Saturday, December 01, 2007

Great Customer Phone Skills Hasn't Changed in 40 Years

I was just having lunch with my best childhood friend, Eileen. I was telling her that I am working on a booklet on How to Greet Your Customer. She mentioned that when she was 16 she worked for her father who was a CPA. She told me how when she started her job she was given rigorous training in customer service and phone skills. Apparently at the time, Michigan Bell, trained people on the appropriate way to use their switchboards and talk to customers.

Here are some of the things she learned:
1. Always say the name of the business
2. Never leave someone on hold for more than 30 seconds
3. When you put someone on hold, always explain what you are doing. ("I am going to put you on hold for a few seconds so that I can find the document you requested.")
4. Never transfer someone without explaining to the caller who you are transferring them to.
5. Never transfer someone without letting the person who you are transferring to, know who the caller is and what they want or need (if you know this)
6. As the switchboard operator, you are the face of the company. Often you are the first impression a client has about the business. It is your responsibility to make that a positive impression.
7. Always smile when on the phone. (Her father also suggested she place a mirror in front of her to remind her to smile.) A smile warms up your voice and makes you sound far more pleasant.

I was delighted to see that great customer service is timeless. The only thing I would add to this list, is:

8.Say your name after saying the business name.
"Good morning, Otto, Keller and Skye, this is Laurie Brown speaking." Saying your name allows the client to feel like you are willing to take personal responsibility for the call.

As you look at the above list, ask yourself "Am I doing all of these items on a regular basis?" If so, great! Your business will prosper from these great customer phone skills. If you are not currently doing all 8 items, start today. Your customers will be delighted.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

You may be wondering what a customer service and sales tips blog is doing promoting environmental awareness by participating in the national Blog Action Day.

Well, first let me explain what Blog Action Day is all about. According to the folks at Blog Action Day,"On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future."

As I watch more and more people using the environment to "sell" their products and services I tend to get a bit cynical . Sometimes I think..."Hey wait a minute you are USING my concern about the environment to SELL me something." But then I step back and realize that anything (including ads) that make us, even for thirty seconds, think about reversing some of the damage we have done is a good thing.

So if there is anyway you can use "Going Green" to the advantage of your business, go ahead. Perhaps you can stand out from your competitors by being the first to use "green". It might even be something small like using recycled paper for your business cards or something much larger on a corporate level.

So, in honor of Blog Action Day, do something to communicate your concern for the world we live in. If you have a blog join the conversation by registering your blog and then writing about the environment. If you don't have a blog you can still engage your customers in the conversation.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What Restaurant Service Can Teach Us About Word of Mouth Referrals

Recently my family dined at a new restaurant in our neighborhood. We were greeted by the hostess and we asked for a table for four. There were three of us there and my husband was parking the car. She informed us she wouldn't seat us until all of our party arrived. I laughed as I looked at the empty restaurant and said "You are joking, right?" She informed me that she was serious. I said "No, really you WON'T seat us until my husband finishes parking? REALLY?" She then said the absolute worst words ever spoken "Yes, I am sorry it is our policy".

Luckily a waitress offered to seat us before I went into a lecture about customer service, and how customers needs need to supercede policies.

I once spoke to the VP of food and beverage at the Ritz. When I asked him his philosophy of customer care he said " I treat people as if they were valued guests in my home." With that in mind, I can't imagine that the restaurant or the hostess would tell their guests to wait until everyone got there before letting them into thier home.

How many times has this hostess aliented her customers with her rigid attitude? How many people have communicated this treatment to their friends?

For quite awhile I have been writing about the importance of exceptional customer service. This has been especially true because of the internet. More and more we look to the web to tell us about others experience with a business. You probably have googled either a business, product or person to learn more about them.

Before the internet word of mouth referrals were pretty limited. If you messed up maybe that person would tell his or her friends, but the damage would be limited. But now one well written post could literally ruin the reputation of you, your product or service.

In a recent article in the NY Times Joe Drapes writes:

"While chef worship is in vogue, members of the next generation at the front of the house seem satisfied to practice their craft anonymously and perhaps more subtly. Their livelihoods, after all, depend on it in an era where the story of a bad dining experience can be posted on the Internet within minutes.

“I cannot afford to lose a single customer,” said Mr. Grieco, who opened Insieme more than five months ago and, with Mr. Canora, has owned Hearth in the East Village for nearly four years.

“It used to be that if something went wrong, you might lose a circle of family or friends. Now, half our reservations come from the Internet, and a negative experience on a blog can affect thousands of potential customers.”
Where first impressions mean much and can be spread instantly, there is a thriving market for hosts adept at managing image as well as business."

However it seems that some people have not yet gotten the message. How about you? Do you really understand the power of word of mouth? Have you googled yourself recently to see what people are saying about you?

Start (or keep)providing the kind of service that gets people talking about you in a positive way.

Monday, August 06, 2007

How Do Your Customers Find You?

I just called my plumber, Levine and Son's to fix my stopped up sink. I have been doing business with them for over 10 years. I am a member of their family club. One look at my record would show that I am a loyal, long time customer. But the woman who answered the phone asked. 'What did you use to get our number?' Frankly, I was a bit surprised. I am used to being taken for granted at most of the places I do business. I asked her why she needed to know this. She explained that this was so they could make sure they were spending their advertising money well.

It turns out that the yellow pages was still the most effective source for new clients. But her repeat customers used the paper cubes they gave out and the stickers that they place on their appliances.

"Where did you find our number today?"
It is a really good idea to ask this simple question to your customers when they call. Although you may ask this question for your new customers, it makes good sense to ask it from your loyal customers too. You just might find that you are spending you money in the wrong places.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How Great Customer Service Can Overcome a Really Bad Product

I use my cell phone a LOT! I use it for business. I use it to stay connected to my friends and family. I use it to check email. I believe that my cell phone is one of my most important tools.

Needless to say when my samsung cell phone started dropping calls I was worried and upset. I mean how many times can you tell your client that you really are not trying to repeatedly hang up on them.

All I really wanted to do was to smash the dang thing or quit using ATT/Cingular or whatever they are calling themselves these days.But instead I got Phillip Trammel on the phone. My lucky day...or maybe more truthfully ATT's lucky day.

Phillip did EVERYTHING right. He took ownership of my problem. He started problem solving and made sure I got a new phone. But that was just the beginning. He promised to call me back to see if that solved the problem. "Yea right" I thought. I will never hear from him again. Boy was I wrong. He called as promised and when he heard that the phone still didn't work he tried a new sim card. He promised to call back to see if this solution didn't...but he did call back. I am on my third phone and he is set to call me again in a couple of days.And I know he will call.

Here is the interesting thing. Although none of his solutions worked, I am willing to stay with ATT. Why? Because someone cares enough to make sure that my phone WILL work. Even if I found a new phone service I wouldn't have Phillip...and I want him on my side

Do you do the things that keep your customers loyal?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Really Easy Phone System

So you say that your phone system really makes it easier for your customers? It is time to come clean. Most likely your phone system is only for your convenience not your customers. What is my proof? I just came across Get Human. They have a a list of 500 companies that they grade on the ease of their phone systems, the phone number to reach them and they also tell you what you need to press to speak to a human.

As they describe themselves on their website;"The gethuman project is a consumer movement to improve the quality of phone support in the US. This free website is run by volunteers and is powered by over one million consumers who demand high quality phone support from the companies that they use."

Do you really think that you can afford to ignore one million consumers.

Here are some tips, from my article Getting Out of the Phone Loop, to make your phone system more consumer friendly:

Make it easy to contact your company
Have your phone number clearly displayed on everything: all printed and electronic media, receipts, your email signature line, on magnets, notepads and anything else your customers may keep. List your phone information in online directories, yellow pages, etc.

Some other things that make contacting your company easy are a toll free number to make it affordable for your customers to contact you at any time, if you use phone words, include both the spelling and the numeric equivalent.

Make it easy to talk to a human
Don’t make your customers search for a method to talk to a living, breathing person. If you have an automated phone system, it can be extremely frustrating and impossible to get in touch with a human being. Consider reducing the number of prompts in your system. One set of prompts is the limit for most people’s patience and goodwill. If you absolutely, positively must have more than one set of prompts, make sure to offer your customers the option of speaking to an operator in the first and subsequent series of prompts.

Make it easy for your customer to reach the person they need
Have employees take ownership of every call. If they can answer a question without transferring, have them go ahead and answer. If the caller needs to talk to someone else in the company, have the person who has answered the call tell the customer that they are going to be transferred, making sure they have given the caller the correct number in the event the caller gets disconnected or “lost” in the system. If at all possible, try to get a system that allows your employees to stay on the phone with the customer until the transfer is made.

As in any other business situation, have the employee introduce the caller to the person they are being transferred to. The employee should provide a brief recap of the customer’s needs and or questions before politely saying goodbye to the customer.

Make it easy to be on hold
30 seconds doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Phone time is different than regular time. When you are waiting for someone to help you, 30 seconds can seem like an eternity. If your people have to place a caller on hold, make sure that they check back every 30 seconds to update the customer and/or give them the option of being called back. Don’t ask the customer to call back, instead offer to call them back. Calling back your customer is a way of acknowledging that you know their time is important and you appreciate their patience.

If you utilize music for the on hold time, make sure that it is consistent with the image of your business. A better idea is to play information tapes that tell your customer about your business or give them some ideas to improve their life or business.

Make it easy to have a voice mail returned
If a customer leaves a voice mail message, they expect to get a call back quickly. Have your employees change their voice mail message each day. If they need to be out of the office, or if they are unable to return messages that day, their message should not only indicate that, but should also have the number or extension of a person who could be contacted immediately.

Sometimes (often) we are unaware of just how difficult and frustrating it can be to talk to a human at our own business. If you think you have an easy system, try it out yourself. Have friends and family members try it. Ask your employees to give it a try. Have them tell you what the easiest part of their experience was, as well as which parts were frustrating. Then fix the problems immediately. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with you.

If you would like a copy of the article "Getting Out of the Phone Loop" email me at

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Don't Lie to Your Customer

Perhaps the headline of this blog offends you. You are thinking, "I'm honest with my customers; I pride myself on being ethical." Unfortunately, too many "ethical" companies, comprised of many ethical people, lie to their customers on a regular basis. Not necessarily big lies, or calculated lies, but rather broken promises. From the broadest advertising campaign promise, to a commitment made by an individual employee, any time a promise made to a customer is broken, they've been lied to.

A case in point: Rochelle needed to rent a car for her trip to Louisiana. She chose Enterprise because of their promise of convenience. As anyone who's heard their TV commercials knows, Enterprise makes this promise: "We'll pick you up!" What could be simpler?

Rochelle and her daughter arrived at their destination and were ready to get their rental car and continue on their way. Well, Enterprise didn't show. They waited and waited. Finally, Rochelle called. A woman answered, "Oh, we are swamped! It will be about 45 minutes for us to pick you up."

Again, Rochelle waited and waited! After another 45 minutes came and went, she called once more. The same woman, a bit more frantic, answered, and said, "I will send someone right now." Finally someone came and took Rochelle and her daughter to the rental office. It turns out that that one woman was the only person there. She was the one taking care of renting vehicles, cleaning cars, answering phones, etc., etc.

Did this woman mean to lie to Rochelle? Most likely not. I am sure she would be shocked to be called a liar after all, she was doing her job to the best of her ability. But she did lie, and in fact, ultimately, all of Enterprise lied to Rochelle. In every Enterprise commercial in which customers are picked up easily and on time the company is making a promise: this what we'll do for you! When Enterprise fails to make sure that each and every rental location can keep this promise they are bound to end up lying to their customers.

The problem with broken promises and lies is that customer will remember and chose another company. Even worse, the customer may then tell their friends and family about the lie too!
Just as Rochelle told me her story, and I am now telling to you, maybe you will tell it to someone else. You can see how one small story can snowball.

Are you lying to your customers? Does your advertisement promise something that you are unwilling or unable to provide? To be successful, you need to keep all your promises, however large and small.

Keeping your word is the first step to winning and keeping your customers. Make sure you do it every time.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Just say "YES" to Your Customer

You walk into your supermarket with a store coupon that expired yesterday. You ask the cashier if they would honor the coupon. “No” the cashier responds. No explanation, no apology, just “No.” You leave the store feeling angry and unappreciated.

Or perhaps you call a local business asking if they would stay open a few minutes longer because you are caught in traffic and you hear “No.” You leave the conversation feeling frustrated and upset.

If you counted the amount of times you are told “No” from the very people who depend on your good will and business your head would spin. How many times after being told “No” do you make a mental note to never go back to that establishment.

Saying “No” is generally the lazy response from a disinterested person, or at least that is how it feels to hear it.

How many times do you say “No” to your customers or clients? Perhaps you hide behind policies and procedures. Do you really think that it feels better to hear “Sorry, No, it’s our policy?” Probably not.

But obviously we can’t say “Yes” every time our customer asks for something. So how do we know when to say “Yes” without it becoming a problem? Put it through a very simple filter that I learned from a friend. If it isn’t illegal, immoral or unethical, say “YES.”

Instead of saying “No,” the next time, stop, take a breath, and say “let me see what I can do.” Then do something, find a way around the issue, call a supervisor, be creative. Even if you can’t say “YES!” you can show the customer that you are doing everything possible.

When you say “YES!” you are showing your customer that you value their business and that you care about their best interest. Let them know you are as loyal to them as you want them to be to you.

Just say YES!