Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Yaniv Masjedi, @nextiva. Yaniv is a serial entrepreneur and vice president of marketing at Nextiva a leading provider of cloud-based, unified communications solutions, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. He manages the firm’s marketing and branding efforts and initiates programs related to brand management, demand generation, advertising, marketing communications and thought leadership. For more information http://www.nextiva.com/
SmallBizLady: What is the biggest customer service myth?
Yaniv Masjedi: The concept that one-size-fits-all in customer service is a huge myth. Every customer is different. Some want to comment via Twitter while others prefer in-person meetings or email messages. It is dangerous for small business owners to think one service delivery method will work for every customer. Being available through multiple channels is vital, as is a continuous effort to improve service. You can never relax when trying to be the best.
SmallBizLady: What should small business owners do when a customer is wrong?
Yaniv Majedi: First, be respectful. Don’t remind the customer that they are wrong. Instead, simply ask the customer if they’ve misunderstood and state your case clearly and without aggression. Customers usually come around.
SmallBizLady: What are a few effective ways to train customer service staff members?
Yaniv Masjedi: I recommend first educating new employees on a company’s history, background and values. From there, teach them (classroom style, if possible) multiple customer service scenarios and how to respond. After a week of classroom work, pair them with a customer service rock star employee for practice interactions. Only after successfully completing interactions with their trainers should they face clients.
But don’t stop there. Superior customer service is a product of continuous education and coaching. If a staff member is struggling, consider pairing them with a high performer until they can show that they are ready for client-facing interactions.
SmallBizLady: What are the proper steps to de-escalate a heated customer service situation?
Yaniv Masjedi: I stick to a five-step process in these situations.
Step one: Stay calm. If you are upset about the situation, take a break or go for a walk to cool off before approaching your customer. You don’t want to meet anger with anger.
Step two: Apologize and acknowledge. Regardless of the scenario, saying, “Sorry,” can go a long way. Acknowledge the validity of what your client is feeling.
Step three: Reiterate. Listen closely to what they are saying/complaining about. Once they are finished (don’t interrupt), repeat back their concerns to make sure you understand them correctly.
Step four: Act fast. Simply, give the customer what they want.
Step five: Stick to your word. If you say you’ll follow-up in a week, make sure to do that (set a calendar invite if you need to). Effort, diligence and kindness go a long way in re-winning a customer.
SmallBizLady: How can a small business owner turn around an ineffective customer service representative?
Yaniv Masjedi: If you see a staff member struggling, address the issue as soon as possible. Schedule a one-on-one meeting and prepare yourself in advance. Come to the meeting with specific data (maybe the employee didn’t meet numbers last week/month or received an unfavorable review from a customer).
Approach them with a supportive tone, not an attacking one. Ask them how you, as their manager, can make their job better and how you can help them succeed. If you focus on making positive statements, they will be less likely to react defensively.
SmallBizLady: What is one under-the-radar customer service mistake business owners sometimes miss?
Yaniv Masjedi: Ignoring social media accounts. While it may seem like a time drain, it is really important for every business owner to be on top of what is being said about them on social media. Facebook posts, TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews, tweets and re-tweets are incredibly powerful for a company and can bring with them positive and negative effects. If a business owner doesn’t have time to monitor these accounts, they should delegate that task to an employee or hire a social media manager.
SmallBizLady: What traits should small business owners look for in a customer service employee?
Yaniv Masjedi: Hire for attitude. Skills can be taught, but you can rarely change someone’s attitude. An excellent customer service representative will come to the job interview with a positive, helpful attitude.
SmallBizLady: What are a few signs that your customer service needs a re-boot?
Yaniv Masjedi: Your customer service might be lagging if people are continually complaining about you. That, and you may have angry customers and/or angry employees.
SmallBizLady: What are two important pieces of advice when teaching customer service to staff members?
Yaniv Masjedi: First, remember to smile. And second, never forget whom you are serving. You wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t have customers, so treat each one like gold.
SmallBizLady: Are there any apps that can help small businesses with customer service?
Yaniv Masjedi: I recommend every small business owner invest in a customer relationship management system, or CRM. Regardless if you have 4,000 customers or just four customers, everyone needs one of these systems. An effective CRM will help you organize each conversation you have with a customer, when you are due to follow-up, how each follow-up went, and so on.
There are several options when purchasing a CRM for your businesss. A few popular ones include Salesforce, Zoho and Kayako.
SmallBizLady: How should a small business owner define excellent customer service?
Yaniv Masjedi: You know that your customer service is done right when you are getting referrals. If your customers are telling others, that is a huge compliment. Until that happens, keep working on improving your customer service.
SmallBizLady: Should you manage customer service differently if you are an online business?
Yaniv Masjedi: I don’t think it matters if your business is online or in-person. Good customer service is key to the success of any business. Small business owners need to remember that customers are in positions of power thanks to social media and the speed with which they can review your product or service. Every interaction with your customers can make or break your business.
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Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works and the ebook: How To Become A Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.