Customer Service Tips

Today's blog post is all about customer service.  Some consumers might ask "Customer service? What's that?"  In this day and age, it seems like more consumers are complaining about the lack of customer service, and the decline of employee friendliness.  They're constantly fed up because they have to deal with rude employees, which results in loss of customers for that company.  One of World Technology Network's columnists pretty much sums up customer service in a nutshell, "Great customer service died a slow death during the past twenty years.  It died due to neglect, greed, selfishness, and rude behavior."

So how can you avoid this epidemic and be that company that customers keep returning to?  Here are 6 tips that will boost customer loyalty:

1.  It all starts in the hiring process - Your company's customer service will only be as good as the people providing it.  If you're recruiting, failing to notice that your hiree isn't personable and friendly can cost you.  It's important to train your employees to be nice and understanding (this seems like a no-brainer, but if it was, why is customer service so bad nowadays?)  and to teach them how to handle different scenarios.  It's actually a chain of events that can become a disastrous snow-ball effect if not implemented from the top: in order for customers to be treated well, employees must be treated well, so their managers and bosses must treat employees well.  A cutthroat boss or team manager is the easiest way for employees to hate their job and take out their anger on the customers.

2.  Know your customers - Get to know your customers on a personal level.  People like it when others remember their problems or what's going on in their lives.  If you're a large company, get to know your "VIP customers."  This may sound like you're playing favorites, but it's important that you are up to date with your most frequent customers.  Even if you don't have the time to remember all your customers, refresh yourself before you see them (if your company has appointments and such) or have an information database that you can easily pull up when talking to the customer.

3.  Know yourself (and make sure your customers know you too)- Make sure your company is streamlined- everyone has to be on the same wagon and know all the company policies.  Customers don't like to see inconsistencies with their brands; once your company's employees are well informed on rules and what they can and cannot do, relay this information to customers.  Giving customers information will make them more knowledgeable when they make their buying decisions.

4.  Encourage feedback - There's no easier way to see what customers think than to ask them directly.  Create polls on your Facebook page and website, and even have an incentive for replies.  Encourage customers to give you not only positive reviews, but negative feedback - you should always be looking for ways to improve.

5.  Don't just listen - Now that you've gotten all this feedback, respond to it.  Customers like to see that their suggestions are being implemented.  You have to engage with your audience in order to communicate effectively with them.  Not only can you be there for customers by making yourself searchable on social networks and the internet, but replying quickly and directly shows the customer that you care.

6.  Don't sell the product - Sell your company's mission statement.  Let's say I'm a panini sandwich business.  I'm not going to try to convince everyone that a panini will make them happier during lunchtime, but that I vow to give you the best tasting panini ever since I believe lunchtime should be happytime.  Sounds kind of funny, but when you aim at giving your customers what you vowed you would give instead of just shoving your product down their throats, they'll be more likely to come back.  And don't be afraid to admit you're wrong or that you don't know the answer.  State that you don't know and then turn around and fix the problem or find the solution.  Never lie and try to make your product or company something it's not.

What other customer service tips does your company give to your employees.  We want to know!

[photo courtesy: Flickr user: passiveagressivenotes]

Social Media and Dining

Social media has made some major changes to the dining experience.  Going to a restaurant doesn’t just entail eating the food and telling your waitress that the service was good and the food was delicious – casual eaters include social media into every aspect of the dining experience that they can.  They’re blogging/posting/tweeting/instagramming before, during, and after the whole ordeal.  The process is actually really simple – if you’re a restaurant scratching your head about all this social media mumbo jumbo, here’s a quick break down of how people dine nowadays:

Before – Remember the days when we had to rely on food connoisseurs to tell us if a restaurant was worth taking a trip to (if you can’t even remember those days, think of Anton Ego from Disney’s Ratatouille).  Well, the days of flipping through our favorite newspaper for our favorite food critic’s column have passed!  Instead of getting opinions from those with a well know foodie reputation (and those with really developed taste buds), the average consumer flips through Yelp reviews written by other average consumers.  Consumers can also see if how many likes their restaurant in question have gotten on Facebook (it’s really simple math – the more likes, the better the restaurant must be) or look for restaurant hashtags.  It’s restaurants made for the people, reviewed by the people.

During – Don’t give your customers a weird look if they’re taking pictures of their food (and themselves) in between bites.  Pictures make the experience memorable (whether it’s bad or good memories is up to your cooks and servers.)  They’re not only spreading your restaurant name by telling their friends about their experience, but they’re potentially helping people they don’t know make the decision to come to your diner.  Being able to snap pictures and tweet and post during dinner also increases the number of mentions your restaurant gets.  Forgetful customers don’t have to worry about remembering how their experience went the next day – internet and social media is in real-time.

After – People still meditate on their dining experience, but not like how a food critic thoughtfully processes his experience (again, think of Anton Ego’s deep meditation scene near the end of Ratatouille).  There are A LOT of blogs out there dedicated to food, restaurants, and dining.  Food bloggers give others a detailed post about their restaurant experience and encourage others to try it out (and of course, if their experience was good, they’ll come back too!)

Why Social Media Doesn’t Work

Courtesy of Flickr: Sybren A. Stüvel

We think social media is great. A lot of other people do too. So far we’ve been focused on helping those who are interested in putting effort into social media for their brand. So what about the people who are against (and I mean fiercely against) using social media for their business? We think there are 3 different camps with 3 different views on why social media isn’t working for their company. If you identify yourself as any one of these, keep reading! You never know when you’ll find a new piece of information!

The Haters

These people are really against social media.  They swear they’ll never use it, and grumble and mumble when other people talk about it.  Why does my business need social media – we’re doing perfectly fine with our traditional methods of advertising and managing.  Why should I post about the latest company happenings?  Why would consumers want to follow me anyways?

No offense, but they sound like my grandma.  Stuck in the past, not up-to-date with technology.  Times have changed, and people (especially business people) need to realize that social media has become the new mode of communication.

But they would be surprised to see how many potential relationships they’re letting fly by.  Did you know there are many users on social media that are all potential customers? (check out this cool infographic with all the stats)  Traditional methods of reaching out to the consumer isn’t enough – social media is in real-time, and it’s important nowadays to get information to your customers (who are using online media to research who they’ll buy products from) and to do so quickly, time-efficiently, and effectively.

The Fence-Sitters

This group of people has a love-hate relationship with social media.  These businesses use social media for their brands, but don’t really believe that it can do any magic.  They might be using Facebook and Twitter for their brands because everyone else is, but deep down inside, they don’t believe social media efforts are that important (or at least one of the most important factors to communicating with customers.)  So they put limitations on their social media management employees.  You can only do this much with social media.  Interacting with customers is for business-only purposes.

Really?  Do these businesses really want to set these rigid rules?  What will their customers think of them?

No consumer wants to see a business that “is only a business.”  We’ve said this a thousand times, but customers want to see that businesses have feelings too.  Social media is a great way for brands to show their fun side, and inform their followers.  It’s taking more than smarts for businesses to succeed nowadays – creativity and uniqueness are really important to catch the consumers’ eyes.

The Over-enthusiasts

We hear it all the time.  I devote myself to social media – I’m on all the platforms, I update my followers often.  I’ve got a great social media management tool…and I sat and waited…and nothing happened.

Well, what’d you expect?  Social media isn’t some fairy dust you sprinkle over your business and you become popular the next day!  It’s a lot more work than that!

The problem is two-fold.  Did you actually engage with customers, or did you just establish your presence on the social media networks?  If you did attempt to communicate with customers, are you posting and creating interesting content?  Most businesses get stumped at this step – they throw information at consumers and expect an increase in followers.  A lot of companies have big social media teams to make sure their brands get it right.  But you don’t need a huge team to be successful; take a look at our previous post to get some easy, helpful tips on how to garner more publicity.

For those of you that read this article and are ready to dismiss it…DON’T.  Take a stab at social media today and keep trying – the web holds a wealth of information that you cannot afford to miss out on.

Interview: Why Isn’t Social Media Taught in Business 101?

We had a chance this week to pull aside one of our interns and ask her a few questions about the internet and social media, and to get a fresh outlook on online networking for businesses.  We were surprised to hear some of Stephanie’s answers:

Social Defender: Thanks for taking some of your time for this interview.

Stephanie: No problem, it’s been a fun experience as well as a learning one so far, and I’m glad I get the chance to share about it.

SD: First question, you’re a young, college kid – how does social media play a part in your and your peers’ lives?

S: It’s SO important for us!  Everyone’s on Facebook and Twitter on campus – we wake up, check our Facebook, we get back from class and send out a tweet (some of us are even on social media in class!), and before we go to sleep, we have to get our friends’ updates.  It’s pretty bad actually.  I know a lot of college kids who have to deactivate their accounts or ask a friend to change their password for a while so they can study.

SD: So you would say social media is an important mode of communication for your age group?

S: Yes, definitely.

SD: Then what about businesses?  Do they need social media to communicate?

S: Of course – businesses are made up of people too, so it makes sense that they engage with their customers through online media.

SD: Tell us about the topic of social media in your classes…you’re a business major, right?  Social media had to have come up in your business classes, correct?

S:  Yes, I am a business major, but social media never came up in any of my “business 101” courses.  I don’t know if professors don’t think social media can’t play a part in the business-sphere, but even at my university, which I hate to brag but is one of the top universities in the US, professors barely mentioned online networking.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t taken upper division classes since I’m still an underclassmen, but social media is so important, it should at least be mentioned in the intro courses!

SD:  You’re our marketing intern here at Social Defender.  Tell us about your first experience when you started working with our company.

S: Well, I knew about the marketing aspects of my job, but I had no idea that businesses use social media!  Before this job, when I imagined social media, I thought of it as Farmville (which was really popular when I first got Facebook) and as a way to connect with your friends who went to different colleges.  I am honestly really grateful that I’m learning all of this – now I can throw around terms such as SEO and social media ROI and sound really smart in class (laughs).

SD: So you think that this is a problem, that your peers aren’t as updated on the latest business tactics as you are?

S: Of course I am – college kids are the next entrepreneurs.  I’m glad I have the experience and upper hand now, but kids should take the information they learn in college and apply it to their jobs once they enter the job market – that’s what an education is for!  So if graduates don’t have this background or don’t figure it out by the time they enter the job market, they’ll be at a big disadvantage in our competitive world.

SD:  Thanks so much for your input, Stephanie.  And thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

S: No problem, my pleasure.

And there you have it.  Why aren’t colleges (and even high schools!) teaching kids about social media?  We think social media is more than a fad – it makes sense that communication follows our innovations and new technology.  Businesses thrive on communication – so why aren’t our future entrepreneurs learning about the newest, most effective way to engage with customers?

Tell us what you think – should schools teach social media management?  We’d love to hear your feedback!