Maximising your customer service queries

Customer service how can i help

Before transitioning to the tech world, I always viewed customer or tech support as something to be avoided. A button to click or address to email only in the most desperate of times, when things just were not working. It would end up being a hassle, special numbers or passwords would be required, and responses were often lacking helpful solutions.

Since then, I’ve spent a couple of years providing customer happiness for Watu, immersing myself not only in customer service but also the wonderful world of software. In addition to being an eye-opener with regards to this magic little button of tech support, the industry has also come a long way in terms of customer appreciation, transparency and openness. Now, in fact, there isn’t just one access point to customer service – you have access via chat, tickets, Twitter, email and more.

Zappos’ incredible customer service focus has inspired others to give the ‘wow’ factor and suppliers have realised the value of happiness. And not just happiness in clients. Software companies like Automattic, Buffer and Baremetrics are leading a cultural revolution, hiring happy folk who genuinely have a passion for helping others. We don’t want to just answer your questions and close your ticket. We want to solve your pain point, make your day, ease your workload, simplify steps and put a smile on your face.

So how do you, as the customer, make the most of this change in heart? And what exactly do those responses you’re receiving actually mean? I’ve read through blogs and analysed my own experiences to provide 3 suggestions for decoding your tech support and maximising your customer service experience.

Your feature suggestions

Like most other startups, we have a path laid out for our app, but it’s a flexible one. One that can be scrubbed away and redrawn, or at least one that might ocassionally take a detour. This is where clients play a crucial role: the app is for you. Especially if you’re a heavy user and pay for the more expensive version of the app when available. It’s not that paying more means your ideas are more valid, but rather that you are clearly invested in the product, use it regularly, and therefore can provide the most applicable suggestions.

The fact is, maybe we, on the software team, have some grand ideas that we think will benefit you, but in reality if all our customers are pleading with us for X feature, chances are, we need to listen.

So what really happens when you put in a feature request? Well, check out the response tone to see if you can decode it. ¨Your request is being sent to developers for review and we may take it on.¨Ok, this is the most open-ended. What does it mean? Quite literally what it says. Your request will get added via another software platform like Trello or Jira as an idea for developers. Gain enough traction via requests from other clients, or a developer being particularly keen, and it may get the thumbs up. But don´t hold your breath.

What if the response isn´t so positive, yet more polite – something along the lines of ¨Thanks so much for submitting. That idea isn´t in the pipeline at the moment, but we´ll bear it in mind.¨ Dear clients, this is the gentle let down. The customer service equivalent of ¨It´s not you, it´s me.¨

The fact is, an app has many clients. And each client has their own specific workflows and needs. But most startups provide platforms, not customised software. What you suggested may be a brilliant idea for your business. But it could be completely irrelevant for everyone elses’. So it´s a no, and not just because developers´time is expensive, but because platforms have features that must be the same across the board, for all clients and the teams behind the product want to avoid ´product bloat´. Make a change in the former, and suddenly all clients have this appear in their account. And if you´ve requesteed a cat gif giving a high five for every win you make, the others may not appreciate it so much.

cat giving high five gif


Errors in the account

This is normally why the support button is sought after and clicked. You´re running into a problem and it may be a bug, it may be your browser, it may be…anything. That´s the support team´s role to don the detective badge and find the source. But we don´t want to just find it. We want to find it with as little delay, with minimal communication (i.e. interruption to your day) and as efficiently as possible. Therefore the information that you provide can play a huge role.

The safest default in this case is: the more detail, the better

Providing the support team with a background – what were you clicking? Your stats (not 36-24-36…) like what internet browser are you using? Desktop or mobile? And what the error was, as in, what exactly did the error state and when did it occur? If you want to put a bow on top, throw in a screenshot. I, in all my geekiness, love a screenshot as it helps me to almost immediately diagnose a fix the error.

In our staffing management platform, for example, we might get tickets like the following:

Client: Your site isn’t working
Support team’s first reaction: Hmm. Which part isn’t working? It’s not loading? Or it’s displaying in a strange way? A specific feature isn’t doing its job?

Client: The staffer isn’t showing as booked on her job
Reaction: Which staffer? Which job? Which manager booked her, and when?

Client: There’s an error when I download payroll
Reaction: What type of error? Can you screenshot the page when it’s happening? Which payroll run? When?

You can see the pattern and what’s missing. Detail, detail, detail. The above type of ticket normally takes 2-3 more messages between myself and the client to determine the problem and provide a solution vs an initial email detailing everything that happened and, most likely, a response from myself saying it´s been fixed. I think we can all see the appeal of the latter.

To add to it, our software along with many others, have clients based around the world and that introduces something rather tricky: timezones. On most days, my clients submit and get a response with 24 hours, if not just a few hours. But sometimes, throwing varying workig hours and time zones into the mix means this back-and-forth can delay solutions tremendously. And that doesn´t usually lead to client happiness.

So overshare, spill it all, get verbal. Send us the whole story, and we´ll get back to you with a solution.

What about a good ol´ fashioned helping hand

The previos two points – feature requests and solving errors – applies to most tech software companies. As the customer happiness rep for Watu, I also believe wholeheartedly believe in the following for our service:

Get in touch.

Not just to report a problem, not just to suggest a feature. ¨Get in touch¨ isn´t just a canned mssage line or a polite way of signing off an email. It´s a genuine welcome, an open arms, encouraging clients to reach out for any help they may need in the software.

My goal isn´t to just solve your problems and have you on your way. I want to do this, and have you confidently using the software, making use of all the fine detail, and taking advantage of everything we have to offer. I know the software inside out and I want to share this knowledge. In our case, I relish the opportunity to take a pain point of a client and turn it into a task they didn´t realise could be so simple. Asking me the optimal way to build a complex job in the system, for suggestions on what type of questions to ask as part of their staff application form, if I can review their account and provide better workflow ideas. All of these are valid support team questions and offer me the chance to apply my knowledge creatively, whilst providing clients a step-up with the system. It´s a win-win.

So don´t hesitate to click that support button. Drop us a line (or rather, many) and give us that satisfaction of making our clients the happiest. Take advantage of all these ridiculously friendly customer support teams and share your questions, thoughts, and doubts. Go on, will you please get in touch?

Recording a video interview for an agency

Image of webcam for recording a video interview

Agencies are turning more and more to video interviews to accommodate nationwide growth as well as to make for easier logistics of both managers and staff. If you haven’t already made one, chances are you’ll come across a request to film a video next time you’re registering with an agency. So what are important points to keep in mind? What do agencies look for?

As a former booker at a London agency before making the move to Watu, I used to be one of the recipients of our video interview applicants. From the weird and wacky to the downright brilliant, I have seen a lot. And whilst they were wildly entertaining, only a small number could actually be forwarded on to the client. From errors that are easy to oversee – like someone’s knickers in the background – to the more inappropriate-for-client’s-ears type mistakes, I thought I’d share with you the in’s and out’ s of creating a video interview that gets seen and shared.

The Video Set Up

First step is to set the scene. Choose a private, quiet space far from kids, animals, or a TV. Then focus on what shows on screen. Hint: the less, the better. Background props may highlight your personality, but they’re actually distracting from what you’re saying. Not to mention, you don’t know which brand you’ll be representing week-by-week, so what if you have their competitor’s poster stuck to the wall behind you? Best to keep it simple by having a blank wall behind you meaning you’ll be the centre of attention.

Next up, secure your device so that it’s stable whilst filming. This is probably easiest from a laptop, but if using a mobile device, simply use a stand or create one using books or shelves. You want to ensure the camera height is equal with your eyes so you’re looking straight ahead, and not craning your neck or showing the clients a tour of your nostrils.

You’re ready to record, but what software do you use? Almost all phones or tablets have a built-in recording software via the camera button. If using a computer, Mac users can go to imovie or Photobooth, whilst Windows users can use Quicktime, Windows Movie Maker or other options detailed in this WikiHow.

But before you hit the red button, do a check first. Practice answering a question, then watch yourself. Is the sound coming through ok? Is the video clear? Check it over, fix whatever is going wrong, then get started.

What to say in a video interview?

Chances are you’ve been given some guidance along what to say, or even handed some questions to answer. Even if this is totally open to interpretation, do a few practice sessions first. The goal isn’t to come off sounding robotic, but to make sure you’re confident and speaking smoothly. And after saying it a few times to yourself, you may realise a better way of wording things.

If the agency asked you to answer specific questions, answer these as you would in an in-person interview, and remember, even if an agency gives off a ‘fun vibe’, it is still business and clients may not feel the same. Think fun, but professional. For example, if they ask the classic “what is your weakness”, don’t mention that you’re always running late. That’s not a weakness, and it’s definitely not something managers or clients want to hear.

Also, bear in mind the industry. Promo requires confident people who aren’t afraid to speak up, be engaging and have their voice heard. You have one video to demonstrate that you can do so – and what better an opportunity than this? Beats having to fill out another ‘about you’ section where you say how bubbly and outgoing you are.

Presenting yourself in a video interview

Equally important to what you say is how you present yourself. Clients and agencies are looking for people-people…that is, people who genuinely like to, and know how to, engage with others. Body language is a huge part of this communication so here’s how to get it right.

Look directly into the camera and think of them as the eyes of your interviewer. Looking at your screen comes out appearing awkward, as if you’re trying to avoid eye contact (it seems as if you’re always looking down), and looking near your camera but not at it looks like you got confused as to where your camera actually is, or like you may be distracted.

Saying that (and this was one of the more common – and creepy – mistakes) please, please remember to blink! Not blinking leads people to think you memorised your answers, are super nervous, or are just really strange which is not a quality of promotional staff. In short, be natural. Look at the camera, look briefly away (think about it…do you stare directly into someone’s eyes all the while you’re talking to them? Because that can be really intense) and blink. Treat the camera like a person you’re interacting with.

Have you ever had someone snap candid photos of your whilst you’ve been speaking? Notice how you pull some really awkward faces? Video, although fast moving like in-person, has the option to be paused or re-watched, and with the addition of the viewer focussing mainly on your face. In fact, this is one reason why, during photo shoots, models are asking to pretend to talk rather than have a real conversation. Fact is, we can be pretty expressive and this doesn’t come off well on camera. I noticed once after filming myself how many goofy face I pull and maybe I can get away with this in a live interview, but for a short interview clip, my expressions looked out of place. The next time, I kept in mind “smile as a default” and presto, I looked like the more secure, confident and happy candidate that I know myself to be.

Ok so your video is filmed – now what? Check how the client would like it to be submitted. If the question asks for a link, that means you have to upload the video to be hosted on a site like youtube or vimeo after which point you can just paste the video link in the application form. Or, if there’s an upload button, simply upload your saved video directly from your computer.

Keeping it real

Agencies want to see your personalities, your individuality and your vibrant selves. But there’s that fine line between recording a few memorised lines whilst you stare into the camera, versus dressing up in your favourite anime outfit before bursting into scene to show off your creative, artistic self.

With a bit of planning, a clean set up, and a few minutes of effort, you’ll be able to set these boundaries, stay within the lines and yet still let your personality shine through. Even if your agency doesn’t explicity state they will show your video to clients, treat this task with the same importance and with the knowledge that they just might in the future. And by doing so, you just might land that dream campaign.

Photo by David Burillo

Recycling branded clothing in the promotional staffing industry

image of clothes in a dumpster for social responsibility

Campaigns often call for branded uniforms and what the client asks for, is what must be delivered. T-shirts, hats, trousers, jackets and more are churned out of factories and branded with the sole purpose of adorning field staff for, generally, one particular campaign.

But come the end of the campaign road, what happens to this gear? Usually, it’s destined for the rubbish bin instead of any recycling, due to the sensitive nature of the branding. Surely there must be alternatives to this incredible waste, though? Nearly-new pieces of clothing headed for the dumpster, when it could be used by so many, feels the wrong thing to do in today’s interconnected world full of recycling opportunities.

The promotional and events industry is not alone in this. Vendors for major sports events often create ‘winning gear’ for both teams to maximise immediately sales. Their challenge also lies in the sensitive nature of the rejected product – donating it within the home country would be seen as bad PR, and wouldn’t put these businesses in a favourable position with the losing team.

Similarly, Office Depot in the UK found themselves facing potentially 3 tonnes of uniform waste each year. For brand sensitivity, as well as security (they didn’t want to offer the chance for any donation recipients to pose as a delivery worker), they also could not simply donate the clothes to charities. And yet, they didn’t want a small logo to prevent the clothes from reaching new owners rather than the landfill. Their solution was one that took time and a fair amount of effort to reach, but eventually they came to an agreement with Goodwill Solutions, a CIC, concluding that Goodwill would cover the logos in exchange for offering the clothes to their team of volunteers.

As a staffing agency, what are your options?

It’s true that there are not a lot of choices right now. Often, clients are the first hurdle. Separated physically from the piles of leftover clothes, as well as the task of throwing them away, it’s easier to say “chuck ’em out”. But if you’re able to convince your clients, there may be some alternatives.

Partner with a CIC or charity: Give those sweaters and caps a home locally via a charity or a CIC like Goodwill. Perhaps they cold be used directly for those in need, or you could be offering an item of value to volunteers who work within the charity itself. Explore the possibility of a donation in exchange for the covering up of the logo.

World Vision or another large charity: Alternatively, offering the goods abroad may rule out the need to cover branding. Often, second hand clothes are sent to local markets where local people can sell them to make a living. In the US, World Vision offers corporate donation opportunities thanks to their extensive and well-executed logistics infrastructure. In the UK, family-run recycling company LMB offers a similar option, exporting clothes or turning them into textiles.

Clothes for Charity: Another UK option is Clothes for Charity, which is the most convenient if your clothes aren’t branded, or if your client isn’t worried about any logo. Donations are much more straightforward than dragging sacks to a local shop. Instead, Clothes for Charity sends you a bag, you fill it up, then use their easy online booking system to arrange a pick up. They resell your clothes and donate funds to your charity of choice. Easy to do, allowing you the option of supporting a charity within your interests, and very time-saving, this is a winner for when the opportunity arises.

Upcycle: Some businesses focus on upcycling clothes or in other words, using them as scrap to create new pieces. You can ask them to remove the logo with a simple snip and know that not only are the materials being re-used, but you’ll be supporting local businesses. One example of this is Elisabethan in Colorado – they take donations mainly from thrift shops (though they’re always looking for new sources) and magically cut and sew them into funky new pieces.

Secure disposal: But what if the answer is still no – NO donations no matter where the destination? Present to your clients the option of ‘secure disposal’ via recycling. One such firm that offers this is J&G Environmental, who shreds old uniforms and reuses them in carpet underlays and other such materials.

As a staffing agency, is it your responsibility?

Well, technically, no. You could take those bags brimming with goodies and throw them in the bin, but the business world values social responsibility, as does the world itself. Setting up a process to recycle might be the most time-consuming part, but once you’ve identified your solution, you’ll be playing your part in social and environmental care, not to mention adding value as a business in general.

It can be an uncomfortable topic, but generally these are the ones that bring about big changes, and in this case, change for the better. We all – as people, and as businesses – have a responsibility to take care of our planet and each other, and this current end-of-the-line for uniforms presents us with the perfect opportunity. With a bit of dedication and a belief in the better, we can transform this dead-end into a new beginning for these threads.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Blab for staff training

Blab for staff training image and logo

As part of brand immersion and as well as ensuring staff are on an equal platform in terms of product knowledge, brands will often request for a training session to be held between clients, the agency, and the field staff. Whilst very beneficial for all players in the game – the client have the confidence that the staff are trained, the agency knows the staff are knowledgeable and engaged, and the staff are clued up about the brand – organising these training sessions can be an agency headache.

Traditionally, training is held in person, gathering the team together and squeezing them into the headquarter’s meeting room. But this requires coordinated availability for at least half a day between all three parties (especially unappealing for field staff who prefer full days of work to half day training) and can be costly across the board after the hours spent travelling and attending have been tallied, along with the training rates and travel pay offered to staff. What’s more, this time spent out of the agency office by managers means less focus on other jobs and clients who may also have upcoming or live events needing their attention.

Skype or Google Hangouts offer an alternative, but these feel more like software that can be used for training, not software meant for training. The user experience might be a bit rough, with too many faces and voices on the same platform and the ability of only one route of communication – speaking – which can lead to interruptions, inefficiency, and maybe some awkward pauses.

What is Blab?

Now the makers of Bebo, after a genius night sitting around the bar, came up with Blab. In their own words, Blab “let’s anyone have their own show.” With users ranging from Basecamp’s CEO who performs interviews, to Heidi and Spencer who host podcasts, Blab provides an online platform through which the hosts direct the show, but allows for audience participation too.

Blab video hosting infographic

How does Blab work?

Getting started is super simple – I signed up and set up my first session in a matter of minutes.  Using Twitter to create an instant account, Blab then walks you through setting up your first meeting along with making it clear what options you have.

First, you tell the programme four basic points: what is your subject, theme tags, an image, and when you want the session to happen:

Setting up a meeting in Blab

If you don’t want your meeting to start immediately, it’s very straightforward to choose another date and time:

Scheduling a blab meeting in the future

Once set up, you’ll see the countdown to your next meeting. Here you can also see the page set up including the availability for messages, mentions and questions from the audience, as well as a map detailing where everyone is located. The meeting can be shared either through an embedded link, Twitter or Facebook, or by sharing the URL.

Countdown to Blab meeting

Blab for staff training?

So can Blab replace in-person staff training? Very possibly. In one example scenario, the client representative, agency rep, and event manager could join as the hosts of the Blab and run through a discussion of the product, goals of the campaign, and any other key points to highlight. The audience could then use the question feature to fire across any specific queries throughout, or at the end of a session. With many more detailed features available, the opportunity to run a smooth show is yours through this simple (and free) software – encourage staff to get involved from the comfort of their home, commenting, questioning and discussing brand questions with the management teams. Without the potential for awkward breaks in the training flow or untimely interruptions, Blab allows for management led training with to-the-point staff involvement.

Saying that, there is one big drawback that I’ve found so far which is that Blabs cannot be made private. All Blabs are open to the public so there is potential for others to view the training session. However, I do wonder what the chances of members of the public actually coming across, and joining, a staff training session are. Or, as Blab is such a new product, perhaps there is room for development in the future along the private session path.

This is just the briefest of introductions to Blab, which has already garnered a huge amount of interest as well as well-known users. Luckily for you, much more in-depth guides are already available and these delve into the potential of using Blab as a social media tool as well, offering insights into sharing, growing an audience through keywords and URLs, and other marketing tips that you may or may not want to take part of. If you do give Blab a try for your next training session, we’d love to hear about it!