Customer Service can make or break any company. It’s fundamental to profitable growth.

Those who have it, thrive. Those who don’t, struggle. So what’s the Secret? Why do so many companies fail to hear what their customers are saying?

Service Customer Service Consultants Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter presents resh, presents Fresh, Simple and Practical Advice on how to seek out that all Important Customer Feedback in this Essential New White Paper Paper

Introduction Customers have more choices than ever about where they will do business. Even though your customer may not be telling YOU why they left, they are most certainly telling their friends and family. So, now you not only have lost one customer you potentially have lost their friends and family too. Have you ever walked out of a business because of the way you were treated? In a recent web survey, 79% of customers reported that they walked out of a business simply because they were disappointed with how they were greeted.

If they are walking out without telling you why, how can you possibly know what to do to make their experiences better?
You need to engage your customer with questions and provide a safe forum for them to communicate their true feelings. Once you have heard and understand their point of view you will have the knowledge you need to make necessary changes. Providing what your customers want and need requires that you actively seek information from them. How do you go about asking your customers how they feel about your business? There are a number of methods you can use in order to give your customer the opportunity to tell you about how they feel. In this White Paper, we distinguish between ‘Asking’ the Customer for information and ‘Listening’ to the Customer. There are clearly differences between ‘absorbing’ what your customers tell you and ‘reaching out’ through various channels to harvest what people are saying about your companies products or services.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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Methods for asking: Phone number for customers to call A toll free number that is easy to remember is an easy way for your customer to tell you about their experience. Trucking agencies, fast food restaurants and even government agencies have toll free numbers that make contact easy and all the more likely. This is a good option if you have a dedicated well-trained person to accept calls. Message systems and automated service systems can create more problems than they solve. When people take the time to comment on the service they received they want to interact with a live human being. The lack of an empowered service representative on the other end of the line often makes matters much worse. Make it easy tips: 1. Have an easy-to-remember, toll free number that the customer can use to make an easy, no-cost call. 2. Have someone answer the phone during business hours, and have a message system that takes after hours messages and provides the customer with an idea of when they will hear back from a company representative. Comment Cards Some businesses have a card on the counter that can be either filled out and left at a box on the counter or mailed in. Restaurants sometimes leave a card with the bill that can be left for the waitperson or mailed in after the meal. Hotels also have successfully used cards to find out how their customers feel. Many businesses include a postage paid card with each invoice. It is important for the customer to have the option to leave their comments with the business or to mail it in at a later time. Make it easy tips: 1. Make it easy for your customers to comment by having the feedback card postage paid. 2. Leave room for comments.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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3. Offer an incentive for feedback. For example, an opportunity to win a gift certificate or cash prize when feedback is provided within a specific time frame. Email surveys Many businesses that use the internet to market to their customers will also use it to get fast and easy feedback through email surveys. This is effective when the customer has easy access to a computer. There are many companies that can provide you with a web-based survey. Be careful to not limit or demand a certain amount of words in their response. Make it easy tips: 1. Make it easy for them by keeping your questions to a minimum. 2. Use a simple rating scale and limit the number of essay answers you build into your survey. Phone surveys Don’t take too much of your customer’s time Phone calls should take no longer than a few minutes UNLESS the customer needs to vent. Make sure that the person making the call has a professional and warm tone of voice. They should also be adequately trained and empowered to solve the customer’s problem if an issue surfaces during the call. If you are using an outside resource, instruct them to tell the customer that they are an outside resource but will relay their concern to the company. They then need to immediately contact a customer service rep at your company so that you can call the customer back. Observant Employees Frontline employees are often in the best position to ask your customer about their experience.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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Simply saying “How was everything today?” could lead to vital knowledge about your customer’s opinion of your business.
If you have well trained employees who are sensitive to changes in body language and tone of voice, you can immediately get feedback from your customer. If a change is noted, then the employee should ask “Is there a problem?” or, “Did we meet your expectations?” Make it easy: Have your employees trained and empowered to fix the issue or to get a supervisor to fix the issue. Employees should ask the question only once. If the customer still seems mad but doesn’t want to respond, just have them note the incident to the supervisor. Rules for asking: Keep questions to a minimum 1. Four to five questions max 2. Offer a clear choice (simply saying 1 is bad 5 is good can still be confusing). Use graphics if in print (smiley faces to frowny faces) and clear instructions 3. If in print, always leave room for the customer to write an opinion 4. If on the phone, always ask if the customer has something else they need to comment on Too often we ask questions that don’t relate to what the customer finds important. Giving them space to write their opinions opens up the dialogue. Offer an incentive to respond 1. Drawing for a prize 2. Discount on next purchase of product or service 3. If you add a timing element, you can use it to determine the percentage of customers responding over time

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Don’t ask for feedback that you aren’t willing to listen to or act on.
Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than to vent their feelings and never hear back about their comments. When a customer receives a generic thank you for a specific complaint, their anger and level of dissatisfaction will likely increase. I was a participant in a phone survey conducted by my bank. They used an outside source who asked me if I had any issues with the bank. I told them I was unhappy that I was never greeted by name after doing business there for over 15 years. A week later I received a thank you letter from the bank for answering the survey. It was addressed, “Dear Customer”. I am sure you know how angry that made me. Businesses on the cutting edge also respond to positive comments. Contacting your happy customers may make them even happier. One of my clients was great at responding to the negative comments but didn’t respond to the positive letters and comments. He was missing a huge opportunity to further bond with his customers. Respond quickly 1. Even 24 hours can seem like a long time to your customer. 2. If formulating a solution to the problem is going to take longer than 24 hours, contact the customer and let them know you are working on the problem and be specific about what they can expect next. 3. Call or write to your customer and thank them for their positive comments. Let them know you appreciate them taking the time from their busy life to contact you. Thank them for their business. You can also safely ask for referrals. Tell them you have built your business by word of mouth and would appreciate if they would spread the good word to their friends and family.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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Listening to Your Customers Customer service and marketing teams are mechanisms to distribute information, offer advice and promote products and services. Contacts centers and Helpdesks utilize many different applications and services for outbound communications, but few have mastered the art of true two-way customer communication.

Often we are great at talking but useless at listening. Teaching your company this skill could be a valuable investment in your future.
Why Listen to your Customers? 1. Improve your customer support knowledge base 2. Increase word of mouth advertising 3. Reduce customer churn rates 4. Improve problem identification and troubleshooting 5. Learn about your weaknesses 6. Learn about common objections 7. Add value to every customer interaction 8. Identify potential training opportunities 9. Provide agent performance feedback 10. Get new ideas for product or service improvements add-ons or new products On the Front Line Representing your company on the frontline is one of the most important positions in any company. Customer service staff often represent the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” as they are often the only people solving customer problems and yet often the last port of call for help. Delivering good service means, on one hand, being personable, friendly and conversational, but on the other hand, being thick skinned and somewhat removed from the experience so not to take comments personally. Listening skills offer agents the chance to deliver exceptional service and add incredible value to your company and your relationships with customers. Your information system, contact center software and internal processes may prevent good listening skills from being fully utilized. © Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter 7

Listening is a skill; acting on what you hear is a passion.
Face to Face Recently I purchased a new computer. I walked into the local computer store and spent 5 minutes looking around before one of the floor staff approached me, "Can I help you with anything?” he asked. I said, "Sure I'm looking to buy a PC, mainly for internet use, with no pre-installed software....” The salesperson said, "Ok let me show you this one, it’s our top selling package at the moment and my favorite." This incident is a classic example of NOT listening. He showed me a computer that did not have the specifications I wanted. He showed me his favorite rather than taking two minutes to ask me a few extra questions about what I wanted. In a face-to-face interaction the goal should be to take the information you hear and customize your response to HELP the customer buy what they want rather than selling them what YOU want them to buy. Top 5 things to do in a face-to-face interaction: 1. Look at the customer, make eye contact 2. Let the customer finish speaking before you start 3. Offer impartial advice rather than your personal preference or “today's special” 4. If there is an opportunity to offer suggestions then say "From what you have just told me, I think there are a few great options we can look at for you" (acknowledging the customers points) 5. When discussing a product or service with a customer, refer back to what they said initially — it builds the customer’s confidence in what you are telling them. Listening from the Call Center On the phone you miss out on the non-verbal expressions, so listening is even more important. Decision making skills are paramount in a contact center where even with good computers a click to the wrong page can result in delays while information loads.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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If you have an issue-based information system, your agents will be selecting option groups that get more specific as you get on, so verbal triggers can be focused on. Without being able to read body language, your ability to develop the conversation is important. Speak positively and with confidence from the start of the call. Hopefully you'll have thick skin and will be less likely to take comments personally. This is important, as customers often will be emotional, angry or upset. After the customer has told you what their issue is, you should start to ask questions to refine your response. This will help ensure that you are selecting the right options for the customer, offering information about potential solutions, or introducing the current special offers, when appropriate. A common mistake and source of frustration for customers is agents repeating back to the customer what they have just said so the customer knows the agent has understood. Agents should be trained and confident developing a conversational tone and manner. Top 5 things to remember from the Call Center 1. 2. 3. 4. Develop your conversational style, you are not a robot Let the customer speak Acknowledge the issue Talk the customer through the process you are going through 5. Add value with additional information or offers

Listening through Email Customer Service via email is great because you can instantly block out any emotion and just deal in facts. As with talking on the phone, replying to emails requires careful consideration. It’s not important to explain to the customer what happened in detail. It's best to focus on the solution and what steps you are taking to meet their expectations. If the solution involves a negotiation or compromise, try to explain the situation and how it will affect the customer.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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As with all communication techniques, the most important listening skill is follow through. If you tell the customer something specific will happen, they should be contacted again so you can let them know the end result. Follow up and follow through. Top 3 things to improve your listening skills via email: 1. Acknowledge 2. Resolve 3. Wrap up, follow up and follow through Self Help Portal A self help portal and knowledge base is essential for today's internet savvy consumer. Customers will more often than not go to the web first for help; this could include Google or your company website. If you have a helpdesk system such as Zendesk, forums come as part of the package. Once you have branded and added your content, you can set up open forums for 'Feature Requests' or 'Troubleshooting' discussions. This opens up Customer-2-Customer product support, an open forum for all to see the identification and resolution efforts your company is making. Customers who see first hand the level of support you are giving your customers are more likely to trust your products or services and be more confident in their buying behavior. Enable 'on the fly' content creation. To ensure a vibrant, relevant knowledge base, populating and updating the knowledge base should be an organic part of each agent’s workday, rather than a separate process for an administrator. By using tags you can search or create a report to help identify common issues arising over a period of time. Especially useful (if your system allows) is to generate alerts that warn helpdesk administrators of increased frequency of keyword tags. If there is a bug in the system this ‘tag alert’ could help speed up hazard notification times and ensure problems are resolved faster.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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A ‘solve and post to forum' option can enable the creation of content as a by-product of solving problems. A tightly integrated case management and knowledge base makes it easy for agents to add knowledge based articles on the fly when they resolve an “interesting” case. This process should also be applied to common or frequently asked questions as well as positive tickets that give praise. Build a knowledge base that captures your organization’s collective experience. You will end up with a more complete and diverse set of content if you grant authoring privileges to all or most agents instead of limiting knowledge creation to a select few. The Agent Interface The agent's interface must allow for custom fields with: 1. An importance rating to flag it correctly for the next agent 2. A Single-Click Task Creator that will assign it to the right person 3. An issue mapping field so that the issue can be linked to a specific task or job (in the system) that it’s about and/or raised at a certain milestone Add a 'root cause' field to the case management form and a business rule that requires agents to select a value from a drop-down menu for this field when they resolve a case. The root cause of a problem could be a bug, user error, or an inaccuracy in the documentation or a confusing user interface. You can’t show the customer over the phone that you are listening to them if you can't deal with or follow through with their specific requests. Of course there will be limits or boundaries for what you can do for a customer, but in most situations you should be able to incorporate flexibility into your management system. 3rd Party Phone in Surveys Some people think "talking isn't work", so they are happy to leave long detailed answers to open-ended questions on a voice survey, where in a traditional email or paper survey they would not necessarily take the time to write the same level of detail in their responses.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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People find it easier to give more detailed information, and you get a much deeper understanding about how they feel based on their intonation and emotion. Companies like BigEar.com can get feedback from people on mobile phones. This often means getting that information closer to the point of experience. Their phone number is available 24/7 so customers can ring at any convenient time. The Power of Audio Audio is very powerful. You can tell a lot more from a verbal answer than from a written answer. We know of some businesses that have used the audio collected via a BigEars survey for staff training purposes, sharing the "voice of the customer" with their staff. Forums Forums can be a hive of activity.

Many sites have product update or suggestions forums which offer an excellent way to improve your product or service based on customer feedback.
Weekly updates would allow you to collect all the comments and summarize, and acknowledge the feedback that is being included in strategies. If there are specific forums of interest available, subscribe to the RSS feeds or sign up to receive weekly updates of activity so you don’t need to visit the site every day. A company I worked for a few years back was experiencing some technical issues with a particular group of customers — schools. Orders were getting duplicated and we had some communications issues. Several schools started expressing their disappointment via a national forum. This escalated the issue very quickly. I immediately sent a collective email to all the school accounts explaining the issue, apologizing and describing what our steps would be to get the matters resolved. I received a flood of return emails commenting that it was great we were on to it, and that it was just 1 or 2 people causing the fuss. In the end we engaged those customers to

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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help us fix the problems and nurtured better relationships with them. Social Media networks Social networks are mainstream. Millions of people around the world use social networks to communicate, blog and post up comments about personal experiences, and some could be related to your company. If you’re not actively following all your customers, it’s easy to miss important comments, or for serious complaints to go viral causing serious damage to your brand before you have a chance to intervene. Twitter Whether or not your company has a Twitter account, you can still access feeds of information from the Twitter search engine. Use http://search.twitter.com/. Type in keywords like your company name or product names. Once you have the search results you can add the RSS "Feed for this query" to your RSS Management Tool. If you have an account and see a Twitter message that’s of concern you can Direct Message or just reply to that person seeking more information or asking/offering to help resolve their issue or complaint.

A positive Twitter message that could result from resolving a service issue here would be powerful branding and a reward for the effort taken.
Getsatisfaction.com Getsatisfaction.com is an online service that allows companies to set up a unique customer touch point. It’s independent and simple to use. You can also add widgets into your customer service portal/website. Essentially, customers can search for a product or company and then submit a request explaining their concern or issue. If that company has an account, their agents will be connected instantly to any new messages and be able to respond quickly. Customers can Ask a Question, Share an Idea, Report a Problem or Give Praise. Responses can also be made public.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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These features are valuable, and no matter if you’re a global corporation or a local green grocer using Get Satisfaction will add value to your customer service strategy. Suggestionbox.com Suggestion Box is exactly that, a place where anyone can post suggestions about any company or product. You can add the Suggestion Box widget to your website so your customers know you’re listening and that that’s where to go to make their suggestions. Collaboration is another feature in which you can engage with customers who suggest good ideas, allowing for 2-way communication, better development and ideas. Google Alerts Open http://www.google.com/alerts. Simply enter the topic you want to monitor, frequency of updates and your email, and you’re done. I have set up alerts for my name, my company name and other key words I'm keen to follow. You can also use Google Reader. Here is how to set up your subscriptions: 1. Get a Gmail account: http://www.gmail.com 2. Log in to Google Reader. This will become your home base for listening. Note the position of the “Add Subscriptions” button (mid top left): http://www.google.com/reader 3. Now, go to Google Blog search. Type in your query about your company, your organization, your competitors, and the like. We’ll use the results in the next step: http://blogsearch.google.com. 4. Note the “Subscribe” links on the bottom left of the page. Right-click the RSS link and select “copy”. 5. Go back to Google Reader, click “Add Subscription”, and select “paste”. 6. Repeat this for as many variations of searches you want for blogs.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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Conclusion Far too often (and it’s easy to do) we become 'internalized' and start trying to fix problems inside the company. This internalization exaggerates concerns with processes, staff performance and technology. This introverted behavior applies blinkers to your perspective and decision making. You can become shut off from what’s happening "out there", because you are so concerned with what’s happening in your office. Perhaps it’s a case of what you feel you can and can’t control, comfort zones or something else, but it’s vital to the success of your department and company for you to break down any barriers to improvement. Customer service is about the utilization of organic processes, empowered staff and a community around your brands. Using the right technology and facilitating a positive culture can create a healthy company. Often we hear “if your healthy on the inside, you’ll be healthy on the outside”. It’s the same for a company.

NEXT STEPS What to do with Positive Feedback So you’re getting positive feedback and comments from your customers. What do you do with this information? Say Thanks It’s very important to reply to all positive communications as often as possible. Acknowledge that that person has taken the time to speak to you. If the suggestion is useful in improving an aspect of your business, let them know how you have applied what they had to say. Harvest Ensure you have a field on your agent interface/database where positive comments can be recorded against the customers account and also reported on by management. If you can gather customer demographics and match those stats to your ‘Praise’ tickets, you will be able to start gathering valuable information about the type of person engaging with you.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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Reward For ‘on the fly’ feedback through website selection boxes or forms, offering a $5 or $10 voucher as thanks for their time and contribution is a nice feel-good conclusion to that experience point. For other forms of feedback a special offer could be sent out bi-monthly.

What to do with Negative Feedback What if you’re getting negative feedback and comments from your customers? What do you do with this information? Say Thanks When hearing that a customer is not happy with your service it’s very hard to remember that this information is a gift. Thank your customer for taking the time to communicate their experience with you. Remember that most unhappy customers will leave a business without saying anything to the business, but will then tell all their friends and family about how unhappy they are. The fact that they are willing to share, gives you the opportunity to make things better and in the process, perhaps turn your customer into a raving fan. Empower Your Employees Your employees need to be empowered to resolve your customer’s issues without having the customer beg to speak to a supervisor. You can empower your employees within certain limits. This will help your agent take ownership of the customer’s issue. Attempt to Fix the Issue Immediately Customers want and need you to take their issue seriously and to fix the issue on the spot. In the event you cannot fix it immediately, let the customer know that you are doing all you can to make it right. Showing your customer that you are making an effort goes a long way to making that customer feel that they are important to you. Offer Symbolic Atonements When the problem is not easily resolved, or when the customer’s issue is large enough to make them feel victimized, you need to take an extra step. Symbolic atonements let the customer know that you are truly sorry.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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Offering a discount on a future purchase or a small gift is often sufficient. Communicate to All Your Employees Never assume that the issue is an isolated experience. Meetings with the staff should happen on a regular basis. At these meetings talk about the issues that were harvested and how they were positively resolved. Sharing best practices can help all employees improve the future treatment of customers.

About the Authors Laurie Brown is a speaker, author and trainer who helps individuals, associations and companies improve their sales, customer service and presentation skills. Laurie’s interactive, fun approach to learning allows students to discover the methods that will help set themselves apart from the competition. Her clients all agree that working with Laurie has made a difference to their bottom line. Contact details: http://thedifference.net http://twitter.com/lauriebrown http://www.linkedin.com/in/lauriebrowntrainer

Justin Flitter is a creative customer services consultant with experience managing teams within online retail and traditional contact centre environments. His blog promotes customer service thought leadership, encouraging proactive customer service best practice. Justin Flitter is also the APAC Business Developer for Zendesk.com, a Web 2.0 Helpdesk Application. Contact Details: http://justinflitter.com http://twitter.com/justinflitter http://linkedin.com/in/justinflitter

© Copyright All Rights Reserved 2009 Laurie Brown and Justin Flitter

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