This Service Stinks

From Cartoon Stock.com

From Cartoon Stock.com

I have bugs in my living room. Big, leggy, gross bugs and when you squish them a blue goo comes out.  Ick.  At first there was just one and then a few days later, one more.  Over the last month I’ve seen and disposed of about 12 of them and yesterday when I saw one on the wall, I had had it and decided to learn more.  I carefully put the bug, still living, in a sandwich bag, grabbed my purse and headed to the local “helpful place.”

I was given great assistance by a young man who not only knew the bug to be a stink bug but that it was harmless and sensitive and found a stink bug catcher than I could hang in my living room. I had done quite a bit of digging in the dirt around the edge of my house in the back and had noticed the bugs out back and he assured me that this trap would take care of the ones inside.

So home I come, ready to get rid of the stink bugs only to discover that for inside use I also need a special stink light sold separately.  It doesn’t work without the light.

So one day later I head back to the helpful place and was met by two women who said I probably just needed to open the box.  Nope, I assured them and then pointed to the small disclaimer on the box.  I said that I’d been told this would do the trick and did they have a light?

I was taken to the section of the store and was told that nope, they don’t carry the light.

So I was sold something that won’t work? I asked. 

She didn’t make eye contact. She didn’t apologize.  She did not offer to call another store or order one in for me.  She just turned away and walked up to another customer to see if she could dispense more of her helpful service.

I can understand that some stores can’t possibly afford to carry all of the inventory available. I can also understand that stores sell out of popular items during certain times of the year.  But to not acknowledge the situation I was now in and to walk away without offering any further assistance or at the very least suggesting that Lowes or Home Depot might have what I need, felt hugely less than helpful.

What do you think?  Is it common sense to try and find a solution for your customers or is the “oh well” attitude that I encountered what we now should expect when shopping?

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Verizon’s Arbitrary Pricing Leads to Customer Confusion

There are three schools of thought on product pricing:

  1. Set it and forget it
  2. Set it and haggle
  3. Leave it open for interpretation

We are used to the price being the price and unless there is a coupon or special, the marked price is what you are expected to pay.  Conversely, if you have traveled to Mexico or other countries where pricing is a bidding war; you are also familiar with this entertaining debate where pricing becomes more of a game of “chicken.” Who ever blinks first is the loser.

But this last mode of pricing was new to me and I recently experienced it at the local Verizon store. Both of my children’s phones were up for a new phone. It had been two years and so I knew that I would be offered a significant discount on the purchase of a new model.  I went first to replace my son’s phone, knowing he didn’t care what it looked like so long as he could text and take pictures. He was still in the hospital so I went on a lunch break to replace his phone.

I was shown three models that met his needs and chose the middle model, one with a touch screen and nice camera feature. The price on the example was for those that weren’t due an upgrade so I looked for the sales person to tell me the price.  $99 before rebate, he told me. And the phone was eligible for a $50 rebate.  Cool.

We processed the paperwork, he transferred the data from old to new and bada bing bada boom, I was back at the hospital with a new phone. $106 and change with tax.

My daughter is more selective so I knew I would need to take her with me. Two days later we went to the same store but a different sales person was on duty. She was offered the same three choices and selected the same phone as my son’s. Unlike the first sales person, this one didn’t engage us in conversation as he went about typing in the information and so I took that moment to pull out my checkbook. The last check I’d written was the one for the other phone and so I said “So that will be $106 and change, right?”

He stopped typing, looked at me with a strange look and said, “Where did you get that price?”

“I bought the same exact phone two days ago, has the price changed?”

“No.”

“So it is $106 with tax, right?”

“No, it isn’t.”

“So, how much is it?”

“$150.”

Imagine my confusion. I explained that I just bought the same exact phone under the same exact conditions and didn’t understand the pricing difference. He told me, quite hacked off, that I was obviously given a special price.

I said that was a surprise to me as I hadn’t asked for a special price. I just asked for the price. I said, perhaps you aren’t familiar with the pricing of your inventory.

Well, that led to more indignation. Finally he looked at me and said “I can charge what ever I want for this phone. I can charge you ten cents if I want but I’d be out of business in a month, now wouldn’t I? Clearly the other person decided to give you a different price which I will honor but just so you know, that isn’t the price of the phone.”

Wow.

Here is a case, where a company has given their employees some freedom with discounts but forgot to teach them the benefit of making sure the customer knows up front that they are receiving a discount. Not to mention, teaching employees how to be gracious.

I still don’t know why I got the better deal the first time around (the second person did match that price) but I left feeling like I was cheating them out of their due. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. In the end I took the new phone before all of my daughter’s data was downloaded from her old phone because I felt so uncomfortable. I left with a bad feeling. I left feeling like I was a bad person. 

Now some of that may be my own personal issues 🙂 – but the bottom line is that when companies allow their employees to price willy nilly, it can back fire.

Today I am filling out the rebate forms and I notice that the first guy filled out the form for me so all I have to do is sign it while the second guy didn’t.  The bad taste continues.

Has this happened to you? Have you found yourself in a situation where there is pricing confusion and the employee makes you feel at fault? Did you go back?  Would you refer them?

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Customer Recommendations Politics and Prose Style

 

There is a bookstore called Politics and Prose located in a neighborhood of DC that opened almost 30 years ago. The founder, Carla Cohen, truly understood the value of being connected with her customers.

In an article in Inc Magazine a few months ago, the bookstore and more importantly, Carla Cohen, were featured. There was a paragraph in the article that struck me as profound and yet many readers may have skipped over:

Cohen read in the morning, then went to the store, then read at night. “Very disciplined,” says her husband, David. At the store, Aaron Cohen says, she asked customers, ” ‘So, what do you like?’ They’d tell her, and she had read it. And she’d go to the shelf and say, ‘What about this?’ That’s merchandising.”

Carla knew her customers and knew her products so well that she could carry on a discussion and then make additional recommendations for her customers. It is really more than merchandising. Making recommendations to our customers is a powerful tool that helps build our brand and our customer relationships.

Remember, customers buy from those they like and trust. Imagine how much they must have trusted Carla when they knew she’d read the same books they had, and more, and could make recommendations of something else they might be interested in. I am sure they would have jumped at the opportunity to take her recommendations.

Kinda like being in a restaurant and being torn between two entrees; you ask the waiter/waitress for their recommendation and you can tell when they are really familiar with the food and have an opinion. I almost always take their recommendation. After they deliver the meal and ask how I like it – there is an investment in my enjoyment – a comraderie between us; both lovers of the same chicken piccata or whatever.

Sadly, Carla Cohen passed away this past year, but her legacy and the customer focused experience she created with hundreds of author interviews and book recommendations, lives on.

Ask yourself – do you know your products or your industry so well that you can converse with your customers about anything related to your business? Do you make recommendations for additional purchases based on the information you’ve learned about your customers and the industry knowledge you have? Powerful stuff!

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Crying Baby – Fancy Restaurant – Piece of Pie

Now here is a dilema for you to chew on.

Friends of mine just went out for a fancy dinner. They don’t normally go out, married over 30 years, both busy in their careers, they are lucky if they have time for a quick spin through the local drive through. But last weekend they decided to “dude” it up and go out for a special evening.

Seated at the table next to them was a couple with a baby. The baby was crying.  Not little delicate sounds but full on screaming crying with tears and hiccups and the whole nine yards.  This must be the baby’s regular mode of communication because the parents continued to enjoy their dinner without missing a beat.

Meanwhile, the guests at the nearby tables could barely hear themselves talk.

The waiter came up and apologized to my friends. “I am so sorry. The management would like to offer you a free dessert. Would you like a piece of pie?”

My friend replied, “Why on earth would I want to stay here longer? Isn’t there something you can do – say something to the parents? Suggest they take the baby out in the hall for a minute to calm her down?”

The waiter said “Oh no, I couldn’t do that.”

“So basically, what you are saying,” my friend surmissed, “Is that their money and their dining experience is more valuable to you and the management of this restaurant than all of the other people having to endure the screams.”

He didn’t know what to say and so quietly left the table. He brought them their check – no discount – no coupon for a return visit – no futher word about the fact that the evening out for my friends was ruined.

So what should have been done? Do you favor one customer over another because it is easier than confronting an unpleasant discussion?

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Four Principles to a Customer Focused Business

Hangers Cleaners in Kansas City was featured on Cool Runnings for taking a different approach to a pretty boring business segment – dry cleaners.

Joe Runyon, the owner of Hangers Cleaners shares his thoughts on making a business successful. And in his case – being successful in an industry that is declining.  Watch the video, but here are the four main ideas:

  1. Define a powerful competitive advantage. In Joe’s case it was using an ecologically friendly solution to cleaning clothes.
  2. Be convenient for your customer. Again, Joe determined that pick up and delivery service, as a complement to his brick and mortar, was a convenient and welcome solution.
  3. Save customers time. He also developed a computer tag for clothes of regular customers which includes their cleaning preferences so that the customer doesn’t have to continually repeat their starching requests. This leads to better quality and higher satisfaction.
  4. Let your brand reflect your personality. He is a little quirky and that shows – in a good way. Employees wear shirts that say “sniff me” and the hangers have a message that inform customers that hangers can also be a spare car key.  Let your personality shine in your business and customers will gravate to you.
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Clinique – To Pump or Not to Pump

Are you familiar with Clinique and their line of skin care products? You find them in the department stores along with several competitor counters offering eternal life. Frankly, although a lot more expensive that the Suave brand at my local Drug Mart, I do like the Clinique products.

My mom just came to town for the summer and before leaving home had purchased the medium sized face cream bottle. She didn’t open the box before leaving home, she is a long time user and knows the product well.  In fact, she left a half empty bottle with a pump on her dresser at home. But she wanted a new bottle to last the summer.

Yesterday she opened the box to discover the bottle didn’t have a pump. She loved the pump. It makes it easier to access the lotion. So she took off for the nearest mall and Clinique counter to purchase a pump. How hard could it be?

“Oh we don’t sell them,” the clerk told her. “It is funny, but we get a lot of requests for them but we don’t sell them.”

My mom said – well, I didn’t know the pump was an option.

“Oh sure – we tell people – you get the lotion for $23 but if you want it with a pump it is $24.50. You’d be surprised by how many complaints we get because people don’t know there are two kinds.”

A buck fifty difference.

Tons of complaints.

“Have you told your boss about the complaints?” my mom asked.

“Sure all the time but they don’t seem to care.”

Well, why would they, my mom wondered, when I am now forced to buy another bottle if I really want the pump. They have me for another $24.50.   That sure isn’t very customer friendly, my mom said at dinner last night.

I wonder how many people just walk away disgusted – use up their existing bottle and change to a new brand?

How difficult would it be for Clinique to make extra pumps available? I am sure the associate is suppose to educate the customer but if they don’t – for the cost of $1.50 they are disappointing customers across the board.

Is there something in your product line or service line that disappoints your customers and potentially damages your brand? Why not make it right?

The best way to find out is ask your sales associates – what is your number one complaint? And see what it will take to fix it.

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Twitter the Customer Connector

twitter logoIf you aren’t using Twitter to connect with your customers – you are missing out on a great, real time venue.

This weekend I discovered an article by Jeff Bullas about how the Fortune 100 companies are using (or not, as is the case) Twitter to be connected with their customers.

It turns out that although I just saw the article yesterday, he actually wrote it two years ago. Since that time, the Fortune 100 companies have improved their use of Twitter, but the issues Jeff uncovers are still true for the majority of companies out there.

The biggest issue?

If a company is using Twitter, it is still as a platform for focusing on their sales or their primary brand message.  People/companies are still missing the obvious use of Twitter and that is as a real time connector to their customers.

At the end of the article, Jeff shares five steps for using Twitter to be connected to customers and 7 Twitter Best Practices:

Weber Shandwick prescribed five essential steps as a starting point for Fortune 100 companies to create true engagement and market interaction on Twitter:

1.Listen to conversations

2.Participate in conversations

3.Update frequently with valuable information

4.Reply to people who talk about issues that are important to your company

5.Retweet relevant conversations

So here are “7  Twitter Best Practices” from the study revealing that in the majority, the Fortune 100 were not implementing

  1. Listen to and monitor conversations
  2. Participate in conversations instead of just listening
  3. Provide frequent updates with valuable information that can demonstrate thought leadership.
  4. Have a large number of followers
  5. Reply to people who talk about issues that are important to them rather than sit on the sidelines
  6. Retweet those conversations which can help promote the brand
  7. Reply or refer to other accounts with @username, and in turn, they are referred to by other accounts.

Ask yourself – are you using Twitter just to push out your blog RSS feed or talk about your latest product? Last week, I talked about how I used Twitter as a “CB radio” while driving to a meeting. (my car was not moving when I used Twitter) I can’t reinforce the value of the real time discussion enough.

In a recent article by Chris Brogan that appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine, he also talked about the value of Twitter as a customer connector and suggests subscribing to the RSS feeds for your key word phrases. Go to http://search.twitter.com to search for conversations in your industry. Look for ways to interject or help out.

Twitter shouldn’t be discounted as a silly waste of time. It is the only social media venue in which you can engage your customers or prospects in real time discussions to help improve their experience and improve your business.

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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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37 Tips for Making Customers a Fan of Your Business

fansI recently participated in the question of the week at Dr. Shannon Reece’s site Strategies and Tactics for Women (however, they work for men too). The question – how do you go about making your customers a fan of your business?

Thirty seven people responded with their take on the situation – I am tip number 21.  I suggest you visit 37 Tips to Turn Your Customers Into Fans on Shannon’s site for the complete list, but here are a few that caught my eye.

 

9. Move It Up, Move It Down

This dieting mantra also applies to building customer loyalty. Whatever you are now doing, do one additional thing to please your customers. Find a way to increase their bottom line. For example, promise to hold prices firm for the next year. That’s moving it up for them. The moving down part might be a reduction in, or elimination of, your fees for late payment. Possibilities will vary, but basically, think of one increase and one decrease that will satisfy your customer.  Thanks to Dr. Marlene Caroselli

13. I AM That Into You

Caring about your customers can’t be just words, or a fancy new graphic. Here’s how I let my customers know they are my #1 priority.
* Proactively seek feedback on the product or service they have received
* Always be willing to make it right at no cost to the customer
* Demonstrate your appreciation with special discounts or offers for your loyal customers

Thanks to Nicole Fende of Small Business Finance Forum

19. How Rock Stars Build Their Fan Base

Whether you are a music rock star or a business rock star, it works the same to build a large, loyal fan base. You must find out what it is your customers want, what they are passionate about. When you feed their passions, they’ll come back again and again. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones may like jazz but he knows what to sing on stage!

Thanks to Dayna Steele of Dayna Steele Creates Rock Stars

32. Remember That A Complaint Is A Gift

When someone gives you a gift, what is the first thing you say? Thank you, of course. When we get a complaint from a customer, the first thing we should do is thank them. Thank them for letting us know that there was a problem. Because if they don’t complain, we may never know that they were not happy. Then they walk, and they take their business and their referrals with them. A complaint is an opportunity for you to resolve a problem or make something better for the customer. When a customer complains, what they’re really saying is, “Something is not right. Please make it better so we can continue our relationship”.

Studies actually show that if a company screws up, and takes ownership immediately and resolves the issue, customers are more loyal to the company than they were before the screw up.

Thanks to Randi Busse of Workforce Development Group, Inc.

The article is chockfull of great tips and ideas but I especially love the ones that are simple, basic and real; the ones that involve building that relationship. One tip talks about making fans through social media and the author, Joshua Stern (tip #17) says that it is a slow build but it is working. We can’t be thinking that our actions will change our business over night. It is a process.

Do you have a significant other?  Think of these tips in terms of starting a personal, romantic relationship. You wouldn’t expect that to develop overnight either. You have to communicate, show them you value their opinion, listen carefully, do something unexpected, understand what they want out of life.

The same thing is true with our customers. Thanks Dr. Reece for compiling these great tips!

Do you have a tip that wasn’t mentioned? Leave it in the comments section. Do you have a story to share of how these tips have worked for your business?  Please share!

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