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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

Make Your Clients’ Dream Come True with a Wish List!

A "wish list" will help you know today what's most important to your client.

A “wish list” will help you know today what’s most important to your client.

Gathering client or customer information is standard procedure in many industries: chiropractors, veterinarians, interior design, heck – even business coaches! Contact information is tedious to write and collect and, for me, a bit annoying in this age of technology. I’ve found a way for many of my clients to turn it from a chore to an incredibly valuable tool for the business owner and the customer or client:

Ditch your “Client Information Sheet”

And instead, ask for a “Wishlist”.

Beyond the basics, ask customers or clients for a wish list of items and to rank them in order from #1, their Biggest Wish, sequentially to #2, #3, and so on. For example, an eye doctor’s patients might wish for using only one pair of glasses, rather than switching back and forth to reading glasses. The wish of an interior designer’s client might be to create a gathering spot for her family to play games. Understanding a customer or client’s wishes allows you to:

1.) use their language when communicating with them, and

2.) get to the heart of how you can best help them immediately, which in turn often results in sales and a more satisfied customer.

When you speak in their terms, your customer feels understood and their concerns and ideas valued. Further, having a customer wish list gives you insight into your market’s future, it gives you marketing language and tactics, it gives you a sales’ forecast, and, if used properly, an ongoing revenue stream.

Beyond products and specific services, a wish list can tell you what your customer’s current frustrations are with product/service delivery. A financial service industry client of mine learned that face-to-face account reviews was a frustration for some, from clients who wished for “Account reviews via phone or Skype”. Another client, a high-end custom product provider, learned that the wait between their custom order and delivery was frustration. This set the company to shaving unnecessary time out of the process and to providing customers with product completion updates. Customers received photos of their products in production, which kept them excited and the provider in their mind. Customers tend to show those pictures to friends who then investigate the company. Happy, regularly informed customers became referral engines for the custom product provider.

Turning your Client Information Sheet into a Wish List is fairly simple to do (30 minutes or less!) and provides you market research, sales forecast data, and incredibly satisfied customers. That’s a wish I’d like granted to every business owner out there!

The Art of Cold Calling: How to Connect Instead of Sell

Cold calling prospects, or even warm calls to referrals, stops many business professionals in their tracks. The other day a client telephonesaid to me “I fought in Afghanistan, I’ve been shot at as a police officer, but I’m afraid to make phone calls! What gives?” Adrenalin played a part in those scenarios, but beneath that, she felt the same emotion that she does when trying to call prospects: fear. Fear of being rejected, fear of saying the “right” words, the fear of not knowing what to say, period, all prevent us from making calls even when we know it could help our business. I’ve heard more than a couple business professionals say that they’re just giving up on calls, but there is an alternative.

Chances are, especially if you’ve been struggling with making calls, you’ve read that you need to be confident in what you have to offer and then you’ll “easily” make the calls. I consider confidence as Step 1; Step 2 is understanding your objective in calling beyond making a sale or scheduling an appointment. What feeling do you want as a result of the call? What emotion do you want to evoke in the person you’re calling?

When my client and I walked through these questions we discovered that she loved to connect with people – to hear their stories, to find a connection between herself and the person on the other end of the call. That’s really what each of us wants – to connect with another human being – whether it’s by phone, at a networking event, or by e-mail. We worry about the words we will say when calling someone, yet connecting is more about listening than talking.

To increase the effectiveness of your phone calls, choose your words deliberately and carefully to share your offer (remember it’s about the benefits not the features!) but most of all, listen and connect. Let that other person know that you care; even if you get a “no thanks” you’ll feel better about the call and they will remember you as that person who listened.

What are Your Incentive Plans REALLY Doing?

Last week, Comcast won the award for worst customer service. The recording of a Comcast customer trying to cancel his service – onlyreward image to be harassed for over 8 minutes by a Comcast agent – went viral, and needless to say Comcast has experienced a pretty tough week. While at first it seemed like an agent gone bad, Comcast has since confirmed that agents are financially incented to retain customers. While this agent certainly didn’t show much compassion, he was trying to do what his company rewarded him to do.

In my corporate days, I probably prepared more than 50 incentive plans, and while that doesn’t make me an expert, it certainly provides me with some lessons. This Comcast snafu reminded me of the most important lesson I learned from creating, then adjusting, scrapping, re-creating incentive plans:

Whenever you incent a person to do something, you are also dis-incenting them to do something else.

Here are a couple examples from my experience:

  1. A newly launched product was moving more slowly than we wanted. We created a short-term high-impact incentive to encourage our sales team to sell that new product. While sales of the new product increased, the sales team lost focus on the company’s bread-and-butter products and sales dropped drastically.
  2. Another incentive encouraged our team to sell longer-term service contracts over shorter-term contracts. Seemed logical. What we didn’t plan on was a longer approval cycle which delayed any service contract revenue coming in – short or long term.

As you can see, I most often stumbled by incenting sales of one product or service, or even a product line, at a different rate than others. If a sales rep knows they will earn $25 every time they sell product A, and $50 every time they sell product B, they will try for product  B every time. Who wouldn’t? If any of your staff’s pay is performance-based, here are some pointers:

  • The decision to award an incentive payment upon the sale or upon collection is often debated, and rightly so. Define your sales team’s role clearly; sales only? Do they have credit granting authority? Or, are they responsible all the way through collection?
  • Be careful that your incentive structure does not put one employee against another. Having a maximum incentive pool can cause this; define the split to guard against too much competition.
  • The most important question to ask with every incentive payment is this, and you must ask it every time: By encouraging a particular behavior by my employees, what might I discourage them from doing? You must think like an employee on this one or you will be caught off-guard again and again (trust me, I learned that the hard way).

I love incentive and performance pay, but just be sure that you are comfortable with not only what you are encouraging your staff to do, but also with the behavior you are discouraging. If you don’t believe me, just ask Comcast.

How, When, and Who: The 3 Key Pieces to Customer Service

Once you are clear about the value that you bring to your customers and clients (see the post True Value: What Business are You Really In?), or the WHAT, the next step is understanding the HOW, WHEN, and WHO of delivering it.

There are two elements of HOW we deliver our product or service:

  1. The actual process of a transaction. For example, one client’s customer process includes a written estimate, followed by a customer purchase order, parts’ order placement, parts are received, and finally, the work is scheduled and completed.
  2. The second HOW element is the way in which we do it. For example, a local car dealership has recently launched their “Negotiation Free” buying process. The dealership has defined how the transaction will happen not only for potential customers but also for employees. This piece of “HOW” determines in large part about HOW the transaction will feel to your customers and clients. Unless you define it for your employees, they will create their own system, and it may not be what you want. Think of a business visit you’ve made where you were treated poorly by an employee with poor customer service skills; I’m confident that is not how the owner would like it done.

The second element of product/service delivery systems is the WHEN. You may be shaking your head and thinking “whenever the customer walks through my door!” Stop and think about it, though, and you will realize that the transaction has several components, and they typically occur in a routine sequence. In the best scenario, you have designed a system so that transaction steps occur at the optimum point of time. Examples of WHEN that should be defined are:

  • Response to initial inquiry in service industries;
  • Your “Welcome”, offers of help, and general chatter in a consumer retail setting;
  • Length of time between a customer proposal and follow-up communication.

Much of the WHEN can be automated through email systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Learn the capabilities that exist and use them.

Finally, there is the WHO of delivering your product/service – who does what when? Defining the key roles in this process is critical. This cuts down on confusion, and staff members taking on tasks that they should not: everyone stays in their lane, and tasks are not duplicated. It allows your team to focus on their given workload and become the subject-matter experts in their given area. This is especially key for your sales and customer support staff. A client recently discovered that when his administrative assistant made the proposal follow-up phone call, instead of the business owner, the acceptance rate shot through the roof. His customers most likely feel less “sold to” when his assistant calls to follow-up.

When these three elements – HOW, WHEN and WHO – are clearly defined from your customers’ perspective and are put into a system, customers will be treated consistently well by you and your staff, and in turn, increasing the likelihood that they will return.

True Value: What Business are You Really In?

Do you know what you are really selling? Here’s a hint: it’s not the widgets on your inventory shelves, it’s not the thing that you do to or for your customers. It’s something more: it’s the change that results in your customers’ lives because of their interaction with you.

We know that our marketing materials need to talk more about benefits than features. But all too often, we define the benefits we provide for use in our marketing materials and then forget about them – we go back to our widgets and “that thing that we do”. What’s the big deal, you might say; if they’re already a customer, isn’t that all that matters?

Consumers (including businesses, if you are a B2B business) have an infinite number of choices to fill their needs. Your customers have a choice to work with you or…with someone else. They make the choice based upon the benefits received. On first pass, customer benefits look something like this:

  • Value
  • Proximity
  • Ease of use
  • Reliability
  • Comfort
  • Safety

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover more intrinsic benefits like:

  • Peace of mind
  • Confidence
  • Personal Pride
  • Family Protection
  • Time
  • Relationships

If you want your customers to recognize the benefits that you bring to them, you need to do more than tell them. The benefits of doing business with you need to be part of every step you take in serving your customers and clients.

  1. Define the benefits you provide and narrow them down so that you can fit them on a notecard. Post that note card and focus on those 5-7 words every morning for 2-3 minutes. Let those benefits guide your day.
  2. Talk with staff members about the benefits that you provide to your customers. The benefits need to be in the front of their minds as well as yours.

 

What it boils down to are the same wants every one of us had in elementary school; we want to feel included, we want to be confident, we want to know that we are doing well. Fill those wants for your customers and clients, and they’ll come back to you over and over.

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.