Patience Pays in Social Customer Support

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When a customer is upset, and needs something, expects something, is angry about something, it can be stressful. Sometimes the fiery words you are reading can cause your own anxiety level to increase. the  can also cause an urge to act quickly to squash the negative energy coming at you. This urge for quick reply is natural, but can be counterproductive.

With agitated customers, sometimes the best thing to say is… nothing. Wait. Be patient, and listen. This can be done in person, over the phone, or electronically. Allow the customer to vent and say all of the things they need to say before you respond at all. On longer form platforms like forums and Facebook this is pretty easy. The customer is typically done venting by the time the post is published. However on Twitter,  you can’t be so sure. Give it a minute to see if another post pops in. Responding too quickly there can seem like an interruption. On the phone or in person, I recommend just… being silent. Active listening sometimes suggests head nodding and little sounds that indicate you are indeed paying attention. I find that when customers are really angry, pure silence provides room for them to really get it all out. Whether we are the true cause of the angry outburst or not, it really is a nice gift to another person to just allow them room to vent and be unhappy. Another positive side effect of listening to the customer’s full monologue before offering assistance is that you get a complete picture of what the actual root cause is.  A customer may begin discussing one single issue that causes frustration, but then lead into several other events and before you know it, you’ve arrived at the bigger issue.

So next time a customer pops open a giant can of “What-for” on you, resist the urge to start apologizing and fixing right away. Try as hard as you can to just let them vent, and vent, and vent until it’s all out. Being a customer myself, I can admit (though it is a bit embarrassing) that I’ve been that customer that vented before. What’s interesting is I usually wound up apologizing to and thanking the people that allowed me to vent. You might have the same thing happen to you.

Communication is Critical to Positive Customer Experience

Contractors review plans (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Marc Barnes) http://www.flickr.com/photos/usacehq/

Contractors review plans (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Marc Barnes) http://www.flickr.com/photos/usacehq/

You may remember my recent post about a water pipe that burst in my house (Kiwi Delivers Great Customer Service to Atlanta Storm Victims). Well, like many other Atlanta residents I’m still going through the process of having those repairs completed. As many of you might know, this involves having a contractor assigned to your claim. The first contractor assigned to my claim reminded me how important it is to effectively communicate with customers. Not only is good communication important, it can save customer relationships. We’ve recently decided to part ways with our first contractor, and I wonder if that could have been avoided with better communication.

The Story (Short Version)

When the estimator came out from (we’ll just call them “First Contractor Company,”) he shook my hand, told me his name, handed me his card, and then just started walking around the house. As I tried to tell him the story of the path the water took, he acted like he was trying to avoid me. Finally, he said “I’ll just take these measurements and if I have any questions I’ll let you know.” So I stopped talking to him. Completely. I felt like a child asked to sit in the corner and be quiet. After 20 minutes, he came to the kitchen table where I sat checking emails and said “so do you know how this is going to work?” Well, how could I? He basically told me to sit down and be quiet in my own house. I said no. He ran through a list of bullet points, none of which sounded negotiable. Never asked if I had any questions. That was it. Then he left. I told my husband it might be best if he worked with the contractor.

Next, our coordinator, after much time had passed, scheduled a time for us to meet at the flooring company (also owned by the same man that owns the contracting company). My husband and I picked out a floor we liked that was on display in the showroom. The sales rep kept bringing out cheaper, dissimilar materials and ignored us several times when we said we liked the sample on the floor. I finally had to be blunt and explain that I was trying to tell her we liked the sample we were standing on, as I said many times before. She made a huge deal out of telling us it wasn’t “in budget” and the other floor was “in budget” but would not give specific pricing. We left and went to a flooring place up the street, found the flooring we wanted, and were told it was in stock and given the exact price. We called the coordinator to let him know we wanted to work with the other flooring company, and were told they couldn’t do that. Also that, even though the other flooring company had the material in hand, the contractor’s flooring company wouldn’t be able to get the flooring for three weeks.

After many weeks of getting nowhere, receiving no information and being treated like children, we called the insurance company and requested a new contractor. No customer wants to feel they are being swindled or patronized. And, I doubt that business owners want their customers to feel this way. How can we help customers feel that we are being honest with them? Here are a few ways.

Ways to Effectively Communicate with Customers

  • Introduce Yourself, and Your Company – When you greet a customer, electronically or in person, smile. Be open. You may be the first impression a customer has of your brand.
  • Listen – I can’t say this enough times. Listening to people conveys the message “You matter to me. Your experience, opinion and feelings matter to me.” Even when you think you don’t need to hear what the person has to say, you may be surprised by some useful information.
  • Be Friendly – Friendliness might be the easiest way to create a lasting customer relationship. It’s so easy to do, and yet we miss it so often. Ask appropriate personal questions, such as how their day has been, if traffic was tough, if they’re looking forward to the next sporting event. Being personable puts people at ease, makes them comfortable. Comfortable people can relax and conduct better business.
  • Provide Information – Provide your mission statement. It speaks volumes about your values. Tell the customer that quality is important to you. Explain that they can trust you. Give specific details about what the customer can expect.
  • Ask Questions – Ask if the customer has any additional questions or concerns. Ask why they chose you over another provider. Gathering background data can help you understand what the customer may be looking for.
  • Be Honest and Keep Promises – I say this often too. Just be honest with customers when you can. Clearly explain pricing, terms, and the like. Call back when you say you will, and deliver when you say you will.

Had any of these things happened with  “First Contractor Company,” I wouldn’t have already moved on to “Second Contractor Company.” It’s more work and time for us both. And, “First Contractor Company” never saw a dime, even after all the time they spent wasting my time.

2014 Predictions for Social Customer Support

Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball (Photo credit: justin_a_glass)

Wow, is it time for predictions already? Things move fast in social, and to me it seems the whole year has flown by.

Marketers are predicting that more money will be spent on social media next year because of its attractive price tag and its ability to reach consumers where they are. There is also chatter about whether Google+ will gain traction this year, and questions around how Snapchat will factor in.

Regardless of the platform, it seems that the concepts of social listening and customer support are here to stay. The changing venues of this listening may create some challenges in the customer support department as we scramble to get the feed from the latest new location. Thankfully,  monitoring tools have made tremendous advances and many are able to add sites very quickly to get the data needed. 

5 Social Customer Support Predictions for 2014

  • Measurement – Listening and engagement tools are not only developing rapidly, but specializing as well. This should enable us to move away from soft metrics on social care and get insight to some really neat things, like cost per transaction, handle time, and the like.
  • First Stop: Social Media – Historically, many customers reached out on social media out of frustration with traditional channels, and as a last resort. As social care proves to be a handy option, I think we might see some customers head straight for social media.
  • Push for Faster Response Times – Customers want responses right now. Engagement tools are increasingly able to help us respond more quickly. Seems we may see a trend toward decreasing response times.
  • More Volume, Staffing Increase – As our friends in marketing spend more ad dollars on social (as their 2014 predictions say), and customers come to us first expecting faster response times (boy I’m starting to feel like that song, “On the first day of Christmas” where the list gets longer and longer), we’ll probably need more staff to support that. Take those good operational metrics with you when you ask for that headcount; you’ll probably need them!
  • Integration – Now that social care is established and collecting customer feedback, expect that feedback to be integrated into other departments.

So, what about this concept that if everyone is complaining, it should start to matter less as our senses dull? I do agree that with so many customers sharing their brand experiences it may be more challenging for stories to go viral; however I don’t think that provides any safety to companies. It seems that the general impression your brand makes on consumers as a whole may rise above the din of countless individual stories to leave a lasting impression. We saw this with the cancelled Chase Bank #AskJPM Twitter Q&A. Though you may not have read every comment, the overall sentiment was pretty clear.

I’m excited to see what 2014 holds for social customer support. We have the opportunity to be personal at scale, and then understand what our customers are telling us to better serve their needs.

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.

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?

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.