Customers Rock!

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Archive for the ‘Technical support’ Category

It’s Cool to be a Geek

Posted by Becky Carroll on September 9, 2007

laptop-gold.jpg In this month’s installment of BrandingWire, the BrandingWire team focuses on a small IT services company.  Here is a snippet of this company’s cry for help:

Would you say branding coffee and shoes and beer and other “lifestyle” products is easier than branding… say, a small high tech services company? I’ve been working in marketing for this sort of company for a short while, and have found it to be quite a challenge to really get a grasp of our brand.

How can providing IT services be cool, let alone sexy? 

Background: This company is a small IT company based in Canada.  They offer IT services which range from proactive work, such as maintaining a network, emergency services (when things go down), and consulting services (various projects, such as help upgrading all office PCs to Macs).  They are also beginning to offer a new service called Green IT.  This service helps companies learn how to cut down on both energy use and waste through the optimization of IT. 

The company asked for BrandingWire’s assistance in two key areas:

  1. Ideas to get current clients to see them as more than just “fix-it” services, perhaps even partners for business.
  2. Ideas to help bring in new clients who already understand the value of IT services and who will choose them over competitors.

(Note: You can find the full branding brief at BrandingWire.)

Branding Services

Branding and marketing services can be difficult, as the buyer doesn’t have a product to touch or to see.  IT services in particular are somewhat complex and difficult to explain.  Most aspects of IT services can only be assessed after the service has been performed, and even then, explaining what was fixed may not be straightforward.

Let’s go back to one important aspect of branding for a minute: associations.  I like the way it was described in this post from CIO Magazine about branding IT departments internally:

When automakers brand their product, they’re hoping to sell fun, sex and adventure, along with their cars. Similarly, if your end users’ only image of your IT staff is as the people to call when their printer isn’t working, then they’re not thinking of you to help solve strategic business problems.

For a long time, IT services have been viewed as a necessary evil rather than as a key component of successful business.  Companies see IT services as a place to go get help when something breaks with their computers or systems.  Sometimes the IT services professional is seen as just a part of the facilities – no different from the electrician or telephone guy.

Helping Customers See the Light

There is a lot of potential for marketing and branding this Canadian IT services company.   I would recommend focusing first on existing customers and their needs.  

Understand your customers’ needs and pain points.  Which part of their operations are critical?  Which depend on IT being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?  How many minutes of system down-time can be tolerated, if any?  Where could an improvement in IT make their operations more efficient?  Once these needs are understood, it is easier to frame the IT services offerings in the context of the business needs.

Take out the jargon.  Explain it simply. Enough said.

Tie results to business goals.  Rather than a report card of each minute served on the customer’s behalf, tie it back to their business issues and goals.  How does each service help them achieve their end goals (which you now understand from your customer needs research)?  Put yourself in their shoes as you write your annual report card, and then present it personally if possible.  You will appear to be more of a partner than a “service provider”.

Go for the Green.  Introducing “Green IT” to existing customers is a strong cross-sell for two reasons.  First, it is a great way for customers who want to be seen as part of something larger than just IT.  Green IT can help customers meet their stated/unstated goals of social responsibility, which is becoming very popular in the business world. 

Second, the understanding of the total cost of owning and operating a company’s technology (called Total Cost of Ownership or TCO) may get organizations to start thinking about energy consumption differently.  This is a good conversation to have with a company’s CFO or CEO.  Getting in at this level will also begin to raise the visibility of IT services, and discussions can start on the strategic nature of IT services (rather than just being “fix-it” services).

Make sure you have the right customers.  If some of your customers will never see you as anything more than emergency, fix-it now services, you may want to reconsider keeping them as customers.  If they are willing to pay the fees for this type of service and are satisfied, keep them – and see if you can grow to be a trusted advisor over time.  If there is a lot of complaining and grumbling when the bill arrives, and there is not a chance they will ever “see the light”, you might suggest they go with one of your competitors.  This strategy is not for the faint, but by aligning yourself with customers who value your services, you enable potential referrals to the right kind of customers in the future.

Grow the Business

Once you have focused on existing customers in this manner, you should be growing some true evangelists for your company.  Enlist them to help you bring in new, like-minded clients through referrals.  This could be done through an official referral program or by engaging them in relationship-building conversations such as a blog about your services, with some of  your best customers as guest authors.

You should also have a pretty good idea what your ideal customer looks and acts like by now.  Go out and prospect in the areas where you can find more customers like them! 

IT is Critical

Keep it as simple as possible.  Thanks go to Paul Wallis at CIO Magazine for a thought-provoking piece on his blog; the post is entitled IT Exists for One Reason.  This almost makes it cool to be an IT geek!  An excerpt is below:

Data flow is critical today

Today, business resources and IT assets are either providers of data, consumers of data or provide the conduit through which the data can flow.

The flow of data between business assets is the life-blood of every modern organisation.

People provide and consume data daily, as do applications and systems. Hardware and cables act as conduits through which data flows: between desks, through office and corporate networks, across the internet, through deep sea cables and via satellites.

Across all businesses, the equivalents of the pipes, valves, pumps, meters and sensors of the oil and gas industry are the people, hubs, cables, routers, servers, and desktops through which data flows.

Data flow is at the heart of 21st century business. Supporting, processing and optimising the flow of data are critical to maximising business performance.

The sole reason for IT’s existence is to manage the flow of data.

Get more high-voltage ideas at BrandingWire. 

Our posse of authors include the following regular contributors:

Martin Jelsema

Lewis Green

Kevin Dugan

Valeria Maltoni

Steve Woodruff

Drew McLellan

Patrick Schaber

Derrick Daye

Gavin Heaton

Olivier Blanchard

This month, we have three guest authors as well!  They are the following bloggers:

Matt Dickman

Chris Brown

Cam Beck

(Photo credit: LuMaxArt2D)


Posted in B2B Marketing, BrandingWire, Customer experience, Customer service, Marketing, Technical support | 7 Comments »

Conversation: Customer Support in a Web 2.0 World

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 29, 2007

touching.jpg  There is a new dynamic taking place in support. Customer service is becoming very public. The world now hears the details when a consumer has a poor customer support experience as it is bantered about on blogs, parodied in YouTube videos, and finally picked up by the mainstream media. The effects are spilling over into technical support as well. Customer expectations are higher than ever. The need to engage with customers in an honest and transparent way is becoming a business necessity.

As the support industry makes the shift from break-fix service and support to providing value to customers beyond the product purchase price, there is a need to practice the ancient art of conversation.This art has two components: listening and talking. In order for the conversation to be successful, the first component, listening, is really more important than the second. Support organizations have become very good in the art of talking at customers; the art of listening to customers is often less practiced.

The Self-Service Conundrum
While customer self-service is an important aspect of providing support when and how customers want it (in addition to potentially reducing support costs), there is a side-effect. Customer self-service takes away the human touch to the customer, the face of the company. Rather than a back-and-forth conversation about a support issue and its resolution, customers spend time on their own trying to figure out how to get the necessary answer. If they are successful, this can be a great model. If they are unsuccessful, the level of frustration mounts, only to be unleashed on the next unsuspecting CSR that answers the phone or the chat.

Value-added support is about people and continuing to build trust so that long-lasting customer relationships form. Value-added support is not about technology. Technology can be an enabler, and Web 2.0 technologies and social media help put people back into support. These technologies are facilitating conversations: customer to customer and also customer to company (and back).

Reluctance to Embrace
Some support organizations are part of companies that are quickly embracing Web 2.0 and social media. They have built large communities in the past and are re-engaging with those communities through blogs and wikis. Other organizations are starting to dabble in these new methods of communicating with customers. Many are still watching from the sidelines and a little leery of getting involved. At the recent SSPA Best Practices Conference in San Diego, I moderated a sharing session on web self-service, and the conversation turned to Web 2.0. Most of the companies in the room were considering how they wanted to use Web 2.0 technologies in support; only a handful actually had a blog, wiki, or similar social media in use with customers today.

Part of the reason for this reluctance to embrace social media is fear. There is a concern that customers will use this forum to start talking publicly about their issues with the company and all will turn sour. Guess what? These conversations are already taking place on the internet, with or without the company! One just needs to decide whether they want to be part of those conversations, even managing them from the company’s website.

Customer Support as a Conversation
If we are to truly transition support to a value-added model, a key ingredient is building customer relationships. This cannot be done through one-way communications. An ongoing conversation with our customers is necessary, as trust and relationship only take place over a longer period of time than one support interaction. If we just focus on the support transaction, we miss the opportunity for the relationship. If we view each support interaction as one part of an ongoing conversation with our customers and are willing to listen to them, we begin to look at the customer in a different light.

Customers want their immediate problems solved, but they also want proactive support. While the basics of providing customer support are still important, Web 2.0 and social media tools enable a conversation which goes past solving the problem at hand.  Tools such as blogs, wikis, tagging, social networking, and even forums begin to create a sense of community and belonging as they facilitate proactive communication with customers. The potential return for the company is enormous. Transparency and honesty are required to play the game.

(This is Part 1 of a two-part post.  Tomorrow I will publish the second part about using Web 2.0 tools for customer support.)

Posted in Blogging, Community, Customer experience, Customer service, Technical support | 10 Comments »

What Makes Great Customer Service?

Posted by Becky Carroll on June 20, 2007

customer-service.jpg As a regular attender at Ben and Jackie’s Church of the Customer, I want to help highlight their call for assistance.  Jackie is speaking later this week (any day now!) to a large wireless carrier, and she is looking for stories about a WOW customer service experience in the wireless/telecom industry, especially those that are about call centers.

She has received various stories so far, some good, some generic, and some from people who are just frustrated with service.  I highly recommend going to her site and reading the stories in the comments for yourself!  I shared the story from a previous post that was sent to me by Scott Westerman about the importance of the human factor (not directly about call centers, but a great story!).  Please go to her blog and share your story in her comment section; don’t forget to tell us about it here, too!

As I read the comments, I noticed that the positive stories have many common threads with stories I have discussed over the past few months when talking about great customer service.  There are certain “customer service success skills” which are consistent regardless of the channel – online, phone, or retail.  Here are seven key success factors I have observed for a great customer service interaction with customers:

  1. Answer quickly.  Customers want their call to be answered quickly, as well as have their question answered/problem resolved in minimal time.
  2. Have a great attitude.  Customers are most satisfied when they speak with a phone rep who is courteous, polite, friendly, and professional.  Genuinely care.
  3. Treat customers with respect.  Most customers are calling because they have a question that they couldn’t figure out the answer to themselves.  This can be challenging when some callers are irate, but the best agents are able to calm the caller enough to speak with them coherently (most of the time!).
  4. Take responsibility for the outcome of the call.  Customers are most satisfied when they don’t get bounced around from one agent to another.
  5. Be knowledgeable on your subject.  Make sure you are able to answer most questions or get to the information quickly.
  6. Be a good listener.  Listening to customers helps them feel they can trust you and your company.
  7. Follow up.  If you say you will do something, do it, then let the customer know you did it.  Customers seem to appreciate someone who follows through and follows up to make sure all is OK (when appropriate).  It is amazing how many people miss this one!

In one of the stories on Jackie’s post, a customer almost felt like hugging the rep at the end.  Now that is empathy! 

One of my goals on this blog is to help companies understand what it takes to be a Customers Rock! company in each area where they touch customers, and customer service is a key touchpoint.  Customers should be able to look back on their service experience with a company and think on it favorably.  These types of experiences will help to affirm trust on the customer’s end and will elicit positive feedback for the company. 

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Technical support | 1 Comment »

A Rockin’ Web Concierge at Element Fusion

Posted by Becky Carroll on June 15, 2007

chad_small.jpg I love finding out about companies that are tuned-in to the customer experience.  I was doing some research a few months back for a speech on rockin’ online customer support, and I ran across someone who claimed to be a “web concierge” for support.  I contacted the company, Element Fusion, via their web form, then waited for a response.  Within a very short time, I was called by Tim Wall, Director of Product Marketing for Element Fusion, and we spent a few minutes talking about Light, Chad, and what it means to offer a web concierge to your customers.   Read on!

Light is the ElementFusion product that is geared to web designers and advertising agencies.  Basically, it is a hosted content management software system where designers can private-label it and sell it as their own.  The folks at Element Fusion were tracking the the customer experience for designers when they bring their clients on to the system, and they noticed the learning curve was a little painful.  Taking inspiration from the way Apple designed their stores and the Genius Bar, Element Fusion decided to concentrate their efforts on getting resellers up and running quickly.  Per the Light blog:

So, our own concierge was born — the web concierge.  Actually, he was born quite a long time ago, but his new title and responsibilities have just taken hold.  Chad is the perfect concierge.  In fact, if I were staying in a nice hotel, he’s the guy I would want working at that desk.

Chad’ s job as concierge is to hand-hold the customers as they take their first steps with Light and make the who experience quick and easy.  He gives out his direct line or clients can email him directly as well in order to contact him with questions about the first 2-3 sites they bring on board.  What I found the most interesting about Chad (who is a real person, by the way – that’s his picture up above!) is that he is a high-level director of IT at the company, not a low-level employee.  Being a true concierge, as in a hotel, is a part of Chad’s job.  Tim explained to me that they felt it was important to show the Light customers how valuable they are to Element Fusion, so they wanted to commit top resources to them.

How are Light customers responding?  This is still relatively new, but an existing customer shared this comment:

 I wish all businesses would do this – like my bank!

Chad the web concierge provides this assistance for free to existing customers.

Have you looked at your customer’s experience in using your product lately?  What is happening in the first 30 days?  Those beginning experiences set the stage for the ongoing relationship with your company.   What type of focused resources can you provide for your customers to assist them in getting up to speed?

Element Fusion, you guys rock!  And so do you, Chad!

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer service, Customers Rock!, Marketing, Technical support | 3 Comments »

Best Practices for Rockin’ the Online Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 10, 2007

rockin.jpgThe online service and support experience is a key factor in driving customer satisfaction and loyalty.  How can we create an online experience that really rocks?  Today’s post concludes our three-part series in looking at the customer service and support online experience (see links to parts one and two below) as we look at customer needs and the Top Ten best practices for the online customer experience.  These practices apply to almost all online experiences, not just service and support!

The online service and support experience will rock when there is alignment between the customer experience and these five key areas:

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.

Customer Needs

Customers are different not only in what they expect from online service and support but also in what they need to accomplish online.  It is important to align the needs of your customers with the experience you are designing for them.  For example, the needs of a customer who is technically savvy (let me see what the engineers see) is very different from the needs of a customer who may be more technically challenged(please help step me through this).  Which needs are you trying to meet?  Does your online experience assume everyone has the same needs?

Online support experiences that ROCK create different profiles, or views, for different customers.  They can be acccessed either by logging in to a saved profile or by self-selecting a path.  Ideally, the customer would then see a page designed “just for them”, pre-loaded with their products and the relevant materials they have requested.  The experience from that point on should be consistent with the needs of the customer.  I had one recent experience where I had downloaded software and was asked if I wanted to watch a video to help me figure out how to use it.  As videos are often used in technical support to step-through things for customers who are not as tech-savvy, I clicked on it to see what it would show me (I am always testing out experiences!).  Here is what I saw:

The video content presented here requires JavaScript to be enabled and the latest version of the Macromedia Flash Player.  If you are using a browser wtih JavaScript disabled please enable it now.

This message is not exactly friendly to the customer that is not a computer expert! 

Once customer needs are understood, the best customer experience anticipates those needs.  If we know most customers want to come to our support site to download drivers, we should place that capability in a position on the support main page (or possibly the company home page) that is easy to access.  This saves the customer time and reduces misdirection.

Using Top Practices that ROCK!

There are ten top practices that help create a rockin’ online service and support experience.

Top Ten List

10. Three clicks gets you there– A customer should be able to accomplish their task very quickly online.  If it isn’t easy, this channel will be abandoned.

9. Support pathing helps manage the experience – A guided path through the site will keep customers on-track.  This requires planning out the experience!

8. Use profiles and personalization to keep it relevant – Best practice companies use customer information to populate pages with customer information they already have.  This makes the customer experience easier and less complex to navigate.

7. Use Web 2.0 techniques that make sense to create dialogue – Turning customer service and support from a one-way information push to a 2-way dialogue helps organizations learn more about what information is helpful to customers.

6. Keep the site simple – Giving customers fewer choices, rather than every option under the sun, makes the experience less frustrating.

5. Serve customers in the way they want to be served – Ask customers which service and support channels they prefer to use, then allow them to use that channel (even if it isn’t the channel you prefer they use).

4. Align with live support as needed, easily and transparently– Best practice companies realize there are times a customer needs to interact with a live person.   Help customers get there quickly, and make sure the information they have already given you online is transferred on with the inquiry.

3. Measure, monitor, and improve what matters to customers – Measuring customer success is just as, if not more important than measuring how many calls were deflected from the call center!

2. Deliver a consistent online support experience– Best practice companies use what they have learned about their customers to create consistency among all online touchpoints (email, chat, search, blogs, etc.).

And the number one top practice…

1. View the quality of the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. 

Companies that embrace the customer experience as a competitive differentiator are already a step ahead of their competitors.  They become the measuring rod for all other experiences.  Is your organization setting the pace or still trying to measure up?  Creating a rockin’ online service and support experience occurs when you have created a customer strategy,  understood your customer expectations and needs, used that understanding to craft an online experience your customers will use effectively, and when you are continually improving and learning from customer interactions as well as from best practices. 

The online channel is much more than a place to cut customer service and support costs.  It is a place to cement your customer relationships.  Rock on!

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Technical support | 2 Comments »

Rockin’ our customer’s experience online

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 9, 2007

at-sign.jpgThe online experience, especially for customer service and support, is a key factor that drives customer satisfaction and loyalty.  How can we create an online experience that really rocks?  This post focuses on the customer experience for service and support; note that many aspects of this post apply to other online experiences as well! 

The online experience rocks when there is alignment in these five key areas:

  • Customer strategy
  • Customer expectations
  • Customer needs
  • Optimized service and support capabilities
  • The use of top practices that ROCK!

Today, I will discuss the first two areas, customer strategy and customer expectations.  I covered optimized capabilities last week.  Tomorrow, I will continue this topic by looking at customer needs and best practices for online customer experiences.

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.

Customer Expectations

Understanding customer expectations of service and support is the second key to creating an online experience that rocks.  Unless we understand the expectations, we cannot begin to know if we have met, much less exceeded those expectations.  Research (Gartner) shows there are five expectations of service and support which are consistent with many online customers with an issue to resolve.  First and foremost, customers prefer not to have a service or support experience at all!  It would be better if we could prevent the problem from taking place.  Assuming there will be some problems that need resolving, here are the other four expectations:

  • Customers want to have quick response times
  • Customers want to have their problem fixed, ideally the first time
  • Customers want to feel that someone cares about them and their problem
  • Customers need to feel using online service and support is as easy, if not easier, than calling on the phone for assistance

In addition to understanding customer expectations, we need to understand our organization’s goals for online service and support.  How does the customer’s goal differ from the company’s goal?  Do customers want to use the web for technical support?  Some companies push customers to use online channels in order to reduce their own costs.   Is your company’s goal to reduce costs, or is it to serve customers the way they want to be served?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.  Analyze what your online service and support experience looks like from their perspective.  Then, look at the online experiences of your competitors (which customers may also be using!).  Which experiences are better at meeting customer expectations?  Which ones ROCK?

While you are at it, analyze other websites your customers may be using.  Sites such as iTunes and Amazon have great customer experiences that set expectations for how we use the web.  Even B2B customers are consumers in their off-hour, and their online service and support expectations are affected by these types of sites.  A great resource for understanding how customers view their online experiences in various industries is the Customer Respect Group.  See their industry reports for summaries and rankings of large companies by industry.   One can learn a lot by seeing who is doing it well and who is not from the customer’s perspective.

Check back here tomorrow for the rest of the story!

(Excerpted from my presentation yesterday at the SSPA Best Practices conference, San Diego, CA)

(Photo credit: ErickN)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Technical support | 5 Comments »

A Rockin’ Online Support Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on April 30, 2007

touching.jpgNext 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 »

Customer Service Can Make It or Break It

Posted by Becky Carroll on March 8, 2007

customer-service.jpgCustomer service can be an organization’s crown jewel or its embarrassment.  It says a lot about your company. 

From a customer perspective, it tells them where you are focused. 

Are you just trying to get me off the phone quickly so you can go on to other calls?  Or do you take the time I need to follow an issue through to its completion, taking ownership for my problem? 

Do I have to repeat my information multiple times as I interact with you?   Or do you use the information you have about me to make our time together more efficient (a benefit for us both)?

From an employee perspective, it tells them whether people are treated with respect.  This is especially important for customer service employees, who are sometimes treated as just another “warm body in a seat”. 

Do I really get to answer the customer’s question?  Or do I need to carefully reply from a set of scripted responses?

Am I empowered to resolve the customer’s problem?  Or am I required to pass the problem along to someone else so I can keep my “talk time” numbers low?

Customer service can be a true jewel for any organization.  This is the department where direct customer interaction most frequently takes place, and it is the face of the company for many customers.  It can also provide competitive advantage as you learn things about your customers that your competitors don’t know, simply because you have the relationship already. 

You can also find some of your most valuable employees in customer service.  Valeria Maltoni wrote a great post for Fast Company about how to find a “customer service champ”.  I especially like Valeria’s description of the champ’s characteristics:

– She has specific ideas of how to improve internal processes to provide a faster response to your customers.

– She can describe to you in detail what good service means to your customers.

– She can enroll everyone in the organization to help her provide your customers with a superior experience.

When you find these employees, make sure to treat them with respect and reward them appropriately!  Their customer touch-point is critical.

On the flip side, customer service can also drive people away.  Mike Wagner from Own Your Brand sent me this story, which he gave me permission to share with all of you.

“I was getting ready to do a “brand ownership” presentation and was greeting people with some small talk.  Two of the folks began talking about cell phone service after a comment was made about a negative service experience with Sprint.

Suddenly, four others in the group joined at the mention of Sprint and bad service.  I was left to watch as one story after another was shared about how bad the service was with Sprint.

Finally, one woman shared that her son, who works for Sprint, told her not to even bother with customer service at Sprint.  He also gave her the name of the carrier he recommends and told her to switch.

Customers rock…and they will roll on down the street to your competitor!”

Well put, Mike!

What does your customer service department say about your company?  If you aren’t sure, go spend some time there and find out.  Bring them into your strategic planning sessions, if they aren’t there already.  You will find them to be a tremendous asset to your organization as well as a great way to understand your customers better!

(Photo credit: uploaded by guyerwood)

Posted in Customer service, Technical support | 10 Comments »

Xerox – Dedicated to Customer Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on February 22, 2007

xerox-3.jpg“Xerox is dedicated to a great customer experience.”  This is according to their CEO, Anne Mulcahy.  For a technology company, nowhere is this more important than in customer service and support.  I recently interviewed Bill Steenburgh, senior vice president Xerox Services, to learn how Xerox uses certification to focus on customer experiences.

Customer service and support is among the top 3 considerations for B2B companies when purchasing technology.  Xerox recently became the first company to earn back-to-back recognition for their Enterprise Document Management Solution customer service and support in North America under the Certified Technology Service and Support program.  The program was jointly developed by J.D. Power and Associates and the Service and Support Professionals Association(SSPA).  I read about this from the SSPA, then I read this post by Meikah over at Customer Relations which has a short Xerox customer testimony.  I asked Bill how Xerox accomplished this distinction.  (Note: Joanne Weigel of the SSPA helped fill in the details on the JD Power certification process.)

The Best Possible Experience

“Do what’s right for the customer — that’s our grounding principle.”  To support this principle, Xerox communicates the following four themes through which they focus on the customer:

  • Dedicated to a great customer experience
  • Your experience, our priority
  • Unmatched breadth and depth of support capabilities
  • Convenient, fast, reliable, and responsive

According to Mr. Steenburgh, while the J.D. Power certification was awarded to the delivery of service and support, Xerox focuses on the complete customer experience in all of their activities.  This includes the product and service experience, cradle to grave.   All customers will benefit from the improvements which come from Xerox’s certification.  He says,

“The rigorous evaluation to become certified continually raises the expectations for technical service providers to deliver an outstanding customer experience.”

The Process 

In order to achieve certification, Xerox went through a two-phase process.  The first phase was an audit to look at how Xerox runs their support operations.  The second phase was an independent survey of Xerox customers, based on recent support interactions, with results benchmarked against competitors in the same industry.

In the first phase, Xerox had their support centers put under the microscope.  Over two to three days, auditors physically visited the support centers and reviewed everything, soup to nuts, comparing what they found against a list of support best-practice criteria.  The review included evaluation of areas such as in-house and partner call center operations, call listening, call center metrics, internal talent, agent retention, back-end processes, and field operations among others.  Interviews were conducted with first line managers as well as individual contributors to confirm the operational processes which had been outlined by senior management.  The audit process was quite intensive!

Why Did Xerox Pursue Certification?

I asked Steenburgh why Xerox chose to pursue the J.D. Power certification.  The following are Xerox’s four reasons, in his words:

  1. Improve our processes.  To prepare, we had to internally review our service delivery processes in over 300 separate categories.  We thoroughly assessed ourselves and utilized LSS (Lean Six Sigma) to improves our processes and challenge ourselves where our practices did not align with the processes.
  2. External benchmarking and validation.  J. D. Power rigorously audited our processes and viewed evidence.  This audit resulted in an external assessment and benchmarked our strengths and developmental opportunities.
  3. Demand Creation.  External validation drives awareness of our service delivery capabilities and created demand for Xerox products and services.
  4. Recognition.  This certification recognizes the excellence in service delivery we provide day in and day out.

The Business of Customers

Excellence doesn’t come by accident.  It is not achieved by call center agents committing “random acts of CRM” or who are extra-friendly.  Excellence is achieved with careful planning and execution.  Steenburgh attributes Xerox’s success in earning this certification two years in a row to the discipline of Lean Six Sigma.  “(We have) strict adherence to processes and procedures that are continually focused on delivering an outstanding customer experience.  Nothing new was developed for this certification; this is the way we do our business.”

One of a company’s goals would be to craft the optimal customer experience at each stage of the customer lifecycle, taking the needs of the customer into account.  Every touch point is an opportunity.  We need to ensure that each customer touch is giving the message we want to give about our products, services, and brand.  This is especially critical for customer service , as it is one of the main points of interaction between company and customer.

How can an organization improve its customer experiences?  Put simply, for each place that customers touch the company, the organization should ask itself what it can do for its customers to help them achieve their goals.  Companies such as Xerox will continue to raise the bar when it comes to expectations of technical service and delivery of an outstanding customer experience.

Xerox is in the business of customers.  What business are you in?

Note: This post is based on my article in the February issue of the SSPA News.  You can find the SSPA’s new blog here.  Welcome to the ‘sphere!

(Photo: Xerox Corporation)

Posted in Customer service, Customers Rock!, Technical support | 6 Comments »

Are you listening to your customers?

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 8, 2007

man-with-headphones.jpgI just read a great post by Sandy Renshaw over at PurpleWren about a cable company who is listening.  That’s right – a cable company.   A few days ago, Sandy blogged about her experience with her cable provider Mediacom (who, due to a dispute with Sinclair Broadcasting, had to drop the Fox channel) and the short-term solution they put into place.   She also expressed her concerns about the long-term (how to get Fox without an antenna??).  To my (and her) surprise, one of her comments was from Scott Westerman, Group VP of Mediacom, sharing his thoughts on the problem, as well as his email to keep the conversation going!  He also sent Sandy a montage of Mediacom customer voices, which you can listen to from her most recent blogpost (see first link above).

I am impressed with his response for two reasons.  One, he is clearly hooked into the blogosphere and is open to using it to communicate back to his customers.  Perhaps he has read Citizen Marketers?  Second, he has actually taken the time to listen to the actual voice of the customer.  Not aggregate results of the latest customer satisfaction survey.  Not anecdotes from his team.  He has listened to customer concerns and recorded those voices for others to hear.

How well are you listening to your customers?  Here are some ideas on how you can open your ears to hear.  I welcome other ideas as well!

  • Read actual customer comments.  Don’t rely on survey results which have been aggregated into a list of the “top issues”.  Be sure verbatim customer comments are included, both good and bad, so that you can understand your customers in their own words.
  • Go talk to your customers.  Whether it is in-person at a retail store or customer event or by going out on a few sales (and support!) calls, meeting and listening to customers face-to-face is critical to do at least once/quarter.
  • Hook up with your customer service organization.  The place where your customers go to contact you is a great place to go to listen to them.  It could be a customer service call center or a technical support department.  Go down to the call-center floor, hook-up with one of the customer service reps, and have a listen.  Don’t forget to bring your notepad!
  • Check out the blogosphere and customer forums.  Of course, I am assuming anyone reading blogs is already doing this one!

I highly encourage management at all levels to add some of these interfaces into their regular set of activities.  Put it in your planner, if you must, but just do it.  And when you are finished listening, be sure to respond.

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer service, Marketing, Technical support, Voice of the customer | 6 Comments »