I had the great pleasure of being the latest participant in Eric Mattson’s 1000 podcasts project this morning, and the conversation that we started really got me excited about a number of topics… one of which being customer service.
Eric and I continued our chat once the podcast was over and his observations about customer service being one of a company’s most potent items in their branding toolbox really struck a chord with me. He is absolutely right, and this is something that… for whatever reason, is still the most undervalued point of contact between companies and their customers.
That needs to change.
Yesterday, I flashbacked to “Customer Complaints Are Great“, which explores the topic in pretty good detail. If you haven’t read it, check it out. It’s relatively short and to the point. If you don’t have time, here is the main point:
When customers call you with a problem, don’t fight or argue. Smile, listen to them, and fix it.
First, it’s good business. Second, it’ll impress the heck out of them. Third, because very few companies out there actually do this, you will stand out as being a GREAT company.
Here’s the thing: Problems happen. Cars break down. Computers crash. Coffeemakers go on strike. Washer-dryers eventually start making squeeky sounds. That’s why you need customer service departments. People are going to call you when they need help solving a problem. They might be dealing with a lemon. Maybe their three-year-old poured a cup of juice on their new supersuede couch and they need to know how to get the stains out. Maybe they can’t make sense of a new piece of software that never works right. Maybe you shipped them the wrong part. Maybe you didn’t ship it at all.
If your company’s attitude is that… well… you want to politely tell them that you can’t (or won’t) help them with their problems, please save yourself the money and invest in an automated answering system. Yeah. A recording. So when your customers call your toll-free number, they’ll all hear the same message:
“We’re sorry you’re experiencing problems with our products, but these things happen, and you just happened to be one of our few unlucky customers whose experience with us was less than stellar. We’ll try to do better next time. We hope that the next product you purchase from us will work better for ya. Thanks, and have a great day.
“Oh, and if you feel like wasting your time, please feel free to call our complaints hotline, where your call will be parked for at least twenty minutes and a customer service representative who has absolutely nothing to do with this company will do everything he or she can to discourage you from pursuing this matter any further.
“If you would like to yell at an imaginary person right now, please press 1 or stay on the line.”
Seriously. If all you’re going to do is argue with them or make it difficult for them to have their problem solved, save yourself the trouble and the expense. Go with a recording. Or outsource your customer service department. And hey, if the customer service reps don’t speak the same language as your customers, it doesn’t really matter. (They’ll probably hang up sooner and save you some money in the process.)
If, on the other hand, you want to help your customers, if you realize that helping a frustrated customer can turn them into an evangelist for your brand, then read on.
Because here’s the deal: If your brand promises a great product and great service, you’re not going to wow customers by delivering on your promise. They’re going to be happy with you, they are going to continue to buy from you, but they won’t necessarily sing your praises. I love my VW Passat and I have been very happy with the product, the service and the relationship I’ve had with VW… but I haven’t recommended VW to any of my friends.
HOWEVER, when I had a problem with my laptop several months ago and the customer service person I dealt with took care of it in minutes, with a smile, with genuine empathy, I told everyone about it. It didn’t matter that the product failed. What mattered is that the company made my problem go away.
They turned my frown upside down. Literally.
Here’s how they did it:
1) The guy who took my call was very professional but kind of informal. The fact that he sounded relaxed and knowledgeable on the phone inspired confidence. I knew right away that I was in good hands.
2) He told me I was in good hands. “Okay, Mr. Blanchard. You’re in good hands. We’re going to take care of this for you right away.” As simple as it is, that’s a powerful statement. It set the stage right from the start. It instantly put me at ease.
3) He never said “no.”
4) He never put me on hold.
5) He never transfered me to someone else.
6) While he was working on resolving the problem, he asked me how I liked the product before it failed, what I used it for, if I had ever tried this and that feature, and even gave me some cool little tips. (So… a) he entertained me with cool information while I was on the line, and b) he made our dialogue about the product more personal. The conversation reinforced the fact that the product is an integral part of my lifestyle, and that the brand as a whole is a part of it as well.
7) He made me feel like he was there to help me rather than… defend his company or act as a firewall for complaints. It was almost as if he were working for me.
8) He resolved the problem quickly. I mean… minutes. It was completely painless. I almost didn’t need to stay on the line.
9) He gave me his name and extension number in case I had any more problems, and invited me to call anytime I had questions or if I ever ran into any more trouble.
10) Once the problem was resolved, he actually sounded happy.
It was an awesome experience.
When it comes to setting your company and brand apart from the crowd, the easiest and cheapest thing you can do is revamp your customer service department.
Step 1: Make the decision to make Customer Service a priority.
Step 2: Make your Customer Service department an independent body within your company. If you can’t, put it under the tutelage of the Marketing department instead of the Sales department.
Step 3: Put someone fresh in charge of Customer Service, and empower him/her to run that department independently from other elements of the company.
Step 4: Allow that someone to hire only positive, friendly, energetic people.
Step 5: Focus on making the Customer Service department a happy place. Use whatever means are at your disposal: Add plants and flowers to the decor. Add fish tanks. Add windows or more natural looking light. Buy better coffee. Buy a better coffee machine. Invest in fun, comfortable furniture. Make the space open and welcoming. Create neutral zones where customer service reps can go relax for ten minutes after X amount of calls. In essence, create an environment that makes people happy to be there.
Step 6: Train your people well. Product knowledge is crucial, but they also need to understand what their role really is. Define it for them. Take the weight of every complaint that comes their way completely off their backs. Make it absolutely clear that they are not there to defend the company against complaints. They are not there to be a firewall. They are there to make people happy. They are there to help people with their problems. It’s a positive thing. It’s an empowering thing.
Step 7: Allow them to decompress anytime they need to. Some customers aren’t going to be happy, no matter what you do. Some customers are going to be cold, rude or abusive. Most days, your people will be able to let it roll off their shoulders. Some days, it will get to them. On those days, make it easy for them to decompress. Give them the space they need to cry it out, punch a bag, shoot some hoops for ten minutes, or just let it out by talking about it.
Step 8: Schedule regular fieldtrips to retail outlets. (Select one or two Customer Service reps each week, and let them spend half a day at one of your retail locations.) Give the phones a break and let them interact with customers face to face.
Step 9: Provide training. Lots of training. Product training, communications training, conflict resolution training, etc. Schedule workshops on psychology and behavioral dynamics.
Step 10: Take good care of your people. Pay them well. Give them great benefits. Provide them with growth opportunities. Be as good to them as you expect them to be with your customers. (There’s a direct correlation: If you make them feel like commodities, they will eventually treat your customers like commodities as well.)
This is a human touchpoint. One of the few customer-to-brand interactions you get to actually work with. One of the few person-to-person experiences you get to share with customers. You absolutely can’t blow it.
This is not a place for any company to try and save money.
This is not the kind of thing you want to automate.
This is not where you want to cut corners.
This is where you want to put the friendliest, most well-trained, most helpful people you can get your hands on.
This is where you want to make sure that your customers are so well taken care of that they’ll tell their friends about it. That they’ll blog about it. That they’ll sing your praises for months to come. That they’ll proudly wear T-shirts and hats with your logo on it.
You can build the world’s best Customer Service department inside of six months and at the fraction of the cost of developing new products or launching a full scale Marketing campaign.
Think about it. Why more companies aren’t doing this is completely beyond me.
The good news is that since so few companies have figured this out yet, you can get the jump on them.
First things first… If you think that your Customer Service department is as good as it needs to be, call them up with a problem, and without telling them who you really are, go through the experience of trying to get that problem resolved. If your experience is wonderful, you’re very lucky. If not, well… I guess you have a new project on your hands.
(Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. I promise.)
Read Full Post »