December, 2012:

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Replace Comment Cards in 2013

AAVA FeedbackDoes your business still print out Comment Cards and leave them near the where the transaction takes place to conveniently hand out? Do your customers take the time to fill them out? Not anymore! It’s over; the days of Customer Comment Cards are dead. Most likely the customer will go home and rant on email, Twitter, Facebook, or – even worse – make a YouTube video about how bad they perceived your service.

The other day, I was surfing a major airline’s Facebook page and reading the ruthless comments (for some reason, airlines are an easy target for complaints), and it confirmed to me that there is NO NEED for Comment Cards anymore. You want customers’ comments? Just check the social media sites: the angry customers are right there on your page venting, replying to each other, “liking” and sharing.

Wow, I wondered, what is this doing for corporate culture and where does that leave employee morale (some employees are people who actually do care), let alone the damage done when someone Googles your company name and then sees all this? The typical reaction of customers is to either get involved and vent too, or run away from the business.

These very public complaints about your company can have a real impact on your employees. Your previously private customer service department’s complaints letters are now public for the world to see and often in real time. You may need to do some damage control before complaints escalate with devastating effect. Comment Cards used to be a great way for a company to monitor how they were doing, review them, and reply if customer contact information was provided and, ideally, remedy the problem. In addition, staff loved comment cards because offering the opportunity to comment was a way to get the customer off their back. Now, however, staff may worry that their interaction with a difficult customer will end up on the Internet.

How to Use Social Media to Deal with Customer Service Issues
Here are some ideas on how to use social media for your Customer Service:

  1. Create a Google Alert for your company name or product so you receive an email each time someone mentions either of them. Monitor any negative ones, and respond immediately online, adding a comment or damage control statement to your website, or a press release if necessary.
  2. Dedicate a team (even one person) to scour your social media sites and reply, respond or offer remedies immediately online. (This could be your customer service department, the people who have already been handling phone calls, comment cards and letters.) Bring regular service breakdowns you are seeing into the company and set up systems to minimize the issues.
  3. Develop Communication Guidelines so that staff know how to reply without sarcasm, anger or other damaging behaviours.
  4. Create a QR (quick response) code that takes customers to your website quickly for feedback. Think “Customer Care Card” and set up the fields just like on a comment card to collect feedback and voice their opinions. For example, see the photo I took from Trip Advisor after my last stay at a hotel in Whistler, BC. I quickly scanned the QR code into my phone, and when I got home, I added my comments about my stay: how lovely the staff and the hotel were; however, housekeeping left only three towels when four of us were booked; left only decaf coffee; and did not replenish the toilet paper (which caused an extra trip for very busy staff). I’m sure this feedback – which was so easy to give online – could be used at the next Housekeeping meeting and corrected for the next week.
  5. Have customers follow your Twitter account so they get immediate updates if operations go awry. For example, a hotel could use a Twitter account specifically for current guests to keep them notified in real time of water or power outages (most phones run on batteries) or pool closures and when service is anticipated to return, or – better yet – announce a “Wing Night” or Happy Hour Specials. Hotels could have guests “Follow” a Twitter account when then they check in to that location, then “Unfollow” the account at the end of their stay.

Ask yourself, “How could I be using social media for my Customer Service, either to enhance the service or remedy things?” Social media in this realm is now reality; real people commenting in real time, and truer than ever “If you snooze, you lose”.

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I’m researching how various types of companies are using social media for Customer Service (not just sales). Later, I will make available a White Paper on the topic. You are welcome to participate in this research via online survey. This research will provide valuable keynotes and material for breakout sessions at future conferences for those who want to develop a better strategy for their social media initiatives. Thank you in advance for doing the survey.

To complete the survey (just a few questions; takes less than 5 minutes), please visit:

Thank you again.

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The Top 5 Customer Service Complaints During the Christmas Rush and What Leaders and Staff Can Do About Them!!!

Frustrated ShoppersBeware shoppers may bring this to your business!

We’re all in the middle of the final countdown to Christmas and seasonal celebrations that could make just about anyone wish they would get ploughed down by a reindeer. If you are in retail, then there will be returns shortly thereafter. From buying gifts, food, alcohol parties and everything in between, we all need the extra time and strategies – including the staff who are working during the rush. Most people are not on their regular clock and they are getting pushy and cranky out there. This includes service staff in any of those industries that won’t breathe until about January 5th. If staff have to hear music by “Alvin & The Chipmunks” one more time this week, they probably want to @#$%^ scream!

So how do service staff keep their sanity? By helping them prepare for the things that don’t go as planned or the frankly the service breakdowns that are caused by the rush.

Before a shift, customer service staff could discuss how to handle the different service breakdowns that happen during this season by using some of these ideas and brainstorm further or discuss a breakdown that happened yesterday that they could not seem to find a solution to. The focus should be on how to proactively handle it (find 3rd ways), so staff are ready when it does happen because they know it will happen again.

Top Service Breakdowns and Some Possible Solutions
Use this for Customer Service Training Meetings before a shift to get the discussions started.

For each of the service breakdowns, I suggest some possible solutions below. Leaders and staff can use this to brainstorm for more ideas pertinent to their business.

1. Lineups at the cashier.

  • Ensure stanchions are correctly used or place product tables to guide people; no one likes a “cutter”.
  • Staff should know how to politely guide people and exercise crowd control and not be afraid to let people know where and how they could line up.
  • Offer to hold the products for a specified time . If someone is really upset, offer to hold and place their name on items, especially if they have other shopping to complete. Suggest they could also come back at a quieter time, the end of day, or the following day, or give a time limit (if you think they might not come back and you know you could sell the items).
  • Have separate lineups for cash and debit/credit card purchases.

2. The computer system goes down during busy times.

  • Start a cash lineup separate from the debit/credit card purchases. Post a “CASH ONLY” sign if possible.
  • Depending how long the system will be down, offer to hold products and for them to come back.

3. You are out of stock or a certain size.

  • Offer an alternative gift idea by finding out who it is for, then think “what else?” and show them other options.
  • Order online (make sure you note the website and actual product name or SKU number for them). Even better, show them how to, or do it for them (time permitting). Many big stores now have the internet kiosk right in their stores and you can ship it directly to the customer. Don’t wait for the customer to leave the store.
  • Offer a gift card.

4. A customer has an adult temper tantrum.
This can be really hard on staff if they’ve never witnessed an adult having a hissy fit. It is often not the staff member they are mad at; more likely, it’s just the situation or the 15th thing that has gone wrong that day and their blood pressure or heart rate has just hit the max.

  • Don’t speak while the customer rants. Let them finish; be attentive and show sympathy.
  • Put on an imaginary shield. Don’t take it personally, try to figure out their plight.
  • Don’t tell them your policy or say “you can’t speak to me that way” (this just increases the intensity). Show concern by asking questions like when, where, how, and what to find out more about the problem; this often calms someone down, and shows you’re actually thinking or trying to get to a solution.
  • Move them to the side of the counter or to a more private place, or offer to see if the manager can help or if someone can contact them if you find out more.
  • Look for 3rd ways to solve their problem. Creative staff always win if they are focused on solving even the worst customer’s problem. They are often loud, and will tell everyone how good you were – because they often know how bad they were.

5. There is no one around to help.
Staff shortages, poor layout of stores, or even new processes can cause havoc on a frustrated shopper, and they may “abort mission” real fast. The sale is lost and they most likely won’t come back in January.

  • Have a sign suggesting: Can’t find what you are looking for? A gift card may work.
  • Ensure most popular items are easily accessible, stocked and sized before store opening and replenished on a regular schedule.
  • Staff do call in sick over the holidays, sometimes more often due to the number of contacts they are having. It can be tough for the remaining staff to squeeze in a 15-minute or lunch break during this season. Call on each other (rally staff) to stagger breaks during slower times or take shorter breaks to refresh, then offer a “sleep-in day” (come in fifteen minutes or an hour later) or get off earlier on a slower day in January.

For now, everyone does have to make concessions this time of year. It won’t be like this in mid-January if you are in retail! I promise!!

If you know an organization, or you’d like to improve your customer service contact the Customer Service Expert Elaine Allison visit to learn about her Keynotes & Learning Programs.

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