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Casinos & Customer Service

I saw this post at the 37signals blog the other day. They mention about 14 points about the casino experience – read them over. Do they look like customer friendly practices? Not really. Just think about some of the points that are made:

  • No clocks or windows? The only purpose is to trick the customer into forgetting about what time it is.
  • Intentionally poor navigation? Again, they are just trying to confuse customers into spending more money.
  • Noises and research. The casinos aren’t researching customer service – they are researching how to trick customers into staying in the casinos longer, spending more money, and giving them hope that they can win.
  • Convenience! This is both bad and good. Customers can get drinks when they want them, but the reason the casino is giving the customers the drinks is to get them to gamble more.
  • They reward loyal customers. This is a good thing from a customer service perspective, but they aren’t rewarding customers with the sole intent of “thanks for being a customer”, but “we like you, come spend more money!” This is what many companies secretly want with their customer loyalty programs, but with casinos, it is more apparent.

Casinos make a lot of money. These things obviously work, but from an ethical standpoint, they aren’t 100% right. The companies are trying to trick their customers into spending money – which isn’t right.

Casinos are themed after almost everything you can imagine, but why isn’t there one that focuses on customer service? They provide excellent customer service to high rollers, but what about to the average family or nickel slot player? Not so much. Some casinos are better than others, but rarely are casinos cited as amazing customer service organizations.

What are your thoughts about casinos and customer service?

Customer Service Made Simple

I was kindly given permission to repost the following text by Jodi R. R. Smith, who is an author and etiquette consultant at Mannersmith (which has some cool stuff on it). She has written two books: one for men and another for women about the importantance of etiquette and how to be proper. The male version was given to me by a friend (my manners aren’t bad, I swear!) and I decided to send Jodi an email asking if she had any tips for people who worked in customer service and she suggested I use the text below:

Good help is hard to find. I stood there in utter amazement as the woman to whom I was trying to hand my money, answered a ringing phone and then, instead of putting the caller on hold, told me to wait until she finished the call. If the check had not already been written and had the event not been a fundraiser for a non-profit organization, I would have walked away. As I have said time and time again, etiquette is not rocket science, but it does require a bit of thought. Here are a few small steps that make a big
difference in customer service.

I Am Invisible ~ Even if you can not assist the customer immediately, eye contact will let the customer know that you are aware that he/she is there.

Take A Number ~ Customers should be assisted in the order that they arrived. And those customers who took the time to come in person should be assisted before those who call on the telephone.

Ask The Question ~ If you work in a place of business, the customer service question is “How may I help you?” If you work in a retail establishment, the customer service question is “May I help you?” The second question allows
for the possibility of browsing, the first does not.

Soft Sell Me ~ Any “special” offer that expires within 24 hours is clearly a pressure scam. If you are forcing the customer to make a quick decision, the customer can assume there is something about the product that you are hoping they will not discover.

Acknowledge and Empathize ~ Not all customers are as polite as they should be to you. With that said, a smile and a kind word can help defuse a situation. If the customer becomes abusive, then seek help from a manager; do not respond in kind.

Always Accessorize ~ You know the product better than the customer. If there is something that matches, something that will help the item last longer, or something that will make the customer’s life easier, please say so.

Don’t Look Down ~ You may be working for the chicest restaurant in town, but the customer is still the reason why you receive your salary. Please don’t assume a snooty attitude.

Privacy Please ~ By looking at the customer’s purchases you may be able to deduce a good deal about the customer. And maybe you can… but please do not pry by asking personal questions.

Dozens and Dozens ~ The marketing adage is that a happy customer may tell one or two of their friends. But an unhappy customer tells, on average, 11 others. So for every one customer who is treated badly, there are a dozen people who have discussed the experience. Being polite is your best marketing tool.

Thank Me ~ After the customer has patronized your establishment, do thank him/her for the business. This is not the same as “Here ya go,” or instructing the customer to “Have a nice day.” A simple thank you, with a smile thrown in, will suffice.

Exceed Expectations ~ At some point, customers may appear so exasperated that even the smallest gesture can create customer loyalty. Going even the smallest of extra steps helps to create feelings of good will as well as happy customers.

Here is a real life example of outstanding customer service:

With limited time (and patience) for shopping, I truly rely on the sales people in the stores I visit. I try to visit the fitting room once. Whenever possible I will have a sales person follow me through the store while I choose items. During a recent trip to Ann Taylor, Betsy offered to help me find the perfect, black, presentation pants suit. She followed me around the store watching what I was drawn to and what was rejected. Then, as I tried
the clothing on, Betsy ran in and out offering shirts, scarves, belts and shoes to finish the outfit. Once I had the outfit set, she gently reminded me that by adding the matching skirt I would double the use of the jacket (soft sell). Betsy offered to steam the outfit while I finished other errands (exceeding expectations). When I returned, my outfit was waiting for me near the cashier. I paid and left the mall. On my way out, the parking attendant informed me that had my parking pass been stamped by the store, the parking would have been complimentary. I went from being pleased with my purchase to being annoyed that my parking had not been validated. Not having time to run back into the mall, I drove home. People who also live in big cities know that just a few hours in a parking garage can quickly exceed $30.00. So I called Betsy. Not to complain, but to let her know that the cashier should be asking each customer if they need their parking validated. Betsy and manager, Laurie, both apologized to me (acknowledge and empathize). I thought the situation was over. But then, they sent me an Ann Taylor gift certificate equal to the amount I paid in parking (exceeding expectations). As to be expected, I have told all of my friends and acquaintances this story (dozens and dozens). Ann Taylor has a very loyal customer in me.

Writer Bio:
Jodi R. R. Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith, is an etiquette consultant who creates and leads seminars on social and professional conduct. Working with individuals, corporations, and other organizations, she educates in a way that is both instructional and entertaining, helping her clients to increase their confidence levels and achieve success in today’s world. Ms. Smith is the author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman and From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Man.

Surprise! (Your Customers)

Meikah posted on her blog about how Air Philippines surprised her the other day. How did they surprise her? They did what companies should do when it comes to customer service.

Examine the customer service experience and the elements that likely surprised Meikah:

  • She called the airlines. A human, not a recording, answered, after just one ring.
  • The human was friendly.
  • The human (who worked in the reservations department, not the “flight status” department) was able to provide Meikah with the flight details including that it was delayed, when it left, and when it was expected to arrive.
  • The man thanked Meikah for calling and wished her a nice evening.

How often does that happen with North American airlines? Never. I don’t believe there is an airline that is based in North America (or anywhere but Asia, I believe) that answers their phone on the first ring and has friendly, and knowledgeable people on the phone.  It just doesn’t happen.

Though it may sound cynical, most customer service surprises are actually just good customer service. In today’s customer service environment, all you have to do to surprise your customers is to be better (hopefully far better) than average.

In the airline industry, far better than average doesn’t take much. I’m not sure how successful Air Philippines is, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about quite a few Asian airlines. They obviously understand customer service and realize that it is important and worth investing in.

I said I would talk about customer service week. I spent a fair amount of time browsing the csweek.com web site and it was fairly interesting. The site had interesting tips that can be applied, sample agendas, and some customer service themed games. Some of the material is better than others, but the site is worth taking a look at.

My main thing against customer service week is that there should be 52 customer service weeks. A commitment to customer service should not be a one week thing, or even a quarterly or yearly thing – it is a constant commitment and a lot of work. Quite a few of the companies listed on the participant page could benefit from a constant commitment to customer service.

I didn’t have a chance to check out the other site, but I may do that over the weekend and post any cool findings on Monday.

I also have a question I’d like to ask my readers. Are you aware of any colleges, universities, or business/management schools that offer any sort of courses on customer service? I have never heard of one, but would be curious to see if there are any. If you know of any or can find some, please post some information in the comments!

Internal Blogs – The New Staff Meeting

So besides daily staff meetings, what other things can a company do to keep all of the employees on the same page? Something that more and more companies are embracing are internal blogs, written and viewed by employees.

These internal blogs serve a similar purpose to daily staff meetings. They provide updates, information about what is happening, and more. They can be viewed by the employees at the beginning of the shift and updated by managers a few minutes (or the night before) the shift starts.

Having an internal blog works better for some companies than others. Here are some general, but recommended things that I think a company should have before getting a blog or series of blogs instead of or in addition to a daily staff meeting:

  • The company has to be fairly technically savvy. Low-tech companies may not embrace it quite as much as others. I’d consider fairly technically savvy as companies that use email a lot, have a least some services online (like a helpdesk, etc.), and use the Internet a lot.
  • Whoever is posting (like shift supervisors) needs to know how to use a blog or a blog edit. Pretty much, they need to be able to troubleshoot basic HTML and use text editor functions.
  • Whoever is posting needs to dedicate at least 15 minutes or so to writing the post everyday. This should be done before the shift begins and has to be done everyday.
  • Whoever writes the blog should know what is going on and be able to write an informative, concise post that can explain everything without going on forever.
  • Someone at the company should be able to setup a blog (not very hard, but not easy for a non-technical person). Many web hosts have “2 Click Installs”, etc. for major blogging scripts like WordPress. It may be worth getting an account at a web host that offers this (if yours doesn’t already) to keep things simple.
  • A password should probably be applied to the blog (most web hosts offer a way to password protect a directory).

Some companies do both a daily staff meeting and a blog, others do just one, and all too many do both. If you are going to do just one, make it count (theoretically, both should count). Be sure to be thorough in your posts or in the meeting and really talk about what the staff needs to know.

Internal, daily blogs work great for companies that have a geographically spread out staff. This could include companies who outsource their support, have remote employees, etc. Staff meetings work better for companies that have one office and everyone works in the same place.

Also, it is customer service week this week in the UK. Check out  this link and this link. Tom at QAQNA posted some suggestions about what companies can do to celebrate and Maria at CustomersAreAlways let me about the week and provided the link to the first site. I’ll post a bit about Customer Service Week tomorrow.

Short post today, but I have quite a bit of content planned for later this week as well as next week.

Daily Staff Meetings

Restaurants have long had daily staff meetings. In these meetings, the manager goes over daily specials, what the restaurant doesn’t have, new policies, and any other issues. Some managers read customer compliments and complaints they received the previous day, others talk about tips for employees to provide better service. It really varies from restaurant to restaurant, but the point is, many better restaurants do this and it is just a fact of life.

Now, think about how many other companies do this? Some hotels do, but not very many non-hospitality companies.  I have never worked with or for a company that had daily meetings among the customer service staff or groups of service staff. Some had weekly meetings to go over progress, etc., but I’ve never worked with or for a company that has done such meetings daily. Occasionally, the sales staff would have a daily meeting to go over quotas, etc., but it was not a consistent thing.

What do you have to lose by having a daily meeting? Maybe 15 minutes in the morning? (Daily meetings should be done in the morning, before the people start working.) Those 15 minutes are well worth the potential benefits.

Here are some things that may be useful for a customer service manager to discuss during the daily meeting:


For general customer service staff:

  • Reading of complaints/compliments received.
  • Recent issues: what is going on with them, when they started happening, etc.
  • New policies, team members, software, technology, etc. (anything new)
  • Daily goals
  • Daily tips, tricks, improvement suggestions, etc. for the team as a whole
  • Special notices (special customer, media review today, customer so and so is expected to contact us and should get extra attention, etc.)
  • Questions/Comments/Concerns from attendees

For technical support:

  • Product updates and changes
  • Product upgrades or feature changes
  • Recent technical issues that have been occurring, their fixes, etc.
  • Maintenance schedules/updates/etc. Service status (is anything down, etc.)
  • Other things that are mentioned above

For sales/billing staff:

  • New products/services (these should be announced a few days in advance)
  • Pricing changes
  • Feature changes
  • Billing changes (new payment methods, switching payment processors, etc.)
  • Upgraded products/services (in case pricing differences apply)
  • Other things that are mentioned above (in general customer service section)

It isn’t so much the specific things that I have listed here that are important to go over, but the point of actually having a brief meeting at the beginning of each work day. The meeting shouldn’t last longer than about 15 minutes and should be done every morning. On some days, there will be more to address, others there won’t. If there is more than one shift, the meeting should be taken at the beginning of each shift. There should be no problem finding things to talk about. If you can’t think of anything, you aren’t thinking hard enough.

Tomorrow I will talk about something that either can be done instead of or in addition to a daily meeting.

Service? What’s that?

I saw a post the other day at John Wagner’s blog that talked about how people don’t care about customer service anymore because they have been taught not to expect it. Though John’s view could be considered a bit cynical, for the most, he’s right. Most people do not expect superior customer service and most are happy when they happen to run into a company that provides “acceptable” customer service.

A lady named Paloma posted a comment in response to John’s post. She described her experience with Time Warner coming to install her cable TV and Internet. They gave her a 12 hour time slot (I talk about time slots here) on a weekday and she had to wait all day. No one ended up coming and the home office knew nothing. A few days later, someone did show up who probably wasn’t qualified and definitely should not have been doing the job. Apparently Time Warner Cable is pretty bad. Maria at CustomersAreAlways suggested I send my series to them in a comment she posted. Needless to say, Paloma’s (or Maria’s) experience wasn’t exactly the experience I suggested companies try to create in my series on service calls.

John shared a story about how his brother’s pool guy didn’t want to deal with him because he complained. Apparently, since the company was doing well (the pool guy said “a million and a half” a year), the pool guy didn’t have to provide good customer service for the $30 per month that John’s brother was paying. Out of all the stories I have heard about bad customer service, this has to be the most ignorant response by the company.

Why is it that the publicly traded Four Seasons Hotel Company decides to provide good customer service when they have over $220 million in annual revenue? Or Nordstrom, which has almost $8 billion in annual revenue?

Maria at CustomersAreAlways used to work at Nordstrom. She sold children’s shoes. Do you think she would have told a mother that “Nordstrom doesn’t need your $50 because we make almost $8 billion per year” if the mother said her child’s shoes didn’t fit? I seriously doubt it. Do you think a manager at the Four Seasons would have said “We don’t need your $600 per night because we make $220 million per year?” if a customer complained that his or her room wasn’t ready on time? What any great customer service company would say is “I sincerely apologize about that. Let me get to work on fixing that right away.”

Perhaps John’s brother should make his pool guy aware of this and suggest that the pool guy use his “million and a half” he made last year to hire someone to deal with customers and handle complaints when they come in.

Profitability, lots of revenue, or even a stock symbol does not entitle you to tell clients you don’t need their business because they complain. What you should do is work on fixing the problems.

John mentioned an interesting post by Leo at Client Service Insights where Leo interviewed an executive who worked at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami. The interview is quite interesting and shows that the entire company as well as the specific Miami property cares a lot about customer service.

Another commenter at John’s blog said how he now tries to buy products and services from companies/stores that provide great customer service. He says that he pays more, but it’s certainly worth it.

Most customers are willing to pay more to have great customer service, so why don’t more companies provide it? That is a good question.

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