Is customer service differentiation ok?

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customer serviceThere has been a lot of talk lately around here about the way banks treat their customers differently depending on the amount of business they give them. Many feel that customers without great financial means are treated poorly, given a lesser service and are not valued as much – which is seen as unfair, undemocratic and unethical.

One bank even had the audacity to be quite frank about it, and openly stated exactly how much service they intended to give to customers of various business brackets. If you didn’t like it, you could choose to either do more business with them and get better/more service or find yourself another bank. Here, in Denmark – one of the world’s most egalitarian countries, that was regarded by many as a really big deal and very controversial.

Many took serious offense. Personally I was a bit surprised at the strong response, I thought it was kind of nice to hear something that sounded almost like honesty from a bank…

The heated response this situation caused, might also have been fuel by the fact, that the decision was directed towards private customers, I doubt we would have seen the same reaction had the bank just wanted to get rid of their unprofitable B2B customers.

But is it ok for businesses to say to customers that they don’t want them, or give them a lesser service, because they don’t make enough money off of them?

This is a question you had better be prepared for a hefty discussion about if you dare ask. At least if you happen to be in Denmark…

It is difficult to defend treating people differently when the only thing that sets them apart is money, nonetheless I have, in business, without a shadow of doubt done it myself plenty times.

Have I rescheduled small deliveries, and thereby inconvenienced another customer, in order to accommodate a big one? Yup. Have I held the store open after hours for somebody with a fat wallet? Oh yes. Would I do that for all customers? Hell no.

Of course all customers are important, and all should be treated with a high degree of service, I would never advocate poor service, but fact is that some customers are just more important than others. And what makes a customer more important – well the amount of money they spend. That’s how the cookie crumbles – it’s not personal, just business.

I didn’t always see it this way. Back in the good ol’ days, before reality hit me, when my naive (but beautiful) Scandinavian belief in fairness and equality for all still prevailed, I would have been pretty horrified by even entertaining the idea that it could be defended to treat people differently, based exclusively on how much money they were spending.

But that was before I became responsible for the financial success (or failure) of a business.

10 Reasons Content Marketing is Excellent Customer Service

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The world seems to be in love with content marketing, and for good reason.

Your Ignored Ad Here

We are bombarded daily with messages of all sorts; we are so overwhelmed we do everything we can to filter the noise and only let the most important through. From no-call lists to spam filters, we use every weapon available to stay sane in this meteor shower of selly sell (a term borrowed from Chris Brogan; I love that he always puts it plain and clear when he is in a selly sell frame of mind).

No wonder traditional marketing methods are proving less and less effective.

That’s where content marketing is different. Instead of shouting out your sales pitch in the vain hope someone will hear it, you draw people to you with interesting, informative and helpful content.

But wait – being interesting, informative and helpful, that sounds an awful lot like qualities used in customer service?

Yes, that is exactly what it is and that is the essence of why content marketing makes excellent customer service.

Let me give you 10 reasons:

#1 When you write blog posts that highlights relevant news from your industry you become like a mini newspaper, your customers know that they can count on you to keep them up to date.

#2 Supplying the internet with lots of fresh good content will help your SEO, this in turn will help your customers find you.

#3 Allowing your customers to comment on blog posts shows them that you really really care about them, you want to know what they think and be in a direct dialogue with them.

#4 Providing Q & A’s gives your customers a way to quickly and easily solve minor problems.

#5 When you incorporate social media into your business you give your customers easy access to your company.

#6 Providing how-to-do’s gives your customers the tools they need to get moving.

#7 Offer lots of video content; 65% of all people are visual learners meaning they understand something much better through illustrative content than by reading. So help them understand better.

#8 Give your customers free ebooks; they can keep them and use them later for when they need to be reminded of how to do something.

#9 Intrigue customers with interesting blog posts that will make them feel like they just discovered something great.

#10 Stay in touch with your customers through newsletters; it’s always nice to know you have a friend nearby…

I often hear people refer to “the good ol’ days” when you would get good customer service because you knew who you were dealing with, not like now a days when companies are just big corporations who seem to not care one iota about you.

Well bring back “the good ol’ days” with content marketing. Put a human face on your business, get to know your customers and build long-lasting relationships with them. In the end the efforts you put into this will be rewarded; your customers will be happier, they will recommend you, you will grow and you will feel great because you are doing all of this by being interesting, informative and helpful.

 

How I Accidentally Ended Up Buying A Miserable Cow

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cow

Have you ever been in a situation where your emotions got the better of you and all logic and good reasoning seemed to disappear into thin air? Well, that’s what happened the day I became the owner of a miserable cow.

It all began with a farmer placing his cow right outside my house – at the time I lived in Barbados where it is not uncommon for cows to graze in the middle of residential neighborhoods. The farmer didn’t take very good care of this cow, didn’t give her water nor feed. She was very skinny and I felt terrible when ever I looked at her.

So one day I decided to don my cow-saving cape and confront the farmer. He offered a gazillion excuses for not taking proper care of his cow, none of them good enough for me, so as you do I offered to buy the cow. I really hadn’t thought it through, actually hadn’t thought of it at all and didn’t expect him to immediately jump at the chance to get rid of his cow. Talk about an emotionally driven impulse buy!

I took on my new role as cow owner very serious and read books on how to take care of a cow. I bought her proper feed, although the woman at the farmers market kept asking me if I wasn’t sure I had a horse, apparently not many women keep cows! I made sure she had plenty of water and a placed a very attractive umbrella in the field so she could enjoy some shade. And I named her Rose.

Rose the cow
Rose enjoying the cool shade

Rose quickly came to associate me with food, which resulted in her literally giving chase every single time she saw me. Now if you have ever been chased by an 800 lb. cow you know it can be quite scary. The more Rose regained her strength the more unruly she became. When I attempted to move her to a spot with fresh grass she would take off leaving me scrambling trying to hold on to the rope while she galloped through the neighborhood. She would often fall in love with some other cow or bull – what do I know, and muh at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night driving everyone insane with her endless serenades.

Boy did I have a serious case of buyer’s remorse!

Had I known what exactly I was buying into that day and had I not let my emotions run the game, I would most certainly not have become the Rose’s owner. So my point of telling you all of this is; as the seller make sure you give your customers ALL relevant information on your products or you can be sure they won’t shop with you again. And as the buyer keep your cool, don’t let impulses or emotions control your purchases or you might just end up with a miserable cow.

In the end Rose collided with a motorbike on one of her rampages, the police was called and I mysteriously disappeared, Rose was taken away the 5-0 never to be seen again. Although I felt kinda bad I was also immensely relieved to no longer be Rose’s owner. Oh, and nothing happened to the man on the motorbike.

Fake It Till You Become It – Works In Customer Service As Well

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This is one of my all time favorite TEDtalks. Amy Cuddy talking about how your body language shapes who you are.

The idea that by practicing being powerful we can actually become powerful. That we have a tremendous impact on the events that shape our lives and our everyday experiences by the non-verbal messages we send. Events such as dealing with a difficult customer or having to give a pitch, like a sales pitch or any other social threat situation that we may experience.

The term powerful is not to be understood as having success, money, power or anything of that nature, but rather being assertive, confident and comfortable – and who wouldn’t like to be that?

When you deal with customers on a daily basis, you often find yourself in these unequal power situations. As a salesperson or customer service person you will likely have experienced feeling powerless in front of an a complaining customer. Unfortunately being powerless is a self-reinforcing mechanism; the balance of power tips and it becomes difficult to restore as the customer is more likely to act in an aggressive manner because the more you shrink the more they powerful they become and vice versa.

This imbalance does not do much to promote constructive communication and unfortunately it can result in a lowering of overall service performance as you will fear a similar situation next time you deal with a difficult customer and therefore start out in a defensive and low power stance.  

Now I am not advocating that you should put your hands on your hips and give back as good as you get, but you can improve on the situation by being more powerful yourself. By exuding power you become more confident and people trust confidence as it gives us a sense of security. Your customer will evaluate you much more positively and the likelihood of a successful outcome of the situation will have increased dramatically.

So my advise to everyone is – take two minutes out of your day every day and practice Amy’s high power poses and walk out there and fake til you become it!

Tips on How To Make Customer Service Work Using Social Media

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Many businesses have a presence in social media with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a host of other options available. Social media is a fantastic opportunity to spread the word and show lots of great content. It is also a great way for consumers to interact with a company and reach out in times of customer service needs.

Departments pie chart

And it is exactly on the customer service side of the equation that the film often breaks. Social media is usually the responsibility of the marketing and/or and public relations departments, and they do a fantastic job when it comes to transmitting corporate messages and showing off all sorts of “can’t-live-without” features and latest models. It seems that some companies forget that good customer service is out-of-this-world fantastic marketing and PR. Adding customer service to the mix will complete the circle and add tremendous value to the overall customer experience.

Unfortunately I see an awful lot of poor customer service on the various walls around the net. Unanswered queries and messages that get answered by someone who either doesn’t work in customer service or shouldn’t be working in customer service, they often carry a  passive-aggressive tone with a hint of defensive self-righteousness. They make my toes curl – it looks ever so bad.

Seeing such walls makes me wonder what kind of customer service I can expect from these companies who seem to prioritize pushing sales messages so much that they don’t have time to stop and pay proper attention to existing customers. I have actually chosen not to buy from companies because of how poorly they have demonstrated their ability to handle after-sale service issues on social networks. Surely I’m not the only one…

So here are some tips on how to it right.

The first tip is really not a tip at all. It’s a requirement. Answer ALL customer queries. There really is no middle ground here. You answer the phone when it rings right? This is no different, except here everyone can see when you choose to ignore the call.

There is a lot discussion going on as to whether 1 hour or 24 hours is the correct amount of time to answer customer queries. I’d say it really depends on your industry, but in general the sooner the better. Customers love immediate attention; makes them feel valued and a timely reply can easily be an ice-breaker if the query is of a difficult nature.

twitter-customer-service1

When a customer reaches out, the first and most important thing you must do is to acknowledge them and show them empathy. I see companies using phrases like”Oh no, we understand your frustration and will….” or “Dear XXX please accept our sincere apologies we will immediately….” These types of responses are great, they really show that you care about the customer  and appreciate their predicament. One thing to keep in mind though is to not use the same phrase in response to all queries, a whole wall full of “Oh no..” looks like the responses are insincere and rehearsed, like a broken record.

The second thing to do is to demonstrate action. Let the customer know what you intend to do about the situation. And please do not say that “there is really nothing you can do” or “Facebook is not the right place to…” Yes, I have actually seen responses such as these, and there is ALWAYS something you can do and Facebook is an obvious place to demonstrate how much you care about your customers. So tell them that you will personally see to some action taking place or ask them to contact you personally with more details.

The last bit of advise I’ll give for now, is to NEVER reply to a customer query if you are in a bad mood or feeling irritable. In that situation a later reply is likely better than what you would be delivering immediately. When we communicate in writing, we only have the actual words to interpret, there is no tone of voice or body language to guide and help us, so you have to be acutely aware of your choice of words and using positive and supportive phrases is just a lot easier when you are in a good mood.

I came across a great example of how you can turn a very uncomfortable and difficult situation 180 degrees by giving the customer the answers they are looking for. It was a furniture company with a very unhappy customer who had received a sofa in less than prime condition, the reply to the customer was a detailed explanation that with complete transparency and honesty told how and why the situation had occurred, apologized for the unfortunate events, offered a solution and was signed in person and with a personal e.mail address attached.

Not many companies would dare to expose faults as openly as this company did, but judging from the subsequent comments I think it was the right thing to do. Admitting when you are wrong is a character trait that earns respect, not just for people but for businesses too.

How can you make Showrooming work for you

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??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Basically Showrooming means that consumers browse physical stores in order to gather information only to turn around and purchase the products online. This practice is not likely to become a favorite with retailers anytime soon, as it in 33% of the cases[1] means a lost sale for the brick and mortar store. 90% of smartphone owners who used their mobile while in a store to research products were looking at somebody else’s site. That’s not good news for the pure brick and mortar operations as they have very limited means to fight it. As for multichannel retailers, they better do everything in their power to make sure the consumer is encouraged to surf their site.

If you can’t beat it – join it!

According to an IBM study, Showrooming drives 50% of online sales[2] perhaps not surprising considering one in five American consumers actively practice Showrooming.

The main reason consumers showroom is to compare prices between retailers, so the obvious answer to combat Showrooming would be to be the cheapest. This approach however is gravely flawed, as that would catapult every retailer into the reddest of red oceans, leaving everyone on the brink of extinction.

A much better approach would be to recognize that not all consumers are created equal. Not everyone is driven purely on price. Offering your customers an engaging and satisfying shopping experience will go a long way to retain them in your store. Good old fashion customer service would be a good place to start. A study done by Zendesk shows that the two main factors in creating loyal customers are quality and service, price only makes it to third place[3].

But since 20% of your customers will likely reach for their mobiles while in store anyway, the second place to focus attention is on the online experience you present them with .

Ready – Set – Engage!

Engagement is the keyword here; make the experience interesting and useful. Personalize the journey as much as possible by allowing customers to interact with your brand, make it suit their specific needs and let them share their findings with the world through social media. The more time a consumer spends online with your brand, the more engaged they become and the more likely they are to close the sale with you.

In addition the transition between the online and offline store should be seamless and coherent; the offering, look and feel should be equal across all channels, leaving the customer with the feeling that it is one integrated experience. The use of responsive design when building websites, where the pages will adapt automatically to the medium being used to view them, will go a long way in creating a consistent impression when using a digital medium.

Use data driven marketing and take advantage of what technology makes possible, offer free wi-fi in store and include smart sensors and QR codes offering personally tailored specials and information in real time. A global survey done by Cisco reveal that 75% of consumers want a personalized experience, once they have opted in[4].

By making it more advantageous to be on your site while in store, you actually make Showrooming work for you.