How to Succeed at Email Customer Service

Email can be a tricky customer service channel. Because you don’t have a voice-to-voice or face-to-face connection, it’s more difficult to gauge how upset a customer might really be and get at the real heart of the issue. However, many customers prefer to send an email rather than call or come into your store because it’s quick and requires little effort on their part. For all these reasons, email customer service won’t be going away any time soon. Here are 3 things you shouldn’t be doing as part of your email customer service program.

1. Don’t Use Canned Responses

Letting a user know you received their inquiry and will get back to them soon is one thing. But actually having your customer service response be a form letter or script is just icky. Does the FAQ page on your website answer a user’s question? Sure, but that doesn’t mean you should just send them a link and call it a day. Take the time to give a customized response that will make your customer feel valued.

2. Don’t Make Excuses

When someone writes in with negative feedback, your first instinct may be to make excuses for the problem. It doesn’t matter what caused the issue or who might be to blame—making excuses won’t resolve the problem. Focus on providing an efficient resolution and winning that person back with attentive, positive service.

3. Don’t Rush Past the Problem to the Solution.

Before you make a hasty reply back to a customer, make sure to read their email carefully and thoughtfully consider how best to respond to them. While the types of issues that come up may be pretty standard for your business, the people who have these issues aren’t—and they each require a slightly different response.

In addition to these 3 things to avoid, here are 3 things you should be doing with email customer service.

1. Use Personalization

When responding to a customer’s inquiry, make sure to personalize your correspondence. Use their name, include any relevant purchase or account information, and be sure to sign off with your name as well. These small touches will ensure that your message sounds genuine and targeted to the customer rather than being an automated message from a system.

2. Set Expectations

If it’s going to take a couple of days to resolve an inquiry, don’t be afraid to tell the customer up front. Setting clear expectations so that the customers knows what the next steps are and when they will be happening will prevent any feelings of impatience or being forgotten about.

3. Provide a Human Element

Humans respond to other humans. When you’re emailing a customer, make sure your message incorporates a human element. Show that you really care about the problems the customer is having. Use informal (but still professional) language rather than stilted business or technical speak. Tell the customer how to reach you if they want to follow up outside of email. Anything you can do to reinforce a human connection will contribute to a more positive interaction between the customer and your business.

The Bottom Line

Email might not be everyone’s preferred customer service channel, but it can be effective when used correctly. Make sure to tailor your communications based on the specific problem and customer, focus on the right resolution rather than the quickest one, set clear expectations for what will happen and when, and give a personal touch to each email you send.

6 Ways to Win at Social Customer Service

Social customer service is on the rise, and customers are increasingly turning to Facebook, Twitter, and other major social networks to make brand inquiries and complaints. While it may seem like extra work to have to manage yet another customer service channel, social media actually provides a unique opportunity for small businesses. When handled well, social customer service can boost your brand’s reputation, visibility, and engagement. The flip side is that when handled poorly, it can do a lot of damage to your image.

These 6 tips will help you use social customer service to benefit both your customers and your brand.

1. Respond Quickly

Research has shown that users who submit a customer service request on social expect an answer in real time—preferably within the hour the request is made. While you probably don’t have the bandwidth to follow up with customers hourly, you should monitor your social channels daily so that you can respond within 24 hours. A longer delay, and sentiment about your business will quickly decline.

2. Tag Users in Your Replies

Most social networks will trigger an email or in-app notification when a user is tagged in a post, so make sure to tag the customer in your reply to ensure that he or she sees it.

3. Provide a Resolution in-Network

If a customer asks you a question via Twitter, don’t tell them to call your store for an answer. If someone complains about a product on Facebook, don’t send them an email. Follow up with the customer on the channel where they originally inquired. Not only will it be a more coherent experience for the customer, but it will also allow other users of the network see the resolution play out—and positive resolutions can have a big impact on other consumers’ perceptions of your brand.

4. Be Specific

A generic cut-and-paste of an answer from your FAQ page isn’t enough to satisfy an online inquiry. Users expect a specific answer that takes their personal situation into account. Additionally, when you respond to a customer service inquiry on social, make sure that you’re specific about who you are, too. Reinforcing that you’re a real person being will humanize the experience and lend specificity to your conversation.

5. Show Some Love

As with any other customer service channel, make sure your replies are personal, sympathetic, and focused on solving the problem as efficiently as possible. Be genuine and helpful, and your audience will sense it—both the customer you’re helping and the spectators who are passively watching your interaction.

6. Listen up

Even if you aren’t receiving many active customer service requests, you can learn a lot just by listening to what people are saying about your business online. You can do this manually by looking at mentions on each social network, or by using a social listening tool to monitor feedback about your brand across channels. Listening to the online commentary about your business will provide valuable insights that can help you optimize your customer service and offerings without having to create a formal user survey.

The Bottom Line

Don’t think of social customer service as a headache—think of it as an opportunity. By providing your customers with timely, specific, useful feedback where they’re asking for help, you’ll show your social audience that customers matter to you. This is the type of brand reputation-boost that you can’t get from tooting your own horn. Let your actions convey your brand’s values, and you’ll start to build up a loyal consumer base on social over time.

Learn more about how SinglePlatform can help you today!

Negative Customer Feedback: 4 Mistakes to Avoid

Receiving negative feedback from angry customers may seem like a customer service nightmare. In today’s connected world, one unhappy patron is all it takes to permanently damage your business’s reputation. However, negative customer feedback is actually the most valuable kind you can receive. Without critics, how would you know what improvements you should be making to provide even more value to your customers?
It isn’t easy to interact with someone who’s angry or aggressive, but there are a number of things you can do—and not do—when your business comes under fire. Here are 4 mistakes to avoid when handling negative feedback.

Mistake #1: Don’t Wait to Make Improvements Until People Complain

If you think you’ve got your customer service strategy perfected, think again. No matter how great your program might be, you can always find things to improve. Assess your efforts on a regular basis, and you’ll start to see the number of complaints drop as you address issues upstream.

Mistake #2: Don’t Delete Negative Comments or Reviews

No matter how quickly you stumble across a negative comment or review, there’s bound to be at least one person who’s already seen it, and they’ll notice if it suddenly disappears from cyberspace. Consumers perceive a deleted comment to be some kind of cover-up, and the user who made the original post is likely to become even more vocal about his or her complaints if they feel like you’re trying to brush something under the rug.

Instead of pretending the negative feedback never happened, address is head on. Even if you don’t feel that the customer’s claim is legitimate, you can at least let the person know you’ve heard them, appreciate their feedback, and will take steps to make things right. At some point, you may transition the conversation offline for a quicker resolution, but the initial response should happen in whatever forum the user provided feedback.

Mistake #3: Don’t Ignore Negative Feedback

Ignoring negative feedback isn’t quite as bad as hiding it, but it is a lost opportunity for your business. If you respond quickly and sensitively to someone’s concerns, they’re more likely to change their mind about your business, or at the very least stop sharing negative feedback with others. If you just ignore them, they’ll add being ignored to their list of complaints and will likely continue to voice them to their peers.

Mistake #4: Don’t Retaliate

When a customer unfairly attacks your products, services, or staff, it’s tempting to lash out in return. Resist the urge to sink to that person’s level. If you have nothing helpful to say in response to a comment, then say nothing. If you can soothe the person’s hurt feelings or ask for additional clarification while remaining neutral, that’s even better. Just remember: How you respond to an angry customer’s tirade says a lot more about your business than what the customer is saying about you.

The Bottom Line

Negative feedback is bound to happen periodically. When it comes your way, consider it as an opportunity for growth and learning instead of an unpleasant downside of doing business. Be proactive in making improvements you know are needed, and engage with critical customers in a way that will benefit them and your business. If you do, you’ll come to embrace negative feedback instead of dreading it.

[News] Small Businesses Slow to Adopt Social Customer Service

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Customer Service News] Survey Says few Businesses Employ Social Customer Service

News Source: Roundpeg

A recent study from marketing strategy agency Roundpeg shows that few small businesses are using social media to field customer service requests. 66% of surveyed B2C businesses said they rely on social media to stay in touch with customers, but less than 20% are using social channels to resolve customer service inquiries.

B2B respondents were slightly more inclined to provide social customer service (29%), but generally spend less time on social engaging with customers than B2C companies.

Key Takeaway: Consumers are turning to social media to voice questions, complaints, and suggestions to companies of all sizes, but the majority of small businesses aren’t contributing to the conversation. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to connect with clients and resolve issues more quickly. Even if you only have time to check your social accounts once a day, you can have a positive impact on individual customers and your social followers by responding promptly and helpfully to inquiries.

[Mobile News] U.S. Local Mobile Search Outpaces Global Markets

News Source: Street Fight Mag

According to recent research culled by Bonial International Group, the U.S. is still the clear leader in the local mobile search space, but international markets are starting to catch up.

60% of all search traffic in the US comes from mobile devices, and that percentage is expected to keep growing as smartphone sales increase year over year. Data from BIA/Kelsey also showed that 40% of mobile searches in 2012 were local. By 2016, analysts project that local mobile searches will surpass local desktop searches by 27 billion queries per year. That’s a lot of searches!

While the U.S. is the frontrunner in local mobile search right now, other countries are also starting to see rapid growth. Brazil almost doubled their mobile search traffic between 2012 and 2013; Germany mobile adoption is at 48%, with France and Russia both clocking in at 37%. Local mobile search has taken off in Russia particularly, growing from 7.6% of mobile searches in 2012 to 27.72% as of February 2014.

Key Takeaway: Local mobile search isn’t just a passing fad—it’s becoming the new standard way of finding local businesses, especially in the U.S. where smartphone adoption is high. All the more reason for small businesses to make sure their websites, online listings, menus, and product & service lists are accessible and easy to read on mobile devices.

Need help? Find out how SinglePlatform can optimize your product and service content for mobile!

[Restaurant News] Yelp Launches Proprietary Reservation System

News Source: Tech Crunch

Last week, Yelp announced the launch of a new free Reservations service based on technology from SeatMe, the OpenTable competitor it acquired in 2013.

Any restaurant that has claimed its Yelp profile page can now use Reservations to take bookings on the review site—all for no fee. SeatMe’s integrated (and more sophisticated) booking service used on restaurant websites will remain $99 a month.

Key Takeaway: Adding bookings to its local listings is a natural next step for Yelp as the company strives to keep up with competitors like OpenTable and Google. Providing a way for consumers to close the loop by making a reservation will benefit both customers and restaurants. It’ll also help Yelp by increasing its visitors’ time on site and boosting internal advertising and marketing revenue.

Will you be trying Yelp Reservations for your business? Leave a comment and let us know! 

Online Review Forums and Customer Service

These days, customers aren’t just picking up the phone, shooting you an email, or coming into your store for support. As review forums such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google Local have grown in popularity, consumers have begun to use them to voice complaints and questions.
Most small businesses monitor review forums solely for the purpose of maintaining their brand image, but you can also use online review forums as another customer service channel. Here are 2 dos and 2 don’ts when it comes to responding to online reviews.

DO Take Action to Right Wrongs

If a customer writes a negative review, investigate the claim with your staff. If your business was at fault, take the appropriate action to right the wrong, whether it’s writing an apology, offering a replacement item, or extending an offer for a free or discounted product or service. Don’t be afraid to admit that you made a mistake—but be quick to make amends for it. The vast majority of customers will still keep doing business with you if you make an effort to address their complaints in a timely fashion (within a week).

DO Respond to Inquiries and Suggestions

Often times, customers will include questions or suggestions in the course of their review that they won’t take time to share with you personally. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to gain valuable insight into what your customers want and what you could be doing better. You don’t have to reply to every reviewer, but you should make an effort to answer any specific questions that come up and respond to users whose suggestions you’ve implemented. These kinds of interactions will make customers feel valued and involved in your process.

DON’T Take Negative Feedback Personally

Most patrons won’t take the time to review your business unless they’re exceptionally pleased or exceptionally displeased with their experience. Reading angry reviews, especially those that seem unprovoked by a real grievance, can be upsetting. Keep in mind that none of the comments consumers share are directed at you personally, and no single comment is representative of your entire customer base. While it may be challenging to remain calm when it feels like your business is under attack, replying with a heated or nasty comment will only fan the flames and draw more attention to that particular review. Keep your replies professional at all times, and as the old adage goes: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

DON’T Let Yourself Be Exploited

Every system can be exploited for personal gain, and this includes review forums. The goal of most reviewers is simply to share their experience with others, but there are always a handful of people whose goal is to take advantage of businesses. Competitors may pose as patrons in order to publicly critique your business; users may write reviews of your business without having been a patron; others may purposely post harsh comments in hopes that you’ll offer a little something to make amends. For this reason, you need to be careful when it comes to online reviews. If a review seems fishy, it probably is, and you shouldn’t waste your time engaging with it.

The Bottom Line

In general, online customer service follows the same rules as phone, email, and in-person customer service. If you reply promptly, stay professional, and treat people with generosity, you’ll be able to grow your customers’ loyalty. The added benefit of doing so on a public forum is that your actions can have an impact on a larger audience who isn’t directly involved in the conversation. Let your actions speak volumes of good things about your business, and others will notice.

How to Deliver Great In-Person Customer Service

In some ways, in-person customer service is the easiest kind. You can read someone’s emotions and responses much better face-to-face, and you’ll likely be able to solve the person’s problem then and there, rather than having to promise a forthcoming fix. It can also be the most challenging channel because you have no buffer between you and a potentially upset customer.
These 5 easy-to-implement tips will help you bring your A-game when it comes to in-person customer service.

1. Proactively Offer Assistance

If a customer looks confused, aimless, or in need of help, don’t wait for them to flag you down. Offering assistance proactively will make a positive impression on the customer.

2. Smile.

It’s a simple thing to remember, but it really does make a difference. Set a positive tone before you even say a word by giving the customer a smile. Sometimes, a friendly sign is all the impetus a customer needs to engage with you; if they never see it, they might just walk out of your store without making a purchase.

3. Watch Your Body Language.

When faced with a crabby patron, it’s easy to let one’s body language become defensive, even if your tone and words don’t. Crossed arms, head shaking, forceful hand gestures, or toe tapping won’t endear you to the customer any more than it would endear you to an angry spouse or friend. Be conscious of your actions as well as your tone and words.

4. Stay Focused.

In an in-person setting, it’s easy to be distracted by other patrons, employees, ringing phones, etc. Make an effort to focus your full attention on the person you’re helping when you’re helping them, regardless of who else might need your help or what else is going on in your surroundings.

5. Offer Something Extra.

An in-store setting makes it easy to offer a little something extra. A free product, extra service, or discount can be a great way to add value for the customer and secure their good opinion of your business.

The Bottom Line

In-person customer service is the most personal kind. Be proactive, friendly, and attentive, and you’ll be able to turn even the most aggrieved customers into loyal fans of your business.

5 Customer Service Phone Mistakes You Might Be Making

Fielding customer service phone calls is a part of most small business’s daily routine. While these calls are commonplace, a basic inquiry or complaint can quickly spiral out of control if not handled appropriately by you or your staff.
These 5 mistakes can have a negative impact on your customers’ perception of your business. Are you or your employees making any of them? If so, now’s the time to make some positive changes to your approach.

Mistake #1: Long Wait Times

Not picking up the phone until the 15th ring, putting a caller on hold for 5 minutes, or asking someone to hold repeatedly during a call are all sure-fire ways to annoy a customer. When a support call comes in, take it promptly, and avoid putting the person on hold unless absolutely necessary.

Mistake #2: Unenthusiastic or Negative Tone

Tone has a huge impact on the outcome of a customer service call. If the customer senses a lack of enthusiasm, boredom, or hostility from the person on the other end of the line, they won’t feel valued—and they might be tempted to take their business elsewhere, even if their complaint is successfully resolved. If you bring energy and positivity to every call, you’ll be more likely to calm angry patrons and solve problems quickly.

Mistake #3: Multi-Tasking

Just as people can sense a lack of enthusiasm over the phone, they can also sense when you’re not giving them your full attention. It’s not worth the risk of angering a customer just to save a couple minutes by multi-tasking. Give the person on the phone your full attention—they deserve it!

Mistake #4: Not Mirroring the Customer

Unhappy customers can sometimes blow problems out of proportion. However, just because a problem might not seem like a big deal to you doesn’t mean that you should take the situation lightly. Mirroring the customer’s concern for the situation, and reflecting their words back to them so they know you’re hearing what they’re saying, is an important tactic. It reinforces that you’re on the same side and sympathize with their plight.

Mistake #5: Lack of Appreciation

Even if a customer is angry, aggressive, and generally ungrateful for your assistance, that doesn’t give you an excuse to treat them with the same lack of appreciation. Make sure the customer knows that you’re thankful for their business before the call ends.

The Bottom Line

Customers want what anyone would want on a phone call: a quick response time, a friendly person who listens closely and sympathizes with their concerns, and a thank you that makes them feel important. A thoughtful approach to phone customer service can help your team achieve all of these goals.