Tips to Automate Conversations with Your Customers

Maintaining an open line of communication with your clients is key to any successful business relationship, as your clients will be more satisfied if they know that you’re behind them every step of the way. This does not necessarily mean you’ll need to spend extra man-hours to keep those lines of communication open though, as there’s a lot of customer service requests that don’t need a human being to handle them.
Putting automation to work in your business frees you and your employees up to continue to move your business forward, while still keeping a level of support that your clients expect. Here are seven cost effective ways you can automate that process.

Customer Communications Management Automation

Initiate the Conversation
Don’t wait for the customer to reach out to you: there are actions your client may take that might be a clear sign of a need for assistance. For example, a website visitor spending a lot of time in your help pages probably needs some kind of support, while somebody looking through your products and services might benefit from talking with a member of your sales team to assure the sale.

While these are only two examples of ways you can open the lines of communication and lead to increased customer satisfaction, there are many others. The bottom line is that anticipating a need when it comes to your customer relationships based on their behaviors pays dividends later. There are multiple great tools out there which can help initiate this conversation, two of which are LiveChat and BoldChat and both with customizable audience interactions.

Use a Virtual Assistant to Handle the Simple Things
Just because you’re trying to be proactive doesn’t mean you’ll need to hire additional staff. A good portion of customer service requests are simple in nature, and with chat bots becoming ever more intelligent, automated systems can handle those issues quickly and easily. This frees up your employees to deal with more complex problems.

A good place to start using digital or virtual assistants is in those proactive connections we just talked about. Chat bots such as Botsify (for Facebook Messenger and other apps) can answer those simple questions that might arise from whatever actions your client is taking on the site, and if it needs to will hand the conversation off seamlessly to a live person to handle the more difficult.

Make Use of New Technologies
Don’t be scared to try out new technologies to solve some of those simple issues. Biometrics is one possibility, and using things like biometric password recovery (utilizing fingerprints or facial recognition instead of old school methods like “mother’s maiden name) takes out the need for a call into your call center or a support chat to authenticate their identity.

Other new technologies that might assist in the automation process are the use of mobile apps, like those which walk customers through common issues so they can fix problems themselves without the need for your involvement. Others might use SMS to text a code to a number to get information on their account, a balance due, or to automate the payment process.

Use it for The All-Important Follow-up
Even after you’ve made the sale, it’s still important to keep the lines of communication open. The follow up increases customer satisfaction by merely letting your client know that you’re there if they need them, as well as addresses potential problems early on by addressing issues early.
A few days after any transaction it’s worth it to reach out to your client to ask them if they have any questions or are experiencing issues and might need assistance. Problems are easier to fix early on, so a simple automated email might be all that is needed to open a line of communication between you and your client.

Automate Your Social Media Presence
Social media outreach is an important part of your business’ public face: it gives potential customers and clients a sense that they’re connected to you. Promotion of what your business offers through social media channels may open up new sales leads, while customers may turn to social media to contact you about issues. There are many social management systems (HappyFox is a great example of this) that will actually filter social media contacts based on the content of the message itself, taking out the work of a middleman to direct queries to the right person.
These same systems can also automatically post to your social media accounts, allowing you to automate your marketing strategy and give your content maximum exposure.

The Survey
The survey is a tried and true method. Although you’re not always going to get a high response rate, the data obtained from well designed surveys are great ways to not only spot potential problems, but also initiate a dialogue with your client. Keep them short, relevant, and to the point. You might also want to use those survey answers to initiate further automatic emails to gather additional feedback on areas where the response might be a cause for concern.

The Callback
While 21st Century consumers have shown a preference for using the internet to communicate with businesses, many still appreciate talking to a human being. That’s why the callback is still a worthy option to include in your customer relationship strategy. On the same pages where you might have a “Chat Now” button, a “Call Me” button might be just as useful (MobiForge has some great examples of Click to Call or Click to SMS solutions).

All a customer would need to do is provide their phone number, and on your end the calls can be forwarded to a callback queue for your telephone representatives to answer. After all, some issues are better (and more quickly) dealt with via a phone call, so don’t always rely on a digital option to automate your communications with your clients.

Let’s Learn 10 Creative and Efficient Customer Service Solutions

Endless articles are posted in business publications about customer service solutions.
Knowing how to best connect with your customers is an important part of being successful in the long term, as well as achieving growth that keeps you going in the meantime.
With so much information out there, you would think that we would have the process down to an art. But all it takes is a trip through Yelp, or Googling large companies like Xfinity to see that customer satisfaction is far from being mastered.
As a smaller brand, you have a distinct advantage in your ability to directly communicate with and connect with your audience. You can also get a bit more creative with your attempts and act more efficiently.

So, what does it take?
1. Make Sure You Have The Right Customer Support Tool
Simple, but crucial. In a time when there are dozens of customer support solutions to choose from, you should take the time to really find one that will work for you and your team.

Check out features versus price, and any special offers they might have. Most importantly, contact them with questions. The way a customer support services handles customer support themselves should give you a clear indication of how good their tool really is.
I am using ZenDesk to power my customer service emails. I have found it to be a simple, yet complete solution.

2. Be on Top of Your Customer Service Team
As a business owner or a manager, you should always be on top of how your customer service team performs. Keeping an eye on customer satisfaction is a key to your business success!

I use Cyfe, the multi-purpose business dashboard, to keep analyzing how we are doing. I have enabled ZenDesk widget inside my “Customer satisfaction” dashboard to monitor if we are suddenly seeing a spike in customer service tickets, how quickly those tickets are closed, etc.
Customer Service Solutions
I also annotate campaign dates, holidays, etc. (anything that can affect our customer service team) to see what might have caused each spike. Using Cyfe, you can simply add another widget for notes as well as the calendar widget to monitor important dates.

3. Know Your Customers Inside and Out
You should begin building a foundation of understanding with your customers as soon as you can. Of course, you likely don’t have the budget of big companies for data mining and acquisition. You will need to be a bit more creative with the process.
A personal favorite method of mine is to create surveys.
Depending on your needs, you can make either a longer one that is done all at once, or you can offer randomized questions on the site itself that show up and change each time a user visits. You can find a great deal of information this way, granted that there is some kind of login or account connection.
Once you have information on their needs, interests, or complaints, you can make a note on the account. Now, you have that information every time they contact you.
Qeryz is one of the coolest survey solutions I’ve seen so far: You can create mini-surveys for different landing pages of your site and engage visitors depending on their intent.

4. Eliminate The Need For Customer Support Calls
Most people will go to any length to avoid a phone call with a customer support agent.
Admit it, you will yourself. That is why companies began offering alternative methods for contact, including email, social media support, and chat support.
You don’t have to provide all of them (spreading yourself too thin is a cardinal sin for small businesses). But you should have at least one alternative avenue for users who would prefer not to contact you by phone.
If you are looking for affordable solution here, look no further. ChatWoo is free and it’s incredibly easy to install (so no development costs either).

5. Prep Some Customized Freebies
Going back to knowing your audience, another benefit of having that information is the ability to customize gifts. People love free stuff. they love feeling like you appreciate them, and that you are not just taking, taking, taking. When you also show that you know them, you are going to get better results.
Perhaps my favorite example of this in practice is the Kotex Pinterest gift campaign. They took influencers they wanted to target, and made those women customized gifts sent to their homes. Each gift was created using images they had pinned on their Pinterest boards.

6. Don’t Leave Calls To Your Employees
Your employees need to be trained in customer service, obviously. You have probably hired some people to handle help desk, as well. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be directly involved with the process.
Recently, I emailed a website that offers a video call streaming dashboard, to ask about features.
The CEO contacted me back and scheduled a meeting, bypassing any customer service steps in between. He spent an hour and a half speaking to me, and offered to create a customized version of the platform that would meet my needs.

7. Get In Touch Before They Do
A good email marketing strategy is the key here: Getting in touch with your customers when you really have something exciting to share always works wonders.
Make sure to use email marketing segmentation: If there are some customers more likely to need/want it, you should target them first. That way they both feel special, and you are informing them before they have to contact you for details.

8. Use Social Media For Regular Engagement
A shocking number of companies are just doing social media all wrong, especially small businesses. They use their profiles as some kind of advertising dumping ground.
You can see that they have clearly read a bunch of blog posts telling them the “perfect formula” for growing their social media presence. As a result, it comes off as insincere, pandering, and marketing jargon. Skip all that and instead, use social media to directly engage and communicate with your audience on a one on one level.
Track down and add your customers, or add them back when they follow you. Contact them with special offers. Respond to their tweets and comments. Use your profiles to have a conversation, not to sell. Never forget that social media is not a place for conversions, but lead generation through connection.

9. Don’t Follow By The Usual Script
Be different! A unique customer service experience can be your strongest competitor advantage and word-of-mouth marketing catalyst!
Deborah Anderson shared her own examples with me: Years ago she and her husband owned a domain registration service and their big thing was “one-hour reply.”
I can see how this can empower your site call-to-action and increase your site trust: A one-hour reply policy to all the support tickets. Wow!

Gamification is another possible way to let your customer service go viral. GamEffective is quite possibly a pioneer in this field allowing businesses to make customer service experience actually fun and activating:
“GamEffective uses rich graphical narratives for its enterprise gamification, ranging from sports to racing, virtual city-building and song-contests. Narratives make employees the heroes of their game and not just a name on a leaderboard, and provide a deep context based experience.”

10. Get Creative With FAQ and Help
Your site content should answer all your customers’ possible questions. Helping your customers is the smartest content marketing strategy.
One of the best examples of that implemented well is UXCeclipse. They create a lot of aiding materials for their customer base. In this case, we’re talking about companies in retail.

They generated an infographic, they constantly update their blogs with relevant information on how to use the Microsoft products, webinars, white papers (because in the corporate and retail world, you need numbers to prove the value of a business), podcasts, YouTube videos, etc.
It’s more like a B2B customer service solution, because they’re making their customers feel comfortable with the software they sell, and believe that “Knowledge is power”. So, this is their creative way: offering knowledge, under many forms, so that their clients are always informed, are getting familiar and are returning to their websites.

Customer Service Strategy with Social Media

This is probably one of the most missed opportunities for small businesses when it comes to social media. Because social media can be so complicated— you have to have someone manage it. You have several different platforms to work with. Your content has to be relevant and engaging and you need to be looking at metrics for analysis.
A social customer service strategy is generally the last thing on anyone’s mind.

While using social media for customer service purposes may not be the first thing to worry about when creating a social media strategy, it isn’t something that should go unnoticed completely.

Once you are a little bit more advanced and have all of your different social accounts running smoothly, you can start to take on customer service requests. But you have to create an entirely new social customer service strategy to make this work. It’s an excellent avenue to use to help set you apart from the competition.

Benefits of a Social Customer Service Strategy
There are essentially three major reasons that using social for customer servicer purposes is important for future success:

The Consumers Want It. According to a ZenDesk article, nearly half of all US consumers use social media to ask questions, complain, or report something, and one third of social users prefer social media customer service to a phone call.

Beat the Competition. For whatever reason, businesses are still missing out (despite the last point). According to a Triangle Direct Media article, a 2015 Northridge Group study found that 40 percent of consumers expect resolution within one hour when using social media, but one-third of those who contact a brand never get a response.

Consumers Have New Expectations (they want fast). The rise of the Internet has made consumers a little bit less patient. Everything is at their fingertips, and customer service should be as well. Even if you are trying to stray away from the phone calls and offering online options, you can’t beat social media because it is so widely available and used. This is essentially why social media content is so important in the first place. It offers information fast, and consumers expect answers to their questions fast.

Tips for Creating a Social Customer Service Strategy
It is important that you create a social customer service strategy not only within your company to respond quickly to questions on social media, but you have to make sure that you’re actually encouraging questions in the first place by letting your consumers know that your social accounts are ready for it.
Remember: This does not mean anything else about your social strategy has to change. It’s just a great add-on.
So how do you start? Below are a few things you can do to make sure you’re successful.

Have a designated account for support questions.

This is probably the biggest tip anyone can give you. It may seem overwhelming to have questions being posted to your social media accounts, but that’s because it is. What you need to make sure you do is setup accounts specifically for questions and help. Take Hootsuite for example. They have an @hootsuite_help account that answers questions right then and there. They talk more about their success here where they talk about why developing their own product in this way was so important.
Make it known on your accounts that you welcome questions and comments.

Naturally, if you’re going to have a separate account for all questions that come through via social media you have to let people know that the account exists. Market it by writing a blog post and making an announcement. Start following loyal customers and getting the word out there, and of course put the account link in your description on your actual social pages.

If for some reason someone does ask a question on the wrong page, it’s a good idea to still answer it if it is a quick answer to show that you’re monitoring your accounts and you appreciate the questions (and you don’t just have the generic “please call us”). However, this is also a great time to point someone to your help page; thus getting the word out even further.
Treat your responses like a conversation and keep it public.

Unless a question or comment is very involved and needs to be taken off social media and into a direct message and then probably an email or a phone call, you want to keep your answers public. This helps show that you’re answering questions and are engaged with your customers/ clients. As far as reading “like a conversation” goes, it’s important to simply talk like a real person and not a computer. When an issue is solved, go the extra mile and say, “thanks so much for asking!” so that it shows you’re engaged and not just managing a huge operation of questions.

Again, one of the biggest benefits of social media customer service is the fact that people can ask questions and get answers quickly. You need to be prepared for the influx of questions and make sure they’re answered quickly and correctly. It’s tough to be prepared at first, so air on the side of caution and consider allowing several or your employees to take one hour out of their day to manage the questions and/or send them to the right people to answer.

I recommend having one person from each department in charge of looking over your support accounts and answering when appropriate so that you have someone from all areas answering. Then, you need to have your social media expert or team keep an eye out on all of the accounts to make sure nothing gets looked over.

Have your hours of operation clearly stated.

People are used to social media being there and ready to work 24/7. It’s important you put your hours of operation clearly on your accounts to avoid any confusion.
Don’t forget to send people back to your website to learn more.

As you answer questions, don’t be afraid to put links to your website in your answer if relevant. Not only will this get someone onto your website and hopefully clicking around, but because your answers are public other people may click as well to learn more.

The Takeaway
Again, it’s important that your social media accounts don’t turn into a place full of questions. You still want the majority of your social platforms to be full of engaging and relevant content, images, videos, and company news. Questions should not take over, which is why I highly recommend having separate accounts if possible.

The Power of Visualizing Success

All top performers, regardless of profession, know the importance of picturing themselves succeeding in their minds before they actually do in reality. Something I have been able to translate over to the business arena from athletics is the power of visualization. It is extremely effective when harnessed and used correctly.

Every Friday night after our team dinner, my college teammates and I would gather in the hotel conference room to prep for our game on Saturday.

We were led through a series of visualization techniques and practices led by a sports psychologist. Right away, I started to experience the incredible benefits of taking the time to picture myself succeeding before actually playing in the game. I visualized every little detail, from walking into the locker room, tying my cleats and having conversations with my teammates and coaches.

I would picture myself having the “perfect” game, executing the defensive game plan and making big plays. The more vivid I was, the better I seemed to play. I couldn’t believe it. Before the game even started, I had already played the entire game in my mind. This made a tremendous difference because it greatly increased my confidence and comfort level.

In turn, I have been able to harness the power of visualization outside of athletics. Before I take the stage and speak to a large audience, I always picture myself giving the “perfect” speech. I begin weeks in advance by picturing the audience, my choice of words and the reaction from the crowd once I am finished. Visualization can be applied to any area of your life, as I know it has become very beneficial throughout mine.

Consider these three examples:

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was always stressing the importance of seeing himself victorious long before the actual fight.
As a struggling young actor, Jim Carrey used to picture himself being the greatest actor in the world.
Michael Jordan always took the last shot in his mind before he ever took one in real life.
These top performers, among many others, have mastered the technique of positive visualization and openly credit it as a success tactic.

When you think of a big goal or dream that you want to achieve, it’s natural to think of all of the obstacles that will come your way. The problem is far too often we allow these obstacles to become so big in our minds that it inhibits us from moving forward. This is when many become satisfied with mediocrity.

Don’t let this be you. Rather than creating larger-than-life barriers in your mind and dwelling on everything that will hold you back, envision yourself victorious like Ali. Picture yourself as the greatest at your craft like Carrey. Visualize your next shot as your winning shot like MJ.

What will it take? What sacrifices will you make? How can you handle any obstacles and still have enough to make it to the finish line? The key is to make your positive vision stronger than anything that can set you back.

The truth is, if you can’t picture yourself achieving a goal, chances are you won’t. The more vivid you can get, the better it will work for you. Start thinking of your personal goals in life. Spend about 10 to 15 minutes picturing yourself achieving each one.

Get as detailed as possible. Picture what you will do once your goal is reached. How amazing does it feel? How will this change the course of your life? Remember, the little details increase the likelihood of the big picture.

You don’t need to spend endless hours. Simply get in the habit of putting together a positive vision into your everyday life. Visualize yourself succeeding, achieving every goal, completing every task. See what it does for you and how it makes you feel. This will likely become a pivotal part of your success arsenal.

The bottom line is this: If you can’t picture yourself in your own mind being extremely successful, dominating your market, and running a phenomenal business, then chances are you never will.

Tips to Calm an Angry Customer

You’ve got an angry—no, downright irate—customer in your store. They’re causing a ruckus and clearly making your other customers uncomfortable. What can you do to keep things from spiraling out of control?
How to Deal With an Angry Customer

Plan Ahead
Before this situation ever happens, plan ahead for how to handle it. If your retail store is in an area with a security presence, such as a shopping center, have the phone number for security at the checkout counter or on speed dial, along with the phone number for local police or sheriff.

Train your salespeople to be observant. By greeting customers as they come into the store and keeping an eye on the entire store, they can often spot someone who’s becoming upset. For example, if a long line is forming at the checkout counter, an angry customer might start off by looking angrily at his watch, then start sighing loudly, then pacing and muttering to himself. Reaching out to him with a proactive, “Thank you for your patience today; I’ll be with you as soon as I can,” can help.
Explain to your salespeople how to handle irate customers using the tips below.

Engage With the Customer
Remain calm. It’s natural to get defensive when someone is angry at us, but calm is your best tool in this situation. Raising your voice, arguing or being sarcastic will just escalate the situation.

Use the customer’s name. Find out the person’s name and use it while talking to them: “Mr. Wilson, can you explain the problem to me so I can help?”
Listen. By the time a customer is exploding with rage, the actual problem that sparked the anger is not the primary issue on their minds. Let the customer explain what they are angry about. Don’t interrupt, no matter how irrelevant it seems. You need to let them get their emotions out before they can be rational.

While you are listening, watch your body language. Look the customer in the eye. Don’t put on a defensive posture, such as crossing your arms. Use an open stance; this shows you’re willing to listen. Don’t fidget, show impatience, roll your eyes, raise your eyebrows or sigh.
Once the customer is finished talking, express understanding, focusing on the feelings first and the actual problem second: “I’m sorry you’re feeling frustrated by X.”
Next, take a “we’re in this together” approach to the actual problem. Enlist the angry customer to work with you to find a solution: “Let’s come up with a solution you’ll be happy with.”

Getting Physical
If you’re worried the customer is going to become physically aggressive or violent:
Never touch an angry customer. You may be tempted to reach out and pat the person on the shoulder or lightly touch his or her arm. That could make them even angrier or put you at risk.

Put something between yourself and the customer, such as the checkout counter or a desk. If you can’t put a physical barrier between the two of you, leave several feet of space. Getting too close to an angry customer can make him or her feel threatened.

Take the angry customer aside. Ask the customer to follow you to another part of the store to discuss the problem. If the customer is someone who thrives on the drama of being the center of attention, getting away from other customers can help deflate them.
Remind the person of the presence of other customers. “Sir, I understand that you’re upset, but you are upsetting my other customers. Can we please discuss this calmly?”
Remain confident and in control. It’s important to put limits on the situation. Remind the customer that you want to help resolve the issue but in order to do that, you need them to calm down.

Get Them Out
If none of the above tactics work, calmly ask the customer to leave. Then move toward the store exit. Chances are, he or she will follow you—if only to continue yelling at you. Keep moving until you get the person outside. Stay outside and wait until he or she is out of view to go back inside.
If the customer refuses to leave, tell them calmly, “Sir, if you won’t leave the store, I’m going to have to call security/the police.” Often, this is enough to snap a person back to reality.

Ounce of Prevention
The best approach to customer rage is to prevent it in the first place. By making sure that your store is adequately staffed; that you and your employees are alert to what’s going on inside the store; and that you always provide friendly, efficient service, you’ll have a safer, more pleasant environment.

Providing Excellent Customer Service

You already know how important providing great customer service is when running a business. But providing great customer service on Etsy, eBay and similar ecommerce platforms is a bit different than providing great customer service when running other types of businesses. You need to really understand the platforms and what customers expect in order to make their shopping experience pleasant and memorable. Here are some tips you can use to provide great customer service on Etsy and eBay.

Providing Excellent Customer Service on Etsy and eBay
Answer Questions Promptly
One of the best parts about shopping on platforms like Etsy and eBay rather than with large corporations is the accessibility of the shop owners. So when customers contact you with questions or concerns, you need to be available to get back to them as quickly as possible. If you wait too long, your customers could just keep browsing for similar shops and buy from someone who does answer their questions in a timely manner. So if possible, set aside a few times throughout the day for you to check your messages and respond to any queries.

Make Your Policies Clear and Visible
In addition, you can limit people’s need to actually contact you with any questions or concerns by listing your policies or FAQs very clearly where people are likely to find them. You should have a section of your shop dedicated to listing all of your policies. But you can also list things like shipping and returns at the bottom of your item descriptions to make it even easier for shoppers to know what they’re getting into. It’s better to make sure that your customers know exactly what your policies are before they make a purchase than to keep them tucked away in a corner of your store that no one visits in the hopes that customers won’t get scared off by your no-returns policy. If you’re worried about your policies driving customers away, it could be a sign that you need to reevaluate those policies or at least accept that it’s better to have a few customers who are happy with their shopping experience than to have a lot of customers who are unhappy.

Ship Promptly and Carefully
Shipping is a huge part of providing good customer service on eBay and Etsy as well. You need to set up a system for shipping your items so that they get to your customers quickly and in the condition that they were promised. Especially if your items are fragile at all, you’ll need to invest in some packing supplies. And you need to make sure that you get those items out for shipping within the time allotted in your shop policies, but even before that deadline if at all possible. If customers expect to receive their purchase within a week and it gets there in a couple of days, they’re likely to be pretty happy with that part of the experience. But if you fall behind by even a day or two of what you promised, that could ruin the entire experience for them.

Add Something Extra
Shopping on platforms like eBay and Etsy can also be a more personal experience than shopping with more established ecommerce shops. If you answer questions, have clear policies and get your products out on time, you’ve provided adequate customer service that customers are likely to be happy with, but then also forget about promptly. If you want to provide great service that they’ll actually remember and tell their friends about, you need to go beyond that. A great way to do that is to include something extra with their purchase. This can be as simple as a handwritten thank you note, some really unique handmade packaging or even a small special gift to go along with their purchase.

Have a System for Resolving Issues
No matter how great your shop is, there will be issues that arise. Packages will get lost in the mail. Your customers will fail to read your policies. Or any number of other things could occur. When those things happen, it’s important that you try to resolve them in a way that’s fair to your customers as well as your business. You can’t always please everyone, especially when customers make unfair demands. But you should build some wiggle room into your pricing so that you can cover things like purchases that were lost or damaged in the mail. If you take care of those issues quickly and satisfactorily, your customers are more likely to be happy with their shopping experience overall.

Be Social
You can also make your shop stand out by being available for questions, comments and interaction on various social platforms. Customers may prefer reaching out to sellers on Facebook or Twitter rather than eBay or Etsy directly. This doesn’t mean you have to be on every single platform, but choosing at least one or two can make you more accessible and relatable to your target customers.

Simple Customer Service Tips For Modern Businesses

Customer satisfaction is an elusive concept for every business, be it a huge corporation or a small startup. Companies have spent millions compiling statistics, research, interviews, focus groups, etc. trying to determine the magic formula for a loyal customer and repeat visitor.
Every client is different and therefore will be pleased or disappointed by a myriad of personal exchanges and outcomes. Needs are different for every customer. A single person generally won’t have the same needs as a business. A small business will most likely have different needs than a large business. There is one thing in common for everyone though; they expect exceptional customer service from the business they are dealing with.

Exceptional Customer Service Tips

Every person wants to feel important, and like their needs and issues are being met with sincerity and competence. Customer service in the past meant greeting a customer when they walked in and addressed any concerns or questions in person. We are immersed in an almost entirely digital world. It is guaranteed while you may understand why your online business is unique and important; and you or your company are the right person for the job, that’s hard to tell for an average consumer.

If your company is entirely online, whether a startup or an established corporation, you can’t risk a bad customer experience. According to this American Express study (PDF) having exceptional customer service and satisfaction not only correlates to existing clients spending more money; it also means attracting new clients. Loyalty, word of mouth, and satisfaction are things that can sometimes make or break a business. A good reputation is important for growth and success. That’s why the customer experience should be one of if not the most important keystones of your marketing platform.

Start Off On the Right Customer Service Foot
If a potential customer has received no personal recommendations from a friend or colleague, they open up their computer, search for the product or service they want, and start to narrow down the data to find what might work for them. While your website or app might be sleek and beautiful, engaging and easy to use, people will still have questions. Your team may be impressive and come with high accolades, people will still have questions.
An individual embarking on a new career path they might not be familiar with yet, will appreciate customer service the most. For instance, someone trying to grow their small business online with a mobile app or website design would appreciate feeling welcomed and encouraged the second they open your page.

This is where the opportunity to provide exceptional customer service experience from the very beginning first presents itself. A live chat option can be immensely helpful. It has the personal touch of speaking to a real person with the convenience of distancing yourself from a product you aren’t fully invested in yet. It makes a customer feel heard and acknowledged without the pressure of feeling the need to buy or upgrade. Often just a simple live chat icon somewhere visible on the page helps let the customer know right from the second they discover your page, you are willing to help.

Not all businesses implement live chat and not everyone needs to. However, having a Contact Us tab or a FAQ link viewable when first browsing a site is important. The customer has only begun to consider your business, and they already feel important and appreciated. Which is hopefully how you want them to feel!

Follow Through
A customer is interested in your business. They hopefully want what you are selling. You have already answered most of their questions with a help option of some kind. If it is an item they are buying you need to make sure the entire process is seamless. A person shouldn’t have to select purchase, enter in their card information, and then find out the item is out of stock or discontinued. Purchasing an item already decided upon shouldn’t take more than ten minutes.

For an online service such as design, app building, marketing, etc. alongside a website that shows your work and success; accessibility is key. For an optimum customer experience, you need to be accessible. Respond in a timely manner. It’s infuriating to submit a question online but not receive a reply for three days, or worse an automated message that addresses zero concerns. After all someone is paying you for a service.

If you are a larger start up company and can’t keep up with all the communication, hiring a third party site, a part time assistant, or even an intern can help. A customer who feels as if his needs are met during the process is more likely to use you for all their needs in the future. And as their business grows, so does your likelihood of good word of mouth from them to their colleagues, friends or family.

Recognize and Engage Feedback
It is reported that 88 percent of customers look at other reviews when deciding to buy an item or commit to a business. Of those over half will take some sort of positive action whether it is visiting the website or searching for further content.

Whatever social media your company utilizes; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., it is important to acknowledge a customer or client’s recognition, either good or bad. It takes an instant for someone to post a status or tweet an opinion about a company. It takes an instant for hundreds of people to see it. A business looks engaged and invested when they respond publicly to a compliment or complaint.
Alternatively, a poor response or none at all can tend to gain momentum, and can forever link your business with a poor opinion in a reader’s mind. Responding positively will be seen by others and place your brand in their mind for future choices. It doesn’t hurt to remind the public of your business and likability. And often times it pays off with recognition and appreciation when businesses treat their clients as a priority. And let’s be honest, it feels good as a client to be endorsed by a company you’re working with.

Customer Dissatisfaction
Problems will happen. Things will go wrong. The most important part of a small online business is personal engagement and creating loyalty. Whether it is questions or complaints, to build a superior customer experience you need options. Some clients don’t have the time to call in for a simple question or issue.

Other clients might not feel comfortable typing all their concerns and questions online. The most important thing is a response, preferably an engaging response. A person shouldn’t have just one choice on how to reach a company. Ideally, there should be a social media option, an email option, and/ or a direct phone contact option. Live chats and additional strategies are added bonuses. When someone is dissatisfied they often just want recognition, an explanation, or a product exchange or refund. Providing a prompt and concerned response can settle a dispute and convince a customer they are valued and should keep their business with you.

Stay Innovative
As your customers grow and change, grow with them. Staying on top of their evolving needs is important. Once you’ve developed a client following and a method for attracting new business you are on the path to a successful future. Having a loyal client base means you get to take the kinds of innovative and exciting initiatives for the direction you want your company to head.

How TO Building Your Customer Service Team

Digital technology has had a tremendous amount of impact on the way we communicate and access information. This has given businesses great opportunities and just as many challenges in meeting the needs of consumers, especially when it comes to customer service and experience.
Social media, mobile technology, instant communication, big data, analytics and machine learning are some of the many tools that make it possible to deliver highly personalized customer service, and consumers now expect this service from the companies with which they do business.
This is what makes customer service the differentiator in a market place where price variance is so small that it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. A Gartner survey revealed 89 percent of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, and digital technology is the biggest driver of this trend.
So any business, no matter how big or small, has to consider building a customer support team that can respond to the expectations consumers have today. Here are 20 tips to building a customer support team for today’s marketplace.

How to Create a Great Customer Service Team

1. Always Listen to Your Customers
This sounds very obvious, but you would be surprised how many businesses don’t follow this very simple piece of advice. The 2015 Q1 Forrester customer experience report revealed only one percent of companies deliver an excellent customer experience. That is a staggering statistic, and it all begins by how well you listen when your customer calls you for the first time. This lays out the ground work for everything to come.

2. Empower Your Employees
After hiring the right person for the job, putting limitations on their capabilities is a waste all around. Give them the tools, authority and responsibility to make decisions, so when a customer calls, they can resolve the issue without passing the buck. This is especially important for small businesses that are dealing directly with their customers.

3. Keep an Open Line of Communication
The days of “I didn’t know John or Jane were working on it,” no longer apply. There are enough tools in the marketplace today to keep track of each interaction an employee has with customers and know what is taking place at all times. In addition to these tools, create an environment with open communications that looks at the big picture no matter how small the issue a customer brings up sounds.

4. Make Quick and Accurate Response a Priority
According to Oracle, more than 80 percent of Twitter and 50 percent of Facebook users expect a response to a customer service inquiry in a day or less. Other surveys have customers looking for a response within an hour.
The quick response has to be followed by accurately resolving the problem the customer has. They shouldn’t have to call back for the same problem unless it is a follow up to ensure all is well. If you make this a priority, your customers are more likely to prolong their relationship with your company.

5. Keep Your Promise/Don’t Break Your Word
Trust is a huge issue with everyone, no matter who they are dealing with. Only promise what you can deliver. Never over-promise or under-deliver. BE HONEST. If a customer knows what they are getting from you all the time, their appreciation will be shown by being repeat customers.

6. Invest in Training That Encourages Team Mentality and Recognizes Everyone
The positive effects of team mindset in any environment has been proven over and over. It begins with training that emphasizes these qualities and follows through in the day to day operation of the organization by recognizing everyone.
The recognition goes back to empowering your employees so they can be responsible decision makers.

7. Know how to use Every Touchpoint
In the past, direct calls, call centers and even snail mail was used when customers wanted to get in touch with a company. However, today there are multiple ways to do that, whether it is directly or indirectly.
You have to know how to use every touchpoint effectively so you can respond as quickly as possible. A customer doesn’t necessarily have to make disparaging comments about the products and services you offer directly. But you have to have the tools that let you identify the channel that was used and respond accordingly as soon as possible. It can be the person’s social media page, a forum or consumer related websites.

8. Provide the Best Customer Feedback Solution
Even if you are keenly aware of what your customers need, you won’t know everything. If you create a feedback solution that can be easily accessible, you will know their concerns without any assumptions.
You can offer an email or phone survey and forms in the “contact us” page of your site so they can quickly give feedback. This not only gives you valuable information, but it also lets your customers voice their concerns on your site instead of on a social media page, where they can go viral.

9. Respect the Customer’s Time
Just as you want to resolve each customer interaction as quickly as possible because you want to maximize the productivity of your employees by using their time more efficiently, you also have to realize the same goes for the customer. No one wants to waste their time by calling customer service. The reason they do it is because, in most cases, there is something wrong.
Respect the customer’s time by removing unnecessary barriers to the ways they can get in touch with you, leave contact information, and continue previous conversations regarding an unresolved issue.

10. Create a Process for Problem Resolution
As stated previously, the customer’s time is valuable, so have processes in place to resolve their problems as quickly as possible.
Every business is different, but the following steps can be applied across the board: apologize; go over the grievance with the customer to make sure you have all the information you need; document the problem accurately so it can be available to everyone in the company; fix the problem; follow up to ensure the problem has been solved; and again document the problem with detailed information including the resolution to prevent it from happening again or have the answer available if someone else has the same problem.

11. Measure Customer Satisfaction
There are many tools designed to measure a wide range of metrics, and customer satisfaction is one of them. By evaluating this metric frequently, you can gauge if the processes you have in place are working or not.

12. Offer Continuing Support
With the available customer relationship management (CRM) solutions today, it takes minimal effort to keep in touch with your customers. A CRM can be set up to contact customers through an email, SMS, social media or appointments for phone calls. It costs up to seven times more to acquire new customers than to keep existing ones, so continuing support extends customer retention, and it is much cheaper.

13. Don’t Rush
Being quick and efficient is fine and well, but if the customer feels they are being rushed, you may never hear from them again. Take your time and build a relationship by having a dialogue with your customers.

14. Get to Know Your Customers and Allow Them to Get to Know You
For small businesses this can go a long way in keeping your customer retention high. While it may not be possible to remember everything about each and every customer, documenting the interactions with the right solution can make it happen. Call recording and speech to text software are some of the tools you can use to archive the conversations with your customers and create bullet points of relevant information.

15. Personalize the Conversation
With mobile technology and video communications readily available, you can have face-to-face conversations with your customers any time.

16. Make Yourself Available
Today’s consumers want to get in touch with you within a reasonable amount of time. With mobile technology, you can make your staff available at all times by giving incentives to employees that are willing to work the extra hours. Having a face-to-face or phone conversation may not be possible for the customer at the moment, but make yourself available by giving them the option to have it at a later time.

17. Provide Insight or Knowledge of Your Expertise
For small businesses this can be a great way to build relationships with your customers. Whether you are a plumber, electrician or handmade craftsperson, giving them information that empowers them and increases their knowledge base is a plus. The exchange of information goes both ways, because your customer can give you information that can be of great value for your business, but it all begins by making yourself available and offering your time and expertise.

18. Provide a Community
If you specialize in something, you can create a community, whether it be online or at your place of business. You can have webinars, as well as events with hands-on demonstrations and classes which can also be broadcast online. If your business is too small, find another company in another community or city and get in touch with them for a possible collaboration.
Not only will this improve your customer experience and service, but it can be another source of revenue.

19. Know Your Product Line or What You are Selling
If you have an intimate understanding of what you are selling, it will be that much easier to build a relationship with your customers. For small businesses, this will be much easier because a customer can talk directly to the owner and get the answer they need.

20. Know What Solutions are Available to Improve Your Customer Service
You can either do the research online or hire an expert to inform you of all the tools that are available to improve your customer service. There are many, so it is imperative to first find out what it is you are trying to accomplish, and then find the technology that will make it possible for you.

Tips to Hire for Customer Support

When you have just under two hours to determine if the person sitting opposite you is the right fit for your company or not, every question matters.
While this can be quite difficult even for roles with skills that can be determined right off like coding or writing, the complexity increases exponentially when soft skills come into the picture. Imagine trying to figure out if the candidate has qualities like empathy, attributes that usually take people days, months, years to figure out, on a time constraint.

This is also a question that pops up often in the Secret Sauce series, a series of interviews that we’ve conducted with customer personnel from all over the world, on the Freshdesk blog. The funny thing is, during our interviews, we’ve discovered through the question, ‘What’s the Secret Sauce in your support,’ that a lot of support managers single out hiring as their ace in the hole.
We’ve accrued so much free advice on how to hire for customer support that we decided to put it together in one place and share the love.

How to Hire for Customer Support
“The secret is in the hiring process. Hiring people that share goals, sentiments, values and culture in general makes all the difference.” – Luis Hernandez, Geckoboard.
The list of qualities might vary from support manager to support manager but we discovered that nearly every support manager agrees on the following. A good support rep is
A good communicator
A culture fit
If you’re wondering why technical knowledge isn’t on the list, it’s because…well, you can teach technical knowledge. You can even teach communication skills (even if it’s not really your job). But you can’t teach someone to be empathetic. And you can’t teach someone to be a culture fit.

This is at the core of Rob La Gesse (VP of Social Support at Rackspace)’s hiring philosophy. “Empathy. That’s what I look for in all my employees. Only when they can understand the feelings of their customers, can they provide top notch service. I can teach them Linux or Windows but nobody can teach them empathy; you’re either born with it or you aren’t.”

So, all you have to do is focus on hiring someone empathetic, someone who will be easy to work with. Someone who is a good communicator. Someone who fits in well with the team and company’s culture.
No pressure.

Because everyone’s so divisive about the list, we’d recommend you modify it to your needs. Figure out the qualities you like best in the support personnel you’ve spoken to/worked with and go from there. When the list in mind you have, follow the questions will.
A lot of businesses get around the pressure of the short interview by having a series of interviews. Our approach works best if you’re on a tighter schedule and don’t have the luxury of conducting a series of interviews or bootcamp.

“Teach Me Something”
When Girish Mathrubootham, the CEO of Freshdesk, interviews potential support reps, he asks them to teach him something. Anything. Often, it’s something they know well (he picks a topic based on their projects and hobbies) so that he can gauge if they have the most defining quality of a support rep: empathy.

After all, good customer service means the ability to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and see the problem from their point of view before figuring out the solution.
Sometimes, he likes to pretend like he’s not listening and asks them to repeat themselves a couple of times to see how patient they are. If they assume a condescending tone, he marks them down.

While this exercise helps you mark off a lot of qualities in the list, we’d recommend you stick to topics you know. If they try to BS their way through the topic, you’ll be on them faster than Garfield on lasagna.

Sample Scenario
Girish likes to follows this question with a simple exercise that helps him figure out if the candidate is a good role fit. He comes up with a sample support scenario – something simple like an airline reservation gone wrong or a Netflix bug – and asks them to put themselves in the support rep’s shoes and write an email to the customer.

This tells him three things:

Their language proficiency.
How well they can communicate their intentions.
Their attention to detail, a fact that can be gleaned from the way they present the solution. Is it concise and precise? Are they using all the tools at their disposal to explain the solution?

Jeff Vincent, Director of Customer Happiness at Wistia, differs from Girish in the sense that he does some pre-interview research. He looks for attention to detail in the cover letters of the applicants.
“When I’m looking at applications, I look for detail-oriented folks who are willing to put themselves out there a bit. No stock resumes but rather, a cover letter that indicates research and displays personality.”

Motivation and Culture Fit
Self-motivation is another key quality that you should keep an eye out for, especially if you’re hiring remotely. This can be determined by the projects they’ve worked on in the past. By listening to them describe how they worked on the project and engaged with their team members, you’ll be able to find out just how self-driven they are.
Chase Clemons, Support Pro at Basecamp, sets a lot of stock by this. “You want someone driven, someone able to work on their own. You’ve got customers to help—you don’t want to have to babysit one of your team members at the same time.”

As for culture fit, open-ended questions, like “Tell me about yourself” work best. You could also, alternatively (because most people have rehearsed answers for “Tell me about yourself”), ask them about their hobbies or chat with them about something random. Maybe, not the weather. This exercise will help you bring them out of interview mode and get them to talk like they would, naturally. If, after the chat, they seem like someone you wouldn’t mind being stuck with in an elevator, they’re the right fit. Because, why wouldn’t you want your support reps to be people that your customers would want to have conversations with?

To Sum Up
The weapons that will do you good, during an interview are:
The points you will need to help you create a process and answer
“Teach me something”
A sample support scenario. The simpler, the better. This way, you’ll be able to figure out if even a layman can understand the fix by the end of the email.
Pre-interview perusal of their cover letters
Open-ended conversation
Hopefully our experiences and advice here on how to hire for customer support will help in your hiring process.

Know More About New Instagram Features for Small Business

Since paying more attention to my visual branding, I’ve come to really love Instagram. Actually, that’s an understatement. I’m pretty much obsessed with Instagram.
If you’ve been on the image-heavy social media platform lately, then you may have noticed some new Instagram features like live video streaming and short stories a la Snapchat. You now also have the option to make your profile a business page.

I’ve been experimenting with these new Instagram features and have found a few ways to use them in your marketing plan. Here are just some of the ways I’ve been taking advantage of all the new stuff on IG.

New Instagram Features

Show Behind the Scenes Using IG Stories
I was recently traveling for a client that hired me to create, teach and film a few business classes for them. Since I was traveling and working with some awesome people, I figured it would be a good idea to show my Instagram followers some of the behind the scenes of what it’s like to be a professional blogger and social media influencer.

I used new Instagram features like Stories and Boomerang (technically not new but they added it to the IG app) to show things like camera setups, sets, a tour of my hotel room and the goofy stuff we did on breaks.

Teach Something Using IG Live Video
During our lunch break, I decided to use one of the new Instagram features to teach my audience something. More specifically, I used the live video feature to show them live footage of what was going on and introduce my followers to some of the people I was working with.
For example, I was working with a local mastermind facilitator and yoga teacher who was interviewing me for my client. I got her on live video to talk about what we were doing and she even gave my followers some yogic hand stretches for the office.

Market Your Products and Services
Another thing I use the new Instagram features for is to market my products and services. For example, I created a few stories right before going on air for a radio show. This showed them the behind the scenes I already mentioned, plus I was able to share a tip about how bloggers and business owners can get free PR.

From there, I directed them to an on-demand class I sell that teaches them how to get free PR for their businesses. I simply put the link to the sales page in my bio and let them know the class was available for them to purchase.
Granted, it’s important to note that I’m always sharing valuable content. I don’t only use the new Instagram features to try to make sales. That’s simply one piece of the overall marketing pie.

Show Them You’re Human
I’ll use Boomerang to make goofy videos and post them to my Stories. I’m somewhat goofy by nature and it shows my followers a side of me that’s different from my normal “business-y” stuff.
People relate to people, so make sure you’re using the new Instagram features to show people that you’re real.

Final Thoughts
When used in the aforementioned ways, the new Instagram features can certainly be a real game changer for your marketing plan. There’s no longer a need to go on different apps for different features which makes things a whole lot easier.