9 Ways to Provide Stellar Online Customer Service

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Customer service: It’s something that has always been a necessity. But nowadays, you have to offer more than just the basics. People don’t want to be put on hold or have to wade through tons of text on your website just to find your contact info, and they certainly don’t want to have to wait hours and hours for a response to their queries. In today’s fast-paced world, your customers will want to get a hold of you, and they will want to do it quickly and easily. So how can you make sure that you’re streamlining the process and keeping your customers as happy as you can?

Create the essential “FAQ page” first

If you create a page that specifically addresses the questions you receive the most frequently, this can cut unnecessary contact off before it begins. While this might sound a bit “cold”, people will appreciate the chance to find a solution to their problem without having to go to the trouble of calling or emailing. So take note of the questions you’re getting the most frequently and take the time to put together a clear, concise, and easy-to-find guide that can help your customers solve any simple issues on their own.

Create a customer-service schedule and strategy in line with your business model.

What do we mean by that? Well, for example, if you’re an emergency plumber, you’d better have someone available 24/7 to answer questions–if you claim you’re open 24 hours a day, you need to be able to back that claim up.

On the other hand, if you’re a dog walker who only works Tuesday through Friday, be sure you have your phone connected to your email account and check it occasionally while you’re on call. You might also want to check your social media once or twice a day to make sure you can address any of your customers’ needs or requests. This should be more than enough for someone who works part-time and interacts with clients so personally.

Finally, if you’re a larger operation, you’ll need to set up some kind of customer service department–no ifs, ands, or buts about it! (I.e., you can’t make the graphics department also do customer service in their spare time, because that’s just inefficient for everyone!) Make sure that your customers don’t have to wait for extended periods of time to talk to a representative, and perhaps most importantly, hire customer service professionals who can answer questions professionally and calmly–it’s a tough job, but there are some out there who really excel at it. Find them!

Be compassionate

Your customers will be out for blood sometimes. Sometimes they’re justified in their vitriol; other times not so much. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t all receive a quality customer service experience. As mentioned above, hire thick-skinned customer service people who can be compassionate toward your clients–especially under the most stressful of situations. So, if you have a livid customer ready to cancel with you, rather than saying something like:

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” (Sounds robotic and scripted)

Try this instead:

“I can certainly understand why that would be frustrating. Let me take care of this right away for you. I’ll send this case straight to a manager.”

It shows that you understand his or her urgency and can empathize with them.

Speak like a customer

This is a biggie, and one that people probably forget about a lot: Refrain from using technical jargon. It can be difficult when you’ve worked with your products for so long–it becomes like second nature to use jargon. But it just confuses and frustrates most people who want customer service. So put yourself in their shoes and think about what they need. Do they need an answer to a simple question? Answer it simply. Do they need help with troubleshooting? Be patient and describe things in detail. Thinking and speaking like your customers do is essential to providing a superior customer service experience.

Have resources readily available

No one wants to call in and hear someone say, “Let me check into that… I’ll get back to you”. While you obviously can’t be prepared for every possible situation, you can be prepared for most of them. Be sure to train your customer service representatives thoroughly and make it a requirement that they be able to walk customers through the most commonly-seen situations. For situations that are less common, make scripts and resources readily available. Knowing that the answers are at their fingertips lets your employees relax a bit, and it also sets them up for a higher chance of success in helping a customer with a more complicated case, if it becomes necessary to do so.

Be available on social media

Some businesses go on social media because everyone else is on social media. They send out periodic updates and go about their daily routine without much further thought to their social media strategy.

This is a mistake. Not only do regular updates and interactions with your fans and followers help you grow your potential customer base, they also provide a prime foundation for customer service. When your customers contact you through social media with questions or concerns, you should respond to them accordingly. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll be able to publicly demonstrate your concern for your customers’ needs.

Be timely–whether through email, social media, or by phone

No matter how you choose to address your customer service needs, there’s one thing for certain: You need to be prompt in your responses. As noted above, customers do not like waiting very long for assistance. In today’s fast-paced, technology-based world, they expect an email, phone call, or online chat system so that they can quickly get the answers they need. Check out Zendesk if you need some help streamlining the process.

Offer security

While we’ve been stressing the need for online customer assistance, there’s one big issue that you’ll have to address: Customer security (especially if you do online chat). You want to make sure that the customers understand where and when it’s appropriate to share sensitive data. For example, if they email you, they could include a brief description of the problem and a way to contact them, but they shouldn’t include sensitive data like credit card numbers.

Some more examples: If calls are recorded, of course you must let the customers know. Online chat systems must be done through secure software, and you should always let the customers know that their privacy will always be maintained. If you still want to take customer service requests through email, you could consider having a secure form that they can fill out, and that will be automatically emailed to you.

Be overly courteous

While this is true for anything said over the phone–being empathetic, offering friendly solutions, using the customer’s name–it’s especially true for anything put in writing. You and your team members might think you’re being polite, but sometimes text gets misconstrued. It’s not an uncommon thing, actually. So what’s the solution? We think it works well to be overly polite and courteous. It sounds a bit pandering, but it’s better to err on the side of being too friendly rather than cold or indifferent.

So what do you think? Are there other tips you’d suggest for stellar online customer service? Let us know in the comments!

Internet Local Listings is an internet advertising company in Santa Ana, CA, serving clients across the country with the best website marketing services available in the industry. Visit us here for more information, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to discover how we can help you be seen online.

Should You Ask Your Customers to Take a Survey?

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It seems almost everywhere you go now, there’s someone asking you to take a survey. Go to a store, and there’s a request to take an online survey on the receipt. Visit a website, and there’s a pop-up asking you to take a survey after you finish your shopping. Call about a bill, and sure enough, you’ll be asked to take a survey at the end of the call.

If you can time it right, it might be worth it.

You’re a business owner. You need to know how you’re doing with your business. If your customers are unhappy, what can you do to remedy that? And if your customers are happy, could they be happier? The only way you’re going to find this out is by asking them directly.

According to an article at Microsoft.com, it’s definitely worth it to send out surveys. The issue is knowing when to do so. You don’t want to send out a snail-mail survey two months after the customer has visited your store or purchased your products. Depending on your type of business, it might be effective to have them take a survey while on your site; others, it might make more sense to follow up a week after a visit. You’ll have to do some research and use some common sense to determine when you’ll get the most responses.

Don’t be misleading about the time required to complete the survey.

If your company wants to ask a lot of questions, you might want to rethink your strategy. Rarely are people going to sit down and spend fifteen minutes of their time answering questions—unless there’s an incentive. Be honest about how long your survey will take, and if it’s especially demanding of customers’ time, be sure to offer a little incentive to reward them. Something like a 10% off coupon or buy one get one free. Really pore over your questions and make sure that they’re concise and relevant. Get rid of any extra fluff.

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Follow up with your customers.

Okay, so you’ve gotten your customers to take the survey. You have data (which you need to analyze—don’t just let it sit there!) and you’re feeling pretty good about the responses.

Now you have to follow up.

Following up is a rarity today. By going the extra mile to contact a customer and thank them for their honest review and time, you put yourself in front of other companies. Even if the customer wasn’t happy, asking what you could do better or offering them an apology and a request for another chance at their business can really make all the difference in the world. They will feel like you’ve truly listened to their concerns. And as a great business owner, that’s exactly what you should be doing!

The downside to surveys is that they tend to get abysmal response rates, and if they’re formatted incorrectly, are too invasive, or take too long, they may actually decrease customer satisfaction. If you feel that you have the tools and wherewithal to invest the proper effort in preparing your surveys, the responses you get could really open your eyes to your business’s strengths as well as weaknesses.

If you don’t feel that you have these skills at this time, consider hiring someone (even temporarily) who can help coach you in the feedback department. He or she can assist you in preparing a survey and learning to analyze the results.

What do you think? Should you survey your customers? Do you have suggestions for great surveys? Let us know in the comments below!

Back to Basics #14: How to Deal with Bad Reviews

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It happens from time to time: We all get bad reviews.

It happens to the best of us: At some point in your small business career, you’re going to get a negative review. Even if you try to make every business decision with the customer’s needs in mind, and even if you strive to ensure 100% customer satisfaction every day you’re open for business, someone will still find something to complain about. From contractors to preschools to salons, no one is immune from the dreaded bad review.

Well, that was a depressing intro. Sorry about that.

So, now that you’re feeling deflated and sad, how can we go about making sure that you’re a) prepared for the review when it arrives and b) educated with a few basic skills to help you make the best of a bad situation? In this article, we’ll talk about how you can best go about addressing a bad review. Of course, we’ll also mention a few things you should avoid at all costs–because not every review is worth responding to.

Take a cooling-off period.

When you see that bad review, your first reaction is probably going to be anger. A few thoughts will probably be running through your head: “What did I do to deserve this?” “I don’t recall anything like this happening.” “Well, this customer is clearly mistaken.” “They’re lying.” “I’m just going to ignore them.” And the list goes on.

Well, any or all of the above may be true, but unfortunately, most small businesses lack the means to prove their side of the story. So in this situation, before you sit down and type a response to the reviewer in an attempt to defend yourself, it’s best to just back away and think about what the customer has said. The reviews generally fall into two camps: The people who complain for the sake of complaining, and the people who want to offer constructive criticism.

The people who like to go online and vent about things for no real good reason are nearly impossible to appease. Respond to their complaint and they could berate you. Ignore them and they could get angry that you don’t respond at all.

On the other hand, there are always going to be reviewers who have a legitimate complaint. Maybe there was a miscommunication, and it was just an accident. Maybe one of your employees was having a bad day and it ended up affecting their work. Either way, it’s your job to consider what the reviewer has said before jumping to conclusions

Most importantly, it’s vital that you be able to admit that maybe you really did make a mistake, if there was indeed a mistake made.

Then, once you’ve calmed down and evaluated the situation, you’ll be ready to deal with the bad review in a professional manner.

Determine whether a response is needed.

As mentioned above, some cases will call for a response, while others are best left untouched. Situations where you will just want to ignore a response would be:

  • If the reviewer is using inflammatory language or just trying to pick a fight
  • If the reviewer is ranting about something that doesn’t have anything to do with your services
  • If someone is leaving repeated reviews in an attempt to flood your page with negative comments

While most companies make every effort to respond to each review, sometimes dealing with the very angry or hostile reviewers can end up making the experience worse. Knowing how to identify these types of reviewers is a great skill for your company to develop.

In other situations, you’ll want to respond to your negative review. Doing so requires you to have professional language and a legitimate apology. Don’t just make excuses for the mistake. Acknowledge that this person is trying to constructively help you with your business—they’re hoping that by leaving their review, you can see where you might be falling short of good customer service. Then you have a chance to win back business or, at the very least, to show customers how much you care.

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Respond in a timely manner.

There are instances in which businesses take too long to respond to a review. This can actually make a company look bad—like they can’t be bothered to address the concerns of a customer. It’s best to respond within a week of the initial comment, so check the popular review sites regularly and make sure that you’re following up with your customers. 

Next, write a draft of your review. If the review was written recently and you’ve taken the time to cool off before you reply, it’s still best to compose a draft. Have a friend or someone you trust read it through and make sure it doesn’t come off as passive-aggressive or inflammatory.

Write a real apology if needed.

There have been a number of articles written on flimsy apologies vs legitimate ones. The intricacies of constructing a PR-friendly, yet personalized apology and follow-up promise to improve is beyond the scope of this article. However, the following tips should prove useful: 

  • Don’t make excuses. Treat the customer with respect and dignity. Offering an impersonal and lazy excuse like “well the cashier was new” or “it was rainy that day and some people couldn’t make it in to work” is not going to cut it.
  • Explicitly state that you are sorry for the inconvenience you have caused. Not the inconvenience you may have caused, or for the customer’s feelings. (i.e., “I’m sorry you feel this way” or “I’m sorry if we offended you.” The customer is telling you exactly how they feel. You need to apologize for the mistakes made on your end, not for how the customer feels.)
  • Follow up with something to make it up to the customer. Whether that’s a 10% off coupon, a free meal, or a complimentary service from the owner, any sort of offer to fix the problem will be appreciated. An apology needs to be followed up with the intent or promise to improve, or the customer will find it empty or phony.
  • If the customer doesn’t accept your apology, move on. Don’t argue. It will hurt that they still don’t want to visit your business. But you can’t please everyone—and arguing or begging will just make you look bad.

Finally…

Don’t send your replies in a private message. Post these apologies publicly. People will see that you took the time to respond and it will only reflect well on you!

See more information on how you shouldn’t respond to negative comments here: The Wrong Way to Respond to Comments

Encourage more positive reviews. As we discussed in a previous article, it’s always a good idea to encourage positive customer reviews. There is a difference between begging for a review or being too aggressive in your requests vs posting a friendly reminder that you need customer reviews to help grow your business. You can offer an incentive for people who participate and generate more good talk about your company! 

Can you think of anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!