Troubleshooting client concerns

“Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.” – Alan Weiss

Addressing client concerns often comes with the territory in the world of marketing communication. Sometimes a client may have feedback about deliverables or timelines. Other times the issue may relate to subcontractors or staff. In such circumstances, it’s essential to find a workable solution to the problem in good time to retain your client and preserve your reputation.

It is no secret that many customer service representatives have hours of training and professional experience to help them manage feedback – both positive and negative – from customers. Representatives are often taught set approaches and given scripted responses to frequent complaints and questions from customers. In this blog, we look at some tried and tested tactics from the customer service realm that professionals of all stripes can use to simplify procedures, save time and achieve optimal results.

Addressing a client’s concern isn’t about damage control. Instead, it’s an opportunity to resolve a situation in such a way that both parties are left feeling satisfied/whole. Handle the situation with care and consideration, and you will not only show your client that you appreciate his or her business, you will retain it.

1. Get the facts straight

First off, listen closely to what your client is saying and make sure you fully understand the situation and origins of your client’s concern. For example, if Jane is upset about a product, ask her to describe her concern in detail, and then check in with her about words she uses that could be open to interpretation. For example, if Stan tells you that he wanted something to be done “better,” ask him to describe his expectations and then compare what was done to what he would have liked to have seen done. You may want to ask your client to provide a metaphor or example of a similar experience to help you better grasp the situation.

2. Take a deep breath

It’s easy to be on the defensive when you feel attacked by someone else. Perhaps you blame yourself or feel like a failure because of a client’s complaint. Emotional reactions are a natural part of being human, but they can also be distracting and could lead you to miss important information or say the wrong thing. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly and try to relax. You’ll be in a better frame of mind to address your client’s concern when you feel calm and can look at the situation objectively, as we discuss next.

3. Be objective

Every client is different, and finding the best way to approach his or her concern may require troubleshooting. A helpful strategy is to pretend you’re a scientist gathering information for a research study. Imagine that the information your client provides is data and you’re there to perform experiments – using questions, answers and background information about the situation – to test out hypotheses.

For example, let’s say Ron expected his company logo to appear on an event program and is upset that it was missed. When you look back in your email correspondences with him, though, you find no mention of this request.

Hypothesis 1: Ron sent the request to the wrong email address.
Action: Ask Ron if he can send you a copy of the email containing the request.

Hypothesis 2: Ron’s email somehow ended up in you junk folder.
Action: Check if it’s in your junk mail. If it’s not there, ask Ron to re-send the email with the request.

Hypothesis 3: Ron spoke with someone else about this request.
Action: Ask him if he can recall when the request was made and to whom, along with what was discussed. Again, ask for any documentation of the request.

Once you’ve exhausted all the angles, it’s time to reach a conclusion based on the information you’ve gathered.

4. Put yourself in their shoes

While it’s a good idea to objectively assess the situation, it is equally helpful to consider your client’s perspective on the matter. Is there something else that is informing your client’s viewpoint? Would you feel the same way if you were in a similar situation or under similar circumstances? Seeing the dispute through the lens of your client’s world can add depth and further insight. It can also aid you in identifying useful language and analogies to move the dispute closer to a resolution.

5. Provide options, offer alternatives

When there isn’t a clear road ahead, it can be beneficial to veer off course by suggesting alternatives. Perhaps there is an upcoming event for which Ron’s logo (see the example in #3) could appear on the event program or other promotional materials. Or, maybe you could give Ron’s company and logo some online love through social media platforms and/or stories. Are there partner organizations you can reach out to who can provide additional assistance? There may also be other ways that you could support an upset client that shows your client that you care and are willing to take additional steps – above and beyond the original agreement – to make him or her happy.

6. Agree to disagree

There are times when it isn’t possible to reach a win-win resolution with a client. In these cases, you may have to decide if you want to bite the bullet and follow through with his or her request – even if that requires a financial loss – or walk away from the situation with an unhappy customer. Regardless of what you decide, employ tact, care and professionalism at all times. Move things towards a conclusion, and be mindful of your time once the decision to part ways has been made. But, always remember that this is a professional relationship; don’t make it personal.

7. Thank

Always thank your client for his or her business regardless of the outcome of the dispute. Sending a thank-you note is a nicety that should be extended to all clients, regardless of whether or not they are longstanding or one-offs.

8. Follow up

It might be a good idea to send your client a feedback form once the concern has been addressed. Create a short questionnaire that requests his or her feedback on the situation. Insights garnered from such surveys can yield valuable client information that can help you avoid mistakes in the future and up the ante in your customer service and retention plan.

This isn’t to say that you should ever tolerate harassing, bullying or discriminatory behavior. If this happens, you have every right to remove yourself from the situation. In most cases, though, using some of the strategies and approaches outlined above will be enough to address concerns and could even lead to a stronger working relationship between you and your client.

Stay tuned for our next blog post about video production for marketing communication.

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Contacts, Customers, Conversion

Contacts, customers, conversion

Make the customer the hero of your story. – Ann Handley

Around the same time that I made a purchase from a company that delivered exceptional customer service, I had an inspiring conversation with the owner of a successful change management and marketing business in Vancouver.

I regularly connect with marketing communication leaders to talk shop, pass along contact information for subcontractors and share best practices and lessons learned. During our conversation, we touched on the subject of lead generation and noted that we’d both secured most of our current clients through client referrals.

Doing good business leads to more business

As a marketer, I’m keenly aware of the importance of recommendations, both ones I receive from former clients/colleagues and give to other communicators, marketers and subcontractors I’ve worked with and can vouch for. It’s a powerful tool that keeps our community strong, and makes it easier for clients to find the right fit for their organizations.

Referrals help you convert customers through clients and colleagues you’ve worked with and people you know. Some studies estimate that offline word of mouth (WOM) recommendations drive up sales five times more than a paid media impression, and that the higher the actual or perceived cost of a product or service, the more WOM can positively affect a sale. Most customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, adding to their legitimacy and strength as a modern marketing tool. To excel, organizations should focus on providing exceptional customer service that makes people want to sing your praises and recommend you to their colleagues, friends, family and online communities.

How to increase your referrals

Recommendations are a relatively low-cost and effective way for for business owners and marketers to strengthen and grow their customer base. It’s something most of us know intuitively, but perhaps haven’t added to our business plan or marketing strategy. The following is a list of some key questions business owners and marketers can use to evaluate their approach to securing referrals:

1. Does your business have referral-generation in its culture?

Always provide the best possible customer service to foster recommendations from your clients and staff – and, down the line, from their online and offline connections. To make this strategy work, you should also keep an eye on retaining and developing current customers. Even difficult or challenging clients can be seen as an opportunity to impress and can lead to recommendations and referrals for your business.

2. Should you use customer relationship management software?

Online tools can be a big time-saver when it comes to organizing your contacts and customers, and a huge asset for generating leads and referrals. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software helps you manage and optimize current client relationships, and often comes with tools for converting new customers.

3. Have you maximized your network?

Never underestimate the power of your network. If you follow the six degrees of separation concept, getting connected to clients through referrals could be easier than you’d expect. Contact a colleague or friend who is plugged into your target market and could recommend you to a potential client. Visit your LinkedIn page and reflect on past professional connections to identify possible inroads and recommendation or pitching opportunities.

4. Are you selling yourself?

With the amount of competition out there, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. It’s okay to ask for a recommendation from a past client. Always feel out the situation first, but you’ll find that many people are more than happy to help. Use some of those recommendations as self-promotion tools by adding the best ones to your website, LinkedIn page and marketing materials.

5. Should you launch a referral program?

Many organizations can benefit from creating a customer referral program to incentivize recommendations from past/current customers. While this may not be appropriate in every sector or for every business, offering discounts, rewards and other incentives to customers who recommend your business to a friend or colleague is an effective way to maximize your referrals.

6. Are you saying thank you enough?

Thanking current and past clients, staff and colleagues is a great way to show appreciation for their support, and can strengthen relationships and lead to recommendations. Saying thank you goes hand-in-hand with providing exceptional customer service and being a great organization. It’s something that will set you apart and encourage people to recommend you to others. Another tip would be to give recommendations to businesses and business owners you respect. They may or may not reciprocate, but it also doesn’t hurt to have your name and organization appear on the website or LinkedIn page of a company or professional that you believe in and want to support.

Why recommendations are valuable

When you receive recommendations that convert into paying customers, you save time and money that would have otherwise been devoted to converting the same number of sales. Tracking those recommendation can also act as a gauge of how happy your customer base is with your service or product, which has the added bonus of acting as a market research analysis tool.

Providing topnotch service to your clients increases the likelihood that they’ll come back to you for future purchases and recommend you to friends, family and colleagues. When providing great customer service, it’s important to bear in mind that you’ll not only be increasing your odds of getting a glowing Yelp, Google or Amazon review, you’ll also be more likely to receive referrals for future business.

Check back here for our next blog post about how to troubleshoot customer concerns.

May I help you? Secrets to giving great customer service

May I help you? Secrets to giving great customer service

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.  – Steve Jobs

Whether you’re a small business owner or a customer, you probably want to give and receive great customer service. One of my recent experiences with amazing customer service illustrated exactly what business owners can do to leave a lasting positive impression in the minds of your customers, increase sales and get better reviews on sites like Amazon and Yelp.

The backstory here is that I’d hemmed and hawed over a glass straw at a trade show a while back. I didn’t make the purchase then, but months later I decided that this was indeed something I’d like for those times when a straw is nice and using something renewable is even better.

I found an ecommerce website that listed many different straws from the company I’d seen at the trade show. I wasn’t sure which one was best suited to my needs, so I contacted the business owner with a couple of questions. She responded almost immediately and also directed me to the right website where I saved a few dollars on my purchase – still good for her, even better for me! I picked up my order shortly after that and was pleased to find a personal message of thanks from the owner inside the packaging.

Here’s how this business owner provided exceptional customer service and what you can do to get happy customers and boost your online ratings:

  1. Have a quick response time for questions

This doesn’t necessarily mean making yourself available to answer questions 24/7. If you’re a small business owner, that might not be feasible. But, you can create an automatic reply message that lets customers know when you will get back to them, such as within 48 hours or by the next business day. Depending on your business model, you might also want to integrate text or Facebook messaging into your communication streams to connect with customers promptly and in the most direct and convenient manner.

  1. Use different communication tools

I received an email as well as a Facebook message after making my purchase. While this could seem like overkill at first blush, it gave me another way to communicate with the company, which I personally appreciated. Facebook messages won’t work for every organization in every situation, but, when used correctly, they can connect your customers to your Facebook account where your customers can learn more about your business and like your page.

  1. Provide helpful information

The company owner certainly helped me out by directing me to a website where I saved money on my purchase. Similar to a value-added proposition, helpful information amplifies the perceived value of your product or service and also shows your customers that you care. Another approach could be to suggest accessory products to a customer that compliment their order, such as a scrub brush for their new glass straw or a recipe for a seasonal drink that pairs well with the type of straw they bought.

  1. Have a positive and solutions-focused approach

All communications with me were done using positive language that moved me along the buying process and helped me make my purchase decision. The owner anticipated my needs, such as inquiring whether I was using the right website to place my order and asking me follow-up questions to make sure she fully got my meaning. By giving me the information I needed when I needed it, the company owner was developing a rapport with me, her customer. This kind of rapport-building increases trust and brand loyalty, which can translate into repeat customers, referrals for your product or service and positive reviews on Yelp, Amazon and/or your organization’s website.

  1. Keep customers informed

Ordering something online still comes with a degree of uncertainty and stress for some customers who might worry about sharing credit card and personal information. It’s important to keep your customers well-informed every step of the way along their purchase decision journey: from having an up-to-date contact page on your website to clearly outlining shipping costs and shipment tracking information. Using ecommerce services, such as PayPal and Shopify, can save you time and energy, and can keep your customers informed about the status of their order and confident that their personal information is safe.

  1. Make it special with great brand design

I still get excited whenever I receive a package in the mail. It reminds me of Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions when I can expect to receive a gift the old fashioned snail mail way. I don’t want ugly packaging or lots of off-white and crumbling foam peanuts to kill the fantasy that I’m receiving something special just for me (even it’s also from me). The straw company did it right by using simple but attractive and well-branded packaging for their product (see photos). It was like Christmas came early. The care they took in packaging my new toy also reflected their overall attention to detail and exceptional customer service.

  1. Add a personal touch

The icing on the cake came in the form of a personalized thank-you note that I received with my purchase. I was impressed by the time the company took to make me feel like a valued customer, but, even more so, this personal touch solidified in my mind that this is a company that cares. Again, this approach might not work for every business in every situation, but there is something to be said for the power of saying thank you to customers in whatever way you can. You never know where this extra gesture of thanks could lead, such as an amazing review on your website, along with referrals and repeat business.

I was impressed throughout my experience with the glass straw company by how much time the owner took to help me with my purchase. It made me feel good that I chose her products over someone else’s. It also gave me valuable insights into the power of how good customer care can lead to even greater returns for businesses. After all, as a result of her exceptional attention to customer care, I wrote a glowing review for their company and this blog post. It just goes to show that small gestures that help make customers feel valued can go a long way for business owners.

Stay tuned for my next blog post about how to transform goodwill from customers into additional business…