Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Archive for August, 2008

Guest Blogger: Esteban Kolsky on Customer Service and Email

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 18, 2008

Today we have a special guest with us, Esteban Kolsky.  Esteban is a VP at KANA where he is very focused on great customer experiences, especially in the area of customer service.  He is also an active commenter here on Customers Rock!, so please welcome him and enjoy the post!

Five Winning Strategies to Excel at Customer Service via Email

Back in the “early” days of the internet (read 1990s) we all thought that email was going to revolutionize the way we do customer service.  Customers were going to send us all their questions and inquiries via email, which in turn was going to be answered within a few minutes – either automatically through a software package or manually by knowledgebase-assisted engineers. This setup was going to do away with the need to use telephones and call centers (after all, emails can be answered from anywhere), and reduce the cost for customer service.

Fast forward 15-20 years and it seems to be not where we thought it would be.  Alas, we did try using email as much as possible yet the results were not as expected: automation was harder than we expected, customers did not like the speed of response (which was down to days in some cases, and non-existent in others), and transactions completed via email were not similar to transactions completed via the phone.  This slow realization of the problems of using email for customer service made the adoption slow down almost to a trickle – pushing customer service automation via email to the point of extinction.

So where are we today?  After 2-3 years of very painful experimentation and working in the lab, we are beginning to discover how to use email properly for customer service.  There are over two dozen best practices and lessons learned that anyone starting to implement email for customer service would do well to read and understand before starting.  However, the following five are the top sure-fire ways to get customer service email to work well in your organization:

1. Classification – customers tend to ramble in free-form emails, posing questions somewhere in the middle of long sentences or paragraphs. That makes it almost impossible for parsing engines to identify the inquiry within the email. Eliminate free-form emails in favor of web-based forms with drop-down menus to allow customers to send emails. You can create a unique answer for each unique combination possible, or a workflow to gather more information or open a ticket if needed. Knowing what customers are asking, what are the variables or terms more often used also assist in improving the knowledge-base.

2. Automation – customer service emails, as with phone-based inquiries, follow an 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the questions can be answered with 20% of the content available. However, with the constraints of email as a communication medium (complex, oddly-written messages, lack of interactivity for clarification or expansion of data), the 20% gets reduced very rapidly to around 5% of content that can be properly expressed through email. Alas, still it can answer a large number of incoming interactions automatically, greatly reducing the dependency on agents to answer those emails, and improving the speed of response for customers. Identifying that 5% of content and questions, creating the specific rules and deploying it can greatly improve the experience for customers, and create a fertile lab for organizations to discover more and more interactions that can be automated.

3. Integration – the best way to add value to an email response is to provide the customer with personalized, custom information that matches the customer intent when writing in. If they want to know the status of their order, don’t send them a link to the page where they can get it – send them the information. This is impossible to do unless the ERMS and the data stores and applications are integrated. In some cases, this integration is done directly and the data flows are controlled via business rules. In others, the integration happens through an existing application feeding data back to the ERMS. In either situation, the customer feels as if the system has been custom-made for their needs increasing satisfaction.

4. Maintenance – the quintessential secret to having a powerful customer service solution via email is the maintenance of the solution. This is nothing new; we learned how to do this while deploying our knowledge management solutions. Yet, email has a complicated set of business rules and workflows that must be maintained. Even if you support a centralized model for knowledge management, the email-specific components still carry a heavy load of maintenance. You could streamline the maintenance by deploying a centralized rules server across channels. Alas, as it is with knowledge, business rules and workflows get outdated as soon as they are deployed – making maintenance THE way to manage the content properly. The mid-life of an improperly maintained ERMS is very short, usually not passing a couple of months before customers stop using due to poor results.

5. Marketing – similarly, marketing is the secret to growing the adoption of email among your customers and within your organization. Customers don’t know you offer a specific solution unless you tell them about it, and they understand the benefits they can get out of it. Your organization does not understand the great job your email solution has done for you unless you tell them about it. Advertise your solution. Extol its benefits. Announce the availability of new and upgraded features. Create a killer marketing plan, target the right people to know about it, and distribute the information.

Where are you with the use of email in your organization?  Are you an early and satisfied adopter? Or are you intrigued by the promise?

About the Author

Esteban Kolsky has over 20 years of customer service, market research, and technology experience. As Vice President and Practice Leader for KANA,  Mr. Kolsky delivers strategic consulting, systems integration and managed services programs designed to help KANA customers deliver exceptional service experiences. Prior to joining KANA Software Mr. Kolsky was with Gartner where he built and managed both the eService and Enterprise Feedback Management practices. He has been featured in television and radio, and quoted in over 400 publications around the globe as an industry watcher and commentator.

(Photo credit: © Yannis Ntousiopoulos | Dreamstime.com)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Guest bloggers | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Feedback for Customers Rock!

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 11, 2008

I have been writing this blog for over a year and a half and have developed a nice following of loyal readers.  Thank you, loyal readers!!

I would like to get some feedback from you on what you would like to see on Customers Rock!, plus get to know you a little bit!  Please take 5 minutes and answer my really short survey.  Feel free to be honest about what you like and don’t like here.  I will take it to heart!

Please click here to take survey

You can also leave suggestions for me at my new Suggestion Box:

Thanks a million!

(Photo credit:nfsphoto)

Posted in Feedback | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Ikea Rocks with its Retail Customer Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 9, 2008

In the current economy, consumers are holding on to their money more tightly and making hard choices about if, and where, to spend it.  Having a great customer experience greatly increases the chances that a) customers will come back to shop there again and b) they will tell their friends and family about how great it was!   Word of mouth is very powerful marketing; studies show that consumers trust friend recommendations more than information from vendors.

Ikea is one of those stores with a great shopping experience that evokes word of mouth.  In addition to the fun one can have by sitting on all those couches or envisioning how that bedroom would look in your own house, Ikea does things to make a difference even to the smallest customers.

Ikea has a play area for the littlest ones, where they can romp while their parents are enjoying the shopping.  However, Ikea actually encourages families to bring their children with them through the showroom experience, starting right from the entrance.  At our local Ikea store, a staircase leads shoppers up to the showroom floor.  I was very impressed when I noticed they had put in a hand rail at kid-level, just right for those youngsters to hold onto while navigating the steps (see photo).  The sign on the hand rail says the following:

“We care about the little ones, too.  Look for the hand rails mounted lower, specially for your children.”

This does two things for the customer.  One, the rail itself helps the kiddos feel like grown-ups (look, Mom, I can reach the hand rail!).  Two, it specifically tells customers that Ikea has thought about their experience in advance and has done something to make it better.

Understanding Customers

Whether your customers are consumers or businesses, having a solid understanding of them makes all the difference in the sales and marketing process.  How do your customers shop your business?  What would make it easier to buy from you?  Craft your own customer buying experience around the answers to those questions, and you will find an increase in not only sales, but also in new customers as the word spreads that you are a fabulous place to meet their needs.

For more great insight into the retail customer experience, see the these smart blogs: Doug Fleener’s Retail Contrarian, CB Whittemore’s Flooring the Consumer, Stephanie Weaver’s Experienceology.

(Photo credit top: rmarmion; photo credit bottom: bcarroll)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer strategy, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Rockin’ Customer Feedback: SuggestionBox.com

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 4, 2008

There are many, many times here at Customers Rock! where I highly recommend that companies listen to their customers as often as possible.  The best way is to take note of the verbatim words customers use, rather than read from aggregated “survey results”.  This becomes even more important as organizations try to decide the best way to implement social media marketing tools.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with BJ Cook, CMO of SuggestionBox.com (they are based very close to where I am!).  SuggestionBox.com is a place where customers can easily send ideas, complaints, or feedback to companies via the web.  Customers can then sign up to track those ideas, while companies can respond and connect directly with customers.  This is a very cool and easy way to not only listen to customers but also show them you are taking action! 

I asked BJ to share with my readers a little bit about SuggestionBox and how other companies can improve their customer listening plans.  Enjoy!

Interview with BJ Cook of SuggestionBox

Becky: Tell us how the idea for SuggestionBox came about.  And why now?

BJ: SuggestionBox is the result of an online search for a place where our founder, Jeff Whitton, could leave feedback for a company he had an experience with. He couldn’t believe that a Google search for “suggestionbox” would take him to a parked domain. So the light bulb went off and he had a vision for the place that you could submit your ideas to any company around the world and then track them. Think of it as your own Idea portfolio and communication tool for all of the companies you interact with each day. For companies it would be a place to capture feedback, connect with customers and build better relationships. Right now as a customer you’re presented with 6 page surveys, URLs’ on receipts, online surveys and other ways that are intrusive and force you into answering questions that may not be relevant to the experience you just had with that company. So enter SuggestionBox. We’ve simplified the feedback process, by focusing on the field in the feedback form that means the most to the customer; the open textbox. This is what can we improve and why? The company wants to know what and the customer may want to give them some of the background on their suggestion. That’s all. This keeps the incoming feedback focused for companies to easily categorize it and open enough for customers to feel like they can share their story.

Becky: The economy right now is difficult for many.  How can SuggestionBox help companies weather the storm?

BJ: With the state of customer satisfaction and being in an economic downturn, placing emphasis on your customers is crucial. SuggestionBox is that bridge between a company and its customers. We want to be the tool that helps you Build Better Relationships with ____. The reason there’s a blank is that feedback and ideas go beyond your internal and external customers. The blank can be vendors, partners, investors, friends, family and so on. It’s a relationship building tool that just so happens to be able to make capturing insights simple and responding to those Suggesters efficient. Focusing on your existing community and asking them what you can improve lets them know you’re listening and you care. What’s better than feeling like it’s a two-way street? What’s even better is that you can avoid missed opportunities by having a tool setup to listen and be able to get back in touch to support goals like loyalty, retention and word of mouth. SuggestionBox gives companies, nonprofits and events a way to respond to people, keep them in the loop and directly have a positive effect on multiple areas of their business like sales, marketing, customer service, PR and even HR.

Becky: How would you suggest that a company/organization fit SuggestionBox into their existing customer listening plans?

BJ: Depending on what stage a company is in with their current customer listening plans, SuggestionBox can be a value-add tool if you’re just starting out or are already using forums, online surveys, focus groups or your blog. The thing to keep in mind is the communication benefits of “keeping people in the loop”. I’d like to cite a line from the book Raving Fans:

“Listening to customers is powerful, responding to them is dynamite.”

There are so many tools out there to listen to customers, but how many of those tools are just one-way? If you’re given the ability to let a customer know 1 month, 6 months or 2 years out that their idea was actually implemented, you may have them for life – and their kids and their kids. The relationship and bond that is created at this level can last through generations. By changing the current expectation, that I’m going to submit this piece of paper or email to this company knowing they won’t respond, can be the spark you need to becoming dynamite.

Becky: Are you using social media to help promote SuggestionBox, and if so, how?

BJ: Yes. It’s all top secret. I would say that SuggestionBox falls into the whole social media realm. We’re essentially helping companies and brands create online customer communities that they can then engage and communicate with. We are heavy users of community-based platforms like Twitter, Facebook, 12seconds and others. We’ve found that by really embedding our team in various conversations around customer feedback, customer relationships, social media marketing, we begin to build these relationships and lifelines with real people. By focusing on reaching into these various communities, we’ve met some amazing people who not only share their insights with us, but we’re able to share and add value as well. It’s taking the time to really engage with each community that’s so important about social media. I would say that the community is helping us to shape our company from the product roadmap to our outreach to even our hiring. The idea of being social plays a part in every role in our organization and something that we’re all passionate about. SuggestionBox is being defined by our community of Suggesters and customers.

Becky: Anything else you want to share with the readers of Customers Rock!  ?

BJ: With so many great tools out there in this space, you need to start off by asking yourself, “Is our organization customer-centric?” And then evaluate each area of your business to see if that is really being applied from a holistic point of view. Then go out and choose the tool or tools to show customers you’re listening.

Think about all of the businesses you interact with each day and when you have an idea, come see if they are on SuggestionBox. If they are not, you can create their SuggestionBox page simply by being the first to suggest.  We also love feedback, so submit away!

Becky: Thanks, BJ!

To my readers – You can set up an account on SuggestionBox.com for free and submit ideas to any company; SuggestionBox will deliver them for you!  BJ has also set up a code (twomos) where you can get a complimentary two months of a corporate SuggestionBox.  You might want to give it a try and see how you and your customers like it.  Here are some companies that are doing it already: TurboTax (part of Intuit), Southwest Airlines, Addison Avenue Credit UnionTrackur, and Zappos (among many others). 

Look for one here at Customers Rock! soon, too.  I would love to get your suggestions, in addition to your comments!

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Voice of the customer | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

 
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