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.

Are You Wasting Customer Time on Social Media?

image by Tax Credits, A clock with money on it - "Time is Money" http://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/7214596024/

image by Tax Credits, A clock with money on it – “Time is Money” http://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/7214596024/

Working in social media, I find it necessary to do quite a bit of research. This includes reading tons of articles and blog posts about customer experience, social media, and customer care. That may sound boring to some people, but I find the subject really interesting. Recently, however, I noticed that I’m having a hard time making my way through some of this material. Last night, as I found myself zoning out on an article published by a very well-respected news organization on a topic I’m very interested in. I scrolled down to find out how much longer the article was. And then it hit me. That’s why I was zoning out. This article was taking forever to get to the point! I found this fascinating, because it was written by people who work in social media, for people who work in social media. And, if you spend any time around us, you know that we have relatively short attention spans in this field. But I bet if you think about most people you interact with, that trait is fairly ubiquitous these days. We want quality information, very quickly, without all those other words that are really unnecessary. How often have you started reading something that might be valuable, but then put it down because it just looked like it would take too long?

This isn’t just about reading. You can just as easily waste customer time talking to them on the phone or in person. Here’s the thing. We probably don’t need to say all those words. It would save us time, and would save the customer time. And saving time is very important to our customers. This is especially important on social media, where customers expect timely responses that are useful and easy to understand. Here are some tips to ensure you’re not wasting time and effectively communicating with your customers.

5 Ways to Save Customer Time

  • Determine your audience – Before writing or speaking a single word, I find it helpful to determine who my audience is. The point of communication is to convey information to the person or people you’re engaging with. How can you best do that? By knowing your audience and how they prefer to receive information. If you are unsure, it’s best to stay on the safe side and be a bit more formal.
  • Be clear – All those words you wrote or spoke, do they really say what you meant to say? Review your words to make sure. If you were the audience, would you have understood what you meant by what you said?
  • Eliminate all jargon – I find that when jargon (also known as business slang) is used, you wind up repeating yourself in English anyway. So, save yourself some time and skip the jargon. It helps to think to yourself, “How do I explain this to someone who is unfamiliar with my line of business?”
  • Use fewer words – Many prepositional phrases can just go. For example, “We can have discussions on our next steps for how to proceed” could just be “We can discuss next steps.” Could you have worded things better? Remember for next time.
  • Review – Before you send that email, take one last look.   If you were on the phone, think about the conversation you had. It’s worth the extra effort to make sure everything is as you want it to be.

These steps can help reduce customer interaction time, and, quite honestly, can leave the customer with a more positive view of the interaction because less effort was spent attempting to decipher the conversation. They’re in, they’re out, they feel better, you feel better.

Infograph: Invesp.com on Great Customer Experience

Some good data from invesp.com on why a great customer experience matters.
The Importance of Providing a Great Customer Experience – Statistics and Trends

Infographic by- Invesp

Infograph: HubShout’s “Social Media & Customer Service”

I wanted to share this infograph that HubShout recently published titled “Social Media & Customer Service.” There are some stats in here I don’t see as often, such as the number of people who think brands should keep the same social hours on weekends, and how many customers call companies when they do not reach resolution via social channels. And, this infograph shows that the percentage of brands responding to social media inquiries more than doubled from 2012 to 2013! Enjoy.

The Impact of Social Media on Customer Service

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Infograph: Customer Service Is Everything

This infograph by ClickSoftware provides some surprising statistics about customer service and satisfaction from around the world.

Kiwi Delivers Great Customer Service To Atlanta Storm Victims

Kiwi ImageKiwi Services, providers of water damage restoration services, impressed me recently with their insightful customer service. The Atlanta area had record low temperatures this January, like much of the country. Water pipes had been breaking all over town for days. I thought I was going to escape the fate so many of my neighbors met. I was wrong. Last Wednesday I came home to a stream of water flowing down my street, coming from my driveway. When I opened the garage door, I realized that stream was coming from inside the house. The source proved to be a burst pipe in the laundry room. All over those nice bamboo floors. Sigh.

Since I was late to the broken pipe party, the service providers were already inundated with repair requests.  Many of the smaller water damage restoration companies in the area had full mailboxes, or busy signals. Kiwi Services answered the phone. They reacted to the demand for service by quickly staffing up for this weather event. The customer service agent advised me that Kiwi was taking contact information and calling back to schedule consultations as quickly as they could. She promised they would keep me advised, but also noted it could be a few days before a team could visit because of the high volume of requests. And keep me advised they did. Someone from the Kiwi office called twice a day to let me know they hadn’t forgotten about me, and kept me in the loop on their plans. They shared with me that they were flying in technicians from California and Arizona to help with the high demand. This made me feel like they were doing all they could, which put my mind at ease and helped me to relax. I was even quite calm. One of the reps that called said “Thank you so much for being so nice. There is actually a note on your file that you are really nice.” It’s easier to be nice when you feel assured you will be taken care of.

When the Kiwi team came out, they listened carefully to my story about how the water damage occurred, where the water traveled, and how it left the house. They thoroughly explained what needed to be done, the options available to me, the procedures they would follow, and what I could expect. They were on time and professional, even though they had been flown in from the west and were living out of hotels, working long hours. My husband brought the crew back pizza, and they were so happy to have it. When it was time to remove the drying equipment a few days later, they called ahead to make sure we knew they were coming, and within a few hours, all was finished.

So, what can you do, today, in your business, to make your customers want to be nice to you? Recommend you to friends? Write grateful blog posts about you? Here are a few things you might consider:

5 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service

  • Answer the phone (or post) when a customer reaches out. Even if the answer is “I have no answer, just want you to know we haven’t forgotten.”
  • Update customers regularly as promised, even when that is tough to do. Especially when it’s tough to do.
  • Provide relevant information about new developments to show customers progress is being made.
  • Listen to the customer’s story. Even if you’re pretty sure you already know what it will be, listen anyway. You might find valuable information in that story.
  • Keep promises made about arrival times, services that will be delivered, and results that can be expected.

A great big thank you to Kiwi and their staff for putting in all those extra hours away from their families and traveling far and wide to get so many of us back to normal. Nicely done.

Check them out for yourself at http://www.kiwiservices.com/water_damage.htm

Infograph: ExactTarget’s Five Types of Social Media “Complainers”

So, I don’t like the term “complainer” when we talk about customers seeking support on social media. Why? Because sometimes I am a customer seeking support on social media. We all are. And I’m not complaining, I’m looking for assistance. I’ve purchased or signed up for your product or service, and I have some expectations. If those expectations aren’t met, I’ll want to discuss that with you. So, I don’t agree with that label. I do, however, like the information in this infograph. I agree that customers have different backgrounds and experiences and there is no cookie-cutter response that will work for everyone. These types of customers want to be treated in unique ways, and if you miss those signs, you might lose that customer. So, try to disassociate me with the “complainer” label, as I do not approve. I also only recommend taking conversations offline when they become useless or annoying to the greater audience, or when sensitive account information is involved.  Otherwise, much of this is good data.

How to Deal with Complainers on Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC] - ExactTarget Infographic

Embedded from ExactTarget

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.

Spelling Counts In Social Media Customer Support

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...

Cover of The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

Not so long ago, the majority of us got our news mainly through television, newspapers and trade magazines. These formal establishments did (and mostly still do) have teams of editors and multiple revisions before articles go to print. Facts are verified with sources, grammar and punctuation is confirmed through style guides, and spelling is double-checked with a dictionary. Boring process, right?

Fast forward to today. Real news is distributed by ordinary citizens without the aide of an editing staff. This allows quick access to so many varying viewpoints. Unfortunately, the lack of extra eyes on work can allow those spelling and grammatical errors to creep in. And though social media has adopted a more relaxed style than traditional business writing, clear spelling and grammar errors can still detract from the point of your communication.

Scenario: You own a vacuum cleaner business, and provide customer support on social media. A customer comes to you with a complaint; your company failed to properly pack a unit and one of the required attachments is missing. In your apology, there is a misspelling. This distracts the customer from your response, and the customer replies “Well, how could I expect your company to remember all the parts if your employees can’t even spell!” This is a severe example, of course; however customers expect professionalism and accurate data from companies.

Much is forgiven in our modern take on grammar; ending sentences in prepositional phrases may not raise an eyebrow. And that’s fine. Overly formal writing is not the point. You can be sure that this blog post on grammar would definitely fail in William Strunk Jr.’s eyes (if you’re not a word nerd like me, that guy wrote The Elements of Style, in 1918).  Today’s point is to write in a way that makes your audience comfortable and creates a sense of trust.

Ways to check spelling and grammar before posting:

  • Use any built-in spell check feature available in your software
  • If spell check is absent, copy your text into Word or other word-processing software, then paste back into Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Use spelling websites to look up words in question (for spelling and meaning!)
  • Re-read your own copy to catch anything the spell check does not
  • Pretend you are your reader. Does your copy make sense? Did you clearly convey your message and answer all questions?
  • When in doubt, ask a friend to read your copy

I hope these tips help you. I know I’ll be re-reading this post before I publish. You might lose faith in me if you found a spelling error in here!

Practice Makes Perfect for Customer Care on Social Media

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series)

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting really good at something requires practice. So does maintaining that skill level.  I remember my first customer service job, I was so nervous. I had no idea what to do or say. Taking that first phone call was terrifying. What if they ask me… you know, a question or something? What would I do? But then, you do it more, you learn things, and before you know it, you’re pretty good. And you stay good because your skills are constantly used.

Before I knew it, a couple decades passed (can you believe it!) and I’m running a social media customer support operation. Maybe you are too, since you’re reading this blog about a very small-niche specialty. Creating a framework to support operations can be all-consuming. It can seem impossible to find the time to go exercise those customer service skills again. I recommend, however, that you do just that. Taking some time on a regular basis to answer customer posts and complete the tasks your team members perform daily can provide valuable insight into process improvement opportunities. It can also ensure that your expectations of your team and your customer are reasonable. There is just no substitute for walking in the shoes of your team to shed light on their reality. The television series “Undercover Boss” shows us how illuminating it can be to provide the customer service you prescribe (well, it’s a bit formulaic and over the top, but still provides a good lesson.) We see there that occasionally the processes we develop do not perform in the field as we imagined. Below I’ve outlined a few steps that can help ensure you have an accurate view of the team and customer experience.

3 Steps for Hands-on Leadership:

  • Schedule regular meetings with your team. Request feedback and implement necessary changes.
  • Observe team performance. Discuss findings and ask for opinions.
  • Block out regular times to personally complete tasks your team would complete. Correct any pain points after discussion with the team.

So, give it a try. Tweet a response to your customer; post a reply on Facebook. For call centers, go ahead and personally call a customer. If you’re in retail, go chat with your customer. You might find everything running very smoothly, or you may find some opportunities for growth.