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What You Want vs. What You Get

Today I had actually intended to talk about a great customer service experience I had related to blogging, but have put that off for a few days (I’m working on finished with a special addon to the post).

So today I am going to talk about what you want when hiring versus what you actually end up getting. Sometimes it is quite interesting to read what companies are wanting and then to look at the type of employees working there. The particular example I am going to use is the local Gap store near me.

This is a picture of a sign that I took (using my cellphone, hence the poor quality) at the Gap store near me. You can click it for a full size version.

The sign says: (now hiring) Looking for motivated, enthusiastic (motivated) individuals committed to providing exceptional customer service (committed). Inquire within. (exceptional). Words in () are the big words on the sign.

Pretty nice text, isn’t it? Gap wants motivated and enthusiastic individuals who are committed to providing exceptional customer service. That’s a lot and hard to find at any company. Legendary customer service organizations like Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, and the like would be probably happy with an employee that fit that description.

It is not hard to tell that this sign was written and created by the home office and not by the local store. It is quite possible that Gap even hired a copy writing or advertising firm/agency to write it up.

Not even six inches from that sign (you can see his arm in the picture, actually) was someone who worked there who did not feet the description. Here is a break down:

  • Motivated. He saw that I was done shopping, but I had to wait at the register for a good minute or two before he bothered to come over and check me out.
  • Enthusastic. Hardly. He didn’t ask if I needed anything else, how was my shopping, how I was, etc. Plus, when he finished ringing me up (in a slow, do I have to be here? fashion), he grunted the wrong price. He then grunted the correct price. As I was leaving, there was no closing – I got my stuff, walked out, and that was it.
  • Individual. He was an individual – can’t argue that. Another lady in the store did say hi to me and seemed quite a bit more friendly, but she was busy doing something else as I was checking out.
  • Comittted. Judging from his performance, I wouldn’t say committed.
  • Exceptional. Hardly. It was a medicore customer service experience at best, and from what I could tell, the person who helped me was no exceptional employee.

Hopefully that example will illustrate what you want versus what you often times end up getting. To ensure you get what you (or at least someone in the company) wants, try following these steps:

  • Communicate what you want across the company. Gap had that sign in at least three places in the store so it is obvious they were aware of it. However, the manager needs to be aware that Gap is looking for motivated, enthusastic, and committed indivdiauls when hiring.
  • Follow through as you go. Once you have hired employees, ensure they stay up to par. A lot of employees start great and then slack off as time goes on and they get more comfortable. The only way to ensure they continue being as good as when they were hired is to constantly remind them about what is good and what is bad.
  • Follow the advice. Read this classic post on Service Untitled. Listen to your HR managers, listen to the consulants you hire, listen to somewhat well informed bloggers. You can’t be good at everything, so it is okay to admit that other people may know how to hire better than you.

Note: I have nothing against Gap at all. In fact, I’m wearing a Gap shirt and shop there quite frequently. However, I wouldn’t exactly label them as a legendary customer service organization. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t great.

And on a somewhat related note about how stupid some people are: there was another store (I guess it could be called a restaurant since it was in the food court) with a sign provided by the mall that said “Employment Opportunities Available.” Below that text, there was another sign – this one handwritten that said Job openings?. I interpreted it as the store not knowing what Employment Opportunities Available meant. As sad as it may be, I think my interpretation is correct.

I sure do wish there were no moronic idiots in customer service.

American Express Customer Service

American Express is such a well known company that I thought they would be interesting to talk about. Recently, American Express has not gotten too much publicity (good or bad) regarding their customer service. The credit card companies seem to stay fairly neutral – no one really likes them, but no one really hates them. This is better than a lot of industries, but not great.

If you aren’t aware, American Express was founded in 1850 as a mail service. They later started offering money orders, and then travelers checks. They followed the Diners Club and launched a credit card service in the last 1950’s.

American Express is one of the first and most famous companies to offer different levels of cards/service. In the early 1980’s the company launched the Platinum Card, which was an exclusive card that offered high spending limits and better service. Then in 1999, they launched an even more exclusive card called the American Express Centurion Card (black card) which has a high annual fee, is very exclusive, and offers a lot of service.

According to Wikipedia (which is where I have fact checked a few things for this article), the Centurion card offers a lot of features such as complimentary companion airline tickets on trans-Atlantic flights, personal shoppers at high-end retailers, airline upgrades, access to airline clubs, and more. Members also have a personal concierge (with a direct phone number and email address).

That is the ultimate of customer service. Some other credit card companies have similar services, but American Express has always had some sort of a reputation as a leader in that space. The Platinum Card isn’t too shabby either – they still get a very high level of service and a lot of perks.

The question is how much of those perks can be given to people who do not spend $250,000 per year on their credit card? Some of the things are very expensive, while others aren’t that bad (the personal account manager is pretty common in other industries – Rackspace gives you a team).

Does your company have “VIP” levels of service for your best customers? It is something worth considering.

How hard is it for a senior employee to call up a good customer and say: “We value you as a customer. Here is my direct line and email address in case you ever have any problems.” That doesn’t happen often, and I bet it’d shock a customer (in a good way) if it did.

And on the subject of American Express – does anyone remember a commerical they had: it was a guy calling a concierge at AMEX about something to do on a date. The concierge suggested the circus, someone was afraid of clowns, and a few other actitivtes. It was a very interesting commerical showing great customer service being provided. They have had a few like that and I think they have been fairly effective.

GetHuaman Report Card

On November 20, GetHuman released the first “report card” on their GetHuman 500. If you are not familiar with the GetHuman 500 (which Service Untitled got the scoop about back in August), it is a list of the 500 most commonly called organizations.

The report card basically grades the organizations, based on GetHuman’s standards (Service Untitled commented on an earlier version, also in August). The list of companies, along with their “grades” can be found here.

I decided to post about some of the companies I have talked about (or think I have talked about) at one point or another and their subsequent ratings. I’m mentioning all divisions related to the company, not necessarily the one I have (or will) talk about.

  • American Express and American Express Business(talking about them this week) – F
  • American Express Business Gold – B
  • Bank of America Credit Card – F
  • Citi Cards – F
  • Citi Simplicity – D
  • Gap Credit Card (talking about them this week) – F
  • Citibank – F
  • Bank of America – F
  • Dell Sales and Dell Technical Support – F
  • HP – F
  • IBM – F
  • Linksys – F
  • Amazon.com – F
  • GoDaddy.com – F
  • PayPal – F
  • T-Mobile – D
  • T-Mobile Smart Access – C
  • T-Mobile Tech Support – C
  • Geek Squad – F
  • UPS – F
  • Microsoft – F
  • Starbucks – F
  • Southwest – B
  • Radio Shack – F

I am sure I have missed some companies that I have talked about and are listed. If you can think of a company I have talked about and forgot to add, just let me know (comment or email) and I will add it right away.

Pretty sad, isn’t it? The highest grade is a B (from Southwest), followed by a few C’s from T-Mobile. Some of these companies have customer service that is pretty good (and they do care about it), but despite all of that, they can’t seem to figure out how to have a proper phone system.

I could not find a page that says how they grade companies. I’m looking for one that says something like “companies who do not allow you to push 0 to get to an operator get one letter grade lower.” I’m not sure if GetHuman has that, but I’ve sent an email to the project’s manager, Lorna and asked.

What are your thoughts on these rankings and the rankings in general?

Edit: Lorna from GetHuman sent me this explanation shortly after I saved the first draft of this post. I’ve included it below.

No, there isn’t a page like the one that you described. But here’s a summary of the testing process: Getting accurate results/grades is critical to us. We want to highlight those companies that do well and encourage consumers to show their appreciation by giving them business. And, of course, for those that do poorly, we hope that consumers will let them know that they will discontinue using their services if improvements aren’t made.

To that end, the testing process is quite elaborate and involved. Each company is called by at least 3 teams of independent testers. The teams make several phone calls per round of testing, which are done at approximate 12 hour intervals to ensure that we observe functions during business hours and after business hours. The testing process verifies the companies’ adherence to each of the 10 gethuman standards, which specify how customer service phone systems *should work*. The standards were developed over the past few months, with input from thousands of consumers.

Results of the teams’ testing are averaged to arrive at the final grade.

Customer Service at Tumi

The other day I was at the Tumi store in my local mall. Tumi is a company that makes some fairly high end luggage. Their products are quite nice and I wanted to get a backpack for a friend who travels a lot. He killed his last backpack (not sure of the brand) and needs a new one.

I went into the store and was almost immediately said hi to and asked how I was by an employee. She asked if she could me and I explained that I was looking for a backpack. She asked who it was for and I explained what I thought my friend needed.

The lady thought for a second and showed me a backpack. It was nice, but a bit too small. I said he probably needed something bigger. She showed me another backpack, this one quite a bit larger, in the rear of the story. As I was looking at it, she said they had in a few other colors and would take the paper out if I wanted to see the inside.

She went into the back and got the backpack in a gray color. She took the paper out and showed me the inside and explained about the bag’s warranty and such. I liked it and she responded with a joke when I said my friend likely wouldn’t use the pockets (he’s a bit disorganized).

I said I would take the bag and asked if they had gift wrapping. She said she couldn’t gift wrap, but could give me a box and a card for the item. I said that would work. I checked out, she gathered some information about me for their records (name, address, etc.). After that was done, she asked if I had other shopping to do. She offered to hold the item and get everything ready for when I came back.

I came back to the store 20 minutes later or so. She recognized me right away and handed me the box with the card. She thanked me again and I left. Throughout the whole experience, the lady was very nice and very efficient. She was on top of things and obviously not distracted.

If you look at it, the customer service experience didn’t have anything that was that amazing or different in it. However, it is was a series of little things that made the experience a good one, and not just an average retail experience.

Here is what Tumi did right:

  • They hired a friendly salesperson. She made the experience from acceptable to great.
  • They trained the salesperson well. Though I’m not sure if she was a luggage expert, she knew about Tumi’s product, their policy, how to use the appropiate systems, what was available, etc.
  • They make a quality product. The product is an extremely important part of the customer experience. Even if the customer service was great, I don’t think I would buy an inferior product (especially if it is an expensive, inferior product).
  • They had enough people working there to deal with the amount of customers in the store. I didn’t have to wait to get helped, and neither did other customers who came in after me. This is very important.

Here is what Tumi could improve upon:

  • Have gift wrapping services, especially around the holidays.
  • They could have a card or something near the products that show alternative colors, etc. for it.

The main lessons from this: concenrate on finding friendly people to work for you, and ensure there are enough friendly people so customers do not have to wait. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Rapid Growth: Conclusion

I’m going to finish up the series on rapid growth today. It has been interesting and will definitely be something that I will talk about again. I wanted to talk about a bit more, but will kind of throw a bit about everything into this post.

Technology:
Rapid growth is usually not a good time to start messing with new technology. Hopefully, by the time you are in rapid growth you already have most of the technology you need up and running. However, here are some things to think about improving or implementing as you grow:

  • Helpdesks and email applications
  • Phone systems
  • Web sites (may need to get more resources, implement some new technology)
  • Collaboration and project management software (good to implement if you don’t already have it)
  • Billing and CRM applications
  • etc.

Most of these applications have to get larger and more powerful as your company gets bigger. Ensure they are able to do this (called scaling, usually) and that you continually test all of them. If you get complaints from customers or employees, try and work with the maker or whoever your contact is to resolve them.

Procedures:
Procedures are extremely important, especially during rapid growth times. You should have solid, well tested, and hopefully efficient procedures for things like hiring, training, purchasing, compensation changes (raises, bonuses), project approval, etc.

Operating procedures will help everyone use their time more efficiently. It will be clear who has to do what, why they have to do it, and what is involved with doing it. Less questions, more work being done.

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