9 Superb Ways to Delight Customers Without Putting in Too Much Time

As the saying goes, it is 5 times more expensive to sign up new customers than to keep existing customers. This simple economic idea should encourage businesses to focus most of their energy on keeping their existing customers extremely happy. But what are some simple and cost-effective ways to improve customer loyalty and satisfaction? There is no single step to instant gratification, but follow these simple steps and you will be well on your way.  

Want some structure to providing excellent customer service? Start with this free Customer Service Charter template. Not only will this help you clarify customer service standards to your employees, but also communicate them to your customers! Incoporate the following steps in your customer service strategy!

Customer Satisfaction in 9 Simple Steps

1. Send Personalized Messages

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Sending welcome messages, greeting cards, postcards and more are a great way to get in contact with your customers. When you personalize a card, it makes the customer feel appreciated and valued by your company.

Bonjoro, a Sydney startup, specializes in personalized welcome messages. You send short welcome videos to people who have recently signed up for your company and show them what their addition means to you. Thousands of BJ’s, as they like to call them, have been sent around the world, and each time you receive one, you instantly feel valued and happy.

2. Provide Superior Customer Service

Be certain that your passion for customer service runs rampant throughout your company. Employees should see how good service relates to your profits and to their futures with the company. Be genuinely committed to providing more customer service excellence than anyone else in your industry. This commitment must be so powerful that every one of your customers can sense it.

Set your goals for customer service and how you’re going to achieve them with this Customer Service Goals Guide.

Woveon, a software customer service startup, provides a one-of-a-kind customer service software platform that implements AI and Ml programs, customer conversation history, and a single platform to manage all customer channels. Simplifying the customer service a company handles is crucial to providing quick and meaningful feedback.

3. Start with a Lagniappe–a “Little Gift”

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Come on, who doesn’t love receiving gifts?

“It’s amazing what a little gift can do to bring a smile. It doesn’t have to be much. This can even be a small coupon or freebie with a value of $10 or less, which they can use on any of your products or services. It is an easy, cost-effective way of inviting the customer to get to know you better. Whatever it is, just make sure it’s desirable, entertaining, and tasteful.”

4. Keep Your Promises

“I will deliver on time.” A due date that has been agreed upon is a promise that must be kept. “Close” doesn’t count. Monday means Monday. The first week in July means the first week in July, even though it contains a national holiday. Your clients are waiting to hear you say, “I deliver on time.” The supplier who consistently does so is a rarity and will be remembered.

“It’ll be just what you ordered.” It will not be “similar to,” and it will not be “better than” what was ordered. It will be exactly what was ordered. Even if you believe a substitute would be in the client’s best interests, that’s a topic for discussion, not something you decide on your own. Your customer may not know (or be at liberty to explain) all the ramifications of the purchase.

5. Interact With Your Customers

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Interacting with your customers via multiple channels is a great way to keep them interested in your products, listen to their feedback, and shows that you are valued.

“We follow many of our clients as they come in the door, and then every once in awhile, we retweet their tweets. They get a notification that we’ve done this, and it shows we are paying attention to them and that we’re on the same page. It establishes a bond that goes beyond client service. It shows that we respect what they are saying.” –Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com

6. Provide More Than A Product

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As I said in 5 Innovative Ways Companies Have Used VR for Marketing, many companies are now focusing on customer experience. These experiences can include, virtual reality sleigh ride tours like what Coca-Cola did, driver experience days at BMW, and even Lockheed Martin’s field trip to Mars campaign to educate today’s youth on the future of space travel.

These top companies are giving their customers and even future customers opportunities to enjoy more than just their products. They prove their brand’s loyalty and excellence through the experiences they provide. And who isn’t smiling when they are racing through the adrenaline-filled course at BMW’s Track Day with over 500 ponies pushing you over 150 mph!

7. Get Into Their Culture

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Don’t just make assumptions about who your customers are and how they respond. Get to know the neighborhood/city/state/region where you are based and express an interest in their culture. Play local music, sponsor local artists, and decorate with local products. Find the common ground that helps you relate as people. The less you make it about commerce, the more people will connect and remain as customers.

8. Reward Loyalty

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On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. Focus on your loyal customers by providing reward programs. These could include an anniversary gifts such as giving them coupons for your product a year after their first purchase. Another option a lot of airlines provide is gaining miles. The United Airlines MileagePlus account offers a wide variety of rewards such as flights, upgraded seats, United Club passes, and points you can redeem for gear. With rewards programs, customers are more loyal and happy to continue business with your company.

9. Listen to Your Customers

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If your customers take the time to give you feedback about your product or an experience they had with your company, take it as a great learning opportunity. Sometimes you have to listen to the signals, not just the direct comments. 7 Core Customer Service Skills Your Support Team Needs to Have mentions the subtle clues that you should listen to in order to improve customer experience.

“Believe it or not, a customer service rep can learn more from what a customer doesn’t say than what they do say. Being attentive to the customers can help provide the company valuable feedback.”

“For example, if a customer says, ‘I always get confused during the Bluetooth pairing process,’ or ‘I can never seem to find the_____,’ this is a clear indication that your company has room for improvement, and these more subtle feedback methods can really improve your product overall.”

Satisfied?

The goal of marketing is to build a mutually beneficial relationship between brands and customers. This opens the door for special offers that extend far beyond a coupon. Keeping your customers happy is more than continuing to receive their money; it also helps you improve your company to make them even happier, and in turn, they’re happy to spend more money. It’s a win-win.

Want Your Customer Service To Be Sustainable? Be Dynamic

Guest blog by Jemma Martin

Customer service is subjective. It’s no longer about responding in the ‘right’ way. There is no such thing.

It’s about having the ability to be agile enough to facilitate the right answer in the right moment. Because every customer will want something different, depending on the product, the medium, the day, their mood… it’s all up for negotiation. And without this kind of flexibility, you’re losing out.

The right way is dynamic. The right way is the fastest, easiest way possible; no matter where your customer is.

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Here’s an example. Last week on social media I saw an advertisement for fashion prescription glasses. I have been wanting to freshen up my physical appearance and I was due for some new glasses on my health plan, so I clicked on the link. I recognised some trendy brands and the website suggested I try them on in store. I left the page and forgot all about it.

The next day I was meeting a friend in town. She was running late so I walked through the mall and saw a sign with glasses of the brand I saw online. I walked into the optometrist, tried on a bunch of options and was given great customer service by the staff. I was still in store when my friend met me, and she ended up trying on some glasses too.

The staff then contacted my healthcare provider and gave me a follow-up call the next day. I wrote to the company via their social media page, and they responded to me within a few hours. The next day I went back in store to finalise my purchase of two new pairs of prescription glasses. After the weekend, I received an SMS advising me that my new frames were ready for collection and to follow the URL link in the message to book in a time to have them fitted. The web link directed me to my local store’s online booking system. I had a question about this appointment, so I called the store and they booked in my timeslot for the next day.

It was all very smooth, easy and convenient. And I told A LOT of family and friends about this shopping experience. I now think that I’ll buy some prescription sunglasses from the same company because it was so easy to deal with them.

So, who is responsible for my loyalty? The initial marketer? The in-store salesperson? The follow-up caller? The social media assistant? Or the individual who decided that the process should be seamless?

Or was it all artificial intelligence? Some data and algorithms that resulted in a positive customer service experience?

Honestly, I don’t care. I can tell you that before this experience, I’ve spent many hours shopping for new glasses and had gotten part way through the buying process and not completed the purchase due to frustration.

Why is that? What made this company different? It’s simple; they anticipated that my needs are dynamic, and created customer centric solutions before I, the every-day consumer, realised I needed them.

Over the course of a week, I used multiple mediums to communicate with this retailer; including face to face, text messaging, their website (through the SMS link), social media and phone calls.

I communicated with them when I was in my kitchen, my home office, in their city store, in a store at another location, through my mobile device and through my laptop. Sometimes I was alone, sometimes I was with my husband or a friend. It just worked.

This retailer recognised that I was living my life and that it looks different every day. They made everything easy. Their customer service process was dynamic, just like me.

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This is now a non-negotiable for companies. Do you want to be sustainable? Yes. Well, how much? At the cost of upskilling your staff? At the cost of creating new processes and implementing in new systems? Can you anticipate your customers’ needs before they do?

The right way to provide customer service, is to do so dynamically. Because your customers themselves are now agents of change.

Expecting customers to follow old breadcrumbs all the way to the checkout isn’t smart business. It’s those very breadcrumbs that will keep you from attracting the customers you need to keep that checkout open.

Are you agile enough, to facilitate the right answers for your customers today?

 

jemma-martin-customer-service-customer-experience-expertJemma is Sales Team Manager at the RAA Group and is studying her MBA at Torrens University. She loves to inspire people to think differently, create innovative solutions and take action. With a strong history in frontline sales, in both face to face and contact centre environments, Jemma believes that questioning the status quo is integral to sustainable success.

 

Let Your Humans Be Human

Guest blog by Colin Priest

There’s an industrial revolution under way in businesses across the world, and it is all about automation. Businesses are embracing machine learning and artificial intelligence to make better decisions automatically. And the reason for this revolution is the comparative strengths of humans and computers.

Computers are strongest at repetitive tasks, mathematics, data manipulation and parallel processing. So long as a task can be defined as a procedure, a computer can do that task over and over again, without getting tired, giving the same results each time. Computers can manipulate numbers and data in volume much faster than any human.

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Several years ago I went back to university to do a masters degree, and after a 25 year break from university I was out of practice at mathematics. Imagine my excitement and relief when I discovered that now there is software that will do algebra and calculus for me! And computers can do more than one thing at a time. Have you ever tried to rub your belly and tap your head at the same time? I can’t do both actions simultaneously. But modern computer networks are powerful, able to routinely do dozens of different processes at once.

This does not mean that humans are obsolete. What humans are much more skilled than machines at are communication and engagement, context and general knowledge, creativity and empathy. When I have a frustrating problem, I want to talk to a human. Someone who will understand my exasperation, listen to my experience and make me feel valued as a customer, whilst also solving my problem for me. Humans are much better at common sense than computers, instantly recognizing when a decision doesn’t make sense. And humans can be creative. I recently heard music composed by a computer, and I’m sure that song won’t make it into the Top 40!

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Customer Service

Recently I had a conversation with the manager of a call centre that dealt with hundreds of customer service issues each day. In order to ensure the quality of the service and advice, the call centre operators were given scripts and were commanded to follow those scripts without changing a word. The problem was that both staff and customers became frustrated. Staff felt bored and unchallenged, and customers with non-standard problems felt like they weren’t being heard. Staff turnover increased, and customer satisfaction levels dropped.

Customer Satisfaction

The manager then tested using chatbots to answer simpler questions from customers, freeing up the human operators to deal with non-standard enquiries. This was a situation where computers had a comparative advantage over humans. The call center processes were fully defined, operating at scale, and the scripted answers were correct. The results spoke for themselves. Computers were much better at helping with the repetitive enquiries, and humans were better at dealing with the unusual enquiries. Staff engagement increased, as did customer satisfaction.

This has implications for human resources and process innovation. Processes that require humans to do repetitive, well defined tasks can be replaced by artificial intelligence. This frees up staff to do what humans are best at:

  • asking the right questions,
  • applying common sense,
  • creating new solutions,
  • evangelising new ideas, and
  • generating sales and profit.

Let your humans be human. Free them from repetitive tasks. Change job descriptions to focus on human strengths, and hire people who best embody the comparative advantages of humans. Look for human processes that are well defined and repetitive, and enhance the process by introducing artificial intelligence. Some ways company have started to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into their processes include:

There are even some companies out there that have started automating the automation, like DataRobot. Instead of hiring and training up a data scientists, the arcane process of building predictive models, once the sole domain of data scientists, can all be automated. The system automatically builds predictive models based on your data, freeing up your humans to be human.

Based in Singapore, Colin is the Director, Customer Success and Lead Data Scientist, APAC for DataRobot, where he advises businesses on how to build business cases and successfully manage data science projects. Over his career, Colin has held a number of CEO and general management roles, where he has championed data science initiatives in financial services, healthcare, security, oil and gas, government and marketing. He frequently speaks at various global conferences. Colin is a firm believer in data-based decision making and applying AI. He is passionate about the science of healthcare and does pro-bono work to support cancer research.

Navigating Your Way Past The “Trough Of Disillusionment” For Artificial Intelligence In Customer Experience

Guest blog by Steve Nuttall

The hype around Artificial Intelligence technologies is at its peak. According to the 2017 Gartner Hype Cycle, emerging technologies such as deep learning, machine learning and virtual assistants are at the “peak of inflated expectation”. Cognitive expert advisors have passed this peak and are now descending towards the “trough of disillusionment”. This occurs when interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver.

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The benefits of AI for customer experience management are potentially game changing. AI has the capability to analyse vast amounts of data in real time from various sources, including human behaviours and emotions. Expectations are high because this capability can then be used to create seamless and personalised customer experiences that are optimised to the device and channel of choice.

Pragmatists and battle hardened cynics will recall that when automation was first introduced into customer service channels, the results were often spectacularly underwhelming. So, is the application of AI to customer experiences destined to fall into the trough of disillusionment before climbing the slope of enlightenment? Or is there a path to follow to avoid the pitfalls of unmet expectations?

Intelligently using Artificial Intelligence for Customer Experience

In order to find out whether the application of AI to your business’ customer experience will take a downturn, it is necessary to first ask yourself: What is driving your organisation’s AI strategy? Is it because:

  • AI is all the rage in your industry and your organisation is fearful of being left behind?
  • If you take the lead in implementing AI, it will make you look smarter/cooler than your colleagues?
  • It sounds like a cool and fun toy to experiment with?
  • Your organisation needs to catch up with your competitors who have been early adopters of AI?
  • AI is a great opportunity to reduce the cost to serve our customers?

If the answer to any of the above is Yes, then the trough of disillusionment beckons.

Alternatively, if you are deploying or considering AI because…

AI can enable your people and optimise your processes to operate more intelligently and efficiently, in order to provide individualised and predictive experiences for your customers at scale

…..then a brighter future awaits.

For these technologies to have any chance of success you should have a clear sense of purpose of how to you intend to deploy AI to drive CX in your business. Here are three ways you can use AI in a purposeful way to create meaningful customer experiences.

1. Use AI to Enhance your Knowledge of the Customer

Customer Connection Web Diagram

An example would be using data analytics to anticipate the needs of individual customers at each moment of truth and key stage of their journey. Some specific examples oh how businesses are using AI to enhance customer knowledge:

2. Use AI to create stronger emotional connections with your customers

Using AI to recognise a customer’s emotional state helps agents better respond to the customer during an interaction, thereby creating stronger emotional connections.

3. Use AI to empower your service agents

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Not only can AI empower agents with emotional intelligence to reply appropriately to customers, it can be used as a tool to connect service agents with the right information in the organisation’s knowledge base in real time. Examples of why this can be powerful to a business: 

A recent study Fifth Quadrant CX undertook for Oracle showed that CX leaders acknowledge the potential of AI and are more advanced in trialling and implementing these emerging technologies to enable better customer experiences. AI is being used to combine data from multiple sources to create individual profiles for each customer, enabling agents to take immediate action on what customers want. Consequently, CX Leaders are outperforming their counterparts by creating emotional connections with their customers through more predictive and personalised customer experiences.

As a result, nearly two thirds of CX leaders say their organisation’s revenue growth outperforms their industry counterparts, compared with only a quarter of CX laggards. The proof is therefore clearly in the pudding: when applied in a purposeful and meaningful way, AI technology can enable organisations to increase agility and overcome competitive threats and leverage this advantage to drive acquisition.

 

Steve Nuttal fifth quadrant customer experience head of researchWritten by Dr Steve Nuttall – Head Of CX Research, Fifth QuadrantSteve has worked in various leadership roles as a market research insights professional for over twenty years in Europe, Asia and Australia. He leads Fifth Quadrant’s program of CX strategy research and is an international speaker and presenter on best practice customer experience. Steve assists organisations to deliver their customer-centric strategies and business performance goals including designing and implementing programs to help optimise the customer experience.

Hack: Lazy Customer Service Tips To Get The Most Loyal Customers

One of the keys to maintaining a thriving business is a steady customer base. The Pareto principle states that 80% of business comes from only 20% of customers. This exemplifies the importance of your customer loyalty. Add to this the fact that the cost of attracting new customers is almost 6x’s more expensive and you have a powerful incentive to keep that core group of customers happy.

If your business’s goal is to live long and prosper, then any efforts toward building customer loyalty will certainly pay off. Following are 7 tips to increase and maintain greater customer loyalty.

Importance Of Customer Service in Customer Retention

1. Stand For Something

Customers are more likely to ignore you if your company doesn’t stand for anything. Research from the Corporate Executive Board that included 7,000 consumers from across the U.S. found that of those consumers who said they had a strong relationship with a brand, 64 percent cited shared values as the primary reason. If you want loyal customers, you need create real connections with them. What do you stand for?

2. Communicate with Customers

Whether it’s an email newsletter, a monthly flier, a reminder card for a tuneup, or a holiday greeting card, set up a system for reaching out to the customers you already have. Dedicate time to creating and maintaining a database of contact information, including phone, email, and snail mail addresses. If there’s a social media element to your business, invite people to your page or website and keep that online element fresh.

3. Commit to Quality Service

Go above and beyond your customer’s’ expectations. Your product knowledge will engender confidence and trust and enable you to anticipate their questions, focus on their needs and guide you both to an appropriate solution to their situation. It’s almost impossible to ask too many questions of your customers. Once you know what they want, you will be able to deliver the right product at the right time. In simplest terms: Listen to your customers and go that extra mile. Listening to customers also often enables you to make suggestions about your services and products the customer hasn’t thought about and they will appreciate your knowledge and your expertise to help them resolve their needs.

4. Courtesy and Respect

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You know how you like to be treated when you’re the customer. We all like to be accorded courtesy and treated as a sensible adult. You NEVER argue with a customer. Even if you know your customer is wrong, resolve the sales question or service issue quickly and in their favor and you’ve made a friend. Research shows that helping a customer resolve his or her issue results in continued business and likely makes a customer for life. Repeat business, not to mention word-of-mouth referrals, is the lifeblood of bottom lines

5. Be helpful even if your business can’t help them

If you can’t get your customer what they want, offer to help them find it elsewhere. It lets them know that you are willing to help without expecting anything in return. That unselfish gesture will make you stand tall in your customer’s’ eyes and will have them return next time.

6. Train Your Employees Thoroughly

Your employees are the face of your company, and training can empower them to make your company prosper. Training sessions should be a positive experience; boring training sessions are a waste of time and money and foster a negative attitude toward the company.

Encourage your employees to engage in training and explain how it will help them on the job and why it’s good for business. An excellent way to teach is on-the-job training, which facilitates on-the-spot demonstration of best practices.

7. Follow Up With Your Customers

No matter what the product or service you have sold a customer, you can be assured that they will appreciate it if you follow up in a couple of days to see how it’s working out. And it may lead to further business and more customers when your attention to detail and customer service is passed on by a happy customer.

The Art of Customer Retention

Customer service is a never ending task that will continue to build your brand loyalty. Customer Service is a long term commitment to customer satisfaction. It’s time to re-think how you engage and interact with your customers. There are many tactics, but no shortcuts. The tactics above should hopefully give you some fresh ideas for approaching retention, but they’re not a cure-all. Your product and service will do most of the heavy lifting in keeping customers loyal, and there are no shortcuts for that.

While pleasing customers with superior customer service is important, don’t forget to align your customer service goals to your business goals! There’s no point if you’ve got good brand image, if you don’t use it to your advantage! Realign with the Customer Service Goals template.

5 Proofs That Good Customer Service is the Reason Your Business Flourishes

These days, offering a great product or service, even if it’s at the best price, may not be enough to win and retain customers. The modern customer has come to expect excellence in customer service and it seriously impacts their purchasing decisions. For instance, research shows 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience. And companies are on the hook for providing that good experience, given that it’s six to seven times more expensive for companies to win new customers than keeping existing ones. Good customer service pays.”

Woveon, a software customer service startup, realizes the value that your customer service provides and how important it is to keep a flourishing business. Woveon is an easy-to-use online application providing businesses a centralized location to manage their customer channels, such as social media, emails and phone calls. Using machine learning, social listening, a wide breadth of data, and a clean user interface, Woveon helps prioritize inquiries, identify valuable customers, and suggest personalized content. It simplifies online customer relations and makes businesses more efficient in managing the touchpoints they have with customers. We strive to ensure businesses can scale and respond back to all their customer enquiries.

These 5 Aspects of Customer Service Prove the Importance of Good Customer Service

1. Customer Loyalty

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Customer loyalty is one of the key features to successful business. When a customer is loyal, they will keep buying products, turning into more and more revenue. But how does a company identify and keep these customers happy? With Woveon, identifying important customers and helping with their every need is easy! Woveon has created AI (Artificial Intelligence) programs that identify businesses-valued customers in multiple ways. Say someone has shopped at an e-commerce website multiple times and has a great buying history but has now run into some trouble. If they contact the store via multiple channels such as social media or email, a representative from the business can pull up their information and understand they are a valued customer. They can focus on their problems more quickly, and this keeps up customer satisfaction.

2. Knowledgeable Staff

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Nothing is more frustrating than calling customer service and feeling more apt than the “resourceful” representative. This is why it is so important to have knowledgeable staff who don’t just stick to a script and set of instructions. Your employees should be able to problem solve on their own. In order to do this, one should hire people who show interest in their business and understand its products. However, having knowledge on more than just the product is important. For smaller businesses, getting to know your customers and being able to talk with them more on a personal level can be very important. With Woveon’s technology, this is a walk in the park. Woveon’s recorded conversations not only help with consistency, but it can also help a customer service rep get to know the client more by reviewing past conversations. Although this may not apply to all businesses, small to mid-sized companies can really benefit from having personable customer service reps who are extremely knowledgeable about their product and clients. So before hiring any applicant, make sure he/she is enthusiastic about the product or service the company provides. 

3. Online Marketing and Social Media

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Most people don’t associate online marketing with customer service, but with so many online interactions going on between customers today marketing teams and customer service work hand in hand. Woveon has the ability to simplify and better market your customer service. With so many different social media platforms, it can be hard for companies; however, integrating all channels onto a single page makes it extremely easy to keep track of all customers conversations.

Try these 5 Creative Ways You Can Use Customer Service to Amp Up Your Online Marketing!

Companies should see social media as a huge opportunity when it comes to advertising and customer service. People contact companies over Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram all the time. Just the other week, I was on a United Airlines flight, and I had tweeted at them. They responded asking me how my flight was going within minutes. This is a great example of how customer service over marketing channels is so important. It shows to their followers how much they are invested in their customers and that they truly care. This also shows that the companies are up to date when it comes to interacting with customers. They are open to change and customers want to see companies that embrace change like they do.a

4. Customer Apologies

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Everyone makes mistakes, some you can control, others just happen. It is always better to apologize first and then move forward. When it comes to customer service, the representative is almost never to blame; however, the customer may think differently. A customer service rep should apologize not only for the inconvenience the customer is going through, but also so the customer can sense that the rep personally cares about the problem.

Click here for 5 email templates to get you out of angry customer situations.

If you are nice to your customers, they, in turn, would be more likely to reciprocate. Of course, there will be good and bad customers, but as long as you are willing to be upfront, apologize for any mistakes you could have made, and are ready to solve the problem, most customer interactions will go smoothly. Remember, solving the problem is only half of the interaction; being fast, knowledgeable, and polite completes the customer service process.

5. Happy Staff = Happy Customershappy staff service

Forbes’ Rodd Wagner writes, “The formula is simple: Happy employees equal happy customers, asserted an article last fall in CEO Magazine. Similarly, an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers.” Happy employees = happy customers works. It’s a fantastic sentiment. It’s the right strategy. It is miles ahead of and far more on course than the assertions of the anti-happiness crowd. And if you need to boil down to a few words the connections between employee experience and customer experience, run with it.”

Staff retention is crucial to your company for improving customer service excellence. Research shows clearly that staff stay when they are happy and respect the company in which they work. Their happiness translates into excellent work when dealing with important customers.

Customer Service

Susane Friedmann, a writer on customer service says, “Customer service is an integral part of our job and should not be seen as an external extension of it. A company’s most vital asset is its customers. Without them, we would not and could not exist in business. When you satisfy your customers, they not only help you grow by continuing to do business with you but they will also recommend you to friends and associates.

The practice of customer service should be as present on the showroom floor as it is in any other sales functions and pertinent in the overall company environment.

Get started with a Customer Service Charter! Set the standards of customer service you expect your employees to deliver and your customers can expect to receive.

Making Returns on the Conversational Economy

Article by Adam Rawot, CEO Woveon

I remember reading an article almost ten years ago talking about how teens were sending over 40 texts a day on average. The tone of the article was incredulous, but the statistic pales in comparison to how we exist online now. Speaking personally, it’s not implausible I send off 40 messages before 10 AM in my morning inbox check in. Sarah Guo, a partner of Greylock, expressed it succinctly when she took to Medium: “More than a decade ago, academics such as Thurlow described a “communication imperative”—human beings are driven to maximize their communication volume and satisfaction. More recently, researchers have described it as compulsion.”

While constant connectedness is old news, technology has finally achieved a point it can leverage this behavior. As with all big shifts, there will be survivors and those who don’t adapt fast enough. Companies will need to change to a conversational mode of thought to maintain the experiences users expect and deliver the individuality anticipated.

People Always Talk

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Nearly 25 years ago, Harvard Business Review wrote “today if you’re not on the phone or talking with colleagues and customers, chances are you’ll hear, “Start talking and get to work!” In the new economy, conversations are the most important form of work.” Conversations are how we track knowledge flows. Conversation flows are how people create value, share information, and illustrate how companies operate.

A cited example is McKinsey. McKinsey prides itself heavily on the intelligence of its members, and by an extension the true value of McKinsey over other firms is its extensive knowledge base. That knowledge is curated and developed through internal conversation and shared through internal conversation. In short, McKinsey is conversation.  

We are entering a new age for product development – one dictated by the conversational economy. Broadly, the conversational economy is the catchall phrase for companies, products, and ideas built on, alongside, or relying heavily on a conversational interface. More simply, they are services that leverage conversation.

This definition is board, and intentionally so. While some apps like iMessage, Snapchat and email obviously fit into this definition, conversation works as a backbone in services like Facebook, customer service complaints, and online advertising as well. Finding a common backbone helps derive a working model for these services.

Between the myriad of mobile apps used every day, access to the internet, and the seemingly innate human need to feel connected, conversation based platforms are dominating our lives. We have effectively destroyed the asynchronous quality of day to day life. We persist online, and, consequently, our conversations with one another never really begin or end. This data stream is a jackpot for product creation.

Smarter Everyday

Artificial intelligence, in the eyes of the public, has snuck past an important threshold. Presentations by titans like Facebook and Google have assured that we are moving away from the robotic idea of natural language processing in a rigid sense to natural language understanding. In other words, instead of responding to a keyword or a phrase, computers are beginning to be able to understand sentence, paragraphs, and intent.

There are a variety of causes for this – improvement of machine learning and deep learning, Moore’s Law, and rate of mobile and app data collection, to name a few. Algorithms and software are taking on their own intelligence. Just the idea that failed outcomes can make systems better is an astounding twist compared to five years prior.

Additionally, we’re in the middle of the boom of ambient computing, the idea that our environments and surroundings are responsive. We don’t have to open our phone or flip open a laptop to be connected. On the way to work I may pass a few smart cameras, a plethora of listening iPhones and Galaxy phones, an Alexa, Chromecasts, and more. Despite this, I would characterize myself as one of the less connected people in my demographic. At every step of my day my voice can be heard, position tracked, and activity monitored. Being connected no longer has much to do with if our phone is on our person or if we’re behind a keyboard.

Although passive collection has subtly pushed past our natural aversion to share information with technologies we don’t understand and people we don’t know, this one-sided trade has come with the expectation of usability. When software doesn’t work or apps crash, we no longer blame ourselves, we blame companies. We are inundated with choices, but that means that we have little tolerance of poor experiences. Users are more empowered than ever in that they don’t have to subject themselves to experiences they don’t want or content they’d rather avoid. We so demand these freedoms that events like net neutrality rapidly cause public outcry and social faux pas by companies like EA tank sales.

Computing, connectedness, and data almost completely undermine how product managers need to think about designing products. The need to leverage conversation to deliver value has emerged as one of the most critical company problems. IDEO acquiring a data analytics company, giants like Apple acqui-hiring boutique companies with human-centric software, and Salesforce pushing Einstein all serve as mine canaries that even the most established companies are racing and struggling to adapt.

Buying In and Cashing Out

As George Box famously cited – all models are wrong, but some are useful. Where is the utility of viewing products as ongoing conversations?

A helpful place to start is in how companies have historically fended off competition. These ‘moats’ include things like brand loyalty, unique data sources, and intellectual property. However, as technologies like AI are more readily available via open source projects, cloud hosting and computing are only a few clicks away, and systems of engagement continually emerge, the traditional ideas of tech defensibility are evaporating. In a Greylock article on Medium, they wrote “In all of these markets, the battle is moving from the old moats, the sources of the data, to the new moats, what you do with the data.”

In another words, companies are now finding defensibility through the experiences they create. To create these experiences for customers in the conversational era, companies will have to harness existing behavior, respond personally, and work faster.

Harnessing existing behavior is an exercise in invisibility. The real frontier for conversational companies to generate solutions for problems before the consumer is even aware. For example, Facebook realized that people asked for recommendations on their newsfeeds. Instead of creating a new service, they had posts automatically update with reviews and locations. They created a new card that changed automatically depending on what a user wrote. As expressed by a product designer at Facebook: “We didn’t try to invent a completely new behavior; rather, we found an existing one and made it way better.”

To cite an example within my own career, food industry companies often lose hours if not days within food recall investigations. Tracking a faulty shipment through several distributors can be tricky. We worked to create a product that reads the complaint before the owner may even be aware it exists and start and investigation. By the time an owner is even aware there is a problem, a report is ready. By approaching complaints, invoices, and shipments and messages between companies, value can be created seamlessly in a second layer.

As I’ve written about before, personalization is an increasingly critical element of producing customer lifetime value. Harvard Business Review started to notice this trend in their research on customer service: “Even as artificial intelligence becomes embedded in everyday interactions; human conversation remains the primary way people make complex purchases or emotional decisions.” The fatal error in a lot of software products is focusing on company efficiency over consumer experience. While these changes may boost bottom line in the short term, they encourage competitor entry and consumer drop off.

Conversational apps have an obvious outlet for personalization, and the power behind them allow easy switching between automation and human elements. More simply: “these intelligent agents will facilitate one-on-one conversations between consumers and sales or customer service representatives rather than simply replacing human interaction.” Imagine a case where someone sits on a delayed flight and sends out an angry tweet. A conversational built system could find the message, tag it, and route it to an agent. While the agent delivers a personal response with an update, the system has already sent an alleviating reward of extra miles to the customer. The captain may be alerted of sentiment on the plane and deliver an announcement. While an autoresponder may have been cheaper, the customer will now remember the exceptional level of immediate service and is more likely to return. As information and computing become free, the real commodity becomes the personality of the person on the other end of the line.

In the shorter term, there’s a simpler way to think about AI adoption – people don’t trust what they don’t understand. In the classic product management advice, it’s best to start with a problem and move to solution. Leveraging conversation is a means to building a better product, but that doesn’t change what the bottom lines should be. In other words, “Bots do not need to be human to be human centered.”

Outside of the shift in new product priorities, another major implication is how we use the technologies we use currently. In a blog post, Dan Rover (sp?) declared that bot won’t replace apps, but inboxes were the new home screen. Our email, text messages, and more were queues demanding our intention and driving our usage.

Companies leveraging platforms like WeChat have been able to effectively create micro services and apps for things like ordering that have integrated seamlessly with how we act now. Bot companies that are able to daisy-chain onto conversations to do scheduling and commuter planning have shone in venture capital funding. It’s not inconceivable the next unicorn will have nothing to do with creating a new platform but layering effortlessly onto the ways we talk with those platforms now.

Speak Now

We talk online all the time, but computing has finally let us create value from that. Companies need to invest in ways to leverage these conversations to deliver seamless and personal content. This means focusing on personnel and focusing on alleviating frictions than automation. Companies that don’t value the communication imperative and connectedness of customers will soon find themselves lagging in experience, and, later, sales.

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A prime example of this is Amazon Web Services’ fast climb to dominance. Legacy systems like Oracle required costly deployments and developers, and setting up cloud instances on AWS is only a few clicks away. IaaS records have shown Amazon’s sheer dominance. Oracle, trying to defend by housing data and curating an elite brand, couldn’t compete with Amazon’s engagement accessibility.

Perhaps the most obvious implication of smart conversational apps is efficiency. However, despite all the news and hype around an artificial intelligence singularity, businesses – and their customers – still revolve around the interactions person to person. This means that products needs to be resolved around facilitating conversation, collecting information, and iterating form that information. The AI boom has made it easier than ever to facilitate personal conversations no matter where customers are online.