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Lesson #17: Think Outside the Box. But Not Too Far Outside.

14 May

Boy, businesses sure don’t want to be inside that proverbial box, huh?

Creativity is incredibly important in business. But there’s a difference between diverging from your competition to gain an advantage, and being different for different’s sake. In fact, it’s pretty likely that there are aspects of your competitors’ businesses that you can imitate to improve your service (if you’re into the sincerest form of flattery).

You can only think of ways to be different once you figure out where to be different. Go through basics like location, products and technology, and then the boundaries of your box might just open up.

In Social Media We Trust

10 May

Turns out we’re not the only ones hyping the internet these days. Even a little, tiny publication like Forbes Magazine is talking about how important the web is to small businesses.

Social media is no longer just a clever marketing tool: It’s also a fast-growing channel for customer service. Over half of consumers now use social media to directly reach out to companies to report satisfaction, lodge complaints, and ask questions, says Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report. And one in three social media users now prefer social care to contacting a company by phone. Small businesses should move beyond marketing, and find ways to use social media to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Forbes

Listen to Forbes, dogg. (source: unsimilar.com)

Way to rip off my ideas, guys!

I know what you’re thinking: sure they say all that stuff, but is Forbes really a trustworthy name? The answer is no… Trusty J. Honestman is an trustworthy name. Unfortunately, I just made that name up. But luckily, Forbes isn’t the only name you have to trust on this –  you probably noticed in the previous paragraph that Forbes is reporting on a survey by the Nielsen Company. You’ve likely heard of Nielsen from their TV ratings system, and I say if you can’t trust the people who keep Two and a Half Men on the air, who can you trust?

Trusty Old Man

Trusty J. Honestman, Esq. (source: illinoisgenweb.org)

Forbes also has some tips on how you can improve your service through social media.

Respond Quickly

Small businesses should understand the growing expectation among social media users for a rapid response to their social media interactions. Over half of Twitter users expect a response within two hours of tweeting about a customer service issue, while 51% of Facebook users expect a 24-hour response, according to a 2012 Oracle report.

That “meep meep” you just heard was your competitors zooming past you to respond to complaints, like zippy Roadrunner. Meanwhile, like poor ol’ Coyote, you’re still ordering dynamite out of a catalog (or something). Your company might not have the resources to monitor Twitter/Facebook 24 hours a day, but even a small social media presence can help expedite your service.

Wile E. Coyote

Don’t be him. (source: theawesomer.com)

Be proactive

If you have a known service issue, don’t wait for the complaints to roll in. Be proactive in letting customers know what happened – and how you plan to fix it. For small businesses, a widely broadcast social media message will also save time and resources in answering individual questions and complaints during a crisis.

The great thing about social media is its accessibility. Hopefully your business always hums along without any disruption. But if something does force you to close up for a day or two, there’s no way you’re going to be able to call every customer. You can, however, very easily whip up 140 characters for a tweet and something a little longer for a Facebook post or e-blast to minimize communication issues.

Dedicate Resources

Don’t treat customer service as a marketing responsibility. While marketers typically focus on pushing out information, it’s important to dedicate resources to listening and responding to what customers have to say. Set expectations by letting customers know when you will have someone online to answer questions.

This idea is more universal than social media – you can apply it to your in-person sales, and even the way you work with your employees. Listening is incredibly simple, but so easy to overlook. The best way to solve a problem is to avoid it in the first place, and a lot of problems can be anticipated through gathering information from everyone who has any part in your business. Social media is simply one part of a healthy business – just like a good product, or making sure your technology is up to date.

If you don’t think I’m telling the truth, just pretend my name is Trusty.

Lesson #16: Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

9 May

We talk a lot here about fundamental customer service strategies. So let’s talk about them some more.

The fact is, there’s no unimpeachable book of rules for business. Sometimes going against the grain is a great way to stand out from the crowd: the key is knowing your customers and what they’ll respond to. If you can succeed by breaking every single rule we talk about (note from our lawyers: that’s rule, not law), we encourage you to do it.

However, for most of us it’s best to stick to the basics that Mr. Newton talks about in the video above: be nice, take your time, and be homo sapiens. That, plus a little help from our friends, will go a long way.

Lesson #15: Treat Every Customer The Same

7 May

You know the guy who said not to judge a book by its cover (if you don’t, you should get more well-versed in cliches)? Well, he probably didn’t work in customer service.

After a while interacting with customers, you’re sometimes able to know them right when they walk through the door – their mood, what they want, if you can help them, etc. However, if you want to really excel at customer service you should treat every person as a blank slate waiting to be helped. It’ll help you solidify your service procedures and principles, and – if you do it right – also help with customer satisfaction. Just about everyone will appreciate a friendly, bright-eyed welcome from your rep, so even if you can’t help them maybe they’ll come back another time.

It’s easy to get jaded and make assumptions in customer service, but if you can avoid and offer efficient and effective service, it will help your business grow.

Lesson #14: Go Mobile

2 May

People without cell phones are essentially the contemporary equivalent of lepers.

So unless you’re “unclean,” you probably have the capability to make your business mobile. In a market made all the more competitive by the weak economy, you need to outdo the competition, and one way you can do that is by creating an app. That may seem like a massive undertaking, but it’s actually simpler than it appears. Whether you take a stab yourself or hire someone else to do it for you, you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by staking your place in the app market. Apps make it easier for customers to find information about you – they’re like the phone book x 1000. Likewise, your business partners probably have apps that make things easier for you.

Get on board with mobile, unless you want to risk ending up in a cell phone lazaretto.

Lesson #13: The Internet Can Do That

30 Apr

If you described today’s internet to someone from olden times (and by that I mean pre-1999), it would sound pretty magical.

The internet is actually way better than magic, though. For one thing, it’s real (important distinction). And anyone can use it, not just witches and warlocks. The internet even has magic on it.

I bet if you stumbled onto some magic spell that could help your business, you would use it. So why not take advantage of the real-life version? There are tons of resources out there to help you maximize your online presence, and you can also find business tools that will help you online or in-person. After all, the internet may just be science, but…

(Source: cachaotoycafe.com)

Reader Question: Keeping the Personal Touch Online

26 Apr

I couldn’t find a “You’ve Got Reader Question” graphic (source: famewiz.com)

We’ve got a reader question!

I was kind of hoping the first reader question would be something really existential, so I could expound on it in a introspective, philosophical way. Something like:

What is?

– Person Humanberg, Placeville

And then I would come up with some meaningful counsel like, “I think the real question, Person, is ‘What Isn’t?'”

That didn’t happen, and it’s probably for the best. Because Jeff from Wilkes-Barre, PA has a way better question:

I believe my business is successful because we offer extremely personal service. I can never hope to technologically compete with a national company, so why should I invest in expanding my business online? Anyone who shops online is going to go with the big name.

Well, Jeff, I think the real question is, “What isn’t?”

Wait, sorry. Still stuck in the previous thought. You asked a great question.

First the bad news… you’re right. You can’t compete with the resources available to a huge corporation when it comes to technology. But here’s the thing: in theory, you also can’t compete with them in a whole bunch of other ways, but you do anyway. Big companies can offer better prices, a wider selection – basically, anything.

And yet, you’re still in business, so obviously you’ve overcome those hurdles (unlike this fellow). I’m sure a big reason for your success is your personal touch, which can help entice customers to buy local and maybe even pay a little more.

Jeff’s personal touch (source: wikipedia.org)

But you shouldn’t be worried that going on the world wide webernets, will make you lose that special something that keeps Wilkes-Barrians (Wilkes-Barrese? Wilkes-Barrites?) coming back to you. I think you can eat your cake and have it, too. In fact, expanding your online presence can help your business feel even more personal than the big companies.

Let’s do a Pepsi vs Coke thing. Jeff Co. vs Globalcorp.

Let’s say I bought a wicket from a Globalcorp location, and now that I’m home I have a wicket-related inquiry. I go on Globalcorp’s website. The website offers A LOT. Pretty much every product under the sun, a 24 hour customer service chat window, blah blah blah. I have a question about something the salesperson said to me, but I can’t quite remember all the details, or her name, or my customer number. How the heck are you supposed to explain that problem over a webchat to a customer service rep 2,000 miles from you?

On the other hand, Jeff Co. has an easily navigable website with some simple info. I can still buy things, but there’s also a directory of employees that helps me remember the salesperson’s name (it was Sarah). It also has her e-mail address, where I can send my question. It also has the e-mail of her boss (JEFF!) in case the question is a little more complicated. It also also also has a map, community reviews, pricing info, and a whole bunch of other stuff that will streamline my next visit to Jeff Co., making business easier for both of us.

Mind blowing. (Source: thezoom.com)

DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND, JEFF? I hope not, because that’s not the goal. I just want you to see how helpful an online presence can be. If you use it right, the internet will help you – with your bottom line and with your customers.

And if it doesn’t… well, we can both go back to philosophy.