Monday, June 10, 2013

I'm... Listening (A Work-Related Post)

So, first... go check your business' "Contact Us" digital "Contact Us" mechanism - probably a form or an email address. I'll wait.

If you don't have a digital "Contact Us" mechanism, go ahead and stop reading now, this post isn't for you. You're welcome to come back when you've got one. (Or, as a shortcut, here's what yours should be.)

But first.... a story. We had a plumbing leak recently. We called American Home Shield. They assigned a local plumbing company who sent out a guy. Long story short, the leak was minor, diagnosed quickly, fixed quickly, the plumber they sent was a really nice guy. Sometimes you get people out on an American Home Shield call that are disgruntled that they're getting the AHS-negotiated rate and not their normal rate, or the assumption that you're stupid or something. But this guy was solid.

I went to the plumbing company's website, they had a form you could fill out. I complimented the plumber and said I'd keep that company in mind for future non-AHS plumbing and ac-work. Never. heard. back.

I also went to the American Home Shield website and used their Contact Us form to compliment the vendor and plumber. They had a sort of general thank you form message back to me in less than a day.


Not good enough.

I've always said that in business, there are two truths: It's always marketing and we're always in the Customer Service business.

First off, the question is framed all wrong. "Contact Us" isn't enough. Anyone can throw up a form. Barf up a place for an email address and some comments. You can even pretty it up with choices that align with internal business like "I am a:" or "This is regarding:"

But at the end of the day, you want to do four things:

(1) Make it easy. It might be more work for you on the processing side, but simplify your form.

(2) Frame the conversation. Your choices should be along the lines of "You (or an employee) did something great and I want to acknowledge it." or "Something didn't go as expected and I'd like to make note of it and possibly discuss it further." Why these choices? You set expectations for your customer and for your staff. You are expecting good results, you are expecting satisfied customers, you are expecting them to be so thrilled they can't wait to let you know. But, when it wrong (because you can't please everyone), you want it to appear as if this is out of the ordinary and whatever they're complaining about isn't super-bad, but that you're ready to help them with it. Sure, this is pre-emptive spin, but you will take off the edge with that approach.

(3) Share the responses. Share them with the entire company. Share individual stories of excellence with everyone, share trends of areas of improvement with everyone and privately, address the actual problems and address them quickly.

(4) Be prepared to respond, and respond quickly. If it's acknowledging the good or following up on the not-so-good, you need to be ready to respond quickly. These are your brand advocates, your loyal customers, those that will tell others about the experience, good or bad. And if you can quickly address even the bad, you can turn most of those around to good and they will tell others about how you worked to make things right. If you have a company, you cannot skimp here. These are your front line, your white gloved concierges, the ones who will make or break you. Make sure they're trained, equipped and ready to respond quickly, be it by phone or email.

Ok, look at your digital "Contact Us" mechanism again. Is it a dead and lifeless storage closet where customer feedback goes to die, or is it the place where you go to celebrate success, learn trends and find new business ideas?

Be honest.
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