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The Name Game

Use Names to Facilitate Effective Communication and Not Obscure It

In “The Perfect Answer,” we talked about using your name when answering phone calls. This makes a personal connection with the caller and facilitates productive communication to result in positive outcomes.

Besides phone calls, names are equally important for online and in-person communication. Here are some further thoughts on names.

The Alias

A friend once worked for a collection agency. All day he placed calls to people who owed money to his clients. Since he was attempting to contact people who didn’t want to be found, he often met with opposition and even threats. Because of this, he never used his actual name and adopted an alias for his work. 

This was a company policy to protect employees from reprisals by those they pursued. Since he presented himself as a named person, he met with more success than he would’ve had he been a nameless voice from the dreaded collection agency.

As a side effect, assuming a new name enabled him to adopt a different persona at work. Contrary to his mellow personality, his collection agency character allowed him to become a determined sleuth unaffected by avoidance tactics and threats of retaliation.

In this case, using an alias was both safe and effective.

The Switch 

While attending a banquet, it surprised me to see a friend working there as a server. Chloe shared that she took this occasional part-time work to earn extra money. After chatting a while, I glanced at her name tag. It said “Jennifer.”

She smiled. “They make us wear name tags, but they never said we had to wear our own. So, we all switch.” Her eyes twinkled with excitement. “Sometimes I swap with Jeremy.”

Though Chloe could pass as Jennifer, she certainly didn’t look like a Jeremy.

This was a fun way to add some variety to a fast-paced and demanding job. Yet her admission gave me pause. I wondered what else she and her coworkers were doing, contrary to the expectation of management. The staff’s reaction to their employer’s name policy hinted to workplace problems. I wondered if these issues affected their patrons in a negative way. 

If your staff engages in passive-aggressive behavior, look for the underlying cause and then fix it.

The Alternate

I once had an employee with an unusual name: Johnene. When answering the phone, she always gave her name as trained. Too often, however, callers asked her to repeat it. Growing tired of this, she tried a shortened version, Johnnie. Callers now understood her name, but many repeated it with a question in their voice to confirm they heard right. She then tried John, but that made things worse. Next, she even used Joan for a bit, but it didn’t feel right and confused her coworkers. She reverted to Johnene.

Sometimes names can impede communication, delaying the resolution that callers seek. It may facilitate customer service to use an alternate, more common name. But not always. 

Multiple times I’ve called companies and had a heavily accented representative—who I suspected was halfway around the world—tell me his name was Jeff or Mike. I seriously doubted that. I realize he did this because I was unlikely to understand his actual name or be able to repeat it. Yet with such an obvious mismatch between his accent and stated name, I felt duped, distracting me from accomplishing my goal.

A better solution than to adopt a common American-sounding name might be to use a nickname or the first syllable or two of his actual name. These options would better bridge the culture implied by his accent and the goal to facilitate quick caller resolution. 

The Bot

More companies are using bots for customer service. Guided by artificial intelligence, bots are computer programs that communicate with customers in a way that mimics human interaction. The goal is for people to never know they’re chatting with a computer program and not an actual person.

Though I have no way of knowing how many times a bot has fooled me into thinking “Larry” was real, I know that sometimes the person I assumed I was chatting with turned out to be fake. The tipoff comes as our conversation progresses and the bot becomes less helpful. Then the bot types, “Let me get someone who can help you with that.”

I recently reached out to a tech company for help. I knew the initial interaction would be computerized, but they pleased me when the chat window listed the agent’s name as “Bot.” This left no doubt that I was interacting with a computer program and they weren’t trying to deceive me. Bot understood what I needed and routed me to the right person. We’ll call this a customer service win.

Does your company use bots to trick people or help them?

Customer Service Success Tip

Consider how your employees—and apps—use names when interacting with customers. Remember that the goal is effective service. Make sure your policy on using names keeps this in mind.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

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Provider-Inflicted Pain

Balance Business Needs with Customer Impact

It’s a hassle when our credit card changes. We must track down every business that has our credit card number on file and update it. If we miss one company, we risk service interruptions or delivery problems.

Sometimes we decide to switch cards, but what about when our credit card company makes this change? Through no fault of our own, they force us to use a new card with a different number. This doesn’t happen often, but I have experienced it with both my personal and business accounts.

The most recent occurrence happened to me with the branded card I used for all my business purchases. They aligned with a different credit card provider, and I paid the price for that decision. I’m sure it made sense for them, but did they consider how this would affect their customers?

The Personal Impact

The first to update were the companies that automatically charged my card each month. The process to correct this was straightforward, albeit time-consuming. I looked at last month’s statement and listed everyone I needed to contact. Then I went online to provide my new credit card information. Though time-consuming and tedious, this step wasn’t hard. Some sites made updating my credit card information easy, but other sites buried this information or made the process more challenging.

But what about all the companies that had my credit card number on file, but I hadn’t bought from them in the last month? This list was much harder to compile, and I overlooked a few. But I didn’t know I had missed them until I attempted to place an order and had my card denied—all because I forgot to update my number. This produced both frustration and embarrassment.

Business Decisions

Don’t just evaluate business changes from a financial perspective. Consider how this will impact your customers. Will your decision inconvenience them or damage your relationship with them?

Though this example is about credit cards, the lesson applies elsewhere too. Other considerations include updating software, changing password requirements, and migrating from one system to another. Before proceeding, consider how these changes will impact your customers. Look for ways to mitigate their frustration or minimize their inconvenience.

Customer Service Success Tip

When you make a business decision, consider how it affects your customers. Seek ways to ease the transition for them. Consider what you can do for them so that they won’t have to do it themselves.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

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Available and Accurate Support

Minimizing the Need for Customer Service Is the Best Support Option

As an author, I upload my books to over a half-dozen online stores and distributors, using their respective portals to enter each book’s information and files. The interface for each one differs, with some being easy to use and others being more cumbersome. Sometimes it’s clear what information they seek, and other sites provide on-page tips to answer essential questions. 

Each one of these online destinations offers a degree of customer support. 

Questionable Results

One online bookseller, the oldest of them all, has a confusing-to-navigate website that leaves users questioning what information to enter. They offer both email and telephone support, though experience encourages me to use these options only as a last resort—and then to question the results. Given the quality of communication that occurs through both options, I assume these reps are in a different country, one far removed from mine. 

I’d be fine with this if they were easier to understand, and I trusted what they told me. Too often, however, I wonder about the accuracy of their answers. And when I really question the validity of their advice, I contact them a second time and receive a contradictory response. I don’t recall ever getting the same answer twice.

Unavailable and Delayed

Another publishing vendor offers email and text chat support. They used to be most helpful and responsive. However, in the last year this has changed. Their text chat option is unavailable most of the time, turning on and off throughout the day. Checking during posted times of availability, I’ve twice seen that chat was online, but before I could enter my question, it went off-line. 

I’ve now given up on even trying chat and use email instead. I measure their response time for email requests in weeks, not hours. The good part is that I respect their answers—at least most of the time.

Professional and Accurate

The other companies all offer just email support. 

Two of them surpass all others—not only in the publishing industry but for all e-commerce companies. Though they don’t meet my hope for a quick response, they do respond, usually by the next business day. What makes them excel, however, is the professionalism of their communications and the accuracy of their answers. 

I fully trust what they tell me.

Follow the example of these two booksellers. Make sure that your online presence is easy for customers to use and offers accessible, helpful, on-page support. If you have customers or vendors who upload information to your website, make sure the backend is equally easy to use and helpful.

Customer Service Success Tip

Make your e-commerce store easier to use, for both customers and vendors. Each improvement you make online will lessen the work your customer service support staff must do later.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

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The Trials and Triumphs of Telephone Support

Phone Interactions Can Save or Ruin Your Business

A lot of customer service occurs over the telephone. This growing trend leaves me concerned about some things and excited about others.

A Shortsighted Attitude

On the negative side, consider a large telecommunications company that provides cell phone, internet, and long distance. Or a large national banking institution. You’ve heard of them both. And they’re notorious for their abysmal record of poor customer service. 

If I shared their names, there’s a good chance you or someone you know has had an unpleasant experience with them. To call it unpleasant is kind. Uncaring, unconscionable, and unethical are more accurate characterizations.

With these companies, once a nontypical problem occurs, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll never resolve it. This isn’t an overstatement. People have only so much patience. Then they give up. Excessive runaround, time spent on hold, and limited energy to pursue a satisfactory resolution end up overwhelming frustrated customers. They accept the problem or switch providers.

Although some of these companies’ frontline staff care and try their best, too many do not. Regardless, there seems to be cumbersome bureaucracy thwarting every move and complex support systems that make no allowances for nonroutine problems.

A Solution for Success

There’s an opportunity awaiting these two companies—and others like them—if they can just provide effective telephone customer service. With best-in-class phone support, their cancellation rates would plummet, and customer satisfaction levels would skyrocket. They’d receive a lot less negative press.

Are these companies simply too big or do they offer too many services to be effective? Are their help desks mismanaged, bogged down by bureaucracy, or smothered with complexity? 

I suspect the underlying reason is that upper management treats support as an expense to minimize. But exemplary customer service is good business. Investing in customer support is an investment in your future.

A Positive Outcome

I experienced the trials and triumphs of phone support after my house took a minor lightning strike. The surge affected our phone, internet, and entertainment services. I called my satellite provider and spoke with Beth in the Oklahoma call center. This was the first time I encountered a call center agent telling me her location. It seemed hokey and an overreaction to the backlash against offshore call centers, but it helped me establish a personal connection with Beth from Oklahoma. 

While waiting for various diagnostics to run, we had time to chat, which I enjoyed and found preferable to sitting in silence on hold. She soon scheduled a service call for the next day. The technician fixed the problem fast and restored service.

I wish I could say the same for my phone and internet service providers. They both required multiple phone calls. Then there were the missed commitments, wrong instructions, and conflicting information. 

That’s no way to run a business.

Customer Service Success Tip

Listen to what customers say about your service. Then do one thing to improve it. Once complete, fix the next item on the list.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

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Business Articles

Consistency Matters Most

Tell Your Customers What to Expect and Deliver it Every Time

Moving required finding a new place to service my car. A well-maintained auto repair business sat just down the street from our home, less than half a mile away. A neighbor, though he had never gone there, said they had a reputation for providing great service.

An Unexpected Twist

Before I could try them, however, another garage in the area mailed me a welcome-to-the-neighborhood coupon for a free oil change. This was a brilliant marketing move on their part. I figured I’d use the coupon and then try out the closer business, hopeful for them to become my provider of preference.

Though the second facility wasn’t as near, they were still only a couple miles away. They, too, had a nice facility—newer, larger, and more impressive than the one down the street.

I called for my free oil change, and everything proceeded as expected. New filter, fresh oil, and no bill. As a bonus, they performed a courtesy check of my car and offered a few suggestions for recommended maintenance. Their explanation of the additional work sounded reasonable. 

I later dropped my car off for part two. It cost me a couple hundred dollars this time, but I accepted it as normal for an aging car.

They impressed me with how they integrated technology into their operation, not only to service my car but also to interact with me. Despite having paid them over $200 for what I had planned to be a free oil change, I left pleased with their service and the outcome. In short, they delighted me.

Inconsistent Service

When our other car needed work, it was easy to return there—albeit not as convenient as going down the street. Again, they did their work as promised and met my expectations. Again, they had a list—this time longer—of additional work that they deemed urgent. This time the estimate was much higher. The explanation seemed less convincing. I walked away, not as happy, with the bill of several hundred dollars and only half the recommended work done.

Yet I returned the next time I had an auto-repair need.

They allowed me to schedule my appointments online, an option I appreciated given that I seldom remember to make my car repair appointments during business hours. Each time I booked my appointment, they asked for my preferred contact method: phone, text message, or email.

The first time I selected text message, but they called me instead. I figured it was an error on their part and overlooked it—mostly. From then on, I always selected email, but they persisted in calling. Once, when I didn’t answer, they followed up with a text. Never once did they email me as requested.

Another time I dropped my car off for repair and, not needing it back for at least a month (and causing me to wonder if my family really needed a second car), I told them there was no rush. “Just email me when you’re finished.”

A week went by and then two with no email (or phone call or text). Then a third week with no communication. Then a tersely worded letter arrived. If I didn’t pick up my car within 24 hours, they would charge me for storage. I went in, paid my bill, and retrieved my car. 

I asked why they never contacted me about the completed repair. Their aloof customer service person offered no explanation, only a shoulder shrug.

I grew tired of going there. My first concern was that they always found something else to do. Too often I questioned the validity of their recommendations. Though they delighted me at first, they never repeated that feat. Instead, they provided mediocre service. This produced disappointment, such as not calling me in the manner requested or threatening to charge me to store the car I didn’t know was ready for pickup.

Aside from aggressive recommendations for additional work on my cars, their actual repairs were good. But the inconsistent nature of our interactions led me to seek a different alternative. Not knowing what to expect each time I interacted with them led me to disappointment most of the time. I knew they could delight me because they did once. Why couldn’t they accomplish that every time?

I gave up on them and, after much too long, contacted the garage down the street for my next oil change.

Consistent Service

Upon arriving, the customer service manager greeted me with an engaging smile. She entered my information in the computer and made my appointment. I dropped the car off as planned, picked it up when promised, and paid the bill I expected. 

Though nothing was exceptional with our interaction, it was decidedly better than average. After my recent experiences with the other garage, above average excited me. I returned. Again and again. 

Every time I had an above average experience. Each time I looked forward to my next visit. They were that good. They provided me with consistently above average interactions. I appreciated knowing what to expect and receiving it every time.

Their predictable service pleased me. They didn’t delight me just once and then disappoint. They thrilled me on every visit.

I still take my vehicles there. I know that each time I take my car in I’ll receive quality work, a fair bill with no surprises, and reasonable recommendations for possible additional work. I rate my interaction with them as consistently above average—and that’s high praise. 

I don’t recall another auto repair facility ever being this predictable. With certainty, none were consistently above average. Even a garage consistently average would surpass most of my combined experiences at other service facilities, where they seldom followed one good encounter with a second. 

Too often my auto-repair experiences were like a roller coaster: up and down. I never knew what to expect. And unlike roller coasters where surprises thrill riders, being surprised doesn’t bode well for car repair.

Consistency is the key for ongoing success. This will earn you repeat business, time after time, year after year.

Customer Service Success Tip

Before you strive to improve your customer service, first aim to be consistent. This means uncovering the experiences that disappoint and eliminating them. Continue to address the low outliers to increase consistency in the remaining interactions.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.