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Tag: Customer Service

This post was originally published on Jennifer Fong’s Direct Sales and Social Media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com.

Last night I signed up for NetFlix.  Now I realize that I am probably the last living American to do so.  But I’ve been a Blockbuster Video loyalist for decades, and wasn’t in any hurry to change that status.  But the Netflix business model finally hooked me, when I discovered we could stream videos on demand to our TV through our Wii, and have 1 DVD at a time, all for a monthly fee that was less than 2 videos a month at Blockbuster.

And it really got me to thinking about business models, and how getting too comfortable with ours can cause us to lose touch with what appeals to even our most loyal customers.  You see, Blockbuster was on top for a really long time.  And holding that percentage of the market share, in my opinion, made them short-sighted.  They didn’t even consider the competition anymore.

Yet the competition was innovating.  It started through a mail order service…where DVDs from a list you create online would be shipped to you to keep as long as you like. Then, when you’re done, you ship it back (postage free) and get another DVD on your list.  For some people this was super convenient.  Yet for people like me, their loyalists, we wanted to choose the movie we were in the mood for the night we wanted to watch it.  The NetFlix model didn’t meet that need, and so we stayed with Blockbuster.

The next thing I was aware of was the on-demand model.  We’re not big TV watchers in my house (heck, I’ve still got a VCR!), so we didn’t upgrade to a cable box until we were forced to by our cable company.  At that point we got a whole collection of on-demand programming that we could access for a fee similar to what we would pay at Blockbuster (as well as a collection of free children’s programming).  Without leaving our house.  You couldn’t keep your movie for a week (my kids like to watch things multiple times), but it was sure convenient to not have to leave the house on rainy nights.  We took advantage of some programming through the cable company. Yet we still remained loyal to Blockbuster too, signing up for the loyalty program, etc.

But then Blockbuster began to betray our trust.  They switched from 7 day rentals to 5 day rentals, and didn’t tell anyone (well I assume it was on our paper receipt, but they failed to mention it.)  We racked up late fees as a result (didn’t Blockbuster a while back do away with late fees?  Yeah, not anymore.  We didn’t know that either.)  The loyalists that they should have been rewarding and courting were experiencing betrayal after betrayal.  We didn’t matter to them!

Then I saw a blog post about how we could have 1 DVD at a time in the mail, plus on demand programming to our TV, for under $10 a month through NetFlix. I fiddled a bit and saw how easy it would be to set up. It was a no-brainer.

By the way, have YOU seen any online social efforts to reach me through Blockbuster, either through sponsored blog posts, Twitter, etc.?  To retain my business?  I certainly haven’t. Other than the regular email I get trying to sell me stuff, I never hear from them at all.

And so Blockbuster has lost another loyal customer.  Because they weren’t listening.  And they weren’t paying attention to my needs.

As direct sellers, we have to be very careful that we don’t make the same mistake.  We are VERY fond of our business model, and very slow to change.  And that’s because it works.  But if we don’t continue to adapt to modern technology, and the way our customers want to shop, we could easily go the way of Blockbuster.  It’s hard to believe, but in this day and age there are still direct selling companies that don’t provide their reps with personal websites for shopping.  There are still companies that aren’t reaching out to customers through the social web.  And yet consumers are telling us, loudly, that they EXPECT to be able to interact with their brands online.

Look at Stella and Dot as an example.  How did this direct sales jewelry company get so big so fast? By taking advantage of the social web, and encouraging its reps to do the same.  They haven’t abandoned direct selling principles.  But they’re smart enough to add online technology to the mix, in order to provide their customers with the shopping experience that fits into their lives.  And as a result, they are on par with the Silpadas and Cookie Lees of the world, who have been around a LOT longer.

Customers aren’t going to bend to your traditions.  At least not very long.  They expect you to adapt to them.  Are you prepared to do so?

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

This week I wrote a post about a bad experience with Domino’s Pizza, and how I felt that they ignored me on Twitter.  My thought is that if you’re going to have a Twitter account, you need to be prepared to service customers there, even if it’s simply to direct people to the appropriate customer service channel.

And I had someone on Twitter question whether I was being fair to Domino’s.  After all, the national brand is represented by independent franchisees.  Shouldn’t we hold the individual franchise responsible for a customer service failure, instead of the whole brand?

And as nice as that would be in a perfect world, I think it’s unrealistic.  Fair or not, consumers do hold national brands accountable for the service they experience from franchisees.  And that affects our direct sales model too.  If a customer or prospect has a bad experience with an individual consultant, they are most likely going to hold your brand responsible for that experience.  They may tell others how terrible your brand is as a result of that experience.  And more and more, they’re going to do that on social networks.

And as a result, social networks hold both the potential for disaster, as well as the potential to identify issues and resolve them before negative word of mouth takes off.  Every company needs to take a long, hard look at their monitoring and customer service functions as they relate to social media.  This is where our customers and prospects will increasingly congregate.  And our response as brands to issues will have a tremendous impact on the public perception of our brand.

Maybe it wasn’t fair for me to expect the corporate Twitter account for Domino’s Pizza to resolve my issue.  (And incidentally, as a result of my post they did open a customer service ticket to resolve my issue.)  It doesn’t change the fact that I DID expect it, and was disappointed when they didn’t come through.  Maybe it’s not fair for a customer to complain about your brand online because of a negative experience with a consultant who was already on the way out.  It doesn’t change the fact that they will complain.

The only thing you can control as a brand is your response.  Begin planning now.  You NEED a monitoring solution in place, you NEED a support path in place to direct issues appropriately, and your customer service department NEEDS to be trained to support web issues.

We can talk about what’s fair until the cows come home.  It doesn’t change what IS.

Are you ready?

image credit: sdminor81

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

A couple of weeks ago my family ordered pizza from Domino’s.  Since they’ve improved their recipe, we order pretty regularly.  We enjoy things like the ability to order and pay online, track the delivery online, and the fact that the pizza normally arrives in under 30 minutes.

However things were not so happy the last time we ordered.  Wanting to beat the dinner rush, we ordered about a quarter to five.  That meant that our three children would eat at their normal time, and our evening could go on as usual.  We paid online, used the online delivery tracker, same as always, and our pizza was shown as out for delivery in the normal amount of time.

And that’s when things went wrong.

It was nearly an hour and a half, and 3 phone calls later, that our pizza finally arrived.  Cold.  When I called, I got different stories about why my pizza had not yet arrived.  Finally, on the 3rd call, I asked what they were going to do to make this right.  My kids were hungry!  And they offered me free cheesy sticks.  On my NEXT order.  FAIL.

20 minutes after that call when my cold pizza arrived, the driver didn’t even apologize.  Worst. Customer. Service. Ever.

In frustration, I tweeted to Domino’s from my husband’s Twitter account.  I expected at least an apology.

Nothing.

Thinking that maybe they decided that my husband’s account wasn’t “influential” enough for their notice, I tweeted from my account the next day.

Still nothing.

And that leads me to the moral of this story.  I have still not ordered again from Domino’s, and am not sure I will.  I’m also sharing this unfortunate experience with you, which may cross other people’s minds when they make pizza purchasing decisions.  There are certainly other options when it comes to pizza.

But what truly baffles me is WHY Domino’s has a Twitter account if they don’t plan to use it to respond to customer concerns?  If your company has a Twitter account, please understand that customers (especially the unhappy ones) will EXPECT to be able to reach you on it.  Is your customer service department trained in Twitter, and prepared to address issues that are shared?  You do realize this is public, right?  That other people can see when issues go unresolved? And people tend to get louder when you ignore them.

Burying your head in the sand or pretending that unhappy customers don’t exist won’t make them go away.  It will just make them more upset.  And then they may take issues that could have been resolved with a simple “we’re sorry,” and turn them into PR nightmares.

Domino’s has already had its share of PR nightmares.  You would have thought they learned their lesson the first time.  Apparently not.

UPDATE: This PRSA story discusses how Domino’s approached their PR nightmare. It was shared with me on Twitter. You may find it interesting.  I think that it will be interesting to see who is ultimately responsible for customer service in multi-distributor brands like franchises and direct sales companies.

Don’t make the same mistake.  If your company has a Twitter account, you need to be prepared to service customers there.  It’s not all about you talking.  It’s about listening, and resolving issues.  People want to be heard.  Are you listening?

Update 2: Domino’s has seen this article on Twitter, and responded.  They have now opened a customer service ticket and referred it to the independent franchise owner.  In my opinion, this should have happened the first time, and not necessitated a blog post.  This should be standard customer service.  What do you think?

image credit: didbygraham

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

In my last two posts I talked about how proactive outbound calls and Customer Service should ALWAYS be the last approval of ANY communication going to the field. So what’s next?

Respond to each inquiry within 24 hours. Whether that inquiry is by email, voicemail, twitter, facebook, etc., respond within 24 hours. The response doesn’t have to be the answer to the inquiry but it has to be a response. Ideally it is the answer, but if it’s not that’s okay. At least the customer knows their message was received and is not being ignored.

The response can be something as simple as “just want to let you know I’m verifying the information you requested.” The Customer just needs to know he/she is important to you, that your received their inquiry and you’re working on getting an answer.

It really all boils down to having a process, and making sure everyone follows it. Part of this response process should be that EVERY Customer Service Representative should be able to answer the inquiry. You don’t want the customer to have to explain the situation with each contact. In order for every Customer Service Representative to answer every inquiry, some processes may have to be implemented.

  1. Record EVERY inquiry in a program or system that every Customer Service Representative can access and update.
  2. Cross train all Customer Service Representatives on all aspects of the business. This is ideal, everyone in the Customer Service Department is an expert.
  3. Direct calls and emails to specialized groups (orders, compensation, promotions, etc.). These groups would be identified by the most frequent inquiries from the field. However, it would be best if EVERY Customer Service Representative can answer every inquiry.

Each of the processes will enable immediate response to inquiries. However, if the response is not immediate, be sure to contact the Customer within 24 hours of receipt of their inquiry.

Obviously, when customers contact Customer Service, they’re looking for answers. But people understand answers can take time. So the first thing you should always give your customers when they ask for answers is, A) the assurance they’ve been heard and B) someone is doing something about their inquiry.

Chris Clark

“Chris’s work for us is highly strategic, always thorough and never formulaic.  She also provides a welcome touch of humor and grace.” Learn more about how Chris can help your company at http://www.luceandassociates.com/Chris-Clark.html

Extraordinary service is critical for the success of any business.  Recently, I have been reminded how important this statement is!   I was showing friends around my home city, stopping in my favorite stores and restaurants. After a few days had gone by they said to me, “The people we have come in contact with here have a bad attitude and don’t know what the word service means.”  Sadly, they were right.  I was hoping that I was the only one seeing and experiencing the attitude and poor service levels.  I found it unbelievable under the circumstances of our current economy, and so many people out of work, that people weren’t trying harder.  After all, there are so many that would love to have that job and give extraordinary service.

The power of good service will certainly impact customer loyalty.  If you don’t take care of your customers, somebody else is waiting, ready and willing to do it.  Our competitive advantage is not just the quality of our product or service we sell.  Our real competitive edge is how we treat our customers and each other.  The one thing your competition can’t take away from you is the relationship you have with your customers.  If you treat them well and give them a good experience they will keep coming back and recommend their friends as well.

Aim for extraordinary service and success will follow!

Karen Peterson

When Karen Peterson works her magic, you’re not likely to notice. That’s because it’s her job to think about the things most people take for granted, and then make them happen… flawlessly and within budget.  For over 25 years, Karen Peterson has been finding the meeting space, making the arrangements, negotiating the contracts, and even running the show for conventions, events and incentives with attendance from 50 to 7,500.  Bottom line — if your company’s plans include travel, events or incentives, Karen Peterson is the one who can make it all happen … the thoughtful way … the cost-efficient way … the right way.

by Chris Clark

customer_serviceIs your customer service department the “bad guy?”  Does your sales force continually complain about customer service? Whether those impressions are real, imagined or somewhere in between, you can do something about them. Over the next few weeks I’ll share simple, proven ways to combat the negative image Customer Service Departments sometimes develop.

Let’s start with one of the easiest and most effective techniques-proactive outbound calls. These are calls to your sales force members that your company initiates; they’re not in response to any incoming calls or existing issues.  They’re the corporate equivalent of “I just called to say hi.” After all, why should the only time your sales force has contact with Customer Service be when something’s wrong?  Proactive outbound calls are one of the quickest, easiest ways to support your sales force and your company.

A typical call might begin something like this:

“Hi, this is (name) from Customer Service at (company name).  This is simply a courtesy call to see how you’re doing.  Is there any way we can help you in your business today?”

The key at this point is listening, and letting the person on the other end know you’re listening.  Let him or her speak, then summarize and repeat back to them exactly what they just said.  For instance, if your sales person mentions deliveries have been slow of late, your Customer Service rep might says something like:

“What I hear you saying is deliveries have been slower than usual recently,and that’s affecting your business.  Is that about right?”

Don’t promise quick fixes.  Do promise the issue will be looked into, and thank the sales person for their input. That’s enough.

I recommend each Customer Service rep make two proactive outbound calls a day. You’ll find your sales force will appreciate the fact that they’re simply being listened to, and they’re not out there on their own.

Look for more quick tips to improving customer service in the near future!

chrisclark-headshotChris Clark is an invaluable addition to any direct sales team, especially when it comes to the many issues that can quickly surround administration of customer service, compensation, inventory management and order processing.  Learn more about how Chris can help your company at http://www.luceandassociates.com/Chris-Clark.html.

Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives