The very nature of the Internet provides users a ubiquitous assortment of venues for purchasing just about any product. Consequently, earning market share and developing your business demands a type of differentiation that actually resonates with consumers.
Although selling on cheapest price is the most obvious differentiator, price alone is among the most difficult benefits to sustain long term in a competitive and open market. In the event of the world’s biggest retailers, there’s even a willingness to market products in several of categories below cost from a simple desire to capture market share in this way. However, for small online retailers, pursuing this strategy exclusively can be a sort of slow suicide.
Where small retailers can get a foothold, however, is in the region of customer service. Despite its gigantic catalogue and reduced prices, Amazon does not take telephone calls to field questions about products or policies. In this way, it differs from Zappos, by way of instance, which is a standout example of how personalized service can intersect with big retail, even online.
The first half of this year is a fantastic time to reassess your customer support policies and procedures, and to reinforce the significance of your service orientation with everybody at your business.
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Enable your Entire Staff
For starters, I hope I never hear, as a customer, the following sentence again,”I would love to do this for you, but I must consult my supervisor first.” I bet you’d agree with me.
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Every member of your team is an ambassador for your own brand, for better or for worse. The behaviour and responsiveness of your staff will inevitably be connected with the company as a whole. What’s more, often enough customer support doesn’t start or end with the”customer service section.” Anyone who works in your company may be called upon to interact with a customer or potential client, and the standing of your entire company will pivot around the sum total of all those individual interactions.
Although a part of leveraging the power of the idea has to do with things such as rallying your whole team around a set of core values and a clear mission that connects with your enthusiasm for what you are doing, another facet has to do directly with what we traditionally think of as the realm of customer support.
For many entrepreneurs, the notion of empowering staff to solve problems on their own — as they’re happening, to meet customers without requiring them to get permission to do it is a bridge too far. Often enough, the concern is that the staffer is going to do the wrong thing, give away too much, or make the situation somehow worse instead of better. This is not an irrational fear in certain businesses, and owners are reasonable in being concerned about it.
But requiring staff to acquire permission to actually help a client is a mistake in the other direction — exercising too much control in a time when employees most needs in order to be flexible and responsive. Additionally, it results in the used car syndrome, where clients are left to feel that the salesman is a helpless conduit between the client and the hidden and unresponsive sales manager from the back room.
Giving staff carte blanche permission to do everything and anything to work out a customer concern without having the say-so of a supervisor or owner addresses that concern. But it’s reasonable and appropriate to offer your staff upfront guidelines about what you would like to see happen in a variety of situations, and to frequently perform after-the-fact testimonials of scenarios that come up to supply some review and opinions of the options that the employees create.
The fact remains that a lot of the success of this approach hinges on hiring smart and sensitive individuals in the first place; individuals who know and support your mission and that are committed to the very same values that you’re. And the experience of handling a variety of situations over an extended time period will hone their decision and increase their effectiveness in handling difficult situations without someone looking over their shoulder.
Help your Clients in the Way They Wish to Be Helped
Technology has made it easy to communicate with clients in an assortment of ways. Email remains a standard, but phone-based service is simple to provide, also, and it’s come to be surprisingly inexpensive.
In Stardust Memorials we use RingCentral (a VoIP platform), in partnership with AT&T. RingCentral allows us to offer multiple line toll-free support at a really reasonable cost. We team our own phones for much of the day but for after-hours and weekend support we associate with OnBrand24 (a U.S.-based call centre ) to deal with our service requirements.
Live chat tools are supplied standard in several hosted ecommerce platforms, and third party chat tools are available which offer many choices at a really reasonable cost. My favourite is Olark, but there are a lot of good ones on the market.
Other options to consider are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking channels where your clients are already spending a lot of the time.
Consider, also, including a CRM (customer relationship management) tool to the mixture. It permits you to connect together input from several customer service communication stations, handle it, assign it to employees, and ensure that it’s being handled how you need it done.
A tool such as Zendesk or Desk.com lets you integrate input from sources such as Olark, together with conventional email or tickets, Facebook posts, and other communication channels (even the telephone system) resulting in a solution where your employees have one unified shareable interface to handle communication from those different channels.
Having a toolbox in this way gives the owners the transparency they should see to it that service has been taken seriously and professionally, and it gives staff the ability to handle customer issues, share tickets and emails between one another, and to be certain that each and every concern becomes addressed along with the corresponding ticket closed.
Responding to clients’ concerns quickly is crucial. Speed does matter.
When clients are asking a question about a product, it’s since they’re shopping and the requested information is essential, from the client’s point of view, so as to move from a browsing mode into an engaged purchasing mode. When they don’t hear back from you fast, then they’re probably going to go searching to other retailers using the exact same or similar merchandise and asking their staff to the identical information. The first one back with the knowledge required will win the sale.
Likewise, when clients contact a company about a product or service failure, or as an order did not meet their expectations, they’re likely feeling anxious to a degree about how you are going to manage it. Are you going to repay their money or replace the item? Or are you going to ignore their concerns? Leaving customers in a semi-alarmed condition for very long isn’t likely to get great outcomes for you or your standing. You need to get back together quickly.
Here is where you are most likely to gain from another facet of working with a helpdesk-CRM tool like Zendesk or Freshdesk. All the better tools permit you to craft an SLA (service level agreement) coverage that’s administered automatically by the application itself. SLAs are basically sets of principles which”escalate” concerns to the next level of seriousness, and notify the needed staff, whenever the problem goes unresolved for a long time. A low-priority concern may be given a longer-term to fix (say, three hours) whereas a pressing concern may be raised if it goes unaddressed for over thirty minutes.
The trick to success with using this component of the tool is, first, to have a well-crafted coverage which does not ask the impossible of their staff. You really must give this some careful thought and game-out the effects of your SLA coverage in terms of what the employees can truly achieve given their resources.
The second key, however, is informing everyone concerning the character of this SLA policy, the particular ways that the rules operate, and the results of tickets that are elevated, and any other pertinent facts that bear on your service commitment.
Be Genuinely Useful
Among Google’s nine principles of innovation is a constant focus on enhancing the customer’s experience through every new iteration of a Google product. Decisions about development priorities, merchandise characteristics, capital investments, and advertising are created with the headline,”What would be best for our customers?” firmly in mind. Google believes that by focusing solely on enhancing the consumer experience in everything that it does, each stakeholder will be made better off and be more fulfilled in the long term.
There’s a customer service lesson in this for every single corporation. We know it is almost impossible to satisfy every possible customer with the services and products which you have available. Inevitably there will be instances where a prospective client asks for something that you don’t market or requests a service that you can not provide.
As much as this may seem counterintuitive, it’s nearly always best to have a page from the Zappos playbook in this kind of circumstance, and to go ahead and have your employees recommend a competitor that you think will do a fantastic job of providing the customer with what’s wanted. In such a circumstance, you are not going to get the sale anyway, and the client will finally find a vendor for what they want on her or his own. However, by providing that advice and support, you are likely to make a reputation as a company that cares first and foremost about your clients, and that type of honesty and helpfulness will bring those customers back later on (or their friends) to make a purchase when you are better able to really help them out.
We do so at Stardust Memorials using a pick list of opponents for whom we have respect and we have reason to believe will deliver on their service obligations, also. I have never spoken with the owners in one of these businesses, but they’ve caught on to what we are doing, as they have in many instances reciprocated the favor and sent us company also.
Apologize and Empathize
This looks like a small and obvious thing, but it is not. When a client presents us with a problem with an order or is dissatisfied with a product, the first step is to simply admit their concern, express compassion, and apologize.
Just recently one of my buying staff was disappointed to discover that our box provider was from a critical size of box which they had previously assured us was a stock item we could rely on always being available. The product was on backorder and was likely to be unavailable for a while.
Though it was frustrating to hear that, and it required that we make adjustments, what my buying staffer was quick to detect and discuss with me was the simple truth that the salesperson did not apologize or appear to care that it was going to be an issue for us. To put it differently, the inability to deliver what we had was not quite as much of a problem for her because the fact that the sales staff was indifferent to the plight.
In Jason Fried and David Hansson’s Rework — a book that I recommend — they talk the worst ways to say you are sorry, including”We are sorry if that upset you,””I am sorry you don’t feel we lived up to your expectations,” and”We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.” They call these non-apology apologies since they’re impersonal, don’t take responsibility, suggest in a subtle way in which the issue is you, nor articulate a plan of action to make things better.
As they write,”A fantastic apology accepts responsibility. It does not have any conditional if term attached. It shows people that the buck stops with you. And it provides real facts about what happened and what you are doing to stop it from happening again. And it seeks a way to make things right” (p. 238).
At root, this is a culture issue again — does your employees understand fully that it’s not only”OK” but actively desired that, on behalf of the whole organization, they are permitted to apologize if things go wrong (by saying”I am sorry” instead of”we are sorry”), to accept responsibility, and to make matters better in whatever manner they believe makes the most sense, given the circumstance? Has this been clearly articulated by the owners and then bolstered?
The Customer Isn’t Always Right; Your Staff Matters, also
Although nearly all airlines do it, Southwest Airlines has a particular reputation for looking after their employees, in addition to their passengers. Knowing that a tiny fraction of the traveling public frequently create most the trouble on planes, differentiating that relatively small collection of problem customers for what they are is part of the formula for long-term achievement.
When a customer crosses the line from being upset, angry, or disappointed to being abusive, threatening or insulting toward your team, then the rules do, in fact, change. In my company, my team understands they have an obligation to provide outstanding customer service, even in circumstances where we are dealing with angry, frustrated, or disappointed clients. But they don’t have to accept being mistreated, insulted, or threatened.
In situations where a member of my team is presented with that type of behaviour (very, very rare), I would rather take that call myself. Often enough men and women who act out in these kinds of inappropriate ways ultimately wish to”speak with the owner” to be able to get what they perceive to be”gratification,” so sending them to me is where the conversation will go anyway.
But my bigger concern is for my own staff. I wish to hire and retain excellent people, and a part of what makes that happen is developing a workspace where they would like to devote their working lives. I do anything I can to make that distance, and that involves taking the very troublesome and violent scenarios from the assortment of their concerns in the first location.