Category Archives: Emily Safrin

How to Win at Customer Service

3 Strategies for Converting Customers into Brand Devotees

By Emily Safrin

Emily Safrin-customer service

When Scarlett hung up the phone, she was close to tears. Even more unexpectedly, so was the customer service representative on the other end. How did a seemingly simple inquiry end in two people so frustrated they were on the verge of a breakdown?

Scarlett had called to resolve a mistaken charge on her phone bill, but what she thought was a straightforward question turned into a snafu with no solution in sight. Try as she might to explain the situation, she and the customer service representative couldn’t get on the same page. The two went in fruitless circles for half an hour before the agent finally announced starkly that she was applying a discount to Scarlett’s next three bills.

The problem is, Scarlett wasn’t looking for money; she was looking for an answer. Although the discount amounted to more than the erroneous charge she had called to dispute, she was not only dissatisfied, but hurt. Instead of feeling that her problem had been resolved, she felt that she had troubled the poor agent to the point that the agent felt forced to get rid of her.

It goes without saying that no customer should ever be made to feel this way. So how do you make sure they don’t?

1. Be human

Even in business contexts, we’re all human, and a human touch can go a long way to fostering a pleasant experience for all. That starts with empathy, or simply acknowledging the customer’s dilemma. The golden rule of “Listen first” works wonders to set the tone. Most customers just want to feel heard and validated.

Many companies use scripts to streamline processes and stay on brand. Yet, while scripts can be helpful training tools, research has shown that they often fall flat with customers, who perceive scripted interactions as disingenuous and even impolite.

That’s why many companies are instead hiring capable, empathetic, and trustworthy staff and empowering them to make decisions that leave customers feeling understood and tended to. Certainly, to attract this type of capable staff, the job has to be desirable. That means, for starters, offering competitive pay, attractive benefits, and a pleasant work environment.

Ultimately, a human representative with the right tact and training will be able to transform a difficult situation into a positive one by demonstrating a common humanity. Done properly, customer service can even turn a complaint into an opportunity to impress.

If done properly, customer service can even turn a complaint into an opportunity to impress. Click To Tweet

2. Take a cue from your own experiences as a customer

Theory and research have their place, but another powerful way to create or refine your business processes is to take heed of your own reaction when you’re the customer.

When you find yourself especially impressed by an interaction, whether in your personal or business life, make notes about what went well. There’s no better way to know what works than by seeing it in action. The same goes for situations that go awry: What went wrong? How could things have been handled differently?

Make time to review your notes and design a plan for how you can implement similar practices in your own business. What can you do to leave your customers glowing? This exercise may also reveal some fall-flat tactics in your customer service processes and help you replace them with more effective ones.

3. Speak their language

Language barriers are a serious source of customer frustration. As you might expect, consumers are unlikely to engage with a brand they can’t understand or communicate with. For that reason, it’s helpful to hire staff who speak your customers’ language(s).

Consider audiences you may be missing out on due to a language gap. For example, you could be meeting the needs of the “untapped” market of the more than 41 million US residents who speak Spanish at home. A 2014 study by Common Sense Advisory found that even among those who also spoke English, most consumers preferred to buy exclusively in their native language.

But how can you reach these non-English-speaking markets? Many US companies translate their websites and other marketing materials into Spanish and hire Spanish-speaking staff, for example, given the ubiquity of the language. If you follow suit (whatever the language), just be sure that you have an infrastructure in place to serve these customers when it comes to interacting with them beyond your website. The first step is to make sure staff are prepared to assist these clients, whether in person, over the phone, or online (email, chat, etc.).

If you don’t have a large enough non-English-speaking customer base to justify hiring multilingual staff, you might consider using translation (written language) and interpreting (spoken language) services to help you and your team to attract and interact with customers in their own language. Determine which channels these buyers are most likely to use to interact with your brand and start there. But be wary of free translation services: as with scripts, when it comes to customer service, a human touch is best.

Final thoughts

A different customer service representative from a major technology company recently told Scarlett over the phone, “I’ll solve that for you today.” Given the frustrating experience Scarlett had had with her phone service provider shortly before, she took it as an overzealous promise. But by the end of the call, she was left astounded. Despite significant hurdles, he solved her problem. What’s more, he treated her like a peer from start to finish. She was quickly reminded of why she’s been a loyal customer of this particular brand for decades.

Consistently stellar service begets customer loyalty. That feeling of security, trust, and plain old satisfaction is hard to beat. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated and speak to them in a language they can understand and they’ll become your most compelling, authentic, and effective form of advertising.

Emily Safrin is a certified Spanish-to-English translator and editor specializing in the medical and culinary sectors. She is also an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

From Blunder to Wonder: How Companies Successfully Bounce Back from Mistakes

Emily Safrin

Emily Safrin1993 was a terrible year for a particular major national fast food chain. It was an even worse year for four families who suffered unimaginable losses after their children ate contaminated meat at the establishment. Unsurprisingly, the chain found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. However, in a matter of years, it had not only recovered, but doubled its number of locations—a feat that is now considered one of the most impressive comebacks in contemporary business history.

If this is the first time you’ve heard this story, you may be shocked that a company responsible for something so horrific was able to salvage its sales at all, let alone become the fifth-largest burger chain in the US just years thereafter—but that’s exactly what happened.

The reality is that no enterprise can escape at least some degree of error. And while there is certainly a vital difference between an erroneous invoice and unintentionally causing the unthinkable, certain damage-control strategies have proven successful time and again, no matter the blunder.Remember the importance of accepting blame and saying you’re sorry. Click To Tweet

Own The Gaffe—And Fast

Especially in today’s well-connected world, official statements get around fast. So does radio silence.

As soon as possible after disaster strikes, offer a firm and heartfelt apology. However, refrain from being overly apologetic or defensive. Instead, focus on action. The old adage “Actions speak louder than words” has stood the test of time for a reason.

Nevertheless, judicious and impactful action takes time to implement. So, while you get to planning, make sure from the get-go that your words reflect a sense of accountability and the intention to fix the problem.

Watch Your Words

Word choice is paramount when delivering a public statement.

If your company serves an international market or consumers who speak a language other than English (as is the case of most businesses in the social media age, whether by design or not), take extra care that your mea culpa reaches your audience unscathed. The last thing you want is to create another mess when you’re already in damage-control mode.

For example, an international bank fell victim to a simple yet costly translation slip-up in 2009 when its catchphrase, “Assume Nothing,” was infamously mistranslated as “Do Nothing.” The mishap cost the company 10 million dollars for a new ad campaign alone.

Be aware of variants in widespread languages like Spanish and English that can make or break how your message is construed. Avoid embarrassment by hiring a professional translator who’s well versed not only in English, but the language and culture you aim to reach. Imagine, for example, how confused American consumers would be if a fast food restaurant referred to its french fries as “chips” (the British variant).

Furthermore, if there were ever a time to avoid using machine translation services, this would be it. There’s no room for error when it comes to cleaning up after a misstep, so make sure human translators—who are able to adequately interpret nuance and impact—craft the message in the new language before it reaches the public.

Make It Right

Words are vital when it comes to apologies, but they must be backed by tangible actions that illustrate genuine concern.

In the case of the fast food chain, the company offered to cover victims’ medical expenses, settling for amounts of up to 15.6 million dollars. The COO and chairman-cum-CEO attended mediation hearings to show their concern. The chain also opened a question hotline and made a generous donation to research efforts seeking treatment for infections caused by the bacterium behind the outbreak.

This demonstration of remorse and accountability in actions big and small communicated the company’s commitment to doing better.

Establish Long-Lasting Change

Once apologies have been made in both words and deeds, it’s crucial to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated. It may be tempting to make the blemish disappear from sight, but finding a long-term solution is an indispensable step.

The fast food chain began cooking its burgers at temperatures guaranteed to kill the guilty bacteria. It also implemented additional safety measures to ensure the food was handled properly from producer to consumer. In fact, this system was so successful that it was later endorsed by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration and came to be considered the gold standard among fast food chains.

The company didn’t stop there: it became so invested in harm-free dining that it continues to receive honors for its leadership in food safety to this day.

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Believe it or not, mistakes can be a blessing in disguise. For this to be true, decision makers must think glass half full. Slip-ups present an opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s leadership, transparency, and trustworthiness—and all of this at a time when you’re already in the spotlight. Just make sure it’s for better, not for worse.

A well-known pizza chain faced a rude awakening when one of its employees shared a video of himself tarnishing food in the kitchen. When the video went viral, it turned out the company had an even bigger problem on its hands: they admitted that customers had been complaining of pizza that tasted “like cardboard” and sauce that tasted “like ketchup.”

Instead of succumbing to an apparently imminent downfall, the company’s leaders decided to come clean and promised to improve their product. Shortly thereafter, they introduced a new pizza recipe, as well as a novel online ordering system designed to appeal to the younger generation. Their shares increased sixty-fold and the company is now worth 60 billion dollars.

Next Time You’re Caught in a Mistake, Stay Calm and Innovate

Businesses are no more perfect than humans. Every organization will face its day of reckoning, big or small. Luckily, history demonstrates that it’s not the mistake itself, but the response, that leaves a lasting impression. And as in the case of the fast food chain, if addressed properly, a foul-up can even be turned into an asset.

So, next time your business finds itself in a rough spot, remember the importance of accepting blame and saying you’re sorry. Then roll up your sleeves, fill your metaphorical glass, and turn the blunder into your next wonder.

Emily Safrin is a certified Spanish-to-English translator and editor specializing in the medical sector. She is also an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.