Customer Service

5 Tips for Great Telephone Customer Service

Editor’s note: Most businesses don’t provide good enough customer service to even keep their current customers happy. This guest post by Nick Lewis explains the principles that you need to follow.

In a previous life I spent a long time as a telephone based customer service representative.

It was a very informative experience, and one I’m reminded of every time I call a call centre or receive calls, warm or cold, from banks, charities and so on.

As anyone who has ever been frustrated by a call centre experience (pretty much everyone) can tell you, great telephone customer service is pretty hard to come by.

It’s also one of those ‘little things’ that can easily be forgotten about by small business owners or sole traders, but the quality of your phone service can easily be the difference between a happy customer and a disgruntled one.

Here are 5 tips for you, or your employees, to help you give great customer service on the phone…

Scared of Outsourcing Your Customer Service?

Setting Up a Call Center

When your company grows, one phone isn’t enough anymore… photo: David Long

This guest post is written by Gere Jordan.

When you call a business and reach a courteous, seemingly scripted customer service representative, you generally feel like you’re speaking with a bigger company. For good or ill, these are the companies that have the resources to man such an operation.

Despite the sometimes negative experience associated with calling customer service, deploying one for your small business can have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and, ultimately, your bottom line. You just have to take the time to do things right.

Top 3 Common Customer Service Mistakes

Customer service is the face of a company. Screw it up, and the entire company will crumble. Everybody knows this. Yet most companies don’t ever train their customer service people beyond basic familiarization, unlike sales people who are bombarded with training.

Not even the best products save a company with poor customer service. Some online companies can survive with poor customer service, but only because most customers don’t ever need it (this applies also to offline companies where customers serve themselves; grocery stores, etc.).

What are the most common customer service mistakes? These all significantly affect what your customers think about you. Make just one of these and they’ll probably leave unsatisfied.

5 Steps to More Effective Customer Service

What does effective customer service mean?

Effective customer service provides what the customer needs, and it does it efficiently. There are many reasons why investing some time and money to organizing your customer service well, is worth it.

1. Your customers will be happier, which leads to more customers and sales. Great customer service creates referrals, bad customer service creates complaints.

2. You’ll save a lot of work hours, if your customer service is efficient. Looking for information always takes time, but a good system can reduce that time significantly.

3. You don’t have to compete on pricing only, when your customer service is great. There will (almost) always be someone who’s cheaper than you, but if your customer service is great, you don’t have to be quite as cheap.

How to create efficient customer service

If you follow these steps your customer service will become more efficient.

Step 1 – Identify common questions

In most situations, at least 80% of all customer inquiries are about a few simple problems. When you reduce the time it takes to handle these questions, you save the most time.

Create an FAQ of these questions, which is easily found on your website. Not all people will find it, but it’ll still take a lot of your workload away.

Take preemptive measures to have less of these problems. Product functions are a common reason people contact customer service. You could revise the manual to be more clear, or create a demonstration of the functions to educate your customers (maybe a video on your website, which works as an advertisement too).

Step 2 – Create systems for common questions

The common questions you can’t answer in an FAQ or a demonstration, take the most time. Do whatever you can to create systems that streamline the handling of these issues.

Customers can often do much of the work on their own. You can ask them to fill a form on your website that asks all the necessary information, so you can take care of the problem quickly. People usually feel good when they see that you’ve thought about their problem enough to create a web form for it. It creates certainty that you’ll be able to help them.

Step 3 – Make your life easier

If you’re presented with a hundred different problems each day, you’ll learn to appreciate an intuitive system for finding answers. You can hit two birds at a time, when you create an intuitive and extensive support website. If you answer all the common questions and many of the less common ones on your website, and it’s intuitive to use, most customers will find their own answers. And when they don’t, you can do it for them easily.

Step 4 – Handle less information

One of the corner stones of efficient customer service is the amount of information you need, to solve a problem. The less you need, the better.

Your customer database should have all the information about your customers. Not only their name, address, and phone number, but everything you know about them. Most importantly, which products they own. You’ll then only have to ask for their name to have most of the information you need to solve their problem.

Step 5 – Ask for feedback

Many businesses forget the benefit of asking for feedback. There’s no better way to understand what your customers want. They’ll tell you how they want to find answers, what works for them, and what doesn’t. You can build your new, more efficient customer service on that feedback. You’ll make your customers happier, and you’ll save time (which leads to saving money).

Do you have other ideas about efficient customer service? Share them in the comments below.

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How to Sell More – 3 Simple Steps

Sales people are constantly asked for larger sales, higher conversion rates, and better customer service. What if you could accomplish all that, at the same time?

It’s actually relatively simple. Here’s what you do. And yes, I’m fully aware of the simplicity of these steps. Most sales people just don’t like them, so they don’t use them, even when they understand how effective they are.

Step 1 – Contact your active customers

Active customers are those customers who either have a subscription-like deal with you (they pay you weekly/monthly), or you’re currently negotiating a deal with them. Offer them some additional services, products, or features. If you manage to create a relevant offer, they’re likely to buy it. But only if it truly is relevant for them. Upselling is by far the easiest way to create larger sales.

Step 2 – Contact hot leads

Hot leads are prospects who have recently bought something from you, or have asked for some information. After active customers, hot leads are the best customer group you have. Again, create an offer that’s relevant for them, and price it well. You can convert hot leads into customers more easily than any other ones.

Step 3 – Contact cold leads

Note that I said, “leads”, don’t start cold calling. Cold leads are customers who bought from you in the past, or asked for information a while ago. They’re unlikely to buy anything immediately, but if you can make a relevant offer, they’ll come back sometime. The point is to offer them what they wanted.

Is that it?

You can’t expect everyone to buy something, but your odds are still much higher. And you do accomplish the three tasks: higher sales and conversions, and you take care of customer service. Basically these simple steps make you the ideal sales person ;)

If you decide to contact them through email, read the short series on email customer contact first.

Do you have other ideas or more steps you should take to sell more? Share them in the comments below.

Buyer Personas – 9 Steps to Profiling Buyer Personas

What are buyer personas?

Buyer personas are the individual and identifiable groups of people who buy your products. For example a stereo store has at least three important and very distinct buyer personas.

Stereo store example:

1. Those looking for a better stereo system. They’re usually men and they generally don’t mind the appearances of the stereo system. Instead they want the ability to listen to LP’s, radio, and CD’s, and just relax with music. They’re not satisfied with their current stereos, so they’ve decided to pay a little more than what they paid for the previous set. But they do have an understanding about the price range they’re looking into. They’re not the most  patient customers, but they probably don’t need the products immediately. They like the feeling they get when they buy a new gadget.

2. Hi-fi enthusiasts. A group of almost solely men, who will spend a lot of time pondering the purchase. They’ll test every possible product at their home. They’re interested in technical specifics. They enjoy the process of testing more than the purchase. They like to talk about their preferences and hear the sales people’s ideas, but they don’t believe anyone but themselves. Price is very important; the higher the better, they’ll often buy the most expensive option they can afford … and then some.

3. Women (apologies for the generalization, this is just one buyer persona) looking for something that will satisfy their men’s desire for new gizmos, and their own sense of esthetics. They’re very price concerned. Only technical specifics are less important than the actual sound quality.

These buyer personas aren’t extremely specific, but they give you the idea of what a buyer persona means. Different buyer personas are looking for different things, so you should treat them differently. And not only in the sales situation, but in your marketing too.

How to profile buyer personas

Firstly, all the people who visit your store or your website aren’t buyers. Base your assessment of your buyer personas on buying customers, not browsers, yourself, thieves, or friends visiting you. But what should a buyer persona define? And remember: you’re like to have more than one buyer persona for your business; specify as many as you can think of.

1. Gender. I realize this may feel awkward for some people, but you should know the gender of a specific buyer persona. But only if it’s possible. Some buyer personas are not gender specific.

2. Age. The age of a buyer persona is the simplest part of the profile. The age of a person tells you a lot abut them. How you view the world and what you prioritize, depend largely on your age.

3. Profession. In B-to-B business you know the profession of the buyer. But in B-to-C business this may not be so obvious. But if you can find a common profession or a status of a buyer, you can make your buyer persona profile much more accurate. It’s also very important to know how well they understand your product, are they professional users of laymen.

4. Financial situation. This is one of the most important aspects of the profile, so make sure you get it right. Don’t concentrate on your customers’ bank accounts, but make note how much they’re willing to pay. And how easily they make the decision to buy; it tells you how important your products are for them.

5. Purpose. Why do they buy your products? Some products have more applications (like fabrics) than others (nail clippers). The purpose of your product is the core of your marketing. If you don’t know what your customers use your product for, you can’t market or sell it effectively.

6. Education. How well-educated is the buyer persona? The educational background makes the profile deeper. It can help you figure out how they process information. Do they understand graphs, statistics, and study results, or are they more concerned with customer testimonials and simplified features.

7. Free time. How do they spend their time? Common hobbies, interests, TV shows, even eating habits can get you closer to them. You cannot know your buyer persona too well, so even these small details can prove to be valuable.

8. Buying decision. Which factors they take into account when they make the decision to buy? Price, features, ease of use, customer service, and resell value, can all play a part in the decision. If you don’t understand this part of your customers, your marketing can only work if you get lucky.

9. Shopping habits. What else do they buy? This is important when you start creating your business network. What else can you offer to them, and what else are they looking for.

What to do with a buyer persona?

When you have detailed buyer personas, you can, and you must, use them in your marketing. Here’s a few ways to use buyer personas in marketing.

1. Address specific people. When you know your buyer, you can talk to him/her directly. You don’t have to say, “you” when you can say, “25-year old man, living in the suburbs”.

2. Address specific problems. Talking about a specific problem is more engaging than a general problem. But it only works if you address a problem your buyers have, so you need to know your buyer personas first.

3. Address specific beliefs. You can create a feeling of being talked directly at with beliefs. For example, “This product is healthy.” is less engaging than, “Your children need more vitamins, that the school system doesn’t provide.”

4. Pinpoint accurate placement. Placement is a key to effective marketing. When you understand your buyer personas, you know where they are, and how to reach them at the right time.

5. Showcasing the right price range. If you market a product a buyer cannot afford, they won’t buy it. And they’ll be left with a belief that you’re over priced for them.

There’s one more thing…

Understanding your buyer personas isn’t enough to create effective marketing. First you need to understand your story. Then you need to understand your customers (more than just the buyer personas). And only by framing your story correctly, you can create an effective marketing message.

If you don’t know sure you understand all the steps, I’ve created a free guide to Premeditated Marketing, that describes in more detail these aspects. And a couple more aspects, equally essential for effective marketing.

I can also recommend David Meerman Scott’s book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” if you’re interested.

I’d like to hear what your buyer personas include. Do you think of something that wasn’t discussed here? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Review: Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki

Rating: 5/5

After reading a few pages I knew I’d love this book. My belief turned out to be justified. The book is about enchantment and it is enchanting.

Guy Kawasaki worked at Apple when the first Macintosh was released. He’s job was to be the “chief evangelist”, marketing to put it simply. Later he’s worked for and started a few companies and written several books.

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions is his latest book. It describes, in wonderful detail, what makes something enchanting. It explains how you can be enchanting, make your product or company enchanting, and how to resist enchantment. And it is all done in an enchanting way.

The structure

There isn’t a plot to the book. Rather it tackles one aspect of enchantment at a time. This works perfectly well, though I usually prefer books written in “story” format.

Guy Kawasaki obviously knows exactly what he writes about, the book is a pleasure to read. Ideas are reinforced with examples, expert opinions, and studies.

Because of the simple one-idea-at-a-time structure, I’ll use the book as a reference book for a long time. Though I think some of the chapters and headings could’ve been a little more descriptive to make finding single ideas easier (fortunately there’s an index at the back that helps with this).

It almost seems as if there’s nothing about enchantment that isn’t described in the book. But still you’d like it to be longer, just to keep reading.

What is enchantment?

Guy Kawasaki describes enchantment: “Enchantment transforms situations and relationships. … It changes skeptics and cynics into believers.”

An enchanting person is someone you instantly trust. Someone who’s example you want to follow.

An enchanting product is one you believe in and tell all your friends about. One you’re willing to defend if others threaten its idea.

Apple is probably the most obvious example of an enchanting company/brand. They have a loyal following of enchanted people. Whenever a new product is released millions read the news.

But what makes Apple enchanting?

How to be enchanting

This is what the book does so well. It gives you an endless list of ways to be more enchanting. All the usual ways to interact and common situations are explained.

Want to enchant customers? Explained. How to create a movement? Explained. Want to score points in the eyes of your boss? Explained. How to use Twitter enchantingly? Explained. And so on and so on.

The risk with this kind of a book, or any business book, is to be too theoretical. Guy Kawasaki manages to mix in just enough theory to be trustworthy, but not too much to be boring.

Throughout the book, it’s clear the author understands and lives what he teaches. He uses examples of his own experiences, but not too many to seem arrogant.

Who benefits from the book

I’d say anyone who is in contact with other humans, will greatly benefit from reading this book. It’s one of the few books I’m sure to read again… and again.

As far as I know, no one has written a more comprehensive book about enchantment. Though many have written about social behavior and other related topics, no one describes what creates that sudden feeling of enchantment.

If you want a more theoretical view to enchantment or to just understand it better, there’s a list of books Guy Kawasaki recommends. But reading “Enchantment” will be enough for most people.

The end

As I wrote this post, I realized just how enchanted I was by this book. I could’ve gone on and on about what I liked about it.

To be honest the book isn’t perfect. But the flaws are small:

  • I would’ve liked colored pictures for example. I think colors would’ve made the book more enchanting ;)
  • And I hoped for a short checklist of the most important ideas. After reading the book, I have too many ideas and a short “where to start” checklist would make taking action easier.

Buy the book

Buy hardcover from Amazon

Buy audiobook from Audible (click here for a free trial = one audiobook free)

Know What You Promise and Deliver That – A Poor Example By GoDaddy

I had an unfortunate experience with some customer service people yesterday. I needed help with switching the way Affect Selling is hosted.

It was previously on a “shared” server and therefor it was really slow at times. Now it’s using a “Virtual Dedicated Server” from GoDaddy.com.

But that’s not the point here. The point is that GoDaddy advertises their customer service on their website. But they don’t deliver what you’d expect.

What do you advertise?

Though I believe great customer service is the best way for a business to succeed, not everybody has to offer that. You can offer lower prices if there aren’t so many customer service people waiting for someone to need their help.

Whatever it is you advertise about your product/service, is what people expect you to be good at.

If you advertise customer service, the promise is that you’ll do everything you can to help customers. That you’ll offer the best service possible.

With that expectation they’ll be disappointed if the service isn’t wonderful. This is true also if you advertise cheap prices, fast delivery, ease of use, or anything else. People expect to get the best of what you talk about.

Poor example

The GoDaddy email customer service doesn’t live up to any sort of hype. They reply quickly, but that’s it. I guess they should read my series of posts about email customer service.

The answers were too technological for me to understand (and I did tell them I’m not that tech-savvy). And they did their best to avoid doing more than the bare minimum.

For example when I asked them about the PHP version on the server (I had no idea what that meant), they told me I can read an article about it. Or they could do the necessary updating for $49.99.

I decided to read the article. I didn’t understand it so I read another and another and another article to explain what the first one meant. Finally after a few hours I managed to update the PHP version on my server.

Now that I know how it’s done, I could do it in a minute. So, they would’ve charged me $49.99 for that one minute. Instead of just doing it, they replied to my email, and another email, and a third email about the process. They spent more time answering my emails than it would’ve taken them to do the update.

When the installation of WordPress didn’t go smoothly, they told me to find answers elsewhere since it’s a third-party application. Again when I finally found the reason for the problems, I could see it would’ve taken them a minute or two to fix it. (I have to thank the people at WordPress forums for help.)

I do understand and appreciate the low prices GoDaddy offers. But I cannot understand why their email customer service isn’t better. The people there obviously have the technical know-how. They just don’t seem to understand what their job is.

What should you advertise?

What are you good at? Really good at? When you advertise your customer service, people expect it to be great. But you should still exceed that expectation.

Exceeding expectations is the best way to create loyal customers and referrals.

You need to surprise people regardless of their expectations. If you advertise cheap prices, then either be surprisingly cheap, or offer additional free services for your customers.

“Good enough” isn’t good enough. If you’re not confident you can exceed expectations with something, then you shouldn’t talk about that at all. Or if your customers are likely to expect more from you than you’re able to offer, than warn them in advance. Don’t let people build up anticipation, and then prove them wrong.

Avoid and/or explain

I was disappointed with the GoDaddy customer service because I expected more. I’d be fine with doing all the server configuration by myself, but since they “advertised” their customer service, I expected to get help.

They could just add a “warning” to their sales page for the server that said, “You’ll need to understand how to configure your server on your own. Optionally you can hire us to do it for you.”

If I would’ve read that before making the purchase, I wouldn’t be so frustrated with them now.

You cannot always cater to your customers’ every need and desire. But when you can’t, you need to try, and then explain why you can’t do it.

Don’t please everyone

Many businesses fall into the trap of trying to please everyone. It’s not going to happen. You can only ever hope to please a small portion of people.

You should deliver what those people want. And do it well. When you attempt to please everyone, you will probably become mediocre at everything. And you’ll end up pleasing no one.

All marketing should target someone, not “the general public” or “the masses”. It’s possible you’ll end up selling to “the masses”, but there’s a squirrel’s chance on an eight-lane highway you’ll get “the masses” to embrace your product immediately after launch.

This is what GoDaddy has done. They’ve become so big, they can profitably “target” everyone. They offer the lowest prices and a variety of services. But they do nothing particularly well (except pricing).

Then there’s Synthesis, a high-end web host. They offer hosting options for WordPress users. And they do this one thing exceptionally well.

If you’re just starting a blog, you’ll run away from their site when you see the prices. But if you’re serious about creating a blog and you want the best solution for it, then they offer just the right thing. (They don’t even offer email because “it’s not their thing”.)

What’s your thing?

What is it that customers buy from you? Is it quality? Is it cheap prices? Is it the experience? Figuring this out might be the most important thing you can do for your business.

Don’t waste your resources advertising something you won’t deliver. Instead focus intently on your core idea; what you’re the best at.

To survive you need to be the best at what you are about. But that’s not enough. You also need to understand how to make people believe you’re the best.

Check out the Premeditated Marketing Guide for ideas on how to get your message heard and believed.

 

And finally tell what is your thing. What is your business about, really. Do you compete on price or quality or something else? Share your story in the comments below.

Email Customer Contact: What to do With Your Last Email

This is the fifth and last post in the five-part series on email customer contact.

Yesterday’s post was about getting the customers looking for answers to buy your products. Today it’s about leaving a good impression. And to be remembered when they need your services next.

The point of your last email is leaving a good memory. Say just, “Thanks” (or something else equally non-memorable) and it’s okay, but you can do better than “okay”.

One current example is the holiday wishes. “Merry Christmas” is what almost everyone says in their last email now. But just because of that, you shouldn’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard, “Merry Christmas” a hundred times already this year. And every year before. People don’t pay attention to something that happens hundreds of times.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to wish a merry Christmas. It’s just not memorable. ”Happy Christmas” on the other hand sounds weird enough for you to notice it.

You can say, “merry” if there’s something else interesting in the email. A discount offer, some helpful resources, or even just a recommendation for another product.

Say something the prospect will remember for a while, either “weird” or valuable. I’d rather leave our relationship to where something is expected to happen. Rather than at a point where all business is done.

Customer service people often have an email signature saying something like, “If you have more questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.” That’s again “okay”.

It’s a pretty generic line. It does convey the message, but nothing more. Tweaking it a little would make it more memorable. “I hope I’ve been helpful, but if that’s not the case, I’d be happy to give it another try. So, before you send blood hounds after me, reply to this email and tell me how could I assist you further.”

That’s too much for some people, but please note: people look for genuine human contact when they contact you. Providing that is the single most important goal of all customer service. If a funny signature is what it takes, then do that.

There’s one more important thing about customer service. You should be the last to speak. This is especially true with email. It tells the customer you received their last email and that you took the time to read it and reply. In short: it tells the customer you care about them.

This post concludes the series on email customer service. You can read all the posts here. And please leave a comment. I’d like to know if there’s something missing from this series. Or what you thought about it in general.

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Email Customer Contact: Make the Decision to Buy Easy

This is the fourth post in the five-part series on email customer contact.

In the previous part I explained how to answer questions. This post will explain what you should offer along with the answers. In other words, how to sell to customers looking for answers.

Unless you only have one product, people will ask for help choosing between options. The closer the products are to each other, in terms of functionality, the more confused people are.

An example is web hosting. Shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated servers aren’t something most people understand. Or even want to understand.

The difference is clear to you if you sell the service. But your customers may not see any difference.

Most web hosting companies have carefully explained the differences on their websites and sales pages. But it took me three emails to a hosting company to even remotely understand what the explanations mean. I guess they should’ve read the previous post in this series.

(A hint to web hosting companies: The average blogger doesn’t know how much RAM their server should have. They only know how many visitors and pageviews they approximately get.)

The problem is the language you use. If it takes expertise to understand your explanation, rewrite it. Unless you sell something only a highly trained professional will be interested in, imagine you’re explaining your products to a 7-year old child.

It isn’t enough to make your customer understand your product. They need to understand the difference between your products.

The customer will tell you what’s their interest in your products when they first contact you. They may not spell it out, but it is whatever they focus on. When you explain the differences use the customer’s interest as the metric.

When I contacted the web hosting company, I was interested in loading speed. They missed that and told me how much RAM each option had. I know those two are related, but I don’t know how.

What really surprises me, is how willing companies are to miss out on sales. I was very interested in buying their service but they never told me which service would suit my needs.

So, even if the customer didn’t directly ask for a recommendation you should make one. Don’t make it pushy, just say, “I believe a VPS hosting plan would be best for you at this time. I think so because…”

And finally: make it extremely simple for them to buy. Say something like, “If this option seems good to you, can you please send *required information*, so I can set the service up for you.”

The decision to buy shouldn’t require much thought. Don’t force your customers to think when they don’t want to think.

The last part of this series comes tomorrow. It’s about what you should say in your last contact with the customer.

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