How Pro-Active Communications Prevent Most Customer Support Headaches
Note from Len: I love seeing businesses that win by focusing on customer service.
Simplifilm, an agency that specializes in product demo videos and book trailers, is a great example of this. Their blog is a fantastic resource for anyone building a client services business.
Today, I’m excited to host Chris Johnson, Simplifilm’s CEO. I love Chris’ approach to reducing customer service headaches with proactive outreach, and I know you will, too. In this post, Chris shares some powerful examples and word-for-word scripts that will help you improve your proactive support right away.
Customer service is hard. Usually unnecessarily so. Most businesses have the same problems over and over again. The same situations come up and cover 90% of issues. And they are correctable.
Our company, Simplifilm, didn’t begin to grow until we got this nailed. We spent more calendar days and clock hours per project than we do today simply because we didn’t communicate efficiently.
Here’s a clue: when a client or customer calls and asks “where’s my stuff,” they are already upset. You’ve already created a slippery slope that will cause them to doubt you and your choices and cause them to question your product, process and pricing.
Our vision was to create a white-glove effortless video agency, and we did. The results?
Here are the three steps we used to get good at customer support.
Step 1: Get Out of Reactive Mode With “What Now, What Next & Exactly When”
Consider this: whenever any customer (ever, under any circumstances without any exceptions) calls in or emails with a “where’s my stuff” email they are already upset. And they are 100% right. Because you could have told them earlier.
You have let them down. And it’s so simple to correct.
We call it What Now, What Next, and EXACTLY When.
It’s the format of every message that we send out.
What now: the thing we’re working on, or the thing we’ve delivered.
What next: the next action that will happen.
Exactly when: the precise time that it will happen, often we will schedule a review at that time.
Step 2: Build Margins Everywhere
We have a saying: fight for the margin. In our business it’s time margins more than money margins. To defend our margins, it requires steel in our spine.
Here’s our process for creating margins in a project plan:
First, we assume that the task will take us 50% longer than it really will. Then we add it to our calendar, with the padded time. Then we add a day to the end. That’s our commitment date. This is invisible to the clients, but it avoids the poison of ASAP pretty directly. We often get asked to let this go. The truth is we do it often and we regret it just as much.
The other tactical tip is that we avoid initial presentations on Fridays. Because people get the weekend to think about it, then Monday is busy, then Tuesday, and then our client has been put in position to fail to live up to their end of giving prompt feedback.
Step 3: Send Midpoint Emails to Give Fair Warning
During the process things go wrong. We try to avoid them but mistakes and delays can never be completely eliminated from our businesses.
We have a routine “midpoint” check in with all of our clients. This midpoint check in is in the middle of the promised deadline. We want to assure them that things are working – or take the time to prepare them for any issues that came up.
This would look like this:
These midpoint emails—sent in good times and bad—will demonstrate commitment to the client and the empathy that we want to have. The “good” emails build up credibility so that when you need to deliver bad news you can.
The Benefits to Minimum Viable Communications
First, you spend less overall time in customer service. It requires that you are disciplined with the time that you spend, but the overall time you spend is way less. And it’s proactive and not reactive.
That means it’s less stressful to both you and your client. Think about what happens when a customer starts asking for status updates. You are stressed because you’ve been working on this thing, trying to get it perfect for them for a few days and you haven’t been able to do so. From their perspective, you’re just playing Xbox or watching Vimeo videos for inspiration.
A caveat. Working this way requires discipline that doesn’t come naturally to many entrepreneurs. It requires that we dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to proactive updates. Like going to the gym, nothing bad happens when you miss a day. However when you commit and do it religiously, you get results, retention and revenue.