Marsha Collier is the author of over 30 books in the For Dummies series. She has covered eBay and e-commerce, and her new book is called The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide: How to Connect with Your Customers to Sell More. She is also the host of Computer & Technology Radio and co-Founder of Twitter’s #CustServ chat. In this interview, we discuss the ins and outs of customer service.
Q: What is the key to great customer service?
A: The short answer is respect -- being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and understand how they feel. Add to that, making the commitment to showing the same respect for your employees and building a customer-centric culture within your business.
Q: Can an organization led by a CEO who does not consider customer service a top priority provide great customer service?
A: How can a CEO not realize that every dollar that comes into their business is customer driven? They should set the bar. History tells us that companies that endure make choices in the best interest both their customers and the bottom line. C-level executives who don’t make it a top-priority need to hire the right people and empower them to fulfill the needs of the customer.
Q: What are the similarities between great face-to-face customer service and online customer service?
A: A smile, respect and a caring attitude. An online customer can easily see the smile based on the care put into the company’s website and level of engagement. When greeted in person pleasantly -- or on the phone or chat -- the company attitude is transparent.
Q: Why has Nordstrom been dropping in the customer service rankings?
A: The economy may have something to do with it. Nordstrom is an elite yet accessible brand that is available to many people. The select few unhappy customers who are not affected by price can move to Saks or Neiman Marcus. The price sensitive customer may be exhibiting increased expectations of customer service. I worked with their senior staff many years ago during a store opening, and the importance of building customer relationships was always on top of their minds. Perhaps silos, the peril of big business, has taken over. Once a company gets very large and established, departments tend to settle into their own fiefdoms and defend their positions rather than communicating and working together
Q: It looks like the top-rated customer service organizations are online sites without brick-and-mortar, face-to-face presence. What is the meaning of this development?
A: Online businesses are in a more controlled environment. You’ve got less wild cards in the mix. Online sites can post Frequently Asked Questions about the terms of sale, and with the addition of online chat (and availability of phone representatives) it makes it easier for the customer to ascertain the information Online sites may not have a brick and mortar location, but they have a very strong infrastructure. The environment is more inclusive and if employees are trained well and inured with a company culture, their message goes out online without the possibility of misunderstanding.
Q: Is marketing the new customer service or is customer service the new marketing?
A: Marketing and customer service go arm in arm. We can say that customer service is the new marketing, but marketing encompasses so much more. In 21st century commerce, customer service must fulfill the promises made by the company’s marketing efforts. Customers are more demanding than ever and they are willing to pay more for quality service -- it’s the service that will pull them through the doors -- or click the “pay now” link.
Q: If you could only use one method for customer service and marketing, which one would it be: Twitter, Facebook or blog?
A: Customer service and marketing are separate entities on the Web. A single social media site cannot fulfill a company’s marketing and customer service needs. Businesses must have a website and potentially a Facebook page for marketing purposes, to let the world know who the company is and reach out to their customers. For many businesses it works well to have an online platform like Zendesk, GetSatisfaction, live chat or messaging built right into their site for customer service issues.Today’s customer wants immediate response. So Twitter is the simplest solution. We are on the cusp of realizing Twitter’s customer service capabilities. Once the rest of the world is fully exposed to Twitter, it will undoubtedly be the go-to platform for immediate response. The speed and succinct nature of Twitter or any other like product that may evolve will be an ideal tool in the customer service realm.
Q: Would you recommend that a small business create a website or a Facebook fan page at this point?
A: Without question, any business, be they a professional, service, hospitality or retailer must have a presence on the Web in the form of a website. Having one says they are on top of needs of the customer, making information available where the customer chooses to find it. A website provides more global exposure as not everyone is on Facebook. A Facebook fan page requires your customer to be a member of Facebook and have chosen to engage with the brand. It also requires more of a commitment in time from the company since posts must be monitored and acted upon swiftly.
Q: From a resume or an interview, how can you tell who would make a great customer service person?
A: A “great” customer service person has to be many things. Since it is very difficult to tell one’s people skills from a resume, the interview is vital. It’s important to look for a candidate who has:
1. Listening skills and conversely, one who asks probing questions.
2. Personality, eye contact and an attentive nature.
3. Is literate in and can converse comfortably in the language of the country they service.
4. Ability to convey warmth, competency and empathy at the same time.
It is also important that they are a good fit within your company culture and embrace the concept of customer service.
Q: What is the greatest real-world barrier to a company providing better customer service?
A: Communication and training. Communicating their message to the customer is not enough. Employees are the face of the company. Companies need to make employees feel like they are a crucial part of the team that will lead to success. Employees must be trained in business etiquette and escalation procedures. They feel free to communicate their ideas on improvement and be nurtured to think “out of the box.”
Q: What online companies are your customer service heroes?
A: It’s easier for me to mention small, boutique businesses. Family run businesses and online entrepreneurs go the extra mile because everyone in the company gets the fact that their livelihood depends on the happiness of the customer. For that reason, I’d say every one of eBay’s sellers who are awarded the “Top-Rated Seller” emblem for quality service is a winner. For the major retailers? Overstock.com, Amazon.com and, of course, Zappos.com -- because they set the standards for e-tailers.
To learn more about online customer service, be sure to read Marsha’s book, The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide: How to Connect with Your Customers to Sell More, and follow her on Twitter at @MarshaCollier.