Melody Practically Sings Her Menu

Had a business lunch at the Crooked River Grill on Thursday. Melody was our waitress and she greeted us with warmth and enthusiasm. She engaged us in conversation and her interpretation of the menu was nothing short of epic!

I had to stop her half way through her explanation of the menu that she’d interpretated as “really hungry” food and “not so hungry” food – I had to stop just to tell her how much I adored her. Anyone who can embrace their role with that kind of passion truly loves her work. She’s selling salads and burgers – not diamonds and furs and yet she made the experience fun and energetic and we left sated, happy and  smiling!

Here’s the gig – the place was hopping and she was the only waitress. She greeted everyone that way. What a difference! What an example of how you can take a regular day-to-day job and make it fun for your customers and yourself. She surely sets herself apart.

Great experience – the littlest effort set her apart but what an impression she made! I wish I approached every day like Melody – with a song in her name and in her heart.

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Customer Service Still Number One

I love customersThe monthly report from E-zine Articles just arrived in my email.  Once again – the number one article for the month is one I wrote a few years ago entitled How Do You Define Customer Service.

I wrote the article before the economy took a turn for the interesting, when companies were still staffed and customers mattered. But in the last two years, there has been a horrible change in the customer service environment.  With job loss, company mergers, and profitability losses, companies have lost their customer focus. Customer Service has become one of those “nice to haves” something you may now find associates saying is “not my job.”

My new definition of customer service?

My new customer service definition is the name of the department destined to tick off customers.

Every new report and survey available shows the customer more savvy and more connected then ever before – more verbal thanks to social media and still focused on being treated as valuable. Go figure. 

We seek out ways to offer better customer service, we even Google articles that help to define excellent customer service and yet what changes are we making?

Yesterday I met a woman who asked to be put on my newsletter mailing list. She said:

“I’m not in charge of the customer service programs in our company but the person who is just doesn’t get it. So I thought maybe I would get your newsletter and then slip a few of the ideas past him once and awhile.”

Wow.  Sad. As we enter this super busy shopping time of the year when associates become order fillers rather than relationship builders we once again miss out on a chance to make a difference and be memorable in the lives of our customers.

Today I went to my local bank and the teller – one I hadn’t met before – helped me with finding out the value of savings bonds I had accumulated for my son (he’s getting them for Christmas – don’t tell) and as she worked, she started asking me about him. How old, what high school, what was his college major, what did he hope to do?  It was just casual filler conversation but as I started to answer it turned out she knew him which led to more conversation until eventually she was showing me pictures of her new born daughter.  Which led to the teller next to her showing a picture of her one year old daughter.

It didn’t take any longer. I got what I came for. I would have gotten what I came for without the conversation – but it was the conversation that made the experience memorable.

It is SO SIMPLE.  Why don’t we get it?

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Are You On the Court or in the Stands?

I’m reading the book “Two Weeks to a Breakthrough” by Lisa Haneberg. An interesting book about being focused on a goal and working each day towards bringing it to life.

In the Day Two exercise she has a great analogy and it made me think of companies trying to bring customer service to life.

Think of a college basketball game. The players are on the court and the spectators in the stands. The conversations that the basketball players are having on the court are much different from those the spectators are having in the stands. On-court conversations are aimed at making a difference. They are active. When we speak on the court we are players. Example: “I have noticed that we are losing some great people. I’d like to put together a plan for improving the environment and development so we retain our great people and attract the best folks available. Will you participate in a brainstsorming session tomorrow?”

In-stands conversations are like water-cooler conversations. They are directed outward. Example: “Until this company changes its ways and stops treating people like disposable resources, it will continued to lose great folks.” If you want to make something happen, you need to get on the court.”

So, of course the question you have to ask yourself is “where am I, on the court or in the stands?”

You don’t have to be the boss to  offer up suggestions. In fact those on the front line, the employees actually interacting with the customers probably have the most valuable information and if they were asked for their ideas; probably could come up with some great suggestions.

As managers, we have to make it okay for our employees to come to us with suggestions. Nuture that “player” mentality. Players can come up with great suggestions for making it easier to do business with, for using social media to connect with customers and for making the customer experience even better.

Here are a few links that will help you get started tapping your “players on the court” for the best suggestions:

Employee Suggestion System

Employee Engagement through Continuous Feedback

How to Get Feedback from Employees

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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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Do You Treat Employees Like You Want Customers Treated?

sponge bobCustomer Service isn’t a title or a department – it is a culture. In a recent post over at Duct Tape Marketing his lead paragraph says it all

Here’s something your customers won’t ever tell you but that you had better understand: Your employees probably treat your customers about the same way you treat your employees. Let that soak that in for a minute, and think about the ways your everyday behavior might be affecting your organization’s ability to generate positive buzz.

Many years ago this thought was slapped in my face. As a regional manager for a national optical chain, I had responsibilities for the franchise locations in New England. I was visiting one location and observed the employees doing the very minimum when it came to customer interaction. During a lull in the business day I asked them about their sales and customer service focus. The response was telling:

“The owner never calls, never visits, never sends us to training or provides any updated information. If he wanted us talking about stuff with customers and offering them services to meet their needs then I guess he’d spend more time paying attention to us.  But he doesn’t, so why should we?”

Ouch.

Even great employees will eventually lose their steam if they feel their efforts aren’t valued or recognized or supported by their boss.  If we looked in the mirror would we be able to say that we treat our employees like we expect them to treat our customers? Do we encourage and support or just point out their short comings?

Thanks Duct Tape for reminding us that customer service is the job of EVERYONE in the company, not just those that have immediate customer interaction.

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Miscommunication The Death of Relationships

argueI often speak about the importance and value of building customer relationships but today I want to talk about relationships within an organization.

Glenn Ross asks a lot of really valuable questions in his post The Most Important Component in a Relationship.  What is it? Communication. He starts the article by quoting Dale Carnegie:

“90 percent of all management problems are caused by miscommunication.”

                        –Dale Carnegie

That is a staggering percentage but I would tend to believe it is true. Whether the miscommunication is in person or more likely through email (you can’t see the person’s face or hear the tone of voice), it can cause severe damage to a relationship which in turn impacts the company’s ability to successful proceed.

I’m part of a small group introducing a new concept and trying to reach a new audience. Most of the people on the committee have been working on the project for more than a year but a couple are new. At a recent meeting one person who has been there a while got into a discussion with one of the new people. Both had valid points. Both had distinctly differing views. Both felt they were right.

Neither listened to the other.

The results? Well, there wasn’t one. How many times have you seen that happen at work. Two people, both strong in their beliefs, refuse to listen to the other point of view and rather than compromise or come to some resolution the situation goes on unresolved. Who suffers? In this case, it will be the customer.

So what can we do?

If we find ourselves repeating our point of view more than twice, perhaps we need to step back and listen to what is being said in response. Rather than muscle your idea through, ask questions of the other person.  Why do they feel that way? What do they fear will happen? How to they envision it proceeding? What other experience have they had that has led them to their opinions?

People don’t mis-communicate for sport – there is something else involved. So the next time you are in a disagreement or find that you have been misunderstood – don’t get defensive, ASK questions to understand where the other person is coming from. 

Remember the old saying – we have TWO ears and ONE mouth and we should use them proportionately.

Thanks to Glenn for reminding us of the importance of communication.

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Is There a Difference Between Customer Service and Customer Relationships?

Customer Relationships are just like good friends

Customer Relationships are just like good friends

They sound similar but do they mean the same thing?  I asked the question of the Build Customer Relationships group on LinkedIn this week and overwhelmingly the answer was NO.  Everyone agrees that customer service is the foundation – what gets customers in the door the first time and turns them from prospects to customers but it is only when we work to build customer relationships that we enjoy a long term – REPEAT – business with our customers.

Susan Garvey  had this to say:

Actually knowing and ensuring each customer receives the type of service they want, not what we THINK they want. This can take any number of forms beyond the obvious such as prompt, informed attention by capable associates, the right products available when needed, etc. The best overall customer service usually comes down to some very basic requirements that most customers want ~ genuine, not scripted or “forced / manufactured” service, help available when it’s desired and not being offered or having products pushed that are of no real need to the customer. Making sure the customer feels and IS valued and always treated as such.

If you were to create a Customer Relationship Experience rather than a Customer Service Experience – how would they look different?  Or would they?  Do your employees understand the concept of building relationships with each person that comes in the door or calls on the phone? Share your tips for success here.

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I Know That I’m Nothing But….

All this week the preacher at the Chautauqua Institute is the Very Rev. Alan Jones, dean emeritus, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

In his sermon this morning he had a quote that made the congregation chuckle but perhaps the laughter was a little uncomfortable because of the truth of his statement:

“I know that I’m nothing but I’m all that I can think about.”

Just think about that for a moment. 

I have a house full of 13 year old giggly, girls today (remnants from the Twilight trilogy all nighter) and I shared the quote with them.  Their response?  “That’s SO TRUE.”  OMG

It really doesn’t matter who we are or how old we are – bottom line – we think about ourselves an awful lot.  That’s where the “what’s in it for me” and “what have you done for me lately” phrases come from.

So what does that mean for our customers?  Or for our employees?  Or our boss?

When I was a teen and obsessed over a new pimple, my Mom would say “No one will notice because they are all worried about their own pimples.”

That is still true as adults. Our customers, our employees, our vendors, our competition, our boss – they are thinking about themselves. So if we keep that in mind – it should help us in a variety of ways:

  • Putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes all of a sudden has new value
  • If the competition is thinking about themselves and their success and you think about the customer – how will that change the experience from the customer’s point of view?
  • If you remember your employees are thinking about themselves – might that change how you manage and respond to their opportunities for improvement?

If we put the customer first – understanding that they are really just thinking about themselves, their own needs, their own budget, their own problem that needs a solution – if we think like they do and recognize and respond to them – won’t we stand out in their minds as being sympathetic, empathetic, understanding and the only business they want to do business with?

I think so.

Think about this.  Have you had a conversation that just dominates your time together? You barely have a chance to get a word in edgewise except for “oh my” or “tell me more” or “how did that make you feel?”  We share nothing of ourselves. We say almost nothing.  Yet what is their memory of your time together?

“That Debbie is the best conversationalist.  I just love talking with her!”

I know I’m nothing but I’m all I can think about. 

How can you use that truth to stand out from the competition today?

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Shrug Off Apathy: Employee’s Indifference a Business Killer

I used to have a little cartoon from the paper that said “Shrug off Apathy.”  How ironic, I’d chuckled, as I snipped it from the paper, and yet so many of today’s workers in the retail and food service environments have an attitude that is just this side of apathetic.  Some would call it “indifference.”  My dad would have quipped, “You seem to have mistaken me for someone who cares.”

In reading a recent post by Steve Curtin, I am reminded of the impression an indifferent or apathetic employee leaves with customers.  Steve tells the tale of taking his young family to Dairy Queen for a much anticipated special treat.  The employee’s face, in constrast to that of his young children, is serious to the point of sour.

After we placed our order, my son Cole (age 9) and I waited off to the side for our order while the rest of the family found a place for us to sit on the patio.

I asked Cole, “On a zero to ten scale with zero being rude and ten being very friendly, how would you rate the girl who took our order?”

He said, “Six.”

I asked him why he rated her a six and he said, “Because she didn’t smile.”

I then asked him, “Was there anything else?”

And he said, “Yes, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

What Cole couldn’t put his finger on (because he’s only in third grade) is the leading cause of customer dissatisfaction: indifference.

People buy from those they like and trust – not those who sneer or seem to reject them with their lack of interest.  How can we ever hope to build relationships with our customers if our front-line employees shower them with a full dose of indifference?

Steve goes on to say:

In one survey, 68 percent of customers said they quit doing business with a company because of perceived indifference towards them as customers.

And here’s what is really scary: Most customer service providers are blissfully unaware of their own indifference. From their perspectives, they are efficiently executing customer transactions.

So what’s a business to do?  Three things immediately come to mind:

Listen.  Listen. Listen.

Listen to your customers.  Listen to your employees. Listen to your gut instinct.  Conduct random customer calls to see how they’d rate the service.  Really listen to what they have to say.  When a customer complains – don’t assume they were in the wrong – really listen to what they have to say. Like Steve’s son Cole, they might not be able to articulate the problem but they just know that your company won’t be able to meet their needs based on the fact that they didn’t feel cared for or valued or even visible!

Do your employees have an attitude of indifference?

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Do Your Employees Hate You?

I am always focused on the customer and our relationship with them but the other key component to successfully building a reputationfor putting customers first is how your employees feel about the whole thing.  Happy employees equal happy customers.  “If mamma hate happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

In the book 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers by Bruce Katcher I found that a number of the reasons employees hate their boss has to do with communication.

  • “I’m afraid to speak up”
  • “Management doesn’t listen to us”
  • “They don’t tell me what I need to know to do my job”

I love the irony of the first two – you are afraid to speak up, but if you conquer your fears and speak up it doesn’t matter because they aren’t listening anyway.

Today’s quote in my Leadership widget that provides a quote to my iGoogle page each morning said this:

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. ~ George S. Patton

Imagine if we did four things differently:

  • Provided the whys and wherefores of the task at hand with all of the information necessary or information about who they need to go to for more clarification
  • Asked employees for their thoughts
  • Listened with interest
  • Then let them have at it!

I wonder what impact that would have on our success and on the morale of our staff?

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