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The top ten retailers for best customer service

Christmas lightsThe National Retail Foundation along with American Express listed the top ten retailers for best customer service selected by shoppers in their sixth annual Customers’ Choice Survey. Conducted by BIGresearch, a consumer intelligence firm that gauges what customers say influences their purchases, polled 9,291 shoppers and asked which retailers provided the best customer service.

The survey encompassed consumer attitudes toward retailers’ customer service and how retailers promote best practices. All of the companies work in conjunction with American Express credit cards. In alphabetical order the recognized companies were:

– Amazon.com
– JC Penny
– Kohl’s Department Stores
– Lands’ End
– LL Bean
– Newegg
– Nordstrom
– Overstock.com
– Zappos

Four out of the ten retailers are not brick and mortar establishments, and many of the above mentioned companies we have repeatedly seen documented for their excellent customer service. So what is the common denominator?

For the most part, customers want more attention, better quality of products, and the best value for the money they are spending. Customers want a business to be aware of their patronage, and customers want to be treated like royalty. They want to have liberal return policies, respectable channels for customer complaints, and want to feel that complaints and concerns are immediately handled in an efficient and professional manner.

In lean economic times, the differences between the competition can be measured by only a narrow margin, but nonetheless, the bottom line is where the customers shop and spend their money. Companies that have sacrificed loyalty for short-term gains are suffering the consequences. Customers lose faith when a  company considers customer service agents as dispensable while slashing their overall business costs. Long time customers want to be treated differently, and they want their allegiance recognized. Lands’ End gives repeat customers faster service. Zappos reward their most loyal shoppers with overnight upgrades. Seasoned shoppers at Nordstrom are invited to private sales; customer representatives know their best customers by name.

Superior customer service is not hit or miss. It’s a practiced, well-rehearsed part of being successful. Think of the 138 million people who shopped on Black Friday; four million more than shopped last year. Think of 70.1 million internet shoppers and the slight rise in retail spending from last year. What organization doesn’t want a piece of that business? It seems that only the best are reaping the rewards of treating customers with the respect they deserve.

photo credit: dave416

Bank of America tanks for lender customer satisfaction

InmobiliariaAccording to the 2010 US Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Survey by J.D. Power and Associates, Bank of America tanked in their customer satisfaction. The study was fielded in July and August and used 3,401 consumers applying for new mortgages, and on a satisfaction scale of 1000, Bank of America scored 676; best scored Quicken Loans was 150 points more.

While it is most important now for banks to use a more cautious approach when underwriting mortgages, the more requests and the more times consumers are asked to resubmit information, the less satisfied customers get. Right now banks are creating negative feelings throughout the entire lending industry.

Consumers were measured in four different areas:

1. Application and approval
2. Loan officer/Mortgage broker
3. Contact
4. Closing

    The application process is longer and approval time for a loan has  increased to 27 1/2 days; up from 20 days last year. From the beginning of the application, if you started the origination process today, it would now take 52.1 days to close as opposed to 46.9 days in 2009. It now takes longer to get approved despite the latest guidelines affecting the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) guidelines.

    David Lo, Director of Financial Services at J.D. Power stated that although processing times negatively influence a customer’s experience with banks, there are certain factors that make a positive impact on customers.

    So what makes a positive impact on banking customers despite the long wait for approvals? To begin, customers want to know the progress of their loan applications. They want to be informed, and want “proactive updates.”  Consumers want to have their loans acknowledged; they want to receive a “welcome.” Loan officers and mortgage brokers should be able to explain the different products to customers and ensure that customers understand. Reading applications can be a very tedious process, and very few people ever turn to an attorney for advice when applying for a mortgage. Finally, customers want to close on time; delays cause bad feelings, stress, extra moving charges, and more inconveniences.

    On the satisfaction scale, Quicken Loans did the best with a score of 826 followed by MedLife Home Loans, and PNC/National City Mortgage. Wells Fargo ranked eighth with an index of 758.

    photo credit: Daquella manera

    Consumer Reports’ naughty and nice list for holiday shoppers

    Christmas TreeOn Monday, Consumer Reports published its first Naughty and Nice Holiday List. The input came from reporters and editors and covered shopping, travel, hospitality, and telecommunications, and identifies some good and some frowned upon shopping policies of 20 popular organizations. Their reports are not reflective of a company as a whole and were not based on specific policies.

    “Our goal isn’t to laud one company or put down another, but to call out specific policies that we think put consumers first or put them behind the eight ball,” stated Tod Marks, senior editor and resident shopping expert at Consumer Reports.

    The following companies were praised:

    – Zappos.com for their free shipping and return policies.
    – L.L. Bean for their 100 percent product satisfaction guarantee. Anything can be returned anytime for any reason.
    – Wal-Mart for their return policy refunding cash (for purchases under $25), gift cards (for purchases over $25), or an even exchange. There is one caveat however; more than three returns within 45 days require a manager’s approval.
    – Costco for returning everything in the store except for some home electronics which comes with a 90-day return guarantee.
    – Orvis which offers a toll-free number without a complicated, automated menu system. Also Orvis offers live chats, email questions, and a guaranteed response time of two hours or less.
    – Publix offers some antibiotics for free.

      And for the naughty, these are some of the companies Consumer Reports criticized:

      – Best Buy for offering only a 14-day return period for computers, monitors, camcorders, and digital cameras.
      – Verizon Wireless for doubling to $350 the early termination fee if a customer cancels their smartphone subscription after the 30-day grace period.
      – Macy’s Department Stores for shipping charges based on the dollar amount of the order, not the size and weight of the package.
      – CompUSA for charging restocking fees of “up to 25 percent” of the purchase price on any product that doesn’t meet its return criteria.
      – Buy.com which does not allow returns for “oversized” televisions which are defined as any model 27 inches or larger. Their website does not offer a customer service phone number.

        Bringing attention to both the helpful and hurtful practices to consumers is a positive step. So often the holiday shopping frenzy can cloud a buyer’s perspective under the tempting cloak of the word “sale.” It’s after something goes awry that  many consumers ever bother to read the fine print of guarantees, warranties, return policies, and refunds. Here’s hoping that the “naughty” stores have a change of their policies too.

        For all of the kind readers of Service Untitled, we thank you for reading and wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

        photo credit: dave416

        No customer satisfaction from TSA

        tsa badgeThe issues of full-body scans and increasingly more aggressive pat downs have created a social media blitz these last few days. Television news media reports that the majority of air travelers don’t object to the tighter security, but the Internet has opened up a Pandora’s Box, and it is highly unlikely the Transportation Security Administration is going to be able to stuff all the evils back until some real hope shows a policy change. Even Congress plans to hold hearings on the “very controversial” issue of how to balance airport security with a less invasive procedure.

        A website called optoutday.com has called for a boycott of the body image scanners tomorrow which is the busiest travel day of the year. Travelers are urged to reject walking through the scanners and opt for the pat-downs to cause delays. Of course TSA Administrator John Pistole says it will only lead to longer delays and used the emotional appeal that it will keep families from being together on Thanksgiving.

        If travelers are allegedly being polled and not objecting to the new security issues, and only a small minority of travelers are objecting, why is that politicians and citizens alike have made such an impact? As of 10 p.m. on Monday, 8,036 had “liked” the ideal of a national opt-out on Facebook. Even though most people have no objections, those who do will be making a huge impact, and social media has played a most important role.

        And here is where the lack of customer satisfaction enters for the TSA.  According to Alex de Carvalho, who teaches a course in social media at the University of Miami states, it is the TSA’s fault. When passengers went online and expressed their concerns about their invasion of privacy and possible health hazards due to radiation used in the body scanners, the TSA had no answers on their own blogs; social media and customer satisfaction suicide.  So even though the majority of passengers don’t object and are grateful for increased security, the old adage of one person being heard is especially pertinent to this issue and might very well effect a significant change for all travelers.

        Pictures of actual full body photos are much more explicit on the Internet than portrayed on television. Travelers have tweeted specifically about the “authoritarian way the new procedures are being enforced.” Actual passengers have stated the pat-downs are “invasive” and it was “not a back of the hand pat-down, and it was not gentle pressing.”

        And so the question remains that airline passengers are paying customers and thus are entitled to certain rights, and is the TSA acting responsibly or does customer satisfaction fly out the window because a would be hijacker hid explosives in his underwear? Will full body scanners be installed in high schools because of  the teenage assassins at Columbine? Will the next TSA initiative call for even more invasive searches of body cavities? Customers demand respect and a certain amount of privacy; where does the TSA authority end and when do passengers regain their right of respect?

        photo credit: manymeez

        Don’t expect customer service from your health insurance company

        Medical Equipment in the hospital roomCalifornia PPOs received low ratings for various quality measures – especially customer service according to a new report released by the state’s Department of Insurance. The six largest PPOs who provide coverage for 2.2 million of California’s 2.6 million PPO members were rated on a four-star scale judging various measures. For customer service, all of the companies received a “1” except for Aetna which received a “2.” The other companies measured were Cigna, United Healthcare, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, and HealthNet. No company received a “4.”

        As to customer services, the biggest complaints were the inability to reach someone on the phone, obtaining cost information, and securing payments for claims. California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner called the report’s finding “atrocious” and urged insurers to improve the quality of their health care services.  Aetna and Healthnet described initiatives they are employing to improve their quality through customizing their services in the future. Most of the companies did welcome the scrutiny even though they defended their positions by claims they are working on improvements.

        Most people agree that when it comes to customer service and satisfaction, health insurance companies are indeed in a coma. Websites for policy holders contain page after page of details about coverage; none of it customer friendly. Health insurance companies are notorious for complicated, legally worded pages and pages of policy, but the problem is they lack any straight forward explanations of what is important to the subscriber.

        So why is customer satisfaction so incidental to health insurance companies? The explanation is rather simple; they can’t be fired and their product is a requirement in the lives of all humans. The money we spend on a health plan is vital to our health, and most of us can’t threaten a customer service agent that we are planning to take our business elsewhere. Our choices are limited by employment, spouses or private even when we feel we are being mistreated.

        So is privatizing medical insurance the answer? Many allege we are being held hostage by health insurance companies. It seems that shareholders have much more to gain by denying coverage in many situations.

        Even though times are changing now, consumers need to have better choices when it comes to health care. There needs to be 24/7 coverage call centers for real people with real medical problems. There needs to be a way to educate the consumer with customer friendly user language, and there needs to be informative and cooperative communication between health insurer and client.

        Will a public outcry from consumers ever change the lack of customer service and satisfaction from our health care insurance companies? Maybe the latest Congressional rhetoric will give some more choices, but it’s highly dubious if any of us can expect a warm and friendly voice from one of these providers.

        photo credit: cote

        SU named one of “20 Blog Biz Management Students Will Love”

        Service Untitled has been named one of the “20 Blogs Business Management Students Will Love” by the folks at Rasmussen College. Being number six on a list of 20 blogs that also includes the likes of Church of the Customer, the excellent Harvard Business Review blogs, and a number of other awesome blogs is a huge honor.

        Thanks to Rasmussen College for the recognition!

        Improving the online holiday shopping experience

        SoWa in December, 2009It used to be my father and brothers enjoyed Thanksgiving Day for the good food and football, while my mother and I cleaned up and prepared for the biggest shopping event of the year. We would get up at 5:00 AM, and we were ready to join in the wild bewilderment of Black Friday.

        Now that I’m all grown up and technology has enriched my life with e-commerce, not only do I get to sleep past 5:00 AM and not have to wake up the dog to take him for a walk, I just gather my shopping list and turn on my computer whenever I feel the urge. The holiday campaigns have begun; sales all over television, billboards, and online social media. It can be more confusing than the mall, but it saves the frustration of parking, long lines, crowds, and lack of sleep, but with the added convenience comes more risk and responsible shopping. When you walk into a brick and mortar store, you’re relatively assured the business will be there the next day, while an online store could just be that “404 not found” click.

        So as a seasoned shopper, I look to the companies I trust. Competitive sites are appearing everyday with some unbelievable deals, and these are the things I consider before I purchase online:

        • When I begin my online search for holiday gifts, I am most attracted to professional looking sites that load quickly with pleasing visual graphics, correct spelling, and grammar. If a company can’t figure out the difference between “affect” and “effect” or “wrote” and “written,” it doesn’t inspire my confidence.
        • I want the contact information of a shopping site to be in plain view, and I look for their phone numbers and email contacts.
        • When a site wants my personal information as in my email address, my full name, my address, and my phone number, I want to feel confident that they do not sell, rent, or trade my information to any third parties.
        • I want information about the business. Who doesn’t feel they don’t know Tony Hsieh of Zappos? He’s a real person, and that brings credibility. We’re inspired by his success, and we’re impressed with his humility; all essential elements to the huge success of his online business.
        • Be honest about all fees and time lines. Many of us shop at the last-minute, so customers want to be sure of time lines for delivery. Before even proceeding to checkout, all fees should be listed. There is nothing worse than being presented with hidden fees at checkout.
        • Prominently display warranties and return policies. Make it clear how to return damaged items and what to expect if a product doesn’t work correctly. Headsets.com provides a return policy with no excuse ever necessary.
        • Have a prominent display of good business practice awards. Provide links with social media so customers can feel they are part of the community and have confidence in the store.

        Even though people like to shop online for the convenience, shoppers still want that personal connection as online businesses strive for their corner of the market.

        photo credit: SoWa Sundays

        Product reviews to keep customers clapping

        Choqoa & WIB: Chocolate & Whisky MasterclassHow effective are product reviews? More than 80% of  retailers according to Customer Product Reviews: The New Generation, prominently feature product reviews on e-Commerce or e-Business websites. The best reviews come from people who have similar interests and similar lifestyles; not necessarily just from family or friends. It aids in business performance, feedback, and customer loyalty.

        Channel Advisor which automates day-to-day tasks of online retailers so they may more strategically sell across multiple markets, state that nearly all searches are influenced by customer product reviews. Who among us doesn’t check out a product before we purchase it? Statistically Channel Advisor states:

        • 46% of shoppers  are influenced to buy products by checking customer product reviews.
        • 43% of shoppers are deterred from buying products by checking customer product reviews.
        • 3% of shoppers are unaffected.

        Positive reviews, testimonials, and catalogs often feature “top rated product pages” to boost sales. So what should be done about negative reviews? Chances are there’s always going to be someone or some product that is going to go awry. The best solution is to let the negative reviews teach a company valuable lessons. Is there something wrong with the product? How many people are complaining, and are you as a business owner reading the complaints? Some businesses might hurry and delete the complaints, but if a business watches the bad reviews, contacts the vendor, and demands a new shipment with the flaws corrected, people are impressed. Companies need to pay attention and reach customers at the right time; when the action is happening and not weeks or months down the line.

        So how do you get people to post reviews? Here are some suggestions that can encourage people to share their positive feelings about a product:

        • Offer customers an incentive if they post a review. You can offer a coupon or a discount towards their next purchase.
        • When a customer is checking out, ask them to write a product review and share their thoughts.
        • Follow up with your customers after the purchase, and ask them to give you some feedback about the product.
        • Have a newsletter, and encourage customers to write an article about their purchase and offer to print the five best ones in the next issue.

        Keep your customers clapping; it’s a positive way to build brand loyalty. Just make sure that customers get what they pay for, and work hard to win your customers’ confidence.

        photo credit: EverJean

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