Evolving Your Business

The World Series wrapped up last week and the San Francisco Giants won by beating the Cinderella-story Kansas City Royals in game seven. If you were paying any attention to sports last week, you surely saw a tweet, read a news story, or caught a clip from the Fall Classic.

What you might not have heard is that in the Arizona Fall League, the MLB is testing some new rules about the pace of game. The regular season of 2014 brought some new changes with the implementation of a new challenge rule in regards to questionable calls made by umpires. It’s still in its infancy but the challenge system has really helped to open a new door in the process of the game, making it less likely that important moments will be decided by a “bad call”.

Intentional walks will no longer require four pitches to be thrown. The manager will be able signal to the umpire and the batter will take his base.

Pitch clocks are being testing as well. Much like a shot clock in the NBA, it will provide the pitcher 20 seconds to get the ball to from the mound to the catcher. Failure to do so will result in a penalty.

Conferences at the mound will be limited to three per game. Right now, the catcher can run out to chat to the pitcher whenever he wishes. A system more like this would be more like the standard time out system in other sporting leagues.

In order to stay competitive, your business has to be willing to grow, change, and evolve with the needs of your customers. Take the MLB example and you’ll see that as they have been unable to pick up the “younger” generations, they are listening to the biggest complaints about their sport – that it’s slow and boring.

Their hope is that some of these new rules being tested can be implemented in the big leagues and lead to more people watching their sport, greater ratings, and better ticket sales.

You can change things like this in your own business if you are willing to listen to suggestions and take criticism. Your customers are the best reviewers of your business that you’ll ever have. They are the ones that will tell you either with comments, emails, or even choosing to take their business to other companies.

Encourage your customers to come to you and speak openly about what they like, don’t like, and even make a wish list for their needs. To be successful you need to be willing to evolve and grow. What are you doing to grow your business through what your customers need?

How to Anticipate Customer Needs

After over ten years in customer service, I have learned a lot about how people communicate and how they find out the information they need. I have also learned that a lot of the time, someone is handed a phone number or website and told to “gather” information and then report back.

Any good customer service experience we have is likely going to involve a lot of questions while we try to find exactly what is needed. We can eliminate some of those questions by simply taking a few quick moments to anticipate their needs. Here are some of the three quickest ways that I anticipate the needs of my customers.

Look For Patterns

We do a lot of operator answered conferences for a particular organization. I noticed a new account in the same industry opened an account online and suggested that we reach out to them to make sure they didn't need an operator answered call. They didn't, but they did need to have a large online event, which required a special set up. Noticing the pattern meant we ended up touching base with the customer instead of assuming they knew what they needed. If we hadn't, given their special need, they would have not been able to have all the people they needed on their conference.

Listen to Your Customer’s Tone

Sometimes, our customers will call us with a last-minute need and if we will just take a quick second to hear their tone of voice, we will know just how quickly we need to move. There are plenty of clients where we can chat with them and take our time to learn what they need, but there are times when customers want us to say "this is what you need and this is how much it costs". You can tell a lot about a customer’s unspoken needs by simply listening to their tone.

Understand the Industries that Need Your Products

We have a number of customers who are in legal related fields – mostly lawyers. For the most part, the lawyers we work with use our reservationless conferences for quick ‘on-the-record’ conferences with witnesses or opposing counsel. Anytime I set up a new account, I let them know about operator out dial conferences (where we call everyone and join them to the call) because when we have out dials, they are almost always law offices. I always like to let them know we do that too, just in case a judge ever asks for that arrangement.

Not only does anticipating your customers’ needs help to grow your business, it’s also a great way to get your customers to talk about you. Loyal and happy customers will talk about the companies they do business with, so start anticipating what your customers.

How does anticipation work in your industry?


How to Fill Out Customer Surveys

In my previous job, customers had the ability to go online and fill out an NPS (Net-Promoter Score) survey on their experience. NPS is a scoring system for customer feedback that determines how likely the customer is to recommend a business based on one or more factors.

On our NPS surveys, the location and employees would be ranked 1-10 on different factors with comment sections. A customer survey is designed to do two things - 1.) Give well deserved kudos to the employees at the counter and 2) keep the employees accountable.

Being the overachiever that I was (er, am), I wanted to get 10s on everything. How could I not? I was always polite, I took good care of my customers, but I learned something about filling out NPS surveys.

You can't please everyone and it seemed like all of those people were renting their cars from our location.

It was rare to get a five and we were a highly rated branch across our area, but it was forever surprising when we would receive a three or below (which triggered a conference call with the area leaders, explaining the reason). Here are some of the reasons why we got three or below on some of our surveys.

  • Did not get the car that was pictured on the website.
  • Someone once got in an accident in a rental vehicle and left a poor review because the accident paperwork took additional time on return.

I think that NPS and other kinds of survey's are a great tool for customers to communicate with the staff about their experiences, whether it be good or bad. I highly suggest that you take the opportunity to fill out a survey or comment card whenever you get the chance. You might think that your representative or management isn't interested, but I promise you that for the most part, those of us in customer service are truly dedicated to our jobs.

If you want your comment card to make a true impression, I have some tips on what gets read, and what gets dismissed. Keep these in mind the next time you fill out your comment card or take a moment for the survey.

Use the Comment Box

If you feel like you need to score the location or business low, that's okay. You're allowed to and I promise that any good business wants to know where they can improve and grow their business. Use the comment box and expand on your thoughts or add more. The simple rankings of 1-10 are great but it might leave a huge question of what you actually expected. The comment box is a great place to give more information to have a better experience next time.

Consider the Question Carefully

Be sure that your responses are going into their corresponding categories. If you had a terrible meal at a really clean restaurant, marking 0 for cleanliness will make it harder for the staff and management to take your comments and ratings into consideration. When filling out your survey make sure that you are marking your comments in the right places.

Rank Locations on Things They Can Control

There are some things that may sully your experience that are out of the business' hands. If you go to restaurant with the hopes of sitting on the patio, but can't because it's raining, it's not appropriate to score your location on something that was completely out of their control.

Please take the opportunity to fill out the survey or talk to the manager (especially when you have a great experience) but even when you don't let the company know so that they can make changes and adjustments for a better experience in the future for you and other customers.

Three Simple Tips for Social Media Crisis Management

The big story over the weekend was Comcast business and residential services being down across the United States. From South Carolina to California, most major metro users experienced a weekend outage that lasted from early Saturday into late Sunday. While watching the issue unfold from my friends on social media, I curiously took a look at the Charter Twitter accounts.

I was surprised to see there had been no update. Doing a search for #charter and #charteroutage showed a lot of customer reaching out over social media and still, the two accounts were silent. In fact, at the time of this writing, they have only addressed the issue in the last twenty-four hours. The lack of reach on social media, complied with the inability of their customer service number to handle the volume of calls left a lot of unhappy customers.

Customer service is not an easy job, especially when there is a crisis. When you’re the one who is responsible for social media, how do you respond to the outcry when something happens over the weekend? If you’re on social media people will find you there and expect a response and for your customers, it doesn't matter if it’s Monday or Sunday afternoon. Here are three quick tips for managing social media when crisis strikes and you’re away from your desk.

Get Alerts

When you manage a social media account, it’s likely that people are going to send you messages when you are not “at your desk”. Part of the responsibility of social media is to have the access to your accounts. To keep an eye on mine, I get email messages when someone sends me a reply, as well as hooking up the account so I also get text alerts. If something is wrong or there is a serious problem, customers will use available channels to get a hold of you. If you’re on social media, that is one of them.

Turn Off Your Auto Messages

One of the things that seemed to upset Charter customers over the weekend was the account of @CharterCom sending out auto responses of a contest. Of course, the debate over auto-tweets will forever continue, but it becomes even more important to be aware of what your accounts are doing in times of crisis. When you’re entire internet system is out nationwide – it’s probably a good time to turn those messages off and respond to the live messages coming in.

Send Out Something

In time of crisis, it’s not always easy to update your customers – especially when you don’t know exactly what the problem is. Since customer service usually is not IT, we get our updates as we can and while issues are being worked through – those updates are always not on a regular basis. IT’s primary concern is fixing the problem. Still, even if you don’t know what the problem is, you should at least send out some sort of notification via social media that an issue exists. @Charter and @CharterCom failed to address the problem at all, which frustrated a lot of their customers.

How do you handle social media in a crisis? Is there a difference in when something happens during the work week versus the weekend?

Secrets to Successful Conference Calls Part Two – The Right Provider


Last week, I talked to you about how planning and execution are important to having a successful conference call. Despite your new found ability to plan a great event, depending on your conference call provider, you could be setting up for a disappointing experience. Not all conference companies are created equally, so here’s a quick little guide to choosing the best provider so that you can have a successful conference call.

How Do You Decide?

In my experience, price is the most common concern for new customers. No matter if they are switching from one company to another, or if they are 100% new to hosting conferences, price is where decisions get made. I understand that – sticking to budgets is important. An excellent rate is imperative, but there is more to consider than just how much you pay per minute. Here are some dos and don’ts of choosing your provider.

DO:

  1. Choose a provider who asks you about what you need / want to do on a conference. This is my favorite question to ask customers, because not only does it help me to define what you need, it also helps me to let you know about other features that are available. If it’s your first conference call and you’re going to have a 300 person conference, I usually suggest an operator assisted event so that you can make sure the call goes smoothly.
  2. Pick the company that provides the quickest response for customer service. When choosing a provider, consider the response time if something doesn’t go correctly. More than once, I’ve had customers switch to AccuConference because other services offered zero customer service. It’s an important consideration in the process, because if there’s an issue, you want someone to answer the phone and be able to work with you to solve the problem.
  3. Shop Around. Most telecommunications providers offer some form of conference call services. However, it never ceases to amaze me when people are shopping around that are currently under contract to pay around 15 and 20 cents per minute. There are better deals with other services, with better reliability. While you’re looking around, take our handy list of questions to use when choosing your conference call provider.

DON'T:

  1. Accept restrictions. We ask to know about any conference that will be over fifty people otherwise you just use the service as you need to. For other companies, that number may be set lower or higher, and could be restricted to the times of day or days of the week. Don’t accept this when you choose a conference company, there are plenty of others.
  2. Use a service that isn't secure. When you choose a provider, you need to find out how their telephones lines work. A lot services will use public lines (and the internet) to route you and your participants to the conference room. A service like ours doesn't use public teleconference lines, so you’re going to have a more secure experience.
  3. Conference without a guarantee. Does the provider you’re choosing have a 100% guarantee on their services? A provider that doesn't work with you when a call doesn't meet your expectations probably doesn't offer customer service the way you need.

You can plan and plot your conference call or online meeting all you want, but without a reliable conference call provider, you and your participants might be disappointed in the outcome. Do ask the right questions and don’t hesitate to call us directly if you have any questions.

Four Inexpensive Tools for Customer Service

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?

Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Customer

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?

Follow Your Instincts in Customer Service

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?

Information Gap

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.

Three Reasons to Start Sending Personalized Thank You Cards

Over the holidays, I went and spent a lovely afternoon with my godson, his parents, and my husband. We exchanged gifts, had lunch, and watched an eager one year old tear into his new blocks. About a week later, I got a handwritten note from my friend thanking us for coming by. She always does that and I think it's one of the most endearing qualities about her (aside from my adorable godson). We're so close and yet, something so simple mattered so much.

It got me thinking about sending thank you cards. We do that for our customers and I've gotten emails back thanking me for the note or someone contacting me for something they had forgotten about until they saw my note. You can go far beyond just a simple "thank you for your business" and if you"re not sending out thank you cards, here are three reasons to add at least one to your daily to-do list.

Add A Personal Touch

Recent research studies show that many of your personality traits are linked to your handwriting. If you write with large and swooping lettering, you're more of an outgoing personality. Including your handwriting to a new customer is a great way to introduce yourself. I bet you never thought of your handwriting as "friendly". If you don't like your penmanship or have been referred to as a "chicken-scratcher" there are exercises you can do to improve or change your handwriting.

Tell Them Something They Don't Know

When I write a thank you letter to a customer, I'm always sure to take a look at their account and see what feature they aren't using. A lot of times, your customer may not know about something that you have to offer and if you mention it (even in passing) it could peak their interest. If someone isn't recording their calls or if they are having large conferences, I always mention operated events. It's a way to present a new feature they might not even know they need.

Stand Out Among the Junk

Our lives are filled with junk, from your spam folder in your email to the new family dentist hanging a flyer on your door (how do they get away with this?). Sending a thank you card in the mail (with a real stamp – very important) brings back that bit of excitement that we had when we were kids and we got to go to the box first. Okay, maybe it's not that exciting, but a hand written card will stand out in that stack of mail, as opposed to the email that might get accidentally deleted.

Adding a single thank you note to your daily list of things can go a long way to making a connection with new or existing customers. Thank them for a new account or thank a customer that's been with you for an entire year. It goes a long way for both your company and the customer. Do you send out thank you cards? How do you decide who gets one?