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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Knowing Your Customer’s Most Basic Needs

I am reading the latest Good Housekeeping magazine and had to laugh out loud at a brief article touting a new website and mobile application.

The company is called Run Pee.

Target audience: post child bearing women or people with a weak bladder who love to go to the movies.

Visit Run Pee to learn when in the movie you can quickly sneak out to run to the loo.  The application will tell you:

  • How many minutes into the movie your chance occurs
  • What happens on screen to trigger your movement (pun intended)
  • How many minutes you’ll have
  • What happens in the movie while you are gone

Example – I just took five 14 year old girls to see Little Fockers on New Year’s Eve. By visiting Run Pee (or having the app on my phone) I would have known:

30 minutes in Laura Dern comes on screen – I can be gone for 5 minutes

30 minutes later (or an hour into the film) I have four minutes to run to the bathroom and I should look for Little Henry asking Ben Stiller if he can climb the rock wall.

The genius behind this application understands that their target audience may avoid the enjoyment of seeing a movie on the big screen and the cost associated with an evening out because they have a weak bladder.  I just love the focused attention on a specific customer need.

Bravo to Run Pee’s creator Dan Florio. Here is the blog for even more information. Run Pee Blog.

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USAA Customer-First Approach to Business

In the March 1, 2010 edition of BusinessWeek there is an article entitled“Customer Service Champs: USAA’s Battle Plan.”  USAA provides financial services for military families and they understand their customers inside and out.  They use technology to allow service men and women to deposit checks no matter where they are stationed. They have programs specially designed for the unique nature of their customers.  They address their customers by their military title.  They have created a company that puts the specific needs of their customers first.

I was especially intrigued by what the article refers to it as their Secret Sauce. 

  • Training for call center reps lasts up to six months BEFORE they hit the phones so they have a true understanding of the customer before fielding calls
  • Employees don the attire of their military customer; walking “a mile” in their shoes, wearing Kevlar vest and eating military MREs (meals ready to eat)
  • Top notch benefits – happy employees make for happy customers
  • Huge Technology investment for both the customer service reps as well as state of the art mobile options for customers

Rarely do we find a company that is so customer-focused they require employees to “live the life” of their customers so they can understand their unique needs.  What lessons can we learn?

If we step back from our business for a moment and turn our ENTIRE ATTENTION to the customer – their life style – their needs – would we find there were changes that need to be made in how we approach our business?

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Do You Fill Your Employee’s Bucket?

I normally focus on the customer at Make or Break Moments, but today I’d like to shine the spotlight on our NUMBER ONE ASSET – our employees.

How we treat our employees and how we make them feel directly impacts how they treat our customers.

I remember a store visit I once conducted with Pearle Vision. The franchisee owned three stores but worked primarily out of one of them. This store visit was to a store he rarely visited. It was a small store in size and sales volume and only had three employees. On this particular day there were two associates working. As was my practice during my visit, I kept an open ear to the customer conversations to see how the customers were treated and to critique the sales conversation.

  • Were they asking questions about lifestyle?
  • Were they making recommendations based on those facts?
  • Were they suggesting a second pair purchase?
  • Did they recommend lens treatments like scratch protection, tinting and ultraviolet ray protection?

During a lull in the afternoon, I mentioned the fact that they really just filled out order forms. They didn’t ask any questions and they made no recommendations. For me it was an “ah – ha” moment. This is why sales are so low in this store. The opportunities were incredible. Until I heard the associates response.

“Oh sure, we know what we could be doing to improve sales but why should we bother? The owner clearly doesn’t care about this store or these customers. He certainly doesn’t care about us – he never visits or calls or asks us questions or allows us to attend training. If he doesn’t care – why should we? We get paid either way.”

Talk about the real “ah – ha” moment in this store visit.

Yesterday during the sermon, our minister, Rev. Dr. Peter Wiley, shared a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians in which he likened our body to that of the Body of Christ – each part has a role, each role no more important than any other but without the whole – we don’t function. As part of the sermon he talks about how people each carry a bucket. And we can respond to each other’s bucket in one of two ways:

1. We can fill each other’s bucket with words of praise, recognition and encouragement.
2. We can drain their bucket with criticism, negativity and judgemental comments.

That really hit home for me. At the end of the day, Peter asked, can we look back and say we spent more time filling buckets or emptying them? On any given day, for me, it could go either way. I find that the people I am closest too, the ones who mean the most, I spend more time being critical. I assume they know their value and how important they are to me and how proud I am of their accomplishments.

Do we do the same with our employees? Do we assume they know their value and therefore, we spend the most time finding things wrong that they could be doing better/differently?  Or do we ignore them entirely which is another way of emptying their bucket?

How our employees feel is directly related to how they treat our customers. If they were asked – would they say you spend more time FILLING their bucket or EMPTYING it?

p.s.  we need to ask the same question of ourselves with all our relationships.

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AAA to the Rescue Above and Beyond the Call

I’m out of town.  Using someone else’s car.  I don’t know anyone here or where anything is.  Isn’t that the way most horror movies start?

So I’m at this after hours marketing event in Fountain Hills, AZ – AMAZING GROUP! and when I leave to head for a restaurant, my friend’s car wouldn’t start.  Crap.

I can’t call my friend – they aren’t available.  So I pull out my AAA card and within 30 minutes Jason arrived.

“It’s the battery,” he says. “They don’t last long in Arizona – all this dry heat.  Now you can let the car run and the charge build up for 20 or 30 minutes, but it looks like a dead battery to me.  You’ll only have to call me to come back and jump start you again.”

It’s dark.  The dealership – if I even knew where it was – is long since closed.  The nearby auto mechanic…closed. 

“You know,” Jason says.  “I’m pretty sure the Checkers Auto Parts store will put in a new battery for you but they close pretty soon.  Or you can call AAA and order a battery installed by us but there is a pretty hefty charge.”

I ask where I might find Checkers and he tells me.  It isn’t far away – within ten minutes and so I opt for that option.  I thank him very much and expect him to be on his way.

“I think I’m going to follow you there to make sure you find it and to make sure they can fix your car.”

You are kidding?

And that’s just what he did.  I got to Checkers and they said “Oh -we used to put in batteries but we don’t do that any more.”

I told him that Jason had suggested I come and and in fact had followed me here.  He said “where’s your car?”

We walk out to my running vehicle and Jason gets out of his truck and says “Are they going to take care of you?”

“They don’t do that any more,” I tell him. 

Oh really – Jason looks at the employee who pops my hood and takes a look. 

He comes back – faces Jason and says “I’ll do it.”

I have a happy story to share because of Jason.  He had done his job when he jumped my car.  There wasn’t anything that said he had to make sure the battery kept working, let alone follow me to a store and then gently convince the employee to help me.  Jason puts himself in my shoes and showed empathy for my plight.

A stranger in a strange town with car trouble – that’s almost a guarantee for being taken advantage of and yet not with Jason and not with AAA.  I’ve been a member for over 10 years and although I’ve used them many times and each time they have been wonderful = Jason’s assistance was certainly more than I expected and I am very grateful!

So what did it cost Jason or AAA to make me so happy – not to mention safe?

A total of 20 minutes and the gas to drive four miles from where I was parked to the Checkers store.  And hats off to Ed at Checkers for doing something he wasn’t supposed to do any more.  But he did the right thing by the customer.  Again – showing empathy.

A simple gesture that means a lot!

Thanks to Jason and Ed for their help!

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A Tiny Gesture Speaks Volumes

Have you missed me? 

I received a call on February 13th that my father was suddenly very ill and I left my home, children and business without a backward glance.  A lover of technology, I hung up the phone and immediately went to my computer to find the first available flight out but it was the Friday of Valentines Weekend and every flight was booked.  I pleaded with one airline customer service representative after another but none could help me.

Desperate, I called a friend who recommended I call Jean at Will Travel in Akron for help.  Jean found a Frontier flight to Phoenix connecting in Denver with a long layover.  She informed me there was an earlier Denver/Phoenix flight and suggested I go to the ticket counter and ask to be put on stand by.  Jean was wonderfully supportive.  I went to the airport and explained my situation to the agent.

I pride myself in professionalism at all costs, but I couldn’t help the tears that fell as I begged Merl Lynn to please get me to my father in time.  Just like Santa, she went to work without saying a word.  She worked her magic and printed out my boarding pass.  And then she leaned across the counter and took my hand.  She didn’t say a thing.  But she squeezed my hand and made eye contact.  While holding my hand, she gave a little nod and one more squeeze.

I knew that she was sending me on my way with prayers and hopes that my Dad would hang on until I could get there. 

That single squeeze and the tenderness in her eyes let me know she understood the urgency.  She understood my fear.  She understood the importance of my journey.

It was that single squeeze that held me together until I arrived at the hospital.  My Dad had stablized and I had a few wonderful days to hold and squeeze his hand, to make eye contact and to share words of love. 

He passed away on February 19.  I miss him terribly.  But I am so grateful for the tiny gesture that Merl Lynn offered, the assistance and advice from Jean and the prayers and well wishes and comforting thoughts that so many people along the way offered to me and my entire family. 

We never know when a tiny gesture may be the difference between life and death.  We just never know how our actions, or inactions, impact those we encounter. 

I would encourage you to make every gesture count.

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Selfless Act Loses Customer – Gains Respect

I heard a story the other day that makes me wonder how you would react.

A friend of mine is a writer and met with a prospect to discuss the possibility of setting up a blog.  She listened to him tell about his business and  describe what he hoped to accomplish with the blog. 

Great guy.

Great product.

As she listened she didn’t really feel like a blog was the right answer, but she couldn’t immediately think of another alternative.  Because although he wanted to connect with others on the net – he really wanted to tell his story rather than start a dialogue.  He was interested in search engine results and wondered at the length of time it would take to create a community.

He was right.  The story he has to tell is one of innovation and safety and economics but isn’t really one that will illicit back-and-forth dialogue. 

He wanted a multi-month agreement which would have brought my friend steady income and the opportunity to build a relationship with someone she was quickly growing to like and respect.

She put the proposal together and sent it to him, still not sure blogging was the right answer. 

Later in the week she learned of a new tool that was more search engine oriented.  Ron McDaniel of Employee Ambassador has created a search engine tool that looks like a blog in that it has regularly updated posts, but it works more like a search engine tool – very heavily focused on key words and target audience.  The tool has a clean, focused look which centers the readers attention on a call to action offer.  He provides key word research and monthly reporting.  A tool more in line with what my friend’s prospect described.

She talked to her prospect and assured him that she’d love to work together but she’d found another tool more in line with his needs.  By sharing this information – she instantly said goodbye to a regular contract and steady income.

What would you have done?  What HAVE you done?  Have you run across a situation where a competitor offers something more in line with your customer’s needs?  Do you hand the customer over or try to replicate what they offer, knowing you aren’t as skilled and don’t have the same tools? 

I told my friend that hopefully her prospect understands the sacrifice she’s made in the interest of what is best for him.  Ultimately, she has planted the seed of a relationship based on trust and true understanding with this prospect.  As a businessman, hopefully he has gained a new respect for my friend and will remember her in the future for other projects.

What would have you done?

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Give Back and Drive Traffic

 

 

I love going to Connecting Touch for my monthly massage. I learn more about business and walk away relaxed and refreshed. Today was no exception. The owner, Jack Hayes, was telling me about a new program he’ll implement for the month of February.

“I wanted to find a way to give back to the community,” Jack told me. “Times are tough and I have been trying to think of a way to do something of value. And that’s when I thought of a food drive!”

Starting in February every customer who comes for a service with a canned good or non-perishable item will receive a coupon for a free hand paraffin treatment. (I’ve had them and they are a wonderful way to restore dry, cracked wintery hands). He’s contacted the Akron Food Bank and made arrangements with them for the donations.

It is a great idea.  A simple, yet vital way to help his customers give back to the community.

People are looking for ways to help others.  Is there some way your business can give back to the community?  What ideas have you seen work?  Have you heard about the new Hyunadi stimulus program?  Buy a car this year and if you lose your job they’ll take the car back so you don’t have additional debt you can’t handle.  Talk about being empathetic to a customer’s concerns!

Consider adding a program in which your customers are able (with your help) to give back to your community.  You just might find that giving back will drive traffic to your door!

Here are instructions to give yourself a hot wax paraffin treatment at home, but if you are local to the  Akron/Canton region, why not give Connecting Touch a call and let them pamper you.  Just remember your canned goods!

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Do You Give Your Customers the Benefit of the Doubt

In my newsletter this month I ask this question and then share a shopping experience I had with a big box retailer over the holidays. I was returning two, unopened DVDs for a store credit. I already owned the DVDs and wanted to pick out something different.

The scenario went something like this:

The sign behind the Customer Service desk boldly informed me that without a receipt I was out of luck.

“These were gifts,” I explained.
“But you need a receipt,” the clerk informed me.
“I didn’t purchase them and so I don’t have the receipt,” I explained.
“No receipt, no refund,” she said.
“I would just like to exchange them. I’m not looking for cash and they haven’t been opened,” I insisted, pointing to the two, unopened DVDs.

A manager had to be called to settle the matter.

“Oh, yeah. Joe said this would happen,” she told the clerk. (Joe must have been a District Manager.) “Just give her a gift card.”

The manager never looked at me, never acknowledged my presence.
The clerk huffed and puffed and struggled with the cash register until the manager had to be called again.

I was a distraction. I was a trouble maker. I was being difficult. Or so I felt.

As it happened, I had additional purchases to make and in fact spent more than the gift card with my two replacement movies and WII game for my brother’s birthday.

However, I didn’t feel good about my purchase.

They didn’t give me the benefit of doubt.
I had to work to exchange the product.
I had to work to be a paying customer.

I won’t be back.

My newsletter goes out to about 500+ and even though it arrive in e-mail boxes on January 1st, people started responding.  The most common question was “did you send the newsletter to the manager of the store?”

I haven’t but I’m considering it.  However, I also received a couple other comments that I’d like to share with you:

WOW!!  Good one.  I could identify.  Received a pink roller clock as a gift from Brookstone’s.  It did not work.  Took it back, told them it was a gift. I had no receipt, but it did not work.  They say “Okay.  I’m sorry.  Did not open the box to check it.  Did ask if I had taken out my batteries, which I had.  They got me another pink one, but I said, “oh, by the way, could I have a black one instead?”  “Yes you can, no problem”, and swooped up a black one, put it in a bag for me and said, “hope this one works great for you”.  I WILL DEFINITELY GO BACK TO THAT STORE AGAIN!!  

The sales associate at Brookstone’s made it easy to return a product.  No questions. 

Remember calling in sick when you really weren’t?  You worked up a great, detailed story, made your voice sound a little scratchy and prepared for the on-slaught of questions.  Did you boss ever give you the benefit of the doubt and say “not a problem, just take care of yourself.”  Here’s a thought – if they were the kind of boss who would give you the benefit of the doubt – I bet you didn’t feel the need to call in “sick.” 

Here’s another comment that was sent to me – a different perspective that perhaps shines a negative light:

Your newsletter/emails are really nice and obviously targeted at “sellers”.

 Now I’m going to get cynical and you probably already know this.

 Most people are not good customers. For all their complaining about poor service, all they really care about is price.

 Lower prices usually force lower paid and less motivated workers.

 Your gift giver didn’t go to a specialty shop, maybe because the only job they could find was low paying (see above).

Interesting perspective.  The lower the wage the lower the motivation.  What do you think?  Are larger retailers burdened by their workforce and destined to never give great service because of the pay scale?  Is wage-an-hour the only motivator? 

I disagree.  I believe you can have someone working at minimum wage who is trained and motivated to provide superior customer service.  However, I believe it begins with the company culture.  If the employees are given the benefit of the doubt and treated as valuable assets – that will translate to how the customer is treated.

Lots here to think about.  Do your employees give their customers the benefit of the doubt?  Do you give your employees the benefit of the doubt?

 

 

 

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Walk a Mile in My Shoes

When I first opened AllWrite Ink as a freelance writer I wanted my focus to be “writing with the reader in mind.”

If asked, most will say “oh, I do that” and yet few really take the time to put on someone else’s shoes and feel what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes, to truly understand their:

Life experiences

Challenges

Health issues

Family joys and struggles

Fears

Educational background

Financial status

Goals, hopes and dreams

We think we talk and write with the other person in mind, and yet it is so hard to shake off our own preconceived notions and experience to really understand the other person.

True empathy is what I believe sets an exceptional customer experience apart from all others. 

To create a make or break experience in the minds and hearts of our customers we have to walk a mile in their shoes.

When I was in Hawaii recently for the Sweet Adeline’s International competition I had the incredible joy of hearing the 2007 International quartet winners perform.

SALT is a wonderful quartet from Sweden.  The artists: Anna Ohman, Annika Andersson, Anna-Stina Gerdin and Susanna Berndts have an amazing way of bringing their music to life for the audience.  Watching the joy in their faces, the total blast they are having on stage performing, transfers to those in the audience and at the end you are on your feet screaming for more!

One of their songs is Walk a Mile in My Shoes.  As soon as I heard it I knew that I wanted it to be the theme song for my company – to play while I work, to have available for you to hear and to play for my audiences as they enter one of my workshops.

The musicality is incredible, the fun they are having with the arrangement is evident and the words say it all:  we need to take the time to walk a mile in each other’s shoes.

Thanks to Anna-Stina Gerdin for giving me permission on behalf of SALT to bring their wonderful sound to you.  Enjoy WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES!

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