Starting Over with a Customers First Approach

store frontIf you have been following my blog, you know that I have had a little bit of a melt down over the last month. A discouragement brought on by the realization that MOST businesses just don’t care about the customer.

(by the way – if  you disagreee – please tell me why in the comments)

That being said – this blog is now dedicated to the few businesses out there who truly want to put the customers first. Those business owners, managers, directors, employees and entrepreneurs that believe that if the customer is your primary focus; the money will follow.

Going forward – rather than spotlight the crappy customer stories – because there are just so many they make my heart hurt – and instead, I want to just focus on the positive.

Calling all business professionals who GET IT – the customer comes first – let’s start talking about one thing you can do differently to improve/enhance the customer experience.

Let’s talk customer expectations.

Let’s talk customer experience.

Let’s talk customer relationships.

If you have a story – please share. If you have a tip – we want to hear about it.

If the rest of the business are just in it for the money and consequently treat the customer like the dirt under their feet – let them. That is all the more customers for us.

Can I hear an “AMEN!”

So, here is the first Customers First tip

What is one thing your customer expects when doing business with you? Not you specifically, but your industry. Let’s take a retailer with a destination location. When a customer thinks about shopping with you – what do they expect?

  • Clean entryway
  • Well lit store
  • Organized merchandise
  • POP (point of purchase posters) that clearly spell out your current offer
  • Smiling – knowledgeable employees
  • Warm greeting
  • A question about how they can help you

Anything else? Are you already doing all of those? Do people feel welcome when they walk in your door? Is there something you can do to improve the first impression?

Take a walk outside your store right now and look at the entryway from the customer’s perspective.  Are there finger prints on the door? Is there trash in the bushes?

Think about that initial visual experience from the customer’s point of view.  What can you change or enhance to make it better?

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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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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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Last Perception is the Lasting Impression

Yesterday I had the opportunity to address the Retail Organization of Lakeland Community College at the Great Lakes Mall. I shared my thoughts on the value of make or break moments with our customers…each moment is an opportunity to make a difference.

After the talk, one participant came up and shared a great observation:

When you are shopping for clothing; you can enter the store and be greeting warmly, you can receive wonderful attention and help selecting the perfect outfit, but it can all fall apart at the checkout counter.

How?

If the sales associate handles your newly purchased items like some dirty laundry to be stuffed in the laundry bag – your last impression of the store is that they have no value for the product or the fact that you’ve just spent hard earned money to purchase those new items. It is almost as if they are wiping their checkout counter with your new clothes as they stuff them into the bag.

Wow.

It’s funny because I haven’t ever thought about that, yet when an associate takes the time to carefully fold the clothes, offer to put them on hangers or even wrap them in tissue paper – I take notice and I love that special treatment.

The last perception with our customers is the lasting impression they have of us. So how are we doing with that?

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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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Set Yourself Apart from the Competition

I decided that I needed to hire a virtual assistant. I am at a point where there are some things I just can’t do anymore and a friend of mine once told me “delegate everything but your genius.”  So – I was off to find a virtual assistant.

The first project – transcribe a one hour speech from an audio file. I’m familiar with Elance but a colleague who had a similar project told me that she’d had great success with oDesk – so that’s where I started.

It was simple to set up the account and post the job and before long I had 40 people apply for the job. Each had a resume, test scores of the tests they’d volunteered to take to show their abilities and each provided a cover letter and their hourly rate.

Hourly rates ranged from $2 and change to over $46.  Candidates were from around the world.  So throwing out the high and the low, I started to look for people to interview.  Here’s what I discovered:

  • Some had experience and testimonials – that was a bonus. However, I kept thinking, how can they get experience if someone doesn’t hire them so I didn’t eliminate all without experience on oDesk….at first.
  • I thought I would prefer someone from the United States and Canada but I soon learned that they were the highest cost and not all had experience.
  • The cover letters were of varying degrees – some addressed me as Sir/Madam or To Whom It May Concern while some called me by name.
  • Most cover letters stated that English was their first language or that they had experience with transcribing English
  • Some listed their experience in audio transcription

I narrowed it down to a few – prices ranging from just under $4/hour to $16/hour. I started to look at their test scores.

  • Some took more tests than others
  • Some did better on the tests than others

I now had it narrowed down to a gentleman from India and a woman from Bolivia.  I sent emailed interview questions. Shriram responded within minutes. His record had the most experience and the highest number of testimonials and the highest test scores for English grammar and vocabulary (higher than the United States candidates).

His responses anticipated my questions – he offered a website, an easy way to upload my audio file and a clear cut amount of time I could expect the job would take.

He has a Mac and I have a PC – he sent me a Word document as a test so I could be assured that I’d be able to open his files.

Shriram joined my team.

Within an hour of his receiving the audio file – he sent me an email with the first four minutes transcribed and saved in FOUR DIFFERENT FORMATS. He gave me options.

At the end of the day he sent me an updated email – he kept me in the loop.

The following day – I discovered that he’d subscribed to my blog and commented here on my award receipt. Within 48 hours  1/2 of the project was complete.

He has kept me informed, showed that he wants to know more about my business and be actively involved, the quality of his work is impeccable and as a customer, I feel valued and supported.

Wow!

Needless to say he will be receiving more work from me going forward.

I set out with an expectation that I only wanted to hire someone from a country I was familiar with and yet it was someone from a different country that has more closely met my needs and treated me like a valued customer – even before he secured the job.

How do you set yourself apart from the competition? If your services were stacked up against the competition, like the candidates at oDesk, how would you compare? Have you taken the extra step of additional testing or certifications or memberships? Do you have testimonials? Do you take the time to address the prospect by name rather than a generic form letter? Do you anticipate their needs and offer them options?

And oDesk has been a great resource. They provide reports that show hours worked and random screen shots of Shriram’s computer so that I can see he’s working on my project during the hours he says he is.  Cool beans.

So how do you set yourself apart?

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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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Price Isn’t the Primary Loyalty Factor

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I just bought a new chair. It was time. The last time I bought a chair I was pregnant with my first born. That’s him sitting in the new chair. He’s 19.

I went to Levin because they had a 50% off sale and if you purchased on the weekend, it was free delivery. I’ve bought furniture there before – a dining room set, some end tables, and I’ve been happy with the purchase.

So I’m returning because I:

  • Liked my past experiences
  • Felt good about the value
  • Liked the quality of the product

Did you hear me mention price?  Me neither.  I will say that the current offer was what brought me to the store but other furniture places have offers every week.

Chuck helped me.  I told him what I wanted and he showed me some choices.  I was on my way to dinner so I left but went back on the weekend to take advantage of the free shipping.  I asked for Chuck and he remembered me.  I had made up my mind before entering the store so we quickly went to the purchase portion of our relationship.

He and I hadn’t talked price.  No reason to – the price was on the chair.  The full price and the sale price.  I was pleased with the price. So much so that I also planned to buy the ottoman.

He enters the information in the computer and informs me that he’s further reduced the price of the chair by $35 and the ottoman by $30.  $65!  That I didn’t ask for. 

He also reduced the price of the scotch protection plan by more than 25%. 

Why?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled with the unexpected cash that remains in my checking account but why reduce the price if price was never an issue? 

Chuck didn’t know me from Adam.  I was a pretty easy going customer.  I did say that I wanted to remain within a budget but there were lots of chairs to choose from in that price point.  I have to believe he cut his commission or else the margins are unbelievable.

His generous price discounting has served to bring questions to my mind rather than create loyalty. 

  • Just what are the margins?
  • Is the quality poor – have I bought something inferior?
  • Did he lose personal income on my transaction?
  • Was the chair last year’s model and he’s happy to get rid of it?

Why do we believe we have to be the cheapest to win friends and influence people?  I don’t have any answers here – I’m looking for a discussion from you. Has this happened that you go to make a purchase – fully aware of the price – and all of a sudden find out that the price is even less?  How did it make you feel?

Lucky.  Happy.  Sure, me too.  But didn’t it also make you feel a little curious?  Did it build loyalty?

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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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