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Expedited Shipping as an Incentive

Ups Truck
I am a big advocate of giving credits to help “ease the pain” that customers feel when they’re inconvenienced by one thing or another. What a lot of companies often neglect offering to customers is something that is usually just as (If not more) important: expedited shipping.

Just how much sense expedited shipping makes for any particular company will vary greatly. Large companies that ship a lot of products (and thus have a lot more leverage with their preferred shipping company) will find expedited shipping to be a lot more cost effective than small companies that don’t usually ship products. The cost of expedited shipping depends on the product, the shipping company, and perhaps most of all, what your company means by “expedited.” Some companies consider expedited faster than two weeks, others consider it faster than 24 hours. These are all things you’d want to look into and make decisions about before offering expedited shipping to customers.

Expedited shipping makes perfect sense for any sort of issue relating to an order delay. If the order is delayed a day or two from the factory, make that time up by upgrading the shipping from ground to next day air. If there was a problem with a product that is supposed to be deliver in a week, fix the problem and upgrade the shipping. Including expedited shipping as an option of possible incentive to customers certainly broadens the possibilities.

You can also use expedited shipping as a credit-like offer. Apologize for the inconvenience and say the customer’s next order will be shipped via next day air. That may make a bigger difference and a bigger impact than a $10 credit. When that one customer calls to ask if there are any discounts, instead of offering him or her a 15% off coupon, upgrade the shipping instead. You don’t necessarily have to upgrade it to the highest level, so that builds in quite a bit of flexibility.

The most important thing to remember is that there are more creative ways of “easing the pain” than just throwing money at customers.

Quick Post: Build the feedback process right in.

Skype Logo
Skype has an interesting way of gathering feedback. After every call, a little survey pops up. They ask you to rate the quality of your call (they use a 1-5 star system) and then they show a list of things that could have gone wrong (echos, etc.) and ask you to check boxes of anything that was applicable.

The survey is super simple and has gotten even simpler over time (it used to redirect you to a web site – now it seems to be built into the program). It’s very self explanatory and since it pops up after every call, you have the opportunity to rate your experience frequently.

The survey is optional, but I bet that Skype has really high response rates. Again, the simplicity is probably what would lead to high response rates. I’ve already talked about what a big hit one question surveys are and this just serves as an extension of that. Keep your surveys simple, keep the questions relevant, watch the results pile in.

Internal Customer Service

Christoph Guttentag’s positive experience with Duke’s HR department got me thinking about internal customer service. Isn’t the customer service you provide to your employees just as important as the customer service you provide to your customers? They should be happy, too. They should like working for and with your company in the same way that your customers like working with your company. But companies tend to place internal customer service even lower on the priority list than regular, external customer service.

Headsets.com (discussed here) has an internal customer service policy where their marketing team promises to make web site updates within 24 hours of the initial request. While they obviously can’t do that for every request, they make an effort and a commitment to each other to get things done and to respect everyone’s requests and wishes. This isn’t always easy, but it makes working with the marketing team, and as a result, contributing to Headsets.com’s web site, a lot easier. They’ve made it easy and it’s paying off.

At other companies, internal customer service is almost ingrained into the culture. The whole idea of treating your co-workers with respect and doing what you can to make their life easier is a big part of many companies’ cultures. Solidifying the process and the cultural idea is always helpful, though.

I’ve also read about companies (I believe it was a hotel) that do things to make the behind the scenes experience enjoyable for employees. They’ll do employees’ laundry, have employee concierge services that run errands, daycare, etc. These are all becoming more and more common, especially at companies in industries and cities where there is competition for employees. All of these things make the company a better place to work. The best places to work tend to attract the best talent, which more often than not, leads to a return on the bottom-line.

In addition to the hiring and retention benefits of internal customer service, great internal customer service tends to make jobs less stressful and more enjoyable. When Mr. Guttentag can pick up the phone and easily get answers to questions about his retirement packages and what not, it makes his life easier. He doesn’t have to scramble for answers and think about what a pain it is to get an answer each time he has a question. The experience is hassle free and maybe even enjoyable.

Service like that, whether it be internal or external, sets the average companies apart from the great companies (or organizations).

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Engaging Customers In Action: Recognizing Them

I’ve talked about the importance of engaging customers on a human level before. It’s critical to an excellent customer service experience and it’s critical to making the difference between an above average and an exceptional customer service experience. The companies (and more so, the employees) that can engage customers at a more human level are the ones that are going to see their customer satisfaction scores coming in as 10’s as opposed to 8’s or 9’s.

I was at a nice restaurant this evening with some family members and the waiter engaged us on a human level. We’ve been going to this restaurant for quite a while and we’ve seen this waited plenty of times. We hadn’t been there recently, but he remembered us (he said “welcome back, good to see you again”) and when another person at our table asked him a question about how he’s been doing, he told us about a several month RV trip he took around the country.

The story about the trip was interesting – the waiter and his wife had taken their RV to about 40 states over about 6 months. They had seen most of the country’s major cities and national parks and had an overall great trip. He wasn’t rushed when telling it and took the time to answer any questions we had. It definitely brought the experience from a good to an excellent level. He engaged us on a human level and certainly made ordering our food and drinks much more interesting. When the story was effort, he remembered (very accurately) what we usually ordered to drink and to eat.

This waiter not only recognized as regular customers, but he responded to a customer’s question in a manner that went above and beyond. He engaged all of us and gave us something to talk about after he left. It was a great experience and one that only reinforces the positive views I’ve had of that restaurant since we started going there six or seven years ago.

For more on restaurants and customer service, check out this post that I wrote back in July of 2006 (though it’s still quite relevant). I apologize for not posting yesterday – I did not get home until pretty late and didn’t have a chance to write up a post for the day.

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Two Positive Customer Service Experiences

After we finished his interview Service Untitled on Tuesday (it’ll be published in early May), Christoph Guttentag, Duke University’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, and I talked about customer service in more general terms.

I scheduled an interview with Mr. Guttentag because I personally find the college admissions process to be fascinating. There are so many aspects of it that make it incredibly interesting and worth talking about.

One of the most interesting things I learned from the interview is that the challenges that one of the busiest admissions offices in the country faces are essentially the same challenges that many for profit companies find themselves facing on a daily basis. Educational and corporate America seem to tackle the problems in similar ways, too. It’s extremely interesting to say the least, and in the interview, Mr. Guttentag discusses the logistical as well as the more philosophical aspects of admissions in quite a bit of detail.

Putting that aside (you’ll read about it more next month), Mr. Guttentag told me about two recent customer service experiences he has had, both positive. Always eager to hear about great customer service, I asked him to tell me about the two experiences.

The first one was with Land’s End. Mr. Guttentag, like many Land’s End customers, was impressed with the fact that the company answers the phone right away (often, on the first ring) and then to top that off, has friendly and intelligent people answering the phone. He was also pleasantly surprised that the woman who answered the phone was able to help him with everything he needed. The experience was simple. It lacked the unnecessary complications that tend to characterize the negative customer service experiences. A simple experience with helpful representatives usually makes for a positive experience and in this case, it did.

The other experience was with Duke University’s own human resources department. The experience was just like the experience with Land’s End; the representative answered the phone right away and was able to answer all of Mr. Guttentag’s questions without any difficulty. The person who answered the phone had no trouble directing Mr. Guttentag to the correct forms, telling him exactly how to fill them out, and providing Mr. Guttentag with the information needed to send the forms in. Again, it was the simplicity and ease of the customer service experience that made it notable.

Because customer service is so bad so often, customers tend to remember experiences like the ones described above. With today’s dreadfully low standards of customer service, companies that have intelligent people answering the phone, and the questions that are a natural result of those phone calls, are the exception. The norm is an endless jungle of phone menus, ruthless bureaucracies and departmental divisions, and incompetent customer service representatives. When those standards are reversed, customers can’t help being pleasantly surprised. And when customers are pleasantly surprised, they tend to tell their friends.

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Helping other customers.

Er380LgToday, I went into a store at my local mall to buy a shirt I wanted. The store was nice, the shirt was easy to find, and I proceeded to the cash register expecting to have a pleasant customer service experience. I waited for a moment or two and then noticed the woman in front of me was filling out an application for a store credit card. There was no one else at the cash register counter and it looked like this would be a lengthy process.

I asked the clerk if she could check me out while the customer filled out her application, instead of me having to wait for this entire process to be finished. The clerk looked at me strangely and said no one else was on register duty. I saw other people working at the store, folding clothes and doing things of that nature, but apparently, no one else would help to check me out. I didn’t feel like waiting and walked out.

Besides my occasional tendency to be impatient (ironic for a customer service person, I know), this story shows a few things. It shows that this particular company did not keep this situation (where a customer fills out a credit card application, other customers are waiting, and there is only one employee working on the register) in mind when they were designing their systems and processes. It also shows that this particular employee wasn’t interested in going above and beyond to help another customer.

The first fault was that this company designed their system so that it can only do one transaction like this at a time. Ideally, the credit card application should be able to operate alongside of the regular checkout application. Whoever designed the system should know that it takes time for that credit card application to be filled out and processed and that there is a good chance other customers would be waiting. When designing systems and/or processes, keep situations like that in mind. Keeping things like that in mind is best done by thinking about the experience from as many perspectives as possible, and when possible, asking other people involved to think of the process as well. Chances are, you won’t think of every possible situation by yourself, so tapping other people for their ideas is usually well worth the time and effort.

The second fault is that the particular employee decided not to bother going above and beyond. This is probably because employees at most retail stores are rewarded for getting customers to signup for credit cards and usually aren’t on commission for the actual sale. With that reward system in place, it is in the employee’s best interest to cater to the customer filling out the credit card application. However, a motivated employee could have gone above and beyond (opening a new register, asking someone to come over, etc.). Encouraging employees to go above and beyond is necessary to great customer service.

Tomorrow’s post is about a positive customer service experience.

We’ll Buy You Lunch If …

I was reading about an interesting policy at a fairly progressive technology company based in a major city. They have about 400 employees or so and an interesting policy when it comes to buying their employees lunch. Quite simply, their policy is “we’ll buy you lunch if you eat with someone you’ve never gone to lunch with before.”

Since they are in a major city and are close to a whole bunch of places to eat, they encourage employees to go out and eat lunch. More importantly, though, they encourage employees to take another employees.

This policy (program is a better phrase, I think) is interesting because it introduces employees to each other. In a company with about 400 employees, an individual employee probably doesn’t know every other employee. This policy / program makes for a nice way to get to know other employees. You can go out to lunch with your friends for the first week or two, but eventually, if you want free lunches, you’ll have to start going out to lunch with people you don’t know.

The company makes the system easy by having a little page on their internal wiki where people can list what days they want to go out to lunch and if they need someone to go to lunch with. Employees can arrange it themselves or they can let the person who oversees the program (it is not their primary job, but something they do for part of their day) match them up. The company keeps track of who you’ve gone out to lunch with and will re-imburse employees for lunch (I think they pay like $20 per person, but you can obviously change this depending on what you’re comfortable with). It isn’t too complicated (it is for the most part on the honor system) and employees like the program.

This program is very much like the old time trick of putting a pizza or food spread next to the new guy’s desk. Doing so encourages other employees to go over, introduce themselves casually, and get to know their new co-worker. This works really well in smaller companies, but as companies grow, this becomes slightly more complicated. You can still do it for each department or team, but for the entire company, it’s hard to put a pizza next to the new guy’s desk and assume everyone will know where it is.

This program is a great culture and team builder. When employees know the people they’re working with, chances are they are going to be more productive and like their jobs more.

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The Red Phone of Accountability

Sparkfun Rotary Phone 1
At the same car dealership with the exceptional waiting room, there were a series of “red phones” that customers could pick up to talk to the dealership’s owner.

Supposedly (these phones are promoted not only at the dealership, but in most of the dealership’s marketing materials), when a customer picks up the phone and dials 0 or whatever the appropriate number is, the call is routed to a phone that the owner of the dealership has on him at all times. I didn’t pick up the phone to test it out (next time I will), but the idea behind it is interesting.

Most obviously, the red phone provides the customers with a sense of accountability. Assuming that the red phone is actually a direct line to the owner and not a marketing gimmick, it has the potential to be very effective. Customers know that, if things go wrong, they can pick up that phone and talk to the guy with his name on the door. This provides customers with a sense of comfort because the phone serves as a valid course of action to any potential problems.

Besides comforting customers, the phone also makes employees work harder. Employees know customers can pick up the phone to talk to the owner as well, so chances are, they are going to work hard to avoid that. No employee wants a customer utilizing a special medium to call up their boss (and in most cases I imagine, their boss’s boss) and complain about a negative experience. When employees know the phone isn’t a gimmick, it serves as a reminder that extra help is always available to customers. Employees should also be encouraged to use the phone as a quick way to get in touch with managers when they want to go above and beyond.

Keep in mind that your company doesn’t necessarily have to use a red phone; you can just as easily use an “elevate to manager” button built into your help desk or phone system. Neither the tool nor the process need to be elaborate at any great extent. For it to work, though, companies must follow through on whatever the elevation system is promising to do (connect the phone call to the owner, elevate the ticket to a manager, etc.). If the company doesn’t follow through, not only is the time and effort put into the elevation system worthless, it undermines the company’s brand and is disrespectful to customers.

The phone, and systems like it, provide a public system of accountability to everyone – customers and employees. When the system is used effectively, it can truly help to improve the customer service experience.

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