Keep that Customer Experience Mindset Going

Keep That Customer Experience Mindset Going. Image by created by the 31st Communications Squadron, USAF. www.sociallysupportive.com

Keep That Customer Experience Mindset Going. Image by created by the 31st Communications Squadron, USAF. www.sociallysupportive.com

Do you ever go to meetings or training classes with new, random groups of people and have to complete those ice breaker activities? You’re going about your day, getting “real work” done, and then you have to stop what you’re doing to go play silly games and interact with people? It can feel really uncomfortable to get into these new situations with these new people outside of our comfort zones. But these exercises tend to be effective tools to take us out of our current mindset, outside of our comfort zone and get us into a more open and relaxed frame of mind. The truth is that learning new things and working well in groups is an important part of our jobs.

I bring up these scenarios because customer service can feel that way. Employees that interact with customers are typically have “down time” responsibilities such as filing, sending emails and the like that they complete between customer interactions. If there is a slow period with few customers, good momentum can build on those offline tasks. The first customer that requires assistance can feel like an unwanted interruption just when progress is being made. That can create stress, and allow a mindset to creep in that taking care of customers is interfering with the ability for the employee to take care of the customer’s immediate needs.

It’s helpful for us as leaders to recognize this challenge from our employees’ viewpoint and to help provide tools for employees to remember to switch mindsets and remember to put the customer first.

Tools To Help Remind Employees That Customers Come First

  • Model Behavior – Model the behavior yourself by stepping up and happily taking care of customer issues prior to daily chores
  • Discussion – Point out opportunities you notice, and suggest alternatives
  • Display – post your customer service vision and goals where employees can see them.

See if some of these steps help improve customer experience for your company!

E-Trade Nails It with their Customer Support

E-Trade logo. Property of E-Trade. www.sociallysupportive.com

E-Trade logo. Property of E-Trade. www.sociallysupportive.com

Customer experience is clearly still all the rage in business these days. We’ve gone from the age of making as many widgets as possible, to making them as BIG as possible, and then trying to get them as small as possible to selling experiences more than the widgets themselves. For some, making the transition to this experiential push is tricky, because it shifts shape and form and is different from person to person. That personal effect makes it challenging to mass produce.

I had an experience with E-Trade last night that nailed it, in my mind. I’m still floored at the simple genius of it all, and the mass-production potential for other companies. My family has recently moved. If you’ve moved lately, you know how big of a task that can be. Things get broken, take longer than you think, and seem to drag on forever. And where is your magazine? I know I’m showing my age, yes I get the digital subscription too, but you can’t smell the fragrance samples from the tablet just yet (dear iPad/Android app developers, save some trees and work that out for us when you get time? Thanks.)

Anyway I went to the mailbox last night and saw an envelope from E-Trade with one of those yellow forwarding labels and I thought “Oh great, I forgot to change my mailing address with E-Trade. Yet another chore to do tonight. When I sat down and opened the envelope, I was amazed. E-Trade was reaching out to let me know that the United States Postal Service indicated I had changed my address, and so they went ahead and changed the address on my account for me. They just wanted to let me know, in case that’s not what I wanted them to do. Imagine my surprise and delight! One less task for me!

So, let’s look at risks here. Some percentage of customers (I would think a small percentage) may find this creepy and complain. It could smack of big brother. Some other percentage (I’m still thinking a vast minority) might not have wanted to change the address on their account, even though they forwarded their mail with the USPS. And, yet another small minority may have had their address changed in error, but this should be caught with the notice to the previous address.

I love this. I’m often caught saying at work and in life that our customers don’t work here. We do. So do as much for them as possible. This appears to be one low-risk strategy that could benefit more companies. I know I would appreciate it. Feel free to use this example as starting point for similar ideas. Are there things you can do to take care of the details for your customer?

The difference between easy and hard customer service

The difference between easy and hard customer service. image by Joe Loong https://www.flickr.com/photos/joelogon/2611640698/.  www.sociallysupportive.com

The difference between easy and hard customer service. image by Joe Loong https://www.flickr.com/photos/joelogon/2611640698/.
www.sociallysupportive.com

Recently I came across two vastly different examples of customer service I thought I’d share so that we might compare and contrast the customer experience.

Example 1: The Condo Rental

On the spur of the moment, I decided my family needed a weekend getaway to the beach. I started searching online for any available accommodations that would meet our needs (yes, I was categorizing ocean-front as a “need” in this case. No judgement, it was a need to me!) I was lucky enough to find the perfect property, that was managed by a vacation company I will not name. I went to book the condo online; however the process wasn’t working properly. I called the telephone number and spoke with a lady who was very nice, but not very forthcoming with information. She informed me the website had outdated information, and that the particular condo I found was booked for the weekend. And then there was silence. So I asked “do you manage other units in the building that might be available?” She said “yes.” More silence. “Do you think we could check to see if any of them might be available?” I pushed.  “Um, ok sure,” she responded. I’ll spare you the rest, but the conversation continued on in that way until I practically begged her to take my reservation. I would like to share that the unit we reserved turned out to be just what I “needed,” ocean front and all.

Example 2: Right House, Wrong Package

I ordered a Keurig drawer and two ballerina jewelry boxes online at JC Penney, along with some bench cushions. A week or so later, three boxes arrived on my porch. Two of the boxes contained the bench cushions, as I expected. When I opened the third box, I was surprised to see a Keurig drawer that appeared to have been re-taped and two battered shoe boxes with rubber bands around each box. When I called customer service to report the mix-up, a nice lady named Autumn apologized for the inconvenience and immediately keyed a new order for replacement items to be shipped. I asked if I could return the items that did not belong to me to my nearest JC Penney by the end of the week, and she said that would be fine.

Customers do not expect flawless execution by corporations with every transaction. It would be nice, but most of us consumers are reasonable enough to know that just isn’t possible. What we find, though, is that when proper attention is paid and the company moves quickly to rectify the situation with little or no effort from the customer, customer satisfaction can be saved. I would argue that when there is a mix-up, and it is fixed right away with a little apology and a human touch, that can create more customer loyalty than might have existed without the flub in the first place. Now, JC Penney and I haven’t always had the best relationship, but past few times I’ve needed them, their customer service reps have been able to quickly solve my problems. With me, that goes a long way.

So, as usual, let’s consider our own organizations. Is there room for improvement in your company when customers report issues? Do you offer assistance on Twitter, but then require the customer to always call customer support to get assistance? Are you asking for customer information when you really don’t need it? See if a policy change could create some customer loyalty for you.

Get To Yes in Social Customer Support

Get to Yes in Social Customer Support. image by pixabay.com  www.sociallysupportive.com

Get to Yes in Social Customer Support. image by pixabay.com
www.sociallysupportive.com

Let’s talk about merging. You know, good, old-fashioned highway merging. The concept is (as I understand it) that as two lanes become one, the people in those two lanes keep a normal pace of traffic until such time as the lanes come together. When this happens, the cars should come together, like a zipper, one and then the other, to form a single line. This takes cooperation from both parties, but it seems simple enough. I was driving to work this morning, trying to wake up and drinking my coffee, listening to some upbeat music on the radio. As I approached this merge point on the highway, I stayed in my lane that was going to merge with the lane next to me, and followed that white line to edge over. The person next to me must have a different concept of merging, because he sped up from behind me to get even with me, and blocked this merging action, forcing me to slow down. He basically entered my universe and said, quite clearly, “NO!” So, what can I do but slow down, and slow down the person behind me, and slow down the person in the lane behind him? Not much. Because he said “NO! I’M FIRST!”

His action came from a place of no, of not accepting what was happening around him. This can happen in customer support too. When we come from a place of “no,” whether it’s subtle or right out loud, it causes discomfort and things don’t flow easily like they could. It also creates negative feelings that, by the way, attach themselves to your brand. If that guy on the highway had a brand or a logo on his car, you can bet I’d associate his actions and my subsequent feelings about those actions with his brand. Anytime we tell a customer “I can’t do that,” or “That’s not the process,” or “You need to…” we are coming from a position of “no.” Perhaps today we can take some time to ask ourselves what it would take to get to “yes.” How far, exactly, are you from yes? Is there a small process or policy you could alter that could get you to “yes”? Are you missing something that could get you to “yes”? Certainly we must all say “no” sometimes, but I think after review you might find a few occasions that could easily be changed. The guy running me off the road to be first this morning was really probably much closer to “yes” than he thought, and I bet he could have made his own day a bit brighter by saying “yes” to me because he would have already gotten a good deed out of the way.

Think about how you can get to “yes” today. Would a few little steps help your brand be associated with positive experiences rather than negative ones?

Tenacity is a Key Service Differentiator in Social Customer Support

Never Give Up. image by lettersfromlaura. www.sociallysupportive.com

Never Give Up. image by lettersfromlaura. www.sociallysupportive.com

Walt Disney has been quoted as saying “The difference in winning and losing is most often… not quitting.” This applies to many areas of life, but today I’d like to apply the concept to exceptional customer service.

Often, as a customer, I have asked for things from customer service professionals and been told, very quickly, that it is impossible to grant my request. Further probing, and tenacity on my part, often changes that answer. My experience seems quite common lately. Customers that exert the most effort toward reaching their desired result seem to more commonly achieve their desired end state. This has been the way of the world for quite some time.

But, let me ask you something. Are you noticing a change? Perhaps it’s small, but I have seen change. I have consistently received exceptional customer service from USAA. I even  have received great customer service from the branch personnel at Chase Bank (but, of course, read Chase Ambushes My Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service before we get too excited about that).  Could it be that companies are catching on to the fact that good customer service can be a unique selling point for your brand? It seems possible to me.

What does that mean to you as a business? Well, I think it means that those who are not catching on to the importance of remarkable customer service (remarkable, meaning literally that it is worth talking about), when compared to otherwise equal competitors, may be at a disadvantage.

What’s one thing you can do today to move the needle on your customer experience? Be tenacious. Teach your customer service staff to be tenacious. If you think about the common thread behind poor customer experiences you’ve had, many of them can be linked to a lack of tenacity on the part of the customer service rep. Nobody went out of their way to try to make a difference for you, to try to get you what you needed. Now, think about the last great customer experience you had. I bet that person got the result you were looking for by trying a little harder. Maybe they made that extra phone call. Or maybe they spent a few more minutes with their leadership to get you what you needed. Either way, they were trying. They were trying for YOU. And they tried harder than other people have in the past.

We can all do this. We can spend a few extra minutes tracking down an answer for a customer. We can offer to lend a hand, or put in the good word, or ask one more person for help on behalf of a customer. It just takes more tenacity than the competition is willing to expend. Give it a try.

 

Review: Ashley Verrill’s “How Experts Would Fix 8 Twitter Missteps”

Recently, Ashley Verrill of Software Advice wrote an article titled Social Support #Fail: How Experts Would Fix 8 Twitter Missteps. I’ve included a slideshare for your convenience.

[slideshare id=32041022&doc=howexpertswouldfix8twittermissteps-140307100259-phpapp02]

Verrill pulled tweets to 130 socially active brands with negative sentiment that mentioned “customer service” in the post text. She then selected sample tweets and asked experts in social customer care how they would answer differently. After reviewing the article and the slides, I noticed one common theme in the company’s responses: complete lack of a personalized response. In some cases, the companies didn’t respond at all.

Total lack of response is equivalent, in my mind, to a customer coming into your retail location, asking you a direct question, and you ignoring them as you walk away, with no explanation given. I believe this causes the same feeling for customers in person or online. We would never do that in person (I hope. Otherwise we have bigger challenges to overcome.) and so should never do it online. The only exception would be ignoring blatant trolls after initial attempts to provide resolution have failed.

Responding with an irrelevant or unhelpful comment is almost as bad, if not worse, than no response at all. At least a customer can give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you missed the post or were so busy helping others that you couldn’t respond in time. When your response is to simply say “we received your feedback,” or to direct customers to another channel for service, you are essentially saying “our presence in this channel is strictly to drive you from the channel of your choice to the channel of OUR choice.” Customers came to you for support on Twitter or Facebook because that’s how they prefer to communicate right now. Your superior customer service could mean the difference between a customer being yours and a customer being theirs. Many times, it’s just as easy to provide good customer service as it is to try to avoid providing it, so if you’re going to answer on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, providing the best possible customer service directly in that channel right from the beginning could really help you stand out among the competition.

“Regardless of whether companies want to acknowledge it, consumers are going to use social media to complain and provide feedback on their experiences. Yes, in previous years it’s true customers didn’t necessarily expect to get a response, but that is no longer the case. An increasing number of consumers today expect a response, often times within a few hours (or less). Just look at this tweet from Ann Gregory: ‘@AskTarget maybe try helping @stacyreno resolve her issue?’ I’ve seen these kind of interactions over and over again. When you consider the propensity of these messages to travel further, faster in the social space, it’s easy to see how ignoring social customer service requests can be detrimental to your online reputation.” – Ashley Verrill, customer service researcher at Software Advice.

The article shares 6 types of mistakes to avoid. Here are those mistakes and my thoughts on each:

  1. Don’t Leave Your Customers Hanging – This refers to not answering customers at all. As I wrote above, I couldn’t agree more. They asked a question or made a statement they expect you to respond to. Nobody likes to be ignored, and customers don’t want to pay you to be ignored.
  2. Don’t Tell Customers to Do Something When They’re Upset – Agreed. Providing customer support in social media began as a way to meet your customers where they are, which extends convenience to them and reduces their level of required effort. For example, if a customer says “You lost my luggage, help!” and your response is “email us at lost@lostluggage.com to let us know,” you’ve missed something. They just did notify you. Why don’t you email your company for the customer? Otherwise, you’ve created an additional layer of unnecessary complexity in your own organization.
  3. Don’t Just Respond – Tell The Customer You’re Here to Help – This one is tricky. You must first actually be prepared to provide assistance in this channel before you tell the customer you want to help. For example, if someone requests an account credit, I would recommend that you say “I’m here to help” only if you really intend to help. That being said, I think that if you’re answering on a channel, you should empower your team to resolve issues, right then and there.
  4. Choose Your Words Carefully – Yes. Especially on Twitter. I recommend you carefully consider how to let the customer know you care, you can help, and plan to do something that will help. As a customer, I want to know that sending you a DM will actually result in problem resolution. I want your request for my DM to show me it’s worth my time and you are empowered to make things right.
  5. Don’t Forget to Close the Issue Publicly – This is so important. On a telephone or in an email, dyadic (one-to-one) conversations are clear, and we know when resolution occurs. One of the benefits of social media, though, is that when done correctly, a greater audience has visibility to the issue, the support and the resolution. This potentially saves another customer from having to contact you. You can solve an issue one time for multiple customers. Also, prospective customers can see that you follow through on your promise to deliver solutions.
  6. Ask the Customer for a Chance to Rectify the Experience – When your customer is upset, try asking “What can I do to make this right?” This does a couple things: it shows the customer you are interested in a collaborative solution, and it also takes the customer from a position of venting to a position of considering options. The customer then feels compelled to reciprocate your collaboration and tries to think of something to make him/her feel whole again.

Have a look at the article and the slides to gain insight on how experts say they would have responded. Experts responding include Kim Garst, Shep Hyken, and Dave Evans, all of whom I follow on Twitter.  Happy reading!

Great Customer Service is Like Paying It Forward

Great Customer Service is Like Paying it Forward. www.sociallysupportive.com. Photo by socialprecision.com

Great Customer Service is Like Paying it Forward. www.sociallysupportive.com. Photo by socialprecision.com

Here’s a thought: Great customer service is like paying it forward. I spend quite a bit of time researching great customer service. I think about my own customer service experiences and I hope to deliver great customer experiences. So I ponder which events and experiences leave me with the biggest impression. I was having a discussion with a colleague today about paying it forward and how great that is for the universe, and then it occurred to me: great customer service is like paying it forward.

If you think about the last time you thought “Wow, I am truly impressed with the experience I just had,” I bet you’ll think about someone who went above and beyond. Look at this list:

Above and Beyond

  • She was nicer than anyone else I’ve spoken to there
  • He showed more enthusiasm that I’ve ever seen
  • She took more time to answer my question
  • He seemed more interested in what I had to say
  • She was the best listener
  • He was more patient than the other one

Do some of these ring a bell? All of these have in common that someone did more than the bare minimum while completing a task. Now, combine this with anticipation. If you provide more before you are even asked, this is considered anticipating customer need.

Anticipating Customer Need

  • A hotel worker notices a guest walking toward the door dressed professionally, without an umbrella. The hotel worker runs toward the guest, umbrella in hand, to lend assistance.
  • A drive-thru worker takes a paper towel and wipes droplets of soda from the cup before handing it through the window to a customer.
  • A service writer at a local repair shop hands a coloring book and crayons to a five-year old boy

These are the interactions we remember. These actions create the brand. And in none of these cases did a customer ask for something. The employee is just… paying it forward. The employee is doing something unrequired and unexpected out of the kindness of his or her heart, with no immediate hope of compensation for that act. Paying it forward.

So, as we talk to our employees about giving something that “extra touch,” or “smiling at people,” or whatever else we say, maybe we should talk about paying it forward. Maybe we say that by thinking about what we would want in that situation and offering it to the customer before asked, we can really make another person’s day better. If I have a better day while patronizing your business, doesn’t it make sense that I will associate your brand with feeling good?

Manners Are Important for Social Customer Support

Tea Party (Explored)
Proper Manners for Proper Peoplembelgal / Foter / CC BY-NC

Have you ever been conducting a business transaction with someone that seems to be going really well, and then something the person says something that seems to come out of left field? That happened to me recently. My husband and I were buying a car at a car dealership. Everything seemed to be going fine. Our salesman was helpful, courteous, and seemed very personable. He asked about children, how we like Atlanta, and engaged in the other usual pleasantries. But, right before we left, he made a disapproving comment about the political affiliation he assumed one of the subsidiaries of my employer had. Wait, What? How did we get there? It was a very strange comment that really served no purpose except to turn the mood awkward. I thought that odd, coming from a car salesman, whose livelihood depends in part on establishing and maintaining good relationships with people.

So, I thought perhaps we could all use a few reminders on proper social etiquette. Here are 5 things to remember.

5 Tips on Customer Care Etiquette

  • Be Professional – Keep the conversation to business and common pleasantries like the weather, sporting events and kids. Stay away from politics, religion and personal views.
  • Be Positive – Customers appreciate a positive experience. If they have a negative experience while interacting with your brand, they may associate your brand with negative emotions. Nobody wants that.
  • Remain Focused – Remember your customer is the center of attention during any business transaction. Do not ask the customer to wait while you handle routine tasks like finishing an email or talking to a colleague. Handle the customer first.
  • Eliminate Interruptions – While working with customers, advise colleagues or vendors to wait until the customer transaction is complete. Your customer may question your priorities if you ask them to wait while you chat with, say, the delivery man or your receptionist. In social media, interruptions and distractions can increase your handle time.
  • Say “Thank You” – Customers have a choice of vendors. When they choose you, show your appreciation. Besides, nobody hears “thank you” enough, do they? So, say thank you.

Try these out. Start today. I can tell you I do not want to be the subject of a blog post like this. I would much rather have someone write about the exceptional service I delivered and the great memories they have of their interaction with me.

Patience Pays in Social Customer Support

40+216 Faces
bark / Foter / CC BY

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.

Accept Responsibility in Customer Support

Blue Angels at Rochester International Air Show. July 16, 2011. Photo by Ken Mist. http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996606796@N01/5946455173/

Blue Angels at Rochester International Air Show. July 16, 2011. Photo by Ken Mist.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996606796@N01/5946455173/

Picture this. You’re at a dinner party. Interesting people are there, the food is good, the drinks are good, and the conversation is going well. As a matter of fact, smart people are looking at you intently as you speak, seemingly hanging on your every word as you tell this really clever story. When you excuse yourself to get another drink, one of your business partners tells you you have spinach in your teeth. UUGGGHHH! How long has it been there? You had interesting things to say! You were witty, and clever, and had the best intentions, and… oh man, that crowd won’t remember any of that. They’re only going to remember that chick with the spinach in her teeth.

So, that happened to me yesterday. Well, kind of. See, I have all these lofty customer care aspirations. I want all customers to know that, even if we mess something up, we are complete professionals and will work tirelessly and put in that extra effort to ensure that our customers receive the best service possible. It will be real, and it will be honest. I have this amazing team working with me. I wonder sometimes if I could do what they do as well as they do, day in and day out, and honestly I’m not sure. I just remember to tell them every time I talk to them how great they are. But, even the best of us are just going to make mistakes. And we did. Our mistake? We told an upset customer that corporate (aka “They“) set the policies. ugggghhh. Spinach in teeth. Big time.

Some of you might be wondering why I’m all worried about this small thing. Well, it’s not really a small thing. And I’ll tell you why. The customer doesn’t know They. The customer only knows You, and You are the brand to the customer. Your voice, your image, your words in print, whatever. The infamous They doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter if You, awesome customer service rep, knows that someone in supply chain messed this up, or someone over in accounting, or whatever. The customer does not need to see (nor does the customer want to see, quite frankly) the company’s dirty laundry. Know what they want? A real person to take ownership and answer them. Know what the answer is? The answer is always WE. WE here at (X company) made a mistake. Or, WE here at (X company) stand by our policy, and here’s why. It is not our intention to cause grief, but we do stand by it.

Let me be clear that my team is awesome. Your team is probably awesome too. Anybody at any time can make this mistake. It’s common. As a person on the planet, it feels unnatural to take responsibility for something that we did not personally do. But if you think back to the last time you heard “it’s not my fault,” “I can’t help you,” “It’s a corporate policy over which I have no control,” or “I agree with you, I think the policy is dumb, but nothing can be done,” think about the way you felt when you heard it. Did you have faith in the company? Did you feel like the person with whom you were speaking was useful to you? I’m pretty blunt about customer experiences, and I’ll tell you the last time that happened to me (see Update: Chase Ambushes My Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service). You can tell that to this day I’m still thinking about how little faith I have in that company, and still make a point to tell at least 5 people a week all about it.

So, how does the WE factor in for me? That one team member didn’t make the mistake. WE did. I did. I own that and am 100% responsible for it. Nobody’s throwing anybody under the bus. As far as I’m concerned, Frankie did it. And we will practice together and get better. We’re in it together, and I’m proud of that.

As a takeaway,  I recommend we all make a point of reminding our teams to take ownership and be a WE with our companies. If the policies should change, by all means, change them. But we can do the customer (and ourselves) a favor by resisting the urge to separate ourselves from the company. You can also check out People Love You by Jeb Blount. I just finished it, and I think it’s a great resource on WE and many other customer service tips for both B2B and B2C.