Customer Satisfaction – A Metric for Success
Recently, at one of the customer service training seminars we now make available to community businesses, an attendee congratulated us for receiving the About.Com 2012 Reader’s Choice Award. He was looking for help in turning the employees at his organization toward the same award-winning customer service-oriented approach that set us apart in an industry both intensely com-petitive and less than forgiving. He asked for more specifics on how we did this. “It’s pretty simple,” I responded. “Our commitment to our customers actually begins even be-fore a purchase is made. We make sure that the products we sell work with the computers we say it will. Then, we take care of every customer, one customer at a time.” The ah-ha moment was when I asked, “And how many firms have the CEO reporting to the cus-tomer on an organization chart?” Customers don’t expect to get bottom-of-the-barrel prices everywhere they go, but they do expect value for every dollar spent and they expect to be treated with respect.
I find the majority of what we do to be common sense. It’s not about market studies or the latest fad – it’s about being innovative with quality products at a competitive price – and being there for our customer before, during and well after the sale.
Proactive – It may sound overly simple; but the best customer service begins with the design, development and supportive materials you produce. We constantly remind ourselves why we’re in business – satisfied customers. Image – Newton’s Law of Influence
For some reason, most companies don’t seem to understand that it’s the being there for the cus-tomer that’s the most important. Before a sale (and during a sale), it’s important to provide the customer with information and advice that results in the best product selection, not just the biggest sales ticket. And following the sale, you need to make sure the customer’s goals have been successfully achieved.
Customer for Life – The goal isn’t to just sell a customer a product but satisfy that customer’s wants/needs to make him or her a customer for life. Image – Parker Wright Group
We seek to have customers for life, and focus on earning their support and trust through while other companies are off busy chasing the next prospect. When I asked our director of customer support which firms in the industry he wanted to have his team compared to, he didn’t even blink an eye. “I want people to say Southwest Airlines, Zappos and OWC are examples of companies that get customer service right… that would be awesome!!!” We’ve looked at outsourcing; but neither of us sees how it even comes close to having a very motivated team providing customer support at our headquarters. Ask any CEO his most chal-lenging task and he/she will say its hiring great talent. For us, that means finding people who are interested in providing the best guidance, assistance, support they possibly can, especially when something isn’t going exactly right. We have a team that cares and engages. The OWC Difference isn’t a scripted interaction. Our team tends to “hire their own,” understanding that their team members have to treat customers who call, email, text, tweet or post to one of our social media pages in a respectful, caring manner. That’s not always easy.
Support Diversity – We’ve found there is no one right person for the OWC service team. There is a great deal of diversity in our organization, but there are common traits that seem to work best.
Our director of customer service has found that great talent comes from a variety of areas such as:
- Teachers making a career change
- Recent graduates who were active in a sport. These individuals tend to be self-disciplined, motivated, great at multitasking, able to overcome adversity, appreciate the value of teamwork
- Ex-military who have learned the value of teamwork, leadership, thinking thoroughly before acting (or saying)
- Young people who have energy, ideas, enthusiasm and want the chance to grow, make a difference
Of course, it takes time and training to make the transition from their former occupation to providing a high rate of First Call Resolutions (FCRs) where the customer’s need is properly addressed the first time they call. But with the correct training and environment, individuals with the aforementioned characteristics will excel and provide the top-level of customer service.
The challenge is every customer is different:
- Some really are technical experts and know how to open their computers and make the necessary repairs/upgrades.
- Some are comfortable with their systems/mobile devices, but like in-depth infor-mation before they tackle an upgrade.
- Some want to do the work themselves but are hesitant and need user-friendly assis-tance.
- Some don’t know what they don’t know, but are positive they know.
That’s why it’s important to add value to the sales proposition that will appeal to the majority of your customers—real value that sets you apart from the competition. For example, the free, US-based 24/7 lifetime support we provide tells customers we want to ensure that they’re completely satisfied with our products for the life of the products. When it comes to adding value, I’d have to say one of the most popular aspects of our overall customer support program is our growing library of now over 200 step-by-step “how-to” videos. The installation guides, which are available free of charge to anyone who visits our site, not just customers, have generated more than 2.2 million views – and that’s only recently since we began counting.
Customers Are People
There’s been a lot of noise about moving contact and support centers to the cloud to take maxi-mum advantage of cutting-edge technologies without a huge investment. It’s been tempting at times; but in going over the customer service reports every week, I come back to the same realization … customers are people! They’re young, old; male, female; white collar, blue collar; people who have a computer or mo-bile device and want to do more with it for as little added expense as possible. To advise and guide each of these individuals through the selling process means literally every-one in the organization has a primary job – engineering, test, marketing, sales, shipping or ac-counting – and a secondary job … customer service. To help our customers make the right decision, install/update their system and get back to their lives, we’ve found most people like the feeling of doing the work themselves. That’s why the support team helps in continually evaluating, updating and improving written documentation as well as our video how-tos. Recently, we were revising some installation documentation and the project engineer didn’t feel some of the changes were necessary because, “Everyone knows that.” Looking up from her weekly customer call reports, one of our stars said, “Not real people.” To her, it’s all about the customer.
Requires Work, Attention
Great customer service doesn’t just happen. It starts with employees who have been trained in the real touch and feel of service. We actually have an internal ‘manual’ on good customer interaction and were successfully able to adapt it for the new customer service training seminars we offer for local customers. In just the past three months, we’ve conducted seminars for doctors’ offices and a print services company.
Listen First – Sometimes our people have to resist the temptation to jump in on a call and tell the person the solution before he or she has expressed the problem or issue as they see it. Listening lets the person know that someone understands, someone cares. One of the things we emphasize is great response starts with great “listening.”
• Set up Google Alerts for your brand and industry keywords.
• Keep a close eye on your Facebook page.
• Listen on Twitter.
• Depending on the type of business you have, read reviews on sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zagat.
• Make a list of any forums or communities where your customers congregate and regularly check in on them.
Expect some criticism and recognize that forum critics are actually doing you a favor. They’re helping you learn to be a better company. Unfortunately, for every person who actually speaks up, many more walk away quietly, never to return. Not all negative comments are worth a response; and not all critics are worth trying to win over. Sometimes, as hard as it can be, it’s best just to move on. Avoid these situations:
• The criticism lacks objectivity or even actual firsthand experience and is on a really small blog or forum where your response will only bring attention and credibility to something that wasn’t even a valid issue in the first place.
• It’s a blatant attack that’s clearly rude and outrageous—and anyone who reads it can see the critic has a personal problem.
• A known crackpot who is only looking to pick a fight.
It’s hard and against my own inner self to take the step back… and often I’ve engaged foolishly in these scenarios believing a reasonable person was on the other end with a level of objectivity.
Win Over, Can’t Win
There are plenty that want to be won over, but those that just want to raise ire, debate for the sake of debate – there’s just no way to win in these scenarios.
Tread Lightly – Anyone who calls customers service is irritated, it’s just human nature – they simply shouldn’t be having this problem. Most issues are solved simply by listening and offering calm advice. However, there are some calls that just can’t be handled no matter how much you try. So stay out, move on, keep your head up and focus on the wrongs you can right, the things you can improve upon and thank those for their contribution. Other times, providing a response away from the forum may be warranted. It makes a real per-son with real contact information available; so if the person is still angry, you’ve at least speci-fied a place to vent other than online. Keep in mind, when you move off the forum, the world can’t see all the effort you put into fix-ing the problem. No one sees the private email where you give that sincere apology. No one can search for that phone conversation where you politely explain why the situation happened in the first place. Responding on the forum doesn’t mean you can’t explain your side of the story and start a con-versation. You just need to be in the right mindset:
• Don’t get emotional.
• Remember, it’s a real person. Just as they see you as a faceless company, it’s easy to see them as just another complainer.
• Show empathy, communicate in a friendly tone and use your real name. And if the forum supports it, it helps to include your actual photo.
• It’s easy to yell and scream at an anonymous company. But when someone shows up and says, “Hi, this is Emily and I’m so sorry for the trouble…” it changes everything.
• The critic now realizes he wasn’t yelling at a giant, faceless company. He was yelling at Emily. Quickly, the anger fades—and you’ll often get an apology.
• Consider the difference between an apology like “We’re sorry you feel that way” to “Absolutely, positively unacceptable”—which was the headline to FedEx’s blog post after a delivery driver was caught throwing a package over a customer’s fence.
• And it doesn’t get much better or more direct than Jeff Bezos’ apology for how they handled pulling copies of 1984 and other novels off Kindles:
Apologizing is part of turning around negative word of mouth, but actually fixing a problem is how you really win critics over. We all make mistakes. It’s how we fix them that people remember. When you resolve an issue online, in public, you earn positive word of mouth. For the same effort and cost, thousands more people see that you actually care about customers. Plus, you save on all the people who now don’t need to call in (or write a similarly angry post) to find an answer to the same question.
For example, a blogger might share how he’s frustrated with a particular product feature; in which case, you might turn to your Facebook or Twitter fans with this message: “Hey guys! Chris over at [blog name] is having trouble with [feature]. Can anyone share how they’re using it?”
Marketing needs to adopt a messaging strategy that is buyer-focused. The days of generic, catch-all messages are behind us. Buyer-focused messaging requires marketing to have a combination of client, industry and market knowledge. Messages that are buyer-focused and create demand are carefully constructed so they:
• Resonate – demonstrate how the seller’s solutions solve high-value problems and provide opportunities
• Motivate – attract attention because they speak to the customer at the right point in their decision-making process.
• Differentiate – make the customer decision easy by highlighting what is unique about the seller’s solutions.
Some executives are reluctant to invest in social media because they don’t see the return; but experts argue that this is short-sighted because you could say the same thing about maintaining an 800 number or answering emails from customers. Retail has always been an industry with a high level of customer interaction and providing a satisfying shopping experience is integral to sales. It’s really no different for ecommerce, particularly as consumers remain cautious and need incentives to spend. A recent survey conducted among attendees at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum found that 87 percent believed online customer experience management was “more important now than ever before.” Unfortunately, only half had implemented online customer-oriented strat-egies. While online customer-oriented strategies are increasingly gaining recognition for their im-portance, organizations should be aware that it’s also about attention to detail and passion for delivering award-winning service and support to each and every customer.
Deliver Consistently – Superior customer service begins with a product that satisfies the cus-tomer; and when problems arise, they get solved quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction. It’s easy to say, but excellent customer service is a constant work-in-progress. This level of customer service and support, combined with a commitment to deliver the highest standards of innovation and product quality, are key to earning customer loyalty one customer at a time.