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Are Your Customers Tweeting About You?

While doing a little test on what customers are saying live on Twitter regarding customer service, I noticed that while a multitude of complaints were “Tweeted”, they were very few responses from the company in question. Some of these companies are household names! It was as if all of the negative comments were visible for all to see, yet no one within the organizations were even aware of the remarks. Imagine the damage being done to the brands of these organizations by not responding live to start a conversation to address the concern.

It’s important to know and respond to what your customer is “Tweeting” about your organization. I would think it’s important for prospective customers to see that someone within your organization is on top of the complaints and is seeking to engage with the complainant. Imagine the points “scored” by your organization in the eyes of current and prospective customers when they see that you’re on top of the situation. Ready and responsive! Those are two key words regarding customer complaints. Be ready and available for customer complaints and then respond quickly when one is received. Just as the complainant has placed an issue with your organization in front of Twitter nation, respond in front of Twitter nation by inviting the complainant to contact your organization directly (provide the appropriate contact info) for a resolution. I have seen complainants “Tweet” about how happy they were that their issue was addressed and resolved.

Some organizations may feel that it’s not necessary to monitor Twitter for customer service related issues. I say think again! If the average person utilizing Twitter has let’s say 400 followers and perhaps 20% of those followers actually see the posted complaint, that’s 80 people. Now if these 80 people retweet the complaint to their 400 followers and again 20% see the retweet, that’s 80 more people who are now aware of a customer complaint against your organization. This can quickly get out of hand. By responding live to the issue, these same people may be made aware of your organization’s attempt to resolve the issue.

Believe it or not, customers still love to talk about their experiences. Social media provides an additional avenue for them to utilize to express both their satisfaction and dissatisfaction with your product or service. Just as you would respond to a customer’s face to face or over the phone complaint, develop a strategy for monitoring and responding to Twitter complaints. Your brand is at stake!

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Improve Your Bottom Line With Data

My analytical inclinations lead me to ask lots of questions. Lots of questions! What often helps me to get the answers to these questions is data. It’s important to pay attention to data and even more important to get the story behind the data. Your bottom line is dependent upon your willingness to do so. Here are a few ways data can assist in creating more profitability for your organization.

What’s Trending? – Whatever industry you find yourself in, it’s good to know what trends are taking place within your organization. Are certain products selling more than others? Does this happen on a certain day of the week? At a certain time of the day? Do your customers call in more for a particular reason? Which customers? Do they web chat more than they call or email? Do employees take longer to properly service customers for particular issues? What are those issues? Which employees? (I warned you that I ask lots of questions!) The ability to identify trends can assist you in deciding what adjustments to your operation are necessary and which adjustments may result in reducing expenses or increasing sales, therefore increasing (hopefully) profits.

Long Term Patterns – When analyzing data, it’s important to look for patterns. Data has a way of creating operational identities through patterns. One must accumulate data over a longer period of time in order for patterns to materialize. Long term pattern awareness helps you to identify blips in real time, as one becomes sensitive to changes in the data because of regular analysis. Blips can be defined as events which usually require short-term or sometimes no action, while pattern shifts indicate something has changed and further investigation is in order. Blips may be driven by either internal or external events. Sales promotions, new product launches or product issues are examples of internal events. External events such as product endorsements, weather or negative press can also create blips. Determine what’s driving the blip. Some blips are planned. For instance, sales promotions or new product launches are examples of planned internal blips. You want to be ready for this blip as increased revenue is the event focus. Proper planning will assist in being ready to capitalize on the additional customer traffic whether via phone, visit or online. Blips of this type may in fact develop into a pattern shift if for example the demand for a new product remains high for a long period of time. For some external events, bad weather for example; it’s possible to utilize historical data to determine operational impacts. One can insure all internal operations are aligned and ready to meet the challenge.

Capture data for your core processes, especially those for customer interactions over long time periods. When analyzing data for your core processes, compare week over week, month over month, Monday vs Monday, Tuesday vs Tuesday, etc. I have found that doing so helps to find the rhythm for the operation. What’s normal for a Wednesday at 2:00pm for your operation? What about the first quarter of the year?  Long term pattern awareness helps one to plan accordingly and make the right decisions which in turn may assist in creating additional revenue or increasing profitability through lower expenditures.

Data Utilization Drives Retention – Proper data utilization is a key driver to customer retention. If you’re capturing data from your customer facing processes, more than likely you will identify opportunities to improve the customer’s experience. If you’re inviting your customer to provide feedback regarding their experience with your organization, once again there’s probably some adjustments that you can make which will improve your customer retention. Now we all know that retention equals additional revenue. Data from customer facing processes is crucial to improved profitability. How many visits, inbound calls, email contacts or web chats are income generators – I want to buy/utilize your products/services? How many are income preservers – I am encountering problems with your products/services? One must be able to determine this ratio as long-term profitability is at stake. Too many income preservation type encounters can certainly affect the bottom line if not captured , analyzed and acted upon.

Capture and utilize data to answer the myriad of questions that someone like me may ask regarding your operation. Your ability to provide the answers means that you’re on top of the situation. Remember – Identify Trends, look for Long Term Patterns and don’t forget that Data Utilization Drives Retention.

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Leave This At Home Before Servicing Customers

The customer service industry requires one to exercise certain characteristics when servicing customers. Poise, patience and professionalism to name just a few. There is, however, one three-letter word that can hinder ones ability to consistently display these characteristics. That word is EGO. My definition of EGO is “Emotions Going Orbital” It’s possible to ruin a customer relationship should this dangerous word surface during an interaction. That’s why it’s important to leave home without it!

Now we all have an ego, so it’s quite natural to jump to one’s own defense when feeling slighted or verbally attacked. Sometimes customers say or do things that can make us feel disrespected or less than a person. A cross word, a mean-spirited request or abusive language can get one close to the edge. Here are a few ways to keep that ego quiet.

Be Determined – Before beginning your workday, remind yourself of the need to keep your ego in check. It takes effort to maintain one’s composure when we feel our very identity is being attacked. It’s up to you to be aware of when you feel the need to defend your opinion or respond in kind during an unpleasant situation. Be determined to pause for a moment and say to yourself “This is not about me.” I learned to practice this suggestion myself when it appeared my ego was about to make an appearance. Doing so helped to avoid what would surely be negative outcomes had I allowed my ego to win the battle. If yours is a strong personality, it’s important to not allow that trait to lead to arguments or battles with the customer. You will lose in the long run!

They Don’t Really Know You – During my customer service career, I’ve noticed that it’s rare that a customer intentionally sets out to attack someone’s personal identity. After all, how can they when they don’t really know you. Their words may sting or injure one momentarily, but just like anything else, in time this will pass too. Now I hear someone saying, “Errol, you don’t know what that customer just said to me!” Yes I probably can guess what comment you may have had to overlook in order to remain professional. Just remember, in the midst of the situation, you represent your company as well as yourself. This particular customer has no idea who you are as a person, so don’t allow your ego to override your goal to always be professional. The mark of a professional is the ability to remain professional in the midst of chaos. Set a high standard for yourself and don’t allow your ego to cause you to perform beneath your standard.

Be Realistic Regarding Customer Service – As much as we want to please every customer, there will be instances where someone will be unhappy with some portion or all of their experience with a company. Right now as I’m writing this article, somewhere in the world is an unhappy customer. You will encounter not so pleasant people during your customer service career. In knowing this as a fact, be ready to professionally get through a tough situation. Some customers do speak abusively or profanely. They can make unrealistic demands. They are sometimes wrong. In knowing this, it’s important to develop internal fortitude that refuses to take a customer’s unpleasant behavior personally. If your ego escapes the cage during an interaction with an abusive customer, there will be trouble. I repeat, in knowing human nature, know that you will encounter unpleasant people. Practice remaining professional – keep your ego locked away.

There will be instances where it becomes necessary to professionally remind the customer of your professional boundaries. I have often spoken these words when encountering overly verbally abusive customers – “Mr./Mrs. Customer, I apologize for the situation. I can understand your frustration. As I work to resolve this situation, I would hope that we can be respectful towards one another. Can we agree to do that?” By getting the customer to answer this question or at least think about what I just said, more often than not the abuse ceased.

Remember, don’t allow yourself to become victimized by your Emotions Going Orbital! Resolve to leave that ego at home before servicing your customer. You will encounter all types of personalities during your stay in this industry. Block out that ego by Being Determined, by telling yourself They Don’t Really Know Me and by Being Realistic Regarding Customer Service. You will develop a stronger mental constitution and your blood pressure will appreciate it as well!

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Big Customer Service From Small Businesses

It’s often been said that small businesses are the heartbeat of any growing economy. Nimbleness, less red tape and quick decisions are some of the advantages of being a small business. When interacting with small business owners, quite naturally customer service becomes the topic of discussion. I’m often asked “Errol, should I go to all the trouble of developing a customer service strategy?” My response is “Yes you should! If you expect to retain your present customers, thereby growing your business through retention and referrals, then developing a customer service strategy is a smart step to take.” Here are several suggestions for the small business owner.

Act Like You’re Already There! – Most small business owners operate with the hopes of one day being a large company. Go ahead and act like a large business by developing customer service strategies that incent your customers to remain loyal to your brand. Decide how you will interact with your customer – What will you do when your customer calls? How many rings before you answer the phone? When your customer leaves a voice mail, how long will you take before returning that call? When your customer enters your establishment, how long will it be before that customer’s presence is acknowledged? How will you determine what’s important to your customer in regards to your product/service? When your customer emails, how long before you respond? When you have a long-term project, how often will you provide updates? When your customer complains about your product/service, what will you do next? Now I hear some small business owners saying “Errol, I don’t have time for that! I’m too busy running my business!”  It’s important to spend time working on your business which means answering those questions! Taking the time to do so will certainly lead to establishing operational standards which should transfer into a great customer experience.

Examine Your Processes – Most large organizations understand the need for process documentation, process analysis and process improvement projects. In their quest for growth, small business should regularly take a look at “how they do what they do” Identify your core processes – for example – customer request for product/service, order fulfillment, product delivery, and customer invoicing. What are the current steps for each of your core processes? What exactly does the customer encounter when interacting with your company? Are they customer friendly – for both the purchasing customer as well as internal customers (you may not have too many internal customers yet, but if you have just one other person involved in the day-to-day operation of your business, that’s an internal customer.) Taking this step assists one in identifying exactly what is taking place on a daily basis. Search for improvement opportunities and make the necessary adjustments to insure that your purchasing customer receives a great customer experience.

Establish Operational Metrics – Just as most large companies tend to identify what’s important to measure, it’s critical that small business owners do the same.  Operational metrics act as a barometer to assist you in knowing how your business is functioning. A great way to determine what to measure is to simply ask your customer what’s important to them about your product or service. For example, how about establishing operational  goals for Order Fulfillment, Email Response, On Time Appointments, Customer Complaints  just to name a few. Now I’m big on percentages so let’s go a step further – % of Orders Fulfilled Within Established Goal, % of Emails Responded to Within Established Goal, % of On time Appointments To Established Goal. Utilizing percentages helps one to see at what level the operation is performing in relation to the established goals. Once it’s clear where the operation stands, take the time to get the story behind the number. If an area is performing below the established goal, take a look at what impacts that particular situation. There’s a story behind every number. Take the time to get the story before making any changes. Your willingness to establish operational metrics allows for proactive management of your company instead of reacting to customer complaints or to a customer’s decision to stop utilizing your products or services.

Running a small business can be a daunting task requiring the owner to wear multiple hats. In your quest to grow your business, remember to Act Like You’re Already There by developing customer service strategies, Examine Your Processes to insure they are both customer and employee friendly and Establish Operational Metrics to always know the pulse of your business. By taking these steps, you greatly enhance your opportunities for growth!

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