Don’t Keep Customers Waiting

Different people sitting in a waiting room of a hospitalWhere does customer service rank on your company’s list of important daily tasks that should never be overlooked?

While you would like to think that it is always a priority for most businesses, the truth is that is not always the case.

For whatever the reason, some companies simply drop the ball when it comes to providing consumers with solid customer service. As a result, some of those companies end up losing business, business that could have easily remained with them had they just been a little bit better about taking care of Mr. or Mrs. Public.

With that in mind, there are a number of steps you can take as a business owner to increase the chances of keeping customers happy, not to mention helping to promote your brand through their word-of-mouth efforts.

Solid Customer Service Equals Better Revenue

In order to keep your company’s customer service a step or two ahead of what the competition has to offer, make sure you:

  • Go that extra mile – Consumers expect satisfactory customer service, but what if you take it to another level? It is oftentimes the little things that set your brand apart from others, so go that extra mile for the customer. For example, maybe a customer purchased a product or service from you recently over the holidays. As an added incentive to keep them shopping with you, offer them a discount (maybe 10 to 20 percent off) on their next purchase with you. Given that many consumers probably had to watch their pennies over the holiday shopping season, a nice little reward for those who shopped with you last month could go far in making them come back to you this year and beyond;
  • On-time service matters – How many times have you gone in for a doctor’s appointment and waited and then waited some more? Yes, a doctor’s office is typically going to be busy, but that does not remove the frustration you have with being kept waiting for your appointment. The same holds true for businesses who have timed appointments with customers and also when customers are in line waiting to make a purchase. Whether you run a business office, a store, or even a salon, don’t keep your customers waiting. If you have a salon appointment book, try and stick to the times posted on it as much as possible. It just takes one unhappy customer to get the chatter going about how you can’t stay on top of times. When that happens, others (even if they’ve never been to your place of business) may think twice about doing business with you;
  • Avoid negative tones – Last but certainly not least; go out of your way to avoid customer service conflicts. Honestly, there will be times when you or one of your employees doesn’t meet a customer’s needs. When that happens, do everything possible to make amends, giving you a better chance of retaining that individual’s business. This is also true if you’re getting online feedback from customers. By all means, do not get into a tit-for-tat with customers on your social media pages. No matter how much you try, you will never win those battles. Worse yet, online comments are archived for all to see.

Providing consumers with solid customer service isn’t as tricky as it may seem.

Be responsive, reliable, and of course responsible when treating each of your customers.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business topics on the web.

Why Should Customers Come To You?

Business Woman (Focus On Eye)When running a company, it doesn’t matter if you’re the big boy on the block or the mom and pop shop just trying to carve out a living. At the end of the day, customer service is what it all boils down to.

While some business owners have trouble relating to their customers, many more know that their customers matter more than anything else. Simply put; strong customer service goes a long way towards retaining current clients and bringing aboard new ones.

As the calendar soon turns to 2016, what are you doing to make sure your customers get nothing short of the best service in the New Year.

Review Customer Approach

In order to give your current customers (and hopefully many more new ones in 2016) the best service possible, review these following tidbits to see if you can properly check them off in your to-do list:

  • Customer is always right – Sure, we’ve all heard this adage time and time again whether we’ve run our own businesses or worked for those who have or currently do. Sure, some customers can be a pain in the old butt at times, but stop and wonder where you would be without them. Even though this does not mean you should let a customer yell at you and/or one of your employees, treat you like second-class citizens or spread malicious lies about your brand, you should give customers the benefit of the doubt in the beginning, especially if there is a contentious issue being discussed. Make sure you keep a level head and do not go out of your way to antagonize customers;
  • Keep the deals coming – Whether you sell and/or offer insurance, home furnishings, accounting and other financial services, Direct TV or countless other products and services, treat your customers right from day one until their last day with you. Sure, you can’t give items and services away all the time, but keep the deals coming whenever possible. When customers see that they’re getting specials from your business, they are more apt to stay with you. This is especially important if there is an issue. A customer who likes the deals you offer is more likely to stick with you even when a problem arises, knowing that more discounts are likely coming their way down the road;
  • Employees need to buy into plan – When you have employees under your guise, it is important that they are on the team too. It just takes one bad customer experience with an employee to create problems. Your workers should always give the customer the benefit of the doubt, be it a price issue, a matter involving service, etc. Again, that does not mean customers are allowed to rip one of your employees over the phone, in-person or via email, but make sure your employees are not short with customers, allowing them to speak their mind;
  • Don’t Be a Stranger – Finally, don’t be a stranger to your customers. Sure, you should not be bothering them with endless sales pitches, but you also do not want to seem like you do not care. The occasional follow-up on their thoughts on the service you provided them, whether or not they’re happy with the product/s you sold them etc. is important. It also doesn’t hurt around this time of year to send out a little holiday cheer via an email, text, letter etc. to let them know how important they are to you.

With the New Year only days away, take stock in how you treat customers now and moving forward.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers business topics on the web.

 

Should You Be Dialed-in to After Call Surveys?

Customer Services RepresentativeIf you have ever been asked to provide your opinion or give feedback after you complete a call, you have just been involved in an after-call survey.

You may wonder if these surveys provide any value to the business, especially if you were one who elected not to participate.

Do they have any value in today’s business world? If so, what do you need to know to make them effective?

Know What You Want to Learn

There should be a reason for everything you do in business, and after-call surveys are no exception.

You should know what information you want to find out, how you will learn this information and what you will do with it. If you do not have answers to all of these questions, you don’t need to take a survey.

Creating a goal doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, for these surveys, you should keep it simple.

Learn which call agents receive the best marks in customer satisfaction. Find out what percentage of customers have their problems answered when they call.

Keep your goals to one or two points to ensure that you get the information you are looking for.

Know What to Ask

Even if you know what you want to find out in these surveys, you won’t get the information if you don’t ask the right questions.

Make sure the questions are straightforward with enough options for the customer to answer accurately, but don’t overwhelm the person.

You cannot get feedback for complicated issues in this manner; keep your expectations simple and your questions easy to answer. You will use these surveys to gauge perception about general topics.

This may include finding out if the customer had a long wait time, if his or her questions were answered and if he or she was treated courteously.

Know How You Will Use the Data

Customers don’t mind filling out surveys or answering questions if they know their answers make a difference. They want to see that you make changes in your business based on the information they provide.

You should know before starting a survey what actions you will take with the results.

Obviously, if everything comes back positive, you won’t need to make changes. If you have less than desirable results, you should have a plan of what you will change.

As the article, “After Call Surveys: Are They Really Effective?” mentions, you should have a plan to follow up on any negative feedback.

You may even want to implement a mailed survey or contact specific customers if the reaction is strong enough.

The goal of any survey should be to make your business stronger, better and to improve customer satisfaction. When you accumulate information directly from the customer, this is your best weapon to improving your services or product.

Take your survey results seriously and they will be a valuable tool to help ensure that you retain customer loyalty so that your business thrives.

Photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

About the Author: Joyce Morse is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including customer service and technology.

Connect with the Right Business Phone System for Company Growth

Is your business telephone system helping you to grow?

It’s easy to overlook your business phone system and just use whatever is available, but in fact choosing the right phone system can provide your business with a valuable boost.

Picking the right telephone system is a crucial choice for your business and can help determine your success. Your business phone system can make it easier for your customers to reach you, and for your team to collaborate with each other.

The result is enhanced customer service, and better teamwork, two elements which are vital to the success of your business.

Helping Your Customers to Reach You

The right business phone system can make a noticeable difference to the quality of your customer service.

Whether they call or text, email or leave a message on your social media profiles, your customers are looking for a quick and helpful response. The right telephone system can help you give them just that.

VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems often offer feature-rich solutions which you can make the most of to boost your customer service.

VoIP allows you to stay in touch wherever you are by forwarding calls to your mobile device, cutting down the amount of times your customers will have to hear “I’m sorry, I’m not at my desk right now”.

With features such as find me and follow me, you can set up calling sequences for yourself and your team that will call different numbers in sequence.

The right system can do more than just find you, however.

You can make use of auto attendants to help your customers reach the right person, or us alert features that will let you know via email when you have a new voice mail (some will even transcribe the voice mail for you).

Choosing a phone system with the right features means your customers will benefit from customer service that makes it easy for them to get in touch with you and get a response.

Keeping Your Team Connected

As the following article looks at, the same features that make the right phone systems for businesses a boon for your customer service can also help your team to stay connected, and can even help boost their performance.

As well as the features outlined above, your team can make use of VoIP phones to make conference calls or even use instant messaging apps.

Whether collaborating with a colleague in an office several hundred miles away or updating your team with vital information while you’re out and about, the right phone system makes it easier to keep in touch.

Some business phone systems can even be used to help with training. They include features that allow managers to listen to customer service calls, join in on the call if needed, or talk to their employee without the customer hearing.

Your choice of phone system can facilitate more efficient teamwork, cut down on games of “telephone tag” when employees need to get in touch with one another, and help to provide training and support for employees who take customer calls.

It’s clear that your choice of phone system can make a big impact on how you run your business and how you connect with your customers.

By choosing a system with features that you know you can make good use of, your team will able to work together more effectively, and your customers will enjoy better customer service.

That means a business that runs more smoothly, and happy customers who will return to do business with you again.

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About the Author: Tristan Anwyn writes on a wide variety of topics, including branding, inbound marketing, business telephone systems and how to use social media to drive sales.

How To Use Yelp Reviews To Improve Your Business

By Lindsey Tolino

Yelp reviews can be excellent marketing or the bane of your business. Have you thought about improving your business based on reviews? Is it sometimes hard to know what is constructive criticism and what isn’t?

Here’s how to cut through Yelp reviews to improve your business:

Things to keep in mind – 1. Yelp reviews may or may not represent your customers as a whole since only a fraction of your customers “yelp.” 2. If you don’t have enough reviews, Yelp explains how to get more genuine reviews here.

 

If you have mixed reviews (3-4 star average):

  • Look for major themes. What do people generally like and dislike about your business? For example, do people often write that the table service is rude? Do people regularly write that you have the best steak tacos?
  • When you find the themes, it should show what your business is doing well and what it may need to improve on.
  • When you know what your business is doing well, ensure that you’re communicating to your customers what you do well to create accurate expectations. For example, if people love your steak tacos, your ads could say ‘Best steak tacos in town!’
  • When you know your weakness, decide if you should eliminate it, turn it into a strength or improve upon it. Let’s look at rude table service as an example. To eliminate it, you could get rid of table service altogether and convert to counter service and take-out only. To turn it into a strength, you could emphasize your rude service and use it as an edge like some restaurants have. To improve it, you could work with your servers to ensure they are serving customers more kindly.

If you haven’t been able to find major themes, issues may be related to inconsistencies in products or services. In that case, you may want to look into establishing some QA/QC processes to establish consistency.

If you have mostly positive reviews (5 star average):

Congratulations! But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from your reviews. You can always learn and improve, especially if you’re trying to grow your business.

  • Use reviews to gain demographic info. Examining Yelp reviewers as your only demographic can be a bit misleading (because not everyone ‘yelps’), but it still helps to aggregate some data from Yelp to see who loves your business.
  • You can use this information as a source of data to help you determine areas of potential business growth. For example, if college students seem to love your place, you may want to consider events, marketing or even new locations that serve them better.

If you have mostly negative reviews (1-2 star average):

I’m sorry, this can be rough. But you have to set the emotion aside for a moment to look at it intellectually. You have direct-from-the-customer information about how to improve your business, which is great news.

  • If you have consistently negative reviews, it probably relates to the fact that you’re not delivering on customer expectations. Go back to the drawing board and examine what expectations you’re creating for customers. If you don’t know what expectations you’re creating, examine the negative reviews and cite the themes of customer disappointment.
  • If customers expected something wrongly (i.e. you didn’t mean to promise it), then you need to implement better methods of communication (in signage, advertisements, website, etc.). This will ensure that customers have expectations consistent with what you’re promising.
  • If customers expected something rightly (i.e. you do promise it), but are disappointed, then you need to examine what is letting them down specifically. If it is related to a product, use the reviews to recognize product issues and make it right. If it is related to timely service, examine your systems and determine bottlenecks. If it is related to quality service, examine your capability, culture and employees. Make changes as needed.
  • After you’ve made changes, it is essential to let customers know that you have heard their feedback and changed accordingly. You might need to run a promotion, do a PR release or even rebrand. Ultimately, you want to ensure customers know that the old problems are resolved and that you will serve them better.

Yelp is a great source of information for analyzing and improving your business. Don’t be discouraged by harsh reviews. Instead, discern through them and use information wisely to greatly benefit your business.

Author’s Bio: Lindsey Tolino is small business management consultant that comes alongside artisans, craftsman and people monetizing their passions to help them create healthy, structured businesses. She writes business musings and tips at ToBusinessOwners.com. Follow her on Twitter @LindseyTolino or connect with her on Google+.

Are you missing out on this under-the-radar marketing resource?

They’re everywhere.

Interviews, case studies, Q&As with your ideal client.

man being interviewed

They’re happening on competitor blogs, podcasts, marketing blogs, YouTube channels, magazines, and more.

Your ideal client (or her colleague) is spilling her guts all over the place.

Are you catching that inside information?

One example is the ChiefMarTec blog, run by Scott Brinker. He’s been interviewing CMOs over the last several months, and one question he usually asks is, “What does a day in your life look like? What are the toughest and most interesting parts?

Well wow. If I’m someone who sells to CMOs, I’m reading that interview and taking notes.

It’s so important to be able to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What better way than to listen to them talk about their daily challenges?

Here’s your actionable tip for today: think about your idea customer’s job description. Once you have it firmly in mind, go seek out media outlets where they might be giving interviews.

Even in more obscure industries, investigate the big trade show or conference for that industry (they all have them). Usually the keynote speaker will be interviewed, or there will be presenters giving interviews. Pay attention to the media buzz, and soak up those insider stories.

Look for the trade magazines. They are always doing profiles of key management. Whether it’s online or in print magazines, this is another good resource to find out about the daily life of your prospect.

Take it another step farther if you have your own business blog—interview your own existing clients. Ask them what their day-to-day work is like, what their key challenges are, and what solutions they’re seeking.

Armed with this information, you’ll be able to provide services that directly address those challenges.

Do you use interviews as a resource?

Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is an insightful spirit who works for social strata — a top ten company to work for on the Internet . Check out the Social Strata blog. You can find Rosemary on Google+ and on Twitter as @rhogroupee

Photo Credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via Compfight cc

The Wrong Way to Handle a Bad Fit

By Lisa D. Jenkins

Near where I live, there’s a small independent boutique that’s always drawn my interest. The clothes in the window aren’t something you’ll find on the rack in a mainstream big brand store so I was excited to step in and check things out.

Glass slipper

The clothes on the inside matched the promise of the storefront; the cut and quality of clothing had me really excited to do a bit of shopping. As I browsed and added things to my dressing room, I talked with the owner about her choice of stock.

She’s filled her store with short runs of clothing from independent designers and that appeals to me on a number of personal levels. She stocks each garment in a single size run and when it’s gone, it’s gone. There are no new orders and if something doesn’t fit, there’s no ordering another size. That means that there’s little time for a customer to dither. If I wanted a specific piece for myself, I’d need to buy it then and there.

I love that she supports independent designers who aren’t able to mass produce their clothing. I can get behind her tactic of creating a sense of scarcity and exclusivity to drive sales.

Let’s shop!

As I tried clothes on, I found a couple of items I loved and had them set aside for me behind the counter.

Then I tried on the piece that brought me in the store. The fit was lovely, the sizing spot on but the color just wasn’t right for me. It washed me out. I knew it, The Husband knew it and the shop owner knew it.

As I turned to go back to the dressing room the owner said to me, in an exasperated tone, “You know it’s not the color of the garment, it’s your makeup. You need to wear more. Anyone in Europe could wear that color because they know how to wear their makeup.”

I don’t need to wear more makeup, what I needed what that same garment in a different color.

Reality Check

You are never going to have the perfect product or service for every prospect you come in contact with.

It is never your prospect’s job to fit into the constraints of your product or service. People don’t have an obligation to amend their needs or business practices to make your product or service right for them.

If anyone in the dynamic adapts, it should be you.

How to Move Forward

Here’s a tip: Don’t make your prospect feel badly if you don’t have what they need.

Instead, point them to a trusted colleague who can serve them fully. If an existing customer is outgrowing you, maybe it’s time to collaborate on a new product or service that will fit.

Whichever you choose, handle that person with care because the way you treat people when you can’t help them will color their opinion of you far more deeply than how you treat them when you can.

Think of It Like This

Everyone wants to go to the ball, but not everyone is going to fit your glass slipper.

Treat those you don’t fit with respect. Word gets around and when you’ve handled a bad fit properly, you’re far more attractive to others and they’ll come calling to try you on for size.

Tell me, how have you handled not being the right fit for a prospect or being outgrown by an existing customer?

Author’s Bio: Lisa D. Jenkins is a Public Relations professional specializing in Social and Digital Communications for businesses. She has over a decade of experience and work most often with destination organizations or businesses in the travel and tourism industry in the Pacific Northwest. Connect with her on Google+

Image via DeviantArt: http://orico.deviantart.com

Pay Attention to the Tomato

There’s an amazing little burger joint near me, called Poe’s Tavern. It’s a warm, friendly, local place with great food, but there’s one special thing they do that makes me a maniacal fan—they pay attention to their tomato.

Tomatoes should be ripe, red, and full of flavor. They should add to the hamburger, not detract from it. But the “tomato bar” is set so low at most restaurants. Often it’s semi-ripe, mealy, or green in the center. Thrown on top because the burger is supposed to come with tomato on it. That makes me sad.

Poe’s tomatoes are so consistently beautiful that I steal my husband’s, add a little salt, and eat it like a side dish.

good tomato customer service

What’s your tomato like?

Are you paying attention to the little extras that come along with your product or service?

If parts of your offering are unripe, don’t include them until they’re ready. Wait until they’re so good, they could almost stand on their own, bursting with flavor and beautiful color.

This one little shift in thinking can change your customers/clients into fans/evangelists. It might even make you…in the words of Liz…irresistible!

Now don’t get me started on shredded lettuce that tastes like the walk-in.

What’s your tomato, and how does it taste?

Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is an insightful spirit who works for social strata — a top ten company to work for on the Internet . Check out the Social Strata blog. You can find Rosemary on Google+ and on Twitter as @rhogroupee

Image: Flickr CC, Ajith_chatie

Smarter Shoppers: How to Convert on New Buyer Behavior

By Darren Creasey

Online marketing is an industry that is acutely aware of buyer behaviors and patterns; in fact, many trends in digital marketing are driven by this awareness. The Internet is a positive feedback loop- it has changed the way consumers research, shop, and buy, which in turn shapes how marketers use the web to market to buyers. Do you know how the Internet influences buyer behavior, and how to capitalize on that information? Read on to find out.

1. Shoppers are smarter

One of the best features of the Internet is the accessibility to learning resources that it provides. This is true of product information as well as academic knowledge. Consumers are now taking advantage of this wealth of online resources to learn more about the products and services they are interested in: what their options are, the key differences from each competitor, and what price levels to expect. This smart shopper means that they have an element control over the sales process – they no longer need to wait for your sales presentation to learn the details about your solutions. Instead, you need to be prepared for dealing with a middle of the funnel customer, with knowledge of the product and specific questions, earlier in the buying cycle.

2. Buyers want you to help make them smarter

While a more informed customer might sound like a tough sale at first, it’s important to look at the positives of the situation. A well informed, inquisitive customer will place a lot more value and trust in your brand if you help contribute to their knowledge. Content marketing is a great tool to use here – by publishing information that helps consumers understand your industry, your products, and their options, you are not only demonstrating value to the buyer, but also strengthening your own position as a reputable, knowledgeable company.

3. Consumers are listening online

But buyers aren’t just going to take your word for it. Social media, forums, and other third party online communities help potential customers hear from real users, and can help sway their decisions one way or the other. You should be actively monitoring and engaging in these conversations; you need to know what people are saying about your company, and you need to be ready to jump into a conversation when a question is asked – this is a great opportunity to help educate the customer.

Your turn: how have you changed your strategy to deal with the new, more informed consumer?

Author’s Bio: This article was written by Darren Creasey to inform people about the advantages of online marketing. He believes that through internet marketing techniques, companies can achieve a greater level of success.

Turning Customers Into Advocates

John Caplan, founder and CEO of OpenSky.com, shares his tips on how leveraging the web’s social tools to build a community around your brand and engage directly with shoppers can grow your business.  

As an entrepreneur, I know how important it is to build a community of people around your business.  As a business owner who is passionate about growing emerging businesses, getting your business online to leverage distribution and build relationships is an essential tool. 
 
At OpenSky, we strive to empower emerging brands to grow their businesses by engaging consumers.  We make sure to communicate and constantly listen to the concerns, questions and feedback from our merchants and our members, which helps us build a platform that works for people we serve.
 
Leveraging the web’s social tools to build a community around your brand by engaging and communicating directly with your shoppers can grow your business.  Here are some ways to help you achieve this.
 

1. Social media makes it easier than ever to connect directly to customers.

Establish your brand on social channels – Facebook, OpenSky, Twitter, Pinterest — where you can have active, real-time conversations.  It’s not only a great way to share updates but often times, it’s that real time feedback from customers that can help you resolve a problem before it impacts a huge number of people.  This will serve as an effective way to give people a great experience because then they share it with their friends and their friends share it with friends and so on.  There is nothing more effective for marketing than a truly happy customer.
 

2. It’s essential to listen to customer feedback on social outlets and respond right away.

  However, as it important as it is, make sure that isn’t the only way you’re getting direct feedback from customers about how you’re doing.  Ask for it anytime an opportunity arises.  From packing slips, to invoices, customer surveys and emails – there are numerous opportunities to ask your customers for feedback and offer a place where they can provide it.
 

3. In addition to blogs and social networks, invite members of your community from customers to partners and vendors into your offices, stores or workshops.

  Whether it’s for a party, focus group, or to demo a new product – creating the face-to-face connection can be invaluable for creating brand loyalty.
 

4. One of the most difficult and stressful elements of growing a business is expanding your products or services. 

Adding a new feature or service can strain your core business and potentially alienate existing customers, especially in the beginning. Open the lines of communication and bring your community into your growth strategy by talking to them during the process.  Working with your core customers early on to help them understand new products and services will keep you on the right track, provide valuable insight and make your loyal customers more forgiving of any mishaps in the road to success.

Author’s Bio: John Caplan is the Founder and CEO of OpenSky, the social network for shopping where members shop with their friends for unique, artisanal finds. Prior to OpenSky, John was the CEO of Ford Models. In five years, he rebuilt the agency, tripling its size and value while expanding it to include Ford’s artist divisions and digital media business. During the late 1990s, John served first, as CMO of About.com leading the brands growth and later as President of the About Network before selling the company to Primedia in 2001 for $500+ million. Caplan has made numerous appearances as a business expert on television shows including CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg TV, Reuters TV, TODAY Show, WNBC-TV and many others.