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The keys to customer retention

happy shoppersThere are two main reasons an organization is likely to lose customers; the competition has a better offer or the customer is unhappy. Even the smallest interruption on a day a customer is stressed, in a bad mood, or just in a hurry could mean the difference whether he returns as a client at a later time. Today’s economy and sharp competition therefore demands excellence and consistency. Even though a company might offer the best price around town, if  service is shoddy the customer is likely to leave. A business can not compensate in one area for another area of weakness, or rather who wants to buy a product even if it’s a great deal  if there is no one at the company to help if something goes wrong?

Customer retention relies on two distinct platforms. First there is the relationship with the client. We need to understand and know our clients, which includes their expectations, what satisfies them, their geographic locations, and their likes and dislikes. The easiest way to figure this out is through surveys which analyzes a customer; builds a profile, builds models of their preferences, and often can predict problems before they even happen.

Customers of service industries will buy more from year to year, thus reducing costs because the repeat business of the client continues to help a business grow. Loyal, happy clients often will pay more; overnight stays at the Ritz Carlton. In addition, there is the benefit of good publicity, social media, and word of mouth. Here are some suggestions to improve client relationships:

  • Always keep your promises. Deliver on time, call back, email back, and solve problems.
  • Make sure all levels of management have the same customer-centric attitudes.
  • Acknowledge a customer’s intelligence, and respect them. Customers don’t want to be embarrassed, lectured, corrected, or have an agent express a “know it all” attitude.
  • Be educated about your products and services through lectures and training sessions so you can be a competent source of information.
  • Perform better than your competition.
  • Don’t let any customer just walk away, and look for the warning signs. Track customer purchases and note when the customer has reduced their business. Find out why, and fix it.
  • Reward sales people for client retention.
  • Value client opinion.

The second platform is the expectation of the product or the service itself. Even the best customer service isn’t going to build client retention without outstanding goods. Here are some of the expectations:

  • The quality of the products or services must live up to the expectations promised by the organization.
  • Every department has to be involved in the presentation, delivery,and function of the product. From explaining everything starting with turning the product on to trouble shooting,each department and customer service has to be made available.
  • Every department has to be available for follow-up. Most things go wrong at the very beginning, and rapid assistance can make all the difference in the world to customer retention. Generous warranties, easy return policies, and money-back guarantees build customer confidence.
  • Correct design mistakes or service interruptions.

It’s much more expensive to find new clients rather than maintain the valued customers already happy and satisfied. There’s no shortage of competition, so striving for the best can make a profound positive effect in customer bonding.

photo credit: zoetnet

The attitude of customer service

New ImageEvery day we see customer service in action. On most days, we just accept it for what it is worth, but on occasion it’s either exceptionally great or exceptionally poor. Those are the customer experiences we seem to remember the best. Some companies have consistently provided exemplary customer service, and obviously it’s hard to replicate because those experiences and attitudes are what makes these organizations stand out from the crowd.

Using one of my favorite examples of the Ritz Carlton, customer service representatives have similar traits from bellhop to manager; it’s an attitude of individuality, freedom, and excitement about their work. The organization matches their brand image with their employees, and it’s not the uniforms they wear, but more like the badge we don’t see which silently states, “I am here to serve you.”

The customer service representatives I have met in my experiences who have stepped out of the box have a quiet confidence and helpfulness that customers immediately like and trust, and it’s just not at the Ritz Carlton. It’s also not just about the training since this kind of attitude starts with the person; the ultimate attitude of service. Here are the attitudes I have observed. See what you think:

  • I want to serve customers, work with them, and provide them with a great experience. I am friendly, but not overbearing.
  • I respect and believe in the company I work for, and I am here to offer you their products or services. I respect my job and want to show you why I am proud to work here.
  • I am sensitive to the needs of customers and clients. I care and respect people, and they are worth the extra effort because I want them to have a great experience.
  • I am always learning new skills and working to improve my old skills. Each unique situation presents a learning experience of which I can learn and share with others.
  • I listen to customer feedback. If a customer is unhappy with our product or our service, I want to know why so we can improve. I do not take criticism personally because feedback is what makes us better.
  • If a customer is angry, my attitude presents itself as a positive challenge. My customer training and my experience guides me to a comfortable and pleasant resolution enabling the customer to have a positive experience. I turn lemons into lemonade.
  • I learn from my experiences, and I always keep the attitude that I am here to serve.
  • My job is interesting, and I enjoy sharing and talking about it with my peers and other members of my organization.
  • I step out of the box for clients and customers. I am encouraged when clients are pleased.
  • I enjoy working as a team player, and I want to share my experiences with my team and have them share their experiences with me.
  • I am pleased with my success, and I look forward to growing with my organization. I am thankful that I have this opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Excellence in customer service is what separates one company from the seemingly endless competition. Where customers control our destinies, isn’t it best to work on those outstanding attitudes of the most successful people and organizations? I think so!

photo credit: U.S. Embassy, Manila Philippines

Improve the quality of customer experiences

Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesAccording to Strativity Group Customer Experience Management, which provides customer experience services, a recent Sydney, Australia study found 48 percent of executives increasing their investments in customer experience over the past three years by at least ten percent. This acknowledges the benefits of building positive and meaningful experiences around the customer; in other words developing the customer-centric approach.

Improving the quality and consistency of the shopping experience, 73 percent of consumers stated they would spend at least ten percent more. That superior customer experience improves sales, boosts referral rates, and drives up profit margins.

So how do you do it? The first step is to analyze the problem. Sometimes customer dissatisfaction isn’t just the pink elephant in the room. Sometimes it isn’t clearly defined, but everyone realizes there is something just not dynamic about the customer experience. Then comes the hard part, but surely not impossible to figure out and solve the problem. Organizations should start with employee communication and brainstorm practical solutions to bring in more enthusiasm and help to deliver the right services to the right customers. Management training commences because great leaders inspire more great leaders. Use customer surveys, analysis studies, and reviews to bring about suggestions and improvements. Encourage employees to participate. Have quarterly analysis reviews, and be able to prioritize issues that matter to customers. Everyone in the entire organization needs to focus on improvement because everyone is immeasurably tied to each other.

As the company comes together with the executives now taking an active part in the customer experience improvement, every part of the business begins to work together more efficiently. For instance, in a retail furniture company, the supplier makes sure the orders are filled on time, and in turn the store makes sure the supplier is paid on time. The delivery men are ready to pick up the order for the customer, and the delivery is on time. If the customer finds a scratch or a tear in her new sofa, the repair team is immediately dispatched to remedy the situation. The office staff follows up on customer service. A short survey is sent to the customer with a discount certificate for their next purchase as a thank you for being a great customer. While it may not be the circle of life as in the Lion King, the circle of executive, managerial, and employee engagement immeasurably increases sales with key customers through exceptional customer experiences.

photo credit: Holidayextras

Rules of customer engagement

nz_auckland_hobbit_movie_IMG_2494In the 1950’s, Noel Coward coined the phrase, “The show must go on,” referencing an actor’s moral and professional responsibility to  give it the actor’s “all.” It’s no different in business. Professionals must show they are eager to serve where customer perception is king. From the moment a customer walks into a store, the stage is set with either an interested, warm welcome or a vacant stare. Service on the phone? If I am the customer, is the phone ringing numerous times? I hope someone answers with a friendly, “How can I help you?” The less desirable telephone greeting is, “Please hold for a few moments.”

A customer wants to perceive the welcome, not just as a polite greeting, but as a sincere invitation to make her feel as if the business wants to serve and is proud to know that she has chosen their business over the competition. A company has to make the consumer feel they have made the best choice and convince  the customer that the rest of the experience is going to be as remarkable as that first exciting encounter. As an example I use the store Anthropologie, an unusual store for unique apparel, home decor, and accessories. It’s not just the inventory either; it’s an amazing combination of delightful smells, engaging personnel, and service beyond just ordinary.

The atmosphere a business creates also includes service and the ability to engage customers. In real estate, it’s not just showing Mrs. Jones houses that fit into her price range and criteria. It’s learning that she likes golf and swimming. It’s knowing that her grandchildren enjoy coming down to South Florida and being near the beach to participate in wind surfing and fishing. It’s knowing that Mrs. Jones wants to be with other women who play cards in her own community so she can establish her new social life. Atmosphere and engagement is also showing interest in a boutique customer and knowing what styles excite her; every employee in the boutique knowing the information too. It doesn’t do much good if only one salesperson knows; every employee represents a business and every opportunity is unique.

Successful customer service is hard work. It’s not always easy to engage customers because people may be wary of giving out too much information. Even in real estate sales, most Realtors are considered transaction brokers, which provides no fiduciary relationship between sellers and brokers or buyers and brokers. Buyers and sellers are often reluctant to give out information about reasons to sell, so care must be taken so as not to encroach into anyone’s perceived privacy. It’s all a delicate balance of the sincerity and ability a company imparts upon any customer or client. The competition is always out there ready to pounce, so even though the show must go on, it must be done well.

photo credit: Stas Kulesh

Customer service a lot less friendly in the skies

midtownAccording to US News and World Report Travel, Atlanta-based Delta Airlines scored the worst of major airlines with the dubious honor of ranking first in delays. It had the largest drop in customer satisfaction in a twelve-month period when only 78 percent of their flights arrived on time. Trailing with similar complaints were United, Alaska Airlines, American, and US Airway.

The annual poll entitled Airline Quality Rating Report is compiled by joint professors at Wichita State University and Purdue University and uses “subjective surveys of consumer opinion that are infrequently done with the goal of creating a rating for individual airlines with interval scale properties that is comparable across airlines and across time.”

So besides travelers having to wait on long security lines and enduring inadequate parking facilities, customers frequently are at their wit’s end even before the wheels of the plane touch away from the airport runway. Other lodged complaints compiled were mishandled baggage, delays, and involuntary denied boarding. There was also a general dissatisfaction with substandard meals, rude flight attendants, and baggage fees.

Now we all know that airlines are our favorite subjects when it comes to consumer complaints and lack of customer service along with banks, cell phone providers, and internet companies, but the lack of communication and listening to their customers are the one constant complaint for all of the organizations. On Friday, a lonely Twitter entry stated, “Delta is improving” and linked to a list of awards the airline has won dating back to 2007.

So what’s a consumer to do? Well, we all could take the bus, leave our luggage at home, just use a carry-on, and brown bag our own food, or airlines could start paying attention to consumer opinions. Understandably airlines can be constrained by  federal regulations, weather conditions and security controls, but that doesn’t mean customer service has to be so poor. When airline reports emerge titled, “America’s Meanest Airlines” surely it is time for the companies to listen hard and look at their operation and employees.

Airline employees need more training; it’s as simple as that. Statistically consumers find employee rudeness to be one of the most obvious reasons they will no longer deal with a company. Ground personnel and flight attendants have to be able to deal with the public and remain professional and polite in all circumstances. If an airline is known for its terrible food, isn’t it time the company sat down in a passenger seat and actually tried and tasted the food themselves to put themselves in the place of the passenger? Bad tasting food is pretty universal. And as to one’s baggage not making it to the proper destination? That’s completely controllable also. Why not train baggage carriers to do their jobs better? Again, customer service training is the key.

I know from personal experience, if I had to hurry through the airport, dread the security lines and procedures, but finally made it to my assigned flight, could check my one bag for no additional fee, didn’t have to pay extra to sit in an aisle seat, and I could enjoy a decent snack, a legitimate weather delay wouldn’t irritate me half as much.

photo credit: SpecialKRB

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