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Impact of poor customer service in retail sales

*On the other side of the world, Meyer Stores are the largest department stores in the country, operating in over 65 locations across Australia selling all brands of clothing for women, men, and children as well as accessories, housewares, and electrical goods. According to The Australian, the company now plans to spend $100 million over the next four years to improve their customer service.

In a time when department stores all over the world have been losing substantial portions of their markets to specialty stores, new business models have become an overwhelming priority. Chief executive Bernie Brookes announced he has authorized the refurbishing of eight of the stores to include  profound improvements in the visual presentation, a new merchandising system, and the improvement of the level of customer service which will dramatically improve team members’ abilities to serve customers. The $100 million will be used to increase in-store staff by 10% annually over the next four years. Brookes also plans to equip 65 stores with 4,000 touch screen registers.

In the last few years, Meyer Department Stores have taken heavy criticism about their lack of customer service. In one example, a reporter told of shopping at the store in order to buy a new iPod. He couldn’t find any sales staff to help, and there was not one specialist available in the electronics department which consisted of televisions, computers, etc. When the shopper finally did find an iPod he wanted to purchase, there were no more in stock, and he was told the next order was not expected for another four weeks. Many similar criticisms of Meyer Department Stores were found on Google which also included a poor range of products, tired looking stores, next to zero customer service, and a demoralized staff. Also, customers complained most items were more expensive than other competing stores.

What Brookes is doing isn’t new, but he seems to be taking a more methodical approach and expects a five to ten percent growth for  2011 notwithstanding of course interest rates, unemployment, and the value of the Aussie dollar. Still his ideas bode well for a tarnished customer service reputation when he prescribes to the basic rules of providing good service and delivering the merchandise customers want. He also is putting an end to continuous discounting which he claims has conditioned consumers to become perpetual bargain hunters. While he agrees that analysts thought such discounting would stimulate the economy and buying habits, he feels that “specials” will be more effective and bring in more buyers.

For delivering quality merchandise, Brookes has been “maximizing returns with space optimization.” Simply stated if something is not selling, it’s out, and the floor space is given to something better. It’s more or less a judgment call, and higher profit margin products have been making their presentations. Brookes tells us that is what customers want. Adding one million extra staff hours to boost customer service experiences especially in women’s lingerie and shoe departments will cost $20 million.

On another level, Brookes has waged war on one of the most significant problems he has had in the store; that of shoplifting. He has now instituted  face recognition technology, closed circuit cameras, and a full staff of security guards.

Will it work? It will be interesting to observe, especially after the last comparison of Myer customer service was compared to  a Kmart level of customer service. Let’s see how companies rebuild tarnished reputations.

photo credit: Xhanatos

How live chats can help customer service

Creative Live! Cam working in LinuxCustomer service has traditionally been handled over the phone or by email, but now integrating live chat is giving customer service a face lift. It’s essentially free for customers and it provides a cheaper form of support since there is no need for expensive telephone equipment especially when dealing with global customers.

Connecting with live-chat in real-time is simple. There are two text boxes; one to type intended responses and another box to receive replies. What a great way to engage customers in conversation with timeliness and informality. There’s not even any worries about understanding agents with foreign accents. It’s an immediate solution, and there’s rarely “on hold” waiting time. Customers feel confident they are receiving immediate help, and someone is actually on-line helping them. Conversations are easily transferred from one department to the next when complications indicate management intervention, and an efficient customer service representative can handle more than one customer at a time. Supervisors can even use live-chat conversations in training sessions and easily oversee multiple live chats occurring at once.

Customers also find the convenience of the live chat widget embedded on a web page an immediate conduit to the organization. There’s no need to look around for a phone number or wait for an email to be answered and returned. The widget is right there, and a customer can ask that burning question the moment it pops into her mind. Who knows; just the thought of knowing that faux fur is the trimming on the collar of that dress instead of real fur, and given the chance to communicate the customer’s thoughts about a humane choice could cement the sale, and at the same time invite  customer loyalty.

There are many live chat software solutions available. A business can actually watch visitor activity in real-time to help deliver a higher level of customer service. Chat software can spot location, city, state and country of your visitors. It can show you the key words that bring visitors to your site. Subscriptions are available monthly or yearly, and some software companies are offering a pay-per-use plan.

photo credit: phylevn

Social Customer Service – A completely different animal?

I'm Watching YouFor the last 30 years, traditional customer service recruiting, training, core skills, and performance management have not changed dramatically. Service professionals and their management teams have been able to hone the delivery of customer needs through various channels. But are the same attributes that make a great traditional customer service representative applicable for Social Customer Service?

Traditional customer channels & attributes:

Channel: In Person

– 1 to 1+, Face to Face
– Visual presentation & interaction
– Immediate responses are critical
– Quality of written responses typically less important

Channel: Phone

  • 1 to 1 voice conversation
  • Improved with personal connection, tone important
  • Near immediate responses improve satisfaction

Channel: Email

  • 1 to 1 digital conversation
  • Persona driven by written word
  • Between 2-24 hrs is expected turn around time

Channel: Live Chat

  • 1 to 1 digital conversation
  • Typically a casual conversation, short responses, and grammar less critical
  • Immediate responses are critical

But are these the same attributes needed for superior social customer service? Let’s look at responsibilities and qualifications of a social customer service representative.

Responsibilities for “traditional” customer service representatives:

  • Monitor Constant Contact social media outlets/networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs) for customer service related inquiries, complaints, concerns
  • Organize customer service inquiries, concerns, and responses for record and reference track the types of questions that appear on social media outlets
  • Distribute and/or partner with various  internal resources to ensure social media generated issues are resolved and communicated
  • Partner with various internal (possibly external) resources to update customers on promotions, technical advancements, general content, issues or changes
  • Facilitate the Voice of the Customer (Social Media) to various internal departments and individuals to enhance the customer experience and product strategy

Qualifications for “traditional” customer service representatives:

  • Excellent writing and phone skills
  • Strong grasp of the structure, purpose, and tone of social networks
  • Ability to think quickly, and formulate responses within a short turnaround time
  • Ability to communicate on social networks in a professional, yet personable, way
  • Flexibility
  • Comfortable presenting organization’s values, positioning and persona potentially to the  entire social universe
  • Able to “Exercise Responsible Freedom” (See Chip Bell’s Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service)

But what about the last channel: social service? Here’s what social service looks like:

Channel: Social Service

  • 1 to many (possibly thousands or millions)
  • Persona dependent upon media type
  • Response dependent upon media type
  • Your response is now your brand

I think we are dealing with a completely different animal.  So if we are dealing with something different, what should we consider changing?

  • New job titles/roles/descriptions
  • Recruiting – should it need to be socially sourced?
  • On-board training – inclusion of marketing, product, service, HR
  • Core skill development
  • Career progression paths
  • Performance Management
  • Continuous education models

Since this is such a new arena, all comments and thoughts are very much appreciated.

Michael Pace is the Director of Customer Support for Constant Contact’s award winning Customer Support Department and on the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

photo credit: Sheffield Tiger

Listening to customer feedback through surveys

Eighth Day 40th Birthday PartySurveys are most efficient when they can be performed face to face with a customer because one question seems to always lead to another question. What the respondent perceives about an organization or even the level of service can not always be interpreted in answers ranging from excellent, good, fair, or poor. Most of our impressions when we walk into a store are non-verbal. Haven’t most of us had great first impressions from the moment we opened the door? Was it the pleasant smell of the store, the welcoming, smiling appearance of the salesperson, or the overall appearance of other customers engaged in pleasant conversations just heralding the ambiance of a wonderful experience yet to come?

Now how do you put that in writing; no less how do you express that in a survey? How do you get people to respond? Surveys need to be kept simple, easy to complete, and easy to understand. Experiences are going to be different when visiting a brick and mortar establishment as opposed to an online store, but certain questions to judge overall customer service are quite universal. The following points should be considered:

  • Don’t get too personal in a survey. People are wary about questions that could compromise their privacy. Consumers are also concerned about spammers, advertisers, and general annoyances.
  • Make the survey specific. Don’t just ask blanket questions about a customer’s experience. Ask what the consumer purchased, or ask about the consumer’s first impression of the store.
  • Make the survey convenient . Online surveys are the easiest for people to fill out, but postcards can be effective also.
  • Cover all the bases, and that means ask about the greeting, the website, employees, the products, and  product satisfaction.
  • Ask for suggestions to improve your business. If you ask, you will receive.

Now how do you get people to respond? Be creative, and make the offer irresistible. Use special offers, percentages off the next purchase, or prizes. Feedback is worth a lot of money, since customers determine success. If you keep the survey limited to a manageable number, the comments, and feedback are apt to provide an abundance of information to improve customer experience and keep them coming back.

photo credit: BinaryApe

American consumers report downward trends in customer service satisfaction

Choose your account type and start building polls and surveys today!Empathica Inc., a Georgia provider of Customer Experience Management reported American consumers feel customer service satisfaction has slipped since the first quarter of the year. Of 11,000 American consumers surveyed, Empathica reported on Friday that 61.7%, a rise up from 55.2% noted the downward trends. Of the 31.5% who responded that customer service was not getting worse, those statistics dropped to 24.8% in the second quarter. Similar responses were collected in Canada.

Client services of Empathica stated the overall uncertainty of the economy and consumer impatience when dealing with banks, retailers, and restaurants affected the overall opinions of customers. Similarly specific age groups reported higher dissatisfaction with customer service. Ages 45 to 54 topped the survey with the highest dissatisfaction numbers, and ages 55 to 64 had the largest percentage increase. Their high expectations might very well limit them to revisit those establishments and thus the search for a new provider; another customer lost.

So what does a survey like this tell us, and how can we benefit from such statistics? We can learn to create the most positive and best customer service experience for our customers, and use surveys like this to keep us informed. Customer needs and wants must be addressed, and the constant change needs to be recognized by optimizing employee behavior to deliver consistent customer service in an ever-changing society.

Employees need to be better trained and rewarded for exemplary customer service behaviors using team awards, benefits and senior management acknowledgments. Customer feedback and daily reinforcement can keep the competitive edge. Customer Experience Management should be the voice of the customer, and senior management have to be present and listen to what the front lines find as worrisome or what specific issues need to be addressed. Organizations need not be defensive, and should help employees learn and train what will make the customer experience better. Even with the realization that staff has had to be reduced because of climbing costs and less business, current employees should not be left just walking the plank. We need to find out through surveys  and experiences what the customer wants. Even small details can lead to large rewards.

photo credit: Gustavo Pimenta

Is CRM the answer to better customer loyalty?

reverse fisheyeCustomer Relationship Management is a general term for a variety of software systems that help us track customer names, their transactions, their buying history, and preferences. The database allegedly tells us about each person’s profitability and sorts out buyers from browsers, tire kickers, and losers, with the prime purpose to single out the good buyers and reward them with attractive perks. Now as what to do with the losers?

One of my favorite stores to spend time at when I need a change or to meet some friends is Barnes & Noble. The chairs are comfortable, the magazines are current, the atmosphere is friendly, and of course Starbucks is there to add to the experience. If statistically 10% of buyers that come into Barnes & Noble purchase 90% of the books sold, and if we could figure out how to ditch the people out of the store who just sit around and read the books, dog ear the new magazines, and just leave books and items lying around on the floor, would it be better for the 10% of us who actually do most of the buying? Would it save the company money because they wouldn’t be cleaning up or hiring staff for security? And would buyers like me bring more of my friends over who were buyers?

Not every book in Barnes & Noble is going to be sold. In fact there are shelves and shelves of dust collectors, but all of that adds up to the atmosphere of the store. The same might be said about all of the people in the store. I’ve been in small book stores in Palm Beach where I have been the only person there. There are no chairs, no one browsing the shelves, nor does the store seem inviting, and I find myself driving right back to Barnes & Noble. It’s not much different from attending some of the seminars I have recently sat through regarding maximizing my financial assets during this period of economic instability. There were loads of free-loaders there taking advantage of hors d’oeuvre and wine, however would the speaker have been nearly as effective if he were only lecturing to ten people instead of the hundred attending? Most speakers need the crowd to feel motivation themselves. And aren’t we more interested in what someone has to say when we see the room filled? It’s no different when I am in Barnes & Noble and have to walk around until I find a comfortable seat. The store just seems friendlier. The stacks and stacks of books make the store more impressive.

It’s pretty obvious that most people buy far more luxuriously than they will ever need. It’s the reason many people have a Rolex over a Timex. Both watches tell time, but in the Rolex, the second hand “sweeps” while the Timex clicks away. We’re a society obsessed with bells and whistles, flashing lights, flat screen HD televisions, and iPhones. Can any of us accurately gauge why we have spent hundreds of dollars more for BZO rims over standard rims for our cars? After all, the wheels still go round and round.

And so the CRM answer to accurately measure the profitable customers from the unprofitable customers still remains a mystery. It seems all customers whether they directly add to a company’s bottom line or in some ethereal way add to the buyer’s atmosphere, motivation, and attitude, each buyer or non buyer still maintains an important position in the success or the failure of a company.

photo credit: smulligannn

Help your customer service staff to help your business succeed

Blonde Girl in Black Ruffled DressI was pulling into my office this morning when I heard a Zappos commercial on the radio. The purchaser told the customer service representative she had to return merchandise she received yesterday because she was “emotionally unable to handle” the new dress she just purchased and had not touched the box, and had left it lying in the garage. The pleasant voice on the Zappos end assured her that she could return the dress, and there would be no delivery or return charges; just that the customer would have to “touch” the box to return it.

That clever advertisement is the positive mode of customer service, and  “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” We need to foster better attitudes with employees who think dissatisfied customers are the problem. I think we all have been in a position when we just didn’t want the item we purchased, but at times have been forced to lie when returning it.  When employees get nervous, defensive, and confused while managing customers, the lack of skills can only result in a loss of customers; thus the loss of revenue. Do we always need an excuse to return something, and will the customer service agent respect our decision? Therefore each organization needs a clear and concise company ethos, and clear organizational training and discussions to help employees interact with customers to enhance the customer experience. I always suggest role-playing; it’s fun and effective. Take the worst examples that could happen, and practice different solutions. Help employees resolve problems, but give them the proper tools.

The customer service staff should also be able to deal with the inherent human condition where we need to always be right. We tend to look for evidence that proves how right we are, but if an employee unconsciously reacts to this way of thinking, that is paramount to a breakdown of communication. Even if we say that we are having a difference of opinion or agree to disagree, the customer may perceive she is wrong; that unfortunately is a free pass to our competition. Senior staff and trainers need to remind all service representatives that customers are the top priority. Sometimes it isn’t clear. Training, role-playing, and practice help employees communicate positively to work out satisfactory resolutions.

Finally, we as trainers or company owners need to encourage personal growth, and find the connection which helps our employees to use their jobs and identify their own values. It should never be, “just a job” because we will have loss that connection to the customer as well as to the employee. We want to listen to employees, gain their trust, treat them fairly, and give them all the tools to encourage positive customer relationships; even if the woman needs to return the dress she was emotionally unable to accept.

photo credit: PinkStock Photos!

Employee engagement is a force behind success

Strategic Sales team playing aroundEmployee engagement is the motivation, commitment, and loyalty of  people working in order to further an organization’s interest. Top companies recognize how this tremendous force can bring customer satisfaction, able suppliers to productively be in involved in the company’s best interest, and consequently mean profitability as all the cogs operate in a synchronized manner.

From the top senior levels, management is obligated to show they care about employees. It is much more cost-effective to encourage job security, stability, and career growth in this troubling economy than it is just to offer employees raises. People are afraid to buy homes right now, even though they quality for mortgages, because people are afraid they may get fired or laid off from their jobs and careers. With those thoughts in mind, shouldn’t senior management work on motivating factors to help employees maintain their business loyalty and commitment?

Let’s start with the negatives. Employees are concerned with customer losses, layoffs, employee turnovers, and the extra work that has resulted from under-staffing. Mix into the brewing storm, inefficient systems, inflexible bureaucracy, and lack of intercommunication; rumors fly, and you now have unengaged employees who become very expensive for any company. From that negative comes lack of productivity, low self-esteem, and a breakdown of teamwork.

Senior management can lead with their vision and strategies in order to instill employee confidence. Senior leadership must motivate employees by nurturing career development, integrity, and dedication. Leaders can not just assume what factors motivate employees. Make employee engagement an important part of the process. Give employees the opportunity to provide feedback. Often they are the ones on the front lines, and isn’t that a good indicator of what needs to be heard? Go back to the 90’s and put a suggestion box for employees to drop a note. Have focus groups; consider an employee survey. Inform employees about goals, activities, and plans using newsletters or at the very least, use memos. Eliminate the unknown for employees.

In a recent Gallup poll of 1000 United States employees, the best way to encourage employee engagement was for managers to address employee performance. The Gallup poll showed employees whose review focused on their strengths were 61% engaged; reviews focused on employees weaknesses were 45% engaged, and those employees who were ignored were only 2% engaged. Negative feedback was better than no feedback at all, and when employee performance is articulated in positive measures, employees strive to do better.

Rewards are why people work. The bottom line is we work to get paid, but almost everyone wants to be recognized for their particular contributions, ideas, and work; some of us more than others, but the more engaged we become, the more important other factors besides just a paycheck matter in our lives. When management encourages us to “think out of the box” or to “go the extra mile for a customer,” employees who perform such outstanding work should be rewarded. Let’s face it; the more positive employee engagement, the more positive customer service, and the more company success.

photo credit: lululemon athletica

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