Following up on a post from last week on ways to control the use of employees’ own devices when used for work, here is a useful article on protecting customer data. This is very important topic and most small businesses don’t know what to do, or even how to approach the problem. This is a good introduction.
In last week’s post, I talked about needing to provide a different experience for different types of customers. Then I provided the first of five approaches to getting the right kind of customer facing staff to be able to do it. I now continue with the remaining four approaches.
2. Instill a culture that values diversity. Every business has a culture and hopefully, yours values and respects diversity. This goes beyond the usual race, religion, etc. It needs to include a diversity of thought. This may mean that there are multiple ways to do something, not just one. They need to be able to approach different customers in different ways. (There goes your intro script!) Your employees need to focus on meeting customers’ needs and desires but in different ways. Your staff needs to understand that this is the right thing to do and that it is in everyone’s interest to serve a broad and diverse group of customers.
3. Training. One way to get the right values and approaches in your staff is to describe hypothetical situations and work through the right approaches to fit the situation. While this is hard and needs to be ongoing, consider the alternative-having staff that cannot meet the needs of a diverse customer set.
4. Be tuned in to the details. Get your staff to watch the faces and mannerisms of your customers and react appropriately. Get them to anticipate the needs of your customers and offer help when they look puzzled. Don’t always wait for a customer to approach. By teaching your staff to pay attention to body language and expressions – comfortable or not, stressed confused, overwhelmed, etc. you teach your employees to focus on the whole customer. This will allow them to be much more effective at meeting your customers’ needs and in providing a good customer experience.
5. Be gracious. When an employee is helping a customer, they need to find the right product to meet their needs and they need to do it in a way that does not make the customer feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. By choosing words that shift the conversation to the benefit for the customer from the emotional state or uncomfortable situation the customer finds himself in, sales effectiveness with be greatly improved.
As we have discussed before, different types of customers want a different experience. Younger customers may prefer speed and efficiency and to be able to do everything at the touch of a button. Older customers often want a more personal interaction. Customers from different cultures have different customs and a different approach to making purchases. For example, Hispanics often want a more social and personal approach to the buying process. They may even want to have a discussion unrelated to the product or service under consideration. Many recent immigrant groups may have a lot more questions about a product. (They might be like me, give me the facts, just the facts.)
All of this puts a lot of pressure on your employees. Besides all the usual characteristics you want from your employees, polite, helpful, etc. you need them to be flexible, adaptable and very aware of cultural, age and other differences.
So, how do you get people like this? You might find this impossible. Here is a list of five approaches to get it right:
- Hire the right person. To some extent, through out what you thought you wanted in terms of skills and experience and look for someone that is the right kind of person for the job, and might only be missing teachable job skills (that unfortunately may mean that you will need someone to teach them). Look for someone with key characteristics (per Bill Thompson): genuine warmth, empathetic, a good listener, conscientious, anticipatory and optimistic. Now you have a start.
As this is getting long, I will describe the additional four approaches in next week’s posting.
We have been talking a lot about using social media to engage customers and prospective customers. We have also talked about how social media is best for building relationships over direct selling. In this vein, using social media requires you to be part of a community and to help your customers connect with others. One of the primary benefits of using social media for your company is to listen to what your customers are saying so that you can understand their needs and how those needs may be evolving. What happens if you hear about something your customers want but you don’t supply it? You might want to direct that customer to a place where they can get what they want. By doing this, you send a message that you value that customer as a person, even if it does not benefit you in a direct way. It puts the customer relationship first and the sale second.
Of course, you want to have a process where customer needs that are identified through social media have a way of getting to the folks that do product and service planning so your company can consider a new offering. In this way, it will make your company stronger over the long run.
Before social media, a disgruntled customer might tell a few people about their bad experience. Now, they can tell millions. So it is important to respond immediately and appropriately. We have been talking a lot about improving the customer experience and how different customers want to do business with us in different ways. This means that we have to have as many ways to handle customer issues as our customers want.
As lots of customers use social for many purposes, many of those customers would be happy to use social media channels to resolve issues. That is why companies are beginning to set up specific channels using Facebook and Twitter, among others. It is critical that if you decide that this is something that makes sense for your company that the service people or the “Community Manager” that are responding to customer issues can resolve issues quickly, fairly and without the use of additional channels such as calling a customer service number or email. Nothing would be more frustrating than teasing customers with a way to resolve issues using the new channels of social media but not being able to really solve their issue through that channel.
Keep in mind that your communication with customers over these channels will for the most part be public so it requires a whole new level of tact and awareness. In some cases, you can have the community manager take the conversation offline for resolutions but this has drawbacks too. So recognize that by using social media to resolve customer complaints is going to push you to have a better outcome with customers. This may require a reevaluation of your policies (such as your return policy) and the limits of what you are willing to do for a customer in order to produce the desired outcome for your customers.
Last time I described how the “Community Manager” is the key company representative to solve customer’s issues in the online community. In this post, I describe how the “Community Manager” is the Chief Market Listener. That is, they listen online to get the real, un-filtered truth of what customers are saying about your products and services in the online community.
This is key to identifying systemic issues that customers are complaining about so that they can be resolved. Survey after survey confirms that companies think they are doing a good job in the areas of customer service and the customer experience, but their customers don’t think so. So this is the way to find out what is really going on.
To begin, you need to join the conversation. Ok what conversation? The conversation about your company and products but much more broadly about what issues are relevant to your customers. These may have little to do with what you sell directly but it is where your customers hang out online. So identify where these places are. To get help identifying these places and joining the conversation, you may need a tool like HootSuite, Google Alerts or Social Mention. These work by sending you references to keywords you provide that are relevant to your customers.
So start by listening and then after you get your bearings, step in and join the conversation. When engaging your customers online, reply with something that is relevant to them, not necessarily relevant to your product or service. The point is engagement, not sales. Keep in mind that this is a process and takes time. You will know when you are successful — your brand will be top of mind.
In the next post I will discuss using social media as a channel to provide customer service.
Most small businesses understand that social media is the great equalizer. It allows you to engage with and cultivate customers online as effectively as any large company. Social media is all about relationship building over direct selling. It demonstrates to customers that they are understood by the company providing a product or service.
The “Community Manager” is the person at your company that listens to and talks with the online community. They are typically in the Marketing department but their role extends beyond marketing to be the key person who responds to questions and concerns online. Think of this person as your online brand ambassador and chief customer troubleshooter.
So what should this person be doing? Key to success is they should be solving customer issues and responding to problems that surface online. In order to do this, they need to be empowered to actually solve issues for customers, or if they cannot actually solve an issue, they must command the respect and cooperation of others in the company who can. So it is important that everyone knows what this person does and how important the role is to customer satisfaction. Everyone should know that they need to respond quickly to a request from the community manager for help with a customer.
In the next post, I will discuss other important activities that the community manager performs.
Here is a useful article on strategies to retain customers. As you know, it is far easier to retain a customer than to win a new one. This all builds on the series of posts I have been doing on improving the customer experience.
Figuring out what your customers want from you is key to improving the customer experience for them. If you are like a lot of my clients, you compete every day with companies with big marketing budgets and a big research and product development budgets. The only problem is you don’t have those kinds of resources so you need to get the same information and inform your products and services and the way they are marketed and delivered with the limited resources that you do have. Here are some ideas.
- Ask Your Customers and Listen Carefully
Key to figuring out how to provide services to your customers is to understand what they want from you. Ask your customers why they buy from you. Ask some prospective customers why they would and would not buy from you. Listen to the answers. You would be amazed to see how eager people are to tell you want you want to know. Most customers will consider it a form of flattery to be asked.
Another approach is to do a survey. This can be done inexpensively using a vehicle like Survey Monkey. We use this for research for many of our customers and for ourselves. In fact, if you have one minute, you can do our survey by clicking on the following link (after you finish this post of course!):
The only trick is to be sure you don’t ask leading questions that give you the results you are expecting instead of the unbiased results you need to be successful. If you don’t think you can do this successfully, seek out some help.
- Pay Attention to Trends
Most industries today have many industry specific and general trends that are affecting them. The key is to differentiate between a fad that is more momentary and a trend which is longer term. You need to look out several years and anticipate how these trends affect you. Then you need to craft strategies to adapt and take advantage of these trends by creating new services and products that customers will want to buy. Good sources of information are trade magazines for your industry. Much discussed are how different generations shop and what kind of products they buy. Think about Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z and so on. What is the impact of this on your business? More on this in a later post.
- Communicate With Your Customers
Communicating with your customers and prospective customers doesn’t mean trying to sell things to them (at least not with every communication). It means opening a dialog with them and keeping the dialog going. You need to keep up with what they are thinking and doing. Of course, one of the most obvious ways to do this is by engaging them on social media. You need to be listening to what they think of your company and its products and you want to keep them informed about what your company is doing for them.
If you do this well, and use the information from the above three activities to shape your customer’s experience with you, you will be taking a critical first step in improving the customer experience for your customers.
Most people understand that having a great customer experience for their customers is the key to customer satisfaction and positive word of mouth. The customer experience is not just the buying process but starts with the awareness phase and continues past the actual purchase to loyalty and advocacy.
The first thing to understand is that customers have different needs and desires and are different in many, many ways. They may have children or not, be older or younger, be of different ethnic or linguistic backgrounds, have different core values, etc. Their priorities, values and experiences inform their perspective (how they see the world). This means that different customers want different things, at different times and provided differently. So you need to be aware of each situation and be prepared to meet this differing expectation.
Someone who has little time may prize fast service. Others may want to understand all the options and then choose. A starting point to improve the customer experience is to identify the characteristics of your most valuable customers and craft service strategies to meet their needs. I will explore more on this topic over the next several weeks.