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Attitude makes the difference in customer service

View from formal dining room window to back yardLet’s assume that customer service agents interacting with consumers know to act promptly and politely. Let’s also assume that the customer can identify the mood of a customer service agent by their pace, volume, inflection, intensity, and even attitude whether it is over the phone or in person.

Take for instance the example of a title closing company here in South Florida. A seller appears at the reception desk for a 3:00 appointment to close title on her home, notably the most expensive transaction she has ever done in her life. Note also the two employees behind the desk continue to chat with each other, and have not even looked up to acknowledge the woman’s presence. Would those two employees behave the same way if their boss had walked up to the reception desk?

It’s odd that we rarely mention customer service when it falls somewhere in the realm of mediocrity, but we certainly can tell the bad and the great when we see it and experience it for ourselves. Maybe it’s time for a bit of attitude adjustment? Think of it this way if you would. We call a business at 4:45 and the person answering the phone can’t email or fax the relevant paperwork because everyone is getting ready to close the office at 5:00. We walk into a store and tell the sales person that we are just browsing, and the representative is gone forever. A sales representative tells a customer to give them two days advance notice before making an appointment when a few hours would certainly suffice. Sales people complain about their clients and tell their co-workers, the client is a “nut-job.”

So how do we change the attitude? We need to see it from the customer’s point of view, and then remember it is the customer that gives us the reason to get to our destination. We blame the customer if he doesn’t see the situation as we see it. A real estate sales person complains that she has had to show her buyers too many homes, and they have yet to write a contract on one. The agent says the buyers are too fussy and not realistic. That may not be true at all. In real estate, one of the basic elements of being able to match a buyer with a home is to listen to the buyer’s wants, to educate the buyer about reasonable expectations, and to explain to the buyer some options that might be considered.

Chances are that few of us are 100 percent satisfied when buying a home; maybe it only had a one car garage instead of the two-car garage, but the backyard is so much more luxurious than  the buyer ever thought she could afford. You can’t blame the customer; know what is behind her behavior and be able to empathize. Don’t take complaints personally, and remember that the annoying customer you help today may be speaking to your next new customer tomorrow.

photo credit: Kim Novak, RE/MAX Masters

Customer service representatives who help their communities

焦糖咖啡星冰楽 (●ω●)Coffee giant Starbucks is changing its hiring, recruiting, and training methods to encourage employees to become more involved in their careers and their communities. Applicants who want to volunteer and work on their personal development which shares a commitment to community work will more likely be offered  new careers as “partners.” Prospects will also be judged on their conversational skills as well as their coffee skills.

Starbucks will work on improvements to their management training, personal development, and learning new skills. They are hoping that by increasing their investment in these skills the turnover rate will decrease and customer service will improve.

Volunteers in the community are the backbone of not-for-profit organizations. Ranging from ambulance drivers, firemen, community support groups, animal welfare to national groups such as Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer, Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity, people contribute of  themselves to give back to the community.

Starbucks recognizes the important link in employee development and their roles in volunteer projects. It’s an essential method of learning new skills as they share their commitment to their own communities. Customer service is not just knowing the words; it is more like the positive relationships we can develop individually as we expand our personal and professional passions.

In the customer service business,  loyal clients and customers are built through the development of positive customer relationships. We seek referrals, and build goodwill by becoming known in our communities because we really care. Many leadership roles are volunteer programs which take our time, energy, talent, and skills. Our purpose for accepting volunteer roles in the first place usually coincides with our personal or professional passions.

When Howard Schultz returned to the CEO seat of Starbucks in 2008, he knew the company needed more than just money to bring a failing  business back to life. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Schultz stated:

I decided against the advice of many people at the time, because it had a high cost attached to it – to take 10,000 store managers to New Orleans. I knew that if I could remind people of our character and values, we could make a difference.

With that commitment and encouraging employees to give of themselves, that effort became the single largest block of community support in the history of New Orleans. With a total contribution of 54,000 volunteer hours and $1 million, volunteers painted, landscaped, and built playgrounds to a community devastated by disaster.

If we hadn’t had New Orleans, we wouldn’t have turned things around. It was real, it was truthful, and it was about leadership.

Personal shoppers now part of Lands’ End customer service

GeiloIn celebration of National Customer Service Week, Lands’ End Live will now enable users to communicate with personal shoppers via voice (headsets or built-in microphones) or text chat (type in questions using the computer keyboard) for a more personal shopping experience at the Dodgeville, Wisconsin based retailer best known for their cold weather gear.

The online video chat tool is on the customer service page, and by pressing the button Live Help, users first get a brief welcome video, and to continue on to how video chats work can then press the Find Out More option. The brief welcome video was narrated by Joan Conlin, vice-president of customer care. I then connected to my personal shopper Tina. There was no wait, and Tina told me that the calls had been steady all day. Personal shoppers are able to demonstrate product features, describe details, and help customers to navigate the web site. Keyboard shoppers can also supply their home phone numbers, and a personal shopper can call them direct. I don’t have a microphone to speak with anyone directly from my laptop, but I did note that I could only hear every other word Tina stated even though I had the volume turned up to the maximum level.

The video capability is described as a mini broadcasting studio called Vee desk which is built into a touchscreen PC. All the customer needs is a PC or laptop and broadband internet service. This new technology gives face to face online customer service. Tina is a real person; as an online shopper I immediately felt the personal touch much as if I had walked into a brick and mortar store. At the end of my Video Chat, a window appeared asking me to rate my customer service experience.

Land’s End boasts as being first in customer services dating back to the early 80’s and being the first retailer to offer toll-free phone ordering. It will be interesting to follow the success of real-time human assistance on the Web especially as the Christmas shopping season approaches. Will there be enough personal shoppers at Lands’ End  to accommodate the needs of online shoppers? Let’s see what happens.

photo credit: alh1

Customer Service Week celebrates the best of the best

Eighth Day 40th Birthday PartyCustomer Service Week is celebrated from October 4 to October 8, recognizing the importance of customer service and honoring the people who provide the best examples of great service. The International Customer Association began Customer Service Week in 1988, and in 1992 Congress proclaimed Customer Service Week a nationally recognized event.

Celebrations range from information sharing, inspirational stories, coffee and cake breaks to huge celebratory dinners, but all hold the service and support of those working on the front lines in great esteem.

Kathy Garcia of  The Job Training Center speaks about this year’s theme which is  ‘A brand new experience.’ Branding used to be just associated with a company logo or a business card, but that was 20 years ago. Today Garcia describes it as the experience customer service provides.

Branding is how businesses live and breathe. With the popularity of the internet, consumers are much better educated and have become savvy decision makers. Branding becomes the impact a company has on their customers’ lives through their services or their products. Instead of a business stating, “We want you as a customer,” the customer or client says instead, “We need you.”

How do you develop that positive perception others have on you? That’s when we come full circle with the best of the best in customer service by raising awareness, using it, and helping to educate and understand a company’s target group or market, but it’s hard work. A company can’t be everything to everyone, and each company needs to find their own particular niche. As an example, Wal-Mart caters to low prices, Microsoft is known for technology, and Mercedes-Benz is known for luxury.

Once companies have decided on their central focus, they work on building brand equity. Compare it to your house. If your home is worth $200,000 and your mortgage is $100,000, your equity in your home is $100,000. The same can be said in business, except brand equity is relatively intangible, but nevertheless that perceived value is what will make you a success as long as you supply good service, good value, and an overall great experience.

P.S. In honor of Customer Service Week, our friends Lori Jo Vest and Marilyn Suttle (who contributed to Service Untitled back in May) are launching the “Who’s Your Gladys?” video series of customer service “quick tips.” The quick video-clips are ideal for staff meeting openers, weekly mini-courses, or tools for reinforcing an already great customer service culture. Their book called “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan,” is on store shelves and online resellers. Visit the video launch page for special offers at www.whosyourgladys.tv.

photo credit: BinaryApe

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