You got your product

Boy eating cake
Sugar! by Jacob Michelsen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Creating an appealing and relevant product isn’t easy. But there’s one thing that’s even harder. It’s getting unwavering customers onboard.

You have probed the ground and tested the waters. You know what people want. Maybe even before they know it themselves. You have focused and created a working process for developing a killer of a product. You are about to set sail and deliver.

And at the last second your customers go, “I’m really not ready at this point.” or “Thank you so much, I’ll get in touch!” or “Sorry, mate, not this time.” or “Let me check other options and get back to you.”

What has gone wrong?

Sometimes, customers are like children. You take your time to research and understand their lunch-related desires. You involve them every step of the way, and they help you cut the veggies. You make sure they are onboard getting the best lunch-time experience of their lives. You carefully blend the ingredients to create awesome. As you skilfully arrange the contents on their plates, they lay the table chitchatting about an elephant that went to the pool.

They are going to love it! They are going to lick their fingers and rub their bellies, and they are going to praise you for your efforts forevermore.

And they go, “Nah. I don’t want it.”

What? What has gone wrong? Has anything?

Is there something wrong with your research? No. They described their goals and limitations, and you have together come to a culinary conclusion about what would work best for them in the given situation.

Is there something wrong with your process? Not necessarily. Yes, the veggies didn’t turn out all the same shape and form. But it wasn’t what averted them from touching the food.

Is there something wrong with your presentation? Not really. The remarkable arrangement of the constituents of the meal on their plates was planned and executed with distinction.

Is there something wrong with your product? Of course not! You tasted the steaming work of genius before you took it out of the pan. And you gave them to taste the bite of heaven before it soared graciously down onto their circular dishes.

Is there something wrong with your audience? Uh, no. They don’t complain about any type of ache in their bodies, and you know they are hungry—they haven’t consumed any edible chunks of nourishing glory since morning.

So, your research works, your process works, your presentation works, and your product, too, obviously works. There is no logic in their inexplicable reaction to your time-consuming efforts.

Is there anything wrong?

Yes. And it is your reaction.

This is what happened. Your product didn’t fit this particular customer in this particular situation. End of story.

You got your product, you know it works. Offer it to those who will accept it. Stop chasing folks who don’t deem it desirable at the moment. They will tomorrow. Or maybe they won’t. It does not matter.

Dealing with humans, you have to be prepared for unpredictable and puzzling outcomes, because they are plenty. And yes, sometimes it means giving them yesterday’s dinner—or dessert—for today’s lunch.

Be prepared for the unpredictable

Cold Shower
Cold Shower by Steve (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The other day, when my daughter and I were on our way to the kindergarten, she told me she didn’t want to play with one of the girls there. She was clearly upset about something. After lunch, as I picked her up, she told me she loved the girl. The same girl!

Your customers are like that. Their feelings are unpredictable, their actions are irrational, their mood is fluctuant. You may try to prepare a response to every situation. However, you must prepare for the sudden change as well.

The best response to this kind of situations is authentic empathy.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

There is no recipe for excellent customer experience

Photo courtesy of Pasha C
Photo courtesy of Pasha C

Yesterday, I made pancakes. Surprisingly, they turned out pretty good. I did try to stick to the recipe like crazy.

However detailed a recipe can be, your pancakes will never be the same the second time you make them. Factors like slight changes in temperature or the brand of the ingredients you use will always affect the end result.

Unlike for pancakes, there’s no time-tried recipe for designing an excellent customer experience. What you get is a feeble counterfeit, if you think there is one.

Customer experience isn’t a destination—it’s a process. It is a relationship, a journey and transformation.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

What not to say to your customers

What was it you ordered again? Sorry, I’m a little clumsy today. You see, I got a strange telephone call this morning, while I was still asleep. This whole day has been weird.

I was fortunate to be the target audience of this pearl of customer communication in a diner this week. It reminded me that there is a fine line between being friendly and disclosing just about too much.

Interaction with customers seldom constitutes quality time in a familiar setting. It’s comfortably abrupt, moderately open, generally synthetic. Your customer dictates the mood and direction. You just play your part.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts in 100 days.

Social media as a solution to bad customer service

Exceptional customer service is among other things about being on equal terms with your customers and serving as a customer ambassador in your company. Yesterday, I received a question on Klout. Here it is: can businesses use social media as a solution to bad customer service?

While it is a valid question with a pretty simple answer, I think the problem causing the question lies deeper. The issues that I think are of bigger weight are these:

  • How is your business utilising different channels of communication to practice exceptional customer service today?
  • How do you manage bad customer service in other channels? Is there really a difference?
  • What causes bad customer service?

Bad customer service is not something that just happens, that you do not have any control over. It is very often a reflection of your company’s values, priorities and methods. Thus, while social media can be a solution to bad customer service (which really is the manifestation of your failing to spiking your channel strategy up a bit), it is most definitely not the solution to the root of your problem.

Cultivate customer relationship by being personal

Deep down, people do not want a relationship with your brand or your product. Yes, they love it and cherish it. They develop a strong attachment to it. They feel incomplete without their phone or what they associate with your brand. But it is not a relationship.

When people are involved, a relationship is a connection between two persons. Not a person and a machine, or a person and a concept. Interaction, as a means to cultivate the relationship, is possible if both parties are inclined to feelings and reason.

Today, many companies miss out on what a relationship with their customers can offer. If only for a deeper understanding of the needs and demands of your customers, you might want to reconsider your social media strategy. Mind that I am not talking about your reputation online in general or the number of your Twitter followers in particular as being the sole sign of your success, if any.

Balsamiq’s personal touch

Balsamiq Mockups is a wireframing tool. Balsamiq Studios, the small company behind it, has been on Twitter since April 2008, one month after it was founded. @Balsamiq have 11 527 followers. As they state on their website, “[they] aim to WOW you through [their] support and outstanding user experiences”.

Their strategy is to be a down-to-earth, easy-to-talk-to and overall cool buddy you would want to grab a beer or two on a Friday night. This impression is achieved by being personal—in conversations and the way they invest in the relationship with both their current and potential customers. Here’s how they do it. Balsamiq’s avatar on Twitter is an animated .gif-image with portraits of the team members who engage with people on Twitter. Moreover, they append each tweet that is a direct reply to someone with a signature at the end, e.g. “-Mike” or “-Peldi”.

SJ’s in a tough spot

SJ (which once stood for Statens järnvägar, “National railway”) is a Swedish state-owned company that runs railway passenger traffic and is one of several train operators within the railway system. @SJ_AB have been on Twitter since October 2009 and they have 19,694 followers.

Their main goal for engaging with the Twitter users is to provide customer support. If any, one would deem the arena perfect for personalising one’s replies on the quest of building up a loyal fan base. Especially with the daunting multitude of unhappy winter-season customers that the company has.

SJ claim 85 per cent of their Twitter followers are satisfied (in Swedish) with their presence in the medium. Unfortunately, they fall short of being perceived as willing to take the relationship with their customers to the logical next level. Mere presence does not cut it any longer, for people crave a personal approach.

Watch and learn

What do you want your business to be associated with online? An ordinary customer service that everyone expects of you? Or an extraordinary encounter with your customers that makes them ambassadors for you?

If you want to stand out, watch and learn. Examples abound.

Customer-centricity and contact information

Örebro was the first among Swedish municipalities to publish their employees’ detailed contact information on their website. The information includes the name of the employee, as well as their occupation, where in the organisational hierarchy they hold their position, telephone number, e-mail, office address, mailing address and a fax number.

The public consider it a good service to be able to find a telephone number to the person their question concerns. It is especially useful when they have an established business relation to the person, but do not for one reason or another have their contact information at hand.

The municipality are in a transition period where their customer and citizen service centre is being developed into a one stop centre. The new service plattform (or a “service surface”) combining telephone, digital and physical meetings is to launch during the period of autumn 2013 and the turn of the year. The removal of the possibility to find your contact’s information online is being considered.

There are several obvious advantages to the public having access to the telephone number or an e-mail address in order to get their question answered or a case taken care of. But one of the problems that the Communications department at the municipality of Örebro found lies in that the employees whom the public ring to are in many reported cases unavailable for telephone calls. As of last year, around 50 per cent of telephone calls went unanswered, which isn’t very uncommon among the Swedish municipalities. If the public choose to e-mail a person by their e-mail address, there is also no way for them to find out whether the person is available or say on paternal/maternal or sick leave.

While the openness and transparency contributes to a better customer experience (“Hey, I didn’t need to ring the local authority, I found whom I shall contact online all by myself!’), it is rather illogical to let the public waste their time waiting for the reply when the person they have contacted is unavailable. They end up contacting a customer service centre with the same question several days later. A question that might as well have been answered by a customer service representative in less than five minutes.

One of the arguments for keeping the contact information on the website is that it is the possibility for the municipality to be customer-centric. The curious thing is that it is exactly the argument for removal of the contact information from the site.

Customer-centricity (or client-centredness—whatever you choose to call it) is not, I believe, about feeding your clients with different kinds of information and smearing it by making it searchable. Customer-centricity is about focusing on the needs of your customers and looking for ways to make their contact with your business quick and efficient.

For further reading on the progress with the development of service plattform in the municipality of Örebro, I would like to invite you to read Örebro’s blog Enklare Vardag (in Swedish), which can be translated as “A Simpler Everyday”.

Customer service is worthless

Your customers think they value your service. You know, the opening hours you extended on Thursdays. Or how you replied to their comment on Facebook only a couple of minutes after they published it. Or the “insider” hint that made them wait five days for a semi-free deal. They think you serve them, render assistance or pay homage to your customers. After all, it’s what they pay you for, right? They think it is about a deal. About how they can outsmart you in order to pay less for what you offer.

But we know that it is not what they are after, even though they might call it “service”. We know that it is not about the deal—it never has been. Exceptional customer service is not the goal, it is a method. It is a way for us to enable our customers to perceive the transaction or affair as a natural order of things. It is a way for us to empower our customers to achieve their goals. We know all of that, which is why do everything in our power to make sure the experience our customers leave with has a pleasant aftertaste and their interaction with us carries away delicate aroma.

Or do we? Do we really stop to think about what impression we make when we first greet our customers? How do they perceive us going out of our way to impose a great offer on them? What is our goal with communicating with our customers? Is it to win them over so they multiply and you sell more? Or is it to cultivate the soil through interaction?

Customer service is worthless, as long as your focus is anything that has to do with you and your company. Unless they are your primary focus, you are never going to reach true heights. Come out and meet them, build a relationship and provide value for your customers. It takes time, but the fruit are oh so sweet.

Knowledge management in a one stop centre

How well you manage to create, store and disseminate information in a one stop centre, a helpdesk or any other type of customer service institution will be fateful for the success of your business. A one stop centre that only employs people to inform the public that the issue has been made sure to be taken care of by a responsible party is as useless as pointe shoes for a hippo.

It is important that customer service representatives (CSR’s) have a clear role in providing customers with necessary information about services, products and status. In order for them to be able to deliver qualitative service to your customers at first contact, you are to make the process of how knowledge is captured, managed and kept up-to-date as seamless and their work as efficient as possible. Here are some things that I think are, though important, often neglected when procuring a system for knowledge management.

1. Web-based systems

Web-based knowledge management systems are easy to maintain and they are (or must be) future-friendly and bullet-proof.

2. Real-time updates

Refreshing a page to see if something new has been added is yesterday. Make sure the CSR’s have access to the latest version of a document, whether they have just opened a page or have had it sitting in an open browser window for hours.

3. Simultaneous collaboration

“The document is locked for editing. Try again later.” should never be an option. Social collaboration in real-time is not a phenomenon too old not to be implemented and utilised in a knowledge management piece of software.

4. Comments, flags and notes

Your customers, and therefore your one stop centre, know more about the current events that might affect your rules, regulations and content than you are aware of. Make it possible for CSR’s to flag or leave comments and notes on content.

5. Notifications

You CSR’s, if anyone, need to stay in the loop of things constantly. Make it possible for them to choose to be notified about every little detail or update. You don’t want to risk your customers being misinformed by a one stop centre employee that did not receive an update.

Also, it is important that the comments, flags and notes on content get taken care of by adequate authorities in your organisation. Helpdesk for your helpdesk is crucial, which, again, points to the importance of having functioning underlying processes.

6. Segregation and adaptation of content per user

Finally, all CSR’s are not, I suppose, expected to know everything about everything. Do not show irrelevant content to your CSR’s. Let them instead choose which content to display should the need arise.

What are your tips on optimising the process of distributing knowledge in a one stop centre? Please, share them with me in the comments below or on Twitter @clartem.

Returning customers and telephone strategy

Provide exceptional service, so that people want to ring and talk to us again

Something similar to the quote above was the motto of a one stop centre in a Swedish municipality. While it may sound great or be well-meant, I think there are two things that are wrong with that attitude in the statement.

Returning customers – a sign of failure

Breaking news: your customers contact your business or organisation to get support. Most of them want the stuff they bought from you to work. They ring you when it doesn’t. They don’t want to buy another piece of a non-functional junk. Neither do they go to great lengths to pick up the phone and chat about the weather.

If you are a state or local government organisation, it is particularly true. The public are the first to notice you have not kept your promises. They are quick to point out your failures, and they are likely to do it several times until they see an improvement.

Now that we’ve settled that returning customers are a problem – and it is a problem you own – what are you going to do about it?

Take care of the returning customers

Do not strive to increase the number of incoming telephone calls. Here are a couple of steps to take to eliminate the number of returning customers.

  1. Increase their satisfaction when they first contact you. Make sure you offer top notch service. If they ring to ask what A costs, sell them a cheaper B, provided it matches their needs. Offer more than they ask for.
  2. Provide a cheaper support for your customers. An online knowledge base works great. Self-service wizard is awesome. Accessible website is also an amazing way of caring for your customers deeply.
  3. Be proactive. Find a way to serve your customers before they pick up the phone to call you. Teach your customers what is best for them and more efficient for you. (Hint: I presume you understand the importance of making sure those two match.)