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Apr
22
2014
Are You Trustworthy? Maranda Gibson

There's a lot of rhetoric that surrounds the conversation of "great customer service". I've seen a hundred posts about what makes a company stand out and I've even written a few of those. A couple of weeks ago, a customer that I talk to on a regular basis told me that she trusted me. It resonated with me - what is knowledge about a product unless you're communicating with trust backing up your words.

What makes someone trustworthy? Are we immediately to be fighting against the stigma of negative customer service experiences that we've all had? What can we do to immediately create trust between us and our customers?

Know and Be Upfront About Limitations

If a potential customer calls me and says they need seven thousand lines on a live conference, I am honest about our limitations in that area. This practice doesn't mean that you have to turn the business away but you need to make sure you’re setting the expectations. "Well, no, I'm sorry, we can't do that but here are some other options that might work for you," is a perfect response. Just because you're letting the customer know what they can expect doesn't mean you can't find out more about their needs and try to work a solution into what you can do for them.

Demonstrate Knowledge about Your Products

One of my favorite discussions to have with a customer is to make suggestions that I think are useful for their needs. When someone calls with questions, the expectation is that I will know what I’m talking about and be able to help them navigate the full scope of our products. Doing this allows me to assist a customer in choosing what is going to work best for them. Simply understanding how your product bills, special rates, and additional features goes a huge way in establishing trust with customers.

Communicate Consistent Messages

Consistency is a huge key to being trustworthy to a customer. Chain restaurants are often designed and laid out in the same way so that no matter where you are, you are in a familiar setting. McDonalds is a great example of consistent layout, design, and menu. We have adopted the same philosophy here. No matter who you call and speak to, you will get the same answer for all of your questions. It’s a more challenging approach because we don’t use scripts and much of our success in consistency comes down to our hiring process, but it can be done. Delivering a consistent message on rates, technology, and even limitations will plant and grow the seeds of trust between you and your clients.

The truth about being trustworthy (heh) is that you have to earn it. You may not immediately get that relationship with a customer, but from the first time you interact with them, you should be doing everything you can to gain that trust. What do you do to foster trust between your staff and clients?

Apr
09
2014
How to Manage Twitter During News Worthy Events Maranda Gibson

Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook have been a huge boost to information spreading. More than once, I've seen Twitter get ahead of the regular media channels like television when it comes to breaking events. This can be a great thing but there can be some drawbacks when it comes to sharing information on your social networks. Before you go to rush sending or retweeting something, here are three things to double check before you push out a notification to your followers.

Verify before you Retweet

One of the worst things about Twitter is the desire to be "first" on a breaking event. We all make mistakes when we RT things, but there are some people who will see buzz around a topic, go to a Google images search, and retweet an old or incorrect photo of something. Before you hit that send button, make sure that the image you are sharing isn’t from a prior event being incorrectly associated to something current. Additionally, make sure whatever tidbit you are about to send is true. The University of Washington recently published a study that showed the rapid spread of misinformation in the wake of 2013’s Boston Marathon Bombing.

Credit the Right Person

As images and updates start to make their way around, sometimes the image ends up not getting credited to the right person. Recently, a striking photo was taken from a Frisco Rough Riders game and was tweeted out by a local news organization. The picture gained traction quickly and even landed on the front page of the popular sports blog, Deadspin. The problem is that the image wasn’t sourced to the person who took the picture and originally posted it. When a photo is posted, unless otherwise stated, the rights to that photo are from the original person who sent it out and failing to properly credit could land you in copyright trouble with Twitter.

Check the Timestamp

It’s important when you’re sharing information during a newsworthy event that you are only sharing the most recent information. During severe weather awareness week, the National Weather Service conducted a test of retweets and Facebook shares with a “mock” tornado warning. The good news was that the message reached over 800,000 people on both networks – the bad part was that was over a time period of twelve hours, when the average advance notice on a tornado warning is 15 minutes. Before you hit the RT button, take an extra second to see how old it is. In terms of a tornado warning, if it’s older than thirty minutes, it’s out of date and doesn’t need to be sent. It’s the same with any other breaking news event – things change quickly and before you retweet, you need to ensure that you’re sending only the most recent updates.

Do you pause before you hit the send button? What do you do to make sure that being first doesn’t mean that you are sending out old or incorrect information?

Mar
17
2014
Four Inexpensive Tools for Customer Service Maranda Gibson

If you're considering reevaluating your customer service strategy your main focus is figuring out where you can improve. A business' customer service strategy is not just about what information you're giving customers.

If you want to change your customer service philosophy, here are four inexpensive tools you can implement right away to make a change. I can give the seal of approval on all of these because we use them right here at AccuConference.

Knowledge

One of the most important parts of customer service is that your employees are familiar with your product and your company. When a customer calls in with a question or a concern, your goal is to make sure this is the only call that has to be made. Getting it right the first time makes a big impact on your customers and step one is educating your employees.

Trust

One of the best things you can do is trust your employees and this starts at the very beginning of a hiring process. We have a very specific hiring process that helps us to determine candidates that have the same philosophies and feelings about customer service that we have as a company, and because of this my managers trust me to handle some things on my own and to take a concern to a higher level when I need to.

Voice

This is AccuConference and we are not the droids you’re looking for. (Hah!) We don't use scripting. Sure, we have standard responses to things, but they aren't the product of a script, they are the product of our experience. This is a big difference. Not being on a script gives us the chance to develop a rapport with customers and let them get to know us.

No Bait, Just Fish

An advertisement, whether it is a commercial, a print ad, or even a tweet sets a tone and an expectation with your customers. If you can't deliver on a promise made in an advertisement, then you're suddenly in a position where your first interaction with a potential customer may be viewed as a deception. This isn't a good way to start a relationship and can take a lot of extra work to repair. This is why when someone sets up an account with us they find a low rate, all of our features, and our undivided attention.

How do you approach customer service?

Mar
13
2014
Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Customer Mary Williams

Sometimes we can say things that can be taken the wrong way. When helping a customer, what we say can be the difference between resolving an issue the customer is having or making the customer furious and escalating it. There are words that can have a certain tone or connotation that we may not recognize when we say them.

Blog writer, Keith Agnew, lists words that he believes can kill your credibility. And he makes a valid point with one word in particular. When you start a sentence with the word “actually”, it can potentially have a condescending tone. That’s something you want to avoid when speaking with customers. For example, if you have a customer who believes they have paid their balance in full when they really short paid their bill, you may be tempted to start your rebuttal with “Actually…”. You’re probably just stating a fact, but the customer might think you are being patronizing. Instead, empathize with the customer’s frustration and start your sentence off with something like “I’m sorry for the confusion…” or “Let me see what happened…”. You’ll end up saving the customer the irritated feeling of not being heard and you still get your point across.

Another phrase you shouldn’t use would be “We can’t do that”. Even if you can’t do what the customer is asking for, giving them a flat no isn’t going to solve anything. The customer knows that you can’t perform miracles, but they do like it when you’re able to come up with a solution that fits their needs. I had a customer who needed to have an international call and wanted to use our International Toll-Free Service on their account. There was a problem though. They had a custom conference line with a custom greeting and they would lose the greeting if I added the service to their account. Instead of telling the customer “We can’t do that”, I started my sentence with “The only problem with doing that is…” and explained to them the reason why we couldn’t keep the custom greeting if they switched. I then suggested that they could still have their international call and keep their custom greeting if the moderator outdials to their international participant. Instead of telling the customer we couldn’t do something, I provided a reason why what they wanted wouldn’t work and offered a reasonable solution.

There’s a list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer when you are trying to help fix their problem. People have even written books about customer service etiquette. Which tells me that those who recognize the importance of what they say and how they say it will have a better chance with understanding their customers’ needs. What words are on your list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer?

Mar
03
2014
The Fake Smile Debbie Vaught

Only those who know you, recognize it. It is a disguise to protect you and mask your true reaction. It is frequently used when facing a loss; whether it is a job, a promotion, a loved one, your youthful appearance or even your hair.

Recently, I had a fake smile day. I found myself dreaming most of it and not getting much done. I am a "Doer" not a "Thinker", so checking off a list at the end of the day has always been important. This day, I allowed myself to dream. Dream of what could have been, should have been and what I still want to be. I allowed my dreams rather than my actions to be a better part of the day. It made me cherish existence a little more when I was able to snap back to reality.

I started my day with a fake smile and somewhere along the way. I felt the smile and allowed it to be real. I set this feeling free. It is a not a great day, but I challenge myself to make it a good day, because I realize that life is a gift and a dream can make it even better. If you can use the fake smile long enough, it may evolve into you actually feeling like smiling. And if you take some time to dream, you may find a reason to smile.

Feb
24
2014
Follow Your Instincts in Customer Service Maranda Gibson

A few weeks ago, something interesting and terrifying happened while refilling my gas tank. When I looked down, there was a puddle of gasoline under my SUV and gas was dripping down the wheel well. Since defects in gas tanks are actually pretty rare I suspected that it had to be overflow from when I was filling up.

Still, something didn't feel right. Even as I told myself that it was simply an overflow issue, I didn't fully accept it as the answer. After driving a block and half, I realized my miles to empty display had dropped nearly ten miles. I decided to take the vehicle to the dealership and lo and behold, there was a crack in part of my tank that needed to be replaced.

Cracks and defects in the gas tank are rare in vehicles. Who knows what could have happened if I had continued to drive around slowly dripping gas? I went with my instinct that something was horribly wrong, and I was completely right.

Instincts are a huge factor in why and how we do something. No matter if you want to call it your intuition, sixth sense, or your gut feeling, we do put a lot of importance on our instincts. They are a piece of us and driven by our personality and our makeup, so there are different instinctual reactions for everyone. Using your personal instinctual reactions at certain time when dealing with customers can be a boost to how you provide service for them.

Jump in When It's Right

If your instinct is telling you that your customer needs help, don't be afraid to go with your gut and jump in. Recently, I was walking a customer through some of the steps and after some of his questions indicated he needed a little extra help, I offered to put his invitation together for him. I want my customers to learn how to do things and I'm highly dedicated to not just answering their questions, but educating them on how everything works. There is a time and a place for education, but there is also a time for taking care of it so the customer doesn't have to.

Step Away When It's Not

It is possible to be unable to adequately communicate with a customer. As a customer, you think you're asking all of the right questions. As the operator, you feel like you're answering them, but you're both getting frustrated. Letting the customer talk to someone else doesn't mean that you're passing the buck, it means that you’re going to send the customer to someone that might have a better approach. We all learn differently, we all have ways that we are comfortable, and there might come a time when you are not able to speak to the customer in the way they need. Don't be afraid to step away from a client if your instinct is telling you that the conversation is going downhill fast.

In Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, he talks about how our spontaneous decisions can sometimes be better than the ones where we agonize over every little detail. Once we become an "expert", according to Gladwell, we can "thin slice" and use limited information to make a decision. This cuts out a lot of the information that can sometimes cause us to over think a solution. Instincts are a powerful tool in making a decision.

Do you trust your instincts?

Feb
17
2014
Three Ways to Boost Your Conferences in 2014 Maranda Gibson

Towards the end of 2013, I had a customer call in and ask me one simple question: "Is there anything we’re not taking advantage of?" There are a number of features we include, but customers might not know about. We went over a couple of things that I noticed he wasn’t using and suggested using things like web conferencing and conference call recording for his calls in 2014.

Here are three of my favorite features to suggest to customers.

Brand Your Conference Calls

Add a custom greeting to your conference line so you can brand your events to your company. You can also use it to share news and events. It’s easy to do and we can update the message as often as you like. A lot of our customers like this option because the participant knows who is hosting the conference and is reassured that they have dialed into the right call.

Custom Hold Music / Greetings

A customer in financial planning uses custom hold music to play a recorded message about the different services his company offers. This is a great use of a free option to turn the waiting room before the conference begins into a virtual billboard. You can also upload some of your own music and participants can jam out while they wait for the call to begin.

Registration Pages

One of our customers sets up luncheon events and uses registration pages as part of their invitation. These pages can be fully customized to add your logo, images, links to your site, speaker information, and more. Using a registration page lets you track attendance and know if you’re marketing your conferences to the right audiences by giving you a metric to measure your response rate.

All of these features can be a part of your next call with AccuConference. If you have questions about them, please give us a call 800.989.9239, or just give us a call to see if there’s anything more you can do with your conferences to get your participants involved. (Seriously, we like helping you.)

Jan
28
2014
Is Your Smartphone Making Life Worse Maranda Gibson

I love my iPhone and my iPad. I use them to listen to music, play games, text with my friends and family – in fact, I can freely admit that I will choose to text someone rather than make a phone call. It's quick, it’s easy, and it doesn't distract me from something else. Recently, I realized that I checked my phone before I walked out to go down to my car and once I got into the drivers' seat, I checked it again.

Why? Did I really think I was going to miss something that was that important in a time span of three minutes? No, I didn't, but I’m addicted to checking my phone.

Recent studies suggest that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day.

We use these kinds of devices for everything. We keep our lives organized in the calendar applications, read all of our books on screens, and we share messages and videos with friends and family right from the palms of our hands. It's great to live in an age where being able to talk to my brother while he was deployed was as simple as an internet connection, but our reliance on technology is not all fun and games.

Smartphones have recently been proven to cause insomnia. Harvard researchers published results on how our dependency on technology has crept to the bedroom and is now throwing off our body's "light-dark cycle", which is spurning an increase in insomnia. Head researcher, Charles A. Czeisler, reports that as we expose ourselves to more artificial lights we "dramatically changed the timing of our endogenous circadian rhythms."

Overexposure to devices that think for us have caused an interesting phenomenon dubbed by Psychology Today as "The Google Effect". Research from a 2011 study found that people are encouraged to think less as we have more access to search engines right in our hands. Have you ever watched a movie and thought "hey I know that guy" and then turned to Google to type in a long and vague question to see what pops up, rather than trying to recall his face in your memory bank? That is the Google Effect.

Your brain at rest can actually be one of your most creative and productive times. Research in the early 1990s showed that your brain never really stops, even when your body is at rest. A resting state allows your brain to entertain ideas that seem random in nature. In contrast, when you are focused on a detailed activity, your brain devotes most of its energy to the task at hand. I think that being constantly tired to a device limits the ability of our brains (at least my brain) to allow those random thoughts and ideas to flow.

It’s not just your brain and creativity that can suffer from overuse of your smartphone. An Auckland chiropractor reports a rise in cases of cervical kyphosis. The curvature of your spine at the neck is developed as baby during "tummy time" when you practice holding your head up. Cervical kyphosis is the straitening of the vertebrae at the base of your neck, and many medical professionals are cautioning cell phone users to the dangers of looking down all of the time.

That's not to say that smartphones don't do a lot of good for us and social networks. Studies have been conducted after disasters (like tornadoes) that give credit to social networks and text messages for helping to get messages to those in the paths of dangerous weather to seek shelter.

The development of applications for your phone range from games to technology that allows you to save money – like with the Nest learning thermostat or can even keep your medical information on hand in the event of something happening to you. Applications allow you to store your current medications, dosages, and even if you have an allergies. In the event of an emergency, EMTs or doctors can have quick access to your medical history so that they can best attend to you when you arrive at the emergency room.

Smartphones can enrich our lives but I think it's always important to remember that too much of a "good" thing can be bad. Change your habits by putting away your phone for thirty minutes to an hour when you get home and letting your brain "idle" or delete applications that you’re constantly checking.

Are you up to the challenge? (I don’t know if I am but I'm going to try.)

Jan
14
2014
How Your Brain Drives Productivity and Focus Maranda Gibson

There comes a point in our day where we have a task to do and we simply cannot get our brains to cooperate. Maybe there’s a batch of emails you need to send out or there’s a meeting you just can’t get excited about. I've always just attributed it to just not being excited about the particular task at hand.

In marketing, we have to communicate with people – talk, email, think, conference, brainstorm, send smoke signals, or whatever. One of the things we don’t always think about is that we might be trying to do the wrong tasks at the wrong time. Research studies have shown that it’s not what you’re doing but when you’re choosing to take on a particular task.

Science may seem boring but if you understand what’s happening in your brain at any point in the day, you can get the most out of the chemicals buzzing across your brain.

Relationship building should be the focus of your first few hours at work. High levels of oxytocin make you feel connected and cuddly to the world. You can harness this hormones power by reaching out to clients, writing thank you notes, or engaging on social media. Oxytocin is a hormone that is more related to your personal relationships with family members or significant others, but you can take action while your levels are high and you’re at work.

Creative activities are the most effective in the mid-morning hours. Have you ever wondered why cleaning or crafting is a stress reliever? The hormone cortisol (the “stress hormone”) will help your brain focus on tasks and prime you for learning. Since cortisol is highest in the mid-morning hours, it’s the perfect time to plan out that presentation, do research for an upcoming infographic, or sit down to write that blog post that you just know is going to break the Internet.

Save difficult or complicated tasks for after lunch. The hours just before and after lunch time can be your most productive. The melatonin levels (the “sleep hormone”) will be on the decline at this time of day and you will have the mental focus and drive to take on the world. Melatonin levels can be affected by the kind of meal you have and how much you eat, so make good decisions at lunch time to keep the sharpness. This is the time to focus on those emails you send out, scheduling conference calls, or making pitches to your clients and bosses. This is the time of day where you are sharpest and ready for success.

Collaborate at the end of the day. By late afternoon, your brain is on a natural downswing which makes it the best time of day for laid-back activities like a brainstorming session. This is another good time to engage on social media because you’re feeling friendly and laid back. If you spent your morning re-tweeting or sending out links, this is a good time to talk directly to your followers.

Obeying your brains needs and desires at home is just as important as at work, because everything you do once you get home will have an effect on your next day at work. Start by getting a better night of rest.

  • Exercise before 6 PM so adrenaline levels will be down before you go to sleep.
  • Repetitive activities like doing puzzles will help you wind down for bed time.
  • Eating late at night will cause problems with your sleep schedule as your body metabolizes the food.
  • Practice darkness therapy to get better sleep. Put down the cell phone, turn off the television, and cover light emitting objects in your room with electrical tape. (I have done this and it’s worked great!) The light sources actually prevent your body from making melatonin at the times it needs to, which can prevent you from getting a good night of sleep.

To be more productive both at work and at home you must listen to your brain. It will tell you what you need. Do you base your tasks around the peaks of your brain power or do you just work down the list? Is it possible to get more out of your hours by letting your chemicals control you?

Jan
10
2014
Information Gap Debbie Vaught

I put my fingers in my ears and sing La La La La to keep from getting information I do not want to know. Or, I just hold out my hand and repeatedly say stop it, stop it, stop it, in hopes of drowning out sounds. I use these tactics when I do not want to hear an ending of a movie or am in a haunted house. Probably not the most mature response, but it works when you are on the spot. Effective, sometimes funny, but not the right etiquette for work.

Over a phone conversation, it’s hard to gauge interest and engagement. You cannot tell if your clients have their fingers in their ears or their mouth partly open trying to find a point to interrupt. Are you answering their question or are you giving your answers?

Good way to test it is to stop talking and listen. If they have called, then they have something to say. If it is more than one request, then have a means to write it down without interrupting them. Once they finish speaking (there will be silence for a couple of seconds), I go over the points or questions and answer them one by one, making sure that they have received a complete understanding and a clear answer before moving to the next one.

Did that answer your question? Does this help to understand how it works? Is this the service you were looking for? Do you have any questions on what we just reviewed? I find this a more of an effective way then interrupting or answering before you know the question.

As Judge Judy says, "You have one mouth and two ears for a reason". We are all experts in our fields. To be better influences, determining what they know versus what they need takes the power of listening.

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