The “Thank You” Effect: Improving Service 1 Step at a Time

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I’ve written here before about the effect that one person’s thank you had on me (thank you, Brad Feld!) I believe that “The Thank You Effect” is an example of a small action that prompts meaningful next steps to measurably improve service in any company. In my experience, there are a number of these small actions that when evangelized through a support team or through the larger company can really make a difference on the customer experience.

So I made a list of 50 small things that you can do to improve customer service measurably in your company. I’m not a purist, so some of these things might be “bigger than a bread box” – or need to be broken down into component steps – and aren’t quite ready to be measured on their own. And I do believe that adding only some of these steps will really improve the service culture at your company.

50 Small Things to Improve Customer Service

  1. When in doubt, be nice.
  2. Say “Thank you” in your response.
  3. Suggest a solution to the problem at hand in addition to asking for more information.
  4. Offer to provide additional assistance – email or call back.
  5. Commit random acts of kindness and deliver Customer Wow (Be More Awesome.)
  6. Follow up after an issue has been resolved and let the customer know you haven’t forgotten them.
  7. Come up with a list of the top 10 “cringe items” to fix.
  8. Drop everything and fix them.
  9. Implement standard responses for the 20% of cases you encounter 80% of the time.
  10. Reduce the number of clicks it takes to do something important in your app.
  11. Place more “closed question” choices inside your application and reduce decision fatigue.
  12. Identify the top 10 highest rated and lowest rated knowledge base articles that your customers use, and rewrite them on a content calendar.
  13. Review searches that result in zero results in your knowledge base.
  14. Define what it means to “love the product”: how does your service tangibly change a customer’s life and what problems does it solve?
  15. Define the lifecycle of a customer case – what are the stages, and how does a case move from stage to stage?
  16. Make sure that one person owns the customer’s case throughout the lifetime of that case.
  17. Create a report (shared widely within the company at an interval that makes sense to you, probably weekly) with positive and negative customer comments.
  18. Catch people in your organization doing something right.
  19. Identify cases that drive new knowledge content, revision in existing knowledge content, or removal of knowledge content.
  20. Put an expiration date on knowledge content (good, review, remove.)
  21. Define customer segments and decide whether they deserve extra attention – then make that part of your service process.
  22. Create a clear escalation path and understand how many cases are in a state of escalation.
  23. Define customers that have custom solutions and make sure it’s easy to find why they’re custom.
  24. Create a simple data driven measurement to determine whether a customer is likely to churn.
  25. Maintain relationships with top customers and talk to them on a schedule – they should probably hear from you at least once a month.
  26. Define simple goals that everyone can measure and do to improve service, even if it’s outside of their “job description”, e.g. “answer 5 customer emails/day”
  27. Try whatever you’re doing from the customer’s point of view; then observe the customer doing it with your mouth shut and your ears open.
  28. Be able to deliver a 2 minute demo of the key differentiators and benefits of your product.
  29. Respond as fast as you can, and if you don’t know the answer, say so. If you can’t solve the problem and will let the customer know when it’s going to be solved, do so. And if it’s unlikely that you’ll ever solve the problem, say so.
  30. Send physical thank you notes by “snail mail” to your customers.
  31. Eat your own dog food, drink your own champagne, and use your own product every day.
  32. Provide off-hours support by email, pager, or smoke signal. (Probably not by smoke signal.)
  33. Have lots of ways to be contacted (whichever way the customer prefers) and funnel all of those inbound contacts into one place.
  34. Get more sleep and make it easy for your team to eat breakfast.
  35. Ask your customers what gifts you should buy for a friend – you’ll learn more about what they like.
  36. Stack rank your projects internally and limit the amount of active projects to force decisions.
  37. Have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal as your North Star.
  38. Build Bench Strength of Amazing People with Different Strengths.
  39. Share some interesting content with customers every day.
  40. Ask customers, employees, and partners: “how can we do better”?
  41. Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing that we should change?”
  42. Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing we should stop doing?”
  43. Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing we should start doing?”
  44. Find other people who care about customers and talk to them.
  45. When in doubt, beg forgiveness rather than ask permission and just do the right thing.
  46. Go home and hug your dog, your kids, and/or your significant other more often.
  47. Take more walks during the day.
  48. Spend more time being passionate about the causes and things you love.
  49. When you find a new rule that helps the customer, write it down and share it.
  50. #Go for it.

I’m going to use this as an anchor post for other items I write about the Thank You Effect, and I’d love to hear any ideas you have about measuring and improving the customer experience (in a service business or otherwise.)

Here’s how to find Metrics that Matter

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Is there an Easy Solution?

The biggest challenge for most businesses is getting from “this is a nifty silver bullet” to “this service is an integral part of our business” I bet you’ve been there, either as the buyer or as the seller. You really really want to believe that whatever you’re selling or they’re buying is going to solve your problem without any work being involved. Occasionally (when accompanied by some masterful Sales Fu) this appears to happen, and most of the time there is extra work to be done to take the Lone Ranger’s Silver Technology Bullet and turn it into the Swiss Army Knife your business actually needed.

Finding Metrics that Matter

What should happen then? In a great essay on metrics that matterSuhail Doshi points out that “Companies need to start using a new set of metrics that don’t simply make them feel good.” This is a perfect way to frame the question of the technology silver bullet, and to point out that you already know all of the attributes of the service that you need to succeed. The friction you feel when you try a new product and it doesn’t match up to the marketing (or your expectations, or to your initial impression) originates from the fact that you haven’t yet defined the solution that you want. Once you define that solution, you can match what’s available against what you need (and want) and make a more informed decision about whether you’ve found the silver bullet, or just another shiny object.

A great way to start finding the One Key Metric – the thing that really matters and “moves the needle” for your business – in Doshi’s parlance is to define success at the beginning of a project. Imagine what it would look like to look back at a successful project and be able to deliver for your business the results you were seeking from that shiny object so that it does become a valued part of your business. This process works much better if it’s concrete and starts with the real world results you want (e.g. go from an average of N views per post to Y views per post over a period of 4 weeks). Don’t be fooled into creating analysis paralysis: just pick some goals you can do today and some actions you can take to get started right now.

An example: increasing traffic to a marketing blog

It’s attractive to think that a simple goal – like increasing traffic to a blog – can be accomplished with a simple solution. There are simple solutions (write more, and produce great content), expensive solutions (use Mechanical Turk and pay people to visit), automated solutions (spend money on paid placement advertisements or send out an email blast) and many of these actions won’t be successful over the long term because they don’t define a hypothesis (what should we do) followed by a test (let’s do something) and a next action (how do we evaluate what we did and do we do anything to follow up that idea.)

What’s Next (Your Turn)

In this example, the end goal of “increasing traffic as an integral part of the business” needs to be supported by clear actions (make a pledge to write 3 posts a week for 6 weeks, and experiment with low cost ideas to publicize that idea) and next actions as the outcome. The best SEO or Email Marketing Packages in the world won’t bring you more traffic – they will simply give you increasingly more powerful tools that you can choose to learn as you transform your initial idea into reality. Just remember, silver bullets only work in the movies.

What is Agile Marketing and Why Should You Use It?

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If you’re like many people, when you hear the term “Agile Marketing” you might wonder if the person is talking about some new dance form or other form of stretching rather than an exciting way to improve the way that you propose, build, and measure your marketing success.

Don’t worry – you can start doing Agile marketing without buying new and expensive tools for your marketing toolbox. Agile marketing can help you define specific goals for your campaigns and find out quickly whether they’re working or not – and give you metrics to decide whether to move on.

Borrowed from the methodology of the Agile software movement that started about 10 years ago, Agile Marketing is a philosophy of getting things done that proposes to shorten the length of marketing campaigns, to get actionable information from those campaigns as soon as possible, and to test these ideas to keep the good ones and spend less time on campaigns that don’t produce results. The goal of this process is to make the marketing process more adaptable to changes in your business. 

The purpose of Agile Marketing is – as Jim Ewel puts it – “to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.” The benefit of doing this should be obvious: you should spend more time working on the initiatives that work. If you can find the initiatives that work more quickly, you’ll be able to be more effective. And by communicating the metrics that you find important to the business, you’ll be better at sharing what you’re working on.

Does that sound difficult? It shouldn’t. If you focus on delivering things that work, measuring what you do, and build simple, self organizing teams, you can use these principles to get started with Agile Marketing. You can also take the application of Agile marketing ideas directly into your workplace today with these 13 hacks. You can also find some other great resources here.

A Customer Service Time Warp (remember 2007?)

Shopping Cart, Circa 2007
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A recent discussion with my kids made me think about how much has changed in the customer service world (and in the expectations of customers) in the last five years. Let’s take an example – picture yourself in 2007. You’re at a retail store (perhaps BestBuy) in search of an item (a new computer monitor or an interesting accessory.) Upon arriving to the store, you find an associate, who tells you that the item is out of stock; suggests an alternative; and waits while you make a decision. If the service experience is good or bad, you might not remember to write it down, blog about it, or offer praise or complain to the retailer later.

Compare that to your experience today when you can use Decide to determine whether or not to buy the item you’re seeking; Amazon to purchase the item, and any one of a million services to share directly with the manufacturer of the item how you’re feeling and whether you like what you bought. So, what happened to the retailer? They were cut out of the loop by the creative destruction of the market they used to inhabit. And what happened to you? You gained speed, utility, and choice, and the ability to find the right item for you at the time that you wanted it. And you’ve also lost the tactile ability to touch and review the item; the social interaction of actually paying for the thing in the store, and the opportunity to interact with an expert in real time who can help improve your choice.

(No, I’m not suggesting that going to the retail store was better, but that it’s very different from the retail shopping experience we have today.) What’s a retailer to do to stay relevant to the customers that want more information; the customers that would prefer to buy whenever and wherever they are, and the customer who’s just not sure?

One way that retailers can provide superior service is to engage in conversations with people who care about the products they’re trying to sell. (Yeah, you say to yourself, what does “engaging” mean in this situation and why does it matter anyway?) Having real conversations with real people – via Skype, Twitter, Facebook, or pick your medium – builds empathy and brand loyalty. You’re never going to be able to compete with Amazon or NewEgg or on price. And you can compete with them by being the best source of information and conversation around a specialized topic (making coffee, being gluten free, what are the best stereo speakers, etc.) and by taking a cut of affiliate revenue (either directly by selling goods or indirectly by driving targeted, quantified business elsewhere).

Another way retailers can provide superior service is to put people on the front lines who care and who are able to fix problems (either through a flexible policy or a fixed dollar amount in budget) so that the inevitable breaks in service don’t cause your customers to think that one bad experience defines your company for them. If you don’t trust that front-line employee, do it yourself or find someone you can trust to implement the idea, quantify and qualify the results, and share them with you regularly.

Finally, retailers (including Best Buy, who led beautifully in providing social media contacts through its Blue Shirt initiative and had trouble following up and providing a similar positive experience in-store) can just ask themselves a really simple question: “if I came to this store, would I want to shop here instead of at one of our competitors?” If you don’t have at least 3 reasons that make your shopping experience 10x better than your competitors, your customer isn’t going to want to shop there either.

It’s not enough to build a beautiful site

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“It’s about people.” –Marcus Nelson

Marcus Nelson’s blog post today about the potential for creating a renaissance at familiar names like Flickr, Digg, and Yahoo challenged me to think about the internet services that I actually pay for (and don’t just use as a beta customer) and the critical differences between these “gotta-have-it” products and the rest of the Internet chaff that’s easy to try these days in an almost zero-friction way thanks to the power of social login (which reminds me, I’ve got to clean up my Facebook and Twitter authorization.)

Sorry Design Hackers, Design is Not Enough

Marcus’s axiom that “it’s all about people” is a powerful one because it’s not enough to build a beautiful site (or app) these days – you also have to build a habit that allows people to learn and practice a known process that brings them tangible benefits. Yes, you say, great design is necessary for great apps (I agree). I also think that it’s not sufficient to have a beautiful design where the principal message to new users that don’t get it is “you didn’t do it right.”

Great Apps Start with Unmet Needs – and Fill them

A perfect example of a service that’s both well designed, beautiful, and deadly accurate and functional is Sanebox. We all have the problem (or at least most of us do) of having too much email and not enough time to deal with it. And an even greater problem is the inability to know which emails are likely to deserve our attention. Enter Sanebox – it takes this unmet need and addresses it with an elegant solution – categorizing the mails you see into filters that allow you to scan and review your mail (and bacn) easily. Do I have other solutions for this problem? Yes. Do I pay for Sanebox? Yes.

A Great Need, Unmet

As Marcus points out when talking about some of the “original” internet apps like Flickr, Digg, and Yahoo, they have stagnated because their customers still have great, unmet needs, and have moved on to other services that offer adjacent substitutes (and oftentimes leapfrog innovations). I started using Instagram because it was an easy way to share photographs in a social way – and it offered a fun way to manipulate images that was easy and satisfying. I stayed with the service because it’s still a lightweight way to share photographs. I – like Marcus – still subscribe to Flickr Pro – and I’m wondering why I still do. If Instagram were to offer me an easy way to archive photos (perhaps through Dropbox) and gave me a way to upload non-square images, they would have me as a customer (until the next big thing comes along.)

People are Sometimes Stuck, but that Doesn’t mean you should stop innovating

People resist change (or I wouldn’t still be a Flickr Pro member, obviously) for lots of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that your product should stay the same. Keep building the features that people use (and get rid of the ones they stop using) and you’ll be farther along the path of building an innovative, interesting product that people compelled to pay for, even when new and shinier products come along.

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