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Customer Service in Store Design

I was reading a post on QAQNA about how Tom is the bag man. When I first saw the title, I thought Tom was talking about people who bag your groceries for you and sometimes bring them out to your car (this is common is Florida and unheard of in New Jersey), but after reading, I realized Tom was talking about his role when he goes shopping with his wife and two teenage daughters.

Like many men, when Tom goes shopping with one or more women, he isn’t particularly interested in the pattern or material of the dress. He likely goes “Yep, that’s nice.” or something of the sort. Tom liked how at some stores there was a place for him to sit. Other stores took it a step further and even gave him an ESPN magazine to read. I’ve been in stores that do similar things and it makes a difference. It makes the shopping experience tolerable for “bag men” like Tom and I.

Why can’t more stores put a nice place to sit for guys who are shopping? On the flip side, other stores that are targeted towards men can provide a nice place for women to sit while their husbands or whoever look at suits, gadgets, or whatever.  A few chairs, a few magazines, and even a few bottles of water don’t cost that much. I imagine it’s well worth the cost of having the people comfortable and in the store longer. If a husband is comfortable and enjoying ESPN magazine, he is less likely to bug his wife to leave. That translates directly into business gains.

While this is more of a customer experience (as opposed to a customer service experience) thing, it’s definitely interesting and not outside of the bounds of what I talk about.

Customer service in store design (and as I have babbled about, design in general) is very important. I read that Nordstrom has wider shopping aisles so people don’t feel as crammed. They also do a host of other things that collectively make a big difference in the shopping experience. While people don’t notice these outright unless they are grossly exaggerated one way or another (I doubt many people go: Wow – this Nordstrom store has wider aisles than Macy’s, mom!), shoppers likely do subconsciously notice them and it makes the overall customer service experience better.

This doesn’t apply to just clothing stores, either. For example, in his interview with Service Untitled, Robert Stephens of Best Buy talked about how the company wanted to lower the counter height so people didn’t have to lift their computers. He also talked about how the company wanted to improve the experience so customers didn’t have to lift anything (not even from the parking lot to the store).

If all companies thought like this, I believe they would notice a big difference in customer satisfaction and ultimately, their bottom line. Shopping should be a pleasant experience. It really isn’t that bad when stores get it right. However, when stores don’t do it right, the experience is downright terrible. 

By the way, there are some very good blogs on the customer experience out there. A notable one worth checking out Flooring the Customer, which talks a lot about the retail customer experience. Maria at Customers are Always worked for Nordstrom for many years, so I am sure she has a lot of stories to tell as well. (What do you say, Maria? Want to do a post about it?)

Oh, and something interesting happened today. I was looking over the stats for Service Untitled this afternoon and noticed a large amount of people from San Antonio, particularly Rackspace’s network had been reading my proactive vs. reactive post. I sent an email to someone I know within the company and she said that an account manager had seen the post and sent it to the employees via one of the company’s mailing lists. Very cool!

It’s only Monday and I already have almost the entire week’s worth of posts planned out. Going to be a good week!

Rackspace Team Structure

I was exploring the new-ish web site for Rackspace the other night. I noticed they had a page explaining their team structure. It reminded me of when I asked David Bryce about Rackspace’s team structure in his interview with Service Untitled (see here and here) and I thought the page would provide an additional explanation about a very interesting element of Rackspace.

I like the graphics that explain how the whole team structure works. It takes a model that is somewhat hard to grasp and makes it fairly simple to understand. The page explains that each team has a team lead, account manager, business development consultant, senior systems engineer, support technician, support specialist, billing specialist, professional services, and data center operations.

There is a problem with this page and many pages like these – they have a lot of company (or at the very least, industry specific) terms and definitions. How will I know what a business development consultant does? Or what’s the difference between a support technician and specialist? What does professional services entail?

To make this page truly useful, Rackspace should explain what each person on their team does, what they are responsible for, and how they will help the customer if they choose Rackspace. Makes sense?

Rackspace’s team structure is great and this page really helps people grasp the concept, but they still have room to improve. Less company specific terms and job descriptions – more explanations. The nice thing about the Internet and online publishing of anything (blogs, web sites, etc.) is it doesn’t cost anything extra to write more.

The point is to:

  • Don’t use company specific terms or jargon
  • If you must, explain everything fully.

I am sure there is an explanation of what these various people do somewhere on the site or you could email or call Rackspace and find out, but the casual user viewing the team structure page won’t be able to find it right away.

Simple concept, but very few companies can keep things in plain, jargon free speak. If you can, it’ll definitely help. People may even understand what you are talking about.

Proactive vs. reactive

The next generation of customer service is going to be proactive. Currently, customer service is reactive. This means that when you have a problem, you tell the company. Then, they work to fix it. Customer service will/should eventually be proactive. This means that the organization will fix problems as they occur and stop even stop problems from occurring.

Proactive customer service is what I believe is Customer Service 2.0. It’ll make a huge difference in how customer service works and an even bigger difference in the customer experience.

For example, can you imagine your computer notices that your hard drive is having a problem and lets Dell know about it. Then, Dell would call you or email you and suggest replacing the hard drive. A bit Big Brother, yes, but also very helpful.

Some companies are already proactive about their customer service. For example, many hosting companies monitor the uptime of their various services (web, databases, email, etc.). When they get a report that a problem is occurring, the company works to fix it. If the company is quick about it, they can fix the issue before customers even notice.

Other things that can be done would be simply paying more attention. For example, if a customer usually sends in a few customer support inquires a week and the company notices a lapse in the inquires, it may be worth sending them an email. That way, the company can find out if something is wrong with the person, if they have switched to a new provider, etc.

Companies can also notice when usage goes way up or way down for a certain service. Following up and trying to be proactive about solutions and customer service in general will greatly improve the customer service experience.

A lot of companies and individual support representatives like to ignore problems. Oftentimes, they won’t fix it because they think it’s more work. However, when the customers complain, it’s even more work.

What can companies do to be proactive? It’s almost a state of mind. It requires a mix of hard work and technology to become a proactive customer service organization. I think, though, that the ones that can pull it off will be the true winners.

HP handles a bad experience.

I usually hear about my friend’s technology problems. They tell me either because they know I know about customer service or they know I know about technology. Sometimes I can help them fix their problems, othertimes I can provide the person with a suggestion as to how they can go about getting their problem fixed.

A week or so ago a friend of mine had a laptop charger that started smoking. The charger got really hot and burnt a hole through the wire on the cord. I suggested that she call the laptop manufacturer (HP) and see what they could do. The next day my friend told me that she had called HP and since the laptop was out of warranty, they would not replace the charger. My friend paid for a new charger and overnight shipping for it. She wasn’t happy, but was hoping the situation would be getting resolved soon.

The next day my friend got a charger, but there was a problem: the charger wasn’t the right size for her laptop. HP had sent her the wrong charger. It was noticeably too large for the laptop and was useless. She called HP again and the company told her that she would have to send the wrong charger back to HP, and then HP would send a new charger. It was getting ridiculous. She would have to wait for HP’s mistake. She went ahead and ordered another charger and paid again for overnight shipping. At least she could use her laptop.

When I mentioned that I had interviewed someone at HP and could try to help her out, she said it would be welcomed and appreciated. I sent Janice Liu and a PR person at HP an email about the issue. Both of them replied promptly and asked for some more information. After I provided the information, they said they would at getting a resolution.

HP followed through. Yesterday, my friend got a call from HP. The guy apologized and offered to send her a check for the charger and pay any other related costs. He also asked my friend to send back the defective charger so HP could check it out. Shortly after the first guy called, another person called to ensure the experience was satisfactory and that my friend was happy. She was delighted.

HP handled this situation well. It wasn’t an amazing experience, but it definitely made my friend confident in the company and happy with the end result. It also gave me some added confidence in HP and I’m glad that it worked out well.

The question is what could have been this experience a great one? One that would cause my friend (and everyone she told) to use HP because of the company’s tremendous recovery.

  • Obviously, not messing up the first time. If they had sent the right charger to begin with, it would have been a much better experience.
  • Making it so the frontline representatives can deal with the issue. Not all people have access to an executive at HP or are aware of Service Untitled – HP should try to empower representatives (or at least their supervisors) to resolve issues like this.
  • Extra bribes. HP could have offered them a free printer, a gift certificate on a future purchase, or something of that nature. Since I believe that HP makes more money on the ink for the printers, the free printer wouldn’t be a bad idea.
  • A further apology note. HP still has a chance to do this and the item below. Whoever called them should send a quick letter or card to my friend and again issue a further apology and thank them for using HP.
  • A follow up. In two or three weeks, HP should call my friend again and make sure that she received the check, that the charger is working okay, etc.
  • Send a survey. HP should send a survey over mail and/or email about a month from now to gather some additional feedback.

Overall, HP did a good job. Like with everything, there is room to improve, but they did a good job. Kudos to HP.

Dell watches the blogosphere.

I’ve talked about the blogosphere’s effect on customer service before, but a few days ago, I got a firsthand experience about a company that actually does a good job of watching the blogosphere. That company is Dell.

About a day or two after I posted about too many phone numbers, Dell responded. I didn’t even mention Dell besides including them in a general list. It seems like they picked the post up and they responded.

Their comment was fairly useful and while it seemed slightly canned, it still addressed the issue. They provide some specific numbers about how they have improved their customer service and some of the metrics associated with it.

Dell has been putting a lot of resources into keeping up on what is being said about them. They have a fairly large team that works to watch the blogosphere and respond to feedback, a digg-like voting feature for product and service suggestions, a frequently updated blog, and have been putting a lot of time and effort into improving their customer service.

They’ve been tough throughout the whole process as well – Dell has gotten a lot of negative feedback on their blog, over email, and so on. The company has responded to it and has been doing a good job at keeping their spirits up and moving on.

Dell has a lot of competition from formidable companies like HP, IBM/Lenovo, Toshiba, Sony, and plenty of others. They seem to be working very hard on being open and accessible and making it clear that they are working to improve. So far, it seems like they are getting closer to achieving that goal.

I haven’t had a customer service experience with Dell as of late. My father, though, had an experience with them lately. His speakers weren’t working, but when he plugged in headphones, sound worked. He called Dell and was on the phone with them for two hours. The representative wouldn’t elevate the call to a supervisor and apparently there was no solution. They ended up calling their corporate sales person, and I think they got the issue elevated after that.  However, the experience seemed pretty terrible and was enough to make my dad think about using another company with better customer service.

Turn arounds are very interesting. Some companies are able to pull it off, while others aren’t. Michael Dell is back in control of the company and he seems to be dedicated to improving the company’s customer service and reputation.

A little test for Dell, though, is that I asked the guy who responded to my blog post to put me in touch with the person who runs their customer service for an interview. A few days later, he replied and said I should hear from someone soon. We’ll see.

Customer service saved a dog.

A friend of mine had a pretty remarkable customer service experience the other day. He lives in a gated community. On Sunday night, the community shot off fireworks and he went outside to watch them. He must have left the door open and his dog walked out. My friend didn’t realize the dog had gone out. About two hours later, he got a call from the community’s gate house. They said that the patrol had found his dog and that the patrol was down the street.

My friend went down the street and saw the patrol and his dog. Thankfully, the dog was fine and walked right up to him. The dog was wearing a collar with my friend’s phone number and address on it, so they knew it was his dog. The guard explained he saw the dog walking down the street. He explained that he tried to get her in the car so he could drive the dog down the street, but she didn’t want to (she’s an awfully large dog). My friend was relieved and thankful that his dog was okay.

When my friend got home, he called the gate house and asked for the patrol’s name. He wrote a letter to the company the next day praising the guard and the company. He CC’ed the community’s board and management company. He sent the letter off and then called the gate house and found out when the guard was working again. He found the guard, thanked him again, and gave him $50. It was a good gesture by my friend and I think it showed how appreciative he was.

What made this customer service experience remarkable wasn’t so much the actual customer service part. It was because the company did something that made a big difference to the person. They made the experience a remarkable one in the same sense a hospital would that cured someone.

The experience wasn’t a remarkable one from a customer service perspective – at least in the traditional sense that I talk about here. If your company can solve some important problem (like an illness or a missing dog), it can get away with just doing its job.

Above all, you should try to do your job. You want to keep the web site up, let people file their taxes, get them cheap travel tickets, sell them headsets, and so on. If you can do that, you can make customers happy. The customer service part will probably come more naturally and your customers will be happy.

Like a lot of things in customer service, it’s a win-win-win for everyone involved. In my friend’s case – he got his dog, the dog was safe, the guard got some praise and some money, the security company got praise, and everyone was happy.


Amazon Gets Call Backs Right

I talk about click to call/call backs every now and then. Recently, I saw a post on the GetHuman blog about how well Amazon did with their click to call/call back solution. Amazon seems to have used the click to call technology to their advantage. eStara provided their thoughts as well.

The technology was able to tell that Lorna was logged in and automatically verify her identity. By checking out who you are logged in as, they can skip account verification, and answer questions right away. I believe that when companies use click to call for reasons like that, they are using it effectively. It seems to be a powerful technology and like many technologies, when it’s used correctly, it can be a lot of help.

By doing this, Amazon can avoid a lot of frustrations. It saves time on the call and subsequently, saves the company money. Lorna was connected to a representative right away, which is a lot better than being connected to just a hold queue. That seems to be what a lot of companies do with click to call – they just connect the company to the hold queue.

Lorna pointed out that the represenatives sounded foreign and the company was having some technical problems. She also pointed out that the prompts talked a bit much, but weren’t too bad.

I don’t like how Amazon forces you to use click to call – they should allow you to just call a number as well. However, since they do click to call right, it isn’t so bad.

I wonder if GetHuman is going to start including click to call in their ratings? Should be interesting.

Follow-up if you say you will.

While false promises in general really frustrate me, I am going to focus on companies and people who say they will follow up, but don’t. (I sure have been ranting this week!) This happens a lot in customer service and it frustrates customers, other employees, and some management members to no end. 

Companies will promise the customer they will follow up, but don’t. Management members will promise the employee they will follow up, but don’t. It’s just what a lot of people seem to do (or rather, don’t do).

Here are some tips:

  • Follow-up when you say you will. If you tell a customer, an employee, or anyone that you are going to follow up, do it.
  • Set a reminder. If you use a calendar, set a reminder. Make your ticket system remind you. Have the calendar remind you until you until you follow up.
  • Make someone the follow-up police. Make someone in charge of following up. Every week make someone the follow-up police who is in charge of bugging people to follow-up.

Your follow ups should remind the person about what you are following up about as well as the actual content. You should also introduce who you are again and what the status was before. It makes it much easier for the person who is getting contacted.

If someone asks you to follow up with them, add it to the calendar and do so. It doesn’t matter if they ask you to follow up two years from then, it can’t hurt. If they keep asking you to follow up, keep doing so. The persistence is important and if they are asking you to, do so. You may even get business from it.

However, the most important part (by a lot) is simply to follow up when you say will.  Now, go look at your calendar and see who you should follow up with.

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