4 Secrets of Great Customer Service

great customer service

I’ve written about customer service in the past but it’s worth revisiting here and now because frankly, customer service is the single most important ingredient to the success of a business. I mean, yes, obviously good products are important and decent prices attract people too. However, what keeps customers coming back over and over again is when they feel as if you as a company actually cares about them.

So I’ve been spending some time reading up on some of the most innovative customer service techniques being used by leaders in their industries in order to find out how you can improve your own customer’s experiences. Here are four ways to make it happen:

Tell the World

Are you familiar with the new Discover Card commercials where they have people who play customer service agents on the Discover card line? They have conversations with an alter ego of themselves and the tagline is, “Discover – we treat you, like you’d treat you.” In other words, Discover card, which obviously is not as popular as Visa/MC or even American Express is showing off their customer service instead.

Of course, that’s just one way of showing off how good your customer service is. Many companies actually get ratings for their customer service from independent third party organizations which take polls to find out who the most respected companies in a given field are. So, take the time to share with the world how great your customer service is.

Discover Card

If your company offers personalized service, don’t be bashful about it – trade on that and tell people that’s why they should choose you. Of course, then it does mean that you need to follow through on that..

Use Video

Video has become incredibly popular today and there’s a good reason for that – we live in the age of the soundbite. People tend to think in short bursts of information rather than in longer form and as such, video is all the rage. In fact, YouTube is the second most popular search engine after parent Google’s own search engine.

Why not put the concept to good use and respond to customer queries by creating videos which they can use to see answers to the questions they have about your product? By offering this kind of a creative approach to answering customer questions, you are in effect pandering to what they want. Plus, it builds up a stable of videos which can then be shared on YouTube to further expose your company and make your customer service work for you.

Ditch the Form Letter

Don’t you just hate when you get some kind of a stale form letter from a company that you wrote to with a question? Wouldn’t it be nice to get something personal from them, even if it’s just one or two lines which tell you that they actually appreciated what you had to say? Well guess what? Your customers feel the same way that you do.

Take the time to write back to customers individually, even if it’s just to tell them thank you for writing to you and to point them to the FAQ where their answer is posted. Yes, it take a tad longer to actually respond as a real human being but it will make a world of difference in getting your customers to recommend you to their friends and family.

Don’t Be Too Proud to Answer Phones

CEO doing customer service

We mostly deal with small businesses here at Quantum SEO Labs. However, even smaller businesses end up needing to hire support staff before long. However, if you really want to impress your customers and make them happy, don’t be too proud to answer the phone yourself instead of fobbing it off onto some poorly paid worker in a third world country. It will make a big difference, even if you only participate occasionally.

11 Ways to Speed up Your Website

Speed up your website

You are losing customers and SEO juice on a regular basis. This is true unless you’ve optimized your site so that it works as fast as it possibly can. I’ve written about this in the past but it’s worth revisiting this today because the technology has changed in the past few years. Not to mention that there is infinitely more competition now than even just two years ago so your site needs every advantage that it can get.

For those of you new to the world of SEO and Internet marketing, there are two excellent reasons that you need to make your website work as quickly as it possibly can. First and foremost, there’s a question of SEO. Google’s bots will not stay on your site if it loads slowly. They’ll simply move on and not bother indexing you. Or at best, they’ll come back later and flag your site as a slow loader.

In addition, you are likely to lose customers if your site doesn’t load quickly and efficiently. The fact is that with so much competition out there today, your customers have 20 different choices of where to get similar products or materials and if you keep them waiting, even for just an extra 5-10 seconds, they’re likely to look elsewhere.

So, here are eleven modern ways to ensure that your website loads quickly and gets you the maximum SEO and customer appreciation:

Flash

This is getting to be less and less of a problem as more and more websites have phased out their use of Flash and in fact, Adobe is no longer pushing it as HTML5 has started to take over the web. However, that having been said, if your site does use any Flash, be sure to use it sparingly as these things do tend to increase the load time for websites.

Here's a great example of a flash site in overdrive: http://media.noob.us/thankyous.swf

Here’s a great example of a flash site in overdrive. Check it out here.

As a side note, the old flash only websites of a few years back were always a bad idea because they got zero SEO juice since they were not capable of being read by the search spiders. In addition, there was the issue that cutesy animations quickly grew annoying for people to sit through. Fortunately, this is an all but dead phenomenon so it’s no longer the issue it once was.

Use a Good Back End

There was once a time when you would have wanted to use a custom built back end for your website (i.e. the system that actually delivers your content, also known as a CMS or Content Management System). These days however, it makes much more sense to just use something off the shelf (that is, unless you have a site like Amazon.com, in which case you likely do need to use a custom system).

The best and easiest choice for this is, in my humble opinion, WordPress. While you can certainly get an expert to help you run a site with WordPress, the nice thing about it is that the back end is simple enough for you to do the management of the whole website yourself. No need to hire anyone to take care of it unless you don’t have the time to do so.

In addition, WordPress has an endless array of plugins and add-ons which can be used to extend it for almost any kind of website imaginable. This makes it an ideal option for all of your content management needs regardless of what you are doing.

That said, if you do want other options, Drupal is also quite robust and is less blog oriented than WordPress is (though as I said, WordPress can be configured for lots of other kinds of systems).

The catch with both of these is to limit your use of plugins and add-ons though as that can easily make your site take longer to load. Speaking of which:

Limit the Plugins and Add-Ons

There are tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of different plugins available for WordPress and Drupal. They both have extremely robust ecosystems. That having been said, these things do add to the load time of your website and so they should be kept to a minimum as much as possible.

Mind you, that’s not to say that you have to choose to do without lots of cool features. Many WordPress themes for example include a great many add-on features built right into the theme, minimizing your need to use lots of extra plugins. The nice thing is that if the theme is well coded then it will not take nearly as long to load up your website as it otherwise would have.

Wordpress plugins

Drupal similarly has plenty of great themes with built in features. Again, this is all a matter of how the theme is programmed. The best of them will include extra features while making your site load just as fast as it would have with fewer features.

That having been said, there’s nothing wrong with a handful of plugins and add-ons. For example, I cannot imagine effectively managing a blog without having a spam filter for the comments (I like Akismet personally but there are free options available as well).

Get a Good Web Host

I have bad news for everyone who has one of those so called unlimited service packages from the major web hosting companies. They’re not unlimited and they may actually hold back your business. The fact is that nobody could possibly offer a true unmetered web site. I mean if they could, you could literally create a site the size of Amazon.com then pay ten bucks a month to host the thing.

In reality, when your site starts to get too big or pull too much traffic, your host will shut it down and tell you to upgrade to either a virtual private server or a dedicated server. When you do that, you find out that you actually pay a set fee for storage and bandwidth. The difference of course is that these dedicated servers of VPS arrangements are designed for real businesses, not the average joe with dreams of making it big online.

So why does this matter to you though? What if you’re just starting out and you don’t yet need to have a ton of bandwidth or storage for your website? Maybe you can get away with one of those shared “unlimited” packages. Well, yes and no. To understand why this may be an issue, you need to understand how these things work.

In order to offer you an “unlimited” package, web hosts will cram as many websites as they are able to cram into a single server (ultimately, every website simply exists on a physical hard drive inside of a computer somewhere on the planet). This means that there may be hundreds or even thousands of sites on the same server that your site is on.

Most of the time, this doesn’t matter because most sites get very little traffic. However, the more sites there are on that single computer, the slower it’s going to be about serving up your website to your customers. Effectively this means that those unlimited deals are not so great after all because they could cost you money in the form of lost customers and or SEO.

Instead, look for a web host which guarantees that they put a specific limit on the number of sites that a given server actually has on it. This will help you to ensure that your website loads smoothly, even from the proverbial shared server. Hint: this means looking at some of the smaller guys, who specialize in providing boutique service to clients who understand the difference between a junky server and a real web server.

Don’t Have Too Many Sites Making DNS Lookups

If you’ve ever seen some websites which have lots and lots of advertising (a prime example of this is the Jerusalem Post from Israel – the site is ridiculously saturated with ads), you’ll notice that the site is endlessly loading up. That’s in part because the sites are dependent on lots of other websites to pull content from. However, it’s also because of numerous DNS lookups.

jerusalem post

DNS (Domain Name Server) is the system used to translate pretty web addresses (i.e. quantumseolabs.com) into the IP addresses that the Internet actually uses when it is looking up a website. The problem is that every time a website needs to find a new IP number, it needs to take the time to go and look it up. This slows down the whole system and makes your load time take that much longer.

Of course, it’s not just about advertising. Embedded videos from YouTube and third party image hosts can also slow down your site even if you don’t have a ton of ads (which by the way is a huge turn off to most visitors to your site). So try your best to keep the extras to a minimum while still keeping your site going strong.

Get a Great PHP Accelator

The fact is that this is kind of an obscure thing but important. Most web hosts include a PHP accelerator with their websites as a matter of course. However, there are some that don’t and that’s important to know about. Since most popular websites make use of the PHO programming language, you want to ensure that you have an accelerator to make things run as quickly as possible.

By the way, in case you weren’t aware, WordPress and Drupal are both written using PHP and as such it’s important to have this kind of feature built into any website you have built using those platforms. The best way to make sure is to check with your web host and or the webmaster of your site to make sure that this is in place.

PHP Accelerator

If your site uses a different system (Java for example), you can safely ignore this since there is no such thing as a Java accelerator.

Watch Out for Broken Links

You may think that broken links are merely an annoyance as opposed to something that can slow down your website’s loading time. However, that’s not the case. Every time the browser (or the web spider) loads a page, it also does something called an HTTP request to find out about any links on the page. This can slow things down tremendously if there are too  many links regardless.

However, even when there aren’t that many links, the broken links are simply a waste of time which you can ill afford if you are determined to keep your customers happy and to please the Google gods. In addition, broken links indicate to the Google spider that your site is not being maintained and tell your customers that you are unprofessional.

It’s easy enough to use a broken link checker on your site and to go in and manually fix any problems that arise from this so be sure to do so from time to time.

Cut the Size of Your Images

If you ever visit a site like PhotoExpress to get images for your website (many of the images there are free but you need to find them using a different service such as EveryStockPhoto), you’ll find that the images that you download tend to be massive. That’s because they need to be able to accommodate any kind of usage, including being used for high quality magazines and brochures.

However, the fact remains that you don’t need such a massive image on your website. In fact, very often, when you do load such a big image, the site’s backend (i.e. WordPress or Drupal) will lower the total size of the image that’s displayed. However, what it won’t do is lower the overall resolution. In essence, it just puts up a really high quality version of the picture which can be clicked for a full size render.

The problem of course is that those huge images tend to take forever to load up and can make your website seem to drag on forever in its load time. I personally like to use Snagit Editor to quickly load an image and resize it before I put it on the web. However, you can use virtually any photo editing product, even Windows Paint to do something similar so that you don’t waste valuable bandwidth needlessly loading a massive image.

Use a CDN

I’ve mentioned this in the past and it’s still very worthwhile to mention it again. There are a number of Content Delivery Networks available for your website. In some cases, they may even be included for free with your web hosting package. In all cases, you want to ensure that you use one because they will improve the load time of your site dramatically.

The way these services work is that they keep a copy of your website cached on local servers throughout the world. This allows your customers to get the content faster than if it had to bounce all over the Internet from the one server that your site is originally located on. After all, distance does still make a difference.

Cloudflare

The one I like to use is CloudFlare. It’s included for free with my web hosting service. However, there are any number of other similar services which can do the job for you as well as they can.

Have a Mobile Ready Version of Your Site

This probably won’t have any effect on your SEO however, if you don’t have a mobile ready version of your website, you may lose some customers. The reason is simple – while most modern mobile browsers are perfectly capable of loading the full version of a website, regardless of what the size is, it will not be optimized for reading on the small screen and it will load that much slower over a slow cellular network.

Thus it’s worth your while to ensure that the theme you use has a mobile option built into it or alternatively that you use a plugin which includes a mobile ready version. One word of caution though: if you use a mobile ready WordPress theme, check whether or not it includes your advertising. Often, they will simply strip away any advertising and that’s not good if you rely on advertising for revenue. The ideal mobile option will include an option to get mobile ready ads inserted into the site.

Don’t Overdo It with Sharing

Finally, while it’s very important to include social media buttons, it’s also possible to get too carried away and cause your site to slow down as a result. The fact is that there are now tens of thousands of different social media networks out there but there are no more than a handful of them which you seriously need to have sharing buttons for.

Social media sharing overkill

If in doubt, just go with the big four – Facebook, Twitter, Google + and LinkedIn. There are of course others worth noting such as Delicious and Stumble Upon but again, the more of these icons you add in, the slower your website will ultimately load, costing you both customers and SEO juice.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Business Blogging

business blogging

I’ve been writing for this blog for around 3-4 years now. Through a move, several relationships, three hospitalizations and more, I’ve stuck around, writing the material here at Quantum SEO Labs for you, our loyal customers and readers week after week, month after month, year after year. And you know what? It’s hard work. Very hard work.

However, it is also rewarding when I see the comments from many of our readers on what they’ve learned from using the information I share here. So today, I thought I’d share something just a little bit different. Instead of telling you about some new SEO technique or some new sales technique, I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I do best – blogging.

In essence, there are certain rules I’ve picked up along the way in doing this thing on a regular basis which will help you to improve your blogging practices at your own company (and by the way, if you happen to need professional blogging services for your company, drop me a line. I’m available to take on one or two new projects right now).

So, here are seven mistakes many people make when blogging for their businesses. How many of these are you guilty of?

Being Impersonal

Why is it I wonder that so many corporate bloggers think that they’re not allowed to express their own personalities when they write for the company blog? I mean seriously – are you an automaton who can’t have his or her own style of writing? While guidelines are certainly fine, a good corporate blog can and should take on the personality of the people who write for it.

You can even have several different people writing for the corporate blog and all of them can have their own personalities when they write for the blog. People will keep coming back looking for their favorite columnist on your company’s blog and possibly also checking out what other people have said since they like this one person who is on your staff.

Mind you, it is possible to create content which conforms to an impersonal corporate identity. In fact, if you hire the average person calling themselves a “writer” for hire, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Prior to becoming a professional freelance writer, I was a teacher of English Language Arts. I put my kids through their paces writing all kinds of different kinds of content and as a result, I realized that something one of my teachers said to me when I was in high school is very true – good writing has a distinctive flavor to it. Poor quality writing is bland and seems like everyone else’s writing.

Good writing is actually recognizable without ever needing to see who wrote it. Check the writing from your favorite newspaper columnist some time and you can see that they have a distinctive style which you’d recognize even if you didn’t see their name on the byline (i.e. if they’d written that day’s editorial). So get personal and just make sure that you stay on message. Ultimately, your customers will thank you for it.

Being a Used Car Salesman

Nothing against used car salespeople mind you. Everyone’s got to make a living and they happen to be quite good at what they do. However, such people do have a particular reputation which is often well deserved. They’re always in selling mode, trying to show you the positives of something they have on offer and explain away anything that doesn’t seem too exciting.

Too often, when people write for a corporate blog, they assume that it’s supposed to be about selling the products that the company has for sale. They are both right and wrong when they make this assumption. You are right that a corporate blog exists in order to increase sales. It’s not meant to be an altruistic enterprise. However, you are wrong that you need to engage in a hard sales pitch in order to make a successful corporate blog.

salesman

The best corporate blogs talk about new features in the products that the company has to offer and  offer useful tips to the people visiting them.

For example by and large, I avoid heavy sales pitches for our products here at Quantum SEO Labs. This isn’t because Yasir doesn’t want to sell you his SEO services; far from it.

However, we believe that if we are going to provide customers with a feeling that we can provide value, we need to do so by providing you with quality content which demonstrates our knowledge of SEO and online marketing rather than by simply telling you how great we are at doing it.

So think about what your customers would actually want to know when they visit your website and then offer them content which is actually worth something rather than content which simply makes a hard sales pitch to them, ala a used car salesman.

Making Boring Headlines

I’ve been working in the world of SEO for a very long time now and I’ve seen pretty much every theory there is about headlines. There are those who don’t care at all about the headlines and those who insist that the headline needs to be descriptive and provide your keyword for the search engine spiders to pick up on.

The truth lays somewhere in the middle though. First of all, as I’ve written in this space in the past, your headlines matter a very, very great deal. They are the first things that your customers will see when they approach your blog and they need to grab the attention of your customers in order to keep them interested in what you have to say.

All of that having been said of course, SEO is a concern and should be a concern for anyone who is engaged in business blogging. Thus you need to ensure that while you have seductive headlines, you also include something which will be picked up by the search engines.

A classic example of this problem is something suggested to me years ago as a good title for an article about anger: All the Rage. It’s catchy and it grabs attention. However, it’s also a problem because there’s no keyword there. A better title which is still seductive might be “I’m So Angry I Could Scream!”

This is a classic example of a great headline.

This is a classic example of a great headline.

Mind you, thanks to Google’s new system, you don’t need to have an exact match keyword anymore (and frankly I’m not sure that you ever did have to) so don’t worry about matching for example “Hotels in New York” when writing about that subject. It’s enough to include something like accommodations or the like and Google will still register it.

On the flip side of things, we also need to make a headline seductive enough to grab people’s attention and get them to want to actually read what the article is about. Take a look at the headline I created above and indeed most of the headlines here at Quantum SEO Labs blog and you’ll see what I mean. I try to be creative about making it sound interesting while at the same time still being descriptive and using at least some keywords.

Failing to Grab Attention Right Away

Typically, you have around 1-2 seconds to grab people’s attention and get them to open up an article on your blog. That’s why the opening headline needs to be so seductive. It should speak to the person’s problems and at the same time pique their interest. However, once you’ve gotten your reader to look, there’s another problem: keep them going.

The fact is that you typically have around 5-10 seconds to grab a persons’ attention and get them to keep reading beyond the first paragraph of your content. Thus having an opening paragraph which is actually interesting and which grabs attention is almost as important as having an opening headline which grabs attention and which makes people stand up and take notice of the article you are pushing.

The best way to grab people’s attention with your opening headline is by making them empathize with you. Point out somehow that you understand their own pain and that you share a similar set of problems which they can relate to. This will inevitably lead them to want to know more. Of course, if you are a good writer (see above) then you are likely to be doing this anyway. If you’re not, you may want to hire someone else to write your blog for you.

Failure to Be Consistent

I admit it – I’m terrible at consistency. I often forget to post or I get busy with other things in life and don’t get around to doing what needs to be done on schedule. However, when it comes to business blogging, being consistent with your posts is essential. If you don’t consistently provide fresh content, not only will you be punished by the Google gods but you will also find that your regulars start to disappear.

be consistent

The best way to handle this is to simply ensure that you create a batch of content to post at regular intervals when you have time to do it. I realize that’s not perfect advice and life does get in the way of things (I’m right now dealing with a nightmare of a contractor who ripped me off for around $7,000, completely destroyed what he was paid to build and then disappeared so I know life gets in the way at times).

If you find that you couldn’t be consistent however, just go back to your regular schedule and don’t start off offering long apologies for why you didn’t post in a while. At most, a sentence or two is all that you need to include and often, buried somewhere in the middle, not necessarily right at the beginning of the article.

Failing to Maintain an E-mail List

Visitors to your business blog are a precious commodity. Why one earth would you not want to get every benefit you can get from the people dropping by? This is really simple too – buy yourself a mailing list subscription from one of the very many services that offer it (I did a review a while back which is still useful for this) and then offer up some kind of reward for people who sign up.

For example, here at Quantum SEO Labs, we offer a book packed with useful information which can help you to do a more effective job on SEO.  It’s not a book filled with lots of fluff and junk. I know because I helped to write the book and it really is valuable.

Of course, if you don’t want to write a book of your own or you simply don’t have the skill to do it, you do have other options. One option of course is again, to hire a professional to do the job for you.

Another option is to purchase some PLR content. You can either buy a read made book and then create a custom cover and title for it or simply create a book by editing together different articles which can be useful for your  customers.

The only thing to be aware of when doing this is that you need to ensure that you are not giving away junk. Give away a book which has real value and real quality (the kind that you yourself would want) and you will find that people are more willing to sign up for your list.

Not bothering to Inspire

Finally, if you really want to keep your customers coming back to your blog for more content all the time then you need to give them some kind of a reason to do so. Give your customers hope that they’ll get some real benefit from what they’re seeing in your blog and they’ll want to keep coming back for more every time that you post.

In other words, don’t just end but end on a positive note and give your customers the feeling that they are special and that they can succeed, just as I know that you, dear reader are indeed special and can succeed in building a better business blog.