photo by dryicons.com When was the last time you sent a physical thank you note? And how about the last time you received one of these notes? Taking the time to write a note by hand is really worth it, even if you don’t know how it’s worth it yet.
Sending a note is a sign that you care. When you take the moment to reach out to customers you start building their trust and give them a touch point to reach a real person. Being able to call you really matters.
Another way you can get closer to your customers is to use your product as much as possible. Product managers and devs may jokingly call this activity “eat your own dog food” or “drink your own champagne”. It means putting yourself in the place of the customer and feeling how delighted they are (or frustrated) to use the solution your team built.
And then when things don’t go right those customers need an easy way to contact you. You might provide off-hours support by email, pager, or smoke signal. But the best way (still) is a plain old phone number, staffed by a real person who takes interest in the customer. When you listen, pay attention, and call back, good things happen – even when there may have been problems with the service delivery.
So spend more time talking to, and thanking your customers. Use your own product and make sure you know where it shines and where it has warts. And staff a phone line with a real person who cares to make the process better when things don’t work out or when they’re just confusing.
You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.
The single most important thing you can do to increase customer value is to follow up on the things you said you would you do the last time you talked to the customer. In the eyes of the customer, it’s the only thing that matters. As Woody Allen famously said, “80% of life is showing up.” You can show up for the customer by solving their problem on the first try, and if you can’t do that, let them know when they’ll hear from you again … and make sure to follow-up. You can Be More Awesome by delivering amazing service when you follow up and making sure that the customer knows exactly what happened.
A familiar scenario
Imagine you’re handling the first email of the day. You’re finishing your coffee and you get an urgent call on your cell phone from one of your most important customers. She says, “how can I learn more about what your team is doing to help me solve the problem I brought up with you last week?” If you have a great feedback system in place, it takes you 15-30 seconds to find the status, thank her for calling, give her a status update, set a time for the next contact, and take some quick notes to find out information for her so that you can contact her even before that appointment to confirm that you’ve handled the issue. Even if you don’t know how to solve the problem, you’ve built the foundation for a great experience.
How to Make an Awesome Follow Up
And what are the basics of this experience? The first step to follow up is to offer the follow up – this may seem like a minor detail, but if you don’t have a system to make sure this happens, you can use some of the basic systems you have all the time (like using the reminder feature on your phone) – and to set a time and deliverable when you do contact the customer again. This could be in the form of a call or an email, and it’s important to ask the customer how and when they’d like to hear from you. A great follow up sets the stage for a great result.
Adding Extra Value
When you follow up (and before), it is a great time to commit a random act of kindness for the customer. If they asked you to solve a specific problem, solve that one and offer some other thing that might be able to help them. If they asked you to contact them on a specific date, let them know even before that date how things are going. If you deliver Customer Wow – an above and beyond experience – you will amaze the customer with the extra effort and care you invested to make their experience a great one. Completing a random act of kindness also lets your staff be creative and to do more of what they love to help customers.
And what really makes a great experience in a follow up? When the people who make direct contact to the customer, the process that ensures that they make this connection, and the tools that enable them to follow this process and make the customer experience great are part of the follow up and any other action you take on behalf of the customer. Don’t just show up. Be More Awesome. You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.
It seems like a small thing to be nice. It seems like a small thing to say “thank you.” And it seems like a small thing to suggest a solution to the problem you found. Yet doing these small things is a powerful catalyst for customer service.
Start with the basics: be nice.
If you start with the premise that other people are trying to help you, and if you use that belief as a way to start your conversation, you’ll get farther in most situations than if you assume the worst. Being nice – as your parents or grandparents may have taught you – is a key component of providing great service. Because you remember how someone made you feel in a given situation.
70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels.
Saying “thank you” adds to the start that you created by being nice. Saying “thank you” shows the customer that you appreciate they contacted you and that you are ready to help them. And companies that thank their employees have triple the return on equity compared to companies who don’t. So why wouldn’t you want to deliver the same respect to your customer – it adds to their emotional benefit and to the bottom line of your business.
Spot it? Got It!
Once you find the root of the customer issue, especially when you are pointing out that you’ve identified a problem, you should suggest a solution to that issue in addition to simply asking for more information. By presenting information for the customer, framing it in the context of their situation, and providing a solution, you not only become an advocate for the customer but also give them the opportunity to finish the issue.
So here are 3 things you can do to give better service the next time you talk to a customer (or to anyone else)
When in doubt, be nice.
Say “Thank you” in your response.
Suggest a solution to the problem at hand in addition to asking for more information.
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.
Suggest a solution to the problem at hand in addition to asking for more information.
Offer to provide additional assistance – email or call back.
Commit random acts of kindness and deliver Customer Wow (Be More Awesome.)
Follow up after an issue has been resolved and let the customer know you haven’t forgotten them.
Come up with a list of the top 10 “cringe items” to fix.
Drop everything and fix them.
Implement standard responses for the 20% of cases you encounter 80% of the time.
Reduce the number of clicks it takes to do something important in your app.
Place more “closed question” choices inside your application and reduce decision fatigue.
Identify the top 10 highest rated and lowest rated knowledge base articles that your customers use, and rewrite them on a content calendar.
Review searches that result in zero results in your knowledge base.
Define what it means to “love the product”: how does your service tangibly change a customer’s life and what problems does it solve?
Define the lifecycle of a customer case – what are the stages, and how does a case move from stage to stage?
Make sure that one person owns the customer’s case throughout the lifetime of that case.
Create a report (shared widely within the company at an interval that makes sense to you, probably weekly) with positive and negative customer comments.
Catch people in your organization doing something right.
Identify cases that drive new knowledge content, revision in existing knowledge content, or removal of knowledge content.
Put an expiration date on knowledge content (good, review, remove.)
Define customer segments and decide whether they deserve extra attention – then make that part of your service process.
Create a clear escalation path and understand how many cases are in a state of escalation.
Define customers that have custom solutions and make sure it’s easy to find why they’re custom.
Create a simple data driven measurement to determine whether a customer is likely to churn.
Maintain relationships with top customers and talk to them on a schedule – they should probably hear from you at least once a month.
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”
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.
Be able to deliver a 2 minute demo of the key differentiators and benefits of your product.
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.
Send physical thank you notes by “snail mail” to your customers.
Eat your own dog food, drink your own champagne, and use your own product every day.
Provide off-hours support by email, pager, or smoke signal. (Probably not by smoke signal.)
Have lots of ways to be contacted (whichever way the customer prefers) and funnel all of those inbound contacts into one place.
Get more sleep and make it easy for your team to eat breakfast.
Ask your customers what gifts you should buy for a friend – you’ll learn more about what they like.
Stack rank your projects internally and limit the amount of active projects to force decisions.
Have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal as your North Star.
Build Bench Strength of Amazing People with Different Strengths.
Share some interesting content with customers every day.
Ask customers, employees, and partners: “how can we do better”?
Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing that we should change?”
Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing we should stop doing?”
Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing we should start doing?”
Find other people who care about customers and talk to them.
When in doubt, beg forgiveness rather than ask permission and just do the right thing.
Go home and hug your dog, your kids, and/or your significant other more often.
Take more walks during the day.
Spend more time being passionate about the causes and things you love.
When you find a new rule that helps the customer, write it down and share it.
#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.)
When I started at Gist I had been on the job for only a few weeks when I answered a question from Brad Feld, one of our key investors. It must have been late at night and I was a little curt in my reply, and Brad shared a piece of advice with me that has improved every email and customer contact I’ve had since that evening.
Whenever you write an email, Brad wrote, “start by thanking the person who sent it.”
I was mortified. Not only had I screwed up by replying without thinking, but I had also said the wrong thing to a really important customer. As it turns out, this piece of advice was the single most important takeaway that I had from my 18 months at Gist and helped me to be much more successful in building a strong Customer Experience for anyone who encountered me or the company’s brand online.
There are 3 key points about thanking a person who sends you a question (even and especially if they are mad) that I’ve gleaned from Brad’s advice – I’m sharing them here to prevent other people from making the same mistake I did (you can feel free to make a different one):
Thank the Person for Writing. As Brad pointed out, the first thing anyone wants to know when they send in a question is that you read their email. And thanking them can go a long way towards building a positive relationship with this person. Even if you need to give them news they don’t want to hear.
Restate the problem to demonstrate to the customer that you did more than just thank them. In writing out your paraphrase of the problem, you can either help to lower the emotional charge of the situation and/or start to think about how to solve it (even if you don’t know how you’re going to do it just yet.
And finally, let the customer know what’s next. If you know what’s going to happen, state it; and if you don’t know, make a plan that will give the customer some idea of when she will hear from you next.
I think about Brad’s advice often (thanks, Brad), and it’s helped me to be more responsive with all kinds of customers, and especially those who email me.