January 10, 2013

Developing Tools, Processes, and People Geared Toward Listening

BY Shirley Robinson IN Sales and Marketing 2 Comments

[This is a follow-up to our December 27 post, “Being customer-driven means sharing power, and that’s a good thing.”]

We think karma is a pretty excellent CRM, and we’re continually working to improve it.  But you may not realize just how many of the best parts of karma began as customer suggestions.  Task participants, a “companies” tab, important dates, and so many more have come from our wonderful users.  Karma would not be what it is today without direct customer engagement, and we are so grateful for that.  Since we’ve benefited so much from customer input, we should continually be trying to find new ways not just to help our customers, but to learn from them. So, how do we ensure that this dialogue continues?

Until now we’ve been talking in pretty abstract terms, and it’s all too easy to pay lip service to the idea of customer service.  But here’s the main idea, in terms of actionable solutions: If we’re really going to establish a partnership with our customers, we have to learn to listen. Active listening in business is very much a skill that can be built, as long as you have a willingness to learn.  A lot of our interactions with customers come in the form of support tickets and short emails.  There’s a lot that can fall through the cracks.  What we (and others with similar goals) need are the following:

1. Well-crafted listening tools. Our customer support system needs to be clear and easy for the customer and for the company to use, and its design needs to facilitate timely, effective responses.  We use Zendesk and Uservoice in tandem.  We can manage tickets and suggestions straight from email, then aggregate and analyze the information to see if there are any important trends.  We’ll soon be growing our Uservoice page into a full-fledged community page, where we’ll showcase some of the improvements we’ve made that have come straight from customers.  It’s going to be fabulous, so we hope you’ll join the fun!

2. An efficient process for dealing with communications and turning over solutions. This isn’t just an issue of getting the right software, but of having an intelligent business process in place.  Think about it–do you have a standard procedure for maintaining service information so that customers don’t have to dig up old tickets themselves?  If you have an escalation process, is it mercifully quick or is it a nightmare carousel of pass-offs?  A little time on the front end can save you and your customers not only time, but a lot of money in headache pills.

3. People who care about building relationships. Customer service work is absolutely integral to a company’s operation.  People who do these jobs have so many important roles–they’re the gatekeepers, the teachers, the change management front line, and the point-of-contact sales force for existing customers.  Their performance makes or breaks a company’s health, especially in subscription-based products like ours.  They should be hired and trained with great care, and they need to be shown how valuable they are.  Thinking about how much risk you run by not attracting and rewarding the best customer service reps should really give you pause.

Just like our software, our complement of listening tools is constantly being developed.  We have the passion, now we need to invest our time and resources into making our customer service even more awesome!

What do you think?  Share your ideas and impressions in the comments.  What innovative listening tools and processes have you discovered?

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