It’s ALL Customer Service: An Ounce of Prevention

not a through st 1800 x 1200This is the first in a series of posts about customer service, in all its various and glorious forms. Work-wise, it was my first love, and it’s still near and dear to my heart.

Many successes and failures are made in an organization’s most basic communications. I’m talking about what we now call Frequently Asked Questions, especially very frequently asked questions.

What questions come in by phone or email the most? Your hours, your location, program or product details?

Put that information on your website! Duh, right? But take a look at your site, is it really there?

Sites for companies with many locations often say, “Call for hours.”  Yes, it would be challenging and take time to keep that information up to date, but having countless employees picking up the phone countless times per day is a staggering waste of resources.

Maintaining program or product details is even more of a commitment, but the time savings and error prevention can be considerable, and if the information’s accurate, employees can use the site as a resource, too.

Are you distributing printed materials with outdated information? Is there even someone responsible for that?

Recently I went to Las Vegas for work and reached the hotel at midnight to find a long, slow check-in line.  I was eventually directed to elevator 1a. On the 4th floor I followed a sign that said Rooms 4020 – 4045 or some such, but reached a dead-end before my room, 4035.  A nice security guard opened a fire door and walked me to my room.  When asked, he pleasantly gave me incomprehensible instructions for next time, mentioning Starbuck’s as a guide, “But not the Starbuck’s downstairs, or the Starbuck’s on the other side.”

The next day, here’s what I got:  “Go to Elevator 2 through the casino.”  Elevator 2 turned out to be a bank of four elevators, each marked with a 1 for first floor. “The sign on the wall will say access to floors 6-15. Disregard that. In the elevator, press the button for 2 – there will be one – and get off on the 2nd floor. Go around the next corner to the other elevator. Take that to 4th floor.  Follow the signs to your room.”  Voilà!

Building the so-and-so theater cut into the elevator shaft, she said.  Fine. When was that, yesterday? No, four years ago. What about the Floors 6-15 sign nowhere near the theater?  Even homeless people can get hold of cardboard and markers. Perhaps management vetoed handmade signs, because they’d be tacky? Oh, wait, it’s a casino.

People make mistakes and things break, that’s part of life. Wrong-elevator-woman, the room phone, the pop machine, I get that.  But that hotel has over 4,400 rooms. How many guests are needlessly lost, aggravated, and wasting time day after day?  How many employees?

If you know, please add a comment. I’ll leave the light on for you.

Photo: Alan Levine

Can You Read Me Now?

Katya Andresen’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog post today is on the importance of “cognitive ease.”  It’s titled Three little tricks to be more persuasive, and though the title is a little on the Manchurian Candidate side, I definitely like the message.  I wrote about complicated language in my post Utilizing Effectuated Methodologies (What?), so I’ll just address legibility here.

Katya writes:

The Nobel-prize-winning [Thinking, Fast and Slow,] author Daniel Kahneman talks about the importance of cognitive ease.  Things that are easy to read and easy to remember can be processed with cognitive ease.  On the other hand, things like instructions in a poor font or faint colors or complicated language cause cognitive strain.

It shouldn’t take a genius to know people need to be able to read something in order to get the message.  Apparently it sometimes does.  (Bonus: try to convince your kids this applies to homework, too.)

I frequently pass two different restaurants that have their owner’s signature as the sign.  I’ve gone by them countless times, and I still sometimes glance over as I’m driving by and think, what is that?

So before you analyze your website or blog’s colors, content, functionality and whatever else, make sure visitors can actually read it.  Then do a web search on accessibility.

Online Sharing and the Fear of Abandonment

We live in a social world, both on and off the web, and love to share things that are interesting, funny, or helpful. Online it should be easy, but often it isn’t and the sharing doesn’t happen.

Here’s an example:

  1. I see something in an email newsletter, maybe an upcoming free webinar, and I want to share it because I know the organization does good work.
  2. I look for a Twitter button, and sometimes get lucky.
  3. Unlike on a blog post or news article, it usually links to the organization’s Twitter profile rather than the specific information. I read back through their Tweets, but more often than not strike out.
  4. Generally I give up here, but if it’s important to me I visit their website.
  5. Often I can’t find the information there or it looks so unprofessional I can’t bring myself to link to it.
  6. I might write my own Tweet, or maybe forward the newsletter to one or two people, but most likely…
  7. I give up.

Another example:

  1. A friend mentions he’s speaking at a tech conference the next day. Great, I’ll spread the word.
  2. He doesn’t have a Twitter account. OK, fine.
  3. He’s a good friend, so I surf around trying to find him and the event, or even just the event. No site, no Twitter account, no LinkedIn. All I can find is the host organization’s home page — which lists last year’s speakers and date.
  4. I give up.

No doubt a more casual visitor (read: sane) would give up sooner. Unfortunately, you can’t measure this type of abandonment.

Find your audience where they are, as they say, but anticipate where their friends might be, too. Take a fresh look at your newsletter, website, blog, and every other place you have an online presence. Ask someone outside your organization to do it, if you can.

How easy is it to share your great content, events and news?


This blog is about writing and editing, customer service, online marketing, and how communications and tech come together.  Plus a bunch of other stuff.  Read it and tell me what you think!

Follow me on Twitter or drop me a line via email kyla (at) kylacromer (dot) com.

Utilizing Effectuated Methodologies (What?)

Every day when I surf around the web, I notice how many people have a hard time writing in a clean, clear way. Here are some key concepts I try to use:

  1. Decide what to say and make the most important points first, in case your reader gets bored or distracted and wanders off mid-read. We all do it.
  2. An oldie but goodie: use subheadings, bullets, and numbered lists when you can, in case the reader is skimming. We all do that, too.
  3. When reviewing a draft, imagine you’re a cranky, very impatient person – say, your mother’s aunt – and ask, “So what?” after reading each bit. If there isn’t a good answer, cut it.
  4. Don’t use big words when small ones will do. They slow things down and increase the likelihood your reader will go find something better to do. “Gigantic” is more evocative than “big,” but “utilize” isn’t better than “use.”
  5. Avoid words like “evocative” if you don’t know what they mean. There are many free dictionaries on the web.
  6. Skip the trendy terms and expressions, like “planful,” or “that said.” They can have more than one meaning, or be just plain wrong. Some readers will stop to ponder, or be confused, or even go look it up. Keep them with you!

All of these points assume you will take time to write a draft or two. Or three. Do it! If possible, have someone else read your draft, too. If you can’t do that, take a long break, preferably overnight. In the morning, you’ll likely notice phrases that are unclear or unnecessary, and catch a mistake or two.

Last, notice I said, “key concepts I try to use.” Don’t drive yourself crazy chasing perfection. One can’t effectuate that no matter what methodology is utilized.