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Customer service outweighed price on JD Powers & Associates’ study

Flu Shot.JD Powers & Associates released the results of its annual national pharmacy study emphasizing customers’ cost issues. Of the 12,300 customers polled who had filled prescriptions during a three-month period prior to the survey, satisfaction was rated in chain stores, mass merchandising companies, supermarkets, and mail-order pharmacies. Ultimately the survey showed more savings in mail-order prescriptions, but customer service outweighed saving money.

Based on the study of consumers, highly satisfied customers generated $227.00 in additional prescription revenues. According to Jim Dougherty, director of the health care practice at JD Powers & Associates, “Customer service still trumps price even in an environment where cost has become increasingly important.”

Value comes in service, and customers talk about their great experiences and their bad experiences; they share with everyone and either way we are all traveling billboards which can make a huge impact on any local brick and mortar business. Since pharmacies can be critical to lives of people, reliability and availability counts. People most likely will choose a pharmacy close to where they live or work since no one wants to trek across town if they’re ill and need a prescription. Service hours are important; at least 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM and preferably be open similar hours on the weekends.

Consumers look for personal attention with insurance companies and co-payments; what’s included in my plan, or what’s not included. If a pharmacy accepts many different insurance companies, it’s more likely a consumer will have an easier time should their own insurance company change. Even Medicare Part D needs to be interpreted at times with a knowledgeable customer service agent to figure out what plan works with what prescription. People with no insurance are just as concerned with customer service, since many pharmacies offer generic drugs at a very low price or offer price matching from one pharmacy to another. It’s not always obvious and well-advertised, so the personal attention approach is desirable.

With the strict adherence to HIPAA compliance (right to privacy act), private consultations can avoid those “embarrassing” prescriptions and a client gets a private consultation. Yes, it’s the friendly personal customer service people still choose when the pharmacy will call your insurance company or your doctor to clarify questions or dosage. Customers like to know the name of at least one pharmacist they deal with and can comfortably ask a pharmacist health questions without having to call their physicians.

photo credit: paulswansen

Inspirational customer satisfaction

National Public Lands Day 2010No one can deny that the 2010 business year hasn’t been challenging, and as we head into the last quarter, working to improve customer experiences can mean greater customer satisfaction which translates into earnings. Even in the affluent South Florida Palm Beach County area where I live, the increase in retail vacancies and the restaurants that have closed their doors impart a profound impression of only the strong shall survive.

What do successful businesses do to stay alive? I think they start with values. Customers are more selective and demanding, and expect companies to care about them. Assuming retail businesses sell the same products, have the same prices, and offer comparable customer service, who’s the victor? It’s the company who offers a little more and does it a little differently. As an example, there’s a local cafe that many of the area residents gather at in the morning. It’s the place like Cheers where everyone knows your name, but there’s at least three other local cafes that offer the same great customer service, recognition and friendliness, yet this one small restaurant leads the pack.

What does he do differently? Actually he does a few things quite differently, and  he uses innovative ideas to appeal to customers using the community, environment, and charities to expand his customer base and their loyalty. He is very active in local charities, and although he doesn’t give away the store, he steps up to the plate with his time. His exuberant personality attracts volunteers, and his sincerity and earnest smile makes him and his entire family irresistible. A few weeks ago one of his customers was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig disease; the cafe owner helped to cater (at a discount) the food during a fundraiser for his family. A month ago this same cafe owner was walking on the beach with me as we tried to save turtle eggs before an anticipated nor’easter.

It’s amazing the way he shows his customers how much he really cares, and often employs social media to build relationships, and engage new people to participate in many of these charitable events. Besides knowing that I sneeze when I pepper my eggs, he knows I am a devout animal advocate, and has left animal photos in his cafe that are in desperate need of finding new homes.

Customer satisfaction stretches beyond the boundaries of return policies, surveys, blogs, and contests. It engages us in helping others too; an honorable mission statement for all mankind.

photo credit: NashvilleCorps

Quality vs. quantity in customer service

Xceed Call centre in CairoProductivity and efficiency is what an organization wants from a customer service team. In a call center, there are super stars, top performers, middle of the road workers, and low performers. It becomes a finely honed combination of quantity and efficiency developed by knowledge of the product, understanding the needs of customers, training, and the support tools available to the customer service team.

In an example of the correlation between quality and quantity is an interesting story of a customer service representative who is very detailed oriented, amazing with customers, and received outstanding reviews from managers as well as customers, however she performed low in quantity; she spent too much time on each call. During her monthly review, the  customer representative defended her position stating quantity of calls should not be a reflection of her work and reminded her supervisor of her nearly spotless record. In addition,  the workload was becoming increasing more difficult, and she was feeling the pressure of the job affecting her personal and professional life.

So how was this issue addressed? Of quantity and efficiency, efficiency is part of quality. Since this team member only completed half as many calls as the rest of the team, it was time for some coaching. The team leader was able to help the representative with proven methods to cut call time by typing while listening, learning the call system better, and being able to employ more of the tools, answering questions quicker, and having a better knowledge of the company’s products.

Efficiently handling customer service calls doesn’t mean spending 25 minutes with one customer. Customers are much happier receiving the answers they need in three minutes, rather than ten minutes. Solving someone’s issues with courtesy, honesty and efficiency breeds quantity also.

While there is no disagreement that focusing on quality is number one in customer service, when employees are given the proper training, personal development, goal setting, and prioritizing tools, quantity closely follows.

photo credit: markhillary

Starbucks kicks customers out in New York storm

#112/365It’s an interesting question if Starbucks customer service promises flew out the door as eight customers were kicked out during a freak storm in Long Island last week. “It was like a monsoon,” stated Gregory Sullivan 46, a history professor at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point.

In a Manhasset store, lights went out during a freak storm. When the power in the store failed, the staff told the customers to leave. Customers were extremely upset since the weather was ghastly and dangerous. The story made headlines throughout the nation, and it brings up some interesting points. According to Starbucks website, the first line begins with, “We want you to enjoy your trip to Starbucks every time you visit the store.”  Their Code of Conduct states they “conduct business responsibly to benefit society.”

If a customer was injured in the store from slipping on the floor, or if a tree fell through the window, would Starbucks be responsible? It can become a liability issue for the store. Americans are known to be litigious; would have allowing the customers to stay in the store present a future law suit for the company?

On the other side of the coffee pot, did Starbucks intentionally put people in a potentially harmful situation by kicking them out of the store into a hazardous storm?  Shouldn’t any responsible business have at least a back-up generator for emergencies? We all know to take shelter, and wouldn’t it have been prudent to move tables around, push the customers away from windows, and thus have some protection from the storm? Some customers say it should have been the moral responsibility of the store to try to help anyone from being forced into an even more dangerous situation.

Starbucks sent out a memo to all of their employees shortly after the incident. It read:

Customers Impacted by Storm – NY Store 7246 Urgent: You may receive contacts regarding the closure of Manhasset, NY store 7246 due to heavy storm conditions. A blog has reported on the fact that customers were asked to leave when the store closed, but while the storm was still in force. If you receive calls from customers who were in the store, or those who read the blog regarding the closure, please handle per normal procedure – express empathy for any inconvenience experienced and reassure that their feedback will be forwarded immediately. Make sure to enter the caller’s name, phone number, and/or email address. After the contact, please email this information to Cate Sharkey at csharkey@starbucks.com immediately. Notate the case accordingly. Until further notice, there is no need to forward case notes to the DM and request follow-up through that channel. Please contact your supervisor if you have questions or need additional guidance.

Does customer service apply to a freakish situation like this? Should Starbucks have allowed the customers to remain in the store until the storm passed or were they justified telling patrons to leave?  What do you think?

photo credit: Kirstea

Use innovative ideas to convey customer service priorities to clients

Seated Woman Blogging, after Albert ReussAll businesses need to attract new customers, and ultimately customer service plays a profound part in the success of any modern-day enterprise. Assuming an organization has quality products, and they are reasonably priced, can we find different ways to market both our wares and our abilities?

Let’s look at some of the possibilities. A company can generate a monthly newsletter. Short articles can link to important events or news relating to your particular business. Newsletters can give business tips, helpful hints, and remind customers of products and services. Especially interesting to readers are customer comments and suggestions, and here presents the opportunity to create customer loyalty. How did your company accept suggestions, and what did you do to improve your services?

Good customers refer new customers, but everyone likes freebies. There’s hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t pop out over the internet or in snail mail offering something for nothing, but what stands apart? Make the freebie worthwhile; offer your loyal customers something substantial for a referral. After all, aren’t you profiting from that too?

In the real estate business, we frequently partner up with other businesses. At Keyes Company Realtors, we have several affiliates who provide excellent customer service and related services that enhance the “customer first” image the company strives to maintain. Be sure however, your recommendations have the same work ethics as your company since a poor affiliate can do more harm than good in the long run.

Where would I be if I didn’t recommend that organizations create a blog? It’s an interesting method of keeping up with the daily news and attracting search engines. The more meaningful blogs that can be generated, the more hits in your particular field you will attract. Update frequently, and include your products. And don’t forget to include issues you have resolved; people love humility and honesty.

Of course, we can’t forget to get involved with social media as in Facebook and Twitter. Having a web presence will give your customer the personal touch. On a recent assignment, I did an interview with a well-known trainer on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Just the connection with his Facebook page made a profound difference in the interview; it created that personal link – how a business wants a customer to feel about you.

photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Interview with Doria Camaraza from American Express – Part 3 of 4

This is part three of a four part interview with Doria Camaraza, the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fort Lauderdale Service Center for American Express.

In this part of the interview, we talk about how customer service ties in with the different types of American Express cards and how American Express approaches the important topics of empowerment and taking ownership of issues.

To read this part of the interview, click “read more” below. You can also read part one and part two of this interview if you haven’t already.

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Employing company vision in customer service training

Benny HillEvery company needs a motivational vision; what you want your company to ultimately become. Training customer service representatives to understand and value what the organization is seeking will provide that sense of purpose, enthusiasm, and commitment; it just requires a meaningful platform to be used in a successful training program.

Almost any company will state on a mission statement their commitment to excellent customer service, but how many of those organizations follow through on that campaign? The vision is fundamental, but many fall flat and never train their personnel to deliver. Engaging service visions captivate our realities and our imaginations. For instance, the Ritz Carlton’s “experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”  Those of us who have had the pleasure of staying at a Ritz Carlton most likely have experienced that monumental commitment to service.

Companies who truly motivate and engage their service representatives enable customers to actually hear the organization’s mission.  “Yes, that’s who they are,” customer Jane Doe says about a particular company with an engaging service vision. It’s different from the competition; it makes them stand out. “We’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple. We’ve aligned the entire organization around our mission: to provide the best customer service possible. Internally, we call this our WOW experience,” explains Zappos, one of the most successful customer service oriented businesses of today’s competitive market.

Successful businesses have created a mantra; the organization’s philosophy incorporated into their daily routines. This makes it easy and natural for everyone to remember and act upon accordingly. And to add to the customer representative training, is the support and knowledge of the front offices with the back offices and every office in between; it truly needs to be a company effort. In other words, everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction, and everyone helps to row.

Each business has their own style of service, and customer value should be crafted so the service vision addresses and satisfies the needs of the customers. An emergency medical care office will want to create a warm and inviting atmosphere with compassionate personnel while a hardware store’s customer service representative needs to have expert knowledge of merchandise and advice for the customer entering with a specific purpose. Some restaurants cater to expensive clientage while many customers want family oriented and reasonably priced. Keep in mind how each business needs to be different from their competition; what makes your business stand apart from the others?

photo credit: liber

Reward programs instrumental for customer loyalty

Smiling Girl with BracesConsumers are definitely making wiser purchases than they did years ago. Besides the taxing economy, there’s more ways to research prices, quality, and reward incentives. Companies try their best, or let’s at least hope so, to improve their products and keep their prices competitive. Companies present their websites attractively, user-friendly, and make sure it is easy to navigate.

Now it’s easy to get a one-time customer with fancy displays and attractive packaging. Even at the mall customer service representatives are smiling and extremely helpful. No matter where you look there are promotional advertising banners, huge sale signs, and buyer incentives.

Colloquy Inc., a company that presents customer loyalty solutions to businesses, surveyed and monitored customer use of loyalty rewards. They reported a significant increase in  the retail business of companies using redemption programs such as store gift cards and merchandise. From my own experience, I must admit that my wallet is full of loyalty cards ranging from CVS, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, to my American Express credit cards. I’m rewarded with free coffee, discounted cosmetics and shampoos, gift certificates for books, and upgrades to first class when I fly.

According to Colloquy’s survey, young adults ranging from 18 to 25 years of age are the top part of the population using reward programs. Many of these people are college students who admittedly need to make the most of each spent dollar, and represented the lowest income of people surveyed. The next most popular group using reward programs are women ranging in ages from 25 to 49; most women are the main shoppers in their families. Third place on the survey was from households that earn over $125,000 per year, thus indicating even those who are considered relatively affluent still find reward programs to have substantial benefits. The overwhelming majority of those surveyed (80.2%) found loyalty reward programs where they have the ability to redeem and collect rewards from a wide variety of merchants to be the most favorable of all incentives.

I have to admit that when I was at the mall yesterday, even though the selection of stores selling black dress slacks is infinite, I found myself in the store where I have a customer loyalty card. Just a few more purchases there, and I will be able to redeem it for something special that really caught my eye!

photo credit: PinkStock Photos!

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