Don’t just deliver fast customer service – be effective

With recent studies suggesting that 21% of customer complaints never receive a response at all, it’s understandable that speedy customer service representatives feel they’re doing a great job. The clock starts ticking as soon as a complaint comes in. But there is such a thing as being too fast. Sometimes it’s worth making the effort to stop and think before pressing ‘send’ on that reply.

While companies hopefully don’t – and should never try to – mess up deliberately, the fact remains that they sometimes get things wrong. And when that happens, they have a great opportunity to have a personal interaction with someone who has shown an interest in their brand. Seriously, this is marketing gold.

An apology and a refund? Not necessarily the best customer service

Take this experience I had last week. I bought a tin of a luxury hot chocolate product, with little chocolate figurines that melt into the drink as you stir it in. Problem was: there were no figurines. I made the drink anyway, and it was pretty uninspiring, considering the most important ingredient was missing. I paid a lot of money for a rather boring tin of hot chocolate mix! So I wrote to the manufacturer to explain what had happened and ask if they could help. I received a reply just ten minutes after the start of the next business day – they weren’t wasting any time. I got an apology, and a refund.

Cool, right? Not really. This was an enormous missed opportunity. I reached out to these guys, expressing an interest in trying their product, having bought it already. Then when the product turned out to be faulty, I was interested enough to follow through with the company. They ‘made it right’ – I’m no longer out of pocket and I suppose that from the company’s point of view, they’ve done the right thing.

But I still, despite all my interest, haven’t tried their product (only a faulty and not very nice version). I now have two choices: I can purchase it again, or I can forget about it. And the sad fact is, I’m not going to purchase it again. Despite the company’s assurances that I was just unlucky and there were no problems with the rest of the batch my purchase came from (assuming that they really did test them at lightning speed before emailing me that morning), I’m hesitant to try my luck again. Apart from anything else, if I end up with another figurine-free tin they’re probably not going to believe me if I complain, right? And my experience of their product so far is that 100% of the time I have tried it, it’s been faulty.

Effective customer service to win over a customer for life

For the cost of a sample sachet (or even a whole tin, if they had really wanted to wow me) plus postage, the hot chocolate company could have given me the opportunity to try the product without taking any further risks. If I’d liked it – and it gets fabulous reviews, I have to say – their customer service would have won over a customer for life. But they just let the opportunity go. Better not tell their marketing team.

Sure, it’s important to send speedy responses to customer queries. It’s a good way to demonstrate that your customers are important to you. In any case, younger generations have grown up with instant everything in many arenas of their lives, so you can’t leave them waiting too long. But don’t mistake fast service for effective service. Effective service does two things: it makes things right for the customer, and it furthers the interests of your business by aiming to retain the customer. And who knows, you might even manage to turn them into a brand ambassador, too.

Customer service: the missing link on e-commerce blogs

How does one tempt new customers and get them to spend money? How can one create a brand image for one’s business? It’s no wonder the most frequent topics in e-commerce blogs are Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Marketing, and Content Marketing. Three topics that every e-commerce entrepreneur wants to live and breathe. The pillars of e-commerce!

But what if we told you there was a missing link, a fourth pillar with even more power and influence over customer acquisition and average basket values. I’ll give you a clue: it’s centered around the people that make your world go round. Customer service, the dark horse of marketing, is a force not to be reckoned with. Marketers put most of their time and money into acquiring new customers through more ‘traditional’ methods, while tending to overlook the importance and potential of retaining and satisfying their existing customers.

Take a look at the numbers: - Customers are 70% more likely to do business with you again if their complaint is resolved

Shockingly, less than 5% of content in the top five e-commerce blogs was about customer service., a well-known player in the e-commerce world, have posted only three articles regarding customer service since December 2012.

If successful sites like aren’t writing about customer service, why am I? All businesses have the same core ways to drive sales: repeat sales, customer acquisition, and a word of mouth.

Zappos is world-famous for its customer service. Here are 3 ways how this is helping them to drive sales:

1. Repeat sales

Humans instinctively resist change, so if a customer is happy with your product or service, they're likely to keep coming back. According to Bain & Company, it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. That means if you’re not putting in the hard yards to keep your existing customers happy, it’s going to cost you to find a replacement.

How do you ensure your customers stay with you? Traditionally, email marketing is how businesses like to do this. Some people (like myself) can find such emails intrusive, and more often than not it’s likely to deter me from purchasing from that business. However, when I like a business, it's a different story. People can like a company due to their marketing, but also because they had an amazing personal experience with customer service.

2. Customer acquisition

Using Adwords or display advertising is a great way to poach first-time customers, but it’s also a costly endeavor. Wouldn’t it be great if customers were directed to your page by these ads, saw how good your products and services are, and then added your URL to their favorites? That’s the best case scenario. They might just remember the name of your website, or something special that caught their eye. What’s important here: give them something to remember you by! So go for great customer service, which will separate yourself from other businesses. Offer something more than just your product. Give your business that human touch that customers love.

3. Word of mouth

This is essentially where it is most important for you to treat your customers well. 67% of people spend money after getting recommendations from their friends on online communities like Facebook and Twitter. We’ve also seen that in the mobile phone market, positive and negative recommendations from person to person canincrease or decrease a company’s market share by 10-20 per cent over a 2 year period.

Although the ‘word of mouth’ effect may seem somewhat out of your control, particularly when an unhappy customer vents on social media, don’t underestimate the value of damage control. As we explained in our previous article, complaints are a great opportunity to turn angry customers into fans. Always respond to complaints no matter what, and be patient and understanding. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! Turning your customers into brand ambassadors by providing them with great customer service can reduce costs and increase conversions. A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%.

So although customer service may seem like that annoying task your business is forced to deal with, take a second look and you’ll realise what an influential marketing tool it can be. The rise of e-commerce has meant increased competition, and a greater need to differentiate your products and/or services. Let your customer service be your star attraction.

How we poodle-proofed Casengo

First things first: we like poodles, as long as their owners don’t resemble them too much. What we don’t like, however, is the Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption (aka POODLE) leak that the guys at Google disclosed last week; a vulnerability in the design of SSL version 3.0 (SSLv3).

How does SSL work? Web servers and web browsers rely on the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol to help users protect their data during transfer. For private communication – like a live chat conversation – a uniquely encrypted channel is used. When you want to connect to a web page that is protected by SSL, the browser will look for the most recent SSL version. Usually, that’s a recent SSL version, which is perfectly safe.

What leak are we talking about? However, if the connection fails, the browser will automatically look for other, older SSL versions to get rocking. The leak we’re talking about is found in a totally ancient version: SSL version 3.0, nearly 18 years old. Thanks to POODLE, hackers can deliberately mess up connections, and if they get access to SSLv3, they can intercept sensitive data from online stores and other websites.

Which steps did we take? Hackers are able to mess up connections so badly that even browsers with a new SSL version – ours and probably yours – will fall back on SSLv3. That’s why we decided to disable this old version and make it unavailable for web browsers.

How does this affect you or your customer service? It most probably won’t affect you at all: most of our users won’t notice a thing, and neither will their online visitors requesting support through live chat. Our developers did some research through Google Analytics; they found out that just 0,88% of people visiting our users’ websites works with an outdated browser. Unless they upgrade their browser, these unhappy few will not be able to have a live chat conversation with you (if, that is, you enforce HTTPS). If you do get a call from a (potential) customer about live chat not working, first check which browser s/he is using. Anyone using Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) – or an even older IE version –is advised to upgrade to the newest version of Internet Explorer (if that’s even possible), or switch to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. So rest assured: this poodle will no longer bite.

How not to fall from grace through social media

Some companies still don’t get it. When you hand over your social media password to an employee, you might as well be giving him or her a full-page ad in the New York Times, or a prime time TV advertising spot. “Here you are, go for it! Just put together whatever you feel like saying about our company whenever you feel like it.” You wouldn’t dream of giving random employees free rein.

But many companies are essentially doing just that when they trust untrained employees with their social media feed. And social media never sleeps. That’s what US-based clothing company Hawke & Co, which bills itself as a ‘lifestyle brand for the modern explorer’, found out this past weekend. Presumably the company’s social media professionals (if they have any) were taking a break when Twitter user @cconti tweeted his dissatisfaction with the company’s customer service. Check out this tweet – and the reply:

Hawke & Co obviously weren’t prepared for what happened next. In a social media storm which erupted within a matter of hours, their company was slammed by the Twitterverse as the exchange went viral. Scores of Twitter users including legendary writers Paulo Coehlo and Neil Gaiman came out in support of @cconti. The full sad saga continued on until late Sunday night when the company issued a public apology.

It’s impossible to know what was going on in the mind of this person tweeting for Hawke & Co, but it seems like s/he was trying to save face. Yet when dealing with customers, you have no face to save. These people are the reason you exist. They pay your wages, and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Make your customer happy again

The correct response to a complaint about your business is not to mock the person who made the complaint. Even if you would speak to your boss like that (and I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t), the discussion is not just about you. You’re the voice of the company. Companies make mistakes, and they’re not – or shouldn’t be – ashamed to admit it. Setting things right after a minor blunder gives you a chance to show off just how great you really are.

What can we learn from this? The most obvious point is that even today, there are still companies out there who are completely unaware of the power of social media. Hawke & Co were clearly clueless when it came to Twitter, apparently believing that a user with few followers has very few people listening in (the company was later revealed to have 19,444 fake followers and only 39 real ones).

Some people might suggest that undergoing social media training is overkill for SMEs with just a few employees. But the Hawke & Co fiasco is testament to the damage that can be wrought through incompetent social media use. It's an SME - with 20 employees in 2012 - suffering from untold damage to its brand.

The whole thing could have been avoided with a relatively small financial investment. Or you could simply try my top tip from my time as an online customer service rep: when you get that feeling that you just have to reply to an annoying message from a customer, right that minute – sit on your hands.

The risk of delivering bad customer service: a fine of over €300,000

Would your business operate differently if you knew you risked an enormous fine for failing to fully resolve customer complaints? Does the thought of having to include a link to consumer protection laws make you a little nervous? Do you even know what the consumer protection laws are for the area in which you do business?

I’m asking because UK mobile provider Three was recently hit with a £250,000 fine by Ofcom, the nation’s communications regulator. The reason? Nothing but poor customer service. Yes: Three was accused of breaching Ofcom’s Code of Practice in the way they handled complaints.

Handle customer complaints in a ‘fair and timely manner’

Ofcom has laid out specific guidelines for how problems between mobile communications providers and their customers should be addressed. The Code also specifies that all paper bills sent to mobile telephony customers must inform them of their right to escalate any disagreements to an independent ombudsman in order to find a resolution.

But the most interesting part of this particular case is that Ofcom is clearly not afraid to use its powers to ensure that its rules are respected. In many countries, consumer protection bodies are toothless tigers who are able to register complaints but can’t – or aren’t willing – to do anything much about them. This leaves wronged consumers out of pocket and law-breaking businesses free to repeat their behaviour with impunity.

In the absence of extremely strict consumer rights laws – and a regulator that isn’t afraid to back them up – it’s inevitable that there will be cowboys out there in the business world. Dodgy businesses will come and go (word gets around faster than ever in these days of online transparency) but their operators aren’t the type to read customer service blogs. You are.

DIY, with Ofcom as your example

So, in fact, the lack of strong laws covering online customer service in most industries is a tremendous opportunity for you. Why? Because you can make your own – get started by basing them on Ofcom’s guidelines if you like – and make sure you follow them to the letter. It’s the good old carrot-and-stick approach, except in this case the stick (the threat of a hefty fine) is completely imaginary. The carrot is the reward of loyal customers, with the added bonus that you’re going to win over far more customers if you apply Ofcom-style guidelines to your company’s customer service.

I’m not suggesting that you include links to the legal recourse your customers have if they’re not happy with the service they receive (apart from anything else, it probably wouldn’t create a very good impression). But you should definitely be very clear about the applicable statutory rights in your jurisdiction, for example distance selling regulations, as well as your own company’s policy if its terms are more generous than required by law.

These things, while apparently simple, are rarely done by SMEs; they’re much more common in bigger businesses. Which is a shame because as a customer, when you know exactly where you stand with a transaction, you’re more likely to take the plunge and decide to part with your hard-earned money.

Up your own customer service game

When communicating with customers, be clear, be efficient, and treat them with respect. Work hard to do that and, even if you occasionally slip up and misfile or forget a customer service email, remember the long game of customer service: you might take a hit on an individual transaction, but are likely to make up for it in the long run – thanks to the goodwill your great service generates.