Saturday, February 22, 2014

Getting direct customer feedback

So, we were chatting about keeping customers happy, and proactively collecting information about how they're feeling.

One large company I was at had links on all the web pages for each of the products that said, “click here to submit a comment, suggestion, or complaint regarding this product.” Given that there were literally millions of customers, those links got clicked quite a few times a day. As the head of some of the products there, guess who actually got to read and respond to those clicks? That’s right. The comments weren’t sent to some front-line support or marketing person... they were targeted directly to yours truly. And that turned into a one or two hour a day job in sorting through comments and responding to those that really needed it.

But that was a truly eye-opening experience. Direct customer feedback. No filtering applied by any other company channel. A direct pipeline from the customer to me. I certainly saw my share of complaints, but some of the suggestions that came in were fantastic, and they helped us improve the products even further. And, as I said, the complaints were an opportunity for us to salvage a bad experience.

I remember one situation where I had messaged back and forth a number of times with one Australian customer that had started out very unhappy and was now getting happier. I had given him lots of help, comp’d him a few items, and given him feedback on his suggestions – even committing to him that we would do some of them in the next release.

It is important to note here that nowhere in the “make a comment” links did it indicate that the customer would be corresponding with the Vice President in charge of the product group. In my messages with the customer, I simply signed them with my first name – no title. After a few days, as our exchanges were coming to a close, I actually called him on the phone and we had a conversation that went pretty much like this:
Customer: Thanks so much for all the info. You are cool. And when you get a chance to talk to the man, tell him you deserve a raise!

Me: Haha. I appreciate that. But so you know, I am “the man.”

Customer: Huh?

Me: I’m actually the VP in charge of this stuff. I handle these comments directly to make sure we’re getting all the information.

Customer: That is really cool. I thought you were just some customer support person. That’s cool that your company feels we’re that important.
I was paraphrasing above, but he did say “cool” a lot. We had saved this guy, and gotten some great future product direction to boot. Again, you can bet he told his friends about the experience. We'll cover some additional things you can do to try to salvage a bad situation -- next time.

As a side note, I'll be speaking at the IntergratED Portland education conference next week. I'll be covering some technology future stuff, as well as some management topics from my book. If you're in the Portland area, stop by!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Turn that frown upside down!

So we were talking about dissatisfied customers. It happens. As much as you'd like to only speak with folks who love what you're doing, you'll have to deal with some who are a little less in love with you. But you can use some good technique to get that guy back into the good zone.

First, go out of your way to try to contact the customer to have the initial conversation. Don’t make your customer come looking for you. Especially if you are part of a company with any reasonable size, locating the right person in charge may be dang near impossible for your customers. By the time they get lost in your support voicemail hell, or try to push something up the line through your sales channel, or whatever, they may give up on both you and your company. You know they’ll be happy to tell their friends all about it.

I actually got my first lesson in this back when I was in college and supervising one of our city’s swimming pools. One woman was unfortunate enough to receive a car wash from a poorly aimed lawn sprinkler. Problem was, her car windows were open. I thought I did everything right. I apologized. I sent a crew of lifeguards to her car with towels. And I gave her the names and phone numbers of everyone to call at the city offices the next day (it was a weekend). Later that day, when describing the situation to my manager, he responded with, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to take her information and then we would have the right city folks call her?” Duh. I put the onus on her, when I should have left it in our hands.

You need to be on the lookout for customers that are getting into trouble and might need proactive contacting. Ensure that your service and sales folks know that you need to be kept in the loop as early as possible on customers that might be degenerating. Maybe you can get a weekly report on “hot customers”, or maybe you have some sort of CRM system that will allow you to automatically generate notifications or reports of big issues out in the wild. Whatever you do, do something.
 Hi Joe, this is Ed with XYZ Systems. I noticed that you had filed a number of problem reports recently, and I just wanted to talk with you about your business, what you're doing with our products, and any suggestions you might have for what we could change or do better.
Seeing something going wrong, and proactively contacting the customer about it will leave your customer absolutely amazed.