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June 18, 2007

Why You Should Treat Your Customers Like Friends

In this article I’ll share with you a few tips on how you can humanize your interactions with prospects and existing customers using live chat software from your web site. By doing this you’re showing people you have ethics, you’re a real person, and you care about the people you deal with. At the end of the day, your company will be the one that stands out.

If you want to avoid becoming another faceless business in the eyes of your customers then I believe you absolutely must humanize all of your communication systems and processes. Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Don’t outsource your support. It may be more expensive in the short term to build up a reliable in-house team, but the long-term benefits will far outweigh the costs.

    Nothing frustrates people more when they contact a company for support only to be greeted by someone from another country or someone who can’t understand the problem they are having.

    You have to remember that there’s a person with emotions, feelings and sometimes frustration on the end of the line, and making them deal with a less-than knowledgeable person when they call you or use live chat is only going to add to that.

  2. Always figure out the problem first. Every time someone contacts you for sales or support they are looking for a solution to their problem. They are NOT looking specifically for your product. This one is sometimes hard to grasp, so let me give you an example.

    Someone searches for “email marketing software” and ends up on our SendStudio page. They are not looking for SendStudio specifically, but they are looking for a way to send emails for themselves or their clients. If they have a question on live chat then it’s our job to find out their problem and offer advice on how one of our products might solve their problem.

    You do this by taking the time to listen to the person and offer suggestions to each of their questions, slowly turning their problem into a workable solution, which one of your products may or may not solve. You never force your product/services onto them – no matter how keen they are to buy. Always educate, never sell. That’s our motto.

    It’s the job of your sales/support staff to provide that person with an answer to their problem, and the best answer to a question is always a solution that solves a problem.

  3. If your product is a mismatch, let them know. If someone fires up live chat and asks us if we have a product specifically for affiliate marketing we politely inform them that we don’t and we point them in the direction of a product which we think might suit their needs. We then wind up the chat.

    Initially you might think you’re losing a sale, but that one person will never forget the helpful, friendly advice you gave them and there’s a great chance they’ll think of you in the future when they need something you sell.

    Remember, business isn’t all about money. It’s about building sustainable relationships with your customers and prospects, regardless of whether they buy from you now, in 6 months time, or never.

  4. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. If someone asks you a tricky question on live chat then don’t try to provide them with the answer you think is right. If no one is around to help, politely inform them that you don’t know the answer to their problem and ask for their email address or phone number so you can pass their question onto someone who will get back to them.

    People would much rather wait a few hours for a correct answer instead of acting on an incorrect answer which could end up costing them time and money. They will also appreciate your honesty, and you’ll learn something new in the process.

  5. Forget proper grammar and punctuation. When you talk to a friend, family member or your spouse on MSN, Yahoo Chat or text message, do you meticulously make sure every word is spelt right and every sentence ends with a full stop?

    I’m guessing you don’t, and it should be the same for live chat. Just type as the words come to you and don’t worry too much if you miss a comma or capitalization of a word every now and then – we’re human, and humans make mistakes. Throw in a smiley face every few responses as well – text is a faceless medium so let the other person know you’re not a robot.

  6. Ask for the persons name straight up. This one’s pretty simple. Here’s how I normally start a live chat session:

    Mitch: Hi this is Mitch. How can I help you?
    Visitor: Hi Mitch
    Mitch: Hi! Can I grab your first name so I know who I’m talking to?
    Visitor: Sure, it’s Katie
    Mitch: Hey Katie, hit me with your question

    Very casual, friendly and to the point. I then move on and figure out how to turn her questions (the problem) into a solution (my answer).

  7. Move from chat to phone if you need to. Sometimes people don’t like live chat. If you sense that they’re getting frustrated or you can’t answer their questions properly then ask for their phone number and pick up the phone and call them. Greet them in a friendly manner, such as:

    “Hey Katie it’s Mitch from Interspire. We were just talking on live chat. Sorry I couldn’t explain myself properly…”

Conclusion

I’m sure some people will disagree with my 7 tips above, but I can honestly say they have worked well for us and will continue to do so. If you run your own business why not try using live chat on your site (we use LivePerson.com) and implementing my 7 tips above? If you do, you’ll have created trust and started the foundation of any healthy business relationship, which is putting the customer first.

Author:  Mitchell Harper is the co-founder and devleopment manager at Interspire.com, a software and web application firm located in Nachville Tennessee.

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