In an age of Twitter, smartphones, and self-service kiosks, high-tech but still high-touch customer service is the answer.
Today’s customers are a hard bunch to crack. Time-strapped, screen-addicted, value-savvy, and socially engaged, their expectations are tougher than ever for a business to keep up with. They are empowered like never before and expect businesses to respect that sense of empowerment—lashing out at those that don’t.
Take heart: Old-fashioned customer service, fully retooled for today’s blistering pace and digitally connected reality, is what you need to build the kind loyal customer base that allows you to survive—and thrive. And High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service spells out surefire strategies for success in a clear, entertaining, and practical way. Discover:
• Six major customer trends and what they mean for your business
• Eight unbreakable rules for social media customer service
• How to effectively address online complainers and saboteurs on Yelp, Twitter, TripAdvisor, and other forums for user generated content
• The rising power of self-service—and how to design it properly
• How to build a company culture that breeds stellar customer service
High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service reveals inside secrets of wildly successful customer service initiatives, from Internet startups to venerable brands, and shows how companies of every stripe can turn casual customers into fervent supporters who will spread the word far and wide—online and off.
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high-tech, high-touch customer serviceInspire Timeless Loyalty in the Demanding New World of Social Commerce
By Micah Solomon
AMACOMCopyright © 2012 Micah Solomon
All right reserved.
Chapter Onetoday's changed customer
making lovemaking difficult
customer service is like making love. I know that sounds farfetched, but bear with me here: It takes only a minute—or two—to get the general concept, but you can gainfully invest a lifetime in mastering the details. (And you'll never get the full picture if you only practice when you're by yourself.)
Mastering the fine points of customer service is a never-ending challenge in part because customer expectations and desires change all the time. In fact, they're different now from the last time you spoke with your customer—in this case, a frequent customer of yours I'll call Lorena Willis.
A bit after 10:30 on a wintry morning, one of your contact center operators answers an incoming from Lorena. Thanks to your processes, techniques, and support software, your operator, Pam Chang, has good historical data on Lorena, including what she bought from you last year (a built-in microwave and a set of professional ceramic knives) and general preferences, such as her preferred mode of shipping.
But there's a hitch: You actually don't know Lorena Willis anymore. Like all of us, she's changed. She's changed since the recession. Since the internet became what seems like a 25/8 proposition. Since the explosion in popularity of mobile devices.
In what ways has Lorena likely changed? Let's take a tour through the dominant themes emerging in the marketplace—keeping our eyes trained on those that illuminate the ways your customer service may need updating.
the most crucial customer "trends" today are individual changes
Before I become a master of all generalizations, I'm going to concede something rarely admitted in a trendspotting chapter like this one: The most important factors that have changed about Lorena, or any customer, are individual changes. Is she richer? Poorer? Recently single or newly married? Does she have a new pet or is she grieving for one that has died? No matter how big you grow, or want to grow, as a company, individual customers buy from you, not assemblages of customers, not slices of a market. Learning to treat individual customers as individuals, honoring individual preferences unique to that customer, is a key to business success. But being aware of underlying trends in the marketplace is also essential for the success of any business that relies on significant numbers of transactions and on forward-looking planning.
customer trend #1: customers expect anticipatory technological behavior and aggregated information—instantly
My battery died recently on my aging Volvo, and with it I lost the stations that had been preset into my car radio. Afterwards, driving around manually selecting the stations I generally listen to (more or less just one station), I found myself irritated to have to dig up the long-forgotten instructions on how to set a radio station into memory. After a few days, I found myself thinking, "Doesn't my car know I want this station as a preset? I mean, I listen to it every day—the Volvo should be inviting me to add it to a 'favorites list' or some such."
But my car was manufactured in 2004, and, of course, cars didn't "think" that way in 2004. And neither did consumers. Believe me, customers think that way now: They expect devices—and companies—to, in effect, say, "Mr. Solomon, I note that you've been listening quite a bit to your local NPR station. Care to have me memorize it for you so you'll not have to fumble for it while you're negotiating a difficult turn?"
Customers now expect personalized, anticipatory technological behavior and aggregated information—instantly. To get a sense of how profoundly customer expectations have changed, look around. With the advent of mobile computing, a traveler can get the answers on her iDroidPhoneBerry® that the concierge or bellman or neighborhood know-it-all used to parcel out at his own rate and with varying amounts of reliability: What's a good Italian restaurant within walking distance? What subway line do I take to Dupont Circle, and which exit is best from the station? My plane just landed—in this country, do I shake hands when I meet someone of the opposite gender?
While this bears some resemblance to the model in place only a few years ago—settling into a hotel room, pulling out a laptop, fumbling around for an Ethernet cable, trying to figure out how to log on to the hotel's network—there are real differences. Specifically, the better consolidation of information. Surfing the net—going out on a net-spedition to look for stuff seems like too much work and too big a time investment for today's customers. Today, customers expect technology to bring an experience that is easier, more instantaneous, and more intuitive. Customers want to type or thumb a few keystrokes and have the information they need served up for them concierge-style based on their IP address or satellite location and other useful clues. Consider Hipmunk—which lists travel options along with warnings about long layovers and other agonies, and shows hotels with precise proximity to your actual destination. And GogoBot, where your own Facebook/ Twitter pals have already rated potential trips for you. And of course TripAdvisor, with its user-generated ratings of nearly everything in the world of travel.
A study by Accenture showed a manifestation of this trend: Customers in a retail situation often prefer to look to a smartphone for answers to simple product questions rather than working with a human clerk. The smartphone answers just seem to be faster and more accurate and sometimes, sad to say, come with a little less attitude. (We'll work on this attitude part when we get to building your culture and to hiring.)
Of course, the timeline of customer expectations in general has sped up radically. In addition to mobile computing and improved connectivity, Amazon.com is one of the key factors in this—making the level of what's in stock and available overnight absolutely unprecedented. Within minutes of placing your order, it's likely being slapped with a shipping label at one of the Amazon.com-owned or UPS-Amazon .com-partnered warehouses in one of many strategically located places in the country. (And overnight fulfillment, of course, is only the beginning. YouSendIt, for example, a rapidly growing service that allows you to send enormous files nearly instantly, sticks it to the FedExes of the world with its slogan: "Overnight? Are you kidding?")
customer trend #2: shame shift and values-based buying
"Shame shift" is a term I learned from Jay Coldren, Marriott International's vice president of lifestyle brands. It's a trend that's become a significant part of today's consumer psyche.
Before the economic downturn, the pride of being able to consume in a conspicuous manner—sitting in front of a many-inch flat screen, taking the family on a summer vacation to a center of tropical opulence—was considered appropriate and enjoyable by economically comfortable customers.
Now this same behavior may be seen as crass, even rude. The attitude has shifted from pride in showing off how much we can afford to shyness about consuming too conspicuously. But—and as Pee Wee Herman would've said, it's a "big but"—there's a huge exception.
"What we're seeing now is consumption being excused by 'attached meaning,' " as Jay puts it.
What is "attached meaning"? Think of the people you know who willingly pay five bucks for a cup of coffee, provided the coffeeshop gives part of that fiver to help the rainforest. This phenomenon is significant. A study of consumer habits confirms that shoppers are becoming "more deliberate and purposeful" in their purchasing decisions. "Conspicuous consumption has given way to more conscious or practical consumerism" and "rampant deal-seeking is being replaced by more purchase selectivity."
Another study shows that 87 percent of consumers in the United States believe that companies should value the interests of society at least as much as strict business interests. Customers are demanding more alignment of company values with their own, and this customer sentiment is being expressed in buying choices. John Gerzema, chief insights officer at Young & Rubicam, told Inc. magazine editor at large Leigh Buchanan that, according to his vast database of consumer attitudes, 71 percent of people agree with the statement, "I make it a point to buy brands from companies whose values are similar to my own."
customer trend # 3: timelessness over trendiness
One of the notable characteristics people seek in their purchases today is "timelessness"—a desire that has emerged from the recession at full tilt.
"When you consider layoffs, downsizing, delayed raises, and reduced hours, more than half of all American workers have suffered losses," Young & Rubicam's Gerzema notes. "This very real pain has driven us to reconsider our definition of the good life. People are finding happiness in old-fashioned virtues."
Examples are everywhere: Urban and suburban women flouting zoning regulations to raise their own hens in their side yards; the practice of "cow-pooling" (where several families join forces to share in the purchase of a cow); or the surge in popularity of Hunter boots, the boots that the Queen of England wears when she walks her corgis: This footwear classic combines authentic story and excellent product and, as a result, has caught fire. Customers are looking for old standbys that can become hip again. A backstory—history—has become important to the consumer. "People are looking for things that are authentic," says interior designer and web phenomenon Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan (apartmenttherapy.com). The drive for authenticity, according to Gillingham-Ryan, "will resonate with people as long as we live in these times."
But we are living in these times, so don't be fooled into thinking your customers will accept timelessness without timeliness. They want the twenty-first-century version of timelessness—on a timetable that matches the impatient standards of the digital generation. Inconvenienced in any way, they'll usually lose interest. For example, Restoration Hardware is perfectly positioned for the timelessness trend—but it still needs to have an iPad app and be able to deliver overnight to the farthest reaches of its customer base. A Twinings Tea slogan nails the ideal, uh, blend we're looking for here: "Your 15-minute break, 300 years in the making."
customer trend #4: customer empowerment
Customers feel newly empowered in their relationships with companies. They're expecting businesses to respect that sense of empowerment—and they lash out at those that don't. They expect that your company will make itself easy to contact and will respond to customer comments at a high and thoughtful level. Which I suggest you do. Because feedback will be offered, whether you welcome it or not. It used to be that a peeved customer might drop by your shop and give the manager an earful. Or go through an extended search to figure out the correct address for an executive high enough to make a difference, and then sit down and write an angry letter. Later, the internet brought an increased sense of empowerment, with online comment forms and the ability to send instantaneous complaint emails.
Today, those methods are looking slow and outdated. Technology has created faster, more viral ways for consumers to make their annoyance felt. Exhibit "A" here, of course, is Twitter: Anyone who has enough people reading his tweets can get a company's attention in a hurry with a cleverly or powerfully worded complaint, either within Twitter's 140 characters or via a shared link directing followers to a longer post elsewhere on the web. Not only that, but the people who see it may resend it to their own Twitter followers (retweet it). Before long, one person's complaint will reach enough people and elicit enough similar responses to make the company wake up and pay attention to the message of the original complainer.
Customers understand that this is empowerment at the speed of light. And they expect you to understand it too, to incorporate the empowerment expectations of customers into your problem-resolution process. In other words, understand that the playing field has flattened—or prepare to be flattened yourself. (Much more on this when we get to social media, in Chapters 11, 12, and 13.)
customer trend #5: the greening of the customer
While the strength of the green trend will ebb and flow with time and varies in strength from customer to customer, it's a clear underlying sentiment among much of today's buying populace. And the younger the customer, the more "hooked on green"—so there's no reason to think this trend will abate as the buying power of younger consumers increases. In interacting with your customers, it's always wise to operate from the assumption that they'll have concerns relating to the environmental impact of your operation and their purchase. Those unconcerned with the environment will rarely be offended if you take environmental precautions, but those who are environmentally concerned will be upset by, for example, your business's excessive packaging, whether or not they do the favor of letting you know of their disappointment.
Awareness of environmental sensitivity should become part of the day-to-day thinking you put into customer service interactions. For instance, perhaps a particular customer who purchased a large item from you that arrived in less than perfect shape would prefer a discount rather than having a pickup and rerun of the order—because of his concern about the carbon impact of the return shipping. Or maybe your offer to throw in an additional, but not entirely needed, product as compensation for a delay will only grate rather than be appreciated.
customer trend #6: the desire for self-service
Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust. There are various factors driving the self-service trend: our round-the-clock lifestyle, a buying populace that is increasingly tech savvy, even in some cases the higher comfort level of socially anxious customers when doing business with machines rather than face to face or even on the phone. (The rules of doing self-service correctly are explored in depth in Chapter 8. Disregard them at your own peril.)
* * *
Yeow. How can you keep your knowledge up to date to meet the changing needs of your customer? Especially when every business's customers are different from every other business's—and the best a chapter like this can do for you is to paint things in broad strokes?
The answer: ask. Once you've built true customer intimacy, as we'll spend much of this book together doing, you'll have the ultimate foothold into the future. Truly loyal customers earnestly want to share with you how their needs and wishes are changing. And how they want you to change with—and for—them.
Now, I don't mean "ask" as a pat answer. Keeping tabs on and understanding your customers is difficult, exhausting, literally endless, and often confusing. Think of the man in the New Yorker cartoon telling his companion while scanning the wine list, "I want Chardonnay, but I like saying 'Pinot Grigio.' " If customers willingly will buy what they don't "want" (and believe me, they do it all the time) due to some psychological drive—to impress, to try something new, for nostalgia, or even to roll particular French words like "Pinot Grigio" around on their tongues—how can you ever know on any kind of immutable basis what they really are seeking from you?
You can't really: There's no "set and forget" in customer intimacy, and that's a humbling thought. But it's also the basis of how you win the customer service game—by always asking. Always valuing empathy. Never trusting that your assessments from yesterday are sufficient for today. So, you'll have a couple of restless, even sleepless, nights keeping up. Do it well enough and your future restless nights can be in Bali, or Fenway Park ... or wherever you choose.
Excerpted from high-tech, high-touch customer service by Micah Solomon Copyright © 2012 by Micah Solomon. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Forearmed Is Forewarmed 2
A Light Touch at Just the Right Time 3
Saying Your Business Is ‘‘On the internet’’ Is Like Saying It’s ‘‘On the Power Grid’’ 4
All You Need to Know in a Rhyming Nutshell 5
Homeward Bound 6
Where Tech Makes Loyalty Easier 7
How This Book Is Organized 8
Timeliness and Timelessness 9
Today’s Changed Customer: Making Lovemaking
The Most Crucial Customer ‘‘Trends’’ Today Are Individual
Customer Trend 1: Customers Expect Anticipatory
Technological Behavior and Aggregated
Customer Trend 2: Shame Shift and Values-Based
Customer Trend 3: Timelessness over Trendiness 15
Customer Trend 4: Customer Empowerment 16
Customer Trend 5: The Greening of the Customer 17
Customer Trend 6: The Desire for Self-Service 18
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 19
The Customer Remains the Same: Everything That
Isn’t New Under the Sun 21
Providing Value: As Easy as 1, 2 . . . 4 22
A Perfect Product or Service 22
Delivered in a Caring, Friendly Manner 23
In a Timely Fashion 25
. . . Backed Up by an Effective Problem-Resolution
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 30
Timeless Customer Service Done Right—and
Wrong: Mastery Versus Catastrophe 32
The Masterful Company 32
A Cameo of Catastrophe: Timeless Service Done Tragically
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 45
High-Tech, High-Touch Anticipatory
Customer Service 47
A Google of Apples a Day: The Art of Anticipation in the Modern World of Customer Service 49
The Apple Store Experience 50
From Cradle to Credit Card 53
A Tale of Two Installs 53
Bringing It All Back Home 57
‘‘Attaching’’ Yourself to Customers: Gmail and More 58
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 61
Anticipatory Customer Service: Your Culture 63
The Curse of the Short-Term Focus 64
Consciously Building a Company Culture: Why Bother? 66
You Can’t Out-Pixar Pixar—But Here’s What You Can
Cultural Friends with Benefits 70
Cultural Fit, Oddballs, and When Not to Hire 71
Positive Peer Pressure: The Double Significance of Every
Hiring Decision 72
Vendors: Partners, Not Poison 74
Spelling Out How You Treat Customers, Vendors, and
How to Get Started Building Your Core 76
The Best Time to Start? Now. 77
Buy-in or Highwayin’ 79
Your Core Values Are Just the Start—But They Are a
Culture Meets the Larger World 81
How This Plays Out in a Pinch: Southwest’s Culture Saves a
Service Dog 82
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 83
Anticipatory Customer Service: Your People 86
A Wet Dog at Petco 88
Supernatural Selection 89
Trial by Hire 90
‘‘Fit’’ and Its Pitfalls 91
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 93
Sangria, Sippy Cups, and Jesse Ventura: Autonomy
Versus Standards 95
Patting Down Jesse Ventura 96
The Case for Autonomy in Customer Service Work 98
The Need for Standards 101
Standards and Autonomy: The Hybrid Path 102
Pour Lion and PEPI 105
Conveying Standards—And Maintaining Autonomy 106
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 107
The Rise of Self-Service and Social
Media—And Other Seismic Shifts 109
The Rise of Self-Service: A Boon to Your
Customers—But Only If You Do It Right 111
Awarding Myself the Mobile Prize 111
Principles of Successful Self-Service 115
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 119
Technological Change and Disabled Customers: A
True Opportunity, If You Avoid the Missteps 121
There’s More to Ramping Up than Putting Ramps Up: A
Variety of Issues and Solutions 121
Wynn Some 125
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 126
Shoulder Your Customer’s Burden (and Make Sure
You’re Not Adding to It!) 127
Stupid Stuff 127
Stupid Is as . . . I Forget 128
Get to Them First 132
Where Are the Opportunities to Get to Them First? 133
Permission to Anticipate 136
The Specific Medium Is the Message—And Its Only Chance of Getting Through 139
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 140
Anti-Social Media: Fears and Hazards of the New
Bicycle Pumps and Veterinarians 142
Regime Change in 140 Characters 143
Ouch: The First Time They Talk About You 143
Nobody Uses Twitter to Tell a Friend His Fly’s Undone 144
Social Media Is Not a Disease 146
A Story That Almost Became a Viral Tweet 146
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 148
Social Service: Principles for Social Media Customer
Principle 1: Avoid the Fiasco Formula: A Digital Stitch in
Time Saves Nine (Million) 150
Principle 2: Lie Back and Think of England: Digital
Arguments with Customers Are an Exponentially Losing
Principle 3: Turn Twankers into Thankers: Reach Out
Directly to Online Complainers 151
Principle 4: Consider Getting a Complainer on the
Telephone (with Permission)—Even if the Relationship
Started in Social Media Land 154
Principle 5: Get Happy Outcomes into the Public
Principle 6: Use Social Media and Personal Email to Make
Your Customers Feel Important 155
Principle 7: Monitor 156
Principle 8: If Your Social Media Responses Are Inferior to—Or Not Integrated with—Your Other Channels,
They’re Hurting Your Brand 157
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 158
Listening: Your Ears Are Your Most Important
Only One Perspective That Matters 160
Sanctuary Much: The S.M.A.R.T. Approach to the Human
Force Field 162
Using Electronic Systems to Enhance Your Listening 165
It’s All About Listening—And It Starts by Opening Yourself to Hearing 169
The Maytag Repairman Lets You Slap Him in the
Break It to Ourselves More Gently 172
Surveying the Landscape 173
‘‘And Your Point Is?’’ 175
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Why are there so few companies that are exemplars of customer service? One would think many could follow the golden rule and impress their customers but instead as customers we are poorly treated daily. Author Micah Solomon unlocks the mystery to providing exceptional customer service. High Tech, High Touch is a clearly written guide that will enable business owners and managers to transform their organization's customer service and in so doing distinguish themselves from the competition. Mr. Solomon's discussion of consumer behavior trends is a must read; and then each reader should plan strategically how these trends affect one's own business. Many businesses aspire to exceed customers expectations in their mission statements, but they need to read this book's sections on anticipatory customer service to achieve that goal. Mr. Solomon is a thorough observer of companies' social media successes and failures. We can all learn a lot from his spot-on observations and directions.
There are probably dozens of books on customer service, but of the ones I've looked at, Solomon's is the only one I have ever come across that wasn't like "smile," "have a good attitude..." Instead, High Tech High Touch Customer Service explains to managers, executives, and the frontline what is involved in providing true service, service that is memorable enough that it makes a difference in a business's bottom line: -How to hire appropriately -How to use social media without getting overwhelmed - How to build a true service culture that will lead to sustainable business success -How to deploy technology and build processes that will, in many cases, do this work for you. Solomon also covers some subjects that are utterly and completely ignored in other books I've seen on the subject: -- how to serve customers with disabilities (physical, visual, hearing, etc.) -- the incredible importance of self service, and how to design it right. He even includes his email address and mobile phone (!) in case you have followup questions.
Remember the friendly neighborhood stores you went to when you were growing up? Regardless of how modernized today’s trip to the store has become, patrons still want to feel just as valued as you did then. Entrepreneur and author Micah Solomon tells you how to transform today’s tech-savvy customers into loyal, supportive patrons. He provides business and personal anecdotes about consumer trends and the latest techniques for extending exemplary customer service. Despite being slightly repetitive, he does a sound job of showing you how to keep web critics from hurting your business. He also explains how to hire the best employees to create a growth-oriented, tech-supportive culture. getAbstract recommends Solomon’s easy-to-use suggestions to anyone with customers.