Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I've Said It Before and I'll Say It Again...5 Principles of Customer Service

We get so busy in our work that we sometimes lose sight of those basic principles that are the foundation of great customer service.  So every once in a while, it’s good to go back to those roots…to sit down and reflect and make sure you’re really using your time to do what’s important for your customers.

I’ve gone over these many times in this blog, but here are 5 basic principles of customer service that always bear repeating.

1.  Know your audience.  This is where you start.  This is the first step, and you can’t skip it.  Who are you trying to serve?  Who is your audience?  

Don’t forget about those unanticipated customers – the ones who show up and without an invitation.  I remember when my friend, Sam Gallagher, put up a website for his community association.  His intended audience was the people who live in the community.  His biggest audience turned out to be people who might want to move to the community or who want to know more about the community.  With a little tinkering, he was able to address the needs of both audiences, for the better of the community.

Audiences can shift.  Customers can change.  Circle back to this question often.   

2.  Listen, respect, and follow.   You know who you’re serving.  Now, find out what they want.   How do you do that?  You listen to them – I mean really listen to them.  Constantly. 

You can/should do that in many ways.  Watch your stats, read your email, and do your usability testing.

Use social media.  I’ve long believed the real value of social media isn’t pushing out information but listening to your audience.  Hearing their questions and discussions, learning more about them… what worries them, what pleases them.  Remembering the words they use so you can communicate with them better.  

And you can’t just sit in your office (especially if your office is in Washington, DC).  If you really want to know your customers, get out and talk to them.  Go where they are.  When I was HUD’s web manager, we piggy-backed on conferences and meetings where the agency had a presence – events both for business partners and for citizens.  We set up our computer, showed people what we had, and asked them what they wanted.  I can’t tell you how many times we got new ideas or corrected our misconceptions, by talking to our customers.

But listening is only the first part.  Respect what they tell you – especially when they tell you you’re doing it wrong.  And then fix it.  Customer feedback isn’t an annoyance – it’s an opportunity.

3.  Give them what they want, when they want it, in ways that make sense to them.  To serve well, you need to know how your customers behave and how they communicate.  Where and when do they want your service?  Do they look for your services online?  Or do they prefer to use the phone?  Or mail?  Or do they use multiple delivery methods…maybe request a brochure, then do something online, then phone a call center for clarification, and then go into an office to complete the task?  You have to design – and refine – your services to help your customers find and use them just as easily as possible.  That means “easy” for them – not you. 

Use the words they use.  And keep it direct and to the point.  Make sure they understand what they’re supposed to do to complete the task and what they’re supposed to do with the results.  Offer them help if they get stuck.

If you want satisfied customers, understand what they want to do and when they want to do it.  And make sure your information and instructions are absolutely clear to them, so they can get it done and move on in their busy lives.

4.  Measure what matters.   In 1995, when I became HUD’s web manager, it was a big deal to be able to tell the Secretary how many people came to our website.  Woo hoo!  Our audience increased by 150% in the past 6 months.  What did that measure?  Maybe how well we were marketing the site.  More likely, it measured how well the computer companies and internet service providers were increasing their business.  It didn’t tell us a darn thing about how well we were serving our customers. 

We soon figured out it’s not the quantity of the audience that matters – it’s the quality of their experience.  Could they find what they wanted?  Could they use what they found?  Did we do what we were trying to do?

Measure what matters.  How long does it take customers to find your top tasks?  How long does it take them to complete those tasks?  Do they get the right answer/a successful outcome?  Did they understand the words the first time they read them?  Did those improvements you made reduce the time it takes to complete the task and/or increase the success rate?

Don’t waste your time and money.  Throw out statistics and measures that don’t help you answer these questions.  Measure what matters, and use the results to improve your services.

5.  Be consistent.  Consistency is the hallmark of great customer service.  Customers need to get the same answers, no matter how or who they ask.  They need to get the same respectful treatment, whether they use the web, the phone, or the mail.  So if you’re a web manager, you have to know what the call centers are doing, what the publications are saying, what social media is learning, and what correspondence units are hearing.   You have to compare notes and figure out how you can work together to make the customer experience as easy and effective as possible, especially when customers use multiple channels.  Keep your focus on the customer – and not on the delivery channel.   Be consistent.

Do yourself – and your customers – a favor.  Carve out time - once a month or once a quarter- to think about these 5 principles.  What’s changed?  What’s new?  Is everything on that “to do” list of yours related to these goals?  Could you be using your time better, to achieve what’s really important to customer service? 

These principles are your foundation.  Maintain your foundation, and you’ll have a solid customer service strategy.

Related Posts

Courage to Do What We Know We Need to Do 
Metrics That Matter

Monday, February 06, 2012

Submit a Video and Win A Place in Line for FREE Usability Testing

What’s the very best thing you can do for your web customers?   Test the usability of your website.  Honestly – I can tell you from personal experience – there is no statistic or survey that will tell you as much about how good – or bad – your site is as watching people use it.  And guess what?  Testing doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  The folks at GSA have you covered.

The First Fridays program offers government agencies a half-day of professional usability testing – for FREE!  After a morning of in-depth testing with real web customers, you’ll meet over lunch with the First Fridays team and identify quick-fix solutions to the top three problems.  Not only do you get your site tested by professionals, but also you learn how to your own testing.  Did I mention it’s FREE?

My friend, Nicole Burton, coordinates the First Fridays program; and it’s already been a huge success, helping many agencies spot the problems with – and come up with solutions for – their sites.  In fact, the program has been so successful that the line to get in on it is long.  They’re already booked for much of 2012.

But wait – don’t despair!  You have an opportunity to assure your spot in the 2012 First Fridays queue.  GSA has issued a challenge – submit a short video telling GSA why your site needs to be tested this year.  If your entry is chosen, you’ll be assured of a free usability test, this year.

Head to the “Win a Free Usability Test Video Contest” site and find out how to participate.  This Challenge is open to any government agency (federal, state, local) with a public-facing website or app.

A team of five usability judges (including my personal usability guru Steve Krug) will view the videos and entry forms and choose one winner.  There’s more.  The public also will view the entries and will pick a winner.  Both winners are will get the full First Fridays treatment, during 2012.  All FREE.  That’s a great deal for you and a great deal for your customers.

Be sure to read the rules about First Fridays.  You’ve got to work with the GSA team and make sure the owner of your site/app is onboard with attending the session and committing to improvement.  But how hard is that?  Don’t we all want our sites/apps to be as effective as possible at delivering great customer service?

I recently did some usability testing with a group that was just sure its site was great.  Their customers told them so.  They had the stats to show it.  Each of the testing participants had used the site before and thought the site was great.  And guess what?  When we gave those participants common problems to solve, using the site, every single one of them had a hard time.  Mouths dropped open. 

Watch people use your site.  Take advantage of the terrific First Fridays program.  Submit a video for the First Fridays Challenge and assure your place in line (entries are due February 29).  You’ll be glad you did…and so will your customers.