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.

Using Social Media to Teach Customers

Classroom Chairs

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

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

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

Here are 3 steps to raise awareness and educate customers:

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

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

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

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

Make it Easy

2001 Atlanta Trip with Wendy

2001 Atlanta Trip with Wendy (Photo credit: dharder9475)

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

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

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

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

Questions to Ask Yourself:

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

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

Say Good Morning

Happy Office Worker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look at me, look at me!

"Here's looking at you, kid."

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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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