Lowering the Customer Service Bar

 

After my most recent blog post, basically giving up on our ability to make a difference in the customer service experience, I read this response from a group member on LinkedIn:

This is a great conversation to show how the bar of customer service keeps being set and re-set…lower and lower. That makes it easier and cheaper to differentiate a brand, a company, by plain old customer service. Just serve the customer. Serve the customer and then they’ll tell your story to many more and in a much more compelling version: their words describing their experience.

Are we lowering the bar? As business owners/managers/sales professionals, are we lowering the bar of what we have decided to provide to our customers? And what about the customer? Are they beginning to EXPECT a lack of service?

My son, twenty, should be hip with all things technology, but he isn’t. His employer pays him through auto deposit and his check stubs are online. Any conversation with his boss is conducted via email because Ben works 6pm-6am and the boss isn’t there. Additional training is online. He is finding the same thing with paying his bills, college classes, even conversation with friends – it is all through some form of technology.

Are we taking the PEOPLE out of the customer experience? As consumers, do we expect less because we know the experience is going to be technology-based and everyone knows technology has its glitches?

Where will it bottom out? At what point will consumers and business professionals alike stop and demand that we bring the human back into the customer experience?

As the person quoted above alludes to – just basic customer service is now enough to stand out from the competition and yet we fail to even do the minimum.

Where does it end? Is customer service dead and buried? Please – someone chime in and convince me otherwise.

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The Great Get Better and the Rest Just Don’t Get It

Where have I been, you ask? Trying to pick myself up from utter despair.

Two weeks ago I was hired to talk about make or break moments to the managers of a chain of auto repair shops. I had researched the company and their website shared customer focused words that led me to believe they understood the value of building customer relationships.

It soon became clear, as I talked about customer expectations and the importance of listening, that these people did get it. They not only got it – they owned their local markets because they did such a wonderful job building customer relationships. And so why was I there?

As I thought about the companies that have brought me in to talk about customers – I have found a theme. They already do a great job. They are striving to do even better. 

So where are the companies that really need the message to be shared and reinforced? They just don’t get it. Do they even care?

I started to think that my passion for helping companies put customers first and build those relationships is a battle that can’t be won. I have been feeling like Don Quixote tilting against windmills. If the companies that already understand the value of customers are the only ones seeking to reinforce that message – how will we ever make a dent in the travesty that is our global lack of customer service?

Customer Service is the name of the department that pisses people off!

I joke and say that customer service is the name of the department that pisses people off.

But it isn’t a joke.

So do I give up the fight? Is it hopeless?  Are the great companies going to continue to get better and everyone else just plead apathy? Help me find a reason to continue with my message of building customer relationships.

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AllWrite Ink Celebrates Six Years – 25 Business Lessons

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Hard to believe it but on February 14, 2011, I celebrated six years of business.  They say that most small businesses fail within the first five years. Kind of like marriages hit that rocky point around seven. Well, as a business owner I have passed that hurdle. I thought I would take a moment and share 25 things I have learned about business:

  1. The business you think you are starting is rarely the business you have six years later
  2. The customer should dictate your business and the customer frequently changes their mind so stay in touch
  3. Be flexible – holy cow, this one is important
  4. There are always new ways of doing things- just look at the change in social media over six years
  5. Business plans are a guideline, not the be all and end all – they should be reviewed and adjusted with economy, technology and customer trends
  6. Continually seek ways to learn – the minute you think you know it all is the first day of the end of your business
  7. Network – this is important – your foundation of people you know and who knows you help in some of the most unexpected and amazing ways
  8. Have a “boardroom” a group of trusted advisors and/or people who serve the role of sounding board – you can’t do it alone
  9. Which leads to delegate – if you are a home based business of one, build your community of experts that you can farm out portions of your business, without this network it will be impossible to grow
  10. Your time is your most valuable asset – treat it as such
  11. You offer value -never doubt that!
  12. Protect your brand -your reputation – don’t treat it lightly because once lost, it is almost impossible to get back
  13. Communication is one of your most important customer traits
  14. Speaking of the customer – build the relationship – remember your customer can be your best marketing tool – treat them as you would a long time friend not just a single moment in time purchase – they just might be your best bet for growing your business
  15. Write – share your knowledge, offer your advice, tell stories but put your expertise in writing; press releases, blog posts, articles, LinkedIn discussion comments, speeches – it is a great marketing tool and will help when you prepare to teach others to do what you do so you can sit on the beach 🙂
  16. Give back – find ways to share your knowledge, help someone else just starting out, give away your knowledge – I bet someone did it for you – it is your turn to help someone else
  17. Your competition can be one of your strongest allies – there is plenty of business to go around – know your competitors – never put them down – see what you can learn from them – follow them on Twitter!
  18. LinkedIn is a business person’s best friend
  19. Say thank you. Sometimes we get in a hurry and we forget to thank those that have been there along the way, including customers, so make sure you take the time to thank those that help you – that includes your kids and the mail carrier and the employee at the copy shop.
  20. You can compete with the big guys if you use the strength of the Internet to share your knowledge and build awareness of your brand
  21. Take time for you – when you do – you’ll have a chance to refresh and be rejuvenated so that you can tackle your business with new vigor
  22. Look at your business from your customer’s perspective – what do they need that you could be providing
  23. Niche your business offerings – if you are trying to be all to everyone – you are failing. Pick a niche and own it
  24. Listen listen listen – to customers, to employees, to vendors, to trends, to the industry, to your significant other
  25. Strive to make a difference in the lives of others – it comes back many times over!

So there you go – just a few things I have learned in the last six years.  Help add to the list – leave a comment with what business has taught you over the years.

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Ideas are Free – New Book from The Name Tag Guy

ideas are freeI just got my copy of Scott Ginsberg’s newest book, Ideas are Free, Execution is Priceless. It is a quick, daily read that offers insights, tips, motivations and a few reality slaps in the face. I love it.  Truth be told, although my Amazon copy just came in the mail, I took advantage of a gift Scott offered a few weeks ago. 

The gift? Send him the receipt showing you’d purchased his book and he would send you a 2nd copy for free to give a friend. His copy came first – signed and included a great laminated name tag calling me “Scott’s Friend.” On the flip side he lists the 10 principles of Hello my Name is.  hello my name is

Ask:  “What could I do in this moment that would be the exact opposite of everybody else?”

Nobody: Notices normal, nobody buys boring and nobody pays for average.

hello my name is philosophyThat’s just two out of the 10!  Great stuff.  Simple but powerful. The book is the same way. I wrote on Scott’s Facebook wall today that the book fell open to June 14th this morning in which he has modernized the classic quote from Edison: “vision without execution is hallucination.”

Scott’s version?  “Talking smack without doing jack is wack.”  Cuts right through the mustard, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t matter what your industry, what your position or what your goals are – this book offers something for everyone. Of course, I have always been a big fan. Check out his site and read his blog – he’s a kid (compared to me), yet dispenses wisdom like an ancient soothsayer.  I believe one of the reasons he can see the simple truth of what needs to be done to be the best company, the most connected, the most approachable, the best helper and the most memorable is that he never worked in the corporate world. He opened his company right out of college. Cool story.  Cool guy.  Cool book.  Check him out.  Scott Ginsberg, the name tag guy.

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See the Positive, Be the Positive, Spread the Positive Around

Businesswoman shouting her victory to the worldIt is snowing again. We had another snow day from school – one more than we are allowed which means school will go longer in June. I hate winter. I hate the cold. I hate the cloudy days. 

Some times it is hard to see the positive in a situation. But if you look hard enough – it is there to be found. I did get to sleep in a little, I’m enjoying sharing a lunch with my daughter and the bad weather forces me to stay in and get caught up on projects that might not be done until later.

If you look hard enough – every situation has a silver lining. In Brian Tracy’s book Eat that Frog he talks about the three LEARNED behaviors of successful people and they are all wrapped around having a positive attitude.

  1. They always look for the positive in any situation. 
  2. They look for the lesson in the tough times.
  3. They look for the solution to every problem.

Let’s take a closer look – successful people look for the positive in every situation.

Think about that prospect that didn’t turn into a customer…did it leave you open for one that did? Did you learn about a technique in your sales conversation that needs to change? Had you secured that prospect as a customer, might they have been more difficult that the effort was worth?

 Think about today – say you do end the day without a single sale – how many seeds will you have planted that may sprout into a sale or at least a further inquiry later? How many people see your company name today that wouldn’t have ever known you existed?  How many people will you meet today that will never need you but know three people who might?

 Every situation – even the bad ones, has a positive perspective if you look hard enough.

So where is the lesson to be learned?

Positive people look for that lesson – as hard as it might be to find, every challenge has a lesson that we can benefit from. 

Have you ever worked a vendor fair or a business expo? It is a lot of hours without a guarantee that you’ll get any business. Right? Say that you work the event for three hours and no one visits your booth, so one signs up for your drawing, no one talks to you.  In short it is a bust of a day.

What lesson can you learn?  Well, you sure aren’t going to do that event again. 

 You may laugh, but seriously you aren’t going to do that event again THE SAME WAY. I’ve been participating in a Solon three chamber business to business event for three years and each year it draws a wonderful turn out.  So if you participate in an event that draws a big crowd and end up with no visitors – shouldn’t you look at your booth to see what you might do differently?

I had a booth my first year.  I hadn’t ever had a booth at an event before.  As a freelance writer, my skills don’t work for the town events where you are reaching retail customers.  I thought a B2B event would be the perfect answer for getting the word out about my business. 

Alas, the fact that I hadn’t done a booth before showed. My booth signs were handmade on my computer printer.  The sign was a classroom 3-fold cardboard from JoAnn Fabrics. My booth was covered with a table cloth from the dining room.  My brochures were not professionally done.  I didn’t think about having a sign up form and the offer I gave away for the drawing wasn’t appealing to people walking by.  Plus, I was one of the speakers and so had to leave my booth for a 1/3 of the time.

What did I learn?  That unless I was willing to invest in some professional marketing materials or booth signage that branded my company – I shouldn’t bother.  I did more damage to my brand than help. It was a hard lesson but an important one. 

So think about your challenging times – the times when you would love to be negative. 

What lesson is there to be learned?

The third thing optimists have learned to do is find the solution to every problem rather than to complain.  You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right?  20% of customers bring you 80% of revenue. 20% of your effort brings 80% of your results.  Well, did you know that 80% of the people you tell your problems to don’t care and the other 20% are glad you are miserable?

So why not look for the solution. Lord knows we don’t want to make those 20% happy!

How are you going to make all of this positive, optimist stuff come to life for you?  Remember Brian Tracy said that these three traits are LEARNED behavior.   

  1. Fake it ‘til you make it.  You know those days when you just want to stay in bed but instead decide to go to work and paste a smile on your face?  The people you pass will smile in return and pretty soon that fake smile is a real one. So fake positive.  Really try to put in place the traits of looking for the positive, the lesson and the solution. 
  2. Think positive about your circumstances, you have to be positive about who you are and the value you provide. That negative continuous loop tape that plays in our head wreaks havoc with our ability to view life in a positive manner.  So you have to stop that.  I know – easier said than done.  You are experienced at what you do.  You bring a wide range of knowledge about your products and services.  Even if today is the first day on the job – you still bring life experiences from your other roles in life that can add value.
  3. Surround yourself with positive people.  We have a tendency to mimic the behavior and attitude of those around us.  That’s why faking the smile works.  Someone sees a smile – they mimic it. Same with attitude.  If you are constantly surrounded by the glass half empty people who moan and complain about everything you are going to find it harder and more stressful to fight the urge to join in. 

What are the benefits of having a positive approach to life?

 

People buy from those they like and trust. 

If you believe you are an expert…if you believe in the solutions your company provides…if you believe you are successful…YOU ARE.  Believing is half the battle to getting there.  Even when things are the darkest you can believe that at some point the luck will change.  The phrase: it’s always darkest before the dawn – isn’t just a phrase – it’s fact.

We all have the ability and the opportunity to create greatness in our lives – starting with today.  Look for the positive, exude that positive attitude and spread it around to those you encounter. I am reminded of Melody, the waitress of Crooked River Grille that I wrote about the other day. She is a living example of the fact that a positive attitude makes everyone around you feel great.

 As I leave to you to be positive today, remember the words of Margot Black who said:

 I think it is really important to maintain a positive attitude. It might not solve all your problems, but keep it up long enough and it will piss off enough people to make it worthwhile.

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Judge Patricia Cosgrove Understands Her Audience

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This past week I did my civic duty by serving on a jury trial in Judge Cosgrove’s courtroom. I’m not here to talk about the case – but rather want to talk about the culture Judge Cosgrove has developed in her courtroom. As part of the case (a wrongful death suit in which a medical practice – a nurse practitioner was being held up to a standard of care determination) one of the attorneys asked a physician witness if it was possible for two doctors or two nurses to approach a similar case with different plans of actions. The answer – yes.

I thought about business. Isn’t that the case everyday? We all face customers each day and don’t we often meet the needs of the customer or provide the customer with a different experience than that our competitors? In fact, isn’t that what sets us apart? Do you have an opinion? I’m not asking your opinion, I merely want to know if you HAVE an opinion. (Just a little inside joke from me to the defense attorney, Mr. Humphries).

Anyway, the answer is yes – businesses do things differently in similar circumstances than their competitors every day. The same is true in Judge Cosgrove’s courtroom. I had the pleasure and yes, I said pleasure, of being in her courtroom, listening to the trial unfold and getting to know her staff – the bailiff (hey, Paula!) and court reporter (hope your dog is better, Terry) all week long. My fellow jurors (David and Ray, Marty and Cindy, Sam, John our Foreman and Tom and alternate Michael) became great companions. Is this normal? I don’t think so.

Let me just let you know a few ways that Judge Cosgrove sets herself apart (aside from being knowledgeable and fair and attentive and just):

  • She put herself in her jurors shoes – using a comfortable manner and humor, she set us at ease from the beginning (Judge, your facial expressions were priceless!)
  • She understood how hard those wooden chairs could be and often would invite us to stand and stretch
  • She explained what would happen in an easy to understand manner so that there was never a time when we felt the need to ask a dumb question – she anticipated them and answered them in advance
  • She helped us with our fact gathering by being the only courtroom in Summit County that provides note paper with each witness’s photo to help us keep things straight. Interestingly enough, the one witness that was on a video conference and didn’t have a photo – the jurors had all hand drawn a picture because she’d conditioned us to that note paper with a photo – we compared our drawings during deliberation). These note pages with photos may sound simple and silly but when it came time to view and refer to our notes – they were priceless!
  • She remembered personal information from the Voir Dire and would engage us in non-case related conversation during breaks – remembering our names and thanking us on multiple occasions

These may seem like simple, no-brainer things to you, but then why hasn’t every Judge fostered a culture like Judge Cosgrove? I have been in several courtrooms from my corporate working days and let me tell you – Judge Cosgrove had the friendliest most comfortable and engaging courtroom I’d ever experienced. I’m not alone. Every other juror felt the same with several volunteering to come back and hear another case in her courtroom next week. One even said if he could be in her courtroom and if being a jury was a career – he’d gladly give us his job to be a full time juror. High praise.

Judge Patricia Cosgrove is making a difference one case at a time and I was honored to have served my jury duty under her gavel. I have learned a lot about customer service and building customer relationships and understanding your customer from my experience on jury duty last week. And now I need to scramble to make up for all of the business time I lost.

So I have to ask – if you have served on a jury – what was your experience? Did you have a similar experience? Please share.

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How Did He Learn to Do This?

car mechanicHave you ever experienced such extraordinary customer service from an associate that you wonder about the training they’ve had? Are some people just born with the skills necessary to build customer relationships or can it be learned?

Here is a story recently shared about just such an experience:

Last week I had the best customer experience I can remember in years.

 It was at a muffler shop. Mike’s Muffler Hanger, 1253 Wooster Road, Barberton, OH 44203, 330.825.7375

 It started when he was talking with a customer and I arrived and waited about 1 minute.  He completed his customer conversation and immediately apologized for keeping me waiting – for all of 1 minute – and during that time he was having an extraordinarily supportive conversation with a customer 6 feet from me.  I smiled and thought “I like him already.”  Thank you to the mechanic who referred him to me.

 I could list ten more things that he did to offer me, and everyone on the phone, and even his employees the most incredible experience.  My entire week-end was improved and significantly more upbeat because I could not get his excellent customer service out of my head.  I found myself trying to pay back his kindness by being extra thoughtful of those around me for the rest of the day.

 He was not trying to just do a good job.  He was building the most incredible customer relationship I have ever seen in a small operation.  I took cards with me to give to everyone.  I have told numerous people about this unbelievable experience.

I had lunch with Norma a couple days later and she proceeded to tell me some of the little details – the way he incorporated the use of the customer’s name, how he juggled in person customers with those over the phone. The eye contact – the smile – his genuine nature.

Is this possible to teach or just something that we find once in a blue moon? How did he instinctively know the right words?

I do believe you can teach associates how to engage in conversation with customers – but it takes practice and as managers, it also takes follow up, encouragement and support.

How would you like a customer to leave and be so thrilled with the experience that they practically “gush” to all they encounter? Pretty amazing, right?

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Starbucks Refusal Hurts Barnes and Noble Employees

starbucks

I met a customer at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore over the weekend.  We both decided to grab a cup of coffee.  My customer, Kathy, is a loyal – no, more like an obsessed Starbucks fan. Everyday she has to have her Starbucks – not just in the morning but several throughout the day. So, of course, she has a Starbucks card. She handed it to the employee behind the cafe counter.

“I’m sorry but we don’t take the Starbucks card.”

“But the Starbucks logo is on the menu, the coffee you are pouring is Starbucks and the apron you have on has the Starbucks logo emblazoned across the front.”

“Yes, I know, but Starbucks won’t allow us to take their cards.”

She went on to tell us that the Barnes and Noble officials had approached Starbucks and offered to set up the system to take their cards and coupons but Starbucks refused.

Here’s the gig.  Who is left to enforce that corporate decision? Who is left to disappoint the customer? Who is faced with ridicule when a customer gets angry?

The employee.

Just like my recent story of CVS and Moneygram who partnered up to offer additional services to customers yet refuse to support them, here is Starbucks plastering their brand name all over the Barnes and Noble cafe and yet refusing to allow customers a true Starbucks experience.

Who looks bad? Everyone.  Who is impacted? Not Starbucks. Not even Barnes and Noble. It is the employee that has to face the grief and the customer who is faced with disappointment.

When corporations get together and decide to combine brands – do they think these decisions through from the frontline experience perspective?

I think not.

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Where’s the Focus: Marketing or Service

When you look at the company budget – do you spend equal dollars on marketing for new customers as you do servicing your existing customers?

When the economy started to tank, one of the first things companies pulled was training. The focus on customer service shifted from having importance to a “nice to have.”

I wonder if we turned the budget upside down and spent the amount we currently spend on driving new traffic, on programs, training and incentives that focus on customer service for our existing customers – what impact would that have on our bottom line?

Let’s do a little back of the envelope comparison:

Existing CUSTOMERS

  • Know where we are located
  • Know what we sell
  • Know the quality of our products and services
  • Know how they’ll be treated
  • Know what happens if there is a problem – how we will take care of them and make it right
  • Return for more purchases if we keep in touch and invite them back
  • Refer us to their friends and family and statistics show that people who learn of a recommendation are 80% more likely to buy

Nice.  Now let’s look at the new PROSPECTS we are trying to drive to our doors (website)

  • They have to find us through the clutter of competitors ads
  • Don’t know where we are located and can easily confuse us with the competition around the corner
  • Have no clue why we are better or different from the competition
  • Don’t know what service experience they’ll have
  • Lump us into every other bad experience they’ve had in our industry when it comes to resolving complaints
  • Only 14% of potential customers trust marketing messages

“Companies spend 6 to 10 times more to acquire new customers than they do to retain existing customers. But a 5% increase in customer retention can have a bottom-line profit increase of 75%, depending on the industry.” 

-Don Neal, Director of Business Development for Hallmark Business Expressions

I’m not suggesting that marketing is a waste of money – certainly we have to keep our brand name visible and available in the market place; but isn’t there a good argument for revisiting how much effort, training and dollars we spend making sure our employees take care of the people already doing business with us?

Just a little food for thought.  I’d be interested to know if you have already come to this conclusion and what programs you put in place for reaching and wooing those existing customers.  Share! 

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Putting on Norma’s Shoes

How often do you put yourself in your customer’s shoes? To truly understand their expectations and their needs, sometimes it is important to put on their shoes; to fully comprehend how we can best meet their needs.

But what about putting on someone else’s shoes to act as they do?

I recently learned of a business owner who actually owns the cast off pair of shoes of some of the business women she admires.

Jennifer Scourfield, owner of Forget Me Nots Jewelry, has collected the shoes and puts on a pair when she wants to “channel” their energy.  She has a pair of shoes of someone she feels exudes confidence, and another who is well know for her marketing strategies. She recently requested a pair of Norma Rist’s shoes. Norma is the owner of Norma J. Rist CEO Consulting and is known for her ability to help business owners’ imagine and plan to bring their million dollar business to life.

When Norma learned of this request, she said “You know I often ‘put on’ Marie Covington’s shoes when I want to feel strong and confident, but I don’t actually have her shoes. The idea of actually putting on the shoes is awesome!”

We all know someone who exhibits behaviors we sometimes wish we could call upon. Consider looking in the mirror, imaging you are putting on their persona and go off to tackle your business while channeling their strength, confidence, financial knowledge, ability to view situations from multiple angles, sense of humor or what ever personality trait they admire and you long for.

Cool idea?  So walking in someone else’s shoes isn’t just about the customer but also about how we approach our customers!

So whose shoes would you want to put on for an hour?

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