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.

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.

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

Eye Candy Infographic’s 25 Skills for Excellent Customer Service

Though not specifically directed toward social media, the skills listed here by Eye Candy Infographic certainly apply on social media and all other forms of customer interaction.

25 Skills for Excellent Customer Service

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

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.

KISSmetrics Infograph Illustrating Successful Customer Service

KISSmetrics recently published this insightful infograph with useful data gathered from consumers nationwide. Click the image to enlarge.

Why do Companies with Great Customer Service Succeed?
Source: Why do Companies with Great Customer Service Succeed?