Ignore social media

1. Ignore social media

Apparently we complain about brands 879 million times a year on Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks, and ten per cent of us find something to be angry about publicly every single day. (Ironically, the most complained about brand online seems to be Facebook itself.)

And while this might not be the traditional route for making a complaint, of those respondents to The Social Habit research who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 32 per cent expected a response within 30 minutes and 42 per cent expected a response within 60 minutes.

An article on the BBC about this growing phenomenon even includes advice about the best way to complain on Twitter, such as "If you do not get a response point this out in your follow-up tweet".

Not only do companies that ignore social media risk the anger of the individual themselves, the Zendesk survey also showed that more than 60 per cent of consumers are influenced by detrimental comments online.

Our answer for providing a great online response?

Set up notification alerts to all mentions of your company across all the social media platforms, and respond positively to any comments made – even if they are a complaint. Don’t get defensive, simply apologise, engage and work to solve the issue your customer has raised. Embrace social media and remember that people will often retweet or pass on your response for others to see. Say "thank you" if someone gives you a compliment too.

Annoyed customer hanging phone call

2. Play "pass the parcel" with your customer or leave them hanging on

Leaving your customer hanging can be a big mistake. According to a survey of both customers and contact centre managers by global technology research and advisory firm Ovum Research , the time taken to reach an agent is the number one customer complaint.

That’s backed up by the research from Zendesk , where 42 per cent of respondents said that having to explain their dilemma again to multiple agents was the most frustrating aspect of customer service. Being passed from person to person also came second in a Which? survey of 3,500 people on their customer service bugbears.

Our answer for providing a fast response that delivers?

Track your peak times for customer contact and make sure you have the capacity in place to answer calls, emails and other contacts – whether that’s through an in-house team or outsourced support. Train your staff well and empower them to deliver solutions. Integrate your customer service team with your other operational teams to ensure they can get things done without having to pass the caller around. Have policies and procedures in place for common issues such as returns and replacements so that your staff don’t have to come up with a new solution every time – but allow some room for manoeuvre to meet individual client needs.

Rude staff ignoring customers

3. Disrespect your customers

In the Which? survey of 3,500 people, rude staff was in the top five customer service bugbears, especially those who seem too busy chatting with each other to have the time to deal with customers.

In the US, blogger Jack Vale did his own research into the honesty of staff, by pretending to be a customer calling to ask if a particular item was in stock. The film, carried by The Huffington Post , made interesting (although unverifiable) viewing, with what looked to be disinterested staff simply making up responses to the person they thought couldn’t see them. Odd behaviour since all the examples showed that they could have made a sale if they’d made an effort, but these were clearly staff whose heart wasn’t in their work.

Our answer for treating your customers right?

Employ great people and train them in customer support. Smaller businesses need every team member they have pulling together in the same direction to be a success – their motivation really matters. Realbusiness.co.uk gives us five examples of where the right people really made a difference to the customer experience – from surprising customers, taking advice, showing some love and playing along, to giving a unique service. There are also some pretty bad examples of where people got it wrong. Put yourself in your customer’s place and think about how you would want to be treated.

Automated customer service

4. Be less than human

Automated telephone systems came top in the Which? Round-up of customer service annoyances, and a survey by American Express in 2011 found the phrases customers don't want to hear included:

"We’re unable to answer your question. Please call xxx-xxx-xxxx to speak to a representative from xxx team."

"We're sorry, but we're experiencing unusually heavy call volumes. You can hold or try back at another time."

"Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold."

Our answer to avoiding annoying automated systems?

If you need to use an automated system, keep it simple with the minimum amount of options to choose from. Train your staff to be able to deal with all types of queries to reduce the need for segmentation of calls. And invest in enough staffing so that you don’t have to hold callers in queues. Remember that customer service is there to help your customers, not to make your life easier (although if your customers are happier, your life will probably be easier as a result!).

Customer tired of being put on hold

5. Offend your customers with bad hold music

According to Which?, hold music is also in the top five customer service gripes. But what decides whether the hold music will be annoying or suitably entertaining for callers?

According to Callcentrehelper.com , customers notice – and appreciate – when music fits with your brand, and sound levels are important, but ultimately you can’t please everyone. (That said, avoiding Greensleeves would probably help for most – in 2006 it was voted the least popular hold music.)

Our answer to avoiding bad hold music?

Try choosing popular tunes that suit the tenor of the call – remembering that loud dance music won’t help calm someone down, and upbeat music won’t cover up bad customer service! Consider asking callers what they thought to the music when it’s first introduced. You could also ask your system installer for a recommendation based on their experience. Ultimately, the best solution is to ensure you have capacity to answer calls quickly and can find solutions to problems without having long discussions while a caller waits for your response.

Put simply, smaller companies wanting to protect and grow their business through better customer service should get busy engaging online, have the right number of staff in place at the right times, make sure they are trained, motivated and have a sense of ownership, minimise automation and have systems in place to deliver fast, positive responses.

A happy, professional team will deliver you happy, repeat customers – who might just recommend you to a friend.