4 Smart Customer Service Tips for Your Small Business

customer_service_SMBAs part of last year’s Dreamforce, Alex Bard, SVP and GM of Salesforce Service Cloud and Desk.com joined a panel aimed at best practices for small businesses, with a focus on customer service.

Bard began by referencing Amazon and Zappos, two brands well-known for delivering incredible customer service, with well established company cultures that place the customer at the center of the business.

With the bar set high, Bard highlights four key areas for small businesses to focus on in order to develop the kind of world-class customer service that makes companies like Amazon and Zappos go-to examples of getting customer care right.

1. Listen Everywhere

For Bard this point is really important. Your customers are everywhere. They’re calling, they’re emailing, but they’re also on social media so you have to make sure you’re listening. Listen on Twitter. Listen on Facebook. Listen on forums and communities.

“My head of marketing came up with this saying during a presentation. He said, ‘Social media is the new 800 number’ and this got a lot of mileage and traction and lots of tweets, and it’s true. It really is.”

“One of our customers, John Rote of Bonobos, asked “If 25% of your customers were calling, would you not answer the phone?” Of course you would, otherwise you wouldn’t be building a business. So listen everywhere.

2. Knowledge is Power

Bard says your coworkers have the best knowledge of a product, a topic, or an idea, and you need to democratize that knowledge. You need to extract it from that individual, and share it with not only everyone in your company, but all of your customers.

“Customers prefer self-service. You need to take that knowledge, you need to put it in a knowledge base, and you need to push it out to customers. It’s a process of continuous improvement versus delayed perfection. A lot of people spend time putting together FAQs or knowledge bases or self-service systems. They publish it, and then they never update it again. That’s when it goes stale and customers get upset. So you always have to continue to iterate, iterate, iterate. It’s really, really important.”

3. Build a System

“Obviously, I’m biased. You can use Desk. It’s great. And if you grow, we’ll grow with you, but you need a system. If you’re using Gmail, StickIt notes, or Excel, you need something, some way to track, when a customer contacts you, all the steps in getting back to that customer. I can promise you there’s nothing worse than a customer having a bad experience, then contacting your business, and not hearing back in a timely fashion or ever at all. If you don’t have a system to track it – a process – that’s exactly what will happen.”

Bard notes that every customer inquiry should be given a status and an owner, and that a process needs to be in place to move customer cases from “open” to “resolved” to ensure that no customer falls through the cracks.

4. Measurement

What gets measured, gets done.

Bard says it’s imperative to understand how well you’re doing, to celebrate your wins and of course, identify areas where you can improve. “These are some of the things that we measure at our company. You have to remember we were a small business. We still act like one even though we’re now part of a bigger one.

How many cases are you getting? It helps you understand how many requests are coming in and how you staff against that. What are the people asking you about? This is actually really important because if you understand the questions that people have, you could actually take that feedback back into your product and improve that part of your product so that they never have that question again. That’s preemptive customer service so it’s really important to understand not just how many, but what they are about.”

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared at blogs.salesforce.com.


5 Keys to a Winning Customer Service Team

customer_service_buildingCulture was a popular buzzword at this year’s annual Call Center Week and Marc Bernica, VP Contact Center & Back-up Care Advantage, at Bright Horizons Family Solutions had a few tips on creating a company culture that helps drive customer satisfaction and creates empowered, engaged contact center agents.

Here’s five key customer service takeaways from the session.

Ease up on Regulations and Empower Employees

Bernica notes that too often, we regulate everything in a contact center. There’s two major issues with this strict regulation; 1) you can’t anticipate everything, no matter how hard you try and 2) it’s not very empowering for employees. Empowering employees with a strong, well defined company culture can be a reassuring development for management. The best managers can’t be everywhere, and can’t make every decision. Your company culture provides a compass for real-time decision making. Remember, your contact center will have a culture, with or without your involvement.

Your Common Mission or Purpose Has to be Important

One of Bright Horizon’s core values is communicating the value of what their employees are contributing to the overall mission of the company.

Bernica notes the importance of framing jobs in a way that employees can be proud of them, in order to accomplish that, ask three questions:

  • How does this role contribute to our success?
  • How do you help people?
  • What can you do better than anyone else?

When your service agents are asked what they do for a living, do they say they are a customer service representative? That they “talk on the phone all day”? Or do they say “I help people with _________.” That’s the ideal response you want to see your agents providing. Your employees need to know they are making a real difference for your customers, and they aren’t just a collection of metrics and numbers.

Metrics Matter Because What You Do Matters

Metrics are a part of contact center life, but when approaching metrics, focus on the why. Contact center managers never met a metric they didn’t like, to be sure. But when everything is a number, employees often feel like just another cog in the wheel. The metrics are not the important stuff, it’s the context around the metrics.

Employees need to know why they are striving for quicker handle times, or a better monitoring score. Metrics in this case must absolutely tie back to your core mission.

Engagement Requires Give and Take

Bernica discussed input as a key shaper of company culture. It’s not as simple as asking for input, however, it’s about doing something with it. His team actively solicits input, actively asking for employee opinions, through focus groups or surveys. Once they get it, they make certain to acknowledge it. They may not use every idea but acknowledging their employees’ feedback is crucial, even if it’s to explain why they won’t be using it.

Finally, whenever possible, take action on input received. Crucially, this step isn’t just leadership’s job, it’s everyone’s. Fully empowered employees who care about the company mission will gladly help implement change across the organization, working in tandem with management. Bright Horizons has several employee-led groups focusing on everything from customer experience, to improving the work environment in their offices.

People Matter: Hire for Culture Fit

Many have the skills, fewer have the attitude. The right culture fit is what get’s you hired. It’s worth keeping customer facing positions open a bit longer to find the right person who better fits the company culture rather than rushing to fill available positions. The long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled. Your hiring teams need to take ownership and communicate your company culture from the first interview to ensure the right candidates are found.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared at blogs.salesforce.com.

FREE EBOOK: 20 Customer Service Best Practices

customer_service_best_practicesIt can be easy for customer service departments to continue doing what they’ve always done. CSAT scores and overall cost are the same, so why change? This mindset neglects the fact that today’s consumer has many options in terms of how they connect with a company for customer support.

Based on feedback from our customers, product experts, and service industry thought leaders, we’ve pulled together 20 customer service best practices and compiled them into one handy (and free) ebook, the appropriately titled 20 Customer Service Best Practices. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Know your customer across all channels
  2. Leverage the information your customers are volunteering
  3. Use the channels your customers prefer
  4. Make the move toward mobile customer service
  5. Train your agents on all channels
  6. Share helpful content
  7. Keep it real
  8. Turn setbacks into solutions
  9. Remember your regulations when adding support channels
  10. Leverage the experts
  11. Start with the interview
  12. Hire for culture fit
  13. Think beyond the cubicle
  14. Implement gamification
  15. Leverage multiple channels to reduce monotony
  16. Allow for flexibility in scheduling
  17. Frame the job in a meaningful way
  18. Reward, reward, reward
  19. Give regular feedback and acknowledgement
  20. Provide opportunities for career growth

To get the more in-depth look into all 20 of the above-noted best practices, be sure to download the ebook at the button below.




NOTE: A version of this post (and the promoted ebook) appeared at blogs.Salesforce.com.

Create a Great Restaurant Customer Service Experience

Restaurant_Customer_ServiceThe cost of bad restaurant customer service can be bigger than some restaurateurs assume. Many foodservice businesses are still only meeting the minimum standards of guest experience. For an industry that so depends on repeat customers, that’s simply not good enough.

Even those restaurants with the tastiest dishes in town can’t afford to let their service be subpar. The Soup Nazi may be an indelible television character, but in the real world, restaurant customers won’t stand for bad treatment, no matter how addictive your Crab Bisque may be.

We’ve done you the service of collecting a few best practices for creating a truly welcoming guest experience for your restaurant.

1. Service Starts Before They Walk Through the Door

Service expert Jeff Toister advises restaurant owners to pay attention to their establishment’s signage. He notes an experience he had walking past a local restaurant with a rather off-putting amount of rules posted at their entrance. Toister feels the amount of signs “suggested the restaurant focuses more on making sure guests are well-behaved than providing a great experience.” Do an audit of your signage; are you as welcoming as you could be?

2. Don’t Rush to Hire 

Restaurants face employee turnover like any other service business, but that doesn’t mean you must always be in a hurry to hire. Customer Care VP Marc Bernica reminds businesses that “the long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled.” In restaurants aiming for head-of-class guest experience, even one discourteous dining room team member can have an effect on guest loyalty and word-of-mouth. This is particularly key for new establishments, when word-of-mouth is so very crucial.

3. Listen Effectively Online

We’re big on leveraging digital technology for the benefit of today’s restaurants. Today’s consumers are sharing their latest restaurant experience (good and bad) on their social media channels, writing about them on their blogs, and detailing their experiences on a growing number of review sites. Be aware of the major sites like YelpUrbanSpoon.com and Trip Advisor, and find review sites that may focus on local establishments. You can never collect too much feedback from customers, and the negative feedback is typically the most valuable.

4. Policies are Good, but be Flexible

It’s fine to have policies, but make sure your team knows they can break the rules in the name of good customer service. Consider this example from acclaimed service guru Shep Hyken. The main takeaway from Hyken’s experience: “The employee was just doing her job. She was probably told by a boss not to seat incomplete parties.” Processes need to be designed to be customer-centric, rather than simply focusing on what makes life easier for restaurant staff.

5. Back-of-House is Part of the Service Team

The service in foodservice doesn’t begin and end with your waitstaff. Kitchen staff are part of the complete experience and can’t be left out of service discussions. Too many times, I’ve watched servers and cooks bickering about who’s at fault for a mixed up or forgotten order. And the person suffering the most from this in-house squabbling is the customer.

Consider regular staff meetings with both back and front-of-house teams focused solely on guest experience. Any service training literature given to new waitstaff should be read by new kitchen staff members as well. Everyone is on the same team!

6. Know Your Customers

Keeping with the idea of being flexible, author Ron Kaufman says the best restaurants will modify their actions (and processes) according to their customers. He writes:

“..if you have three types of customers come in – business people, tourists and a family with kids – each wants something different. One group wants privacy; one wants to be engaged and hear about the locality; and the other needs lots of attention because it’s a family. To create an uplifting experience, you modify your actions to provide value. You need to educate the waiter that the purpose of their job is – to take action to create value for whoever comes in.”

7. Send Them Home on a High Note

Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is “over” one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are the guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. Service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

6 Steps to Customer Service Success on Twitter

Social-Media-Customer-SupportBeing a customer-focused company includes making social media an integrated part of your brand’s customer service strategy. With more and more consumers using social networks to discuss brands, many top companies have now taken to Twitter to provide another layer to their customer service/support initiatives.

Here’s how to ensure Twitter customer service becomes a valued tool in your customer service arsenal.

Consider a dedicated customer service account

Many large brands have created a separate account focused solely on customer support (e.g. @FordService, @SamsungSupport). If your brand gets a fair share of Twitter buzz, it may be worthwhile to divert customer support issues to a dedicated feed. This has the added benefit of steering sometimes negative discussions away from the main corporate handle.

Set the hours your team is available

Social media never sleeps, but that doesn’t mean the hard working people behind your brand’s Twitter support handle shouldn’t rest either. Just as a brick-and-mortar establishment posts its hours of operation for customers to see, so too should you establish your company’s online availability times. If you’re 24 hours, great!  If not, be sure to include alternate contact methods, such as an after-hours 800 number, in your bio.

Shut up and listen

Not every support issue will have your Twitter handle mentioned in it. Be sure to have a social listening plan in place that involves not just your branded Twitter handles. Look for your brand name without the “@” as well as any known nicknames (even the ones you don’t like), abbreviations, and common misspellings.

Get out in front of known issues

Most brands use Twitter to broadcast their message, and that has customer service implications.  When a known issue arises, use your accounts to alert your followers of the problem and its current status (e.g. “Website login is down, we are correcting the problem now”). By encouraging customers to follow your customer service account, you could save yourself plenty of hassle by answering the same concern over and over.

Know your content inside and out

If your brand is producing valuable content (case studies, ebooks) aimed at getting the most out of your products and services, be sure your social media customer service team has it ready to go at a moment’s notice. They could be tweeted to a customer looking for specific information or offered up in response to trending issues. Receiving an influx of questions on a particular feature? Go ahead and share that new ebook you’ve produced that outlines its best practice uses.

Create a playbook

Once you’ve gotten into the swing of things on Twitter, think about creating a playbook detailing how your team will classify customer service issues, tag them (e.g. billing issue, technical issue), and even how and to whom you’ll assign those incoming posts. Your playbook should clearly lay out roles and responsibilities, identify what to respond to and what not to respond to, how to use workflow to your advantage, and even your escalation process.

Is your brand using Twitter for customer service? If so, how?

(Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce Marketing Cloud blog on March 28, 2013.)