Lessons in Compassion from #SnowedOutAtlanta

Image by Gervais Group #SnowedOutAtlanta http://www.flickr.com/photos/101003181@N03/

Image by Gervais Group #SnowedOutAtlanta http://www.flickr.com/photos/101003181@N03/

I know all you northerners are really tired of hearing about Atlanta’s recent snowstorm that delivered a measly couple inches of snow but shut down the city. I remember when I just moved to Bowie, MD in 1986. It took FEET of snow to shut down school for 3 days. And we had a blast sledding down hills. But a few inches would have done nothing. It seems the major difference is that they treated the roads there. Not here in Atlanta. For whatever reason, elected officials chose not to treat the roads. My normal hour-long commute took five hours, and there were a few times I didn’t think I would make it. And it’s not just that we can’t drive in the south. Semi trucks that drive all across the country are still stuck on those roads 24 hours later.

I’ll spare you all the details, but want to share one story. I was stuck in the middle of a very congested intersection; I had to stop because the car in front of me started sliding and there were cars all around. The light turned green, and the car on the cross street started into the intersection, even though the stuck car ahead was clearly unable to move. The passenger of the moving car, rather than try to help the lady who was stuck, got out and started screaming obscenities at the lady who was stuck. Then she got in her car and left. As my car began to slide I realized I needed to get off the main road and on to the side street.

I was doing fine on the less-traversed road until I came upon a steep hill. I could see cars in front of me stuck at the top of the hill. I chose to keep pushing forward instead of going back to the mess I just got out of. I saw several people walking up and down the street, and thought perhaps they came out to watch the festivities. As I got closer, I realized something much better was happening; there were 8-10 neighbors outside with shovels helping to get motorists on their way again. I could hear tires spinning as fast as they would go. Steam was billowing up from the street, brake lights turning white to pink. Shovels were making loud scraping noises on the asphalt. One by one, these good Samaritans must have helped a dozen or more cars. When it was my turn, it took a good 10-15 minutes. There was pushing and pulling and yelling. I told one man how fantastic it was that he was helping. He said “Look at all these cars! What else can we do?” They got me all the way to the top of that hill, and I never looked back. I made it all the way home after that.

Those neighbors could have chosen to stay in their warm homes, or perhaps come out to have a laugh at our expense. They might even have chosen to scream and curse like the one passenger. But they chose instead to help. Because they could. Because they wanted to. And it made a huge difference.

Think of the difference compassion like that can make in your customer service. Your company does not have to go out in the street with shovels and heroic efforts to help people make their way home. It can just stand by and do the minimum required. It can point and laugh from the sidewalk. Or, it could even get out of the car and yell obscenities and someone in need of help. But think of the difference some shovels and some compassion make. Dig it?

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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

Tip Sheets for Social Customer Support Reps

EXCLUSIVE - Waffle House grill cook cheat sheet

EXCLUSIVE – Waffle House grill cook cheat sheet (Photo credit: nickgraywfu)

Have you ever lost your cell phone, and realized that you don’t know anyone’s telephone number by heart anymore? Thank goodness for cloud storage, so your new phone can magically have all the data you need at your fingertips. It’s just much easier to get done what you need to do when the data you need is right there.

The same is true for your customer support staff, social or otherwise. Providing a tip sheet, or quick reference guide, is the easiest way to ensure that your team has the most important information right at their fingertips. This helps them project a confident, well-informed image to your customers and helps them feel more self-assured and knowledgeable. The smarter they feel about the product or service they’re discussing, the more they’ll feel comfortable talking to customers about it.

Here are just a few ideas of things that could be helpful on a tip sheet:

Cheat Sheet Items

  • Mission Statement – It doesn’t have to be fancy, It’s just a good idea to make sure the team sees the big picture.
  • Quality Standards – Which tasks can I complete that look like good service to our customers?
  • Priorities – If many things start to happen all at the same time, which should I do first? Which should be put off?
  • Contact Information – Let the team know who can get what done, and how to reach those people.
  • Emergency Information – List instructions for emergencies.

Social Customer Support Cheat Sheet Items

In addition to those above, add these for your social team:

  • Hours of Operation – When are posts expected to be answered?
  • List of Monitored Channels – Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? YouTube? A comprehensive list helps ensure nothing is missed.
  • SLA – Desired time to response for each channel. This is particularly helpful with multiple channels
  • Thresholds for escalation – Let your team know how they can tell it’s time to escalate.  (X number of posts on the same topic in X hours need to be escalated)

Each business is different, but generally these categories of information can get even new or temporary employees through challenging situations.

Say Thank You

Thank You

Thank You (Photo credit: mandiberg)

This one’s important. Say thank you. Thank you for being our customer. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for sticking through the good and bad times with us. Thank you for your loyalty.

Sometimes a like is good. But thank you lasts. Especially when it’s personalized. And when it comes to customer support, they’ve come to you because they need help, and have had to exert some effort to seek that help. So, recognize that. You don’t need flowers or a card necessarily. Sometimes a thank you does wonders.

What To Do When Things Go Wrong

Worried-Face

Worried-Face (Photo credit: shakestercody)

So, something’s gone wrong. And people know. They’re starting to ask about it on Facebook and Twitter. Now what? How do you handle it on social media? What should you say? When should you say it?

The first thing I do to begin answering these questions is to change the framing from “on social media” to “in person.” If you were face to face with someone, and these questions came up, what would you do? How would you answer these questions? The right thing to do is to be as open and honest as you can be. I say “can be” because there are legal and other reasons why it makes sense to not share every detail you have. I hope I would never look right at someone who just asked me a question and then turn my back and walk away.

Now, I reframe back to social media. The answer looks much clearer to me after the frame shift. Doesn’t it now seem more like each question deserves an answer? An exception would be when automated bots send the same question over and over again. But in that case, there is a whole audience that may not understand why you’re ignoring someone. If it doesn’t make sense to answer each bot post, it may make sense to hide those posts to avoid confusion.

What about proactive posting? When do you go proactive? How do you decide? Here’s how I decide. When there is a large concentration of interest in a single area on one subject, and the volume of inquiry makes it look like you’re saying the same thing over and over again, I call that time to go proactive. It’s a delicate balance because if not enough people in one area are concerned, then the proactive post reads as spam to them. They don’t care. Why are you bothering them with this meaningless triviality? But when a large portion of folks in an area you can geotarget are all asking you the same question or pointing out a perceived flaw or injustice, proactive makes sense. They all know it. They’re all mad about it. Tell them out loud that you hear them and tell them the facts. Even if you don’t know all the facts, being real to me means going out there and saying “hey, I hear you. I’m not sure of the whole story, or I can’t tell you the whole story yet, but I’m working on it and I care that you’re mad.”

What does going proactive do to Facebook? For a brand page, going proactive changes the traffic flow of your volume. Prior to going proactive, you may see your “posts by others” coming on to the page explode, if you have the ability enabled. When this fails to get the desired effect, you can see bleed over into your brand posts in the form of comments. If you have private messages turned on, you could see a spike in messages. Once you make a proactive post, you will probably find that the traffic moves from the brand posts and the “posts by others” onti your proactive posts. Is this better? I think so. Why? Well, when folks are looking for a provider of the service or product you offer, some of them scan the “posts by others” to get a feeling for how you treat your customers by taking the temperature of the “posts by others.” We all know that’s where you check for complaints. In the midst of a crisis, big or small, it looks like all your customers are against you. imagine looking for, say, a dentist, and everybody’s up in arms on “posts by others” because the dentist raised his rates, or did a bad job on some fillings. If you’re a prospective patient, you’re thinking “I don’t need all that noise,” and you take your business elsewehere.

Aside from moving complaints off the “posts by others” into one manageable post, a change happens in the types of responses you get. People stop talking to you directly, and start conversing with each other. After you get real, some people get less mad. Unfortunately, some people stay as mad, and then those people may argue amongst themselves. But it still becomes more of a conversation and less of a stone – throwing event.

So, as I see it, be as real as you can, and go proactive as soon as you realize it makes sense with as much info as you have. If you do go proactive with your updates, make sure you close the issue proactively when its over. Otherwise, people are left wondering what happened.

I’d love to hear any other thoughts around this.

Speak or Hold Your Peace In Tragedy

Daily Shoot-Condolence Card

Daily Shoot-Condolence Card (Photo credit: NedraI)

I’ve seen several articles online discussing whether a brand should post on social media to offer condolences or thoughts to those that have suffered a loss or tragedy. Without going into detail about who said what or had which opinion, I’d like to simply offer mine.

If the point of social media for business is to personify a brand image, and we are asking our community managers to put their personalities out there for the public, I think it makes sense that if we want to make appropriate posts regarding the tragedy, we should. I think scheduled sales posts should surely stop in impacted areas. If the impacts of the tragedy are broadly felt, then it may make sense to withhold brand posts for the entire customer area. I think that depends on the particular issue.

Here’s why. People that work at companies and provide social media in an impacted area could be feeling the same thing that the community feels, because they ARE the community. They leave work and travel home in cars or on busses or on the subway. Their children attend schools in the area. Their spouses and potentially their extended family also live and work in that area. Refraining from comment on the tragedy certainly doesn’t feel authentic or transparent in those cases.

I think the important thing is to carefully consider whether a post is appropriate and what that post should be. I’ve seen posts say that brands have no feelings and no personality. But I disagree. I disagree because brands are powered by people, and those people have real feelings and thoughts. True, the employees collectively represent the brand and try to convey a message that makes sense with brand objectives. But if we saw a customer in a retail setting, and that customer had suffered a loss, I hope that we would not hesitate before offering our sympathies to that customer. Because though it’s business, the fact that we’re all doing it together should make it personal.

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