Posted by Becky Carroll on April 30, 2007
Next week, I have the opportunity to speak here in San Diego for the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA) at their annual Best Practices Conference. Nice not to have to get on a plane to speak (for once!). My topic is how to create an online support experience that ROCKS. Customer service is challenging, but when you have to provide technical support, the challenges increase. Providing it over the web needs to be more than just providing good support. It needs to provide a great customer experience as well. Today’s post is a short excerpt from the paper which accompanies my talk and can be equally applied to customer service.
Customers are more empowered than ever before. They have more choice, are more informed, have a higher degree of collaboration with each other, and they have higher expectations from companies where they take their business. Customers want to be loyal; it is up to us to give them a support experience that will help cement that loyalty.
Customer experience is the mantra which many companies consider key to differentiating themselves from their competitors. Managing the customer experience is really the result of a customer-centric approach to business, with the customer experiencing consistency across channels and throughout the customer lifecycle. Its purpose is to ignite passion, inspire brand loyalty, and build relationships. An effective online experience facilitates consistent interactions, cultivates customer trust, creates relevant experiences, coordinates all touchpoints, but most importantly, an effective online experience is viewed from the customer perspective. It is key to consider which capabilities we offer our customers for online support in the light of the customer perspective.
Optimized Support Capabilities
Customer experiences that rock optimize which support capabilities they offer to their customers. They don’t try to offer everything to everyone! There are many, many different ways to get information, from the traditional methods (FAQs, search, troubleshooting, chat, email, forums) to Web 2.0-inspired methods (blogs, wikis, podcasts, tagging taxonomies). Customers don’t want to have to pick and choose, only to find themselves weeding through results trying to figure out what might be of assistance. They just want to have their problem solved! Understanding which capabilities are important to your customers is key to optimizing the support experience. Better to offer a limited number of fantastic support tools to your customers than to try and offer all possible capabilities with none executed well.
Social media offers mechanisms that help enable interaction with customers. Tools such as blogs and wikis create conversations between customers and other customers, but most importantly between customers and company. These conversations contribute towards improving customer trust and respect. The key is to make support information flow two ways rather than just supplying a one-way push of technical knowledge.
Creating a rockin’ support experience benefits customers by ensuring they have their needs met in the way they prefer. That same experience helps to build customer trust and loyalty. It also moves technical support from a focus on “managing individual support transactions” to “managing the customer’s experience across all online support interactions.” Organizations that can make this transformation are on their way to building strong customer relationships.
Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Technical support | 7 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 27, 2007
I recently needed to have my car repaired, and after calling around and speaking to various shops, I made my decision and brought it in. I had decided on this shop for a few reasons: their website said they had won several customer service awards from AAA (there had to be zero customer complaints in order to win this), and the person I spoke with seemed very friendly and helpful.
When I arrived, his cheerful demeanor continued, and the experience was pleasant. Interestingly, he said this to me:
I could tell when I spoke to you on the phone that you were the right kind of customer for us. You seemed upbeat and positive.
Turns out this shop stopped pursuing the customer service award (after winning it several years in a row) because of their customers. As I mentioned, there could not be any customer complaints in order to win the award. Originally, the award could be given out if there weren’t any justified customer complaints; in other words, the shop had to have actually done something wrong. Over the next few years, the award became harder to win as there couldn’t be any complaints, justified or unjustified, and the time period got longer (18 months without complaints). He explained if they had any customers who complained at all, even if it was for a misunderstanding (or was just a nasty customer), they wouldn’t be able to win the award again. This became too stressful and difficult, so they stopped pursuing the award.
Do you have the “right kind” of customers? Are they adding value to your organization, or are they costing you? Sometimes, we look out for customers at the expense of our employees. Southwest Airlines puts their employees first and customers second (thanks to Amy at getsatisfaction for the link). I think there needs to be a balance between customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and being reasonable on both counts!
(Photo uploaded by mdilsiz)
Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer strategy, Marketing | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 26, 2007
My good friend Steve Woodruff over at StickyFigure just pulled together a very cool collection of blog feeds. This is the portal. It is like looking at the ultimate blog roll. You can go out and click on the tab for the type of blog you would like to read, and lo and behold, the blogs appear with a short summary of the current post and a list of the previous few posts. Click through to get all the details of the post.
The technology from Pageflakes rocks, and many kudos to Steve for pulling together this handy view.
Question for my readers: Where do you think I should be categorized? I am currently in the Customer Experience tab, but many of my peers are in the Marketing tab. Or should I be in a different tab altogether? Drop me an email (becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com) or leave a comment and let me know what you think, and I will tell Steve where to place me. Thanks so much!
(Update: consensus seems to be to stay in the Customer Experience tab, as this blog is really at the intersection of marketing and customer. Thanks to all who weighed in!)
(Photo credit: elnur)
Posted in Marketing | 3 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 24, 2007
I just had to blog about the most recent commercial from Avis. For those of you who haven’t seen it, you can find it on YouTube here. In the commercial, a customer approaches the Avis rental car counter and opens his mouth, wide. A song from the 80s rock band Twisted Sister is broadcast from the customer’s mouth saying, “I wanna rock!” The Avis employee looks confused, but another employee nearby comes over and says that she will serve this customer. She opens her mouth wide, and another line from the Twisted Sister song is broadcast from her mouth. The employee and customer “talk” back and forth this way until the transaction is completed. The other employee doesn’t seem to be able to take part in their “conversation.”
Most people either seem to love or hate this commercial. I like the way it displays the importance of speaking the customer’s language. When we speak to our customers in the way they prefer, be it with jargon-free lingo or with Twisted Sister lyrics, we begin to relate to them on their level. Rather than forcing our company’s way of doing things on our customers, we help them achieve their goals through their preferred methods.
I have discussed taking the customer’s perspective quite a bit on this blog. One key aspect of taking their perspective is being able to communicate in their “language”. Sometimes this means the actual words, and sometimes it means using the communication channels they want to use.
I hope the Avis commercial spurs discussion of what we can do to better communicate with customers in the way they want to be communicated.
(Photo credit: solarseven)
Posted in Customer experience, Marketing | 20 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 23, 2007
Most companies do not excel at all things. They have some strengths and some weaknesses. I enjoy finding the strengths that companies exhibit, then sharing those best practices with my readers. I found a best practice recently in the strangest of all places: GoDaddy.com. This seemed strange to me because I have heard many customer service horror stories about GoDaddy.com. But they are doing something right in one department: the way that they welcome new customers.
My son recently purchased a domain from GoDaddy.com, and as he is still a minor, we decided to list my name as the contact for the domain. One day after we made the purchase, I received a phone call from the New Customer Orientation department at GoDaddy.com. I missed the call, but Derek left me his name and number to call back if I had any questions about GoDaddy.com and their service. The next day, I returned his call (I had to see what this was all about!).
Derek answered right away, explained to me that he was an orientation specialist, and his job is to call all new customers for any of GoDaddy.com’s products (ours was very inexpensive!) and find out what they are trying to do and how he can help. Expecting a sales pitch, I told him what we were doing (starting my son’s blog) and the questions I had. Derek spent about 15 minutes with me going over all of my questions. He was very helpful, and I never felt pressured to get off the phone quickly or to buy anything else. He closed the call (when all my questions were answered to my satisfaction) by telling me I could call back any time with other questions and asking if I could be sent a customer satisfaction survey.
About 10 minutes later, I received an email from Derek with his name, phone number, and his email address reminding me that he could help me in the future. I also received a prompt customer satisfaction survey. I have to say, the whole experience left me impressed with their concern for new customers.
As I said at the beginning, I realize GoDaddy.com does not perform as well in other departments. However, this is a great example of how to welcome new customers. Here are some tips for welcoming new customers:
- Contact new customers and let them know you are glad they have placed their business with you. This is especially important for customers where you expect to have a long-term relationship (new subscribers, B2B customers). This is most effective by phone, as GoDaddy.com did, but it could also be done with a Thank You card.
- Spend time with new customers to understand how they will use your product or service. This will help you to help them better, and it will also help develop a relationship.
- Be personal. Derek left me his personal information, and he answered the phone (I had expected to get passed to another rep; I usually hear the phrase “Anyone can help you when you call back” from call centers!). The follow-up email was a very nice touch which told me I really could contact him again.
The most important thing you can do for new customers is to let them know you care they are your customer!
(photo credit: melking)
Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Marketing | 6 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 20, 2007
Posted in Community | 13 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 19, 2007
My friend Steve Woodruff writes the terrific blog called StickyFigure, focused on branding and its impact. Today he posted a thought-provoking article entitled Customers Rot! Steve wanted to share the opposite of the Customers Rock! attitude which he found recently during some adventures with plumbing. He tells the story of calling a plumber he had used once before, this time to get some assistance on a few minor projects. He never heard back. Same with a few other plumbers which had been recommended to him. Steve concludes this story with the following:
Now, I understand if the other fellows were too busy – particularly since our work on this occasion was pretty small scale. But too busy to return a call, and simply explain that you don’t have the time right now – and maybe provide a recommendation? Too busy to value a customer – and what that customer may say (positive or negative) to others who ask their opinion? Too busy for common courtesy?
I had a similar experience with a gardener when we moved to our new house this past year. The previous owners had created a beautiful tropical garden, and we wanted to keep it that way. They gave us the name and number of their gardener, who they loved and had used for 3 years. We quickly called him, left a message using the referrer’s name and ours, and waited to hear back.
And waited and waited.
We left more messages. Finally, our yard was starting to fall into some disarray, and we turned to asking our neighbors for referrals. We had more success, as they actually called us and got the job.
Why wouldn’t the first gardener want to return our calls? Taking a while to get back to us is one thing, and I certainly understand when people have a busy schedule . We thought perhaps they were out of town (it was summer). But when a week or two (or more) go by, it is obvious they won’t be calling. We would have been an easy sale, as we weren’t even going to bid this out but were going to take the previous owner’s recommendation!
Here’s the other thing the gardener missed out on: other new customers from our referral. A few months after this happened, another neighbor (also new to the area) asked us who we were using for gardening. We could have referred the original gardener to this new person, and it would have been easy for him to pick up another job on the same street.
Using common courtesy in returning customer calls is what I would call the “basic” level of customer communications. If you are busy, set expectations accordingly (a critical part of managing the customer experience). Make sure you meet or exceed the expectations you have set in order to build trust.
Having a Customers Rot! attitude means you view your customers as an inconvenience, and you treat them in such a way that they wonder whether you care about them.
Having a Customers Rock! attitude means you view your customers as a valuable asset to your business, and you treat them in such as way that they see value in the relationship with you.
Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Marketing | 6 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 16, 2007
I enjoy finding companies with a Customers Rock! attitude and sharing my findings here on this blog. Today, I saw something which impressed me on the back of my big bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips (Parmesan Garlic & Herb flavor). Here is how Stacy’s Pita Chip Co. describes their origins:
We designed a food cart and began serving all natural pita roll-up sandwiches. They were an instant hit and the lines grew longer each day. As an incentive for customers to wait in line, we baked fresh pita bread into different flavored pita chips. Customers loved them so much, they encouraged us to get the chips into stores. We listened, and that’s how Stacy’s Pita Chip Company was born.
It goes on and continues focusing on customers:
Listening to our customers is also how we continue to grow. Today, the recipes remain the same… simple, natural, and delicious.
Thanks to all our customers!
I love the way this company gives a lot of the credit for their success to their customers! But do they really care? Here is a great post from The Diff blog (a blog from Quicken Loans!) discussing how Stacy’s Pita Chips responded to a concern from someone who had just tried the chips for the first time. The blogger bought a bag of the chips from the vending machine and was very disappointed with the actual number of chips in the bag. He sent an email to Stacy’s to express his concern. They responded saying they would send a replacement bag. Here is what Stacy’s sent:
They could have just sent the single replacement bag but they sent a boxful. A snack food company that didn’t want the customer to have a bad impression of them. To me that was the Diff.
I believe Stacy’s is a customer-focused company. Their website is very friendly and is as easy to use as flipping through a magazine (in fact, that is how it is set up). They continue to state on their homepage how they built the company on customer input and feedback. Flip to the tab labeled “Talk to Us” and find their Guest Book. There you can read many dozens of positive comments sent in by customers. (To Stacy’s: one great way to improve the Guest Book would be to turn it into a blog and respond to the comments!) They also had a fun SuperBowl campaign this year and sent out party kits to over 100,000 people in America named “Stacy” in order to celebrate the brand’s grassroots beginnings and word of mouth enthusiasm of its customers. Anyone get one?
Stacy’s also has a nice loyalty program to reward frequent customers: you can clip off the UPC symbols from the products and send them in for t-shirts, aprons, recipe books, or lunchbags. What is so different about this, you say? Hasn’t this been done for years? Yes, but the customer-friendly approach taken by Stacy’s is embodied by the word FREE. The UPC symbols are all that is required (and presumably a loyal customer has quite a few of those); no shipping or handling charges needed! That is very cool.
I am impressed with the customer focus I have seen from this organization. Stacy’s Pita Chips Company, you rock!
Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customers Rock!, Marketing, Voice of the customer | 6 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 12, 2007
Let’s face it. There are times in customer service when we just have to put our customers on hold.
If a customer has to wait on hold while “We are experiencing an unusually high call volume”, here is a spectrum of wait experiences for them, from worst to best:
Wait experiences for customers
- Worst: Dead space. A customer hearing nothing wonders whether they are even still connected!
- OK: Messages repeating every now and then. For example, “We appreciate your business,” or “Your call is important to us,” usually followed by, “Please hold for the next available agent.” Just the fact that the customer is hearing a message means they are still connected. However, hearing the same cliches over and over again is a bit annoying.
- Better: Music playing between the messages. Hopefully, calming music.
- Even better: An estimate of wait time. This helps set the customer’s expectations so they know whether they have time right now to wait or whether they should call back later.
- Best: Estimate given and a choice to wait or have a call-back. The customer can choose to wait now or have a customer service rep call them back. See my last post of 2006, New Year’s Musings, for a real-life example of this with a utility company.
Of course, the best wait experience is no wait experience at all!
Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer service | 6 Comments »
Posted by Becky Carroll on April 11, 2007
A number of bloggers recently have been creating a great discussion on customer service quality. In particular, Mike Wagner from Own Your Brand! started a conversation in his post Customer Service: Lessons from the Heart. He bravely shares this about a hospital experience he had:
Customers need you to manage their experience. Great customer service anticipates confusion, concerns, and questions.
Great care was taken to manage my expectations – they anticipated my worries. I was told what it would be like when I awoke from my operation and what would hurt – and why. I was told ahead of time about each stage in my recovery.
The key here is managing not just the experience but also the customer’s expectations. Contrast Mike’s experience with a story from David Polinchock of Experience Manifesto about a recent experience at the movies that fell short because expectations weren’t properly managed when the theater lost power.
But, during this entire time, not a single person from the theatre came in to tell us what was going on. There wasn’t even someone in the lobby until about 10 minutes into the problem. It’s annoying to have to stand in the dark without anyone telling you what’s happening.
When customer expectations are well-managed, the customer experience is usually a positive one. The rubber meets the road, however, when things go wrong as they did for David and his family at the movies. Lack of communication is often a hallmark of poor planning on the part of the organization. When customers don’t know what is happening, they begin to imagine the worst. Even a quick, short report of what might be going on will help to calm customers. Setting expectations of what might happen next helps them figure out how they will view this experience.
My family had a similar movie experience when the sound stopped working at the theater. Within a minute or so, the theater manager came out and told us they would need to repair the projector, which would take 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, they invited us to come out to the lobby for free popcorn and drinks!
Communication took place right away. Expectations were set about how long we would have to wait. Compensation was offered (the popcorn and drinks didn’t cost the theater much money at all!). We were able to achieve our end-goal (watch the movie). What could have turned into a major inconvenience and frustration became a positive experience. We continued to frequent that theater for some time after that, telling friends about the great way we were treated.
What is your strategy for managing your customers and their experiences? Giving great customer service when all goes well is not simple. Giving great customer service when things go poorly is critical not only to recovering from the problem but also to getting a customer to return.
This is where the rubber truly meets the road.
(Photo credit: valerika)
Posted in Customer experience, Customer service | 5 Comments »