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douglas-hannaThe model that web companies implement to organize their customer service and support is a key to their business success. this is not discovery. See what Douglas Hanna said in an interview for B10WH.com about the process of organizing business relationships with customers.  Doug is a popular specialist in customer service affairs and owner of the blog Service Untitled.

Hi Doug, Good to talk to you again. Let’s start with this… There is a very interesting advice in your latest article “The Angriest Customers”, published in Service Untitled. You said “Lower your voice. This will force the customer to lower his or her voice to hear you.” Do you think that this might work with a really angry customer?

It all depends on the customer. Some customers will continue to yell and be unreasonable, no matter what a customer service representative does or how skilled he or she is at getting customers to calm down and lower their voices. Most customers, however, will respond to a representative lowering his or her voice and will quiet down themselves.

In another article of yours “Make it easy for everyone” you urge your readers to ask themselves the question “What processes at your company could you make easier?”. Do you think that standardization is one of the keys for businesses to provide a quality customer service?

I really do. Customer service is a very process-driven aspect of business. Without understanding the processes and then working consciously to improve the processes, a customer service department won’t be able to execute well. Standardization is a result of being process-driven and is essential to customer service success. Without a dedicated focus to the processes involved with providing service, companies are going to have a hard time delivering consistently great customer service experience.

Would tell me which are the best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and customer support applications you have seen? Do you recommend any Open source application that small businesses can use?

I have seen everything from custom solutions that were developed by one or two programmers to major solutions used in Fortune 500 companies. There isn’t really a “best” CRM system because different companies have different needs. What works really well for one company could easily be worthless to another company.

The wide array of needs makes it tough to pick just one CRM system that would work for everyone and in every situation. The best thing companies can do to successfully choose a CRM system is to test it out, examine their current and future needs, and see talk to others in the industry about what they’re using and what their experiences have been like.

Corporations spend millions in staff training and have access to different knowledge about customer support and customer care. Why do we continue to see messages like “We will respond within 1 business day”? A messages like this can be seen even within the websites of some of the major U.S. service providers…?

The idea of responding within one business day frightens customers and businesses alike. Customers expect faster responses and businesses don’t always understand why customers need a response faster than that. I don’t feel as if there is anything fundamentally wrong with replying to a message within one business day.

If companies can exceed expectations and reply faster, great. If they constantly and consistently fail to reply within the promised time frame, that presents a problem that companies have to address. A large part of customer service is about under-promising and over-delivering and the idea of beating estimated response times is a quintessential example of that.

If you need to make a decision about building a customer support department in a middle-sized or large company that provides web services (web hosting, domains, software service, or any other web based services) would you outsource your customer support in other country in order to decrease the business costs?

That is a tough question and something that many people have written books on. I don’t think companies should outsource if it jeopardizes service quality. If companies can outsource “back of the house” operations and save money that way, great. It works because customers likely won’t notice a difference. However, customers are a lot more likely to notice a difference if the “front of the house” operations are outsourced and service quality starts to diminish.

You say in another article of yours that “It is important to try and motivate encourage people outside of the customer service department to provide great service”. OK, is there a magic formula which could be implemented in any service area?

I don’t think there are any magic formulas in customer service. If there were any, you’d see me writing a book about it. In all seriousness, though, I think customer service success requires discipline, dedication, personality, and creativity. Companies need to approach their customer service and business challenges in a creative way, execute with personality, act consistently, and then be committed to continuing to do the other three things at all times. So, in terms of a formula: discipline + dedication + personality + creativity = customer service success.

Do you think that the economic slowdown would force companies to be more innovative in searching ways to improve customer satisfaction? Do you think that in times of economic crisis companies that can afford to lower their service prices should do this and to make their customers life easier?

That is a great question. A majority of customers value quality customer service, but when money is tight, they might be more likely to tolerate poorer customer service in favor of lower prices. I still think that customer service can continue to be a great and a powerful differentiator, regardless of the current economic situation.

The companies that continue to plan to differentiate themselves on customer service (as opposed to price) need to make sure their service is delivering an experience and making a difference that justifies the price disparity. If anything, a bad economy encourages people to watch their money more closely and think more carefully about to whom they give their money. If great customer service providers are providing a service that customers value, they will be a lot more likely to remain loyal.

Do you think that companies have to show to their customers profiles of customer support operators who are serving them?

Not really. For some companies, it can make the service experience seem personal, but I don’t think it is ever necessary. Even companies with very formal and focused account management processes don’t always share any profiles on their account managers.

The companies that do show profiles of their individual customer service Representatives tend to be relatively small. When these companies use profiles, it can emphasize a more personalized service experience when compared to an experience the customer might encounter with a larger company.

Final question. How many times a year, any service provider should ask its customers to participate to surveys?

It depends on the business and the relationship the business has with its customers. For a standard, consumer/SMB web host, a particular customer shouldn’t be surveyed about his or her overall perceptions of a company more than two or three times per year, at most. A lot of companies will survey customers after each interaction, which is fine, but no single customer should get an overall customer satisfaction survey more than two or three times a year.

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