In short, we all have wishes for 2017 (I wish for better customer service in my Christmas stocking). The bad news is, you better manage three challenges to improve your customer service.
The good news is, there’s some low hanging fruit: change quality control, improve procedures for handling client requests / questions, and use one little modification of your marketing team’s behaviour.
It’s that easy, trust me. We spell it out below.
Customer service is constantly gaining importance, and we need the right procedures to deal with a flood of inquiries. Online chat is often expected, and 24/7 service is the norm.
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We discussed how challenging this can be a fortnight ago in, Booking.com, Yeego: NH Hotel Group #epicfail. Now we present another case and we have some pointers on how customer service mishaps can be reduced in our and your organisation.
1. Mistakes happen: Let’s make fewer errors
We all make mistakes and that won’t change any time soon. Keeping the number reasonably low, however, is a great start to improving things.
For instance, avoid situations in which your service or advertising is confusing for your clients. In turn, they have to get clarification = more work for you. Worst is if they decide not to buy because asking is too cumbersome for them. Instead they choose a product that may not be as good as yours but seems better because the service is more easily accessible.
One example is below. If your Cyber Monday Week ad is incorrect, you will get people like me to inquire.
Answering customer inquiries that result from our mistakes may be the right thing to do… but avoiding the situation altogether would be better. In turn, we have to answer fewer emails from clients :-)
The above email is wrong: a 65 percent discount means it should cost $829. The same error was still on the website December 1. I and many other newsletter subscribers got another email with the wrong pricing on December 1, 2016.
Discounts are popular, but you have to get it right. Moreover, if a client points out the error and wants the product at the discount you stated, you should come though on your promise.
2. KISS – Keep it simple, stupid: Beware of scalability
In 2012 a Long Island student created a ruckus by going public with the fact that Steve Jobs refused to be helpful for her semester assignment. But he was of the opinion that helping students was not part of his job description.
From: Steve Jobs [address and header confirmed – CA]
To: Chelsea Isaacs
Subject: Re: Mr. Jobs – Student Journalist Concerned about Apple’s Media Relations Dept.
Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.
Sent from my iPhone
See more here: 2010-09-20 – The Guardian – Steve Jobs: not what you’d call helpful to a trainee journalist. At the time, I wrote the following in our previous blog called Commetrics:
Let us be clear: a CEO like Steve Jobs has better things to do than help a student write her paper for a university course. Of course, if this had happened with my company’s CEO, the student would have gotten an answer. But at most, we get one such request a month AND we enjoy giving an answer since it allows us to gain some more insight.
In our case study with Highsoft, I went to the trouble to write an email to Grethe Hjetland, Highsoft’s CEO. I pointed out this problem to her, suggesting she get it fixed quickly to avoid any backlash.
I got no answer for more than two days. So I went to the trouble to write to the Chief Marketing Officer.
For Ms Hjetland it might be useful to have a procedure in place for such cases. The procedure would spell out what is to happen when she is out of town.
One possibility is an assistant who checks your email every morning and does triage, deciding which emails the CEO will need to reply to herself. Emails in a second group the assistant forwards to those best qualified to reply. The last group of emails get replied to by the assistant (if a reply is needed), or are simply archived.
If done correctly, this limits the number of emails the CEO has to wade or muddle through every morning while on vacation or a business trip. If emails are passed on, however, the procedure needs to include a follow-up. For instance, I triage of emails myself. Some emails that I am not qualified to reply to are sent to those within the organisation.
However, five days after I pass on an email, I will check whether the person has sent a reply. Or I might just send a short note to the person who inquired, saying something like, “I hope you have gotten an answer from us regarding the question you sent me…”
Generally, my email gets a response from the client 99 percent of the time. Usually it states that they are pleased that I have followed up. Sometimes I also get information that helps me do my work better.
Take-away – your customer service must be up to standard
Like Steve Jobs taught us, a company’s goal may not include helping a student get a good grade, but surely we want to address issues raised by clients as quickly as possible. Of course, in our small organisation I can answer most incoming emails myself. In Grethe Hjetland’s case, in a large organisation this is not possible. Instead, she needs a procedure in place that helps her get rid of emails like mine, while still getting them answered.
I got an answer in a roundabout way (see below). Unfortunately, this meant I had to spend more time than necessary to get it resolved. Totally unnecessary if your customer service is up to snuff.
3. Truth in advertising: Do not add insult to injury
Since 2005, Cyber Monday takes place the Monday after the US Thanksgiving holiday and following Black Friday. It has turned into a four-day weekend of pre-Christmas sales. These days, Cyber Monday is spreading its wings to various countries in Europe such as the UK. Even in Switzerland, some store chains like InterDiscount have specials on Cyber Monday.
This is probably the reason why Norwegian company Highsoft AS sent out a mailing to its subscribers with the offer shown above. The CMO and myself went back and forth, and he acknowledged and apologised for the error.
Remember, 65 percent of $2370 is $1541. Truthful advertising requires that the final sales price is therefore $829.
Around December 16, just about three weeks after I pointed out this error, the Chief Marketing Officer had passed on my last email reply to an associate. This new person wrote me the following email:
From: Katharina von Oltersdorff-Kalettka at highsoft.com
Subject: Re: Cyber Monday – Misleading Ad?
Date: 19 December 2016 at 08:28:24 GMT+1
thanks for getting in touch.
I am Katharina, one of the Global Account Managers at Highsoft.
I am more than happy to give you the (although no longer valid) price of $1160 for the Highcharts Suite. This is a package price that includes Premium Support. An option for purchasing it without the premium support is not available.
Let me know if you would still like to proceed and I can arrange for that.
Katharina von Oltersdorff-Kalettka
Global Account Manager
Remember, 65 percent of $2370 makes up $1541, which would give us a sales price of $829.
What does the above email suggest?
- After several email exchanges, Vidar Brekke, Chief Marketing Officer of Highsoft decided to pass on the case to a co-worker. But how much information (i.e. all the email exchanges he had with me) did he pass on to her?
- Ms von Oltersdorff-Kalketta either did not get a copy of the whole conversation I had with Vidar Brekke or she may not have read it properly. Nevertheless, it sounds like I should be grateful to get the 50 percent discount.
What adds insult to injury is that it should show and reflect the adverised 65 percent discount. Truth in advertising requires that you keep your promises. Does this not violate my trust? Mind you, this is a company that claims on its website:
Trust is great, including truthful advertising. From Highsoft I wish to get truthful marketing campaigns and a speedier customer service. Moreover, starting in 2017, I do not want to get the runaround anymore when I point out an error in advertising.
As an entrepreneur I have learned that it is sometimes smarter and faster to get the job done yourself. In this case, I would have sent the last email stating the final price, i.e. $829 to customer. The associate would have gotten a carbon copy and would have processed the order. Then she would have sent a confirmation to me about the order, such as a pdf file. In turn, our accounting department could process the payment.
- Apparently, CEO Grethe Hjetland does not have a procedure that takes care of such incoming email. But she requires one, considering the amount she must be getting, making it impossible to answer mine, and
- CMO Vidar Brekke should always finish a job he starts. In this case it would have resulted in this potential client not getting more run arounds.
Highsoft AS provides a great product that the company continues to improve continuously. Hats off!
If it now could just do the same in its sales and marketing, this would be the best service the company could do for all its clients. Wouldn’t it? And customers’ word-of-mouth marketing will surely help improve brand awareness.
4. Have your say – join the conversation
What is your opinion?
- Do you remember the last time you had a company wriggle out of honouring its own advertising?
- What procedure do you have in place, if a customer or potential customer sends an email to any C Suite employee?
- What bugs do you hate the most when you need customer service?
The author declares that he had no conflict of interest with respect to the content, authorship or publication of this blog entry (i.e. I neither got a freebie from any of the mentioned companies nor are they our clients to the best of my knowledge).
By the way, we had a similar problem with a customer for our DrKPI software. I decided that it was our advertising error. Truthfulness in advertising is very important to me. Accordingly, the client who made us aware of the error got a freebie worth $1475. All others who paid or ordered before we changed the price, got a refund for the difference due to our error.
We felt that this was only fair, because we do not want to be accused of false or deceptive advertising.
In case you’re interested, while Highsoft AS has a blog, it does not allow for client engagement, such as the option of leaving a reader comment. This means fostering engagement and dialogue has been deactivated. Surprising and so much Web 1.0.