When VOC Calls – Listen

I don’t know about your newspaper, but mine seems full of bad news today. Housing prices are sinking, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says the economy is near stall speed, and Reddy Ice Holdings is in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Real downer, dudes and dudettes. But do not let these types of goings on rattle your cage, especially if you are about to cast an eye at slashing customer support. You have a gold mine there in case you don’t know it.

Your customers are feeling the pinch, just like you. Ask yourself, do I feel like making any cash outlays right now? Or would I like to know my vendor has my back until things stabilize but making sure what I already have keeps working right and that I learn about any great deals quickly?

These are the same feelings your customers have. And you should be able to tell from the feedback you get whenever one of them contacts your organization. If you are doing it right, customer service and customer support are putting some valuable information into the customer service management system.

By finding out how often and why people are calling, you can target incentives, sales collateral, and good karma toward your existing customers. These are the ones you want to stay around until things are more flush. It’s fun to get new customers, sure, but expensive. The ones you already have deserve your undivided attention for remaining loyal.

Get your system to tell you the trends in parts replacements, problems, requested features or products, and where all this is coming from. Make sure you are alerted as early as possible about customer dissatisfaction so you can catch them and fix it before they go to a competitor. Work with them so they know you understand their situation so that, even if they leave, when they feel more able to afford it, they will come back.

You can’t find all these things out if you don’t listen. The Voice of the Customer shouldn’t just blow in the wind. Even now your have information that you can use and you can find out more by adding some feedback management to your customer service and support.

Just like you can’t fix what you don’t measure, you can’t improve if you don’t learn precisely what is needed from the very people you need to keep your company afloat.

Congratulations CRM Idol 2011 Finalists!

The list is out and the competition is stiff. Out of a field of 22 contestants, Paul Greenberg and friends have whittled the field to four finalists:

  • Assistly
  • Crowd Factory
  • Get Satisfaction
  • Stone Cobra

Be sure to read Paul’s comments about Assistly’s eligibility.

This has been like the Westminster Dog Show so I congratulate the judges because, just like in a dog show, they were asked, not to judge these companies against each other, but against “best of breed”. See, the companies weren’t all the same thing.

The call for contestants went out for “CRM-ish” companies of particular revenue levels. They got everything from pure customer support applications to social marketing applications to a community/forum application. On one hand it made it nice because as a contestant you could be comfortable cheering each other on. But it also made it hard because it seemed like you couldn’t always define what the judges might be looking for.

This contest shows there are myriad ways to keep up with your customers. All of these companies have had success with a variety of ways to learn, serve, and support customers over multiple channels while learning best practices along the way. How do you know what you need in your organization?

The same way we have always touted: know your customers. Find out how they like to communicate. Make it easy for them to help themselves AND get to a human when needed. Don’t just take in the information, sift it and grind it to find actionable data that can help you improve your business. And take that action, don’t just research and report.

There is no one size fits all in customer service and support anymore than there is in clothing. But you need to define your requirements before looking at systems and definitely before making a choice. This choice is going to be around awhile. Make sure you and your customers can live with it.

Customer Service in a WIIFM World

HubSpot CMS graphic

Bruce Temkin released a paper in 2008 called The 6 Laws of Customer Experience. Law #2 said:

People are instinctively self-centered.

We have all been told about the “radio station” WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? So it should come as no surprise that your customer’s first thoughts are not about your product but about how they felt while dealing with your company. Thus giving rise to the “customer experience” and “voice of the customer” programs.

The thing is, even though people have definite opinions about how they were treated it can be like pulling teeth to get them to tell you about it. At least directly.

On Facebook and Twitter, sure….but not directly to you. And really, the percentage of people who even go to the trouble of putting their reactions out there on the social media is pretty low. Let’s face it, it takes effort to walk over to the computer, log on, and write even 140 characters unless we are extremely motivated. At which point your business has been thrown out the window…to late for fixing anything.

Just like you need to make it as simple as possible for customers to find you, shop your company, and buy from you, it has to be just as simple or even more so to get them to give you feedback.

“How?” you say.

It depends. I know, I hate that answer too because it usually means more work for me. But in this case, the work is an investment. Just like you determined what channel your customers preferred to use to interact with your company, you need to find the ways your customers are most comfortable telling you what it is really like to be your customer.

There will always be a few who are willing to tell you to your face but most of us would rather be polite, say something non-committal, and scoot out the door. Same for the phone. Many places have a website they direct people to where they can answer “How are we doing?” and there have always been email surveys.

But we’re dealing with WIIFM here. This means customers don’t care that what they tell you can help “improve our service to you”. That’s too nebulous and far away. They need an incentive.

Many incentives are freebies or coupons for one thing or another. Some are contests: “Fill out our survey for a chance to tin this iPad!”. But your customers may not need or want those things.

You know what can get people going? Some of the craziest things that won’t cost you a cent.

  • Many people will be happy to get a badge for their facebook page for filling out your survey.
  • Others would love being tagged as an expert in your online community.
  • Find a way for them to earn complimentary titles and who knows how much you can get from them.

An example is HubSpot. They have a very active online community and probably people would participate regardless. But HubSpot keeps track of how many times you answer questions or interact and gives you a successively higher title. You might start as a HubSpotter Newbie but then go on up through HubSpot Guru.

You know your customers, or you should. Think about what makes them react and offer them an incentive geared toward making that reaction. If the first thing doesn’t work, tweak it and try again. Don’t just forget about it.

It’s your business, your company. This is a WIIFM for you and what’s in it for you is a successful organization. So get out there and get feedback and give something in the process.

The Third Element of Great Customer Service: The Right Technology

Pellerin Portfolio

Here is the last element in our brief series on taking your customer service to greatness. The first two, people and a quality product, are equal legs on this stool and so it having the right technology so your customer service agents can spend their time with customers, not tabbing between applications, looking up answers in several different databases, or taking second and third calls from customers whose problem wasn’t fixed with the first call. Nor do they want to spend time with calls that could have been avoided if the customer had access to information or processes that don’t need another human involved.

First, the easy stuff. Make it possible for your customers to find their own answers if they prefer. Give them access through a customer portal for self service where they can access a knowledgebase, connect with other users, and submit problems or get right in contact with an agent if they can’t fix it themselves.

Give your customers the ability to engage with you on the channel they prefer. If they would rather interact through chat, set up a chat channel. If they start on that channel and it would be better to switch to another, like the phone, make that possible. Many still prefer the phone. Don’t load them down with an endless phone menu, get them to a person as quickly as possible if that is what they need.

And fix it so they don’t have to repeat information. To anybody. They should be able to enter or provide it once and be done. Nothing is more annoying than telling your problem over and over. (Note to customers: do give the agents time to read through lengthy content if your ticket is complex).

When agents must get involved, make sure they only have to deal with one system for customer information, ticketing, documentation, and knowledge management. Every time a new application must be opened or switched takes time that would be better spent engaging the customer and solving their problem. This single system helps the rest of the organization too. No dropped tickets between applications or departments, alerts for everything, and time tracking to keep up with staffing. A way to see aging and open tickets and schedule time to take care of them. Get fast answers from knowledge infused support processes and technology.

In short, make it as easy as possible for both customers and customer service agents to fix problems without putting technological obstacles under their feet. Will it cost up front? Sure. But in the long run, that new system will pay for itself, possibly inside of six months.

There are systems out there that do all of this. Of course, we think PhaseWare is the best and most affordable. But, really, there is no excuse these days to still be tracking a spreadsheet or using multiple software applications to do what one customer service and support solution can do.

So there you have it. The three elements of great customer support:

  1. People
  2. Quality
  3. Technology

Read all three posts:

The First Element of Great Customer Service: Your People

The Second Element of Great Customer Service: Quality of Information

The Third Element of Great Customer Service: The Right Technology

The Second Element of Great Customer Service: Quality of Information

Pellerin Portfolio

We are continuing our look into each element of great customer support from our popular November blog entry: The Three Basic Elements of Customer Support. Next element: Quality of Information.

[Q]uality answers and information can make or break a customer’s level of trust in the company as a whole. The sole customer support representative interacting with a customer will shape their opinion of your company, so customer support representatives giving quality information is key.  If a customer is given bad information, then their opinion of the company will be bad.  Bad news spreads quickly.  However if they are given quality answers, their opinion will be positive and they will give your company glowing reviews.

Your customer support agents need to sound like they know what they are talking about. They also need to convey the same information regardless of channel, product, or service. If your company or customer support is siloed this will be an issue.

If your company or support department have grown and added products, services, or channels over time, it is possible that each area has cobbled together their own way of doing things and their own knowledge bases. With separate repositories of information and training/support practices, your company will begin to sound fragmented to your customers, particularly if they use more than one of your offerings.

Nothing is more frustrating than to be told different things by different people from the same company. Even when the products are different. It is time to consolidate those knowledge bases and training practices so everyone is on the same message. A particular question should receive the same answer by web customer portal, live chat, phone, or other interactive method.

Additionally, to make things easier for everyone, information should be presented in the knowledge base using the same conventions. Whether someone is looking up answers about widget A or sprocket B, the information should be presented in the same way. One way to accomplish this is by using templates for knowledge base article entry. With specific fields to fill out, articles become easier to reference.

Make all channels access the same knowledgebase and the siloes of inforamation disappear. With good editing, the article quality and completeness will improve. And creating a way to automatically check for same or similar information keeps duplication of effort down.

Agents will feel more confident if they know the answers are there, correct, and easily accessed. Customers will feel more confident of the answers they get to their problems. And your company will receive stellar reviews on its quality of customer service.

Who doesn’t want that?

Managing the Customer Experience: CEM vs VOC vs EFM

Customer Experience Management

Marketing and customer service have started talking about the “Customer Experience” as an initiative. It seems a very nebulous term without any way to measure your progress or level. As always, the nomenclature for customer experience management has yet to settle into place. There seems to be multiple names for it with the typical alphabet soup of aliases.

As a service to you, the CXO, I present a brief list of definitions by Syed Hasan in destinationCRM:

  • CEM:
    • Customer Experience Management
    • Comprehensive business improvement and brand-building strategy
    • Encompasses strategic planning and operationalization
    • Envision desired experience
    • Collect, manipulate interpret all forms of customer experience data
    • Use intelligence to improve offerings, business planning, customer facing practices, and service delivery
  • VOC
    • Voice Of the Customer
    • Market research programs designed to discover customer requirements and needs
    • Differs from CEM: Less to do with day-to-day customer experiences
    • Used more for long term business improvement
    • Ensures customer needs are part of product development and service delivery strategies
  • EFM
    • Enterprise Feedback Management
    • Includes all customer feedback technologies including automated survey technologies
    • Consolidates organization wide surveys onto a single platform to centralize the information and create efficient processes for managing the submission and manipulation of large volumes of survey data.
    • NOT just data mining

Unfortunately, even now multiple platforms and services claim to any and all of these and claim to cover the total of customer experience management. The field is slowly finding universal definitions but the best way to know what practice is really being discussed is to take a deeper look into each service or product.

Mr. Hasan advocates “cutting to the chase.” You want to solve problems not write definitions. What you need to be looking at:

  • Customer retention
  • Customer feedback (who cares by which acronym)
  • Satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy measure by meaningful metrics

Keep those three bullet points in mind when the customer experience promoters come to call. It isn’t that they aren’t right. It’s just that you, as CXO, need to help them understand what you need to know.

And it isn’t a jumble of letters.

Cross posted from The Successful CXO:Committed to Customer Service

Laying a Foundation for the 3 Basic Elements of Customer Service

Jody Pellerin, Writer

Foundation

In keeping with this week’s theme of three essential elements of customer service I wanted to talk about the C-suite’s role.

In our top-down, hierarchical paradigm that has persisted over many decades, we tend to think of the C-suite as the top of the pyramid, the apex of the business. Over time this can cause a disconnect between the executive officers and the rest of the business. Decisions are made without really feeling the consequences because all the layers between executive and the rank and file dull any pain through spinning any bad news to sound not so bad.

The truth is, the C-suite is the foundation for the business. This is where company culture is set and where any change must start in order to successfully steer the business in a new direction. As the executives think, so goes the company.

In The First Element of Great Customer Service: Your People I wrote about the most essential part of great customer service. Like a three legged stool, customer service will fail if any one of the elements is missing, but I believe if the first element, people, are missing, it doesn’t just allow the stool to fall, the other two legs will cease to exist. People are necessary for the existence and success of quality and technology.

You, as the CXO, have the greatest impact on the people of your company. Your opinions, decisions, and actions inform the environment in which people work. You lay the foundation upon which the elements, especially the people, rest. I know it is easier to look at a spreadsheet and play with the numbers, but those numbers were affected by every person in your organization, and nobody has more impact than your customer facing employees.

It is incumbent upon you to make the right decisions and set the right tone for their success.Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  • Make it known that you will be patient with the hiring process if quality employees are being found.
  • Make management understand you consider money spent on training to be an investment, not an expense.
  • Make sure the proper tools are available to make it as easy as possible to answer customer concerns and desires.
  • Make your expectations crystal clear.

And if you must slash personnel do it as soon as possible with those who simply aren’t measuring up. Do yourself, your staff, and that employee the biggest favor you can by moving quickly before resentment, bad habits, and lost customers become a problem. Not everyone is cut out for customer service and the hiring process may not catch all of those who should be guided into other roles. It serves no one to let this slide because it is easier than facing someone to tell them they aren’t right for the job after all.

Your people are your greatest strength and your greatest weakness.

Your chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

These cliches exist because there is truth in them. Do your best to lay a solid foundation on which to rest this element and support it so the business can stand strong.

Cross posted to The Successful CXO: Committed to Customer Service

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