Tag Archives: customer service

Build Robust Customer Relationships by Taking a Proactive Approach

By Jill J. Johnson

Jill Johnson-customer relationship

While today’s sales process can appear streamlined and online, it creates complexities and confusion for consumers who have vastly more options in a global marketplace. The internet has blurred traditional sales territories because consumers can now search the world for the products and services they want or need. Finding the right one requires them to weed through many alternatives so they can make optimal purchasing decisions. Proactively building robust and trusting relationships with your customers provides opportunities to become their top advisor and go-to vendor. Anticipating potential customer service challenges will help develop a framework for resolving these issues in a manner that protects your customer relationship. Software applications and marketing automation also create opportunities for enhanced customer insight and relationship development. 

Team Efforts Build Strong Customer Relationships

The most successful salespeople develop strong and lasting relationships with their customers. They focus on solving problems, not just making a transaction. They become an advisor their clients rely on for accurate information and solutions to address their needs. They are responsive and do not leave their clients hanging for answers. With this approach, you can anticipate opportunities for your customers and present new ideas when your customers are most likely ready to consider them.

Improving your customer’s experience will build word of mouth about your effectiveness as a true sales professional—rather than just someone who manages transactions. Click To Tweet

Successful sales and marketing team members work closely together to create synergies among all the communications being used to connect with customers. Production and service teams must also work in sync with sales to deliver the quality order that has been promised the customer. There is nothing worse for the client relationship than a salesperson making a promise that production cannot honor. In most organizations, the production or manufacturing divisions are siloed from sales. Each has its own metrics by which they are evaluated and there is often little communication among them. When that happens, the entire customer relationship can be at risk.

Enterprises that effectively calibrate and coordinate their ability to supply goods and services the customer demands will be the most successful over the long-term. They minimize waste and scrapped inventory because they are creating specific products their customers want and will buy. Sales relationships that have been strategized throughout the enterprise provide the best opportunities for gaining accurate customer intelligence on product specifications and anticipated sales volumes. The same things hold true for those selling services. 

Maintaining Customer Relationships Requires Trust

When working with clients who have a long-standing relationship with your organization, it can become easy to take them for granted. Personal relationships often develop among the various parties on both sides. Frequently this evolves into a high trust relationship.

When there is a glitch in service or delivery, client relationships can be jeopardized. Clients make buying decisions based on trust. If something significant interferes with the trust relationship, the entire account can be at risk. It may be a missed delivery, inferior product quality, service glitches or price-points that are too high. When this occurs, it can be easy for everyone to assume that the relationship will resolve the issue. But when it does not, everyone must remember that business is business. The personal relationships developed with care over time can vanish when suppliers make mistakes.  Both parties have their own jobs to protect and their own internal political challenges.

Often the best approach is for a vendor to operate on a “No Surprises” basis with clients. When they know there might be an issue with service or delivery, the sooner they alert the customer the more options they have to maintain the trusted relationship. Understanding the latitude and flexibility you each have when there is a problem can move you faster to finding a resolution. Perhaps it is offering a price discount for accepting some reduced quality options or including additional merchandise in order to offset the inequity. No matter what, your client problem needs to be resolved effectively before it becomes a social media nightmare or results in the loss of a major revenue stream to your enterprise. 

Effective Client Relationship Management 

Building and managing relationships with your prospects and key referral sources require effort. It is more than simply having them on your mailing list or emailing them newsletters or updates. More personal and consistent one-to-one relationships are a must in achieving your mutual goals. 

You have to move from passive order-taking to developing a customer relationship focused on knowing their interests and requirements. Then match your outreach and communications to move them through their decision-making cycle. Reassess your prospect management to determine if you are relying on stale efforts that do little to move the sale forward or deepen your relationship. 

Years ago, salespeople tracked customer information on index cards. Today, robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software has been a game-changer in managing interactions with current and potential clients. CRM integration with email marketing applications can enhance sales productivity and offer options for customer personalization.

Leveraging your CRM tools helps you stay on top of customer follow-up. This requires an investment of time in capturing information into the system. Once you do this, you can take advantage of opportunities to use its robust capability for data capture and market segmentation options. These efforts will help you more effectively manage your client relationships and provides options for efficient and appropriate outreach.

Final Thoughts 

Take time to review the effectiveness of your approach to customer relationship management. Don’t take your client relationships for granted. Just like any relationship, they need to be nurtured to be preserved and grown. Actively managing your customer and prospect interactions create more opportunities for engagement. Each engagement takes you one step closer to closing another sale or selling a bigger deal than you can currently imagine. Being your customers’ subject matter expert, anticipating their needs before they do and doing their homework for them is essential to successful and lasting customer relationships. Improving your customer’s experience will build word of mouth about your effectiveness as a true sales professional—rather than just someone who manages transactions.

Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than 4 billion dollars worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Make Kindness the Cornerstone of Your Business

By Dana Morgan-Barnes

Dana Morgan-Barnes: being kind

Business is no longer a “dog eat dog” proposition. Instead, we are seeing how being kind, even in our business dealings, can make you “Top Dog.”

Ok, animal metaphors aside, why is being kind so good for business? It’s a known fact that we like to do business with people we know, like and trust. Kindness is a huge piece of that puzzle. 

When you look at your business, who is responsible for being kind? Customer Service? Of course! The receptionist or office admin? Sure. Do you manufacture widgets, sell a product or a service; are you a brick and mortar or an online presence; employ two or 2,000…kindness is everyone’s job. 

When you are the CEO or the business owner, your example will lead your employees in the right direction. Kindness does not mean having to be best friends with each and every employee. It means a “hello”, a smile and if you can, remembering their names. Be sure your employees know how to be kind to your clients. Often times, being kind is perceived as a waste of time. There are parameters and training will help them know what is expected and reasonable.

Many years ago Penny worked in the Accounts Receivable Department of a small manufacturing company. They had plenty of receivables but very little information on the companies. Name, address and phone number and sometimes the name of their accounts payable. As Penny started contacting each company, she wrote notes. Basic information at first: who was she speaking to, were they stressed or pleasant. As time passed, Penny knew their spouses and children’s names, vacation spots, illnesses and celebrations.

Imagine how you would feel if you received a call from “collections” and the first question is: how’s your son’s baseball season going? Or, did you pass that big test in your evening class? Getting to know your clients will help both of you build trust. 

This habit served Penny well when she stepped into outside sells. Being able to build rapport and be sincerely interested in her clients brought countless referrals and opened many doors. What would happen to your sells if you just asked a few more questions about the person before offering your product?

Who is responsible for being kind? Customer Service? Of course! Click To Tweet

Kindness can be translated into friendly, honest, reliable, solutions and service.

Be friendly: Being friendly builds rapport

You build rapport when you develop mutual trust, friendship and affinity with someone. Building rapport can be beneficial to your business when done with sincerity You establish good interpersonal relationships and this can open many doors for you. Being friendly goes beyond the obligatory smile and “how are you?” This may take a little time, but will pay off in having a loyal customer. Be friendly to your employees. Ask them questions, remember their names. It’s been said that an appreciated person will do more than expected. As the CEO or business owner, you lead by example.

Be honest: You want to be that person your clients know they can trust.

People would rather hear “I don’t know, let me find out for you”, than something made up. Offer what you can deliver, when you can deliver it. Never paint a “rosy” picture just to get the business. Charge a fair price. A client will find out soon enough if you over charged them. Advise your employees when a sale is coming, so they can pass that information along to the customers. Ensure that customer may wait until the sale to buy and they will spread the word about your good customer service.

Be reliable: You can become your client’s best vendor just by following through.

Always return emails and voice mails. Communicating with your client should be your priority. When a promised ship/delivery date cannot be fulfilled, reach out to the client to give them an update. You being proactive can turn around a disappointed client. Give your client ample notice of sales or office closures for holidays. Once a client knows they can count on you, they will return. Under-promise and over-deliver. This is what referrals are made of.

Be a Problem Solver: Customer confidence is built every time you solve their problem.

Make sure these solutions are in your customer’s best interest. An honest answer, even if it sends your customer elsewhere, can save a business relationship. Give your customers options. Often our client’s think they know what they want, but are unaware of what else may be available. When your client comes to you with an idea and is not sure what they need to fulfill it, show them how your company will go the extra mile to help them.

Be of service: Service shows you care

Go a step beyond what your client is expecting. Providing service is about the customer, it is not about you. When a customer has an issue and needs you to find a solution, do not let them down. Do your best to find a workable solution for them. This may mean bringing someone else from your company to help out. The majority of clients will tell others about receiving great customer service. Make sure they are talking about you! A loyal customer feels valued. Service equals value.

Dana Morgan-Barnes is a speaker, trainer, author, and coach. As the owner of Dana Inspires, she spends her career adding value to others. Her new book You Have the Power of Kindness is a collection of kindness stories aimed to inspire and help you discover how to be kind. For more information, please visit: coachdanainspires.com.

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.

Great Expectations: The 4 Foundational C’s of the Customer Experience

By Tra Williams 

Tra Williams

Remember the old saying that if you never expect anything then you’ll never be disappointed? Well, that might work on blind dates and birthday presents, but in business, expectations are impossible to avoid. For every action that a customer takes, there was an expectation that preceded it. Obviously, customers take action because they believe that action will yield a specific result. Over time, that belief—that something will or won’t happen—is solidified. It discourages or encourages future action. The resulting momentum, for good or bad, reaffirms their belief. The cycle is then perpetuated and a customer’s loyalty is either lost or gained.

This simple psychological loop is perpetuated by whether your business failed to meet, met or exceeded a customer’s preconceived notions. In short, customer expectations define the customer experience.

Fortunately, if you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide.  There are four foundational elements that define your customers’ expectations. Mastering all four is the key to exceeding your customers’ expectations every time and keeping that customer for life.

If you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide. Click To Tweet

1. Culture—Who you are is the key to what you should do and how you should do it.  

Every potential customer begins to build a mental profile of your business the moment he becomes aware that it exists. Millions of years of evolution have hardwired us to save mental energy by recognizing patterns that predict the world around us. As a result, your potential customer immediately and unconsciously makes assumptions about what to expect from the culture she observes. Subtle and not so subtle clues convey information and frame the expected tone of your interaction even before your initial contact. The cleanliness of your parking lot, the options on your automated answering service, and the wrinkles and stains on your employees’ uniforms all add to the story that you are already telling.

The story begins with your logo and your branding; they tell their own story. But your messaging and the medium through which it travels also reveal hidden truths about the culture of your business. More often than not, your culture defines your service level but not your messaging. And if the reality of your service falls short of the expectations defined by your messaging, the customer feels duped and is less likely to return.

The key to mastering this element is to maintain consistency between your branding and messaging and the reality of the service that you provide.

2. Credibility—An impressive depth of knowledge is nothing without parallel performance and vice versa.

Imagine you are interviewing a potential financial advisor who is vying for your business. He has degrees on his wall behind his mahogany desk along with various certificates showing him to be well-educated. He answers your questions clearly and succinctly without too much industry jargon, and by all accounts, conveys confidence in his abilities and authority over his domain. However, the prospectus for his recommended investments shows below-market performance every year for the past ten years. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Probably not.

Now reverse the scenario. Imagine he has consistently outperformed the market for ten years, but during the interview, he sounds uneducated and is unable to answer questions about why or how that performance was achieved.  Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Again, probably not.

The point is that your customer makes assumptions about your credibility because of and sometimes in spite of your performance. Knowledge of your industry isn’t enough. Comparably, past performance isn’t enough.

The key to mastering this element is to know why and how not just one or the other. 

3. Capacity—Revenues will not materialize without the infrastructure they require.

Entrepreneurs and business owners are by definition resourceful. Not only have they recognized and seized the opportunity, but they have also navigated a complex process. However, once the business is operational, their minds often transition from a focus on opportunity and innovation to a focus on reduction and optimization.  Corners are often cut and resources are limited in the name of costs.

Imagine you are looking for a restaurant to host your engagement party. Which restaurant would you choose—A) an understaffed restaurant where the food is always amazing or B) a restaurant with amazing service where the food is always good?  Most would choose restaurant B because the quality of your product has nothing to do with your scalability.

How you execute at a smaller level creates the expectations in the minds of customers for your ability to execute at a larger level. Would you actually prefer to earn a few extra dollars if doing so limited the growth of your business? Doubtful. In the end, nothing is more costly than playing it safe.

The key to mastering this element is to realize that preparation actually creates opportunity.

4. Command—Your command over the process should eliminate customer effort.

Customers expect results without effort on their part. After all, why would they pay you if they have to work? But work in this instance isn’t just the service you provide, it is also the effort a customer must exert to yield results. Obviously, if a customer has to call multiple times and talk to multiple people to yield results, your process has failed and you have likely lost that customer’s business.  On the contrary, effortless results yields repeat business.

If you haven’t mapped your customer flow, you should do so immediately. If you have, take a look at it and note each time the customer is required to act in any way or left wondering what to do next. Paperwork, phone calls, appointments, hold times and commutes are all work for the customer. You must take command of the process and limit the effort your customer exerts…especially during your very first interaction. Doing so will create the expectation that calling you yields effortless results. 

The key to mastering this element is clear communication of a well-defined and effortless process.

The point is, customers, choose to frequent businesses that consistently meet or exceed their expectations and they form their expectations before they ever walk in the door or pick up the phone. Your culture, credibility, capacity, and command define whether you exceed their expectations and gain a customer for life or fall short and send them to a competitor. 

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit www.TraWilliams.com.

The Perfect Answer: The Ideal Way to Answer Your Phone and Make a Great Impression

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-answer your phone

How often have you called a company and wondered if you reached the right number? All too often, busy people answer calls hurriedly, haphazardly, or incompletely. Or perhaps the receptionist seems out of breath after spitting out a lengthy, tongue-twisting greeting. Also, it’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way.

There are three parts to the ideal phrase to answer the phone:

It’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way. Click To Tweet

1) Greeting

The greeting is simply “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” During the holiday season, “Happy holidays,” or “Season’s greetings” may be used. The greeting lets the caller know someone has answered and that it’s time to listen. If the caller lacks focus or needs to adjust his or her ears to catch your phrasing, pace, or accent, the greeting gives time for this to happen, but the phrase is also not critical if it’s missed. Lastly, the greeting serves to set a positive tone for the call.

2) Company Identity

The company identity is simply the name of your organization, such as, “Acme Industries.” It lets callers know who they have reached, thereby confirming they dialed correctly. In general, state the company name as people outside your organization typically say it. Therefore, you should generally drop legal suffixes, such as Inc, LLC, and Ltd, or other formal elements that would confuse the caller rather than clarify. For the same reason, don’t shorten or abbreviate the company name, either. Saying “AI” when everyone knows you as “Acme Industries” serves no useful purpose.

3) Your Name

The final element is your first name. This adds a valuable personal touch. It’s much easier for a caller to get mad at an anonymous voice, than a real person with a name. Using your name also allows you to build a rapport and establish a personal connection with the caller. As the last word of the perfect answer phrase, it is also the one most easily remembered by the caller. Omitting your name implies a lack of personal interest. Ending with your name signals confidence and competence, which are critical in problem-solving and customer service situations.

Avoid Unnecessary Addendums

It’s all too common for people to tack on the ridiculous phrase, “How may I direct your call?” A direct response to this senseless question is “quickly and accurately.” This is not effective communication; drop pointless embellishments.

Putting these elements together results in the perfect answer:

“Good morning, Acme Industries, this is Fred.”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.