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Customer service gone bad

It’s hard to tell if you’re losing business because of the economy or doing something wrong. Competition is so keen now, what once may have just been mildly annoying is now the reason your competition has claimed some of your customers. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the management support, training and motivation of your workforce. I’ve compiled a short list of the most annoying habits of customer service personnel which is  almost guaranteed to have your customers running to your competition. Any of these sound familiar?

  • Chewing gum. Can you think of anything more annoying than listening to someone chewing gum over the phone when they are talking to you? In person, I can’t seem to concentrate on what the representative is telling me because the movement of her jaw and the snapping sounds distract me too much.
  • Phone texting. Does a customer service representative think that I don’t notice how he is texting someone while dealing with my problem? As I am signing my name and filling out a store form for my refund, the person behind the desk is sending his girlfriend flowers from his Iphone.
  • Multiple phone transfers. I had a problem with a generator and called the toll-free number. Not only was I met by too many numbers to push for more extensions than I could count, but each time I had to repeat the story of my generator and why I wanted a refund due to a manufacturing error. Last I counted, I told the same story six times.
  • Lying customer service representatives. Do they lie because they just don’t care or don’t know the answer? The last representative told me the refund would be in the mail the same day. Six weeks later I still did not receive the refund or an explanation.
  • Key personnel missing. I look up the manager or key person who can help me with my customer problem, and leave numerous messages asking for a return call. He is always in meetings, traveling or having a family emergency.
  • New person on the job. New customer service representatives should have a trainer if the new person is a rank amateur, and that would save me tapping my foot on the floor waiting for the representative to go back and forth trying to solve my problem. Now if there was a trainer next to the newbie, I could have been on my way, happier and the problem likely would have been rectified before I tapped a hole into the floor.

Basically, even if the customer doesn’t realize customer service means more than refunds, exchanges, or a polite greeting, doesn’t it come down to the little things that make the biggest differences?

photo credit: Dan Zen

Make Service Your Nature

Canoes at the LakeThe economic recovery is on its way according to the animals around my house. And, they seem to be trying to let me know. I recall how my childhood dog got under the back porch steps if there was a storm coming. And, if she paced around a lot and whimpered, you could count on rain. She was never wrong. Nature seems to know the future.

Two years ago I caught a quick glimpse of a red fox in the woods near my place. Last year it crossed the road in front of my car. But, this week? The fox sat right near the road and watched me drive by. I was impressed by its courage and wondered it was giving me a sign.

Last week someone ran over a snake crossing the highway. When I passed by there were four crows standing near the snake sensing his inevitable demise. But, the snake was coiling and striking at the crows as if to say, “I’m not giving up.” I was impressed with its tenacity. A sign?

A barn swallow built its nest on top of a column at the corner of my house. It was well-protected from everything except the down spout of the gutter. One big rain and the little ones would be floating away. But, the swallow seem unconcerned. The baby birds hatched and completed flight school before the next big rain. What optimism!

Three signs do not a prophesy make. But, my dog was never wrong. Nature not only is a fortune-teller but a mentor as well, outlining the recipe for customer service in worrisome times.

Give your customers your best confidence. Spend extra time learning more than you need to know to serve your customers at the level of excellence. Famous speakers will tell you that the secret to concrete confidence on the stage is solid preparation. It is the same with great customer service. Plan for hiccups so when they occur (as they inevitably will), you will immediately know what to do and how to do it. When customers witness your confidence, it becomes infectious — they gain solace and calm even in a context of anxiety.

Show customers your most impressive tenacity. You grew up hearing the line, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The message is not about some macho brute strength, it is about a stick-to-it-tive-ness. The tortoise won the race not because he was the quickest, but because it never gave up. The Road Runner always leaves Wile E. Coyote in the dust, not because the Road Runner has greater speed, but because he is more agile, more nimble, and not threatened by the myopic, obsessed coyote. Customers will hang in there during adversary times if they know you are there to adaptively go the distance with them.

Deliver to customers your warmest optimism. Optimists are not naive Pollyanna’s who blindly ignore reality in exchange for some fantasyland view of the world. Optimists instead use their positive hopefulness to call up a bright spirit of courage. They assume the best and are rarely disappointed. Their sense of cheerfulness releases endorphins which arm them with an edge important in staving off those spirit leeches bent on robbing all around them of confidence and faith. Customers are attracted to the light of optimism and will hook their hopes on service providers with a vision of possibility and a plan for distinction.

I live on a large lake. And, I just saw a great big bass jump straight up out of the water. A sign? Not likely. Not all of nature’s actions are prophesies. I think this one might be a cue for me to get my fishing pole and get back to nature! Make service your nature and give your customers hopeful signs of a brighter future.

Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty consultant and the author (with John R. Patterson) of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. He can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: michaelnpatterson

Leave competition behind with excellent customer service

If you have ever been overwhelmed in the wine section of a store and not have the slightest idea of what to buy, you certainly are not alone. I wanted to purchase a good bottle of wine for a business contact who had helped me on a project, and I was fortunate enough to find a store with exceptional service. – so much that I would be remiss not to recount my experience because this store just blew away every other liquor and wine store in the area. The name of the store is Total Wine  Spirits, Beer & More. There are over 60 stores nationwide.

Their wine team is trained and compassionate about wine, and  even before someone is hired, the employee already has a working knowledge of different wines. The team members undergo an initial training program consisting of 150 hours of instruction and while working continue their education with seminars, weekly wine tastings, and company sponsored incentive trips to wine growing regions. The staff is easy to spot; they all wear white shirts. The most experienced sales people are promoted to the prestigious Total Wine Professional and are capable of answering the most challenging questions about the store’s comprehensive wine inventory.

I knew my business contact enjoyed Cabernet Sauvignon, and with a choice of over 1100 selections where should a person begin? Problem solved when a sales representative took his time to explain to me about some of  Napa’s most consistent producers of great Cabernets. He explained wines to me ranging from $5.97 Fetzer Valley Oaks-Cabernet to a bottle of Opus One 2006 priced at $189.99. Somewhere in the middle I finally made my selection of Heitz-Cabernet Napa for $43.99.

My experience didn’t end there, either. The store offers wine education classes where consumers can learn about wine, wine producers and wine making techniques. Every week there is a wine tasting bar to sample wines from all over the world. I picked up store publications entitled “Guide to Wine,” “Wine Advisor” and a practical wine buying guide so the next time I need to purchase a bottle of wine, I will have a working knowledge of what I may want to buy, but no worries, since every person on the staff seemed just as cordial and knowledgeable as the representative helping me.

The store guarantees lowest and competitive prices. Besides wine, the store sells spirits and beer. I can’t even imagine shopping at any other store for wine again. Now that’s customer service that left all the competition behind.

photo credit: quinn.anya

No customer service for loan modifications

In 2004, Missy and Keith paid $450,000 for their home, but by 2009, their home was only worth $275,000. Their mortgage was $400,000. Missy lost her job at a local nonprofit, and Keith’s sales job as a luxury boat salesman pretty much hit bottom. They were no longer able to keep making their high mortgage payments and applied to Bank of America for a loan modification. It took over five months with Bank of America for the modification, and when Missy and Keith finally received it, their payments went down to half of what the original amount was, but only temporarily. Just a few months later, the bank changed their mind. Keith and Missy tried, to no avail to speak with the bank about the reversal, but the bank refused to make any changes, and as every month passes by, Missy and Keith’s credit gets worse and worse.

The government is pushing lenders to lower mortgages so borrowers don’t have to lose their homes, but the biggest complaint from Missy and Keith and countless others is the unprecedented amount of paperwork, unexplained rejections, rude personnel, and unreturned phone  calls. Lenders aren’t approving applications as originally anticipated. Less than 4% of the nation’s applicants under the government foreclosure prevention program have received help. Bank of America is one of the leading institutions lagging behind.

Under HAMP, which is Making Homes Affordable with loan modifications, there is a three month trial before the lesser loan becomes permanent, and stories like what happened to Missy and Keith are becoming more common. Under the new rules beginning June 1, 2010, the government is taking another step to make banks more accountable to the never ending complaints of the troubled homeowners by making it mandatory for mortgage companies to collect borrower’s official documents as part of the initial process. That will at least eliminate the excuse about losing paperwork. Now what can the government do about rude bank representatives?

The banks don’t really want to foreclose on all of these homes, and there are millions of home owners who would rather qualify for the modification than walk away. Perhaps it is time for the banks to hire more personnel, train representatives to be more efficient as well as  teaching employees some basic principles of customer service.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks

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