Archive | Customer service

I’m Going to Stop You Before You FAQ Again

Just ran across a conversation about FAQs in the Google Group for content strategy. [If you’re interested in CS, you need to join this group! Lots of great ideas.] This conversation popped up at a great time for me — I’ve been pondering FAQs for a few weeks now, and here’s what I know:

FAQs started — decades ago — as a vehicle to help discussion forums clean out the clutter. New forum users often showed up with the same questions that long-time users had asked before, and it got repetitive to answer the same questions over and over again, so many forums set up a list of questions that were frequently asked, along with the definitive answers.

I remember very clearly when I first used an FAQ page on a regular website. It was the mid-to-late 1990s, and we were so cutting edge. It was a real inside baseball joke — we had to explain to our client what an FAQ even was, and they still couldn’t figure out why we needed one.

It turns out, we were both right. We were right — FAQs slowly started popping up everywhere over the next few years, until you wouldn’t even think of building a website without one — and our client was right, because FAQs just don’t make sense on a text-based website with a content management system and programming scheme that have any level of sophistication.

Why FAQs are a bad idea for your website:

  • FAQs are rarely well written. It takes a lot of talent and time to write well from the contorted perspective of an FAQ. Are you asking the questions in your customer’s voice? Are you answering them in yours? Or both in your voice? At what point do you give up and just start throwing pronouns around willy-nilly? If you’re like most FAQ writers we’ve seen, that happens pretty early in the process and the results show it.
  • FAQs don’t actually help customers. The construct of an FAQ — couch your help copy in the kinds of questions a customer might ask, if you let them call you — actually makes it more difficult for your customer to get an answer. When people are seeking information online, they’re skimming for keywords that describe their issue. You’ve surrounded their keywords [change password] with a bunch of extraneous copy [How do I change my password?]. Stack that simple question up with 2-3 dozen more “helpful” questions, and people can’t find a thing.
  • FAQs don’t live at the point of sale. Your customer needs help figuring out how to add a photo over on the profile page, not from an FAQ page that’s a link in the footer. FAQs aren’t in context, and your customers are more likely to give up and leave your site than they are to search around…and around…and around to find the answer.
  • FAQs don’t fix your sucky website. When you use FAQs on a website, they become an ineffective panacea for every problem with the interface and the content. People abandoning their shopping carts? Slap a couple more FAQs up there. Landing page not working well? Must need more FAQs.

What to do instead of using FAQs:

  • Fix your website. This is the hardest answer, but the best one. If something’s not working on your website, make it work.
  • Use in-context help. This often will require development, but putting help in-context makes a big difference. Add a little question mark or the word “Help” linking to a pop-up window with the tip right on the page where the problem happens. [Bonus: A good use of a pop-up window!]
  • If all else fails, create a topical help directory. If you can’t do the development or don’t have a system that supports in-context help, at the very least, throw out your FAQ and rewrite the information as a topical help directory that customers can easily scan and navigate. You eliminate perspective issues and your information is much clearer to your customer. Similarly, if your customers come to you with a wide variety of expertise, you may have to hit the largest group in terms of usability — and some people will need more help. Make it easy for them to get it.

Finally, if you’re running a discussion forum — by all means, use an FAQ. Everyone hates seeing that same question asked by new users every week.

 

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SXSW: Gary Vaynerchuk and The Thank You Economy

I will tell you straight out that I have a fan-girl crush on Gary Vaynerchuk. I find his enthusiasm infectious, and I agree with his perspective on a lot of things. Particularly on the value of hard work and on how you treat customers. I don’t know where you live, but everyone doesn’t value those things.

Quick backgrounder: Vaynerchuk was born in Belarus and moved to the United States with his family when he was a child. His father owned a liquor store, and Vaynerchuk had the entrepreneurial bug from a young age. He went into the family business but soon saw the potential to turn it into something much bigger than a local liquor store. He rebranded the store as the Wine Library and launched a retail website for the store in the late 1990s. Several years ago, he started producing a video blog about wine, Wine Library TV. He’s written two books about business and social media: Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion and The Thank You Economy.

Here we go. He’s appropriately starting out by thanking the audience for being here. And he’s going to try REALLY hard not to curse as much [big laugh from audience]. Lots of the session will be Q&A. This guy is really funny.

Calls himself “obnoxiously practical” — was alarmed when people read Crush It and emailed him to say they’d quit their jobs. Says he’s all about business…Zen and butterflies are nice, but he wants to make money.

He’s talking about his flight to Toronto that was canceled last week. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could have texted him to say, “We’re sorry”?

“If content is king, context is God.” Love that.

Cites’ Google’s Eric Schmidt who recently said, the same amount of content that was created from beginning of time til 2003, that same amount is now created in 48 hours. Vaynerchuk says, that’s why context matters.

Taking the room to task on customer care: Big companies are bad at this, but startups and tech companies are bad too. No one cares about the end user. Attributes his success to really caring about the customer.

I’m not sure he’s making good on his promise to curse less.

He’s got a big new customer in Chicago who’s a big Jay Cutler fan. They found him on Twitter and discovered he’s a huge Jay Cutler fan. They’re getting him a signed Jay Cutler jersey, not a nice bottle of wine or a free shipping code.

Brands and businesses that figure out how to impact the customer at the point of sale are the ones that will win. He believes we are on the verge of the “humanization of business.”

Talks about the change in the way pets have changed since 1950s. In 50s, dogs lived outside. Now lots of dogs live inside, sleep in your bed, eat better food than you do. Next we’re going to humanize brands. For the last 100 years, marketing has been push. Talks about how we’re ruined email. Remember how excited you were when you got your first couple of emails? Now everyone hates email, because marketers are drowning you. With email, marketers do all the talking. You’ve got to give first, not talk first. And stop trying to close so fast.

The world is a cocktail party. Your social street cred is critical. The context is critical. Vaynerchuk says, I can outcare anyone. I will win.

“There is no such thing as a social media campaign.” It’s the human equivalent of a one-night stand. You’ve got to build a relationship. Slams Old Spice for its heavily-lauded campaign last year: They don’t talk to anyone. They pushed media for 6 months but never talked to anyone. No one wants to follow someone on Facebook so they can push their commercials on us. Old Spice is the perfect example of what not to do.

Some rapid-fire thoughts:
Stop retweeting people who compliment you! You’re bragging! And stop trying to collect followers to donate money to charity! Content calendars suck. And can we please stop filtering people? Don’t pick who you’re going to respond to on Twitter by how many followers they have. And don’t throw a Twitter and Facebook logo on your TV commercial — that’s like throwing up a telephone logo. I need your number!

Your grandparents are far more prepared for what’s coming than you are. They understood the human connection, small-town rules. People who worry about metrics and ROI and not human connections are going to die.

He’s doing a great rant on traditional media metrics…they are no better than social/web metrics.

People are going to start battling on the care front.

Now he’s going into the audience to talk to a woman who thought the internet was a fad.

The internet is not a fad. Social media is not a fad because it’s @#&ing human. Caring is scalable now.

Only reason to spend more money on an equivalent product: Convenience and relationships.

In response to a question: Doesn’t think it’s in everyone’s DNA to be nice. In business, you are forced to care. Says it’s exhausting to care as much as he does, but that effort is grossly underestimated.

Update: Guy just came to the mike and gave a numerical report on the number of specific curse words Vaynerchuk has used. One of the biggest applause moments. His response: Getting better.

Update 2: At the tail end of his presentation [after I posted this], Vaynerchuk offered a deal on 5 sample bottles of wine from TastingRoom.com to everyone in the room, for 2¢. [Why not free? Liquor laws.] I took advantage of it…because how cool is that? So, just full disclosure on that point.

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You can’t speak in your own voice if you don’t know what you want to say

Authenticity matters a lot these days. I think it matters a lot more online than it did even 10 years ago. In a world where celebrities can get their Twitter accounts verified, people are willing to pay more for the real thing. It’s so easy to spoof — to pretend to be someone you’re not.

I’ve run a neighborhood email list for more than a decade now. Back when it started, we were in a different world, technologically. But from the perspective of my email list, not a lot has changed. People who are interested in what’s going on in East Nashville subscribe to my list. They decide if they want to read the list online, or if they want a digest email or to receive each email individually. I help people with problems with their passwords, and I try to keep the shouting to a dull roar.

It may surprise you, but the volume of crazy on my list of 5000+ neighbors isn’t that different from the days when I had 300 subscribers. There are some network effects there, things that react in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated. One situation that drives most regular list members nuts is when an anonymous [a not-my-real-name member] posts something rude. And they always want me to “do something” about it.

From the cost-benefit perspective, it’s an easy answer. I’m volunteering my time to manage the list, and this doesn’t happen all that often, and plenty of polite members of the list are anonymous as well. So I’m not going to require some name verification process to join or post to the list.

But I do see the positive results of authenticity there, on a daily basis. People who are willing to put their names to their words benefit, especially when they share valuable information.

There are a number of parallels between this free neighborhood email list and the online communities I’ve helped clients manage over the years. And the authenticity rule is a clear parallel.

People who speak with a real voice — and even better, who put employee faces and names to the company brand — are rewarded with trust and loyalty. Too many companies are still hiding behind an anonymous brand identity, with an anonymous voice. I think there’s a variety of reasons you see companies doing this, among them:

  • They’re scared of losing control of the message.
  • They’re scared of their employees developing a following — thinking it will be detrimental to their brand equity.
  • They haven’t figured out how to represent their organization’s personality online in one-on-one customer communications.
  • They don’t actually have a plan about engaging their customers anyway.

Those are fixable problems, if you’ve got the will to fix them. Be for real online. It matters, and you’ll be rewarded for it.

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15 things we need to stop doing in 2011

What a great list of things to stop doing and thinking from Chris Koch. Here’s my favorite, though there are several good points here. In 2011, we need to stop believing things like:

Filtered conversation reduces risk. The ultimate risk in business is that your customers stop buying from you because they don’t trust you. Preventing employees from speaking to customers because they might make a mistake ignores this much bigger risk—which existed long before social media came along. Customers want to speak to the people they will be working with. That’s why employees and subject matter experts should be on the front lines of social media rather than marketers or PR people.

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Your marketing is killing your customer service

Yeah, you. Corporate America. [Maybe corporate everywhere…but my recent experiences are homegrown, so no blame-passing today.]

Your amazingly successful efforts in data collection, standardization, segmentation and automation have removed the human element from your interactions with your customers — remember them? The people who make an emotional, human decision to spend their cash with you and not your competitor.

We’ve all complained about automated phone systems — everything from “press 1 for sales” to advanced voice-recognition — but everyone still uses them. Somewhere along the line, they became cheaper [and therefore “better”] than human operators. They easily hold all the options in their automated brains, and “always” direct calls to the “right department.” I got one yesterday that gave me a dizzying amount of options. I wanted sales. I wanted to make a purchase. And I couldn’t figure out what number to press. I had called the 800-number promoted on the company’s website that said, Call here to make a faster purchase.

People, I’m a marketer. If your marketer customers can’t figure this out, you’re making it too hard.

On each of my four [4!!!] phone calls with the same company, trying to make the same simple purchase, I had to give out my account number and my PIN number. This was not a financial or health care institution. I had no secret data with them, and my purchase certainly wasn’t private in any way. But they refused to make the sale until I’d given them all this identifying information, so that their records would reflect all my purchases together.

Let me stop here to point out a company that does this right. I’ve bought from Lands’ End for more than 20 years. When I call them, which I still do occasionally despite using their website primarily for more than 10 years, they do ask for my catalog number, but if I don’t have my customer number, no one freaks out. They will still sell me stuff.

But what made me angriest about the whole thing yesterday was that the phone rep never, ever went off script. Everything she [I talked to 2 women and 1 man on the 4 calls, and this was one of the women] said started with something like, “In order to serve you better….”

No. It does NOT serve me better to have to tell you all the information I just told the LAST representative I spoke with. It does NOT serve me better to have to wade through more than 20 minutes of data confirmation and gathering on your part in order to buy one product. I understand that as marketers, we want all the data. We want to make sure the customer orders the right product, because they’ll blame us if they order the wrong product. But placing the burden of information-gathering on your customers does not serve them better. At the very least, let’s all write better, more honest scripts, shall we?

The whole scenario made me angrier than I care to admit, but the part that really ticked me off was that the customer service rep kept telling me it was my fault. I was the party in the wrong for being upset at having to repeat all of my data. At having to give them ANY data beyond the truly essential: product, shipping address and credit card number. I was wrong to think that was all I needed for a purchase, and I shouldn’t be so mad about it.

Well, what I’m really mad about is that apparently, someone in corporate America decided it was a good idea to evaluate customer service reps on how well they read scripts, instead of on how well they serve customers.

This woman couldn’t fix that. Bless her heart.

But maybe you can.

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The intensely personal customer experience

I’ve been light around here this week, primarily because my dad had to have his prostate removed yesterday. The surgery went well, and the surgeon expects my dad to get a cancer-free report from the lab results next week — here’s hoping!

At Creekmore Consulting, we do quite a bit of work in the health care field, and some of our clients spend a lot of their time thinking about the patient experience. Statistically, it’s something people my age — late 30s — are less likely to have to think about, but it’s been on my mind a lot in the last year for personal reasons as well as professional, since I gave birth to my 1yo daughter last April, to my 11yo’s recent visit to the ER for stitches and now with my dad’s very recent diagnosis and hospitalization.

Any business can give you a great customer experience, from the hardware store to your cell phone provider to the dry cleaner. But we put up with a lot of shoddy service from many of our daily interactions, don’t we? Exceptional customer service is the rarity.

I’m wondering, though, about industries like health care. When every interaction with your customer is potentially intensely personal, how much more important does the customer experience become? What are the downsides of screwing up — not with a medical decision, but with some service aspect of the relationship? Is it worse for the long-term customer relationship if a hospital doesn’t treat its patients and their families with service and caring, than if a restaurant staff is rude to you?

It’s an interesting question to me. It’s awfully easy to stop patronizing a restaurant, isn’t it? But I stuck with the same pediatric practice for 10 years, despite many more incorrect bills than right ones, and a rude staff to boot, because I liked the doctor so much and I really trusted her. When you’re dealing with life and death issues, it just feels like the responsibility to provide exceptional service is higher, but I’m not sure how we measure the results of poor service coupled with excellent medical care.

While I have seen those two incongruent things go hand-in-hand before, I’m glad to report that my dad and our family were delighted with both the caring attention and the medical care he received at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I do have to wonder if high-quality medical care also tends to reflect in the level of overall patient-centered attitude at a hospital. What do you think?

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The only way to win the fight for attention

Even in today’s still-uncertain economic times, I would argue that most marketers’ biggest problem is getting the necessary share of time, not share of wallet. In my working life, the time clutter problem has gotten to be the biggest issue for people in the modern economy, across industries.

And nonetheless, we’ve got products and services to sell to businesses and consumers who are just like us — suffering from calendar and inbox overload.

You can cut through the clutter momentarily with a media sensation — the right ad, the right YouTube video — or with PR, good or bad, surrounding something that catches public interest. But if you’re not making your customer’s life better and simpler, you’re not going to win in the long run.

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A big, urgent question

The other night I was at a board meeting for a nonprofit agency I serve. And as sometimes happens at those kind of events, we participated in an icebreaker — you know, a get-to-know-your-fellow-board-members-better activity. Each person drew a question to ask the person to her right. Someone earlier around the table got the inevitable, “Who’s your hero/who has influenced you the most?” question. At the time, I breathed a huge sigh of relief — I can never answer that question. It’s not that many people haven’t influenced me. I could start now and go all day naming the good role models I’ve had. But “hero”? That elevates it too far, in my mind. In our society, we see heroes debunked daily [or hourly, this summer], and I struggle to burden another person with the hero moniker. We’re all just doing the best we can, I hope.

But I received my copy of the Good Experience email newsletter today, and I may need to revise my answer to that question. Mark Hurst may come pretty close to being my hero, after all.

In 1997 Mark Hurst founded the firm Creative Good, which remains groundbreaking in evaluating and improving the customer experience. I was lucky enough to attend his Gel Conference several years ago, and it remains far and away the most inspiring, useful conference I’ve ever attended. I continue to use what I learned there — mostly about your mindset in approaching your customers’ experience, as opposed to the specific tools you’re using at this moment. If you’re communicating well with, and responding well to the needs of, your customers, you’ll be successful.

Today, Mark highlighted a post on his blog that reminds us to review the big questions. Are we doing what we love? Is it worthwhile? What’s our real goal?

These questions seem critical to me. It’s so easy to get absorbed in a. the rat race b. media-fueled speculation about anything c. self-induced stress — whatever the economic or political situation, but perhaps more now than ever. And Mark gently reminds us, we need to remember what we’re doing in the first place. Take a look, and take stock of your own experience.

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I'll now say something nice about Ning

I’m easy. In fact, I’m a flat-out sucker for the director of support making a comment on my blog and apologizing for my problem.

I’ve complained in the past couple of days about some problems I had with Ning, and today, Laura G. from Ning let me know that in one instance, I’d actually run into a bug that they’ve now fixed.

So I will just add this as my final though on Ning for a while: It may be frustrating, but they are paying attention. So, thanks, Laura G.

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Find where your audience lives and meet them there

Twitter’s been around since early 2007. It really started breaking out in the tech community after its debut at South by Southwest 2007. In the last several months, it’s grown significantly. I think the many mainstream media outlets sticking their toes in the water are having a big impact here, much as more Web- and tech-focused folks wouldn’t want to admit it.

I’ve used Twitter more and more in recent months, for two reasons:

  • It helps me stay in touch with trends and thought leaders in digital media.
  • I have a number of real-world friends using Twitter regularly.

Companies exploring Twitter usage now can take advantage of both of these areas, but significantly for organizations, when you find your customers are using a service like Twitter, your presence becomes a requirement.

As communications and technology continue to change rapidly, it’s critical that we continue to assess how our target market likes to find and receive information. To do that, we have to always be open to new possibilities ourselves.

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