|Ensuring Unflinching Quality in Social, eMail and Mobile Correspondence.|
By Scott Hornstein
Friday, 25th May 2012
Arguably, the person with the most influence over the customer relationship has a customer service title and focuses on customer interaction. In most companies, these customer-facing personnel are the least experienced, least paid and have the least corporate clout.
Certainly we can discuss the lunacy of this construct, but I think we first need triage with the written word. There seems to be a perfect storm when it comes to written correspondence, as in social media, email, chat and mobile. Need, experience and ability are crashing together and making a mess. I have been surveying the email habits of corporations since 2001 and I have seen boatloads of responses to common questions.
The good intentions of the customer service reps are thwarted by spelling, grammar, and tone. Here’s an example of an email I received from customer service when I inquired about their return policy.
Thank you for contacting (Company) Support Staff.
Here is a respond to your email.
How ever if the product is purchase through us we do Have 7 days return policy Customer satisfaction guarantee.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide assistance.
And, moving into social, here’s a post from a manufacturer to a customer’s question:
Hey can anyone tell me if you can search through the website for anything? I get so far and there is nothing further to open. Just wondering if it is me or just the website? (Name)
HI (NAME). WE DO NOT SHOW PRODUCT ON THE SITE.
Is this what your company is sending out? Is this what is being posted, and in all caps? How do you know? It’s time to get a rope around this issue, and ensure unflinching quality.
We need three strategies:
1. We must answer the customer’s question
Which is a lot more than just sending a response assuring them that they are important and we’ll get to them as soon as we can. It means establishing a corporate policy on how long it should take to get the answer to the customer and sticking to it. It also means that the reps have to be trained and have the proper tools. There must be oversight to make sure that the answer given is correct. More on these tactics in a moment
2. The communication must be consistent with brand
There are a few mandatory elements here. The name of the company has to be prominent. It blows me away how many times I have to look at return email addresses to figure out whom it’s from and if I should open it. The tone must be appropriate, which takes care, as meaning can be misconstrued if the words and construction are haphazard. Communications must conform to spelling and grammatical standards.
3. The communication must nurture the relationship
We must be cognizant that the act of communicating with the customer is a gift. Something occurred that propelled them to this interaction. We get to listen and resolve, and learn. Base level, we should resurrect politeness – please and thank you (which one never gets tired of hearing), and please consider whether you have earned the right to call someone by their first name. Thank you.
Past that, can we go the extra mile, offer insightful information, give one more grain of value? We want to leave a halo whenever possible.
To implement these three strategies we must provide our customer-facing personnel with three tactics:
Training should be considered an ongoing process. Yes, new hires need to learn the ropes, learn the software, find the restroom. Business, product and service issues are complex. Teach them over time. Discuss what’s being learned and how to apply it.
Training is both group and individual. On the one-to-one level, it becomes coaching, and is the perfect forum for fueling personal achievement.
I’d suggest three:
- A menu of preapproved messages and phrases
- An online source of information, with a strong query tool
- Immediate escalation – If the rep can’t find the answer or it’s beyond their span of control, who can they go? We’re looking to solve the problem now, not later.
This is where we define quality, and impose measurement and reward (nothing happens for long without measurement and reward). This is the most important step.
A quality process that involves sampling the written exchange and grading the communication per quantitative and qualitative criteria. For instance, there might be 10 criteria, each worth 10 points. Some criteria would be mandatory, such as the logical use of the company name. Some might be discretionary, such as tone. At the end of the day you have measurement and the fuel for continuous improvement. You also have quality assurance.
My friend Kenny shared a great quote with me, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”. Rings true.
Scott Hornstein is an author, lecturer and consultant, with over 30 years experience in all phases of marketing, research and implementation. He is president of the consultancy Hornstein Associates. His latest book, Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing, was just published by McGraw-Hill. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.938.8715.