An excerpt from Andrea J. Lee’s 39 Lessons
(This is one of my all time favorite articles from Andrea… a ‘common’ topic but she takes a really simple and effective approach to customer service. Make sure you share this with your team!)
In the world of online business, it’s still remarkably easy to distinguish yourself with a little customer care.
This means an opportunity for those who wish to seize it.
Today’s lesson is based on several recent coaching sessions with one-on-one clients. In them, the clients have impressed me with their pursuit of that special “X” factor that will make their companies truly great. In these discussions, customer service always comes up.
If we were to talk about this topic as it applies to business offline, I’m pretty certain you would already have stopped reading. The topic of customer service has been covered so many times from so many different angles as to be completely banal.
But when it comes to the online business world, there are a few things that if not original, are not being said clearly or often, and represent an opportunity for you to make your mark in the mind of your customers.
Whether You Admit It Or Not, You Like Speed, and So Do Your Customers
The online world is characterized in large part by speed. There is very little we cannot find out within just a few minutes, whether that be the temperature in Florida at this very minute or spend a small fortune on buying just about anything.
Much of this is because we’ve learned to do our work using machines that don’t need sleep. But when it comes time to ask a personal question on the Internet, that’s a different story. In a time when so much standard information comes so quickly, it’s the big irony of our age that anything outside the standard takes forever to figure out.
Best to pick up the phone in that case, in my opinion.
But this is where the opportunity lies, for online business owners like us who want to bring value to our customers.
Forgoing the idea that everything should be automated, instead make sure you include a customer service element in your business that is fast and personal. Instead of trying to do absolutely everything through Frequently Asked Questions lists, help desk tickets, etc., do the ‘unthinkable’ and marry online speed with a truly personal touch.
Build some email templates, set a few ground rules, and hire a part-time customer service helper. Then watch yourself shine in a sea of mediocrity.
First, Build Some Quick-and-Easy Email Templates. (Even if you only use them yourself.)
To get started building and using email templates, review Lesson #04. When in doubt, always specify the first and last parts of the email for your helper to use. Those will generally stay the same and set the tone of the transaction. It’s the middle part of the email that will change case-by-case.
Hi [Customer First Name] and thanks for writing. I’ll be happy to help.
Regarding this, yes, [Insert Middle Part of Email Containing answers/solutions or information about what you are doing to get those to the customer]
I hope that helps. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to let us know okay? Thanks!
[Helper’s First Name, email and website address, and any short promo tag line or graphic.]
Note: An important part of the sample template above is “Regarding this, yes…”
What are these three words for?
It’s an easy way for you to build rapport with your customer. “Regarding this” indicates you have heard their question. The response becomes personalized to them. You can replace this phrase with something more if you wish, such as “Regarding your question about the deadline for registration, yes” or “Regarding your concern about the busy tone you received on the bridge line…
The word “Yes” gives you and your customer a common footing from which to communicate. By agreeing with them from the outset, you indicate you have understood their request and signal that you will be forthcoming about answering/resolving/helping. Let’s round out the examples.
Hi Sally and thanks for writing. I’ll be happy to help.
Regarding your question about the 39 Lessons, yes, registration is still available.
Regarding your concern about which merchant account to sign up for, yes, it’s a complicated decision for sure.
By building these three simple words into your email correspondence, you will see a marked improvement in your ability to build relationships with your customers.
For more ideas on how to build a template library, again, review Lesson #04 where members can copy text directly from a few templated emails.
Then, Set A Few Simple Ground Rules.
This is where it starts to get fun.
Best when approaching this to make it a game. How many people can you shock each day, with how quick your customer service response is to emails?
Now, I hear your questions already. “How can we be so quick, Andrea?” “All the time?” “That’s just not sustainable, I’m not online all the time.”
All valid points. And let me address them here.
First ground rule. Whether it’s you who is answering the emails for now, or someone you hire (see next step) make it a policy to answer your newest emails first. “Skim the top” of your email inbox. As the customer emails pop in, grab them, insert email template, answer and hit send.
Second, do the easiest ones first. Some emails inevitably require some research, for example investigating a refund request with your merchant account. That email might take several minutes to answer, whereas others might take 10 seconds. So answer the emails that are simplest first. This eliminates delay completely for certain types of email.
Third, don’t be afraid to answer very briefly. If the middle part of your email only has one sentence in it, great! In some circles, Internet Marketing gurus recommend their mentees stick to a one line response to all emails, which can also work.
As you finish the quickest emails, then gradually work through any backlog you have, again, answering the quickest first. The theory behind this thinking is that if someone has already waited a few hours, you’ve already passed the point of shocking them with how responsive you are. That opportunity is past.
Continue to play the game of shocking as many people as you can, by skimming the top of your email inbox. As you handle those, move on to the slightly older requests. In most cases, you’ll still be responding within a reasonable time frame, which is 2 business days.
Ground Rule Four, always respond promptly and completely to emails regarding money. Whether that be refunds, affiliate questions, referral fees or other, do yourself a favor by treating your customer’s money with the utmost respect.
And Ground Rule Five, always thank your customers when they rave about your customer service. If you’ve come this far, you’re certain to have created some incredibly happy-to-be-shocked customers. Now thank them, get permission to use their comments as testimonials, and move on!
Definitely plan to find a part-time helper. (It’s going to be more expensive for you NOT to hire one.)
If you’ve been a small business owner for some time, whether online or off, I’m sure you’ve heard of the “E-Myth” a book written by Michael Gerber. In it, he talks a great deal about the importance of working “on” your business rather than “in” it.
If you were the owner of a small store, it would be more important for you to decide on how to bring more customers into the store, than to work the cash register, right?
The same thing applies online. While you will be fine to answer emails for a certain amount of time, make it your plan to hire help. At $10/hour, and with a good set of templates and ground rules, you can put some nimble fingers to work for as little as $200 a month, depending on the volume of requests.
We covered “How to Hire Online Help” in Lesson #01, but when it comes to part-time customer service help in particular, let me add a few additional pointers:
>> Be sure to hire someone who naturally spends quite a bit of time online.
This may be a student, a work-at-home-mom, someone who is studying a lot online or a virtual assistant whose business it is to be online, supporting a handful of business owners like you.
>> Be sure to hire someone who is naturally positive.
Customer service is all about positive relations. If the person helping you is not consistently and regularly upbeat, you have an uphill battle on your hands. Do yourself a favor, hire positivity for this role.
>> Recognize that this is a high-churn role.
Customer service is notoriously difficult to retain people in. I choose to flow with this universal fact rather than fight it. Even the most positive of people is going to need to be cycled out of customer service after 3, 6 or perhaps 12 months. Especially if your business is moving quickly with lots of things going on, be ready with your strategy to quickly and easily freshen the customer service help you retain.
This doesn’t mean heartlessly discarding the previous person, though. Simply move them into another spot in your business that requires other help. That may be administration, website help, writing, or other tasks. And yes, move the person sooner than you think necessary. (We’ll cover how to train staff in a future Lesson.)
More than anything, Customer Service – especially online – is a matter of your mindset.
It’s a sad fact, but true. In the virtual world, it can be deceptively easy to forget your customer is #1.
Take a moment and remember how lucky you are to be working online, most likely from the comfort of your home, with your family surrounding you. Done right, your business will allow you to never commute another day in your life. How is this possible? Many things, but first and foremost, let’s not forget our customers.
Because we rarely “see” our customers, it can be easy to forget them. We never hand them their change, or smile as we ask them how we can help. When they complain, we don’t see their faces, so we may not take them seriously.
Online or not, our customers are real people. And face it, most of our competitors have forgotten that. There is a great sea of mediocrity out there when it comes to online customer service, as I’m sure you’ve experienced personally. So take advantage of the opportunity to distinguish yourself among online businesses, and treat your customers like the sun.
With a little shift in mindset, you’ll distinguish yourself considerably, and your customers will become your greatest advocates. How’s that’s for something to put in your marketing plan?
“create raving customers…grow business.”
Sounds like a winner to me.
A Final Note…
I reserved a brief negative pointer for last. This is a concept I think of as “the 2 percenter.”
From time to time, you are going to encounter a customer who is an incredibly squeaky wheel. If fact, experience has confirmed that about 2% of customers will fall into this ‘squeaky wheel’ category. Whatever you do, even going the extra mile or bending over backwards…doesn’t seem to please them. They continue to complain, ask for more from you than many of your other customers combined, and always come back with less than a smile.
This kind of person is the “2 percenter” and between business owners, let me say this bluntly…just don’t bother.
As soon as you identify a “2 percenter” (you’ll get good at doing it quickly) cut your losses. Politely refuse to become entangled in this irreconcilable relationship.
If they have paid money for services, cheerfully refund them saying simply, “Thank you, but this isn’t the right program/service/system for you. So sorry. I hope you’re able to find something that suits you better elsewhere. The very best of luck to you.”
Then move onto your other customers, and savor the joy of making sure they are absurdly happy.