I like this infographic Visual.ly created. Though it’s mentioning marketers, the clear subject matter is how valuable your customers are, and the impact to a company’s bottom line if a customer doesn’t feel appreciated.
Yes, you read that right. Waiting is hard and it takes too long. It’s boring. Have you noticed lately that waiting feels much more difficult than it used to? We do all kinds of things to avoid waiting. Today we tweet out our question or post it on Facebook in an attempt to avoid waiting on hold with companies. We go online and click that “chat now” button instead of walking into the store for assistance. We do not want to wait. For things like automotive repairs that cannot be completed online, UGGGHH! We have to actually go there? I hope they have wifi so I can watch something on my iPad. If not I’ll just have to scroll through Facebook on my phone.
I know, this conversation causes many people to start talking about the “good old days” before people were so connected and could sit still for a while patiently. I remember those days, and they were boring. We also had far fewer items on our to-do lists, if I remember correctly. But regardless of our positions on whether we should behave in this fashion, the reality today is that we do.
So, what do we do about it, as business people trying to please our customers? Maybe try one of these things:
- Decrease wait times – Make every attempt to decrease your wait times. Perhaps increase staffing, decrease length of interaction (whether in person, on the phone, on social or chat)
- Increase fun things – Even if you’ve decreased your wait times, increasing fun or distracting things will make wait time seem shorter. In person, provide a television, wifi, coloring books or games for children. On hold, play a local radio station or hold info-tainment (factual entertainment tidbits). Steer clear of bland hold music if you can.
- Let me wait from afar – Have you called Delta lately? If they have a hold time, you can press a button to have them call you back when they’re ready for you. Then I don’t really feel like I’m holding. Or, like restaurants, give me a pager or text me when it’s my turn.
These are things about the customer experience we can control to create a more positive interaction. Some cost more than others. Hey, if a box of crayons helps my customer smile, then maybe it’s worth the price!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
Infographic by- Invesp
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.
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.
Embedded from ExactTarget