Multilevel marketing (MLM) and Party Plan companies thrive and survive on relationships, and because their continued existence depends on the customer service environment that you create within your culture, you must make the commitment to become the undisputed leader in service and support.
Working in a customer service or returns department can be satisfying, nerve wracking and even amusing. Frustrated field reps and customers often take very unusual actions. Here are some examples:
- Returned merchandise is enclosed in a large package that also contains the sender’s garbage.
- The complainer works in a computer department, so she prepares the complaint in the form of a floppy disk that must be fed into a computer for translation into plain language. When translated, it reads, “I can’t get anything accomplished with humans, will you please help me?”
- The complainer makes many photocopies of his original complaint and mails one each day until he obtains a satisfactory answer.
- A business reply envelope is returned with hundreds of dead flies and insects.
- A complaint is written in poetry with the hope that it is more likely to get attention.
- A letter is taped to a 10 foot by 10-foot piece of plywood with the notation, “I am sure this won’t get lost in your system.”
- Bullets are enclosed in the envelope with instructions to the president of the company to “blow his head off.”
This article addresses sorting of incoming mail for MLM and Party Plan customer service departments. For companies whose practice it is to simply assign incoming mail by number of pieces to each correspondent, the question arises as to the equitable allocation of work and whether this practice is an inefficient distribution of the workload. Some employees end up with a preponderance of easier problems while less-experienced personnel often have to grapple with matters beyond their capabilities. This article discusses how to distribute the mail.
If there is one aspect of structuring a response group that has to be emphasized, it is the importance of the “Sort.” The business axiom of “plan your work then work your plan” has far-reaching implications in this step of your business cycle. Because the sorting function is so important, it should not be assigned to the most-recently-hired or lowest-paid employee. Those assigned to sorting the mail in the customer service department should be among the most experienced and best-paid workers in the group. In a small operation, the manager should perform this function. In some other operations, the team leaders perform the overall departmental sort. Thus, the first step is to assign the sorting function to the right people.Read More
This articles addresses MLM customer service standards that we observe in the “superstar” service-givers. Multilevel marketing (MLM) and Party Plan companies are built on relationships, and because their continued existence depends on the customer service environment that you create within your culture, you must make the commitment to become the undisputed leader in service and support.
Objectives for the MLM Customer Service Superstar
- Be a Perfect Problem Solver
- Be a Warm, Caring Human Being
Perfect Problem Solving by the MLM Customer Service Superstar
- Knowledge in the following areas
- Compensation Plan
- Policies & Procedures
- Company Resources
- Skills in these crucial interpersonal areas
- Issue identification
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Company Support from the top down
- Customer Service Calls It, We Support It
- Measure, Report, Reward
- Systems Support (Computer, Work Flow)
- Follow-up as a way of life
- Close Each Case with Speed and Care
- Identify Dangers and Opportunities
PERFECT PROBLEM SOLVING by the MLM Customer Service Superstar
Make sure every customer service rep has the knowledge required to be perfect problem solvers.
- Compensation Plan — Certification program: know the compensation plan and be able to apply knowledge to a variety of situations to build solutions to all the problems and concerns of Marketing Executives
- Products — Product champions: know the literature and all training offered regarding products; be users of the products, be able to confidently and knowledgeably answer the important basic questions about the products, and be able to administer a technical product question referral.
- Policies and Procedures — Demonstrate Understanding and proficiency in the basis of each formal policy, in order to consistently administer interpretations and applications of the policies, and to assure that the underlying intent of each policy drives both administration and systems support of the policies. Know the policies so well that it is easy to find a way to say “yes” to a customer’s request.
- Company Resources — Know how to obtain all the information necessary to confidently fulfill the customer service mission of WOW-ing customers.
A great deal is written about customer service, and the best companies devote substantial resources to developing superstars. MLM customer service and Party Plan support systems demand the very best in a competitive environment.
Since multilevel marketing (MLM) and Party Plan compensation systems thrive and survive on relationships, and because their continued existence is wholly dependent on the customer service environment that you create within your culture, making the commitment to become a leader in customer service and support is essential to your long-term success. And by applying these concepts and using these tools, and others presented in the series on MLM customer service, you may become better service-givers in the exciting world of multilevel marketing and party plan distribution.Read More
Good MLM and Party Plan companies constantly seek ways to acknowledge and reward people in their telephone and customer service Junctions based on both their production and quality. A great deal is written about rewarding employees. Below is a framework for analyzing the options which are open to you, and which directions you might wish to go.
In a study of consumer complaint handling in industry, government, and retailing conducted for the Consumer Affairs Council, it was reported that over 40 percent of the companies surveyed provide customer service personnel with some sort of incentives. Furthermore, those offering incentives generally provided a higher level of customer service.
Incentives are also effectively applied in companies employing telephone marketing, inbound sales, direct marketing, and direct selling. Of the 181 companies that responded to an Employment Survey of the Direct Marketing Association’s Telephone Marketing Council, many indicated that they employ incentives in the telephone marketing function. Thirty-two percent provide recognition incentives; 26 percent cash; 21 percent events or parties; and 21 percent merchandise. In smaller call center functions, however, less than a quarter provide any type of incentives.
There are two basic types of incentives: (a) cash payments; and (b) non-monetary rewards. Each of these will be discussed separately, particularly as they apply to call center services and customer service.
Cash Payments The use of cash incentives as motivators, when personnel have direct contact (by phone or mail) with customers, has always been controversial. Questions are frequently raised as to whether commissions to retail sales clerks and telephone order takers or production bonuses to those responding to service calls or letters might degrade the overall service level.
Some executives suggest that employees could become more interested in increasing their own earnings than genuinely attempting to help the customer with his or her shopping or service problem.
Notwithstanding the above concern, cash incentives have proven to be very effective with a number of companies in increasing both sales and worker productivity. Further, those companies with professionally developed programs do not report any adverse effect on MLM and Party Plan customer relations. Here are three examples of the successful application of cash incentives.
- Telephone order clerks are paid a percentage of the sales dollars of “specials” they personally sell to customers.
- Telephone order clerks are given a monthly cash bonus based on the total dollar amount of orders taken over a predetermined base (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.). In both examples, payment is based on orders actually shipped.
- Customer service correspondents are paid an incentive bonus for production above a standard processing volume. Separate standards are established for simple and complex problems. Work is assigned to correspondents based on complexity.
This refers to anything from addition of gold stars on identification badges to personal commendations by senior management. One executive said, “There can’t be too much in the way of acknowledging the contributions of top-notch customer service personnel.”
A wide variety of non-monetary rewards have been put to use, most with very positive results. Here are a few.
- Selection of one or more customer service representatives-of-the-month who are rewarded with one of the following:
- Preferential parking spaces
- Flowers at the work place
- Trophy placed on the desk for the month
- Announcement and picture on the bulletin board and in the company newsletter
- Naming of a space and putting up a sign (“The Chris Starr Lunchroom”)
- Sending letters of commendation addressed to the residences of top performers
- Presentation of a merchandise certificate of nominal value or tickets to sporting, musical or cultural events when an employee receives compliments from four customers, indicating something extraordinary in the way of service.
- Giving outstanding representatives the latest management/business best sellers or a subscription to a business publication.
- Luncheon or dinner (sometimes spouses are invited, too) when an individual or department exceeds its sales or production goals.
- Sending employees to special seminars, workshops outside the company, covering topics related to customer service.
- Award of a pin, certificate, or achievement plaque for “plus performance,” with presentation made in front of colleagues by a member of senior management.
- Creating a “Best Accomplishments Of The Year” booklet and include the picture, name and statement of the best customer service achievements.
In sum, there is positive evidence that monetary, semi-monetary, and non-monetary rewards, or a mix of these, all play an important role and encourage telephone and customer service personnel to help customers effectively. Since multilevel marketing (MLM) and Party Plan compensation systems thrive and survive on relationships, and because their continued existence is wholly dependent on the customer service environment that you create within your culture, making the commitment to become a leader in customer service and support is essential to your long-term success. By applying these concepts and using these tools, and others presented in the series on MLM customer service, you may become better service-givers in the exciting world of MLM and party plan distribution.Read More
In their efforts to satisfy their customers’ problems, a company’s MLM and Party Plan customer service function can quickly become a major expense. The article explores how to maintain a high service level while containing costs in thriving MLM customer service departments.
Properly administering customer service is vital in all businesses large or small. This department can keep or lose customers, depending upon the skill with which it is operated. This does not mean, however, that every situation requires “giving away the business” or writing every customer a personal letter. You can keep your customers happy, at a reasonable cost, if you follow these 23 practices.
- Packing slip.
Include one in every shipment. On the reverse side, give the customer instructions on how to complain or return merchandise. If the customer decides to return the order, request that the packing slip be completed and returned with the merchandise. This alone will save many hours and will enable you to give faster service. Companies report that 85 percent of the original packing slips are included with returned merchandise.
- Customer reliance.
Take the customer’s word regarding such problems as missing items, damage, or lost shipments. This will save the time and money involved in writing for cancelled checks, order acknowledgements, or other proof of purchase. It will also eliminate the cost of receiving and processing products that are no longer saleable. Most customers are honest! Publishers Clearing House, the magazine subscription marketers, has a very pertinent customer service slogan: “Customers are always right, even when they are wrong.”
- Telephone calls.
Encourage customers to call the company when they seek information or have a problem. The customer service number should be listed frequently below the ordering number in smaller type in starter kits, product catalogs, and promotional materials. It is more economical for the company and satisfying to the customer to handle problems over the telephone.
- Toll-free telephone.
Do not offer an “800″ number for service problems. Such a service will increase the total volume of contacts by 35 to 40 percent.
- Telephone customer-service form.
Use a form to record customer-service inquiries received on the telephone when the representative is unable to respond to the customer. This form is designed to guide clerks to ask pertinent questions so that subsequently the inquiry or complaint can be expeditiously and efficiently handled.
- Decision tables.
Develop and implement tables comprising sample problems, action to be taken, and response to be used. See the sample decision table in the Models and Forms section. This technique (a) speeds the decision and response processes; (b) assures conformance to established company policies; improves the level of consistency and uniformity with which issues are handled; and (d) simplifies the training process for new and temporary workers.
- Research tools and material.
Supply each mail or telephone customer service representative with reference tools required to answer questions or make decisions. The ideal primary reference source should be a computer terminal that is capable of accessing the customer’s record. If this is not feasible, in spite of the extremely low cost of such terminals, computer output microfilm (COM) should be used to produce microfiche that would provide an index of essential order information. An enlarger projects the desired item in readable size on the screen. Each 4 ½ x 6-inch microfiche can hold up to 208 full size pages of computer printout. Other research tools should include the following: (a) copy of basic adjustment policies to be followed; (b) decision tables; (c) notebook with sample forms; (d) sources of prices of products; compensation plan description; operation, use and details of products; inventory status; repair service; and replacement parts; and (e) copies of latest promotional materials, newsletters, product catalogs, package inserts, etc.
- Returns information.
Give customer service personnel access to (a) file of customer letters pertaining to returned goods not yet received; (b) returned-goods tickets covering merchandise returned without instructions from customers; and (c) listing of undeliverable packages retained in returns function.
- Form letters and Emails
Employ forms wherever practical. Over three quarters of all customer inquiries can be answered using preprinted forms, adding only addresses and minor fill-ins. A form response can be prepared in less than ten percent of the time (and at less than ten percent of the cost) of a dictated and typed letter, or less than 25 percent of the time of a letter directly typed by the originator.
- Service-action form.
Use a service-action form where internal action, such as adjusting the customer’s account, preparing a refund, or reshipping merchandise, is called for. In one writing, such a form will both inform the customer and direct other departments to take the required internal action.
- Recycling customer letters.
Attach a note apologizing for the informality, respond on the customers’ letters, and return them to the customer.
Substitute these whenever possible. There is a savings here in both postage and stationery costs.
- Acknowledgment cards.
Don’t send postcards telling customers that their letters have been received. The average customer doesn’t appreciate a card reporting that the problem is being worked on-unless, of course, your operation is temporarily swamped and won’t be able to answer for over three weeks.
- Window envelopes.
Use these to eliminate the addressing of envelopes.
- Return envelopes.
Enclose envelope addressed to your customer service department in correspondence when requesting return of material.
Use it to fill in and address form replies. Typing involves additional time and money and isn’t appreciated by the customer. Customers don’t mind handwriting, as long as the form is friendly and appropriate. It shows customers that they are dealing with a person, not a computer.
- Direct handling.
Fill in and address in handwriting the form postcard or letter at the same time that the decision is made. Answering the customer should be a one-step process. Do not forward correspondence to another clerk for typing and then return for proofreading and signature. In fact, the letter should be folded and inserted in the window envelope, so as not to require any further handling except metering and posting.
- Outgoing telephone.
Utilize the telephone to respond to irate customers or to resolve complex problems. In the long run, it is less expensive than preparing, typing, and mailing a long involved letter. Further, the good will generated is simply amazing.
Retain only correspondence from lawyers, including MLM lawyers, consumer advocates and governmental agencies or those involving downline changes, disputes, and major adjustments. If the company doesn’t file correspondence, who should? The answer is the customer. Except for VIP letters, return all but the routine correspondence to the customer with the answer and, in the case of routine letters, they should be thrown away. Unless the customer is writing from an office, he or she rarely has kept a copy of the letter and will appreciate the original letter to compare with the company response. In the rare instance that a dispute arises, ask the customer to forward copies of the relevant documents.
- Production records.
Set simple work standards, by complexity of correspondence, and maintain records of each employee’s output. The resulting increase in production will surprise you. To get even greater production increases, install an incentive program. The axiom is true:
- When performance is measured, performance improves.
- When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.
- When performance is measured, reported, and rewarded, the rate of improvement is optimized.
Provide desktop storage arrangements for response forms, work in process, and research tools. Neatness is an important key to efficiency.
- Categories of complaints.
Eliminate the burden of continually tally-stroking the various types of complaints to track and report the causes of complaints. Instead, employ these alternative techniques: (a) tally-stroke problems only on a different day each week, thus obtaining a reliable sample; and/or (b) have representatives prepare a listing of unusual problems that would provide current feedback on what is going wrong (for example, a Hot Sheet for the employee to write notes in all week, then gathered on Fridays).
- Powerful words.
Use these seven powerful words to calm an aggravated customer and transform a telephone dialogue from diatribe to decorum. The magic words are listed below:“What would you like us to do?”
Once this question is posed, the customer’s attitude should change from anger to reasonableness. The problem can then be quickly and effectively resolved.
Last time we introduced you to the 3 possible outcomes of handling a cancellation request:
- Save the account and turn things around
- Build Goodwill
- Learn and Improve