When times are tough — and tough they are — it’s essential that expansion stage SaaS technology companies have a solid team of customer service specialists. These specialists need to work with customers in a timely and helpful manner and also communicate any major issues to management and product development teams to repair leaks before the ship sinks. They’re ground-level, so they can potentially be your eyes and ears into your customer base.
If a good portion of your businesses revenue comes from renewals, ensuring that your customers are satisfied with your products and services is very important. Even if you’re not reliant on renewals, you want to keep your company’s face out of the muck and, well, away from Bank of America territory.
So how good is your company’s customer service team? Let’s find out, and then discover some great ways to improve even the best troops.
Rating Your Customer Service
Assess your customer service team—give them thorough performance reviews, use tactics such as becoming an undercover boss to spend time with them and monitor their daily processes (without becoming an imposing force, however).
Don’t forget your customer service manager. Without an effective manager with empathy, consistency and patience, you cannot expect your customer service team to function properly. For more information on effective customer service management, check out V. Kumar’s Managing Customers for Profit: Strategies to Increase Profits and Build Loyalty.
When you’re examining your customer service team, here are some preliminary measurables to look for:
- Company Knowledge: In order to interact with your company’s customers, your customer service team needs to know your company. The lack of knowledge cannot be entirely blamed on the specialist — it’s your responsibility to establish a thorough, knowledgeable and meaningful hiring and training process so your CS group is behind you all the way.
- Personal Skills: Your CS team must have excellent phone etiquette, interpersonal communication skills, customer relationship skills, and a firm grasp on the call-center technology you may be implementing.
- Quality and Achievement: Your employees should be recognized and rewarded on a regular basis. Not only does this fuel job satisfaction, it personifies your company as a caring one. If you’re not acknowledging your employees in this manner, get on it now. Once you have these measurement standards in place, look at who is reaping the rewards and who isn’t and figure out what the cause may be.
- Attitude: Customer service needs to always be professional and friendly—there’s no room for gloomy hungover employees who can’t broadcast a positive company image.
- Attendance: Much like the point above, attendance is key to determining your employees’ job satisfaction. Frequent absences drags down productivity and employee morale. Assessing one’s attendance is another great way to weed out bad apples.
- Compliance: You have policies and procedures – your employees should follow them with rarely a question.
No matter how your customer service specialists rate, there is always room for improvement. Let’s explore ways to make a great team better.
Improving Your Customer Service
Inc.com has a thorough article about how to improve your customer service. One of the great takeaways from this piece is the use of new technology to give your customers a voice, which we shall explore. Here’s a closer look at Inc.com’s findings:
Cater to Your Clientele
Move away from automated response systems, if possible. Your customers will want a human voice to interact with. If you cannot let go of your automated systems entirely, make the “speak to a representative” option apparent and easily accessible. Trudging through endless phone menus can be frustrating.
It’s also suggested to divvy your clients into categories depending on the amount of money they spend. While this option won’t be applicable to all businesses, it has shown positive effects on other industries, such as airlines with frequent-flier programs and exclusive membership benefits.
Leverage the Power of the Internet
Usually the first place your customers look for assistance is your website, even if they’re just hunting for a phone number. Make sure your website is visually appealing and personable — add employee bios and links to Twitter feeds, if you can. Twitter has announced the forthcoming Twitter Business Center, an offshoot of the micro-blogging site that allows businesses to interact with customers without the necessity of “following.”
Using social media can also be a huge benefit to your customer interactions by “giving everyone a voice.” In fact, social media for businesses is so huge, you might consider hiring a social media manager to keep track of the plethora of sites that keep popping up on the web. Facebook and Twitter should be considered “listening posts,” but be careful: opinions expressed on these sites should not be considered a reflection of the majority.
Don’t forget user-generated review sites like Yelp. Yelp is enormously popular and allows users to write personalized reviews of any kind of business. There’s a danger to Yelp, though. Some pundits believe user-generated review sites can do more harm than good because of the lack of content monitoring. Yelp was also involved in an extortion class-action lawsuit for supposedly demanding money from a vet clinic to remove negative reviews that had tarnished the clinic’s reputation. Many other businesses joined the suit.
Still, Yelp can still do wonders for your customer interactivity. In “The Top 10 Ways to Supercharge Your Small Business’ Yelp Presence,” the community manager of Yelp gives helpful advice on using the site. The best part has to do with getting a Yelp Business Owner’s Account to give private and public responses to less-than-satisfactory ratings.
And since many people access business information on their mobile device’s web browser, make sure your business’s website is mobile-friendly. Here’s a guide on how to do so in about two minutes. The number of people accessing the Internet on their smartphones is rapidly increasing — it’s time your website joined the fray.
Implement CRM Software for Customer Service
Another great way to implement technology to help your customer service specialists is the use of CRM software. CRM software is another rapidly growing trend amongst businesses as a cheap, effective and analytical way to engage with their customers and also learn more about target personas.
Before you rush out and buy some CRM software, there are a few things you should consider around implementation issues. Some of the biggest mistakes businesses make with CRM software:
- Poor Planning: Engaging with a new — and perhaps foreign — technology without sound rationale and strategic operational planning can dump a mess on your plate. Too often businesses start projects without goals and end up with a disaster.
- Poor Integration: If your CRM software isn’t fully integrated with your company’s overall persona and goals, you may see customer satisfaction rates decline rather than rise. Be sure your company’s “message” is clearly communicated through these systems.
There are many different types of CRM software available. The biggest names are Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce.com, and Oracle. OpenView Partners has used — and been pleased with — Salesforce.com. There are many lessons to be learned from the service; one of the most important being that it supports organizational alignment with your company’s vision and message, key elements towards personifying a positive organization. For more on Salesforce.com, check out these 5 easy ways to improve your user adoption. Here are a few of the services Salesforce.com offers:
- CRM: The site breaks down its CRM features into these components: Sales, Service & Support, Partner Relationship Management, Marketing, Content, Ideas, Analytics, and their collaboration platform, Chatter.
- Force.com Platform: A platform that allows external developers to create their own add-ons and apps.
- Chatter: Designed to be exactly like Facebook’s news feed, Chatter communicates updates and more in real-time.
- AppExchange: A place to purchase the over 800 apps created by third-party developers. Apps include the highly-rated InsideView (formerly SalesView), which finds sales opportunities all over the Web.
- Customization: Your Salesforce.com experience is your own — customize your page any way you’d prefer using Facebook-like tabs.
- Web Services: Salesforce.com integrates with other websites — which has its own benefits and drawbacks.
- Mobile Support: As I mentioned earlier, mobile is big, and Salesforce.com doesn’t skimp on its mobile platform. There are BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Mobile apps available for your Salesforce.com experience on the go.
If you’re not pleased with the choices offered above, there are dozens of other CRM software companies out there. PC Magazine has an up-to-date list of the top-rated CRM software solutions that you should check out before trying one on your own. If you want to push your CRM into the cloud, there are many web-based CRM softwares.
Always Follow Through
Another great lesson learned from the Inc.com article was about keeping in touch with your customer after solving their problem. One complaint may be indicative of a larger issue that could require a lot of work – nip it in the bud and make sure your support solution has indeed solved all problems. Following through also builds a positive company image that no automated voicemail or e-mail can provide.
Maintaining Your (Now Awesome) Customer Service
Now that you’ve solved problems, motivated and properly trained staff, and used excellent software to simplify the customer relationship management process, you need to maintain those customer relationships for loyalty and sustained positivity. Here are a few quick hints:
- Suite101 suggests using e-mail and social networks to maintain your business relationships. If your customers aren’t keeping in touch with you, “online entrepreneurs as well as internet marketing specialists should a backup plan ready. Whether it is an auto-responder message or a personalized and hand-written email, they should have something ready to send to revive the commercial spark and get sales moving again.”
- All Business has a top 10 list of ways to build customer loyalty. Many of the methods I mentioned above are included. The site does highlight the importance of placing importance on “people over technology.” Even your fanciest CRM software can’t beat one-on-one engagement.
- Entrepreneur emphasizes the importance of listening to your customers. Without excellent listening skills, your customers will never feel appreciated.
I’d like to drive this last point home: you need to listen. Similar to the advice that I’d give any Lead Qualification Specialist I’m training as part of OpenView Labs Operational Support Services – you should not be doing most of the talking when speaking with a customer or prospect. Allow your customers to have a voice and express themselves. Don’t assume that you know what they are thinking. The more you listen, the more information you’ll gather that will help solve their problem and ultimately renew and/or upsell.