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Customer service mistakes that go bump in the night

Virgin Mobile: Please help meEvery business is bound to have unhappy customers; there’s always some variable that can go wrong despite all safeguards to make things perfect. Great customer service extends beyond answering the phone after two rings, beyond the twitter and Facebook entries, and even beyond the gentle ego stroking of an already angry customer.

The Society for New Communications Research, which tracks the latest trends and best practices in communication and social media, states that 59 percent of consumers use social media to make complaints, 14 percent read about bad customer experiences through social media, and an overwhelming 62 percent avoid doing business based on what they read on social networks or blogs. Gone are the days when it was just between the company and the customer; the days that a customer complaint was confined to the privacy of the telephone lines.

So what irks customers the most about customer service blunders and how can we help to make it better?

  • Streamline information collection. When customers call in to complain, have a representative collect relevant information once. Customers understand they need to share purchase information, names, addresses, serial numbers, etc., but no one wants to do it repeatedly. If the complaint or problem is forwarded to another department, have the necessary information sent without asking the customer to repeat the complaint or the previously collected information.
  • Keeping customers on hold twice. If there is a two-tiered system for customer service, where complaints follow from Step One to Step Two, don’t keep customers waiting at all for the Step Two process. You can almost be assured that very few customers are going to be patient while waiting for yet another representative to handle their complaint or problem. Agents need to reach out for customers immediately; the longer an unhappy customer waits on hold, the more likely to find an angry customer.
  • Blogs and other social networks need actual resolutions. When customers blog or twitter their complaints, organizations have to follow through with their responses and solutions. Be specific with customers, and tell them what is going to happen and when the problem is going to be solved.
  • Have a standard protocol. Have standards, procedures and organized methods to meet customer needs. When products fail because of an engineering problem or services lapse because of inadequate training or poor planning, have an established procedure to correct the problem in the future, and follow through.
  • Don’t dawdle. Customers expect solutions and have a low tolerance for mistakes. Turn a bad experience into a good one, but do it in a timely manner.
  • Hire the best employees. Take your time when hiring. These are the people who will have their ears to the ground and be able to feel changes in customer attitudes and behaviors.
  • Care about your customers. Don’t ever take them for granted. You need us!

photo credit: AngelaArcher.com

Make it personal to build customer loyalty

Pubix, where shopping is REALLY a pleasure.While successful businesses have always been about price, quality, and customer service, what can an organization do to guarantee that a particular customer will keep coming back? With so much competition out there and everyone trying to outdo each other, building customer loyalty is not an easy task.

No matter how you address it, customer loyalty emanates from excellent customer service. Consumers want their shopping experiences to be completely effortless and done to perfection. In other words, the easier and better a business is able to make one’s shopping experience, the more the consumer is likely to return.

As an example, today I was doing a hefty grocery shopping run since my son was coming home from for the holidays. At checkout, the cashier asked me if I had found everything I needed. I told her I couldn’t find chocolate chip muffins, and within the “blink of any eye” an associate came over to me and asked if I would like him to see if the bakery section had put the muffins out (the bakery had been making them when I started shopping)? And by the time the cashier had finished ringing up my purchases, the associate returned with the chocolate muffins!

Were my expectations met? Yes, they were, and today every experience in the Publix supermarket was  more than pleasant – from the handy sanitary wipes for cleaning the handles on my shopping cart to the helpful assistant checking on the status of the freshly baked muffins. It was the combination of the smiling and interested cashier along with the immediate response of the assistant to engage me as a customer and show me how important my needs are to the company they represent.

Of course there are other methods organizations use to build customer loyalty. In many retail or service industries remembering client names, birthdays and anniversaries establish an emotional link. Still other businesses track a customer’s favorite products. I’m a regular shopper at the Clinique counter in one local department store. I always receive reminders, special offers, and discounts via email and regular mail. They track my regular purchases and introduce me to other products related to what I have purchased in the past which are  likely to be of interest to me.

And of course, there are all  the loyalty programs that are multi tiered as a customer spends more or stays with a company for an extended period of time. If the benefits are relevant and easily redeemed, consumers want to participate. Everyone wants something for nothing; everyone wants to be appreciated. It’s not always about selling something to someone either. Be sincere when making people feel important and appreciate them as people – not just as a dollar sign.

photo credit: sylvar

Customer complaint procedures to make a difference

Line for ORCANo one is immune to lousy customer service, but I may be more critical because I write a daily blog about customer service and often my own experiences. Admittedly I most likely delve into more of the procedural nuances that separate good customer service and experiences with the “WOW” services, but when it comes to poor service, I’m just as susceptible to the frustration as any of my family, neighbors, or coworkers. It’s absolutely inevitable that we will all be met with some unpleasant, frustrating, or even maddening experiences, but how we handle the situation is likely to make a difference in both the resolution as well as our own well-being.

Let us start from the beginning. When you want to complain about a product or a service, “Rule 101” demands you stay calm. Even though you may have been routed to different departments about your complaint, left on hold for what you consider an unreasonable amount of time,  you must remember to state the situation clearly, explain your dissatisfaction, and do not dwell on the emotional distress you may be feeling. As entitled as you are to your own feelings, the idea is to fix the situation; not participate in an emotional battle and accuse the agent of being the bad guy.

So now you have made your point, and it’s time to follow-up the conversation in writing. You can send it by email or by regular mail, but the key to the writing follow-up is to be sure the name and address of your contact is clearly indicated. If your letter goes to a general customer service department, it may very well get lost and most likely never be answered. You will want your letter to be constructive. No one wants to read a 300 word tirade about a product you didn’t like or a service you didn’t think was up to par. Suggest what could be done to rectify the situation. Think about, within reason of course, what the company could do to have a mutually agreeable solution. Perhaps the company will take your suggestions.

Now here is where there might be some argument. Some consumers are very happy when a company or organization simply apologizes for bad service and offers the consumer a coupon for a discount. Is the ten percent discount on your next purchase just a buy off to make you come back? Has the company corrected the problem? As consumers we have the right to expect what we pay for; whether it be a product or service. As an example, in the case of an airline company keeping passengers waiting out on the tarmac for an unreasonable amount of time; the problem has been addressed and practical solutions are more in line than ever before. Many dissatisfied customers who complained did get bonus air miles applicable to another flight, but also positive solutions followed the debacle.

Finally, consider giving the company a second chance if they have followed through in their attempts to correct the problem. Thank the company for listening; give them another chance and maybe consider flying with Continental Airlines again.

photo credit: Oran Viriyincy

A Service Untitled Milestone

Cheryl’s post yesterday marked an important milestone for Service Untitled – our 1,000th post. I started Service Untitled all the way back in April 2006 (you can see the full archives here) and since then, the blog has grown into a leading blog on customer service and the customer service experience. We’ve published a lot of posts that I am very proud of, including a number of terrific interviews, book reviews, and more.

As I’ve gotten busier, Service Untitled has still grown in other ways. We’ve added other writers, including staff writer Cheryl Hanna (who happens to be my mom as well as a great writer), regular contributors Chip Bell and John Patterson, and a variety of other guest authors. These people have contributed advice and expertise that I may not have from my own experiences through the companies I’ve been involved with as an employee or consultant. One of the main reasons I started Service Untitled was to learn and it’s been a great experience so far. I’ve learned a lot about customer service and have talked to a lot of very interesting people.

We’re looking forward to the next 1,000 posts. Thanks for reading.

Is customer satisfaction exploited by the fine print?

DSC02285In Flanders, New Jersey, George Filimonchuk planned his Black Friday shopping expedition at Walmart. He received a flyer two days earlier advertising Walmart’s sale of  a 32″ Emerson LCD television for $198 which Filimonchuk had planned to present to his teenage daughter Alexis for Christmas. He made arrangements for Alexis to sleep over at one of her friend’s home so he could be sure the television would be a surprise.

Filimonchuk noted the sale for electronics started at 5:00 AM and was there at the store on time. When he arrived, however, all of the televisions were sold. Apparently tickets had been passed out at midnight, and because George was not there at the time, the same television would now cost him $80 more. There was no mention of tickets being distributed on the flyer. A sales representative told him there would be no “rain checks,” however the fine print stated Walmart would grant rainchecks – “Just ask.” Then there was more fine print which in addition stated, “unless your items are deemed ‘limited quantity.'”

George forged on to the store manager who read the fine print, but was also confused. Shop Smart Magazine editor Jody Rohlena joined in the confusion and notified the local television station who also became involved until Walmart’s executive offices finally succumbed to the public pressure and sold George the television at the discounted price.

Walmart never did explain the inconsistencies between the advertisement and what customers were told in the store, and it continues to bring up the often very confusing verbiage of the “fine print.” Some consumer advocates consider the “fine print” a subtle form of fraud or exploitation. Was the flyer that Mr.Filimonchuk received just a clever lure for the old “bait and switch”?

The government mandates that manufacturers and service providers disclose fees, consequences, etc. to consumers. In bank loans we read about fees, breach of contract, sign-up deals, and rebates if and only if certain procedures and criteria are followed. These are  commonly confusing and only translatable by an attorney. So are we now forced to hire a lawyer to read  the fine print for retailers’ holiday sales? Black Friday is supposed to be about phenomenal deals, breathtaking bargains, and an overwhelming selection of superb holiday gifts. We’re supposed to be rewarded for getting out of our warm beds at 4:00 in the morning to rush out to the stores for their wonderful offerings. After all the sales usually just last a limited time. Why are retailers now limiting the limits?

Customer satisfaction may not be high on a retailer’s list during Black Friday and the subsequent busiest shopping season of the year, but rest assured when the presents are unwrapped, the tree stored away, and the shoppers are chatting away while working off those excess pounds on the treadmill, your store with the “fine print” might be the next one shoppers decide not to visit anymore.

photo credit: Chamber of Fea

Warm thoughts for customer service during the holidays

Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesYou’re most likely sending out emails, brochures, and promotions with greetings of the season, but what happens after the lights are removed and the tree is packed away? Are you still showing your customers that you appreciate their business all year round? You want to show sincere appreciation for customer patronage and want them to feel valued for making the choice of spending their hard-earned money at your organization.

Here are some suggestions to help convey your warm thoughts of appreciation:

– Be helpful. Share your wisdom and use Twitter or Facebook to enrich people’s lives. Generally as a business owner, you can figure out current trends; use these trends to educate people. Ask your readers as you send out regular emails, what kind of information they want to learn. For instance, if you run a landscaping business, send out updates about seasonal plantings, trends in gardening, herbs, etc. Don’t just promote your product, but give something valuable.
– Take care of your customers and attract new ones. Give or send out coupons with a significant savings to give people a well-appreciated discount. Think about buying some small branded useful gifts to give out as promotions; key chains, cups, coolers, umbrellas, etc. Be a “go to” provider for guides, reports, and information about your industry. If you sell windows and doors, be an informational resource for “green environments” and supply the latest information on tax credits.
– Customer Appreciation Day. Choose a theme to invite clients, customers, and their guests to your store for a special event. A local jewelry store can promote a new designer, and invite customers for wine, cheese, and an exclusive premier of a new jewelry line. A real estate business might present a seminar on mortgages, home inspections, or how to spruce up your home to realize the maximum profit. Promote these events via email, newsletters, or social media.
– Give back. Today our real estate company helped with our local television news station to raise money for the local Quantum House. It helps so many parents and their children. All businesses and organizations should help their community; donate your time, money, and resources to make this a better world we all live in together.

    Do these simple tasks again and again; not just at holiday time. Make it a New Year’s Resolution to find out what is on a customer’s mind; listen to what they have to say, and respond and adapt to compliments and complaints. Customers remember, and isn’t that what we want them to do?

    photo credit: Holidayextras

    Customer experience with Keurig is the sum total of the whole

    TeaCustomer experience doesn’t just begin and end with a visit to the store, an interaction with a sales representative, and the subsequent purchase of the product. It’s made up of details; lots of details both intentional and unintentional. Our overall customer experience is the quality aggregate of an entire organization.

    Let us take the example of Keurig and the Special Edition Keurig Brewer and assume that I was attracted to the product from advertisements I saw on television; a busy person wanting a quick cup of coffee in the morning, turning the machine on, placing a K-cup in the holder, closing the lid and in 60 seconds a flashing light appears signaling my coffee is ready. So the experience begins. I am attracted to the product; I purchase the product, and use the product. My customer experience however does not end, because within a nine-month period I am not enjoying that quick cup of coffee; the machine only drips out a half-cup.

    The measure of quality and overall design and assembly of a product can diminish my customer experience. Early on, I was already taking apart the K-Cup Holder Assembly, cleaning the funnel, cleaning the exit needle, and now de-scaling the brewer. Doesn’t it sound like a lot of trouble for a quick cup of coffee in the morning? Even if the product is working right, but there is a flaw in my perception how does this affect my customer experience? The television advertisement intentionally showed me a quick convenient way to have my morning cup of coffee.

    Customer service has taken me through the basic steps of testing the machine, and now suggest I do another longer eight-hour descaling although none of my neighbors using the identical water supply have had the problem. Still that’s a lot of work for that quick cup of morning coffee the intentional advertisement wanted me to perceive.

    When a consumer’s perception suffers, the quality of the product loses credibility because now the experience doesn’t measure up to what  was promised as what was perceived as true. At some point now, my unintentional customer experience kicks in when I tell my friends about all the trouble I have with the coffee maker. It’s not that customer service was rude either; they were helpful, but how have they added to my positive experience and how have they identified my lack of satisfaction? Now I’m responsible for a prolonged process to correct a design flaw? The customer service agent did ask me if I wanted to purchase at an additional cost a specific filter not originally included in the $150+ machine.

    Who do you trust to recommend a product? Do you listen to the advertisements on television, the internet, magazines, or do you pay attention to friends and relatives?  A business needs to measure all details and see which ones really make the difference in someone’s total customer experience. I am sorry to report there has been no “wow” experience with Keurig.

    photo credit: SadyeBabi

    Tis the season for customer service

    Food court (Right)We’re approaching home plate for the 2010 shopping season with the best opportunity to realize a profit after a challenging year of budget minded shoppers. Tis the season for shopping, that’s for sure, and chances are businesses will meet new shoppers they have never met before. Why not use the opportunity to attract new customers?

    A customer’s first impression is the most important part of the initial sales experience. That visual appeal of your store, and that smile of the professionally turned out sales person making the customer feel welcome and important sets the tone of the good things yet to come. What’s more fun than walking into a store filled with delightful sights, warm aromas, and experienced personnel who are a reflection of the quality establishment you pride yourself on having developed?

    As an owner or a manager, choose your staff well. Only choose the best candidates; there is plenty of talent available because of the job market and economy. Interview the best candidates and train them well; a customer doesn’t know who has only been hired for the holiday rush. Provide all new personnel with the tools for their positions. Quality sales personnel don’t shoot from the hip when a customer walks in or needs assistance. Have performance standards for all departments, and make sure to impress upon the staff how the little things make a huge difference.

    For instance, how many of us have ever walked into a store and were immediately descended upon by an overzealous sales person? Holiday shoppers are frequently harried, but a professional, well-groomed, informed sales associate with a warm smile and friendly disposition can have a profound effect on a shopper. A trained associate knows to ask a customer if they need help; perhaps giving the customer the lay of the land or the store and then leaving the customer to casually browse. Many floor sales associates gather to chat with each other at that time; the professional watches the customer and observes the nonverbal signals and eye contact when a customer is looking for assistance.

    Even cashiers can make an impression on a customer. I personally find it rude to be waiting in a line when a gum chewing associate at the cash register in a department store yells “NEXT.” Even when I run into my nearby Publix supermarket for a half-gallon of milk, the cashier always greets me with a smile, eye contact, and asks me how I am doing. Teach cashiers to politely ask if they can help a customer and expect any employee to make eye contact.

    For employees who are hired for high paced stores during the holidays in delivery, assembly, or even loading , make sure acceptable behavior is reinforced. I think most people understand the logistics of getting those Christmas bicycles assembled, loading the playhouse parts into the minivan, and having the holiday turkey cooked to perfection, but when employees get rude, will those people who were scoffed at be back to buy more toys, and more food after the holidays are over?

    photo credit: DocBadwrench

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