* You are viewing the archive for July, 2010. View the rest of the archives.

Advantages of using customer loyalty programs

Vendor in Farmer's Market - Portland ORI was just at Petco to buy dog food, and the cashier asked me if I wanted to join their customer loyalty program. All it took was my phone number and email address, and I would earn money back on all of my purchases. Since I am the companion to a few dogs and two horses, it’s a win, win for me. Why does Petco do it? They know I am choosing Petco over the grocery store for my dog supplies now, and with the money back program, horse supplies are less expensive, easier to find in the store, and more convenient to shop.

Customer loyalty programs are showing up everywhere. It used to be only big companies like Starbucks or Best Buy who offered the programs, but if you have a company that provides excellent customer service experiences, these loyalty programs can keep existing customers, build loyalty, and increase new customers even in a recession. In addition these programs can provide a great measuring tool. In other words, the loyalty program shows customers how deeply respected they are, while at the same time, the company is able to track, and identify customer habits such as spending, behaviors, and trends.

Small businesses should not get scared that implementing a customer loyalty program could be too expensive. If it costs five times as much to find a new customer when you lose an old one, then reward programs are indeed worth every penny spent. So how do you go about having one? Here are a few examples:

  • Membership programs provides special incentives. (Costco)
  • Rewards programs gives you gifts, perks, or cash back depending on how many points you have “earned” by the amount of business you do.
  • Community programs offer charity sponsorships, demonstrations, and emergency charity drives.

Before you embark on these new programs, make sure you have instituted the basics which will ensure success of your loyalty program. Customers need a reason to be loyal, and that begins with integrity. All program benefits should be disclosed prominently on your website so members know if there are any restrictions. The quickest way to lose a customer and have that loyalty card wind up in someone’s junk drawer is to have too many exceptions, which should relate to clear customer communication. It’s so easy to communicate with someone once you have their email address, and doing it through newsletters, and promotional updates provide an interesting and upbeat way to stay in touch with all of your loyal customers. Make sure the redemption options are kept relevant and attractive, and when one of your loyalty customers calls or emails your company, make sure that your employees are able to respond and act accordingly. Empower all of your employees with knowledge and the ability to resolve issues immediately.

photo credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Home builders providing better customer service

Homearama 2009According to a JD Powers customer satisfaction survey, Canadian home builders last year have been more attentive to the needs of their buyers. Now that the demand for new homes has decreased, buyers have benefited because builders have more time to ensure quality and want to build brand loyalty.

According to the 2010 survey in the Greater Toronto Area, 20% of new home buyers received a defect-free home as compared to the previous year when only 8% of the buyers were satisfied their new homes were perfect. Builders want to salvage new home sales, and although they try very hard to keep the prices consistent with homes that have already sold,  builders are offering buyer incentives that are luring new buyers away from the complicated short sales and a seemingly endless wait for the bank sales to be completed. Instead builders are now coming in with their checklists, and making sure that every complaint is addressed, hoping to motivate more buyers once the word gets out about the exemplary product delivered at closing.

JD Powers has been known primarily for their automotive research, but now looks to housing as another major purchase that consumers research extensively.

In the United States, builders are getting busy again and are also luring new buyers with incentives and promises of better products. With the work force and supplies less expensive now because of the economic downfall, Americans buyers have also benefited with thousands of dollars of extra options at no cost and an improved product because the builders have more time to finish the detail work.

Although there are no statistics available in my community built by Toll Brothers, their two-step pre-settlement inspection was designed to provide customer satisfaction with a 360 item checklist as a guide. The following week all repairs on the checklist were to be done by the builder. When our home was built during 2002, the market was booming, and the customer service we received was mediocre at the best. For new buyers moving into our community, although no surveys have been done, word of mouth at social functions indicate Toll Brothers now to be much more attentive to defects and warranty claims.

Let’s just hope the new awareness with improved customer service will continue with builders. It could even be a plus for the still staggering housing market.

photo credit: merfam

How organizations become customer-centric

A special message from Jorgan teucH, CXO of Aweall Corp.The best way to become customer-centric is to prioritize the value of your customer. It’s not just about what you sell, your marketing strategies or even the value of your products or services. To be profitable and successful, the focus goes beyond the obvious, and filters down to the manufacturers, the product designs, how the merchandise is supplied, and eventually down to the cost of manufacturing.

There’s a plethora of “buzz” words out here to describe true customer engagement; some prefer the use of customer-centric, customer experience management, customer profitability or even customer value, but the bottom line, no matter what your description, is to place the customer needs in front.

Some companies believe that customer-centric only applies to service industries and only for those service representatives who directly have contact with consumers. Some companies are even convinced that high scores on customer service surveys are true evaluators of a customer-centric organization, but that is not necessarily true. Actually a successful customer-centric organization has figured out how to prioritize cost and quality to a customer, but also works with every other aspect of the seemingly endless process of manufacturing and delivery to assure the maximum service to someone with the least amount of disappointment.

Let’s use the example of Zappos since few of us can argue that this customer-centric organization doesn’t present an exemplary experience for their customers. This high volume organization uses customer service agents who have had extensive training and can inform, delight, and deliver that “wow” experience both online or by telephone. The price of their merchandise meets the competition, and customers know they are receiving value, and the latest trends, all of which are carefully monitored. Customers can track the quick and reliable delivery. In today’s world of social media and especially Twitter, delivery woes can play havoc on a branded image. Even the condition how merchandise arrives makes a profound influence on customer satisfaction, which again filters down to the high standards of the distribution chain of Zappos.

At Zappos the customer is always the focal point, and their technology creates convenient online ordering, and there are few contingencies to preclude any customer from returning, for free, merchandise that doesn’t fulfill their expectation. Combine that with a social web of team members who filter complaints, questions, and compliments, the company provides a stellar example of prioritizing the value of their customers.

photo credit: Torley

Hospitals need better customer service to help patients

Medic One unit at hospital, 1973An appendicitis attack landed my friend Linda in the hospital a few months ago. We had been riding our horses, and she kept complaining of abdominal pains, so I ended up driving her to the hospital and staying with her until she was admitted and her family arrived. While waiting with her, it was pretty hard not to notice the long lines, the uninformed staff, the costs, the lack of security, and even the lack of respect toward patients by certain hospital personnel.

Shouldn’t hospitals provide customer service? After all, Linda’s two-day stay for the removal of her appendix cost $78,236.40. “I  almost had a heart attack,” laughed Linda when she saw the bill. “I know I went in as an emergency, but really – $39,000 a day?” So Linda had to fight her way through the very confusing maze of hospital billing services, billing codes, insurance language, and way too few customer service representatives.

Linda does have experience in the medical profession, so her task was not as monumental than perhaps for the rest of us who might not have figured out how to read the bills, what insurance companies don’t cover, and even recognize some of the ridiculous fees that can show up on one’s bill. As an example, Linda was charged $66 for the water recovery system in her room. That was the plastic pitcher and one plastic cup!

In 1998, the US Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry adopted the Patient’s Bill of Rights. It has three major goals, and for the first time provided patients with some level of customer service. The law intended to help patients feel more comfortable in the US health care system. It stresses the importance of a strong relationship between patients and health care providers. Finally, it explains to the patient how to protect their health and their rights, and this last section also applies to insurance plans.

It is unfortunate that medical expenses used to account for the most bankruptcies among Americans. (Now it is replaced by the mortgage failures and the economic downfall.) Patients and their families need not throw up their hands however, but can follow some of the basic principles once they finally do connect with a customer service representative.

Hospitals need to reconsider their role in customer service, and patients need to be related to as customers. There needs to be a liaison between patients and hospitals. Top executive officers and administrative staff need to work together to bring courtesy, efficiency, experience, service, and the best possible product to offer patients. Hospitals need to cultivate patient loyalty and patient satisfaction – no different from any business with a solid plan.

photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

How to use Twitter for customer service

@trib on @leolaporte twitterGreat customer service is active because you want to be sure your customers are aware of your presence. Twitter gets the word out there fast, so why not take advantage of this social media phenomenon? Ask users to follow you on Twitter by placing a button on your website and getting involved.

Twitter employs a relaxed conversational platform. For instance, if someone complains or asks for help, you can reply to them immediately. In a few words, an unhappy customer can get right to the point, and you then have the opportunity to resolve the problem in a single tweet. If the issue becomes more complex, you can have a deeper conversation, but you also can have the option to supply the customer with another means of contacting you so that you may deal with the problem immediately, and isn’t that exactly what customer service strives to do?

Twitter can help you build a positive brand image because great customer service gets the “buzz” which leads to more customers through the attention. There have been many happy customer stories that have led to international news starting from a mere tweet. You can track conversations and see what others are saying about your brand by using keywords. It’s a great way to build your image, but remember honesty and transparency are key factors. It is very easy for customers to research your company, and if you don’t provide what you promise or don’t tell customers the truth, Twitter can have a negative impact on your business.

Twitter can save you money on customer service. It requires less time and less money than traditional call centers. Since Twitter is so precise, there is less time involved solving customer problems. Of course you can’t eliminate entire customer service departments, but how many times have customers called in with questions or issues that could have been happily solved in 140 characters?

A lot of companies use Twitter to promote their businesses almost daily. Starbucks posts new offers and participates in discussions. JetBlue promotes Twitter based customer service and names the representative. Even Home Depot Twitters customers offering home repair and decorating advice.

Twitter works; it’s popular, and it’s free!

photo credit: dnwallace

Facebook scores low on customer satisfaction

Potstickers != wierdoThe American Customer Satisfaction Index conducted by ForeSee Results ranked Facebook with a 64 based on a 100 point scale for customer satisfaction. This is the first time that ACSI, a national economic indicator of customer satisfaction has ranked social media sites. Google came in with an 80 score, Wikipedia scored 77, YouTube scored 73, and MySpace came in at 63.

So putting these scores into perspective, Facebook ranked lower than IRS e-file, airlines and cable companies. They averaged a 66.

Facebook has had their share of problems this year. After the Instant Personalization opt-out, Facebook members tried to organize a protest for everyone to leave the social media site on May 31. That never happened because too many people think of Facebook as part of their social lives.

There were other factors that affected customer dissatisfaction with Facebook. Too many policy changes to the site resulted in a lot of confusion and turmoil. There have been many complaints about too much advertising and the privacy issues; even though the mass exodus never happened, the overall satisfaction dropped drastically. Still people are willing to put up with the lousy customer service because there is no strong competition, and it’s an extremely popular social site.

I did refer to the Customer Satisfaction page on Facebook, and with 290 people signed up, the site stated:

“Our goal is to make this Community Page the best collection of shared knowledge on this topic. If you have a passion for Customer satisfaction, sign up and we’ll let you know when we’re ready for your help. You can also get us started by suggesting the Official Facebook Page.”

Stay tuned for founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s interview with Diane Sawyer this evening.

photo credit: ralphhogaboom

What makes some companies stand out?

SuccessI don’t think there is a magic formula, specific software, or a fancy marketing plan that can make a customer like a particular company. I just think companies like Zappos.com, Barnes and Noble, and Apple have figured out what customers like and have adopted the customer-centric culture where everyone in the company understands what customers expect.

Let’s start with how and why customers find us, and let’s assume a potential customer hears about a specific product from a friend, relative, or the internet. Most likely the search starts online, and the consumer searches for a particular vendor. Buyers may look at social media reviews, and then proceed to look for online promotions and sales. If your store fits the criteria, carries the merchandise, and can be competitively priced, the purchaser may show up at your brick and mortar store to make the purchase in person.

So how do you keep this customer coming back to you? Even successful companies struggle in this economy, but those who look at things from the customer point of view and make decisions accordingly seem to have the upper hand and the most business. Top performers have customer service agents who use positive language. “I can certainly help you with this,”  is a far better statement than, “I will find my manager to try and help you.” Even with a complaint looming, a statement such as, “We certainly value you as a customer,” is much more positive than, “It’s not our policy to make returns on sale items.”

Customer feedback and information need to be widely available. (VOC – Voice of the Customer) Customers need to be able to lodge complaints because that can make a profound difference in solving future problems. For instance, if enough people complain about checking account fees added on balances of less than $500, there’s a chance for a bank to solve the problem and dispense with the fee. Customer service representatives need to be listening as customers lodge the complaints, and instructing agents not to type until the customer is finished can help agents listen more effectively.

A company can not always solve all of their problems at once, but being able to prioritize and design an action plan can benefit customer expectations. Everyone in the company needs to concentrate on specific tasks and have a plan. It’s no coincidence that top companies continue to make constant commitments to excellence, and share those commitments with their employees while carefully scrutinizing the latest innovations, economic, and social trends.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney

Turning Castor Oil into Champagne

Castor Oil: “A foul tasting oil used in the 1950’s to cure whatever ailment a kid claimed he had that would keep him from having to get on the early morning school bus.”

My mother believed castor oil was a miracle cure. From a stomach ache to sore legs to ringing ears, a spoon full of castor oil was the “all-purpose” answer to almost any malady. But, she added a small twist. Before she directed me to, “Open your mouth,” she would ask: “What is the best tasting thing you have ever eaten?” For me, it was wild blueberries. “Now, think about that great taste.” Thinking about those blueberries never altered the taste, but it surely made the castor oil go down easier.

All customers face occasional “foul tasting” aspects of getting service. Airlines have canceled flights; doctors have emergencies that leave you stranded forever in the reception area; hotels have room keys that occasionally don’t work; and, popular restaurants have longer than normal waits at peak times. Smart service providers find ways to “turn castor oil into champagne” by managing their customers’ experiences to “think about blueberries.”

When we exited the Hertz courtesy van at the Hartford airport, the strong below-freezing winter wind bit hard. But, the Hertz attendant had a warm smile and an eager-to-help attitude. “This is way too cold!” one of us commented. She almost giggled. “Now, you guys know in Hartford, we do weather as entertainment!” Ten miles down the road we were still laughing at her unexpected champagne comment. What can you do to make service maladies seem more pleasant to your customers?

Next Page »