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Employee satisfaction a key to exemplary customer service

A motivated workplace helps all of us do our jobs better. Employees recommend us to prospective customers; they are commonly at the front lines, and the success of most organizations are based on employee loyalty and dedication. From self-awareness, employees can nurture customer satisfaction. Unfortunately we all know that bad employees cost us money, time and lost customers, so as we improve employee satisfaction and a lifetime of loyalty, we are improving everything about our customer service.

Taking a look at what actions result in long-term employee satisfaction besides the most obvious of wages and benefits, employees like to be recognized and rewarded when they go beyond what is expected. It’s the ideal employee we have read about at the Ritz Carlton that reminds us of the “Wow” factor that is admired by all of us.

So how do you do this? Consider some employee opportunities that reward achievement. Seniority and personal achievements should always be recognized. When an employee reaches a five, ten, twenty year or more milestone in the company, or has achieved additional certification or education, special recognition is appropriate. Depending on the company policy, budget or protocol, definitive rewards keep employees striving towards the next level.

Employees should be able to voice their opinions and concerns to management without the threat of repercussions. If an employee perceives something in the company policy or required protocol when dealing with customers isn’t working, someone in management should deal with the problem before it becomes a major issue. If an employee perceives something is wrong, that is their reality.

Even though it is a competitive job market right now, it isn’t always going to be like this, and for those employees who do exemplary jobs, perhaps some measures of appreciation can go a long way. In most companies, human resources can work out flexible schedules and work hours to accommodate employees. In the summertime when children are out of school, working flexible hours can make a major impression on a working mother and encourage loyalty. Some companies rotate Fridays off for employees in the summer (when it is not a seasonal business).

Work with employees who want to work on their career advancement. The motivation of knowing that tomorrow will bring new opportunities to employees motivate personnel to strive to be the best they can. In the service industry the employee is the face of your business. You want your staff to be positive when recommending your company and working with customers. Realize the importance of your employee investment and always help each person strive for excellence.

photo credit: liber

Accountability in customer service

Accountability in customer service is our ability to account for our business actions and decisions. It is our willingness to show our customers that we really do care about them, and carry with this an unspoken pledge to respond to a customer’s request for information or help.

Let’s  assume that employees want to do their best when hired, however a company’s ability to create a culture where people are accountable is a daunting task. Without accountability our customer service winds up with the grim consequences of empty promises, excuses and blaming others; most likely the customers.  Compare it to being a parent; we help our children through guidance and education to become accountable for their  own actions.

In order to create this culture, we then need to think about encouraging and rewarding people for being accountable. We need to nurture different opinions, respect each others points of view and have open communications where people are not afraid to present their opinions. Our front line staff so often sees life as it really is, and can provide informative insights into customer needs.

We also need to develop levels of trust for our customer service representatives. People have to be able to make independent decisions, however these decisions can be based on a team spirit that shares information, and provides feedback for continual improvement. Isn’t it up to team leaders and managers to supply the platforms that the customer service representatives can use as models, but still think independently for exemplary customer service?

Learning is the key to acquiring the skills, but working in a supportive environment helps each employee practice and hone their skills. We can never act as if there is a ” one size fits all” or that we have all the answers. Discovering new ideas mean fresh outlooks and makes room for expansion.

Finally the willingness to admit mistakes, and allowing others to make mistakes without chastising them can improve accountability. We don’t want the customers to suffer because one of our staff has made a mistake and is afraid to admit it; we want to be supportive of that staff member and not throw him under the bus, but educate him how to solve the problem and build a sense of responsibility.

photo credit: Grégory Tonon

Airlines customer satisfaction showing improvement

Airlines continue to test our patience and tolerance with new fees. How does a summer surcharge ranging from $10 to $30 sound? According to frequent flier Erika Atkins, “I get pretty frustrated when I think I have found a great deal for a flight, and then I see all of these hidden fees.” And Erika is not alone since more than half of Americans have a summer trip planned, and the airlines hope to capitalize by the flurry of travelers.

Yet despite the complaints, customer satisfaction in the airlines industry has noticeably improved according to JD Power and Associates, a California-based research firm.  Customer service for the past three years had significantly been on the decline, but based on a 1,000 point scale, ten of the twelve airlines improved their scores. Continental and Alaska Airlines topped the Traditional Network Carrier Segment, and Jet Blue Airways and Southwest Airlines ranked highest among the Low Cost Carrier Segment. Airline assessments were based on seven averages including flight crew, in flight services, and costs and fees.

According to Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of global traffic and hospitality for JD Power and Associates,  “Airlines generally compete based on costs and fees which is necessary to make their organizations stronger in an extremely difficult environment. It’s important for carriers to remember, however that building a base of committed passengers is also about creating a travel experience that fosters emotional attachment to a particular carrier, which in turn may make customers willing to flex their schedules or pay a little more for their flight.”

United Airlines has made efforts to improve their operations and have been working on their on-time departures. Their  overall score increased by 26 points. Most think it is too early to tell if the higher scores are going to signal a turnaround for an industry known for their poor customer service. Factoring in rising airfares, crowded planes and the future merger of United and Continental, customers are hesitant to predict airlines will ever satisfy consumer expectations.

Was the survey influenced by last year’s reduced rates because of the economy? Yes, there were fewer complaints about luggage being lost or damaged, but haven’t passengers become accustomed to flying with less luggage because of the additional baggage fees? Indeed security lines are now less crowded, but haven’t passengers learned how to go through security lines; we pull out our laptops, don’t pack liquids, use plastic bags for allowed toiletries, etc.? The lines move a lot faster now. How will the polls rate Continental’s in-flight free food service being phased out next year if we fly economy class? Right now 65% of travelers rate complimentary meals as the top in-flight amenity they most like to have included.

Next year’s surveys should be even more interesting.

photo credit: joanna8555

Will customers pay extra for superior customer service?

According to BIGresearch, a Ohio based online market researcher, customers will pay for good service ahead of price if given the chance. Superior customer service attracts and keeps customers, and can actually be the impetus behind a consumer driving farther for a product if the company makes it worth their while.

So how many customer service faux pas’ can you make before a customer drives off to your competition? Think of it as a baseball game – three strikes and you’re out. According to their online survey, 17% will leave you after a single service mess up; 40% will leave you after two blunders and 28% will leave after the third mistake. That adds up to an overwhelming 85% of your business for poor customer service.

Customers want knowledgeable assistance when they want it, and they place a high value on accurate information. Some  of the most annoying comments ever uttered by a sales representative are, “It’s not my job,” or “If we had it, it would be out here on display.” Consumers want to be served by employees who know their product, and in the circumstance when a product is no longer available, the customer representative will have a solution and know where to find the product or one to replace it.

Consumers want to deal with friendly  and courteous people. An “I don’t know” response from a sales person doesn’t instill product knowledge nor does it hint at respect.

As to the price factor, consumers are looking for good value, so if your prices are completely out of the range of reasonable as compared to your competition, great customer service is still not going to motivate people to pay a lot more for the same product, but in the word ” value” is the chance for service. The follow-up and the method you service your customers will make the profound difference. Unhappy consumers don’t want to hear, “we’re doing our best.” They want their problem solved, and they want you to solve it.

Your customers want convenience when they shop, and they want you to make everything organized, attractive and easy to find what they need. No one wants to hear “I’ll have to check if we have it.” The knowledgeable sales representative knows their inventory, knows where everything is located and can immediately direct the customer to the product they are seeking to purchase.

And when it is time for the customer to check out, make sure the check out lines are well-tended and a customer doesn’t have to wait long. How many times have you had to wait what seems like forever to check out the product; you just want to pay for it and leave. Hopefully with the great customer service you just received, you’ll come back!

photo credit: leozaza

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in Customer Service

The military service practice of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” has an interesting message for customer service practice. If you don’t ask customers for their feedback, they won’t tell you how to improve. Ignoring their issues may reduce the conflict, but it also reduces the learning. And, today those customers with a problem will steal away in the night without warning. Why do organizations fail to solicit feedback in a meaningful way? Most fear the customer’s ire if that Pandora’s Box is opened – better to leave well enough alone.

The truth is that simply asking has a big impact on the customer’s perception that an organization cares, even if nothing changes. Granted, continually asking for feedback without change that customers notice will ultimately erode their trust. Customers know you are not perfect and do not expect you to be. But, they do expect you to care.

One organization sent out feedback postcards to randomly selected customers. When the cards were returned, the company filed them away with reading them. The next time that company did a customer survey, the customers who had received feedback postcards gave the company higher customer satisfaction scores than those who did not receive a postcard! What are you doing to make it easier for customers to register their feedback? What steps can you take to enable your front line employees to ASK in manner that encourages customers to TELL?

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. They can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

Book Review: Exceeding Customer Expectations

I just finished reading Kirk Kazanjian’s book Exceeding Customer Expectations which follows the humble beginnings of the 50 year old Enterprise Rent-A-Car business, which has grown into the largest and most profitable rental car company in North America. Jack Taylor, the corporate patriarch began his business in the basement of a Missouri Cadillac dealership, focusing on the common sense business decision to treat customers and employees very well. That teamwork eventually evolved into a company boasting 62,000 support personnel, 7,000 branches, and 800,000 vehicles.

With a constant emphasis on customer service, Kazanjian reveals the simple philosophy of Taylor’s approach to customer service. “Take care of your customers and employees first, and the profits will follow.” The “Founding Values” which could be adopted by all companies emphasized:

– Protecting your brand
– Let it be a fun and friendly place to work
– Make sure you have teamwork
– Reward hard work
– Help your own community

    Taylor knew to be successful a business had to stand out from the crowd, and to make his business different from other car rental places, the trademark slogan was born, “Pick Enterprise. We’ll Pick You Up.”

    The book emphasizes that satisfying customers is not complicated. Regularly surveying customers, but keeping questions targeted to one specific area could evaluate the company’s progress. Three questions pertaining to customer service became staples:

    1. How satisfied were you?
    2. What could we have done to improve our service?
    3. What do you think we do especially well?

    You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to handle problems promptly and appropriately. Included in the training were steps to turn angry customers around. Taylor assumed many customers when renting cars were on vacation, and he wanted people to remember their vacations with positive experiences. Employees were taught to listen with an understanding and sympathetic attitude and record or repeat back to the customer what had gone wrong. Employees were to apologize and find out what the customer wanted to make them feel better, and propose a solution. If the customer wasn’t satisfied with the representative’s solution, there would be more follow-up and to find a solution suggested by the customer that everyone could live with, with the final objective to make sure the customer never lost face.

    The Enterprise Way has been a cautious company growing with limited risk. On some long term leases, when opening a new office, the company employs the “JCT” clause (after Jack Taylor) which allows the company to get out of its lease with 90 days notice and three additional rent payments, and although the economy has hit every business hard, Taylor’s philosophy remains timeless.

    Bottomline: The book clearly explains starting and managing a company with practical and useful advice aimed towards customer service and employee satisfaction. The author’s logical sequence keeps you interested and entertained.

    Pros: The rags to riches with a practical and humble approach is inspiring. We all enjoy reading true accounts of customer centered companies and their rise to success. The book provides practical information for customer service employees.

    Cons: The book was copyrighted in 2007, and some of what was written seems out of date now. I have noticed in my own experience that Enterprise offices have been run down with less than stellar customer service representatives.

    Interested: Exceeding Customer Expectations is available on Amazon.com for $16.47. You can buy it here.

    More customer service thank you notes

    Sending out thank you notes for either services or products give a company another chance to contact the customer. Any company that has spent time and money getting those customers, certainly wants to retain them, and the thank you notes are great ways to build solid relationships.

    Whenever writing thank you notes, be sure to be specific with your topic and never make it a sales pitch. Don’t thank customers as a group; this is your time to make it personal and win that person’s loyalty for the future. Make sure the note is well-timed, well-written and mailed immediately. If your handwriting is legible, a hand written note is very impressive to receive.

    Here are a few examples of thank you notes; one is for providing a service, and the other note is a thank you for purchasing a product. The notes are fairly simple; they are inexpensive and effective ways to provide the best of customer service.

    The first short thank you note is for a service you provided. Remember the note does not have to be long; in fact a short but sincere thank you is most desirable.

    Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones,

    We truly appreciate your business and are grateful for the trust you have placed in _______________. We were privileged to have the opportunity to serve you by _____________________________, and we greatly value your business.

    We look forward to continuing our relationship with you in the future, and should you have any suggestions how we can serve you better, please do not hesitate to drop us a note or call. Our commitment to providing you the best _________________is our primary goal.

    Very truly yours,

    The second short thank you is for a product a customer has recently purchased.

    Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones,

    Thank you for choosing __________________________. Our  continued commitment lies in the complete satisfaction of each and every product we sell. Should you have a need for another ______________ please do not hesitate to call us again.

    Our success lies in our prompt, professional and personal attention we strive to give.  Should you have any suggestions that would improve our business, please feel free to contact us.

    Sincerely,

    It is not inappropriate to ask for referrals as long as you don’t give the impression you are trying to sell something or attempting to use the thank you note as a sales pitch, but if customers or clients are very happy with your products and services, go right ahead. See more sample thank you notes here.

    photo credit: Patrick Hoesly

    Promotional products say thank you to your customers

    Everybody loves free stuff. No matter how successful we are, the idea of getting something for nothing just has a way of promoting goodwill between businesses and customers. There doesn’t have to be a perfect time to use promotional products; sometimes when a customer least expects it, your business or service gets clearly noticed as opposed to sending out small gifts during the holiday season when they are easily overlooked.

    I see promotional items as a good marketing strategy, and a great way to say thank you to customers for their business, trust and confidence. The gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they should have a highly perceived value to the client because you are letting them know that your success is due to their patronage, and you are thinking about them. These gifts are good for recognizing your existing clients, but can also serve to bring in new customers.

    How about sending or giving out items season specific, perhaps during Thanksgiving, beginning of summer,  or even back to school?  Send a small promotional item on a customer’s birthday; it goes a long way when reinforcing loyalty. New Year’s calendars are popular gifts, but to make your calendar stand out, why not make it an appointment calendar? If your location is climate specific, winter time would be an excellent time to send out coffee travel mugs or sweatshirts; all with your logo. Summer season might call for towels and sun hats. Sports enthusiasts might appreciate items like golf balls, bench cushions, sweat towels; all can be personalized with your brand.

    Look for opportunities to get your company name and contact information out at all times, and while you are thanking your customers, your name is on their notepad, their pens, their mugs, water bottles and key rings. You can mail the products to your customers, or a cashier can give out a free product to each person. You can even send out coupons and require a customer come in and get personally thanked and then receive their free gift.

    And here is  one more suggestion to company owners that will ultimately help your customers and positively enhance the customer service experience. Don’t forget to thank your employees too. Customer service is a multifaceted approach, and when you use respectful behavior towards your employees and treat them with dignity and kindness, your employees will treat your customers the same way. Find small promotional gifts of appreciation for your employees; thank them for being loyal, and thank them for helping you to succeed.

    photo credit: RobeRt Vega

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