Answer the door. Winning the customer inquiry exchange

Restaurant service bell vintage with bokehSuccessful customer impressions begin at the front door of your business. That front door these days is often an email in-box, a Website inquiry, a cell phone call or text, a Tweet, post or comment. Or it might be someone actually at your front door!

Don’t miss the opportunity to make that first impression.  #27 of Valcort’s 35 Keys to Business Growth reads: Assure that every inquiry that comes into your company receives an appreciative, supportive response and a quick solution that builds trust and confidence with the customer.

If you’re like me, when you think about your own customer inquiries, your mind goes to situations when you’ve been the customer and your call for help or information has been tortuously long and ultimately unpleasant (the last two that come to mind for me are calls to the IRS and to my health insurance company.  Hours of waiting!) There are many examples of what NOT to do. But how can you be best-in-class in your responses to inquiries, complaints, and comments?

When customers contact your company, they have expectations. They expect their query to be addressed. They expect a solution to their concerns and an answer to their questions. And they expect it fast.

According to a one study, 47 percent of customers trying to connect to businesses through online tools expect a response within 24 hours of initial contact. Many anticipate a response within 8 hours! This goal isn’t always feasible, but focusing on fast response times is vital to maintaining a high standard of customer service.

Here are some tips on calls, emails, Web and social media:


1. Make calls a pleasure

Your phone representatives are certainly at the front door of customer service, entrusted with the demanding task of pleasing and appeasing customers. They need to be versatile and equipped with a strong skill set to handle the complexity of the job. Here are ten customer service skills agents should master to deliver the very best service from

  • Customers may be frustrated when they make contact, so patience is certainly a virtue every agent needs to have. Give customers a chance to explain their situation in full and never react negatively to an unhappy customer.
  • Timeliness is critical in customer service. Agents should be swift in responding to inquiries and prepared to switch to another channel if a case needs more attention. Deliveries and additional tasks should be handled promptly, while brands should provide customers options such as callbacks to further ensure efficiency.
  • Clear communication.Strike a balance between giving thorough answers, using a professional vocabulary, and being conversational and approachable all at the same time. It’s no easy task.
  • Empathy. It may seem dramatic, but empathy is among the most important customer service skills. A frustrated customer needs attention and reassurance, but even satisfied customers need attention. For example, simply acknowledging concern for timeliness (quick delivery) and relevant promotional offers (not sending too many or unwanted marketing messages) shows consideration and respect for customers.
  • Knowledge about products and services. Among the essential customer service skills is simply possessing the knowledge to discuss products and services. Agents need to receive thorough training to better understand what the company offers, and they should be updated regularly on company developments.
  • Positive attitude.No matter how upset a customer might be, agents must keep a positive attitude. Using positive language that reflects confidence in finding a solution will reassure a customer and encourage sustained loyalty in the brand.
  • Attentive listening.If a customer wishes to explain a situation in detail, agents need to be willing to listen. In addition, customers may not necessarily accept the solutions an agent has to offer or have questions about them, so attentive listening is critical to showing respect for customer opinions and offering them the best eventual solution.
  • During customer service exchanges, agents must be organized at all times to deliver timely service. This means being able to navigate efficiently between different windows in a CRM database as well as switching channels when necessary.
  • Of the most essential customer service skills, adaptability to changing situations is crucial. Agents need to be ready to handle varying customer demands, possible technical issues, switching to other channels, and the like.
  • Willingness to go the extra mile.Customers appreciate great service, but they love a gesture that shows real appreciation for their business. Agents who go the extra mile often win over customers.


2. Make emails sing for you.

Did you know that 41% of companies do not respond to customer service emails. Nine out of ten don’t acknowledge or inform the customer that an email has been received. 99% of companies do not follow up on customers to see if they were satisfied with the response. Only one in ten companies can answer questions in the first reply. Four out of 10 companies do not have an email address or phone number clearly visible on their website.

What does it all mean? The majority of companies are failing to meet customer expectations!

To respond to all customer support emails, recommends that companies:

  • Start out by setting up rules in your customer service software, to allow you to automatically forward a request to the correct department.
  • When a customer asks a question, don’t ignore it. If you ignore your customers, they will ignore you and eventually shop elsewhere.
  • Set up an auto-responder in your customer service email client, and in the acknowledgment, use an email templatethat includes customer support working hours, a unique ID for tracking the request and supporting links to a self-service knowledge base or online FAQs.


3. Be a social media maven.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have evolved to become more than emergent platforms for marketing and advertising. Increasingly, they are also valid and important channels through which consumers solicit and receive customer service. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, nearly half of U.S. consumers use social media to ask questions, report satisfaction, or to complain—and a third of social media users prefer “social care” to the phone.

You need to be a social media rock star. But how? provides a guide with some best practices for providing great customer service through social media. Highlights:

  • ·Be where your customers are

One of the first challenges to providing great customer service over social media is determining where to focus time and resources. What social media sites are frequented by your customers?

  •  Listen to what your customers say

Monitoring social media is a first step, listening is equally important from a customer service perspective. When participants in a 2012 survey from Oracle were asked what was most important when visiting a company’s social media page, 43 percent responded that they were looking for a direct response to their question.

  • Track and manage volume

Depending on the volume of social interactions your brand generates, and the size of your staff, your ability to keep track of social inquiries may be made easier by a customer service platform that can integrate with social media and turn posts, tweets, and direct or private messages into tickets.

  • Speed of response is critical.

“Live help” typically refers to phone or chat support, yet in the customer’s mind, social media is a gray area that more closely straddles the line between chat and email support. There is the potential for help to be instantaneous if social media is constantly monitored, but more likely, help will arrive hours later. Several studies have found that the majority of customers expect a response over social media within the same day.


4. Provide online self-support.

When millennials run into technology problems, their first response is to pick up their phone — but not to make a call. Rather, the device is often used to search for ways to solve the issue online, without having to speak to a customer service representative. A recent survey found that 73 percent of consumers want the ability to solve problems on their own.

Many companies are taking advantage of interactive mobile apps where customers can view bills, manage their account and change their service options directly through their smart phone. Mobile apps also allow for proactive customer interaction through push notifications, informing customers of approaching data overage or indicating when a monthly bill is ready for review almost instantaneously.

Empowering customers to manage their accounts and solve issues saves both the customer and the company valuable time and frustration.


There’s someone at your door.  Answer it.

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