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Service recovery, step by step

While no one wants to hear from irate customers, there’s something even worse: not hearing from them. Customer service expert Ruby Newell-Legner says 96 percent of customers don’t voice their complaints – and 91 percent of that group never come back.

The truth is, your interaction with dissatisfied customers represents an opportunity to either further damage relationships or make them even better. The difference is all in your approach. Here, then, is a reliable process that will improve your chances of recovering customers who have otherwise headed out the door.

1. Take a deep breath and avoid taking it personally. When customers are upset, there’s a good chance they aren’t mad at you. It’s likely you’re just on the receiving end of their anger about something your business did – or didn’t do. One of the simplest things you can do to defuse the situation is to remember that it’s not personal and remain calm.

2. Remember, you’re representing the brand. While it might seem contradictory, you also need to remember the customer’s relationship with your business is now in your hands, even if you were heretofore uninvolved in the problem. Whether it’s fair or not, you’re the embodiment of the brand, and everything you say or do will affect everyone associated with your company. In other words, have a sense of urgency.

3. Acknowledge the customer’s position. One of the first things a customer will look for is your level of compassion. Do you seem to care? While you don’t want to overpromise, a little empathy can go a long way. This doesn’t always require an apology, but an apology rarely hurts – as long as it’s genuine. If nothing else, say, “I understand why you’re upset and I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

4. If possible, look to begin repairing the relationship. Once you’ve set the tone, you should see a slight change in the customer’s demeanor. There may come a point where the person won’t be satisfied regardless of how much you try, but assume he is persuadable and willing to work with you unless you are proven otherwise.

5. Be objective; put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When we do the same work every day, we can lose touch with others’ perspectives. Things that seem obvious to us may be brand new to our customers. It’s critical, then, to remember their perspectives and address issues accordingly. In addition, try to understand intent. What does the customer want? What’s the priority? A seemingly complex issue often stems from one major concern.

6. Fix it if you can, take ownership and don’t overpromise. In a perfect world, the customer’s problem would be easy to fix. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case, and you’ll usually need to get others involved. Even when this occurs, however, don’t abdicate responsibility. State your intention to take ownership of the response. For example, you could give the customer your contact information and offer to be a resource if he doesn’t get answers.

7. In addition, consider any limits to your ability to solve the problem, provide accurate information and don’t overpromise in terms of a resolution. A right answer later is better than a wrong answer now, and bad news now is better than bad news that follows the promise of good news.

8. Agree on next steps and follow up in writing if possible. In the heat of the moment, next steps can be misunderstood. It’s good practice, then, to clearly restate what’s been resolved and, if possible, follow up with an email to put what you’ve agreed upon in writing. That will give the other person confidence that your business is accountable and give you a record of the discussion.

9. Say “thank you” and reinforce your commitment. As stated above, it’s important to remember the customer could have moved on without giving you a second chance. Acknowledge this with a simple thank you and reinforce your commitment to make good on the promises you’ve made. If you don’t own the solution, follow up to ensure that your company does what you said it would do. Even if you didn’t cause the problem, you now have a stake in how it’s resolved. If you can’t completely control what happens next, then, seek to influence it. Be a squeaky wheel within your company, albeit respectfully and tactfully, who puts customers first.

10. Identify and call attention to areas needing improvement. There are times when customer complaints represent trends, not anomalies. In other words, they highlight problems that need to be fixed. Beyond just addressing isolated concerns, therefore, consider whether there’s a root cause your company should address.

By taking this approach, you won’t eliminate complaints altogether, but you will, in the long run, have fewer of them. Most importantly, you’ll be much better positioned to ensure your existing customers not only stay with you, but become your biggest advocates in attracting even more business.

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Three ways search is changing–and what that means for your business

In the 20 years since it launched its quirky, bare-bones search engine, a lot has changed at Google.

Most notably, the word “Google” has become synonymous with search – just as, to many, “Kleenex” means “tissues” and Xerox means “copies” – and with good reason. At least two-thirds of all web searches worldwide happen on Google.com, with Baidu (prominent mainly in China), Bing, and Yahoo feeding on the remaining scraps.

However, three recent shifts in the way we search are simultaneously challenging Google’s position while also potentially solidifying it. Depending on how Google responds to these factors – and how consumer search habits change – Google could end up either more dominant or struggling to catch up.

  • Search is becoming more social. We once used social media almost exclusively to connect with family and friends. Now, social media has gotten significantly more complex, with it becoming – as much as anything else – a problem-solving tool. And as a result, we’re using social media as a kind of search engine. One example is when we ask our connections for recommendations, which could include everything from which restaurant to choose for a dinner date to which pediatrician they’d recommend. Having choices vetted by those we trust adds a dimension that Google, Yahoo, and Bing can’t easily replicate.
  • Search is becoming more vocal. Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are only the most conspicuous examples of the shift from text-based search to voice search. In 2016, Google reported that 20 percent of searches on their mobile app and Android devices were vocal – and this number is expected to grow to more than 50 percent by 2020.
  • Search is striving to be more relevant. Google searches, specifically those for retail locations or services, now factor in proximity and consumer opinion in an attempt to be more useful. For example, when I search “hardware store” from my office in downtown Fort Wayne, I get slightly different results than I do when I conduct the same search from my home near Foster Park. But it’s not just a matter of who’s closest. Another factor is Google Reviews. For the search from my home, none of the businesses have an average Google Review score of less than 4.6. There’s another hardware store that’s closer than the others, but it’s not in the top three Google results because of its comparatively low 3.9 average Review score. And on Google, if you’re not in the “3-pack,” it’s almost as if you don’t exist.

The cumulative impact of these changes is that businesses need to change the way they think about search. A few things to consider:

  • Top-of-mind awareness matters more than ever. Word-of-mouth has always been the most powerful marketing method, but as search has gone social, it’s even more critical. When someone asks for a recommendation in your category, what matters most is whom consumers think of first. And the only way to be thought of first is to earn it – by providing a great product or service and making smart, consistent investments in marketing online and elsewhere.
  • Keywords matter less than they used to. SEO used to be pretty simple, and it used to be possible to game the system by populating your website with keywords, even when they were irrelevant to your business. Keywords themselves are becoming less important, so deceptive SEO tactics won’t get you very far. The bottom line is that what’s best for your audience is now much more likely to be better for you in terms of search relevance.
  • Conversational language matters more than it used to. Because of the growing influence of voice search, more searches are being phrased as questions instead of a string of words. Consider the example I used above: when using voice search, I’d be more likely to say “What’s the closest hardware store?” than just “hardware store.” Accordingly, instead of keywords, think about key phrases that match the searcher’s intent.

One last thing: search has gotten complex enough that you may want to outsource optimization to an expert. While some marketing tactics can be easily executed in-house, this is a case where a little financial investment can lead to significantly better results—and give you more time to focus on your customers. After all, becoming more discoverable is only worthwhile if you make the most of the opportunities that arise once you’re found.

Think Generation Y changed media? Wait until you meet Gen Z

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My son recently turned 18. As I reflected on this milestone, my thoughts turned to the many ways his world is different than the one I knew as a young adult. Not surprisingly, given my profession, this got me thinking about how he and his friends – the inhabitants of Generation Z – have such a different relationship with media than those of us from Generation X.

Let’s start with television. When I was my son’s age, television was the medium of choice, especially given the emergence of cable specifically designed to capture teens’ eyes and ears – MTV being just one example. Today, conventional television isn’t even a small factor in many teens’ lives, and “must-see TV” seems quaint. In a recent study by Piper Jaffray, for example, more than half of teens said they could go without cable and rely solely on online video content. Perhaps even more telling is the fact that this number has grown more than 20 percent in the last five years.

My son is indicative of this. I can’t recall the last time he turned on the television to watch real-time programming from a cable or broadcast network. To him, the TV is a large monitor he occasionally uses to watch Netflix or YouTube videos. Without question, though, his phone is his screen of choice.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. Conventional TV played a role in his life when he was very young, with everything from Animal Planet to Zoboomafoo commanding his attention. The same can’t be said for conventional radio, however. Whereas radio was a staple of my teen years, it’s a complete mystery to my son. I can honestly say I’ve never seen him turn on the radio–reflective of a larger trend reported in Variety last year, with teens’ self-reported listening to AM/FM radio declining by almost 50 percentage points since 2005. The same study also validated something I’ve seen in my son: his “radio station” of choice isn’t Apple Music, Pandora or Spotify. It’s YouTube.

What about print? While newspapers have long been on the decline with teens, there was an age where magazines like Seventeen, Teen Beat and Tiger Beat were so important to the demographic that no representation of a young adult’s bedroom would have been complete without photos from their pages pinned to the wall. My son’s habits again reflect a larger trend, with print media being a virtual non-entity in his life. This is another case where I have no memory of him interacting with the medium – at least not since we subscribed to National Geographic Kids on his behalf.

There is one outlier: billboards and other out-of-home media. My son consumes those in much in the same way as I did as a young adult–often unknowingly and fleetingly, but unmistakably without the opportunity to turn them off.

Yes, it’s ironic to speak of these changes in a print publication; yes, I realize my son’s experience isn’t conclusive; and yes, I realize there are traditional media outlets thriving despite these changes. However, one of the worst things marketers and business owners can do is to dismiss these trends. It’s tempting to do so, given how disruptive these changes can be. But willful ignorance won’t help, either. So, how should your business respond so you’re ready when Gen Z gains more buying power and enters the workforce?

  • Study the trends and watch sources closely. One of the best and worst things about today’s communication environment is that there are countless studies on any given topic. When it comes to deciding what deserves your attention, then, pay close attention to sources and trust well-vetted numbers more than your biases. Keep in mind, however, that for every objective, scientifically significant media study, there’s likely a National Association of Broadcasters report just around the corner intended to refute those findings.
  • Speak with the emerging generation. My observations about my son reveal an advantage I have over other marketers: living with an 18-year-old makes it impossible to ignore these shifts. If you don’t have ready access to someone in Gen Z, make it a priority to speak with them and understand their perspective and habits.
  • Don’t overreact. While it’s unwise to stand pat in such a rapidly changing environment, it’s possible to overcorrect, too. If you do the research indicated above, you’ll be more likely to make informed choices about how to allocate resources. And while traditional media is unquestionably on the decline, it’s likely still relevant to many in your audience. It’s all about striking the right balance.

Like all the generations that came before them, my son and his peers won’t be content to sit back and embrace the status quo – including how it consumes and disseminates information. Your business shouldn’t, either. Start preparing now and you’ll not only be much better positioned to respond to Generation Z, but also to whatever we’ll call the next generation after that.

The best technology tools for getting more out of your day

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“Elegant business watch” by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

What would you do if you had more time? It’s a question many of us consider occasionally, but usually only as a daydream. We’ve become convinced that, because of technology, 21st-century life means irreversibly longer days and more stress. As a result, many of us end up unproductive, unfulfilled and unable to focus on the things that really matter.

The truth is, however, technology isn’t just the problem – it also can be part of the solution. With the right tools, we can be more effective in our work and more fulfilled – if we use them to eliminate distractions, not create them, and to prioritize our commitments, and not respond to everything that crosses our path. Here are a few options that can help you win back at least a few minutes every day – and turn your daydreams into reality.

  • Evernote is perhaps my favorite productivity tool. I use it for note-taking, to build my to-do list, save Internet bookmarks and remember things I’d otherwise forget. Evernote is an app that reduces your dependence on other apps, serving as an all-in-one tool that syncs between all your devices. If I could recommend just one tool from this list, it would be Evernote.
  • Social media is one of our most prevalent productivity drains. While it has become integrated into many jobs, it often commands far too much of our time – and leads to far too much dissatisfaction – as we slip into aimlessly scrolling through our news feeds. You could cancel any social media accounts that don’t add value to your life, of course, but that’s not always practical. StayFocusd and Freedom can help you put self-imposed limitations on the time you spend on a given website – including, of course, social media. It’s a great way to stay honest about how you spend your time and begin changing habits that no longer serve you well.
  • If social media is a primary focus of your work, there are ways to be more productive without limiting your access. Hootsuite, for example, is a social media dashboard that lets you post to multiple platforms and schedule posts ahead of time. You can use Hootsuite for free if you only need access to three social media profiles, or pay a monthly fee to tap into more profiles and features.
  • Social media isn’t the only culprit; email can be as much of a problem – if not more so. A good place to start is eliminating the emails you don’t want in the first place. Unroll.me makes it easy to identify what newsletters and other recurring email lists you’re on and quickly and easily unsubscribe from those you’re no longer interested in. Best of all, it’s free.
  • Managing your inbox isn’t always as simple as unsubscribing from a newsletter, however. Other more sophisticated tools can allow you to retain emails while automating next steps. Rules (in Outlook) and Filters (in Gmail) are two examples that can streamline your inbox and prioritize what arrives there. For example, I set a rule in Outlook that sends messages I’m copied on – where I’m cc’ed, but not in the “to” field, that is – to a different folder (which I creatively call “cc”). These messages are, almost without exception, lower-priority ones that require no action from me. Accordingly, there’s rarely an immediate need for me to give them my attention, so I can check this folder once a day or so without missing anything important, while slimming down my inbox and making it much more likely that the truest high-priority messages stand out.
  • Sometimes email just isn’t the best tool for a given job. Consider the challenge of scheduling group meetings and all the back and forth that results from trying to find a date and time that works for everyone. Use Doodle instead. Attendees answer a poll to indicate their availability, choosing what works for them from a list of options. This one’s free, too.
  • You can even do a little time travel with email. Boomerang (for Gmail) and Delay Delivery (in Outlook) allow you to schedule emails ahead of time, getting tasks off your plate and deferring messages that are better sent later. Let’s say, for example, a customer asks you to follow up on a given conversation in a couple of weeks. You can try to keep that request in your brain. You can add it to your to-do list. Or you can get it done right then and there, scheduling the message to appear in your client’s inbox precisely when he or she asked for it.

These are just a few of dozens of examples. The bottom line is there’s a solution for nearly every challenge if you’re willing to experiment and change the way you work. The key is remembering that you’re in charge of technology, not the other way around. Taking control is the first step toward taking back more of your time.

How to build relationships on LinkedIn

When it comes to getting the most out of LinkedIn, much of the conventional wisdom focuses on profile optimization. And while that’s certainly part of the equation, there’s an even better opportunity to get results: actively looking for ways to provide value to your connections.

Relationships are the lifeblood of LinkedIn — and, it’s often acknowledged, perhaps the most critical asset we have in our careers at large. The main benefit of LinkedIn is that it allows us to not only understand the makeup of our network but also how we can be a resource to others — which, of course, makes it much more likely that they’ll help us, too. Here’s how you put this into action:

  • Interact with/share others’ content. One of the best ways to help your LinkedIn connections is also one of the easiest: simply liking, commenting, or sharing their posts or articles. This shows you value what they have to say and provides a nice little positive bump to the relationship. You want to do this authentically, but there’s little downside to being generous. When you like someone’s content (or otherwise join the conversation), they’re more likely to think well of you.
  • Share good stuff. When it comes to your content, there should be one guiding principle: what can you share that will help your connections or provide value? People have enough to read today. Make sure your content is worth their time.
  • Actively look for opportunities to help. People share status updates for a number of reasons, including reaching out to their network to solve a problem. Keep this in mind as you scroll through your news feed and look for opportunities to be of service. It could be as simple as sharing a job opportunity with your connections — thereby helping an employer find talent and helping someone find a job — or answering a question. The more you position yourself as a problem solver, the more likely it is that your connections will think of you as a resource when they have a need aligned with your area of expertise.
  • Give others recommendations and endorsements. It’s important to only give them when they’re deserved, but by all means, give them. Be as willing to give endorsements and recommendations as you’re eager to get them, and you’ll help good people get recognized and tell their story (while also making it more likely they’ll return the favor).
  • Serve as an intermediary and make introductions. One of the great things about LinkedIn is that it gives us the chance to leverage the intersections in our network. Play offense with this by connecting people who may benefit from getting to know one another and inviting your connections to let you know when you can introduce them to someone you know. This is another case where you can help (at least) two connections with one action.
  • Participate in relevant groups and provide value. Overall, groups have negligible value on LinkedIn because many are dormant. When you find one that’s active, however, it can help you enhance existing relationships and even start new ones. The key is providing real value by sharing content that’s relevant and helpful to the group and interacting with content that’s valuable to you.
  • Check in with those with whom you’ve lost touch. Think of LinkedIn as a CRM — a place you can go to understand who you’re connected to and what the state of that relationship is. Like any good CRM, however, it only works if you use it not just to collect people, but to connect with them.

Take the time, then, to audit your LinkedIn connections a couple times a year and follow up with those you haven’t spoken to recently. If the relationship was relevant in the past, it’s likely it will be in the future, too.

The bottom line is this: if you log on to LinkedIn with only a self interest, you won’t get nearly as far as you will if you’re generous with your time, knowledge, and connections. Use LinkedIn to help others reach their goals, and you’ll be much more likely to reach yours.

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of LinkedIn? Join me for a comprehensive LinkedIn class at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne on Oct. 21. Click here to learn more.