Tag Archives: customer service

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

When my DSL service goes down—I seldom call to report it. I simply don’t have the time to waste with my phone company’s nonsensical troubleshooting process. Instead I usually wait in hope that someone else will report the outage and achieve a timely resolution.

This hasn’t always been my approach. When I first had DSL service, I would dutifully call at the first sign of an outage. However, their agents’ poor customer service skills and time-consuming nature of their queries left me feeling angry and frustrated. The agents acted as though the problem was my fault and proceeded on the apparent assumption that a correction would be found by reprogramming my computer or repeatedly resetting my DSL modem. And after several years of service working, asking if I installed the DSL filter is ludicrous.

In essence, they operate on the assumption that I and my computer are guilty until proven innocent. Feeling remorse over forcing me invest up to an hour of my time before a trouble ticket can taken is seemingly beyond their comprehension. Even more astounding is that apologizing for an outage is apparently not part of their protocol.

Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained. Click To Tweet

To compound the situation, in the process of “troubleshooting” they instruct me to make all manner of changes, which would result in leaving me unable to connect to the Internet once access is restored. Never once have they given any instruction on returning my computer to its original configuration. They even neglect to suggest that I make note of the original settings so that I can later restore them. Fortunately, I am wise to their foolish ways.

In a monopoly environment this indifferent attitude would be understandable, albeit untenable. However, I have options and will select the provider that irritates me the least. Notice that I did not say that I seek a provider with excellent service, or who delights the customer, or that has first-call resolution. My customer service expectations are so low that I merely desire to minimize my annoyance.

I will not even suggest that my phone company pursue customer service best-practices. They can go a long way towards improvement by merely adopting a few commonsense ideas.

Take Responsibility

The people I talk to act as though their network is impervious and the blame lies with me. Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained.

Isolate the Problem

The final troubleshooting tests they perform is to connect to the customer’s DSL modem. This should be the very first test. If they can connect and run diagnostics, then the problem resides on the consumer’s end. If they can’t access the modem, there is no need to harass the customer with needless tests and counterproductive reprogramming.

Apologize

Is it that difficult to say “I’m sorry that you are experiencing problems?” Even more germane would be to say “I’m sorry that I hopelessly messed up your computer configuration and have no idea how to put it back to the way it was.” Of course, if they followed the two prior suggestions, the first apology would suffice, and the second would be unnecessary.

Use Customer Relationship Management Software

If they had a functional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the agents could readily determine that every time I call it was because of an outage and never once have I called because of a problem on my end. They should be able know that I have a history of being credible and not wasting their time—even though they have a history of wasting mine.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Connecting with Customers Through the Keyboard: Getting Your Chat Service Right

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-chatCustomer: Hi, I’m having a problem with my bill. I’m being charged 50 dollars more than what I expected. Could someone please help? I’m finding this very frustrating. Thank you.

Chat Agent: Hello! Glad you are chatting with me this morning! This is Matt. What can I do for you today?

Customer to Himself: Huh? Well for starters, Matt, you could read what I typed before asking what you can do! Furthermore, you can take that smile off your face

Providing exceptional service via chat involves more than simply choosing a technology platform. Chat is a distinct communication channel with its own set of rules, and organizations that choose to implement a chat system need to prepare their service representatives to use it effectively.

Step One

After you’ve chosen a chat platform or while that activity is in process, you should determine who on your team is well suited to serve customers online. Chat service providers should be able to type, and they should have a basic command of English spelling and grammar.

Step Two

Once you have a team in mind, you must identify some rules to guide their chats. The following questions are examples of basic considerations you should know the answers to before your representatives start typing.

  • How many chats should an agent handle at once? (In the beginning, nobody should attempt more than one, and even experienced agents shouldn’t divide their attention among more than three.)
  • What topics can and can’t be addressed via chat? Depending on your industry, regulations may limit what your representatives can and can’t say.
  • When will you move customers to a different mode of communication if chat is not appropriate?A good way to start thinking about your organization’s look and sound is to start chatting. Click To Tweet

Step Three

Sometimes organizations implement chat, and the tone of what’s typed takes on a stilted or off-brand look and feel. For that reason, it’s important to think about what on-brand messaging looks like before rolling out the chat platform.

How should a chat start if a customer has already shared information? What words and phrases align with your brand? What words and phrases should providers avoid?

How should representatives address angry or frustrated customers? In what way should greetings differ?

A good way to start thinking about your organization’s look and sound is to start chatting. Visits sites that use chat. Think about each experience: what you liked, what you didn’t, the brand you felt, and so forth.

Step Four

Be prepared for the obvious. Anyone who has worked in service usually starts to notice patterns. For example, if the provider is an online retailer, close to the holidays the organization may receive more inquiries about delivery times. If the provider is a utility, representatives may realize they receive more inquiries about billing on certain days of the week.

The point is to plan for the expected.Just as telephone service agents in most industries should know how to handle the top twenty or thirty customer requests without having to reference a lot of documentation, the same is true for chat. Consistency is essential. This is especially true when it comes to the basics.

Before being set loose with a keyboard, providers should go through both systems training and roleplays that address common inquiries.

Step Five

Determine the extent to which you wish to use canned responses. Pre-written text has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, it’s quick, it’s not written in the moment, and it’s had the opportunity to be proofread by one or more people. On the other hand, canned text can sound canned. Furthermore, representatives sometimes choose pre-written responses that don’t get to the heart of what a customer is asking.

So what’s an organization to do? The answer to that question varies. No matter the option chosen, canned text should sound conversational. If you wouldn’t say what’s written in the course of natural speech, it probably isn’t right.

Chat is supposed to be a dialogue. It’s not a brochure, the text from a website, or worse still, verbiage from a policy or legal document.

One way to help maintain a conversational tone is to keep your text short. Long sentences usually equate to a longwinded or unnatural feel.

A good place to source potential pre-written responses is from your representatives’ actual chats. If your organization is like most places, some people will show a natural gift for chat. Why not leverage their strengths and skills?

Step Six

Learn from your failures and your successes. When service goes wrong, most first-rate organizations address the shortcomings. Beyond fixing what’s broken, the best organizations also invest time in figuring out what went right and why. They then replicate the good.

As with any service interaction, chat can go well, or it can go poorly. The key is monitoring, course correcting, and standardizing success.

Providers and their supervisors should regularly review chats. What can we leverage? Where are the opportunities? What was on-brand? What was off-brand? The questions are essentially endless.

The trick is to systematically ask and answer them. The more methodically you evaluate your chats, the quicker you will capitalize on what works and eliminate what doesn’t.

Step Seven

Chat training is not a one-and-done activity. Needs change, technology evolves, and staff turns over. Ideally, organizations should focus on one or two best practices a week, they evaluate the pre-written text twice a year, and they spot check transcripts daily.

Chat is no longer a novelty, and more customers expect their service providers to offer it. No matter where your business is in the chat-implementation process, there is always room to improve the way you connect through a keyboard.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

“One Moment Please, While I Disconnect Your Call”

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

The track record of receptionists successfully transferring calls is not good. In fact, based on my experience, successful call transfers actually occur less than half the time. The most common result is being disconnected.

The receptionist attempts to transfer your call, but there is no ringing and no music on hold. As you listen to silence, there is that growing realization that your call will soon come to a premature end. The return to dialtone or the automated instruction to “hang up and try your call again,” confirms that you have been summarily disconnected. Although this could be the result of technical problem, it is much more likely the consequence of human error.

When a disconnected caller calls back, how has their mood changed? The happy caller has likely become irritated, the irritated caller has become irate, and the irate caller has become abusive. None of these outcomes are necessary, and the additional stress to agents is unwarranted.

You can tip the odds in your favor, by following some common sense, but often overlooked, steps:If you pursue first-call resolution, the need to transfer callers is greatly reduced. Click To Tweet

Training

The proper transfer procedure must be covered in training. Additionally, the trainee should be able to experience the transfer from three different perspectives: the caller who is being transferred, the receptionist doing the transfer, and the person receiving the transfer. All too often, receptionists are deprived of experiencing the call transfer process from the standpoint of either the caller or the recipient. But doing so gives them a better understanding how errors effect others and provides a means for some much needed empathy.

Practice

To master a skill, it must be practiced until it becomes rote. Ample practice should occur prior to attempting it with a real caller. Plus, for receptionists not frequently transferring calls, ongoing practice is wise.

Consistency

Most telephone systems provide multiple ways to transfer calls. Pick the most universally applicable method and teach it to all employees. Get the trainers to concur that this standard method will be taught and no others. Finally, discourage receptionists from using different approaches, seeking shortcuts, or sharing alternative methods with others.

Methodology

Decide on one philosophy for transferring calls. A blind transfer is the quickest, but least professional. With it the receptionist dials the number, connects the caller, and hangs up before the call is answered. Although common, it is not even close to a “best-practice.” In an announced transfer, the receptionist dials the number, tells the recipient about the call, connects the caller, and then hangs up. A confirmed transfer is one step beyond an announced transfer, in which the receptionist stays connected long enough to insure that the recipient can address the caller’s needs.

Verification

Transfer lists need to be periodically checked. Not just read, but actually dialed. Over time, lists become outdated; frequent verification is on the only sure way to make sure that receptionists have accurate information. During a slower time of the day or week is an ideal time to assign an employee to the task of testing each number on the transfer list. Less you write this off as too time consuming or not cost-effective, consider the cost of dealing with an irate or abusive caller who calls back after being cut off. Even worse, what if they never call back?

First-Call Resolution

If you pursue first-call resolution, the need to transfer callers is greatly reduced. Perhaps that is the best prescription of all.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

A Contrast in Customer Service Outcomes

Customer service examples from Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

In Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan, I put forward the question: Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? I then offered a comparison study, based on personal experience in the area of automotive repair. Here is another consideration from the retail sector.

Customer Service Failure

Several years ago, my wife and I went to rent a movie with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. However, we were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.”

Next, as he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the in-store sign displaying the name Acme Video Hits. “We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained, as though this was common knowledge about which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99-cent rentals of older movies.

“But you got DVDs,” he said with a slight roll of the eyes. “Ninety-nine cents is only for VHS.” (Yes, this was a long time ago.) He paused and, saving me from another query, added, “They changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion ensued; eventually he gave up and summoned the manager when I inquired our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

Then the manager appeared and summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained. My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; damage had been done and it was irreparable.Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? Click To Tweet

Customer Service Success

It wasn’t until another movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us.

Upon learning we were first-time customers, she explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerks would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, reiterated the value of membership and reinforced the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies, thereby earning a discount; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance. However, when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees. She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

Given these two examples, where would you like to work? Where would you like to shop?

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, Editor writes about Customer ServiceBy Peter DeHaan

Does your organization make customer service a priority? I expect that it does. In fact, I suspect that the phrase “customer service” is found somewhere in your mission or vision statement, etched on a wall plaque, proclaimed in your marketing material, and oft orated by upper management.

However, as is often said, “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” So the question becomes, do you actually provide quality customer service or just talk about it? Has the vocabulary of providing world-class customer service been bandied about so often that you—and the entire organization—have been falsely convinced that it is a reality, when in fact it has no basis in truth?

Customer Service Failure

In my article, “A $175 Oil Change,” a local car dealership charged $175, accomplishing no tangible results other than changing the oil. This was the only impetus I needed to return to the trustworthy comfort of my local service station, where I continue to be a loyal customer of their car care services. Unfortunately, the day that I dreaded came last summer 2011, when they informed me that repairing my heat-producing air conditioner was beyond the scope of their services; I would need to take the car to the dealer.

With trepidation, I walked into the dealer’s brightly lit and tastefully decorated service department. As I walked up to the “customer service” desk, a representative, clad in business attire with tasteful tie, greeted me by name. I explained the problem and, knowing their mode of operation all too well, asked for an estimate. With a confidence-building smile and positive words of assuredness, he sent me on my way.

His phone call came shortly after I returned to the office: $1,575! Following my dumbfounded silence, he launched into an extended explanation, mixing mechanic jargon and automotive terminology— which I doubt even he fully understood—seemingly aimed to intimidate me into accepting their costly diagnosis. According to their investigation, a heater problem was also uncovered and somehow related to the AC repair. True, for only $980, I could fix just the AC, but then it would be over $1,200 to go back later to repair the heater.

“Let’s get realistic,” I challenged him, determined to not be victimized again.

The representative apologized that he had no other options and admitted that his “hands were tied.” I declined to authorize the repair and made arrangements to pick up the car. He kept repeating, “I’m sorry; I know I’ve lost you as a customer.”To be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan, more than mere lip service. It needs to be a strategy Click To Tweet

Customer Service Success

It took some time, but eventually I heard about a full-service garage with a reputation for honesty. I took the car in. Sitting in a small and dingy office, with a dated décor and amidst organized clutter, I explained the chronology of events, sharing the dealer’s written estimate. The owner of the garage chose his words carefully, “Well, they could be right, but I think we can get it working for much less.” He had a $185 solution that he wanted to try. Plus, if he was wrong, he would apply that amount to the repair the dealer recommended (for which his normal price was only $800). As far as the heater issue, he found no justification for any repairs.

I followed his recommendation. The $185 AC repair proved to be accurate, keeping us cool through a hot and humid summer; the heater worked as is without incident throughout that winter.

The dealership had talked ad-nauseam about their top-notch customer service in their ads, promotions, mailings, and sales pitch. They even put on an impressive front, but there was no substance; to them, customer service seemed to be maximizing the repair bill. The garage, on the other hand, didn’t talk about customer service; they just did it.

How to Lose at Customer Service

A second pair of customer service stories, from several years ago, are equally illustrative. Although my family is not often prone to renting movies, we did have a membership at an outlet in a nearby town. My wife and I entered their store, with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. We were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.” He took all of our information and had us sign an ominous contract.

As he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the in-store sign displaying Acme Video Hits. “We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained exasperatedly, as though this was common knowledge of which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99 cent rentals of older movies. “They changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion ensued, but he gave up and got “the manager” when I inquired our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

The manager appeared and with great boldness began demonstrating to his lackadaisical charge, proper problem resolution skills. He aptly summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained. My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; damage had been done and it was irreversible.

How to Win with Customer Service

It wasn’t until a movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us. Upon learning that we were first-time customers, she carefully and patiently explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerk after clerk would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience when a clerk asks if I need help and I feel compelled to say “no” even though I do. At the movie store, the clerks’ interactions were both welcomed and beneficial.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, with her effervescent personality and evident enjoyment of her job, made the process of becoming a member both pleasant and effective, reiterating the value of membership and reinforcing the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance. But when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees! She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

It is not surprising that I am looking forward to my next movie rental. I have even planned my selections for that snowy weekend that winter, when I take advantage of their “buy two, get three free” special! Good customer service is always an invitation to return.

Summary

To be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan, more than mere lip service. It needs to be a strategy, one that is fully and successfully implemented with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.