Category Archives: Online customer service

6 Rules for Delivering Excellent Customer Service on Social Media

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online customer service

Can your company deliver excellent customer service online?

We’ve all done it: while researching local companies delivering x product or service, you click on one of their social media icons on their website to find out what past customers thought of their service. You browse through the complaints, the inquiries, and the glowing reviews to find out if that company was the best at delivering the product or service—and customer service—that you expect. After all, who wants to work with a company that doesn’t respond when you need them—and respond well?

Turns out, we’re not alone; a recent study from BrightLocal found that 92% of consumers read online reviews from local companies (up from 88% in 2014). The advent and evolution of social media gives them the opportunity to check up on you on a neutral platform, and talk back; almost 42% expect a response within an hour of posting on a company’s social media. To be sure, customers have set their expectations high, and there’s a good reason for you to deliver: studies have consistently shown that customers choose a product from a company that delivers good customer service even if the price of the is more than a competitor. The bonus is that they’ll also leave positive ratings about your company because of that service, which other potential customers notice and use to make their purchasing decision.

Is your company ready to meet their high expectations for online customer service? Delivering excellent customer service on social media cannot be delivered flippantly without a plan. How are you going to be notified about your customers’ inquiries? How are you going to respond to positive and negative reviews? Who is going to be in charge of the responses? What kind of training do they need? Every company is going to respond to these questions differently based on company culture and staff expectations; however, you can use these general rules to deliver the service that your customers expect, and deserve.

Respond promptly

You don’t have to be online 24/7; this would be difficult for most companies, especially smaller businesses with less resources. Be very clear about your company hours, and respond promptly within those hours, or as soon as possible the next morning. Make sure you have set your notifications so you know when a customer has posted to your social media sites, and create a smooth system so you can respond quickly—without having to go through an arduous process of management approval before posting. Managers, make sure you choose a staff member to deliver the customer service you trust; just because your intern is online all the time, doesn’t make them an ideal candidate for handling delicate customer inquiries. If you’re not available, or don’t have the staff on hand to deliver prompt customer service, don’t be afraid to outsource your efforts; a company with experience can deliver the customer service your customers expect—without you having to invest in the training.

Don’t ignore the negative

An online brand we follow had a customer who was not happy. His floor was not covered by warranty after it was damaged, and no one at the company was responding to his social media comments. For days afterward, the customer responded to every social media post with a rant. The company did not respond to the long complaints, and the rants grew worse.

The lesson: respond to the negative and positive comments. If you need more information or an in-depth forum to respond to their complaint, don’t be afraid to message the customer or ask them to message you so you can continue the conversation. Don’t assume that every angry comment means that you can’t win; you can still resolve many situations with excellent customer service. Believe it or not, you’ll also win their business again with this strategy.

If the customer inquiry is the fodder for an online crisis (such as a complaint about an employees’ rude or inappropriate comment), make your manager or CEO aware of the problem as soon as possible and involve them in the response process. Develop a plan for a possible crisis in advance; you don’t want to get caught “with your pants down” in a crisis situation.

Can the canned responses

One day when perusing my social media feed, I noticed a friend’s post. He shared a post from a company’s Facebook page written by a customer about a squeezable food product. The customer was unhappy because he found mold in his product (gross!), and he openly put the complaint on the company’s social media page. The company responded, but not before many, many other customers commented that they had the same problem with the product at one time or another. The company responded with a canned response to each complaint: “Please contact us with your issues at…” which fanned the fire; soon customers were commenting back to the company, “Aren’t you going to respond instead of copying and pasting the same reply to our complaint?”

Be human

That brings us to the next part of delivering customer service: type like you talk, and know your company’s voice. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sound professional, but that does mean your customer service response shouldn’t sound like a robot is responding. If your company is a pizza company with a younger audience, and a fun voice on social media, don’t be afraid to respond in that same voice; but don’t make fun of your customer or belittle their complaint. If your company has a B2B clientele, your response should sound more professional, but should still sound like a real, live human is there and ready to help.

Make it easy

Your customer shouldn’t have to work to get a resolution to their issue. Don’t make them jump through significant hoops or even have to pick up a phone. It is okay to ask for details in private messages and to ask for their information if you need to send something to them to resolve the issue; it’s not okay to start bombarding them with sales emails if they don’t ask (or give permission) for them.

Go above and beyond their expectations

Don’t assume that a bad customer experience equates to a lost customer. A few years ago, we ordered roast beef for a birthday party from a local shop. They said the order would be ready on Friday. When we called to make sure our order was ready on Friday, it wasn’t. The owner of the business called the next day with a sincere apology, reassurance that the order was ready for our party, and an offer to bring the order to our home. When he arrived, he brought extra of the order, and made sure we understood the cooking directions. Because he went above and beyond for us, we’d order from him again—and you can create the same favorable experience for your customers, even after a bad experience. Don’t think that because the interaction is online that you can’t deliver the same excellent customer experience; today’s social media is yesterday’s phone for many people, and your key to delivering excellent customer service.

Why your Digital Marketing Needs to Mirror My Buying Experience

customer experience

Here’s what you should learn from my decision to replace this ugly door.

Like most marketers, we’re always trying to learn and build upon our training and experience to guide our clients. To give them the best advice, content and strategic knowledge so they can give their customers the very best customer experience. And sometimes, that experience we use happens outside of work hours—like my recent experience in a hardware store on a Saturday afternoon.

Why should you care about my experience? Not because I was shopping for the most fascinating product. I was shopping for a door—a regular, plain entry door. And my experience isn’t going to set off a viral backlash against the company, because it wasn’t negative. In fact, my in-person buying experience was perfect—so perfect that it reminded me of what we’re all striving to give our customers, what we’re all striving for when we talk about customer experience.

That’s why you should care. Because my experience is what you need to give your customers. Not want to give, but need to give. Studies have repeatedly shown that customers are willing to spend more for a product from a company that provides great customer experience—and they are likely to come back to you again in the future.

That’s what I received. I had an errand to run in a nearby town. As long as I was there, I decided to drop in a local hardware store because I needed a door. My door had been damaged a few weeks ago but was still functional, so I had been doing research online about kinds of door materials, what I needed to purchase a door (measuring, knowing which way it swung, etc.), and general pricing.

I went into the store and found the door display. I started wandering around, browsing through the options and happy to be doing some pressure-free research (remember I wasn’t there to buy, just to look). Eventually, a salesman—we’ll call him “Bob”—came over and asked if I needed any help. He was friendly, and he answered all my questions with knowledgeable answers. I knew from my previous research that he knew his stuff. While I was there, I noticed that many of the doors were on sale, and he told me everything about the sale—including that that day was the last day of the sale. When we were done, I thanked him for his help and let him know that I was just looking and would be back with my husband the next day. Honestly, I did not intend to come back. I just wanted to call my husband and give him the information I had learned.

Fast forward 30 minutes later, and I was back in the store. I had talked to my husband, and he gave me the green light to buy. I came armed with more questions about storm doors because we wanted to replace both doors at once. The same salesman, “Bob” saw me looking at storm doors. He nicely answered all my questions, made several suggestions, and was incredibly patient as I made my decision. Incredibly patient. When the transaction was done, he wrote up the sale for me.

So what should you take away and apply to your content marketing (and digital marketing efforts) from my perfectly normal buying experience?

Your customers will come to you before they buy—several times, in fact. Treat every contact like they are a potential customer. It’s your job, via content marketing and social media, to be “Bob.” Be relevant and be there (“there” is the social media platform where your customers are), so you are available when it comes time for the customer to buy your product. Answer their questions with your content and your customer service replies on social media. Be prompt, especially when replying on social media, where studies have repeatedly shown that customers expect a response within a few hours. Be human and very patient. Make each customer feel like they are your number one concern, especially when you can’t face-to-face interact.

Create the right opportunity for a customer conversion. The store had a sale and a knowledgeable salesman: the perfect ingredients for a customer conversion. “Bob” answered my questions and didn’t pressure me to buy (to be honest I think he was shocked when I came back). You need to do the same thing online; create a blog with the information they need, and the opportunities to convert to a sale. This can be done through convenient links, great call-to-actions, visuals and lots of good, diverse content. You want to make your customer comfortable and build their trust so they buy from you once—and are willing to come back.

You don’t have to sell products online to create this same pleasant buying experience for your customers, but you need to strive for perfect. We pointed out how to use digital marketing even if you don’t (or can’t) offer e-commerce in a recent blog post, and this experience exemplifies why. If you “wow” a potential customer online, if you make them comfortable with your knowledge and interactions, if you speak to their pain points, they will reach out to you. We’ve seen it happen for our clients. If you use your digital marketing tools to create a great user experience online, they’ll send you a message on social media requesting an appointment. They’ll walk into your business ready to buy. So the next time you don’t feel like you have the energy to write another blog post or another minute for social media, know it’s important for your customers and potential customers. And if you don’t have the time or knowledge to devote to creating and building a great customer experience, contact a company that can. Your customers will thank you if you do—just like I’m going to do when I send an email tonight to the hardware store about how great “Bob” was to work with.

Why You Shouldn’t Abandon (and maybe even care about!) Social Media

social media marketingFacebook, Twitter and other social media networks are littered with abandoned orphans; business profiles and pages started with well-meaning intentions and enthusiasm, and left to rot when the enthusiasm ran out. We’re not pointing any fingers here; often these social media pages are left behind because the owner doesn’t have time, the employee that started the page left or the author didn’t feel like they were doing anything because no there were no likes. It happens.

The most unfortunate part of the situation is that the business is not reaping any of the benefits of a solid social media presence. While we’ve written about the dark side of social media, there are some definite benefits of a solid social media presence for businesses—small, medium and large—on the social media network(s) that fit their brand. For example, a bridal shop would benefit from a solid social media presence on Pinterest, which has a predominately large percentage of female users. Remember, don’t just join any social media network, find the social media network where your customers are and that fits your industry. Avoid joining a social media network just because “everyone is on there.” You won’t do service to your brand, and won’t be reaching your key audience interested in purchasing your product (remember, you are doing this to sell products).

When choosing what social media network to join, factor in the amount of time and commitment you have for the network or networks. Many a business has signed up for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the works because they want to be everywhere and everything, without a thought about the amount of time it takes to properly maintain each social media network—yes, each network, because every social media network has its own audience and way of doing things. If you’re not playing by the “rules” on each social media network, you’re not going to get the results you signed up for.

So what are you signing up for when you hit the “I agree” buttons on the social media networks? Besides a marketing tool that requires time and commitment, you also get these benefits of a solid social media presence:

  1. Free connection to your customers (and potential customers). This is your potential customers’ chance to learn about you and you to learn about them. Note this is a two-way street! While you may be on social media networks for sales conversions, this is your chance to listen to what your customers want and give them relevant resources to help solve their problems (and no the answer to their life problems is not always your product or service!). This is also your chance to show potential customers that you listen to your audience, who you are as a business and that you can provide excellent and prompt customer service.
  2. Ability to provide excellent and prompt customer service (with an emphasis on prompt!). If your customer has a problem, this is your chance to help—and help quickly. Studies show that customers expect a response within two hours, and that number is dropping. Respond promptly, because studies also repeatedly show that customers come back to businesses who have delivered quality customer service in the past—even if their product or service costs more than competitors.
  3. Unsolicited testimonials. Customers can leave reviews or comments about your products on your social media sites. Obviously, these reviews can go both ways, but you can also turn those negative comments into a positive. Start by not deleting negative comments or reviews. Instead, choose the opportunity to show your business can provide excellent customer service. If the reviewer is particularly angry, use these tips to defuse the situation.
  4. Chance to sell your products, and your company. We’ve seen businesses where the customers messaged to set up appointments. They were sold based on what they had seen on social media and in the community and ready to buy. We’ve seen other customers comment on pictures on social media and tag their friends because they really like the product. The crux of getting to the point of sales is to create a social media site that is not all about the business. While this seems like an oxymoron, this is your chance to show how customer-centric is by providing excellent and prompt customer service and resources that meet your customers’ needs.

The takeaway: notice the catch. Your business can reap benefits from a solid social media presence, not just a social media orphan page with irregular and outdated posts. A solid social media presence has:

  • Regular posts (the definition of regular is dependent upon the social media network)
  • Relevant resources for your customers
  • A customer-centric presence, not a business-centric approach (remember, social media is not about your business!)
  • Prompt replies to customers questions and comments (excellent customer service)

If you want to cash in on the benefits and opportunities that come with social media but don’t have the time, outsource your business social media page or profile to experts that can manage your social media network(s). We’ve said it before: there’s no shame or blame in outsourcing. There are some do’s and don’ts that come with outsourcing, but the goal is the same: to create a social media site for your customers. Remember, don’t measure your success on the number of followers, but on the number of engaged followers. These are the customers who are your advocates in the community and on social media. They are leaving positive reviews and engaging with your business—giving your business the results that you joined social media for in the first place.

5 (More) Online Marketing Mistakes You’re Making

company execMistakes breed inspiration, and inspiration breeds blog posts that help us all improve. We’re building on our last post 5 Online Marketing Mistakes You’re Making with five more common mistakes that we see business owners and marketers make every day marketing on the web and social media. Are you making these common online marketing mistakes?

  1. Not remembering the #1 rule of marketing. Though it’s the rule of successful marketing, many business owners and marketers forget that we’re reaching out to people—real, breathing people. That’s why it’s so important to use another guideline when producing marketing pieces: the two R’s of Social Media Marketing. What do your customers want? Who are you talking to?
  2. Ignoring hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. Hashtags are a valuable way to reach “outside the box”—and, no, we’re not talking about thinking creatively. Adding hashtags to your tweets and Instagram posts exposes your tweets and posts to another audience—to users who are following the hashtag or looking for information on that topic. If you’re tweet or post is useful, this is a sure-fire way to gain followers.
  3. Thinking your social media sites will grow on their own. If you want to gain followers, fans—whatever the social media user base is referred to on your social media site—you need to tell people. Use these ways to spread the word about your site, and don’t forget to give people a reason to want to follow your site.
  4. Making “knee jerk” decisions. This happens to business owners in so many different ways: by responding to an angry customer without thinking (find out how to respond professionally here), selecting an SEO firm without doing research, by tweeting or posting without thinking about the ramifications of what you’re saying. Proper social media posts, choosing the SEO firm that gets results, even responding to customers via your website or social media, takes careful thought (and sometimes training). If you don’t have time, don’t risk it. Look into outsourcing, training or to other business owners for information.
  5. By responding to your customers once a week. It’s not enough! The average American’s time online is growing, giving them more opportunities to reach out to your company with questions through your website and social media. Ignoring their questions, or waiting too long, is a definite way to lose your customers’ interest, and their business. Respond to inquiries (read how to set up an efficient customer service system here) within a few hours of the question, even if it’s just with a “Thank you for your question. Can you please give us more information so we can answer your question completely?”

Effective online marketing takes time and effort, so don’t cut corners. Do your research and keep up with SEO and social media marketing trends, or hire experts who can. You’ll find the rewards from a well-thought out online presence to be worth the time and funds, plus you’ll save the embarassment of common online marketing mistakes.

Why would I want my business to be on social media?

social media_croppedYou can almost hear the exasperation in the voice of a business owner asking the question, can’t you? Exasperation or not, this question is excellent because creating a solid social media presence for your business takes work and time. Yes that’s right—work and time—because a good social media page needs relatable and relevant content on a regular basis to get results. It’s also valuable to stay up-to-date on the latest social media trends, which is another piece of the social media puzzle that takes time.

So why should your business be on social media??? Why? Good question, and we have equally good and solid reasons for your business to take the leap to social media:

  • 60% of customers make a purchasing decision without picking up the phone. One of our clients recently said to us, “It used to be that people would call, and I would have a chance to educate and sell to them. Now it’s not that way.” It’s true: people pick up a computer to decide what product is right for them or what company provides the best service. They make the decision when they want to (or are available to do so) on a mobile device easily at their finger tips. In the case of social media, people are on these networks daily anyways, so why not research the best companies while checking out the latest viral videos?
  • Customers expect customer service within minutes of their inquiry. We’ve all heard the frustration from a customer who has been put on hold way too long by a company. This is your chance to provide excellent online customer service promptly (learn how to handle a disgruntled customer in our recent blog post), leaving a lasting impression with your customer that will guide their next interaction and sale with your company.
  • Social media is your 24/7 connection to your customer. Consumers are retired, work first, second or third shift, are driven by their kids’ schedules…they’re busy. A recent study found that consumers expect your brand to be on social media, even if they don’t follow your page or profile. That means they expect you to be there, so they can reach out to you when they are available. We’ve seen potential customers schedule appointments with our clients while at work through social media, ask for information about a product through blog comments, and ask questions about services through social media posts. If you’re not on social media to answer their inquiries, they’ll reach out to your competitor for answers.
  • If you provide excellent products and service, your customers will let other customers know. We’re not going to lie to you. Not all customer reviews are good ones, but the good reviews are fodder for more good reviews—and for potential customers to find out what others think of you. Don’t cheat by asking your family and friends to leave reviews. Instead ask your satisfied customers to leave reviews on your social media sites. If you do get a customer with a bad review, make sure you respond promptly, sympathetically and with an apology if necessary.

Love what you hear about social media, but still don’t have the time? There’s no shame or blame in outsourcing your social media efforts to experts who can maintain your social media sites using your voice and the latest social media marketing information. The simple truth is that building a functional and beautiful website just isn’t enough anymore. It’s time to up the ante on your online marketing efforts. It’s time for your business to be on social media.

Why Marketing Doesn’t Work Without Customer Service (and what to do about it!)

company execIt’s our job to help companies grow their business. That’s our core objective and we take it very personally—your goals are our goals.  However, the longer we do this, the more we realize that online marketing—giving our companies a solid online presence, functional and impressive website, and top rankings on all the major search engines—does no good if the company doesn’t have customer service to back it up.

The most common client objective is to grow their business.  We deliver with higher search rankings, a solid social media presence and quality content on their website (to see why read our content marketing post). Our partnership with them and online marketing efforts produce customer leads through comments, online forms, emails and calls.

But what good are those leads if no one follows up? Most company owners do not set out to build a company with poor customer service, but customer inquiries often fall through the cracks. The result: a company providing poor customer service. So how can your company improve your customer service?

  • Don’t make email inquiries your last priority. We live in a digital world, with smart phones, tablets and computers becoming more common—and being used more and more to make purchasing decisions.
  • Set a standard operating procedure for handling customer inquiries. Don’t just handle customer inquiries without a strategy. Set a plan in place for handling phone calls, email inquiries and social media messages—and stick to it.
  • Make sure everyone answering the phones and emails are trained on SOPs and how to respond. A poorly trained employee is a liability when answering the phones. Don’t just throw your employees into the fire. Train and educate them. Inform them of SOPs and make sure they know proper protocols for answering the phones, handling customer questions and dealing with angry customers.
  • Designate someone responsible for answering and following through on each inquiry. This doesn’t mean you triple one employee’s workload. Choose an employee to answer phones, another to answer emails and a third to check your social media sites for messages. Be flexible. An employee completely overwhelmed by emails or phone calls is not in a good position to deliver exceptional customer service. Though you’ve designated employees, let them know to jump in if the phone is ringing off the hook or the inbox is full.
  • Offer customer service online, but don’t feel like you need to answer customer questions 24/7. Today’s consumers expect businesses to answer them within an hour, thanks to the instantaneous of the internet. However, you don’t need to provide that service all day and night. Put your business hours on your online form, and make it clear that inquiries are answered during that time.
  • Remember, every customer counts. It only takes one person’s bad experience to ruin a business’ reputation, and news travels fast on social media. One wrong response, or dropped inquiry can spread across the internet like wildfire. Though it may be tempting to just let that inquiry go because of a complex answer or a large workload, answer each inquiry as soon and completely as possible.

Study after study has proven that testimonials, and in our modern day, online reviews (like on Facebook), play a role in customers’ decision whether to purchase a company’s service or product. If you are not delivering good customer service, unfavorable reviews pile up on your social media sites and word spreads about your subpar customer service. The result: you can’t reach your goals no matter how much marketing tools you employ. We can create the marketing tools on your behalf, but you need to back it up with exceptional customer service. The good news: by using our customer service tips, you can achieve your goals and customers’ goals—two targets that should be in sync, or at least overlap.

How to Handle the Angry Online Customer

seo image_croppedWhen you open your business to customers, as a storefront or in the digital world on social media, you take a risk: the risk of angry customers. How do you respond?

You’ll find one key advantage to social media: time.  Though you should respond to angry customers promptly, you do have a few minutes to craft a response appropriate for the situation. Just take a deep breath, and use these tips:

  • Take another deep breath. Read through the customer’s complaint completely, and try to understand where they’re coming from.  What is their #1 complaint?
  • Be prompt. Customers expect businesses to respond with online customer service within an hour. Don’t delay and add fuel to the fire.
  • Don’t get defensive. Your business is your baby, and you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into it.  Don’t take their complaint personally. Look at it as feedback that needs to be addressed—and address it as such.
  • Admit your mistakes. If your employee was late or rude, apologize. Your customers appreciate it more if you are honest and transparent. Try to sandwich the negativity with “Thank you so much for your feedback. We apologize for the delay by our technician. We will use your feedback to make sure that this error does not happen again.”
  • You don’t have to give them a discount, but it helps. This is a fine line, dependant on the discount you give. Be consistent with your discounts.  If the problem is a shipping issue, offer them free shipping on their next order or offer to refund their shipping costs. If the product was broken, offer to ship them a new product for free. Don’t give them a half-hearted offer, like 25% on selected products or 10% off when they spend $150, so it sounds like you’re not trying. However, you don’t have to give each customer a brand new product—and you don’t have to let everyone know what you are offering. You can respond with “Thank you so much for letting us know about your issue. Please watch your ‘Other’ message folder for a message resolving your issue.”
  • Run your response by someone else. Everyone reads things differently. After you’ve crafted a short response, have an outside party read it and give feedback.  Make sure you use a professional tone, and don’t come off as haughty or defensive.
  • Review it one more time. Before you hit ‘send’ or ‘post,’ read through your response one more time. Make sure that if a million people read your response that it would reflect favorably on your business, even if you are admitting a mistake.
  • Say thank you even when you don’t mean it. Be polite even if your blood is boiling. Even if you are addressing a customer with what you see as a unique situation, your response will be seen by other customers—and potential customers.

Once you’ve responded, resolve the customers’ issue and move on. If the problem could happen again, change your business’ procedures or processes. Remember, once the encounter is done, it’s done. You have other customers to please and other products to sell. Move on into the positive side of social media, and take full advantage of this marketing tool.