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Customer service goes holographic

Two Holograms: Rimmer and LeiaManchester Airport’s Terminal in London introduced holographic customer service agents today. Yes, no kidding, and the holographic images, reproduced from real-life customer agents Julie Caper and John Walsh have been deployed at the entrance to the security area of the airport. Some passengers have even tried to hand their passports to the holograms; that’s realistic.

Simon Cowell used the same virtual technology to bring a holographic image of Frank Sinatra for Cowell’s 5oth birthday party. The company Musion who created the virtual employees has also worked with the rock bands, The Black-Eyed Peas and Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn.

The holographic couple will be explaining and reminding passengers about luggage related restrictions with the intentions of cutting down traffic security lines. Airline officials state that the information about permissible liquids and make-up is posted in many different locations, but passengers are still throwing away non permissible liquids at check points. It is hoped that people seeing the holographic staff members will inspire passengers to pay more attention. It certainly is more cost-effective to use holograms than paying a real person to repeat the same restrictions everyday for hours and hours at a time.

Holographic staff however, does bring some questions to mind. Imagine the holographic duo prompting a passenger to quickly move ahead to the security area. Passengers can’t stop or ask questions. Can that not be anymore frustrating than having to wait “on hold” for a real customer service agent? Imagine having to hear the same holographic speech over and over again at peak holiday times or travel times. Can you get arrested by the TSA for attempting to slap a hologram?

I can’t help but think once the novelty of the holographic pair wears off, passengers will ignore John and Julie just as they ignore the constant airport announcements as to what liquids can be carried onto a plane. I much prefer my customer service agents to be real, breathing humans and not “tensator virtual assistants.” If I want to see holograms, I’ll go to a concert.

photo credit: ssoosay

Create a “wow” experience and customers will come

Covent Garden 17-12-10Customer experiences ultimately make the difference between customers walking through the door of your business or that of your competition. It doesn’t happen by chance because all functions in an organization need to be aligned in order for the process to run perfectly. We want those customers to become fans; think Pittsburgh Steelers and Greenbay Packers Superbowl – the ultimate in “wow” experience. Alright admittedly that seems over the top, but nevertheless a work in progress requires an immense amount of work and dedication to finally realize your goals.

Positive customer experience begins with the right promises. What are customer expectations in your particular organization? How does operations, staff, and products all fit together in order to make great experiences happen?

Even small things done really well can help to create that ultimate experience. Perhaps you may consider the following suggestions:

  • Send your customers reminders by text, phone, or mail about store promotions, sales, new products, and special events. Do something just a little differently even if it is  just offering cheese and crackers, small promotional gifts, or an additional discount to the first 25 customers who participate or come into your store.
  • Have gift cards available for customers. They are an easy and convenient way to shop.
  • Have a loyalty club where customers can earn points for rewards. Make it easy for customers, and don’t have too many exceptions. Nothing ruins the experience more than a long list of what “does not qualify” on a redemption loyalty card.
  • Remind customers about warranty renewals. Be consistent, and show you are paying attention to your customers. Is it time for servicing of their product? It’s a great way to stay in touch.
  • Have customers create their own wish list and keep it on file. Just think of all the significant others who could actually purchase a gft for someone and know that is what the person really wanted.
  • Be a knowledge base for customers. Know your product, and know your product well. Answer questions, know who or where to go to in case of an unknown contingency. Be that “go to” person for your customer.
  • Teach employees to recognize and respond to customers attitudes and behaviors.

Great experiences fly. The word will get out, and the customers will come.

photo credit: Karen Roe

What customers don’t forget about service

DeskThe top companies never create doubt with their customers. They provide flawless service of the highest caliber thus creating high levels of customer trust. Not every company can operate as consistently as the Ritz Carlton or Zappos, but positive problem resolution can  build customer engagement. Now the question is how can an organization that experiences a problem regain their professional composure and still maintain that ever sought after customer engagement?

In today’s market, customers use online and offline engagement with each other or with a company, and with this avalanche of data, customers make their decision where to shop, how much to spend, and who gives the best service and support. Since the explosive use of  Twitter, Google, and Facebook, social media has become fully integrated into a customer’s overall marketing decision. So when a company’s product or service department goes awry, it’s likely to cause a cosmic stir.

People don’t forget when there’s a problem, but rather than accept failure or try to make excuses, an organization should engage in a positive problem resolution. For instance, in the case of Radio Shack when I purchased one of their wireless phones, within two months the phone didn’t work. I returned the phone, and the store replaced it. Not one month later, the replacement phone didn’t work, so again I returned it, and the store offered to give me a third phone. By this time I didn’t want the third phone and just asked for a refund. I felt there was no resolution to my problem, and since that time I have not purchased anything in Radio Shack. They weren’t rude; they refunded my money, but they never did anything to show me they even cared about my problem or their product failure.

Organizations that have experienced problems with certain products or service, can actually use their failures to build customer engagement. When companies figure out how they failed, and effectively handle complaints, customers feel they are important. Radio Shack never asked me for any customer feedback; they just exchanged the phone. When the product failed the second time, the sales representative didn’t even flinch when I asked for a refund instead of the third replacement. Where were the tools, and why wasn’t an employee trained to handle an obvious product failure?

Here is what should have happened. After my first experience with a faulty product, a representative should have asked me for feedback about the product. When the replacement product failed again, the company should have been figuring out what went wrong; especially in light of the sales person admitting other phones had also been returned. The manufacturer should have been working on the obvious design flaw. A different phone should have been offered as a replacement, even if the company had to replace it with a more expensive model. I should have been “wowed” with the customer experience that showed Radio Shack really cared about me. Instead I went to Brands Mart and found a phone that worked.

If you have a product failure or a service failure, research, plan, engage, and measure. Identify and analyze what customers are saying through social conversations. The incoming data can positively fuel the growth of an organization that uses a systematic recovery plan. Even through failures, that bright light of success can shine through.

photo credit: cote

Customer service reality show?

London at Christmas Time 17-12-10In Great Britain, Mary Portas used to help failing businesses get back on the right path, but now she has changed sides and stars in a customer service reality show. I admit I sometimes get hooked on reality shows; American Idol, New Jersey Housewives, and a few others, but now we make way for hidden cameras and mystery shoppers as the lack of customer service is exposed for all the world to see.

Portas thinks that Britain has the worst customer service, and customers have never had it so bad. Her small army of secret shoppers go undercover to various retailers, and report back to managers and owners – using the actual video footage as proof of the poor service. From shoddy floors, minimal service, and apathetic staff, Portas reports using the customer’s point of view. She hopes to find out why customers are being sold short and plans to come up with solutions.

So what is she doing? Portas investigates many of the basic elements associated with responsible customer-centric organizations. In a furniture store, she evaluated sales personnel who sold people “stuff” they didn’t need. In a dress shop, she went undercover and noted very little customer service. In a local supermarket she commented that the cashier only asked if the customer had their club card, but never told the customer the price of the item. Her visit to a jewelry store revealed the sales person did not know the inventory. In other words, Portas says we have lost the ability to communicate, and consumers accept this practice. She rated 90 percent of businesses as not putting the customer first.

When asked what she thought about customer service in the United States, Portas rated us as superb, but qualified that positive answer with American sales people sell on commission so are therefore more motivated to give better customer service. Portas told about her positive buying experience at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The new host said her teenagers do not expect good service, and never even expect to be greeted by anyone when they walk into a store. She says it’s the results of the last 15 years when money was easy, and everyone was spending. Now that the economy has drastically changed, people are much more concerned how they shop and what they buy. Organizations need to put the customer first, and spend more money, resources, and time on training than merely placing a sign on the back of a door reminding  sales associates to smile before walking out on the sales floor.

Portas did extend kudos to The Apple Store delivering one of the best retail experiences with their Genius Bar – a part of the store where well-trained computer “geeks” gave out free advice.

Arguments and resistance, with a few nasty remarks thrown in, make for great reality shows. After all shopping is a great American and British pastime. I wonder if it’s being pitched to American television too?

photo credit: Karen Roe

What surveys can teach us about our customers

New Rockin' ShoesSome critics say that customer satisfaction surveys are merely retailer popularity contests, but I disagree. When the same organizations continue to rise to the top of survey after survey and that special quality sets them apart from their competition, there is most likely something to learn and serious food for thought.

In Australia, Morgan Research surveyed 448 customers who had made purchases in the last four weeks in the non-food category of retailers. Customer service and satisfaction ideals are pretty much universal feelings, so except for the accents and a different currency exchange, there were important customer satisfaction results that give us another practical view of what makes one business step ahead of their competition.

The survey found that price isn’t the only factor that affects a customer’s choice. Some popular bargain stores scored toward the bottom of the list. Although the names of the following stores may not all be familiar to us here in the United States, the concepts are aimed directly toward the customer, the importance of recognizing the customer as valuable, advanced employee training, trust, and that ever developing “stepping out of the box” or “wow” customer service.

The Athlete’s Foot is a specialized store viewed as expensive so therefore can not compete price wise, but their customer service level is renown as their staff is promoted as experts in their field. The store scored 90.9 percent in the satisfaction scale. Here the customer has their feet measured, and the staff makes personal recommendations.

Other stores that scored high were Borders, and even though not the cheapest, their cafes make the store a destination rather than just a store. Customers also liked the layout and user friendliness of the  store. JB HiFi gives the appearance of  a bargain store, and they are popularly known to haggle prices on big-ticket items such as televisions. Their willingness to make a deal has customers responding in positive ways. The Chemist Warehouse uses their personalized service and their specialized product knowledge as their way to a customer’s trust. And the retail specialty garment shop, Bras N Things has been around what seems forever and has built up recognition and trust by assisting in expert fitting and 100 percent guarantees on any ill-fitting garment.

Even in the United States, and one click or one prominently displayed phone number away, Zappos revolutionized shoe buying with a company spirit that considers themselves a customer service organization that sells shoes and other products. Note the trend of customer trust, loyalty, expertly trained employees, accurate fulfillment and that obsession with customer service. Except for the accent and the foreign currency, aren’t we all alike?

photo credit: joebeone

Complain with flair

Holiday Inn ~ RestaurantLast night several of us were at a new restaurant in town to celebrate a friend’s new job. It was 7:00; prime dining time in crowded Palm Beach, but that’s just part of the dining experience in this town. What is not part of the experience however is poor service; no one expects service failures, but no one wants to see a party of four raising their voices, losing their tempers, or threatening the servers.

The other party had been seated near us, so it wasn’t hard to watch the action. The servers had undoubtedly been slow to bring the food, slow to respond to the diners’ repeated demands for more bread and for more drinks. Someone’s dinner was too well done; another person’s dinner was not done enough; it was the table of doom, but did all the diners in the restaurant have to be a part of the drama? So this is what has given me the idea to list and briefly describe how to complain the right way:

– No matter how angry you get, bite your tongue before you lose your temper. It may give you a moment’s satisfaction, but it doesn’t solve anything.
– Remain calm and clear when you are expressing your complaints. Don’t be accusatory; explain what your complaints are and explain it in detail. For instance, if service is slow, and you feel you have had to wait much too long for your salad or your soup, explain that to the manager. Be firm, but don’t be rude, sarcastic, or insulting.
– Complain constructively. Suggest the servers handle less tables and hire more staff to accommodate the crowds. If a party of six has a reservation at a specific time, and the party is still waiting after an appreciable amount of time, suggest the hosting staff take another look at a better solution.
– Don’t accept a free dessert or complimentary drinks as the solution. Many times managers find it easier to send over a round of drinks to express their apology, but that doesn’t solve the problem of terrible service or food improperly prepared.
– All complaints should be followed up in writing. If the restaurant is a chain, the complaint is likely to makes its way to management.
– Give the organization one more chance.

    photo credit: prayitno

    The voice of the customer

    Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesEvery business knows in order to keep customers, the organization needs to understand what is important.  For instance, a company concentrates on core values including  hiring, firing, promotions, slogans, and of course the products and services. In the normal realm of business, as we all look for the leading edge, it is most frequently price competition or offering more features at  more attractive prices that bring us new customers and keep the old ones. We know that staying in touch for the good, bad, and the ugly also round out our commitment to our customers.

    While all of the above are certainly integral components of a successful business, there are way too many businesses that are almost identical, and with that in mind, eventually a customer is going to defect and run over to the competition. Somehow we need to prove to the customer or the client they are important, but not just for us to meet their expectations, but to exceed their expectations.

    So how does an organization become customer-centric? Once the better product has been surpassed by DEF Company, how does ABC Company pull out of their dust? Customer-centric isn’t just about customer service, because everyone  now insists that is part of day-to-day business operations, however most customer service departments run with generalized scripts or more so – one size fits all. Customer-centric breaks down the scripts to responding to different types of customers based on their shopping habits, geographic locations, and even spending habits. It’s in the ability to respond to customer feedback, and with planned efficiency give back to the customer the level of attention and response they deserve using the latest technology and information.

    Customer-centric organizations align all of their resources. Their staff, technology, products, and services all mesh together developing a culture of excited employees; people who know what is going on both during the business day but also within the organization. Staff members are kept in constant communication; they are rewarded, their experiences are shared, and the commitment to employees is shared via their enthusiasm towards their jobs.

    Is there any company more customer-centric than Zappos? Have we not enjoyed the interviews and learned from Tony Hsieh? His customer service is part of his marketing expenses, and every day spent on the telephone with customers help to create that unusual if not quirky weirdness that customers just adore. The passion of his staff, their enthusiasm to overcome each and every hurdle, and their training; all core values that have grown and continue to grow in a company that humility and passion built.

    photo credit: Holidayextras

    Be an advocate for customer satisfaction

    John FowlerWe’re a few weeks into the new year, and most of us are looking forward to a profitable 2011. In the real estate market, the past few years have been challenging, however customer satisfaction strategies remain an important key to success. I work in a progressive and staff empowering office, and thought today I would share some of the strategies the manager of our office uses to help agents promote customer satisfaction. After all, the success of any real estate professional is greatly affected by their customer service and satisfaction skills.

    Keyes Real Estate is a family owned business selling real estate throughout Florida. It’s a very hands on organization with management priorities reflected in the positive attitude of the owners. There is a profound appreciation for team members who contribute to the success of the company. The positive momentum is recognized with each and every staff meeting; the manager has never walked into a meeting in a “bad” mood. There is no negativity; there are always strategies introduced for success. The organization’s commitment to the best tools, the latest technology, and the extensive training offered are by far no accidents.

    Customer satisfaction in real estate comes as a result of well-trained real estate agents who are comfortable with themselves and able to apply the tools available to ensure the best possible outcome for either a buyer or a seller. Staff meetings provide recognition of success, praise, staff interaction, and the timeless strong message of team players within the organization. Individual successes are recognized, and team members share their stories – many times inspiring others to reach for the stars. Actions to improve customer satisfaction are regularly highlighted; problem solving workshops work hand in hand providing solutions to enhance service commitments. Although there is always competition within the group, rewards are still recognized on all different levels of achievement.

    The business of people pleasing and anticipating customer needs make selling real estate an exciting profession. When customers are made the priority and real estate agents deliver exceptional service, the ultimate rewards of loyalty and repeat business make the difference between good and great realtors. Maybe more so in real estate now than ever – if we don’t take care of our customers, our competition will!

    photo credit: Oracle_Photos_Screenshots

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