight because they are all booked with people who have lost their homes.

My family and I reserved a room for the week a while back because my father, who passed a couple years ago, is being honored at the Air Force base. We were fortunate that we made the reservation early. Unfortunately, the hotel clerk that booked our reservation was brand new the night I talked to her on the phone. I was, quite literally, her first and last reservation. She neglected to book tonight’s room for us. And here I am with twin girls sleeping in the car. In light of others’ troubles, this is peanuts, but inconvenient nonetheless.

Shane, the night staff at the hotel, has been working 24 hours straight. He could have just told me we were out of luck, and that other people have bigger problems. But do you know what he did instead? Shane worked out a room for us by calling to see if any of the 4 late check-ins were not going to need their rooms after all. He found one room like a needle in a haystack when all rooms, as I mentioned earlier, are booked for 50 miles. Shane stayed an hour late to help make sure our room was ready. I have to tell you, I’m so impressed.

Could any of us say we would do the same? I hope so. Shane’s own house just got electricity turned back on, so he has his own struggles. But he still helped me. Thanks, Shane

Keep the Kudos

"Customer Care," a 20x30-inch inspir...

“Customer Care,” a 20×30-inch inspirational color poster photograph of two hands cradling a rose, created by the 31st Communications Squadron (CS), Visual Information, Aviano Air Base (AB), Italy. Subtitle:”Customer care must be nurtured from beginning to end.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We often hear how important it is to truly understand the customer journey with our organizations. You know, how it’s very important to put ourselves in our customers shoes. I fully agree that is the best way to empathize and remove obstacles to positive outcomes.

Here’s something we may not hear as much about, and I’m inclined to write about it today. I think it is just as important to take some time to truly understand our social media customer support reps and the journey they face every day. If you’ve ever been a customer support rep of any kind, whether on the phone, in a retail setting, e-care or social, you know that the day can be grueling. Even the best representative that truly wants an exceptional customer experience can finish the day ragged from all of the challenges. That rep comes in full of company love and hope, but as the day wears on, a person can grow weary under the pressure coming from customers and from leaders.

Because of this, I think we need to keep the kudos. Every tweet, email, positive comment or great outcome that occurred because that customer support rep went the distance to make something big happen should be forwarded, printed out, pasted up, and put in some review somewhere. I explained to the team I work with that the social customer care position is not for the weak; every statement you make out their in public is open for review, suggestion, comment and, well, scrutiny, really. The channel is quite public, and any mistake made is visible to anyone that happens across the comments. So, imagine the pressure.

There are great things happening in organizations today because of work done by social customer support reps that dig deep to unearth policies that could use updating or can reach out to connect customers to the right sources to solve problems. This movement of using social media for customer support could not come at a better time, especially as we see the shift in power from corporations to customers, and customers voting on experiences with their feet and their dollars. Customer care is proving to be a product differentiator more than just an expense companies are forced to deal with. And that customer support rep with the right attitude and motivation is at the heart of that movement, that change that causes customers to stay or go.

So every post I see, every compliment I receive on a social customer care rep is being saved, forwarded, talked about, and praised. More than that, I’m asking the reps to send me anything they find that shows customers are excited about the attention and service we are providing. If you worked hard to put together a great team of customer support reps for social media, and they’re doing a great job for you and customers are noticing, I encourage you to do the same. Just like with our customers, let’s tell our reps how great they are while we have them, and tell them how much we appreciate the work they do, in the moment, to help one more customer have a great experience.

Thanks, team.

When Disaster Strikes

 

Lightning strikes over downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lightning strikes over downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In customer care, we are used to providing a supportive role to our customers, our brand, and our organization. When crisis strikes, the best thing we can do to assist is to continue providing support.

I’m reminded of this with the recent tornados that swept through Oklahoma. Having lived in the Oklahoma area, I am compelled to help in any way I can. But, having lived through these kinds of events, I also realize that too much help is not really help.

Any recent natural disaster research can tell you that assistance is only beneficial when the right help is provided at the right time. For example, if too much water or too many bandages are purchased and trucked in, this can cause a shortage of other much needed supplies.

A good plan is to make the best decisions possible with the data currently available, remain flexible and divide tasks early among groups to cover as much ground as possible. The trick is making sure communications channels remain open across all groups to avoid information silos. This can be challenging if one point of contact from each group is not quickly identified. Uncoordinated information can cause false or stale data to be distributed. Lack of information can mean the right people don’t have the latest intelligence. This can become damaging quickly in social media if incorrect data is supplied to customers.

So, here’s hoping everyone is safe in Oklahoma tonight. And here’s hoping these words can provide benefit to others coordinating efforts.

Service is Everywhere

I’m traveling today, and I want to share some experiences with you. I left my car at Park N Fly Plus in Atlanta this morning. The attendant patiently waited as I barely answered her questions while shuffling items from one hand to another. The shuttle driver almost dove for my carry-on and said “I’ll get that for you, ma’am,” so I wouldn’t have to lift the bag. Inside Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the TSA agent directing people through the line smiled and instructed travelers to do the same as she recited helpful information. The agent scanning my boarding pass engaged in polite conversation as she smiled at me.

In my quest for aspirin, the news stand cashier in the B terminal smiled warmly and asked if I’d like to donate an item to our troops. Once on the plane, I saw and off-duty Delta flight attendant assist a passenger very sweetly with her bag. Then the on-duty flight attendant, without a word, quietly re-adjusted the bag I placed in the overhead without a snicker, a lesson in bag-ology, or anything. All I could say was “Thank you so much!” as I realized that I, who never do things like that, was just spared a lecture.

Are you amazed? I’m not. Our corporate focus on customer support is becoming obvious. Now, of course, some days are not like this. But how lovely was this morning without incident, snicker, dissertation, or grouchy look from our friends in the travel industry? They are listening to us, and I have to say, if this morning was any indication, they are getting it right.

So, what does this say about social media and customer support? Here’s what I think it says. If Park N Fly, the TSA, Hartsfield-Jackson and Delta can deliver experiences like the one I had on a busy Tuesday travel morning, I would like to announce that the bar has just been raised for the rest of the world, including social media customer support. If we want to deliver exceptional customer support via social media, we’re going to have to take some of that smile and personality I experienced this morning and deliver it via the cold, hard cyberspace. Eeeek.

Start Delivering Great Social Customer Support Today.
Do this:
– Smile: Smile while you type. Get a mirror and put it next to your computer and smile at yourself. I had one at my desk for years, and many times people asked me if I really liked looking at myself or wanted to see if someone was coming up behind me. But the real answer is, if you watch the look on your face while you talk on the phone or interact on social media, you will become aware, and you may notice that the face you’re making doesn’t look very friendly.

– Listen: This one is hard, I know. We do listen, but sometimes when we want to respond quickly we listen for keywords only and then switch right over to solution-location mode. I know this because I have done this myself a time or two (author blushes.) Instead, try to really listen to all the words being said and the overall issue. Then, try to paraphrase without sounding scripted. That way, if you’ve misunderstood the real issue, the customer has a chance to correct before you spend much time “fixing” the not-issue.

– Empathize: A technique you can use to empathize that also helps in listening, is to visualize what the customer is saying. If the customer says the wrong sofa was delivered and she took all day off work to wait for this sofa and now she’s really mad because she clearly ordered the BROWN sofa and this green thing in her living room is clearly not BROWN, try this. Before the defense mechanism engages as you try to defend your company, close your eyes and imagine yourself as this woman. Your expectations have been violated. The wrong sofa probably threw off your schedule of lunch for your child and walking the dog, and now that this Saturday appointment didn’t work you just know you’ll have to take off a day during the week, but you have so many meetings. Now. return to yourself as the customer service person. Help the customer from this frame of mind.

– Wow: After you’ve smiled, listened and empathized, now you have an opportunity to wow the customer. One way to wow your customer is to shock her with a solution that makes little work for her or provides some benefit. What if you could get another truck with the right sofa out there today? What would it take to do that? Would you have to make some phone calls? Do you know? Can you find out what it would take? It’s not always possible, I know, but I think the important thing is to try to make things right. Make the customer whole, or as close to whole as possible. Customers are surprisingly resilient and understanding of mistakes when they are quickly made whole, or better than whole.

These are just a few quick tips that can help make for excellent customer support. Since Delta and the TSA are stepping up their game, maybe these tips can help us step up our game.

Any more thoughts? Love to hear them. Happy travels.

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Don’t Forget The Research

Research being carried out at the Microscopy l...

Research being carried out at the Microscopy lab of the . This photo was taken on July 28, 2006 using a Nikon D70. For more information about INL’s research projects and career opportunities, visit the lab’s facebook site. www.facebook.com/idahonationallaboratory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work with a great group of people who are a wealth of knowledge. (No, that’s not sarcasm, I really mean it.) I really enjoy learning things from people. Or being reminded of things by the smart people I work with. Which happened to me today, and I’d like to share it with you.

One of my earlier blog posts was about whether a Facebook customer support tab is still relevant (see Facebook Customer Support Tab – Necessary or Irrelevant?). When trying to determine the answer, you could decide necessity depends on the content offered to customers on that support tab. If the content is not making a customer’s life easier or more interesting, then the tab probably isn’t necessary. If there is meaningful content for a customer, then maybe a support tab is a good way to go. Well, then this could lead you to wonder, what information would a customer find useful? And how should this wonderfully helpful information be organized?

While researching existing Facebook customer support tabs, I came across the HP Customer Support Tab and fell in love with the concept. (Check it out for yourself at https://www.facebook.com/HP?ref=ts&fref=ts#!/HP/app_447787101922291). On this page, depending on your preference, you can choose from 3 clean options:

  • I want to help myself (which links to self-support information you can read on your own)
  • I want help from others (which links to the HP Support Forum)
  • I want help from HP (which directs you to a list of options for contacting HP essentially)

“Brilliant!” I thought. Just brilliant. I need look no further, I found my favorite layout for Facebook customer support tabs. Clean. Simple. Useful options that make your life so easy. So, in my discussion with my brilliant mentors and colleagues, I toss this out as the best thing that ever happened in the world. And the strangest thing happened. These people I work with, that have much experience in the space… they disagree. WHAT? What just happened? Surely they couldn’t! Surely they jest! What could be better than a solution that gives you three possible paths to solve your problem?

Well, they preferred an option where the company help option was more prominently featured, and thought the options for support forum and self-support should be offered later. The theory given was that if a customer is trying to reach out to you on Facebook, they want to discuss it with you directly on Facebook. That’s why the came. “But if you give equal options, maybe the motivation isn’t really to post publicly on the page, maybe it’s to find options,” I said, now defending my emotional decision about the brilliance they clearly missed. And back and forth we went, debating.

Then, because as I said, the folks I work with are brilliant, the real answer came out. Perhaps a usability study of some kind would reveal what the majority of users think. And then it hit me. I was making a broad assumption based on my lone opinion that people would prefer what I prefer. Sigh.  So, it was getting deep. Then another sharp tool in my shed of smart people I associate with said that maybe the usability could be done by asking community members that might use the customer support tab what they think. See? Smart people.

Social media is very shiny, and can be disorienting. We’re completing familiar tasks in a new environment, and this can cause even the best of us to forget core concepts like usability studies, asking people what they want and getting feedback before delivering something still makes sense. So from this experience I assembled a few good questions to ask before settling on a design for a Facebook customer support tab:

  • Do I need a customer support tab?
  • What should I include on this customer support tab?
  • Why will people come to this tab?
  • What will they expect to see or do?
  • How would the page be best organized?
  • What is the best approach for my usability study?

Do you have any questions to add to the list?

Fix the Process

English: It's a simple picture of a magnifying...

English: It’s a simple picture of a magnifying glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ask me, social media is like a magnifying glass, or those 10x magnifying mirrors women use to apply makeup in the morning. If you’ve ever used one of these, you know that you might feel like you need a good therapy session afterward.  Every problem, every blemish, everything that you’re already so self-critical of about yourself is made larger than life and reflected back at you.

Every flawed customer interaction can be magnified and served back to you as customer complaints on social media. And savvy executives are watching their own social spaces (go, you savvy execs out there!). This real-time access to customer experience and opinion is just what  companies have needed. But, if you’re running customer care for these spaces, oh boy, get ready.  The pressure is on to answer customer complaints, and fast.

Companies can rush to silence complaining customers by providing relief to just those customers that voice concern; however, without real change, those complaints will just continue to arrive on corporate social media properties.

So, how do you get to real change? Investigate, determine root cause, and correct. For example,  if customers complain about products arriving late, certainly help those customers that complain first, but then also dig deep to find causes and find out how often it happens. Do you have a call center? Chat reps? Do they get the same complaints? How many? And for how long? Was a policy or process change enacted around the time that the complaints started? Or has the process always been this way? Is there a reason the process has to remain in its current form, or is there a potential change that could produce an improved customer experience?

All this investigation requires an organizational culture that can collaborate and is open to change. Launching social media was a pretty big change a few years ago, so if you’ve been around a while, chances are you have a culture that can withstand some policy investigation (I hope). All this detective work takes some time, usually on the part of your social customer support team. First, they have to dig to the root of the issue for the initial customer, and then, they have to ask for other departments to pitch in and provide data on past complaints. Some departments may not want to share that they’ve had a number of complaints on an issue, but if the culture is really about improving customer experience, and you approach the request right, you might be surprised to find that the department is glad someone else noticed there was an issue (“finally” might be a word you hear once or twice).

So, if you’re up for it, give it a try. Be nice (No finger-pointing. We’re all in this together!) and use all your social charm inside the company to see what you can get done. It feels really good when you know that future customers won’t have that same-old issue anymore now that you’ve used the data from social media to solve a nagging process issue.

Say Thank You

Thank You

Thank You (Photo credit: mandiberg)

This one’s important. Say thank you. Thank you for being our customer. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for sticking through the good and bad times with us. Thank you for your loyalty.

Sometimes a like is good. But thank you lasts. Especially when it’s personalized. And when it comes to customer support, they’ve come to you because they need help, and have had to exert some effort to seek that help. So, recognize that. You don’t need flowers or a card necessarily. Sometimes a thank you does wonders.