Customers Rock!

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

Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’

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 »

Who Speaks Louder: Marketing or Customer Service?

Posted by Becky Carroll on July 15, 2008

Overheard the other day from a cashier at my local grocery store (a large chain, by the way): “Can I get a bagger over here?  You aren’t paying me enough to have me bag the groceries, too!”  I heard this as I was coming up to the check-out counter with my purchases (which were only a few items).

Wow, what does that do to the brand’s marketing messages?

The issue here is this: the customer doesn’t differentiate between what marketing is saying and what they hear from customer service personnel.  All messages, regardless of medium or origin, add up to communicate the brand’s image to the customer.  Yet too often, marketing and customer service are managed separately in a company or organization, they don’t speak to each other, and they don’t have common metrics (you know, those things that drive the behaviors?).

When we look at it from the company’s perspective, we see silo-thinking, each department focused on their own area.  When we look at it from the customer’s perspective, what do we see?  One brand, with everyone working together for a great customer experience?  Or many experiences, looking like many brands, with the experience differing based on how customer service personnel are asked to behave?

Customers Rock! was started to focus on highlighting companies that understand these concepts.  Customers Rock! doesn’t mean the customer is always right.  It means we should view our customers as one of the most important assets that we have; therefore, we should plan each step of how we are going to get, keep, and grow these assets.

Who is speaking more loudly to customers at your organization?  Do you need to bring those messages into alignment?  What do customers think about your brand, from all perspectives?  These are critical questions to answer as companies consider how to weather the current economic storms.

“The relationship that is formed when marketing and customer service meet is like saying that you’re making good on your promises.”  Meikah

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Airline Customer Service Makes All the Difference

Posted by Becky Carroll on June 19, 2008

The Airline ExperienceThe airline industry is in quite a mess.  Extra fees being charged for bags have passengers feeling even more “nickle and dimed” than ever.  Fuel costs are driving more people to take their vacations at home.  Cut-backs at airlines mean fewer employees doing more work = grumpy people.  What is an airline to do?

Would you be surprised if I said “Improve the Customer Experience”!  Well, it is not just me saying it this time.  J.D. Power and Associates just released the results of their 2008 North American Airline Satisfaction Study.  Declining customer satisfaction is linked with the level of customer service provided by airline staff, even more than it is linked with concerns over extra fees and prices.  Per the press release:

The study finds that satisfaction with “people” factors—including knowledge, courtesy and helpfulness of reservation and gate agents, check-in staff and flight crew—has declined dramatically since 2007, and is the leading contributing factor to the overall decline in customer satisfaction with airlines in 2008. The decrease in satisfaction with people factors is more than twice as large as the decline in satisfaction with price factors.

The press release goes on to quote Sam Thanawalla, director of their global hospitality and travel practice, who urges airlines to invest in their employees in order to improve the customer experience.

Here is the Customers Rock! take on the situation:

In a tough economy like this one, customers will be very choosy about where they spend their hard-earned money.  If a customer has decided to take a trip, they want to it to be great!  Airlines need to get with the program and look at the experience from the customer’s perspective.  It won’t take much “mystery shopping” to figure out where to find the pain points.  It could be just a few simple things that make the difference, but airlines need to get into a conversation with their customers in order to figure this out.  Southwest Airlines has done an exceptionally good job of this with their Nuts About Southwest blog, even changing some of their policies as a result of customer feedback.  (Fun aside – Southwest just blogged about MyStarbucksIdea, and now their customers are starting to ask for MySouthwestIdea… think it will catch on?)

Yes, the customer experience really does matter to customers, and it matters more every day.  Marketing, customer service, HR, sales – all departments need to put their heads together and figure out how to create better customer relationships via the experience.  Quick – do it before your competition does! 

(Photo credit: egdigital)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer strategy, social media | Tagged: , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Social Media and Engagement, with Brian Solis: Part 2

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 21, 2008

 This is Part 2 of the guest post by the generous and smart Brian SolisPart 1 covered conversations and the use of social media.  In today’s post, Brian helps us take the appropriate steps to really begin listening, then engaging with customers via social media.  Again, many thanks to Brian for sharing his time and talent with my readers.  Brian, you rock!

Social Media Empowers Customer Service to Build Relationships, Part 2

Sociology provides us with an understanding of how human interaction and the ensuing ecosystem shape individual attitudes and behavior. Sociologists study society and social action by examining the groups and social institutions people form. In Social Media, these communities take the form of social networks and the communal groups within them. People establish associations, friendships, and allegiances around content, objects, products, services, and ideas. How they communicate is simply subject to the tools and networks that people adopt based on the influence of their social graph.

Observation, monitoring and listening tells us everything. We’ll learn where the relevant conversations are taking place, who’s participating, what they’re saying and the tone of the discussions, the specific information they’re looking for, impressions and conceptions, as well as revealing the patterns of behavior within specific communities.

The million dollar question that every business executive needs answered is who’s responsible for managing these conversations and how much time and money will it take?
In order to determine the amount of resources, time and money that are required, It all starts with good old fashioned research along with the new tools to help you get to the answers you seek (see below for a list to help you get started). 

First..

- Identify who your customers are and where they go for information.

- Search for key words: Products & Company as well as competitors and their products and services.

- And, please don’t forget the relationships that exist in the real world. They’re also indispensable for providing feedback and insight now and in the future.

Based on the research results, you can measure the average frequency of relevant conversations, identify the more active hubs and communities, and the context of the conversations in order to determine time and variety of resources required (a community manager is required at the very least.) 

Here’s a formula that I developed based on participation averages over the last couple of years: 

The number of average relevant conversations per day per community.

Multiplied by the quantity of relevant communities.

Multiplied by 20 (minutes required to research and respond and also monitor for additional responses), variable +/- dependent on the case, usually +.

Divided by 60 (minutes)

Equals the amount of time required and in turn, the resources and associated costs required depending on internal labor or external consulting fees. 

Based on the research results, you can measure the average frequency of relevant conversations, identify the more active hubs and communities and the context of the conversations in order to determine time and resources required.

Throughout the research process, you’ll undoubtedly see that relevant conversations occur across disparate networks, are representative of a sweeping variety of related topics that require varying responses, and, that they usually map  to specific departments within your organization (those most qualified to respond), i.e. marcom, product management, customer service, PR, executive management, etc. Having someone keeping a pulse on relevant conversations and in turn feeding them, intelligently, to the right people internally and guiding them on the required response and follow-up makes the interaction more meaningful and helpful and also distributes the responsibility across existing resources. 

Here are some places to start listening (note, these tools are recommended for listening, even though many of them are also used for publishing and sharing content):

Social Bookmarks

  • Ma.gnolia
  • Delicious
  • Diigo
  • StumbleUpon

Crowdsourced Content

  • Digg
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • Mixx 

Conversations

  • Google Alerts
  • Blogpulse
  • Radian6 (paid)
  • BuzzLogic (paid)
  • Ask.com
  • Google Blog Search 

Blog Communities

  • Blogged.com
  • MyBlogLog
  • BlogCatalog 

Micromedia

FriendFeed

Pownce

Tumblr 

Specific to Twitter search:

Tweetscan

Summize

Twemes

TwitterLocal 

Social Networks

MySpace

Bebo

Ning

Facebook

LinkedIn 

Customers Service Networks

YahooGroups

GoogleGroups

GetSatisfaction 

Content

Video

YouTube

Metacafe 

Pictures

Flickr

Documents

ThinkFree Docs

Scribd

Docstoc

Once you’ve conducted the initial waves of research, identified the volume, location and frequency of relevant conversations, and estimated the required resources, you can effectively create an accurate blueprint for engagement. I call this a social map.

The next steps are dictated by the sociological work we’ve done, which reveals the culture within each respective network and how we should participate. Generally, each conversations should be treated as if you were approaching someone in real life whom you greatly respect.

- Start by participating as a person, not as a marketer.

- Talk like a person, not as a sales person or message factory.

- Be helpful and bring value to the conversation.

- Please remember, that during this entire process, you’re contributing to the personality and the perception of the brand you represent.

At the end of the day, we’re all people and thus we should approach conversations as such. It may seem like common sense, but as classically trained marketers, we tend to approach these things with our marketing hat on. It’s the difference between authentic conversations and one-sided talking “at” people we may be used to.

Most importantly, the lessons learned in the field should in turn be fed into the marketing department to create and run more intelligent, experienced, and real world initiatives across all forms of marketing, PR, sales, and advertising. 

In a social world, conversations will take place with or without us and the price we pay for missing them is potentially equivalent to the loss of brand equity and resonance.  Participation is the new customer service and the new art of relationship marketing.  Sincere, informative, and authentic interactions count for everything.  In social media, engagement is the only way to earn customer respect and hopefully their business, loyalty, and referrals as we continue to do what matters to earn their friendship.

Relationships are the new currency in Social Media, and as we all know, relationships need cultivation and value from both sides in order to grow into something of value and longevity.

You can connect with Brian on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Pownce, Plaxo, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

Brian Solis is Principal of FutureWorks, an acclaimed PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley and also blogs at PR 2.0 and bub.blicio.us . Along with Geoff Livingston, Solis recently co-authored “Now is Gone,” a new, award-winning book that helps businesses learn how to leverage New and Social Media.

(Photo credit: wds2007)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Guest bloggers, Marketing, social media | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Social Media Empowering Customer Service: Guest Blogger Brian Solis

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 20, 2008

The Infamous Metro Photo Today on Customers Rock!, I have the honor of having a special guest blogger with us: Brian Solis.  Brian and I met earlier this year at the Customer Service is the New Marketing (CSITNM) conference in San Francisco, where we were both giving lunchtime workshops.  Brian is one of the brightest people I know on new media and how to best engage customers.  As Principal of the PR and new media agency FutureWorks, Brian is constantly breaking new ground in PR-social media relations. 

His post is a two-parter, so be sure and come back to get the second half!  With no further ado, here’s Brian!

Social Media Empowers Customer Service to Build Relationships

Customer service is the new, new marketing and Social Media is facilitating the convergence between traditional marketing disciplines, customer service, with a new proactive approach to relationship cultivation and management.

 Earlier this year I published a free ebook with Becky Carroll, “The Art of Listening and Engagement Through Social Media,” in which we explored how companies can listen to and participate in the various and important conversations that are constantly taking place online.

 We’re entering an entirely new paradigm for cultivating relationships with customers as well as the people who may one day become customers.
Social Media is about facilitating interactions between people online. Just because we have the tools to engage, doesn’t make it any easier to do this the right way. Or, on the contrary, just because we don’t have the tools to monitor and engage in these online conversations, doesn’t mean that they’re not important or actually happening.

You’ve heard that old saying right?

If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen.

The answer is resoundingly YES! 

If you’re not part of the conversation, then you’re leaving it to others to answer questions and provide information that may or may not be qualified, helpful, or accurate. Or, even worse, you may be leaving it up to your competition to jump in to become the resource for the community. 

Many companies are participating in social networks as a form of proactive outbound customer service with a twist of social marketing such as Zappos, JetBlue, Southwest, H&R Block, and Dell. They’re engaging customers on their turf, in their way, in order to help them solve problems, find information or simply engage them in healthy dialog. 

It’s breaking new ground and it’s setting a new standard. 

Participating in social media is not as easy as simply blasting messages, answering questions, or joining conversations.  We’re talking about people here, and depending on the online network where they’re participating, the understanding of the culture, demographics, and interaction, our approach will vary. 

We’ve all heard the mantras that the customer is always right. I think we can all agree that the customer is critical to our success and their emotions, experiences, state of mind and their resulting influence within their community are imperative to our survival.

Instead of top down communications and focusing on the influence and control of messages and perception, we’re learning that those influential groups of people are now more like peers and therefore require respect, honesty, and support in order for us to earn their trust – and hopefully their business and enthusiasm along the way.

The customer comes first, and if we fuse sociology, social media, customer service, relationship marketing, experiential marketing, and traditional marketing, we’re creating a new formula for outbound influence and fueling a new generation of brand ambassadors and loyalists.

Essentially, social media empowers customers to effectively sell and represent our brand as a powerful and influential surrogate sales force. Similarly, they also have the ability to negatively affect it if they’re left to influence freely without input or guidance. 

The future of marketing integrates traditional and social tools, connected by successful, ongoing relationships with media, influencers, and people. That’s right…it’s about relationships and it’s about people. Relationships serve as the foundation for everything, whether it’s traditional or new media, and the constant reminder that we’re reaching people, and not audiences, will keep us on a path of relevance.  And, each social network fosters its own unique culture dependent of the people who are populating the overall community as well as niche micro communities. 

As such, social media is driven by sociology and the study of human behavior and online cultures and not necessarily limited to the technology that is fueling it.
This is where we start in order to effectively identify the cultures of relevant online communities and listen to and respond directly to the people within them.

Sociology – The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society.

Through sociology and social media, we’re learning to peel back the layers of our target demographics to see the people underneath as well as their online behavior. As such, we’re starting to figure out that we need to humanize our story and the process of storytelling.  And, through observation, we’re able to find our real customers and those who influence them. 

The recognition of people independently from the tools is an important reminder that their interests are at the center of what we do.

Borrowing insight, teachings, and experience from the school of sociology teaches us how to observe, listen to, and analyze the online cultures we wish to reach. 

However, many marketers are merely engaging in cultural voyeurism at best. They look from afar and roam the perimeters of online societies without ever becoming a true member of any society. This means, they don’t truly understand what, where, or why they’re “participating,” only jumping in because they have something to say and have access to the tools that will carry their messages into play. 

Conversational marketing requires observation, which will dictate your engagement strategies. It starts with a combination of social and traditional tools to discover, listen, learn, and engage directly with customers to help, not market, but indeed help them make decisions and also do things that they couldn’t, or didn’t know how to do, before.

Be sure to come back for Part 2, coming soon!

You can connect with Brian on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Pownce, Plaxo, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

Brian Solis is Principal of FutureWorks, an acclaimed PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley and also blogs at PR 2.0 and bub.blicio.us.  Along with Geoff Livingston, Solis recently co-authored “Now is Gone,” a new, award-winning book that helps businesses learn how to leverage New and Social Media.

(Flickr photo credit: joekerstef)

Posted in Customer service, Guest bloggers, Marketing, social media | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Defining “Customer-Focused Strategy”

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 14, 2008

Focus on the customer My blogging friend Glenn Ross has put forth the following challenge to some of his fellow Customer Service bloggers (including me): How do you define “Customer-Focused Strategy?”  Great question, Glenn!  Glenn has posted his definition of a customer-focused strategy, and has included ideas and definitions from other excellent customer service bloggers, including ServiceUntitled, CustomersAreAlways, and CustServ.  There are many good ideas there, and I encourage you to check them out.

Customer strategy is the main focus of this blog as well as what I do (and have been doing) for a living.  I still like the paragraph I wrote on customer strategy last year at about this time; here is the excerpt from the post Rockin’ Our Customer’s Experience Online:

Customer Strategy

Does your organization have a customer strategy?  Most companies have a product strategy and a marketing strategy.  Customer-centric organizations also have a customer strategy.  Put simply, a customer strategy is a proactive plan for how we want to acquire, retain, and grow our customers!  Too many organizations leave it to chance when it comes to retention and growth of customers, focusing most of their resources on customer acquisition.  Why would we want to leave the management of our most valuable asset, our customers, to chance?

In order to align our customer experience with our customer strategy, we need to consider how we have created that strategy.  A strong customer strategy is built around the interactions we have with our customers, and we are able to maximize the value of every customer touch.  In other words,  we make each impression with the customer count.  Customer service and support may have several opportunities to make customer impressions, and it is often where the rubber meets the road.  How do we handle our customers when there is a problem or a question?  The goal of all these interactions is to increase customer retention and loyalty, which ultimately leads to repeat business and referrals.  Done right, a customer strategy will also build customer trust, strengthen the relationship, and add value to both the customer and the company.

In other words, a customer-focused strategy is a planned approach to how we handle our customers at every touch point.  It is more than just giving great customer service.  It is more than marketing with certain customer buzzwords.  It is more than a great customer experience.  It requires a strategic plan to be put in place to address all of those areas, plus the metrics to ensure the success of the strategy. 

I have been part of creating a customer-focused strategy for several clients, and this is no small undertaking.  It requires agreement and consistency across all functional areas in order to be most effective.  No silos allowed!  The customer doesn’t look at a company as individual departments, so we need to be “one brand” to the customer.  The customer-focused strategy helps make that happen.

Great Examples

Glenn also asked for examples of companies who do this well.  There are a few competitions out there for this type of award; a great one is coming up from the team at Peppers and Rogers Group and Gartner.  Called the Gartner and 1to1 Customer Excellence Awards, it will be showcasing those companies that “get” customer strategy – and how to execute it.  (By the way, the contest is open until May 23, so if you are reading this and want to submit your company, you can go here and enter.)

At this blog, I have listed several examples of companies that are doing customer strategy well.  They include FreshBooks and their customer roadtrip, Bungie and the way they are fans of their customers, Element Fusion and their web concierge, Disney and customer delight, and Xerox and their dedication to customer experience, among others.  I don’t think any one of them is perfect, but each of them do many things well across several areas. 

OK, out to you, readers!  How would you define “customer-focused strategy”?  Do you agree with me or am I missing something?  Who is doing it well?

(Photo credit: redbaron)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Focus on the Customer Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on April 30, 2008

Lamps at the Grand Bazaar There are so many ways we can focus on our customer.  I wanted to share a very cool post from one of my favorite bloggers, Doug Meacham of NextUp.  Doug is one of the first bloggers I started a conversation with back when I began this blog at the end of 2006 (he has also been one of those trying to get me to start Twittering – I am getting closer, Doug!).

Doug’s post is a great list from another Doug, Doug Fleener at Retail Contrarian, sharing 50 ways to improve the customer experience (note – there are actually 51 – added value).  This is near and dear to my heart!  Most of these apply directly to retail and consumer-based businesses, but they should also be considered for other customer-friendly folks.  Here are a few of the items that I especially liked:

“8. Send handwritten thank-you notes. Come on, do you really do it?”

Come on, really.  Do it!

“15. If you can’t fulfill a customer’s need, suggest another company that may be able to do so.”

Zappos.com does this if they can’t find the shoes you are looking for.  Awesome customer service.

“46. Partner with restaurants and other stores to present exclusive discounts and offers to your customers. (A win-win-win. The other company gets incremental revenue, your customer saves money, and you’re the nice person doing it for both of them.)”

I like this one because, through partnering, your company is able to offer added value (there’s that phrase again!) to customers. This can be a key factor in increasing customer loyalty.  I heard a recent example of this in some interviews I was conducting for a retail client.  The retailer’s store is on a street in a shopping district with several other retailers.  In order to give a reward to loyal customers, the street is holding a drawing for Mother’s Day.  The lucky winner will get one prize from each store or restaurant on the block, including free meals, spa treatments, and clothes.  How fun is that?

Of course, as I mentioned to the Doug(s) in my comments, the best way to take care of your customers is to do the above within the framework of a proactive strategy.   Planning for a great customer experience will make all the difference between “random acts of customer service” and a consistent experience. 

What works for you?  Please share some of your best customer experience ideas with us either by email or in the comments on any of the above blogs.  I will be sure to link to you here at Customers Rock!

(Photo credit: jchambers) (Note – WordPress.com’s photo uploader isn’t working; this photo is coming soon!)  Finally working!

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customer strategy, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Right-Selling Customers

Posted by Becky Carroll on April 22, 2008

 I read an interesting article on “Scientific Selling”, which started with the following tagline:

“The way in which a customer is handled has much to do with results obtained.”

How true that is!  It goes on to discuss how a customer cannot be “up-sold” unless that customer is thoroughly understood.

“The worst evil in selling is the action of the man who merely gives the customer what he asks for.  The man who does this is not a salesman, he is just a clerk.”

This article, by the way, is from the New York Times and was printed June 18, 1922!  It still rings true today. 

We need to understand not just who our customers are and what they say they want, but we also need to understand how they are currently using our products and services.  Yesterday, I spoke with Nancy Arter and Suzanne Obermire at RRW Consulting (their blog here) about the marketing basic of “right selling” customers.  We agreed that the most-satisfied customers tend to be those who are using the products and services which are a best fit for their needs.

For example, when I was at HP, I worked in the division where we marketed service subscriptions for HP’s mainframe computers to businesses.  Part of the service subscription included software updates and the ability to contact the call center (this was before eSupport was prevalent!).  At the end of the year, a customer could decide whether to renew their subscription.  If they never called in with a problem, they might have felt that they didn’t get value from their investment.  The most successful subscription services salespeople (say that three times fast!) were those that helped a business find the right level of service for the next year, rather than trying to renew them on the same (under-utilized) level of service.

Some of you may be thinking, hey, they left money on the table!  You should just try and get the most from the customer.  This, readers, is short-term thinking – trying to maximize the amount of revenues this quarter or year.  This type of thinking backfires when a customer realizes they have been over-paying for services they don’t use, and they then get upset that they weren’t told they could have switched to a subscription which was a better fit. (Does this sound familiar – cell phone plans come to mind…)

The long-term viewpoint says we want our customers to have the right level of service.  That may mean that they reduce the level of service they have with us.  However, if it is the right level of service, the customer will ultimately be more satisfied.  Customer satisfaction equates to long-term loyalty, which equates to increased positive word of mouth.

And that is what right-selling is all about!

(Flickr photo credit: TimParkinson)

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customer strategy, Marketing, word of mouth | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Focus on WOW for Customers

Posted by Becky Carroll on April 10, 2008

 I just got back from my local branch of Wells Fargo, and something caught my eye behind the friendly teller, Jennifer.  Another employee was preparing a chart to go on the wall entitled, “11 Ways to WOW the Customer.”  Of course, being the customer-focused professional that I am, I had to ask about the chart.

Great Customer Service

Jennifer told me it was to help remind the team about customer service, with the main goal being that customers feel welcome each time they come into the bank.  They want the experience to be such a good one that customers will seek them out for their future banking activities, even if this is not their home branch.  Most of the items on the chart are simple, such as welcoming customers into the bank verbally when they come in the door.  Smiling.  Or, as she said, “Keeping your grump to yourself!”

This is consistent with Wells Fargo’s corporate focus on customers.  Here is an excerpt from the Customer Service page on their website, describing the 11 Ways to WOW.

“Welcoming”

  • you make me feel at home.
  • you care about me.
  • you make me feel special.

“Delivering value”

  • you give me the right advice.
  • you provide me value.
  • you keep your promises.

“Following up and building relationships”

  • you help me when I really need it.
  • you know me.
  • when you make a mistake you make things even better.
  • you thank me.
  • you reach out to me.

Employee Retention

Jennifer said this customer focus makes the branch experience not only better for customers, but also better for her and the other employees that work there.  She enjoys her job more when she is able to truly help customers with their needs.  She spends time talking to them about the task at hand, but she also spends time listening to them talk about their lives.  Customers have become her regulars, and one of them even brought in not one, but two cakes for the team.  The pace at this branch is a little more leisurely, so the employees there have time to chat with customers, their kids, and even their dogs!

I love this line, again from the Wells Fargo website: “We’re only as good as our first impression and last connection. This is all about culture and attitude.”

That, my friends, is what this blog is all about. 

 

WOW Your Customers

I encourage each of you to think of how you can WOW your customers.  Don’t leave it to chance or count on just hiring great employees.  That is not enough.  Customers Rock! companies set a goal for WOW customer interactions, then they make a specific plan to meet that goal.  Finally, they check back with their customers to see whether they made a difference from the customer’s perspective.

Jennifer, you guys rock!  Thanks for making it special, and I will work on baking you some cookies for the next time I come in…

(Photo credit: ChrisL_AK)

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customer strategy, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

FreshBooks Rocks: Getting Personal with Customers

Posted by Becky Carroll on April 2, 2008

wagon.png One of the best ways to get to know your customers is to spend time with them face-to-face.  This method of doing business is a hallmark of a Customers Rock! company and is usually supplemented with other types of customer conversation, including traditional and social media marketing.  For FreshBooks, based in Toronto, Canada, this is not an unusual way to do business – it is business as usual!

Unique Customer Outreach

FreshBooks provides online invoicing and time-tracking for service professionals.  I had the chance to speak with CEO Mike McDerment, and he shared with me his story about their unique and effective customer outreach campaign.  Mike and a few other folks from FreshBooks were attending two different conferences here in the USA last month, including speaking at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.  Coming from Toronto, the easiest way to get there would have been to fly – but not for this team.  They decided to take the fun path and rent an RV (see photo above), meeting and talking with customers along the way!  By the end of their Roadburn roadtrip, Mike and his employees Saul (who put the trip together) and Sunir (marketing and community development) had 11 meals over a period of 4 days, meeting with more than 100 customers over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The Roadburn blog above chronicles the trip, and several customers came out to it, requesting stops in their towns.

vinyl_rev01.png This was not a product roadshow.  This was a listening tour.  Mike and his team didn’t lead the conversations at all.  They merely asked a few simple questions to get them started, such as, “Hey, how are you?  What do you do?”  Rather than peppering their customers with questions, they encouraged the customers to network with each other.  By the end of these meals, many of these customers were swapping business cards and planning to do business with each other.  According to Mike, the result was “almost a mini eco-system!”  Listening in this type of environment provides fresh (get it?) customer insights that you can’t get on a survey!

I loved the way the FreshBooks team described the intent of the road trip on their site:

“The FreshBooks RoadBurn may seem like a stunt or a marketing ploy but in reality it is pretty much what FreshBooks is all about….listening to it’s beautiful customer base and getting to know them on a level that other companies wouldn’t make the effort to do so.”

Getting to Know You

FreshBooks wants to get to know customers and wants to be easy to talk to as well.  They have actually been holding these “customer meals” for about four years now.  According to Mike, every time he goes to a city he gets a list of FreshBooks customers in that city, and he invites them out for dinner to see what is going on with their business.  As you can imagine, this is pretty effective for building customer relationships, as well as for great word-of-mouth.  Mike says,

“We are conscious that there is always someone on the other end of the computer screen who is using our products.  We keep asking ourselves, how can we get closer to our customers?”

FreshBooks does it not only with face-to-face meetings, but they believe that social media really helps, too.  First of all, there is their blog, FreshThinking.  FreshBooks uses it as a way to communicate updates to their customers, as well as business tips and other tidbits.  It must be working – the blog regularly gets comments and has over 1100 readers (per Feedburner).  In addition, FreshBooks is a big fan of Twitter.  They twittered the road trip as they went across the country; Mike described it as “random and quirky” writings.  They Twitter from inside of FreshBooks as well to share with customers what is going on at the company.  It is also part of their customer support mix.  For example, the aforementioned Saul, at home on a weekday evening, sees someone using Twitter to ask how to do something in FreshBooks, and he replies and gives the answer. 

Good customer service, right?  Yes.  FreshBooks is paying attention to customer conversation and helping where needed.  Per Mike, “…we are not instigating these conversations; rather, we are being where they are.”

Caring – A Core Value

Customers are embedded in the corporate culture at FreshBooks; it is in their DNA.  Mike supports this in a few ways.  One, he hires for fit.  He describes this as hiring people who feel good about helping people out.  In addition, everyone at FreshBooks does a rotation into customer support.  This gives all employees the opportunity to hear from customers directly and to understand their pain points.

Mike says one of their core values is caring.  As CEO, Mike is always taking care of employees, making sure they have what they need for their jobs as well as looking out for their happiness and health.  Here is his formula for success:

Take care of staff –> Staff takes care of customers –> Customers take care of referrals

This works!  From customer satisfaction surveys last year, FreshBooks had a customer referral rate of 98%.  This year, the rate went up to 99%!  This rocks.  Per Mike: “There is really nothing better.  Happy customers are a great pool of positive WOM.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Mike.  FreshBooks rocks!

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customer strategy, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

 
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