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I recently facilitated an unusual webinar. 

Rather than drone on about the concepts, we used interactive activities to highlight common customer service challenges and share solutions. These are all concepts from my new book, Getting Service Right.

Here's a link to the webinar replay video along with my answers to some of the participants' questions.

Watch the Webinar

You can watch the webinar on YouTube.

Webinar: Surprising Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Service - YouTube
Questions & Answers

We ran out of time before I could answer all of the participants’ questions, so here are some responses to questions I couldn’t answer during the live session:

Q: What do you think the biggest obstacle to great customer service is when you're working virtually? (All clients are remote.) I've worked in contact centers, so I've experienced this first-hand. The specific obstacles you face depend on how you're communicating with your customers.

When you're on the phone, the visual element is the biggest thing missing. Customers can't read your body language and you can't see their's. It's difficult to show them something, like a picture or a diagram, that might help resolve the issue if you were face-to-face. In this situation, I try to use as much visual language as possible. For example, I'll ask, "Are you near a computer?" and if they are, I might direct them to a website so we can look at the same thing.

It gets even more challenging via written channels like chat or email. There's typically a lag between responses, and you and your customer can't hear each other's tone of voice. In these situations, I try to carefully read what they write to fully understand their needs. I also try to anticipate what question they would answer next if we were having a live conversation. Then I try to write a short, helpful response that answers both their current and predicted next question along with providing links to additional resources.

Q: Are the "You are 4th in line" or "Approximate time is 3 minutes" good tools in the phone customer service process? They can be! When a customer is waiting on hold, there are a number of factors that can influence how they perceive the wait. One is having a clear sense of how long the wait will last. Customers are more likely to remain patient if they have a reasonable wait time estimate and it doesn’t feel like it’s too long. If your system allows it, I'd lean towards giving an approximate wait time since this is more meaningful to a customer than their position in line.

You can read a list of factors that influence wait time perception here.

Another good solution is to offer a callback solution like Fonolo. I had a chance to interview Shai Berger, Fonolo's CEO, and he shared some interesting insight about callbacks.

Q: What are some tips on calibrating your team/creating a consistent definition for outstanding customer service in regards to your individual business? The best way to create a consistent definition of outstanding customer service is to involve your team. Give each person a chance to give their input. You can read more in this step-by-step guide.

Once you create the vision, you can keep everyone calibrated by helping employees develop consistent answers to these questions:

  1. What is the customer service vision?

  2. What does it mean?

  3. How do I personally contribute?

Calibration is an ongoing process. Leaders in customer-focused organization use the vision to set goals, make hiring decisions, train employees, empower the team, and even give feedback. 

Q: Do you feel your new book would be appropriate to hand out to customer service agents Yes! While customer service leaders are the primary audience, the book will help agents better understand obstacles they personally face and identify solutions.

I’ve created some special offers for anyone who buys the book by Friday, April 5.

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Advertising disclosure: This blog participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

A happy customer will tell five people about their experience while an unhappy customer will tell ten people. That statistic has been part of customer service folklore for decades.

But where did it come from?

It originated in a study commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company in 1980 to evaluate the impact of handling complaints lodged with its consumer affairs department. This was one of the first efforts to quantify the impact of good customer service, and the results were eye-opening:

  • Nearly 10 percent of fully satisfied customers bought more Coca-Cola products.

  • Roughly 75 percent of dissatisfied customers purchased fewer Coca-Cola products, including more than 30 percent who stopped buying altogether.

John Goodman, one of the study's authors, recently joined me for a short interview to discuss his new book, the second edition of Strategic Customer Service. This is a must-have resource for any customer service leader who wants to make an impact on their business.

If you’re like me, and you nerd out on customer service data, you’ll love this conversation. We discuss:

  • The impact of customer service on word-of-mouth advertising.

  • Ways that companies can proactively deliver outstanding service.

  • How "customer onboarding" is a pain point in many companies.

  • What service leaders can do to become more comfortable with business metrics.

  • One tip you can implement immediately to improve service.

You can watch the interview here.

Interview with Strategic Customer Service Author John Goodman - YouTube

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and reference it several times in my own book, Getting Service Right. You can find Strategic Customer Service on Amazon.

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A customer once taught me an important lesson about empowerment.

I was a national account manager for a uniform company that sold hats, jackets, shirts and items embroidered or screen printed with a company's logo. My customer was frustrated by a two-week wait for a product sample. In my inexperience, I meekly tried to explain the limits of our process. I'll never forget his retort:

"Isn't that what they pay you for? Sometimes, you've gotta bend the rules."

He was right. I managed to get the customer's sample order out in three days rather than two weeks. It took a lot of effort, and I bent a lot of rules, but he was happy.

I blamed our strict policies and procedures for making things so difficult. 

Years later, I discovered a hidden secret to improving employee empowerment. Counterintuitively, it's having strict processes. It turns out the ones we had at the uniform company just weren't the right ones.

The Definition of Empowerment

When I researched customer-focused companies for The Service Culture Handbook, I was surprised to learn that leaders at elite companies had a different view of empowerment.

You can read a more detailed explanation, but here's a quick summary:

Empowerment really means enabling employees to provide outstanding customer service. There are three elements required:

  1. Resources: good products, services, tools, etc.

  2. Process: a consistent way of doing things right.

  3. Authority: the ability to bend the rules when needed.

We had pretty good products and I had a lot of authority at the uniform company. It was our processes that stunk. Following the standard processes resulted in longer leader times and more shipping errors. Following our pricing policy led to higher prices. All of those were a recipe for angry customers.

Why a Strict Process is Essential

Quality was a real problem at the uniform company.

We'd often ship the wrong item, embroider the wrong logo, or fail to detect a damaged item. Customers already frustrated by long lead times would go through the roof when their shipment arrived and it wasn't quite right.

I had the authority to hold any order until I personally inspected it. This allowed me to catch errors before they shipped out.

The inspection process added a day to the already long lead time. And when I did catch a problem, I could have the problem fixed (adding to the lead time), but I was rarely able to address the root cause of the issue.

It would have been so much better if I could have trusted that my customers' orders ship out correct and on time. That was the missing piece that would have enabled me to spend more time proactively addressing customer needs rather than just playing defense and trying to prevent errors.

Strict, reliable processes are essential to empowerment. 

Amazon is able to ship products from its warehouses at blazing speed with fantastic accuracy because of a tightly choreographed fulfillment system. Each step is carefully documented and monitored.

Do Amazon employees have the authority to deviate from the process?

Yes, but only if there's a reason. For example, when I toured an Amazon fulfillment center, I saw employees shut down a shipping line when they detected an error and needed to identify the root cause. 

Tinker to Constantly Improve

My biggest account at the uniform company was an anomaly. 

A competitor held a master contract with the corporate office, so I had to target the customer's individual locations. Rather than selling a thousand uniform shirts at a time, my average order from this customer was about ten items.

Our factory's smallest embroidery machine could put a logo on six garments at a time. So the factory set a minimum order size of six items with the same logo in an effort to run more efficiently. A lot of orders from my big client had fewer than six embroidered items, which caused us to lose business.

I organized a meeting with production leaders to find a solution. We worked out a plan to group orders from this customer together so it was easier to meet the minimum. 

Here's what would happen:

  • Location A might order two shirts on Monday

  • Location B might order one shirt on Tuesday

  • Location C might order three shirts on Thursday

By Thursday, I had enough shirts to meet the six item minimum, so the production team would start the orders for locations A, B, and C at the same time. 

This might delay the orders for locations A and B by couple of days, but it was better than refusing the business altogether. And I learned that I could earn some goodwill by telling the customer I found a way around our six item minimum.

There was just one snag in the plan. A different embroidery pattern was required for different types of materials and fabric weaves. So if location A ordered two cotton oxford shirts, location B ordered a polyester work shirt, and location C ordered three poly-cotton blend polo shirts, I'd actually need three different embroidery patterns.

That put me back to square one since the embroidery machines could only follow one pattern at a time.

The solution was experimenting to find more universal embroidery patterns that would look great on multiple fabric and weave types. Cutting down the number of different patterns required made it easier to meet the minimum of six items with the same logo.

Customer-focused companies constantly tinker with processes.

Southwest Airlines provides a great example. It experimented for years with different boarding processes until it arrived at the system it uses today. Customers are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) at check-in along with a number that tells them when to board. So the passenger with A31 on their boarding pass will board right after the passenger with A30. The process allows Southwest to board its planes very quickly with minimal passenger confusion.

That doesn't mean Southwest is done tinkering. The airline is currently testing boarding planes through both the front and rear doors. 

Conclusion

I was ultimately laid off from my job at the uniform company. 

All those broken processes finally caught up to us. Competitors were able to ship orders faster, with fewer errors, at lower prices. My department was eliminated in a cost-cutting reorganization effort.

One thing that doomed us was we didn't have a process for fixing repeated problems. I'd share feedback with my boss and he'd just shrug and say there's nothing we could do. 

Getting laid off turned out to be fantastic for my career. I got a job as a contact center training supervisor. My new boss, Debbi, was a mentor who helped me grow my training and leadership skills. One thing Debbi encouraged me to do was work with my team to develop really good processes.

You can find more information about empowerment on this resource page.

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Customer service leaders often ask me whether they should create a customer service vision for their team—one that's separate from an organization-wide vision.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page. My research into customer-focused companies reveals a vision is critical to building a service culture.

So should your team have its own? The answer is it depends.

In an ideal world, there's only one customer service vision that unites the entire organization. It's what companies with elite service cultures do. More on that in a moment.

But first, here are some reasons why it might make sense to create a vision specifically for your team.


Reason #1: Lack of Leadership Support

I learned the hard way that a service culture can only exist at the level its supported by leadership.

A CEO once hired me to help develop a customer service vision for his organization. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm quickly faded once the project started and he checked out of the process. This frustrated his leadership team, who took it as a sign the initiative was another flavor-of-the-month program and wasn't really important.

A service culture needs a leader to champion the cause. 

So if the CEO isn't onboard, a vice president might still develop a service culture within her division. Or if the vice president can't be bothered, a department manager might create a customer service vision for his team.

The challenge you'll face here is working with other teams. It will often feel like an uphill battle to get other groups to share your service philosophy.


Reason #2: Lack of Influence

Let's say you're a department manager. You'd love to see a customer service vision for the entire organization, but you don't believe you can influence your senior leadership team.

This might be an opportunity to create your own center of excellence.

I once worked with a client who did this. She started a new job leading a department with a reputation for poor service. We worked with her team to create a customer service vision and build a customer-focused culture.

The department slowly transformed its reputation into a team that was recognized throughout the organization as a model of outstanding service. Other teams started emulating the same process and creating their own vision statements. 

Many of these other teams improved as well. But it was never a complete success because the vice president that oversaw all these teams wasn't fully committed. The teams did their own jobs well, but didn’t work well with each other.


Why Elite Organizations Have One Vision

Creating an outstanding customer experience requires the entire organization to be on the same page.

You need to provide a high-quality product or service that customers want. Advertise it truthfully. Deliver it on time. Hire great people to support it. Treat your vendors with respect and pay them on time, so they’ll support you. And do the right thing when something goes wrong.

Having separate visions ultimately discourages this. It creates silos, where every team has its own set of priorities. "Us against them" can be a healthy way to view a competitor, but it shouldn't be how your view your coworkers.

One objection I consistently hear is, "The vision doesn't make sense for my team."

There are generally two possibilities in this situation. One is the organization has something it calls a vision, but it doesn't truly meet the criteria of a strong one:

  • Simple and easy to understand

  • Customer-focused

  • Reflects both the current organization and the desired future

If that's the case, you're back to reasons one or two above for creating your own vision.

But there's another explanation. Your team might simply need training to understand what the vision means and how it applies to them. To fix this, I recommend helping employees discover the answers to three questions:

  1. What is the customer service vision?

  2. What does it mean?

  3. How do I personally contribute?

Employees who can give consistent answers to those three questions tend to have a far stronger service mindset than those who can't.

Resources

You can create your own customer service vision using this step-by-step guide. Or check out this short video to learn about the importance of having one.

Guide employees with a vision from Leading a Customer-Centric Culture by Jeff Toister

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Andrew Uber, managing director of Culture Insurance Services, hosted a customer service meetup last month at the company's office just outside of San Diego, California.

It was an informal gathering of Customer Service Tip of the Week subscribers. The idea was to meet in person, share some ideas and best practices, and learn something new.

Uber gave a presentation about how Culture Insurance Services uses its unique culture to differentiate itself in a crowded market. The company is a broker that sells business insurance policies ranging from health insurance to corporate liability.

One thing that struck me is how closely Culture Insurance Services follows the steps outlined in The Service Culture Handbook. Here's a summary of what I learned.

Codify the Culture

Culture is a shared way of acting and believing. Organizations with intentional service cultures take the time to clearly define how people should work to serve customers.

I call this a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page. The vision can take many different forms in a company, including its mission, vision, or values.

At Culture Insurance Services, a set of eight values serve as the company's customer service vision. 

Uber shared that the values were created by examining two things. 

The first was the company's aspirational culture. This is how people think and act when the company is at its best, and the aspiration is to work this way more consistently. 

The second source of inspiration was the values of well-known and admired customer-focused companies. For example, Uber told us that "Love Others" was inspired by the love theme that Southwest Airlines is famous for.

There's a word of caution here.

It's fine to draw inspiration from other organizations when defining your own culture, so long as the elements you adopt ring true for your company or team. Trying to copy another company's culture doesn't work because every organization has its own unique essence. 

The bottom line is your customer service vision will only truly work if it's authentic. Culture Insurance Services seems to have done a nice job doing that.

Take Action: You can create your own customer service vision with this step-by-step guide.

Create Stories

Stories are a powerful way to communicate your customer service vision to employees. This can help them understand the culture through specific, concrete examples.

One of Culture Insurance Services' clients was a tree trimming service that found itself losing a lot of key employees. Many of the employees took customers with them when they left, costing the company a 20 percent drop in revenue.

Following the core value of "reject passivity," Culture Insurance Services helped its client diagnose the root cause of high turnover. The analysis revealed that only 40 percent of employees were participating in the company's health benefits. The company offered a great plan, but the company only covered 50 percent of the premium. The employee's contribution was more than many employees felt they could afford.

The solution was to find another option that still offered good coverage, but was more affordable. The company covered 75 percent of the new plan, which dramatically lowered employees' costs. When the new plan rolled out, 27 percent of employees who were previously uninsured enrolled in health insurance coverage and the client stopped losing key people.

This story is an instructive example that can help other Culture Insurance employees understand what it means to "reject passivity" when working with a client. Stories like this can make vague-sounding values seem specific and actionable.

Take Action: Collect stories and examples of your customer service vision in action. They don't have to be over-the-top hero moments where an employee runs into a metaphorically burning building and saves a bag full of puppies. Everyday actions actually work better because they are things that can be implemented immediately.

Engage Employees

An engaged employee is someone who understands the customer service vision and is committed to helping achieve it.

Measuring employee engagement isn't relegated to an annual survey. You can evaluate whether an employee understands the vision and is committed to helping achieve it through regular communication.

At Culture Insurance Services, leaders consistently engage employees around the eight core values. They're shared with new hires, discussed in company meetings, and even posted on the company website.

Uber explained how the values play an important role in giving employees feedback. One-on-one coaching sessions revolve around how well employees' actions align with the values. Recognition is given when an employee does something that's consistent with the values (i.e. they're engaged), while constructive feedback and encouragement is shared when an employee does not follow the values (i.e. they're disengaged).

Take Action: Use your customer service vision as the basis for one-on-one employee feedback. It becomes a built-in employee engagement barometer.

Conclusion

One of the hallmarks of customer-focused organizations is the unique culture is codified through a simple statement or set of values, it's explained through stories and examples, and employees use the culture to guide their daily actions.

You can work through the process with your own organization or team by downloading this toolkit.

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Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

You have to buy a lot of stuff when you run a business, even one as small as a single vacation rental cabin.

Items get damaged, go missing, or wear out. Some things, like furnishings, eventually go out of style and need to be upgraded to continue to appeal to our guests.

The coffee table at The Overlook has become a sore spot. It's been repaired three times due to guest damage. And it's too large, impeding the flow of the room.

Time to replace it.

My wife, Sally, and I make purchasing decisions for The Overlook by applying three criteria:

  1. Vision

  2. Budget

  3. Durability

In theory, this narrows down all the options and helps us make the best choice. In reality, searching for a replacement while applying three purchasing criteria took more time than I expected. The good news is I think I found a winner.

Vision

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service. It serves to get everyone on the same page, and can be invaluable whenever you need to make a decision.

The Overlook's customer service vision is:

Welcome to your mountain retreat. 

We want people to feel welcome at the cabin, and experience a relaxing retreat in the mountains, whether they're in town for outdoor adventures, a family get together, or a weekend away with friends. Any new purchase has to contribute to that.

Vacation rental owners frequently look to thrift shops, flea markets, and garage sales for furniture. The idea is to buy something second-hand that still looks good but is very inexpensive.

The challenge with this approach is it can be really hard to make everything go together. You either have to devote an inordinate amount of time to visiting endless locations in search of the perfect item or settle for a mismatched collection of furniture and housewares.

That doesn't fit the vision for The Overlook, so I searched a few second-hand stores that I know carried large inventories, but I also searched furniture stores that feature new merchandise at reasonable prices.

The end result is the coffee table looks like it belongs. Even more so than the one it's replacing. And it’s slightly smaller, which opens up the traffic flow in the room a bit more—essential for times when we max out at eight guests and a dog.

The old coffee table.

The new coffee table.

Budget

The challenge with wanting nice things that appeal to our guests is they aren't always cheap. And just spending the money doesn't mean you can raise your rates enough to earn it back. Our ping pong room is a good example of that.

The other challenge is with a vacation rental, you have to consider replacement costs (we'll get to durability in a minute). You might buy a coffee table for your home and it will still look just fine ten years from now. That same coffee table in a vacation rental might need to be replaced in ten years because it is either worn out or it looks completely outdated.

I'll admit this is a bit of a struggle. I have no idea how much more revenue we’ll earn from new or repeat guests by replacing the coffee table. At this point, I just know the old one needs to be replaced.

Ultimately, the budget was set one night of revenue. The cabin rents for $335 per night (cleaning included) for the first two nights, with a discount for each additional night. Is that the right budget? Hard to tell, but it felt reasonable.

The new coffee table cost $295 at Living Spaces ($317.86 after tax).

Durability

It's real easy to go cheap. 

The problem with cheap is it's cheap. The goal is for the coffee table to last ten years, but it has to stand up to all the abuse that guests will give it. A flimsy table won't stand a chance of lasting that long.

For example, there were a lot of options that were in the $150 price range. Knowing what guests did to the last coffee table, I'd estimate most of those would last about two years before they started looking really beat up. So every two years I'd spend another $150 to replace it. Over ten years, that's $750 spent on coffee tables.

The coffee table I purchased has wood veneer on the top. This should be more stain and scratch resistant than table it’s replacing. And it has sturdy legs, so it should stand up to some degree of abuse.

The hope is this $300 investment will be the entire coffee table budget for ten years. So I’d spend twice as much as the $150 table now, but save $450 over the long run because of superior durability.

Conclusion

This is a small example. You probably need to add a zero or two to the expense for it to show up on the radar for your business. But the principle remains the same:

  1. Set purchasing criteria before you go shopping.

  2. Your customer service vision should be the first filter.

  3. Be sure to weigh the total cost of ownership, not just the price.

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Do you send holiday cards to your customers?

It's become hit or miss over the years. Sending cards is time-consuming, and there's always a worry that they won't be noticed in a meaningful way if everyone else mails a card at the same time.

Some businesses stand out by picking a non-traditional time to send cards, such as the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or Valentine's Day. 

This past Valentine's Day, graphic designer Anne Kerns took holiday cards to a whole new level. She sent out a card that was more than a card. It was "an interactive kit designed to help you put some positivity into the world."

Inside the kit was a large card that encouraged me to "Make someone's day a little brighter!" The instructions suggested sending "a message of hope to a hospitalized child, a retired service member, or anyone else you think could use a kind thought."

The kit also contained:

  • Four postcards

  • 8 stickers with messages like, "You're a great person!"

  • 2 postcard stamps and 2 pre-addressed labels

One label was addressed to "someone special" at the Children's Inn at NIH in Bethesda, MD, while the other was addressed to "someone special" at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, DC. 

Kerns suggested searching online for inspirational quotes to include on the postcards. I found this one I really like that's attributed to Roald Dahl:

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” –Roald Dahl

It felt good writing out the cards, knowing that they would brighten someone’s day. The exercise turned the card Kerns sent into more than just a "thinking of you," and made it an exercise in sharing humanity.

Humanity is one of three things I wrote we could use more of in 2019, so this was just perfect.

About Anne Kerns

Kerns is the owner of Anne Likes Red, a graphic design and consulting firm. She created the covers for my books, The Service Culture Handbook, Customer Service Tip of the Week, and Getting Service Right as well as the interior design for Customer Service Tip of the Week and Getting Service Right.

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Small businesses can struggle to get an edge over larger competitors.

They don't have the built-in name recognition of a big brand. Advertising dollars are limited. The latest technology is expensive beyond reach. And many aren't able to compete on price.

But there is one area that the big chains consistently overlook—online review sites like Yelp, OpenTable, and TripAdvisor. These sites can be the great equalizer by allowing small businesses to advertise a superior customer experience at little to no cost. 

And the best part? Most of the big companies don't get it.

I recently partnered with Jess Greene-Pierson, Director of Go To Market at the customer insight software firm, Womply. We facilitated a webinar to answer three key questions:

  1. Which review site do customers depend upon the most?

  2. How can negative reviews help your business?

  3. How can you earn more positive online reviews?

You can watch the webinar to get the full story, or read the highlights below.

Which review site do customers depend upon the most?

This data comes from a recent survey I conducted of over 1,000 adults in the United States. You can read the full story or just skim below.

The number one review site, by far, is Google:

What makes it so popular is Google is the place to go when people search reviews without realizing they were looking for reviews. You can try this yourself with a little experiment:

  1. Think of a type of business you might need to find (restaurant, dry cleaner, mechanic, or anything else).

  2. Try Googling the type of business. Ex: "pet store"

  3. Notice what comes up after the ads.

Google suggests top-rated businesses with high ratings that it things are near you. The results show the star rating for each business along with a handy map.

A couple of years ago, I needed to find a pet store as I was driving through Tucson, Arizona. Look at what happens when I Google "pet store tucson." 

Notice these are all local businesses. The big chains like Petco and Petsmart don't show up. This is the small business advantage!


How can negative reviews help your business?

Many small business owners live in fear of a negative review.

Customers exaggerate. Some reviews are fake. Negative reviews can feel like a personal attack. And even legitimate complaints stay online long after you've learned from the problem and fixed the issue.

The good news is negative reviews can actually help!

Researchers at Northwestern University discovered the optimum rating on an online review site is 4.2-4.5 stars. That's because 80 percent of customers seek out negative reviews when evaluating a business. They want to see what customers complain about and how the business responded.

During the webinar, Jess shared an example from Seafood Kitchen in Atlantic Beach, Florida. The owner, Nathan Stuart, regularly responds to negative reviews and asks upset customers to give the restaurant another try.

One customer, Alvin F., changed a two-star Yelp review to four stars as a result of Nathan’s outreach. This is arguably more powerful than a five-star review because it shows a customer was upset (that happens) and the owner made an effort to make things right.

You can’t expect every customer to change their rating, but you can still make a positive impression on other customers by responding professionally and helpfully. It turns out, there's a quirk in psychology that makes other customers more likely to empathize with you if you handle the complaint politely without getting defensive.


How can you get more reviews of your business?

Jess suggested several straightforward dos and don'ts on the webinar:

Yelp specifically forbids asking customers for reviews, but many major platforms are either silent on the issue or actively encourage it. Google, the most important site for reviews, actually publishes this guide to help you get more!

Take Action

To summarize, your business is more likely to get noticed if:

  • You have an active profile on Google and lots of positive reviews. 

  • A few negative reviews can give your business credibility.

  • Be proactive, but professional, about asking customers to review your business.

If you don't have an active Google My Business listing, you can easily get started with this handy guide from Womply.

You can also watch the webinar replay.

How to Boost Your Business with Online Reviews - YouTube
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Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

What time of day are you at your best?

It's just after 7am as I write this post, because that's when I'm most productive at writing. It would take me forever to write the same thing if I tried to do it just after lunch.

We all have a circadian rhythm, which causes us to experience different levels of energy throughout the day. This can impact us in innocent ways, such as productivity.

Time of day may have even graver implications. I recently read about a 2011 study that examine two parole boards in Israel. The researchers discovered judges ruled in favor of prisoners 65 percent of the time when the prisoner's hearing was the first of the day. That number dropped to nearly zero for the last hearing before lunch.

This made me wonder if there's a similar effect in customer service. Can time of day influence service quality? The surprising answer is yes.

How Time of Day Influences Customer Effort

To test my theory, I ask a contact center leader to share customer survey scores with me, with the results divided by time of day.

This particular contact center uses a version of the Customer Effort Score. After a transaction, customers are asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, "It was quick and easy for me to resolve my issue."

I was able to look at the results of 1,009 surveys from a one-month period. They were roughly divided between customer interactions that occurred in the morning (523) and interactions that occurred in the afternoon (486). 

The results show a clear difference:

It looks like this contact center's customers are generally happy. But there's an eight percent drop off in "strongly agree" responses in the afternoon. There's also an uptick in "strongly disagree" responses. Customers are apparently finding it slight more difficult to resolve issues later in the day.

It looks like the time of day thing is pretty real, but there are a few caveats that need to be mentioned. 

The first is this is data from just one contact center. And it's not controlled for other variables. For all I know, a single surly rep clocks in for the afternoon shift and single-handedly torpedos the results. (That's not really true, but you get the idea.)

The second caveat is the survey itself has a few flaws. For instance, the statement asks customers to consider two dimensions: quick and easy. Survey questions should ask just one thing or else it can create confusion. What if service is not as quick in the afternoon due to higher volume, but service quality is consistently easy throughout the day? Hard to tell.

So yes, there are flaws. But the results are still eye-opening!

What Can We Do About It?

I'm reading a terrific book by Daniel Pink, called When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It contains some fascinating research that helps explain why we might be making things more difficult for our customers in the afternoon.

Pink also provides a few suggestions for overcoming these challenges.

  • Take a micro-break (less than one minute) to do something different.

  • Get moving. Stand up and stretch or walk to get a drink or a snack.

  • Go outside. Nature helps us restore our focus.

  • Socialize. Take your mind off serious business and chat with a friend.

  • Shift mental gears. Watch a funny cat video or just breathe deeply for 45 seconds.

Some contact centers have created quiet rooms, where agents can enjoy a peaceful break or even take a nap. Other companies provide healthy snacks to encourage employees to replenish spent energy throughout the day.

Of course, these tips may be more difficult to implement in some places than others. For instance, a zip line tour guide is already out in nature, while a contact center rep might be measured on how few breaks they take. 

So you'll need to see what can work for your specific environment.

Take Action

Try looking at your own customer service survey data to see if time of day influences your service quality.

If it does, try getting your employee to experiment with some of Pink's suggestions. And please drop me a line if you do. I'm anxious to find more data!

Finally, if you’d like to find more examples of unusual or counterintuitive obstacles to customer service, check out my new book, Getting Service Right. It’s due out on April 2, but you can download the first chapter.

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I had just crawled into bed, exhausted after a long day. 

My four-month-old puppy tried to get comfortable in her crate next to me. She was still getting used to her new home and was full of pent-up energy. The torrential rain we'd experienced that day didn't help and she had worn me out.

Plop.

A drop of water landed on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a patch of ceiling above me was soaked through. Dragging myself out of bed, I got a ladder from the garage and climbed into the attic. 

There's not a lot space up there. Certainly not enough to walk around. I had to crawl over duct pipes and under beams to get to the right spot. When I got there, I found water dripping from the roof and pooling in the attic right above my bed.

It was a frustrating moment. The roof was just four years old and still under warranty. Two year ago, I had noticed a leak in the same place after an unusually powerful rainstorm. The roofer came out and told me he had fixed it. Apparently not.

I sopped up the water and laid towels in the attic to absorb the continuous dripping. Then I crawled back into bed even more exhausted, after making a note to contact the roofer in the morning.

The next day, I sent an email to the roofer with pictures of the leak. The rain had stopped, so it was no longer an emergency. I figured he would have his hands full with similar requests and might take a day or so to get back to me.

He never did.

Service failures like this are almost never just one thing. It wasn’t just the leak that frustrated me:

  1. A new roof was leaking.

  2. The roofer told me he had fixed the roof, but it wasn’t.

  3. I was exhausted and trying to sleep when I noticed the leak again.

  4. I worried about damage to the ceiling (it turns out, there was).

And now the roofer wasn't returning my message.

I tried calling. A recording said the number was disconnected. I went to the website, but the website no longer existed. I did a web search of the company name and saw it had gone out of business.

Damn. There goes my warranty. This leak was about to become an even bigger problem because I would have to find another roofer and pay for the repair out of pocket. Part of the ceiling would need to be replaced as well, after water soaked through it.

Out of curiosity, I searched the roofer's license on the state licensing board website. Perhaps the license was still active and the roofer had moved or sold the business. Or maybe I could just track the guy down and give him a piece of my mind.

The search result was not what I expected: "This license was canceled on the death of the contractor."

I'm not sure what happened. He wasn't an old man. I imagined his family missed him, deprived of his presence earlier than expected. He had employees, too, and I imagine they all lost their jobs.

Suddenly, my leaky roof wasn't as important.

We all face frustrations as customers. Some of us lose patience and rant and rave as though it's a matter of life or death. It almost always isn't. This experience was a reminder.

I've worked with a couple of clients where service really was a life or death matter. The service they provided literally contributed to saving lives. So I've seen the difference between that and a leaky roof, an undercooked steak, or a flight delay. 

The experience made me reflect on a few things:

  • Customer service is not life or death, unless it really is, so act accordingly.

  • It’s important to treat others with empathy—you never know what they are experiencing.

  • Every job is a part of your legacy, so always do good work.

I'm still not happy. And I'm a bit conflicted between my empathy for the roofer's family, friends, and employees, and the knowledge that his legacy in my mind is a service failure. But I'll try to maintain perspective as the next storm rolls in.

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