Douglas Hanna

Article Summary:

How, when, and using which methods you should follow-up to provide excellent customer service.

Customer Service and Following Up

The golden rule of following-up is don't bother anyone. The second you bother one of your customers is the second they start to think less of your brand, your company, and your customer service experience. You've put in the work to do the follow-up and you shouldn't screw it up by bothering your customer.

What Time To Call
The rule for what time is generally the time they contacted you. However, this is more like a guideline as it doesn't always work. I know that I send emails or call tech support every now and then at 1 or 2 AM and I certainly wouldn't want to get a phone call around then.

This rule does generally work, though, if you do your homework. When making phone calls, see where the person lives and lookup the time zone. I live on east coast of the US, so if the representative bothers to look that up and finds out that it's 2 AM where I live, he or she can move on to a customer that lives in a place where it's noon or 1 PM. If you noticed the customer called at a fairly normal time (say 4 PM their time), try and call them around that time.

Don't worry about what time for email or regular mail. Depending on your business, you should stick to either just the weeks or the weekends. For example, if you provide business services, send emails on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, giving the customer plenty of time during the week to reply. If you provide more consumer services, try to send the emails on a Friday or Saturday, giving the customer at least Sunday to reply.

Do try to avoid calling during meal times and early mornings (before 10 AM their time is probably not a good idea). Emails and regular mailings are okay at basically any time of the day, but you may want to do a follow-up slightly before when you normally receive replies from a customer (say their replies come around 2 PM EST, send your emails at 1:30 PM EST), that way the communication can be kept more instant.

Time Frames
Here are some general rules for follow-up periods:

  • Sales Inquires - One week, then one after a month or so
  • Customer Service & Support - One week, then maybe after a month or so if the issue was complicated
  • Billing - Four to five days, and then perhaps just before the related billing period
  • Complaint - Give an update one to two weeks after the complaint was first replied to, and then three weeks after the first complaint to give a progress report
  • Suggestion - One to two weeks after a reply saying it was good, bad, not possible, etc. and another follow-up a month later to give a progress report
  • Misc. Inquires - Use your judgment. It depends on the type of question/comment.

When you conduct follow-ups is of course important, but if you keep the ultimate golden rule in mind (Use Common Sense), you'll be fine.

Method
Over what medium a follow-up is conducted is important. It can make or break a follow-up. The general rule of thumb is: follow-up using the same medium. So if they contacted you over phone, call them. If they contacted you over e-mail, send them an e-mail.

The advantages and disadvantages of each medium:

  • Phone - Most personal and quickest method for customer (as far as total time until issue resolved), but some people don't like to talk on the phone, it's the most expensive, and requires someone to make the call and sit there during the entire call (i. e. you can't do 30 an hour).
  • Email - Quickest and cheapest, but longest time until the issue is totally resolved. It's harder to get additional information and to ask questions on the fly. A lot of people like email, but others hate it. The use of email really boils down to how "virtual" your business is and how techno your customers are.
  • (Snail) Mail - In most cases, snail mail is traditionally very impersonal, but it's very effective. It makes your company seem much more brick and mortar, but if you send a survey over the mail, chances are it'll be thrown out. If your follow-ups are more "Thanks for calling us - let us know if you have any problems," then traditional mail may be an effective solution.

Regardless of the medium, all of your follow-ups should mention ways to further get in touch. Follow-ups over these mediums need to have this information:

  • Phone - The representative has to say if you need any more help, feel free to give us a call back, send us an email, visit our support web site, etc. and tell the customer how to do all of those things. It's important to ensure that he or she understands as well.
  • Email - Have a line near the end stating "If you need any further assistance, please feel free to call us at 1-800-555-555."
  • Mail - Have a phone number, email address, and web site address clearly mentioned on the letterhead and a phone number at the end (similar format as above).

Keep these rules in mind for effective follow-ups.

Douglas Hanna is a customer service consultant. He writes about customer service and the customer service experience every weekday on his blog, Service Untitled. As a Principal at Service Untitled Group, Douglas has helped companies of all sizes improve their customer service since 2004. Douglas and Service Untitled have been featured on ABCNews.com, How to Change the World by Guy Kawasaki, and in The Web Host Industry Review. For more information about Douglas and what he does, please visit his blog at www.serviceuntitled.com.

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