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By Elizabeth Leer
No amount of branding can help a company overcome poor customer service. Good branding is time-consuming and can be an expensive process. So do not undo all the hard work and expense with poor customer service. Consumers are looking for companies who provide above and beyond customer service and will choose to shop elsewhere especially in a down economy if they feel they were treated poorly. Here are seven ways for any business to increase customer satisfaction by providing superior customer service.
Employee Training: Well trained staff members are essential to providing quality customer service. No one wants to stand around waiting for a business’ representative to figure out how to do their job or service their customer. Companies need to provide comprehensive training to their staff in order to build on their company branding. It is much more powerful to have a reputation attached to the brand that says, “This company provides excellent customer service”than to have a business whose name is synonymous with bad service. Training needs to incorporate more than just how to do day to day procedures; it needs to incorporate people skills and service techniques as well. Different cultures may have been exposed to different methods of dealing with people. These methods may not be in alignment with company beliefs. Company training is one way to make sure that all associates are familiar with the way they are expected to treat and interact with customers while representing the company.
Stay Calm and Smile: Teach associates to always remain calm and even-keeled when in the presence of customers, even too angry customers and how to calm an angry customer without being patronizing. No business can have 100 percent, happy customers, all the time; there will always be the squeaky wheel that needs some grease. The important thing is to know how to manage these squeaks without turning them into a full-blown emergency siren. By teaching staff members to stay calm and to not let the encounter become a direct attack on themselves, staff members are provided with an invaluable mediation tool. Instruct associates on the technique of looking at all customers as individuals with their own problems outside of the immediate situation that may be part of their emotional response. Teaching employees empathy removes the preconceptions that can often escalate an already negative situation and instead provides the associate with the proper mindset to understand the customer’s viewpoint and find an equitable solution. When administering this training do not forget to address how the staff member may be affected internally by the encounter. It is not an easy task to be asked to return negative comments or yelling with cordial responses in a calm manner. It is important for associates to know that their well-being and feelings are just as important as the clients. Provide a cool off break where associates can take a few minutes to get themselves back in perspective after a strongly negative interaction with a customer. A short cool off break will ensure that associates are ready to take on the next challenging situation with skill and grace while reminding them that they too are important to the company.
Happy Employees: It is impossible to expect disgruntled employees to provide happy and cordial customer interactions. This is why happy employees who feel vested in the success of the company are an invaluable resource. Taking care of associates and showing them they are valued is one way to both create a happy workforce and a positive image to the community. Three such examples of this are:
The financial aspect of happy employees are employees who stay longer creating a lower turnover rate, less training costs, and fewer recruiting expenses. What it takes to provide for associate needs will be different from company to company as the size and industry of the company will inevitably play key roles in what is feasible to provide and still allow the company to make a profit. Take a census of what associates feel they need and then figure out what works best for both the company and its employees. After this is done, explain to associates why certain things were feasible and why others were out of reach. Having this conversation with employees will make them feel heard and important to the organization, instead of dismissed when their requests seem to be ignored. If there are some requests that are not feasible for the company to do right away, but are very important to associates create a plan of action on how these requests are addressed and inform associate of the plan; better yet have an employee representative or several on the planning committee to witness and participate in the process.
Delegate: Delegate responsibility to trained staff in order to avoid passing customers off multiple times when resolving an issue. Everyone can relate to the frustration of trying to tend to a business issue only to be passed back and forth between departments or staff. Avoid creating this customer frustration by empowering associates to handle customer concerns without fear of reprimand. Teach employees the proper method of handling specific issues, as well as providing them with the bigger picture of their actions to guide them in assisting customers with issues that may not be in the regular scheme of things. When associates are empowered it frees up time for managers and other associates to complete their specific responsibilities that may be put off due to continuing interruptions for associate assistance. Empowered employees also take ownership in the company giving them the drive to do a better job.
Customer Feedback: Make Customers Feel Heard and Respond to them. Take quick surveys, and provide customer feedback cards in easily located areas for customers to grade and comment on the interaction they had. Make sure feedback cards have a place to list the associate who waited on them. Consider placing a pre-printed mailing address on the back for customers who may not have time at that moment to fill out the form to be able to fill it out in the comfort of their home and mail it back. Do not just put the forms out there; read them. It does no good to gather the information simply to ignore it. Respond to customers with issues so that they know they have been heard. This will instill a sense of value with the customer and in some cases defuse an issue that has the potential to escalate.
Easy Contact Options: Make it Easy for Customers to Contact and Communicate with the right person to handle their particular issue. When possible give them a live Person to speak with and do not let them get lost in a seemingly never-ending automated system, which too often happens with large companies in this automated day and age. Provide easy to locate contact information with detailed FAQ’s and department or associate responsibilities to make it easier for consumers to locate the right person to answer their concern.
Follow-Up: Follow-up on concerns to make sure they have been dealt with properly. It is very easy to tell a customer that their issue will be addressed and then get busy and have it fall through the cracks, especially if the issue requires more than one associate or department to work on it. By having a follow-up with the customer procedure for all consumer concerns, fewer issues will fall through the cracks and consumers will feel acknowledged, empowered and loyal to the company. Consumer loyalty is money in the bank for any business; since loyal customers not only continue to provide return business, but they refer their friends and family.
Marketing and branding are only two important pieces to the puzzle of having a successful business. Quality customer service to reinforce a company’s branding is the third vital component. Excellent customer service seems to many consumers to be a thing of the past, and companies who consistently provide above and beyond consumer interactions will be stronger than those who do not.
By Elizabeth Leer
When marketing a business it is important to see the business through the customer’s eyes. Think about how the business is perceived and compare it to the image you want the business to have. Also, consider how convenient and user-friendly your marketing tools are such as do online websites load easily and without a bunch of steps? Do mobile application websites work properly without the viewer having to modify their settings to read it? Does your marketing tool reach the right people? Is your contact information easy to locate? These are some basic issues that will frustrate potential clients and lose a business, customers if not done properly.
The last decade has thrown business owners into the world of the web whether they want to be or not. According to a survey of 800 small business owners by the U.S. Organization NSBA (National Small Business Association) in 2013, the majority of small businesses have a business website and almost one in five of those websites are mobile website compatible. With more than 250 search engines on the web today, and 85 percent of consumers using search engines in 2012 to locate products, services and businesses, having a quality web page has become a necessity for modern businesses.
Consumers automatically assume that all businesses will have an informative and easy to navigate web page. The days of picking up the yellow pages and flipping through to find an auto mechanic or a plumber are no more. Today consumers expect to be able to pick up their laptop or mobile device and search for whatever they need and have all the information easily at their fingertips. That is why it is a vital marketing tool for businesses to have a well laid out and formatted website. Some things to consider when developing or revamping a business website are:
Do not rush through the web design process. Too many businesses rush through the process in order to get something up and running. A lot of times a business’ web page is the first impression to the consumer, so it is important that it be done right. Beta test the new or revamped website before making it live to the public in order to make sure everything is working properly.
Even though online marketing is a vital resource to any current day business, it is important not to rely solely on having a website for marketing. Although print ads are not as effective as they once were, they still reach a wide swath of people and place a company or product in front of the consumer’s eyes. Do not completely eliminate print marketing methods such as direct mail to past clients, or strategically placed bulk mailings.
Consider whether or not TV advertisement would be well-spent money. According to Neilson in 2009, 57 percent of TV viewers also simultaneously used the web. This provides the opportunity for viewers to instantly log onto a business’ website when the consumer sees the business’ TV advertisement.
Blogging and Social Media are the latest in marketing tools. HubSpot in their 2012 article “State of Inbound Marketing” sited that 92 percent of the companies who regularly blogged multiple times per day received a customer from their blog. This same article states that the number of businesses who believe Facebook is of vital importance to their business and marketing strategy has increased by 75 percent.
The automated and technologically based world we live in has changed the way businesses need to market themselves. Whether it is a large conglomerate or a small mom and pop store having a strong web presence is vital to creating a solid bottom line. It is important to keep in mind the customer base and impression while creating this web persona, as well as rounding out a business’ marketing game plan with other forms of non-electronic marketing platforms. Keeping abreast of new technology and comfortably transitioning with the technological tide will help businesses stay on track with the mobile and Social Media hungry consumer base of today.