What’s Changing in Customer Service? The Top 5 New Things That Customers Want

We all know that good customer service is paramount to growing a business and increasing profitability. What many managers are failing to realize, however, is that rapid changes in technology have lead to equally rapid changes in the delivery of quality customer service.

In addition to the basics we all have heard time and again, there are five new areas of customer service that should be addressed to keep customers happy.

What do customers say?

1) Preserve me from auto-attendant hell! Customers are becoming increasingly annoyed and frustrated with having to sift through a multitude of options and press numerous buttons only to be told that the desired service is only available through the companys website. Worse is when the auto-attendant uses voice recognition but doesnt recognize your voice.

Its understandable that companies want to reduce costs by using attendants and, theres no question that these are valuable tools. Yet, people want to connect with human beings; they dont want to listen to a long list of prompts especially not if they are having a problem (and lets face it, thats what usually triggers the call in the first place). To keep customers happy, here are few simple tips:

-> Always make it easy for customers to reach a human being.
-> Give people the option of voice prompt or touch prompt.
-> If you do use an auto-attendant, limit the number of menus to two rounds of choices before the customer reaches a human being.
-> If you have asked the customer to key in account information, transfer the profile along with the call.
-> If the call has been answered by a company rep, and needs to transfer the call to another department, do not put the customer back into a long queue. Instead, let your customer service rep be able to jump the front of the line, and get them to stay on the call with the client until the next person has picked up. Once this happens, the first rep should introduce the caller and give rep #2 a prcis of the situation so the customer doesnt feel like he or she is having to start all over again.

2) Dont make me wait more than a couple of minutes in a phone queue. Many companies are making clients wait 15 minutes or more in a phone queue. Anything more than 2-3 minutes is considered unacceptable by more than 80% of customers surveyed.

3) Dont make me quote chapter and verse about my account to get simple information. In these days of increased white collar crime, it is reasonable, and sensible, for companies to protect their customers by ascertaining that they are dealing with the correct person before discussing an account. However, 3 questions should be the limit. Beyond that, it takes up too much time (costing the company money) and only frustrates your client.

4) Give me more flexibility in how I contact you. As communication options increase, so should the options that customers have for contacting your company. Offer clients the choice of scheduling appointments by going on-line or using their PDA to access a special appointment site. Let customers send a text message or e-mail to request that customer service call them within the hour. Enable customers to access their accounts on-line and give them the ability to change billing and service options while there. Giving customers (who want it) the ability to interact more with their accounts will make them happier and has the added benefit of saving companies money and employee time.

5) Dont tell me how I have to deal with you. Right now there are multiple generations of customers which means multiple ways in which people want to interact with companies. Dont force everyone into the same mold, or you risk alienating at least one of the generational groups. It makes no sense to tell someone who is older and computer-phobic that they can only get their bills on-line (and yes, a large percentage of people 60 years and older does not trust on-line banking and account management in any form) just as it could cost you a customer if you were to tell a Gen Xer that there is no on-line access to their accounts. More than ever its important to know how your customers want to be treated and do deal with them their way.

When Customers Complain

You probably won’t have been in business too long before you get your first complaint. It just can’t help but happen: low-end customers pay nothing and expect the Earth, while high-end ones pay a lot but expect an inhuman effort in return. You just can’t please all of the people all of the time, even if you run yourself ragged trying — there will always be someone who’s not happy with what you’ve done. So what can you do about it?

Don’t Be Rude or Dismissive.

The customer’s complaint might seem stupid to you, or even insulting — but that doesn’t mean that you can respond in kind. You must treat every customer complaint seriously, and always act as if it is 100% your fault that things weren’t to their satisfaction.

Remember that every unhappy customer will talk about their experience to your potential customers (research varies, but some say that they might tell as many as 20). Those potential customers won’t get to hear your side of the story. Going the extra mile to keep unreasonable customers happy is, above all else, a defensive technique to prevent them from damaging your business. Don’t be scared of complaints: you should, instead, be actively soliciting them, to give you a chance to put things right before they tell anyone.

Write a Letter of Apology.

People will really appreciate the effort you’ve gone to if you take the time to write them a formal letter of apology, and say that you’re sorry things weren’t to their satisfaction and you appreciate them taking the time to tell you so that you can improve. For example:

‘Dear Sir,

It has come to my attention that you weren’t happy with the service you received from my company in respect of the delivery of items to your home. We have now contacted our delivery service and fixed the issue, although I understand that this came too late to avoid inconveniencing you.

I would like to sincerely apologise to you for the bad experience you have had with my company, and hope that this will not harm our chances of doing business together again in the future.’

Make sure you sign the letter yourself, in pen. People hate seeing letters with printed signatures on.

Offer a Partial Refund.

The closing part of your letter should offer a refund of as much as you can afford to give — in this scenario, for example, where there was a problem with delivery, you should offer to refund the full cost of delivery, plus a little extra to cover the inconvenience.

In this way, you can turn your dissatisfied customers into some of your most satisfied ones. They will tell everyone they know that there was a small problem that wasn’t your fault, and they probably complained too harshly, but you handled it courteously and sent them a refund.

Having people know that you respond well to complaints is some of the best word-of-mouth marketing you can get. What’s more, that customer you treated well is surprisingly likely to come back and do business with you again — although, of course, they’ll be very annoyed if things don’t go well the second time either.

Do Some Complaining Yourself.

A large amount of the time, when a customer complains about something, it wasn’t caused by you — it was some kind of problem with your supplier, or someone else you rely on. Of course the customer didn’t know this, but you do, and you need to do something about them. Write them a letter of complaint, like the following:

‘Dear Sir or Madam,

Due to your service being unavailable this week, I have received the attached customer complaints. I hope you will understand that I am very displeased, and I am currently considering alternative suppliers.’

With this letter, enclose a copy of every customer complaint you got thanks to them. Your supplier will often be eager enough to keep you on as a customer that they will offer some kind of compensation package — which you can then pass on to your customers, or use to cover the cost of refunds you have already given them.

Where Has Customer Service Gone?

Whatever happened to the adage “The customer is king or queen”? or the customer is always right. Not anymore. Companys representatives seem to delight in arguing with and stone-walling customers and some even brag on their blogs about early morning and late evening calling just to upset customers to set them up for their day.

What kind of individual gets kicks from this kind of behavior? Do they even think before they call the reaction of the customer they call and whom they might come in contact with that day? Is this kind of action possibly more legal liability just waiting to happen?

Road Rage is so common in our society now… whats next- Telephone Tantrum? Will this also be a psychiatric diagnosis and a legally defendable offense? I would almost bet on it!

Credit card companies are the amongst some of the worst offenders and now, if one is a good, pay your bills on time and in full customer they dont want you and in fact, are considering penalizing the “good customer” by charging them an annual fee to use their card. Seriously?

It truly amazes and stuns me how deplorable customer service has become. Its such an oxymoron… customer and service dont go together anymore; there is no service for the customer it is all about the companys way to make money, more profit. Dont companies care anymore about the way that they are perceived? The only power and voice the customer has left is not to be a companys customer anymore and when that happens there will be no need for the bottom-line, making money/profit, customer service or the CEO; therefore no more company.

I have always been a positive person and I try to look at both sides of every situation. Do I have suggestions and offer solutions. ABSOLUTELY! When I have had an excellent experience with customer service I tell them so and thank them as well as telling everyone that I come in contact with what a great company, service or product they have. Lately, I have been silent… wonder why?

Why Do Your Customers Complain and What Can You Do About It?

As the Internet becomes an increasing part of our lives there are a growing number of web sites which are run for dissatisfied customers to publicly air their complaints about bad service. See your name posted on these sites or get contacted by them and you know you have a problem!

How can you prevent your business from becoming feature of the week? Of all the skills small business owners need these days, the one least practiced is the ability to step back and look at your business from the customers perspective.

Having an effective complaint handling process is important but that is the equivalent of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted its too late, your customer has already suffered.

Its more effective to know what your customers could potentially complaint about and put it right before it happens.

So what are the common reasons for customer complaints? Mark Bradley of Customer Service Network (www.customernet.com), which facilitates in benchmarking, improving processes and implementing improvements to help reduce customer complaints, says,
Financial loss is the obvious reason but the rest can be split into operational and emotional reasons.

In this article we will look at some of the operational and emotional or human issues within your business which could give your customers cause to complain. Take a look at these and examine each part of your business. How do you stand up?

You didnt do what you promised.

When did you last review your advertising material or web site? Do they contain service promises which sounded great at the time but have since been forgotten? For example, do you promise to deliver within 24 hours but changes in processes have meant that is no longer possible? No one may have complained yet but sooner or later someone will.

Your product didnt do what its supposed to do.

When did you last undertake a quality check of your product? Random checks can help weed out poor quality workmanship before a customer spots it. When buying your stock or finished item do you test it?

Youre never open when I need you.

9 to 5, 5 days a week may have been acceptable when you first started out, but is this still what the customer wants? Check with your customers they may want you to open later and close later.

Its a long time before someone answers the phone.

Hanging on the phone while it rings and rings is very irritating. It conjures up images of staff sitting drinking coffee and chatting; not the impression you want to portray and not the way to put customers in a buying mood! Do your staff understand the importance of the phone being answered promptly?

Whenever I ring in and get transferred to another person I often get cut off.

Have your staff been trained in getting the best out of your phone system? Do all staff have a handy list of extension numbers to avoid annoying sorry wrong department answers? Ask a friend or business colleague to ring in and take note of what happens good and bad.

Mark Bradley says, We usually encounter a number of interesting correlations that fundamentally prove that operational accuracy leads to customer satisfaction.

Take some time to look at your business from the customers perspective and you should be able to stop customer complaints before they hit your desk.

Its not only the operational side of the business which can let you down; the human side of business can also generate complaints your staff! No matter how good your product is one loose cannon in your team can upset everything. What actions can your staff take that can lead to a customer picking up the phone or putting pen to paper?

Bad Attitude

Theres no getting away from it some people have a bad hair day every day! The way they speak to people is enough to turn the most mild mannered of customers against your company. They act as if the customer is an interference to their daily routine. A person with poor job skills can be taught the relevant knowledge or skills but a person with a generally bad attitude, the proverbial chip on the shoulder, is harder to bring into line.

These type of people are the ones who never acknowledge your presence when you are standing in front of them, or still chat away on the phone The solution? Get them away from your customers.

Not Willing To Seek a Solution

These people are the ones who may acknowledge a customers problem but just cant be bothered to find a solution; its too much hassle. The stock answer is, I cant help. Its company policy. Their favourite words are I cant, Yes, but, wont, shouldnt. They can find nothing positive to help the customer. If this happens, your customers walk away thinking you are a cant do instead of a can do business.

Not Giving Full Product Explanations

Your product may be the best in the world, but if it doesnt do what the customer wants then you have one unhappy purchaser. Lack of understanding of how the product or service meets the customers requirements could be down to your sales staff being too anxious for a sale persuading the buyer that the product is just right when it clearly doesnt fit what the client needs. This is partly down to sales training but also attitude. Do you want staff that are happy to sell to your customers on this basis?

Not Willing To Admit a Mistake

Isnt it refreshing to hear someone say, Do you know, youre right. We really messed this up. If you get this as an opening line when making a complaint, you immediately know youre in business. However, sometimes getting a business to admit it has made a mistake is like pulling teeth. If youre in the wrong, get your staff to own up and say, Yes, we were wrong, it can take away the emotion which sometimes blocks successful resolution of complaints.

Not Keeping You Up To Date

In any effective complaint handling process, everything can be done according to the book, but it can all be thrown away if the client is not kept up to date. A complaint, followed by days of silence, allows doubt and anger to bubble up again. It may be that the person handling the complaint had a bad time when taking the initial query; hes not motivated to pick up the phone and engage in another torrent of abuse! However, not speaking to the client can only make matters worse, and so guaranteeing that the next call will be even more interesting! Get strong characters to front your complaints, people who are not intimidated and are happy to solve problems.

Broken Promises

This is probably the most frequent reason for human cause of complaint; Yes, Ill do that for you. Leave it to me. What happens? Nothing! The impression given is that your staff just dont care, or that the customer is not important. Impress upon your staff the importance of following through on their promises. Any broken promise will compound a complaint.

So, in what areas are your staff letting you down? Are you doing everything to ensure your staff are treating everyone as loyal customers? Listen to what your staff are saying, and listen to what your customers are telling you. Get the human side of your complaint process right and you have more chance of keeping your customers for life.

The art of complaint handling is not only resolving it to the customers satisfaction; its also about taking action on what you find out and being proactive in finding potential problems before they become problems.

Why does every company need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management)?

First, lets define what a CRM is: The term Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a system that connects different parts of a company through the thread of customer relationships. Sales, Marketing, Accounting and Customer Service can all be tied together with a powerful, centralized CRM software made to retain customer loyalty, increase revenue, deliver consistent and efficient customer service, and finally, evaluate which customers to focus on.

Basically, every company has customers, and every company should maintain some basic information about those customers such as names, addresses, purchases, contracts, invoices, etc. Therefore every company should have at least some basic “CRM Technology” to track and serve their customers. Even small businesses use Outlook, Quicken or other applications for this purpose. If you use Microsoft Outlook for your daily communications, calendaring, tasks and appointments and need a way to track sales leads and opportunities, to share data across sales representatives, to improve the understanding of your sales process, to communicate with a broad groups of people on a one to one basis, to improve your business process in the most important area sales, and need a reporting system that beats multiple excel spreadsheets, then you need a complete CRM solution.

Why ? Because a CRM software can increase profitability for your business by reducing current operating costs, usually in the call center or distribution system, and by increasing customer value through smarter marketing using customer data to increase customer profitability.

Can you do it without a CRM ? Probably, but not as efficiently because only a CRM is built to take care of Customer personal needs centrally, meaning that by using a single software, all the employees of the same company can access an organised database via Internet, where sales, customer service and management have access to the same customer data using tools such as Sales Force Automation (provides Lead Management, Opportunity Management, Account and Contact Management, Reports and Dashboards specifically useful for your organization’s sales team), Customer Support and Services (provides Ticket Management, Knowledge Base, E-mail Notifications specifically useful for your organization’s customer support team.), Marketing Automation (provides Lead Management, Mailing Lists, E-mail/Mail Merge templates, Product Management, specifically useful for your organization’s marketing team.), Inventory Management (provides Products, Price Books, Vendors, Quotes, Purchase Orders, Sales Orders, and Invoices specifically useful for integrating your organization’s sales, inventory, and accounting processes and enhance the sales effectiveness.) , providing a complete integration between pre-sales, post-sales, procurement, fulfillment, and other business processes within your organization.

In other words, a good CRM software will help you build customer relationships by setting mutually satisfying goals between organization and customers, establishing and maintaining customer rapport and producing positive feelings in your organization and for the customers.

Organizations that implement CRM and turn their business into e-businesses will find their competitors’ customers ready to welcome them with a “smile”. According to a study by IT Consulting firm Aberdeen – “The winners in this new economy will be those companies that can effectively leverage the Internet to redesign, automate and integrate all business operations”.
Take the plunge!

Either jump on board with CRM and invest, knowing you need it, or get out the calculator and pencil and start adding up what youre going to lose!

One thing is for certain a few short months after implementing your CRM solution, youll wonder how on earth you ever got by without it!

Why you need an Answering Service?

The integral role played by the telephone as a business communication tool accounts for the growing importance of answering service businesses. All businesses, whether a physician’s private practice, a small construction company, or a conglomerate, rely on the telephone as one of the fastest and most reliable communication tool in their businesses.

Anyone with a busy schedule and a telephone needs an answering service! Answering service can be a real lifesaver to a small business. Many small businesses have neither the time nor the means to take incoming calls during business hours when they are out on jobs — yet those calls represent the very lifeblood of their business! They cannot afford an office; much less a secretary, but they certainly need those phone calls. Unless they can find a reliable and affordable answering service, they will probably have to do without (or ask people to call them only after 7 PM) or use an answering machine (which has a whole set of disadvantages).

Yes, you indeed can use an answering machine but the fact is that people really do not like to talk to machines, if they are unable to reach a human voice easily, they will go somewhere else its a lost business opportunity.

Fortunately, employers are recognizing this problem and solving it by contracting people to answer the phones when they cannot do it themselves. That personal touch you can offer can mean the difference in obtaining or keeping a client. Hiring a professional answering service business assures that you can take messages, deliver specific messages to callers, provide basic information, clarify the intent of calls and even arrange meetings with customers.

Its always in the best interest of small companies to hire an answering service provider to work for the company during the extended business workday, say from 8.00 AM to 8.00 PM or may be even for the rest of the day if your business needs it. Now it doesnt costs an arm or a leg to hire an answering service. Generally, in a competitive market you can get it for as cheap as $30-$50 per month on the lowest slab! So go and hire an answering service provider so that you never lose that customer again.