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Building respect as part of your company culture

Happy Valentine's Day!Out of the  top industries which include airlines, banks, cell phone services, credit cards, hotels, insurance firms, internet providers, investment companies, medical insurance, and retailers, consumers ultimately choose good customer service over low prices. While low prices certainly entice us to buy from someone, a bad experience and a lack of respect can drive that customer away in a New York moment.

Customers deserve respect even if they are wrong. From the moment a customer connects with a sales representative, either on the phone or in person, right up to the end of the conversation a customer wants the sales person to guide them through the array of choices. As an example, I was online trying to order a chocolate delight to send out for Valentine’s Day. The agent’s voice was friendly, warm, and professional. She knew her inventory well, and she was able to explain every option with me and even volunteered to add a special item to my order to really personalize the gift for me. There was no doubt in my mind that this sales person really enjoyed her job and had a passion to please.

So what makes a company really shine? It’s the culture of the organization; it’s respect. Companies that outshine others are those that screen and hire candidates with a passion to please and a sincere respect for others. Zappos hires candidates through a series of multiple interviews including a session with a voice coach, and a business psychologist. The voice coach evaluates the warmth, tone, personality, and empathy of the candidate. The psychologist tests the candidate’s reaction to pressure on the job. By the time the training period is over, the sales representative knows that customer respect is the mainstay of the company. Tony Hsieh believes customers are always entitled to their voice and opinion; even if they want to rant.

It is truly special people who are the best representatives for a company. I doubt there’s not many of us who can state we have never lost our tempers dealing with a frustrating customer service or sales representative. Someone at the bank just shared with me that he was speaking with an IRS agent the other day and became agitated when the agent disallowed a deduction. The IRS agent allegedly put the citizen into a telephone “timeout kiosk.” The citizen said he held there for 20 minutes and eventually just hung up.

It’s dubious that the  government will choose to send all of their employees to charm school, but respect should be in the first page of any training manual. Those sales agents we hire who can keep their temper in extreme diversity, have good memories, speak the English language well, and show through their actions their commitment and respect toward a company’s culture should be honored and cherished by all employers.

photo credit: jurvetson

Rate customer service from your iPhone

A new customer rating service is now available on your iPhone as Tello officially arrived at the App Store. It can be used to rate nearby businesses in your iPhone geolocation. Once you find or enter a business, you enter the name of the employee you want to rate. A thumbs up or thumbs down icon appears, and if you want to spend a bit more time about your good or bad experience, you can enter a brief comment. The entire experience takes less than 30 seconds. Tello comments can be shared on Facebook and Twitter.

CEO of Tello, Joe Beninato says the service exists primarily to thank employees for their excellent customer service. How many times have we all been to restaurants or bars and have had great service, but there is too much confusion or it’s too crowded to search out a manager to give the employee a great review? Maybe you even want to thank the employee at your local dry cleaners who was able to get out that impossible red wine stain out of your favorite sweater. Beninato says Tello also exists to provide constructive feedback.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had customer rating services accompany us in our pockets and purses. There’s Yelp which is a web service for rating local businesses also, but seems to focus mostly on eateries. Where Yelp concentrates on the customer experience and a review of the restaurant, Tello focuses on how the customer was treated. Was the wait staff attentive? Were you seated in a timely manner when you arrived for your 7:00 reservations? Gripe, another similar application uses social networking to pressure businesses to improve their customer service.

So what’s the future of all of these new services rating services? I tried the Tello app on my friend’s iPhone yesterday and only one business showed up. That was disappointing. Beninato says he doesn’t want it to conflict with any customer rating services. Rather Tello wants to be the “go to” for businesses as a way of checking on their own success with customer service. Eventually Beninato plans to offer businesses the means to communicate with customers directly. For instance, if you check into a hotel and you’re upset that the air-conditioning in the room is not working correctly, you can rate the service. Right now the customer can only contact the business and leave a comment. At some time in the future Beninato hopes the company will be able to get right back to the consumer – hopefully spurring quicker and more efficient customer service.

Pretty soon, we’re all going to need the iPhone app to find the correct app!

Internet retailers should capitalize on customer service

WordCamp Curitiba dias 22 e 23 de Outubro na FESP/PRMuch of retail has shifted from brick and mortar to internet shopping. We can shop anytime; the e-commerce site doesn’t close at 9:00 PM, no need to find a parking space, and a ton of other conveniences including saving $3.40 per gallon of gas to drive to the stores. Customers are definitely interested in low competitive prices, but if you’re a small to medium company, there’s going to be a problem competing with the large companies, so the focus is going to have to fall on customer service if you’re going to survive.

In a brick and mortar establishment, you have the advantage of a sign, a checkout counter where your customer is handed a receipt, aisle displays, roomy dressing rooms, customer service area, and a sales floor representative helping you to choose your merchandise. Your internet site therefore needs to appeal to a browser and must arouse interest and be meaningful as your potential customer clicks on for a better view.

How do you make your e-commerce site irresistible? Besides the obvious, which is an attractive home page, meaningful information, special offers, and a highlighted area of the most popular items, why not focus on touch points – which are  essentially the details that precipitate interaction or contact between your organization and your customer? Here are some suggestions:

  • Websites should be attractive, but keep it simple. It can be a turn-off to potential shoppers to click onto a website and have to listen to loud music, ( I can never find the volume control.) pop-ups, forms, surveys, or the need to log in for a membership.
  • Email inquiries, suggestions, or complaints must be answered within one shopping day. All emails should be signed by a particular person related to the subject. Generic email messages do not inspire customer loyalty.
  • Phone calls should be answered promptly, but employees need to have a particular company protocol where each customer service question can be handled efficiently. Think about the details of the phone calls including the “on-hold music” or message.
  • Customer ordering should be user-friendly and methodical. The website should clearly explain security measures for credit cards, returns, receipts, back orders, and deliveries.
  • Product packaging should be part of your branding. Quality design and attractiveness impress customers.
  • Shipping details should reflect the quality of your business. When merchandise arrives, and it is in great condition because of quality packing which includes stuffing, wrapping, and taping, internet shopping comes off as flawless. One site I shop at uses pink shipping boxes; what a great signature branding idea.

E-commerce customers view you by the way you handle small details, so train your employees well and correct any problems as they occur. Let your hallmark of business be focused on pleasing your customers with quality and great service.

photo credit: rafaeldesigner

Employee recognition beneficial to customer service

10di1555-19If you’re in business, you’re in customer service, and direct employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are ultimately intertwined. So why not hedge your bets and recognize employees for their time and effort? If you see employees as important investments, then you realize the need to show appreciation for jobs well done, time spent serving your company, and those extra steps some staff members always seem to demonstrate that make us as company owners and compassionate humans just so proud.

Yesterday at a Super Bowl party I attended, an older gentleman told me about working for a company over 30 years. He reminisced about an amazing sales career and told me his own office was filled with top salesperson awards from wall to wall. He was obviously proud of his accomplishments and even more impressed with his company’s continued recognition of his successes by their milestone announcements, gifts, dinners, and those personal touch rewards every employee appreciates.

Even when the company he worked for was forced to downsize and economize on expenses, there were still gifts and dinners to highlight employee recognition. The company originally distributed a company catalog the staff  could browse through and select a gift based on their length of service, their contribution to the company, or whatever criteria that enabled a staff member to participate and choose a reward. For instance, there were company branded gift items employees could put on their walls and their desks. Gift certificates were handed out for the local malls, as were personalized gifts, accessories, and lunch invitations with the boss; all meant to show a sincere appreciation of a job well done. When you think about how much it cost to find, hire, and train new employees, isn’t it even more important to consistently demonstrate how important that person is and has been to the workforce community?

Of course, the type of gifts selected depends on the philosophy of the organization. One of the journalism companies I work with has an employee website with access to personalized gifts, gift certificates, and assorted rewards for outstanding staff contributions. The selection of gifts is based on your anniversary date, extra service, and your work evaluations. I think it is far more appreciated than just handing out the obligatory gold watch after 25 years, and it certainly means a lot to anyone when your boss shows the appreciation.

If you want your customers to be served well, serve your employees well too. There’s nothing like walking into a Monday morning staff meeting and having someone hand you a certificate of accomplishment for a job well done.

photo credit: USDAgov

It’s charm school for Delta Airlines

A330-300 Delta Air LinesWhen Delta merged with Northwest Airlines, it seemed just to make a wider venue for the endless lack of customer service and concern. Delta received the highest rate of customer complaints filed with the Department of Transportation for the first nine months of last year, and they were only one step above dead last for on time arrivals and baggage handling through November. If that wasn’t enough to make Delta Executive Vice President, Glen Hauenstein sad, Delta also had the shameful distinction of rating the highest for canceled flights for 2010.

Delta blames the high rate of canceled flights on repairs, lack of parts, and understaffed airport workers. They are now reportedly hiring 1000 new workers and increasing their inventory of spare parts and spare planes.

The most impressive part of the new Delta image, centers around two-billion dollars worth of customer service instruction for the 11,000 ticket counter agents, gate attendants, baggage personnel, and supervisors. The one-day course will concentrate on finding ways to assist travelers rather than just blowing them off with a sigh of indifference. Training facilitators will help agents show their appreciation of customers and the money travelers spend. Dealing with the most common complaint from customers, “no one cared or apologized” customer service training will now emphasize the “high value customers,” all of whom these frequent fliers make up 26 percent of the total revenue for the airlines.

Customer service training will center around the universal principals, however it won’t be about offering waivers or bending the rules. Passengers may get bad news with a smile now, and agents will no longer feel they have to apologize for extra charge add-on baggage fees. Instead agents will explain that customers pay for what they use; “a la carte” fee. It’s not meant to make the passenger feel any better; just a polite way to say “it’s another way for the airlines to make more profit.”

What is bound to improve however is the emphasis on the customer service training. Here is a peek as to what will be emphasized in customer service charm school:

  • Make it personal. Agents will be concentrating on one passenger at a time instead of looking down the line at the ten people waiting for service.
  • Be empathetic. Agents should try to place themselves in the shoes of the traveler. Missing a flight and missing a job interview, or not making a connecting flight are routine complaints for agents, but not for travelers.
  • Listen, ask, listen. An example of dealing with a customer’s lost luggage which contains necessary medications may first have been viewed by an agent as a stupid mistake the passenger made for checking a bag with medicine. Through listening the customer service agent discovers it is the fault of the airlines because there was no more space in the overheads, and the carry-on baggage had to be checked.
  • Solve together. Offer solutions and choices.
  • Be there. Don’t just physically be there because it is your job, and you only have 26 months, two-days and four hours left until you are eligible for retirement benefits. Do more than just process orders. Care about your job.

We’ll check back this year, and figure out if classes will benefit this organization. For sure – it can’t hurt!

photo credit: grogri87

When customer service defines a business culture

Bridal Shop, window reflection / Reflet d'une Boutique de MariageCulture is how an organization operates whether you chalk it up to customs, attitudes, or etiquette. It’s difficult to define because every business has a culture, but how effectively does it serve a company, and if we want to transform our culture can we really do it? I doubt there’s a customer service story about successful culture that does not include the examples of Zappos or the Ritz Carlton, but don’t we all want our own unique successful culture?

First, we must identify how we want to transform our business culture? Do we want to deliver a better or different product? Other choices might include customer service, redesign of the work place, or an enlightenment of a stale, outdated company presence. It’s my opinion that all elements help to mold a company, and it starts from the top executive office and works its way down through every crevice of an organization.

Let us begin with hiring employees. It’s not always about their qualifications or education. With a defined culture, an employer can ask the right questions and look for a team player with enthusiasm, creativity, and imagination. There are a lot of qualified candidates out there, but does your company culture seek out ideas, suggestions, and that certain spark? We invent ourselves with words and images; why not bring innovation to a company’s team through new ideas?

The atmosphere of an organization has a direct correlation to the attitude of the employees. I visited a very busy bridal boutique, and in the office, designers were excited, having fun and working together at what seemed a furious rate preparing for a bridal show within the next few days. That enthusiasm most definitely carries over to clients, and happy employees can make “electric” happen.

Some business owners are afraid to empower employees with the authority to make customer service decisions not necessarily in the handbook, but employees who want to come to work, who have trust in their employers and through the goodwill of their employers feel secure and content in their careers, are unlikely to disappoint their bosses with giving “away the farm.” Good employees make intelligent decisions, and through their loyalty use their discretionary authority and funds to enrich the organization’s culture. It’s an absolute necessity that employees are provided with these same tools to promote their company culture.

So how do you know if your company culture is working and people are focusing more on your business than the one of your competition? With the emphasis on social media, it’s perhaps even more important that customers feel as if they count. Just a random testimonial of a very uptight bride to be, and her Facebook and Twitter comment about the bridal shop ordering lunch for her and her mom when they were busily planning a very last-minute wedding, brought a surprising number of kudos for the shop especially when the bride to be told everyone the shop would not hear of her paying for the lunch. And that was before the bride purchased even a garter.

photo credit: Luna The Moon Gir

How customer service impacts company branding

Case Study: 'Standard Scientifical Industries' by Roger DarioThrough design, an organization presents their brand. Through tag-lines, the identity of a company’s brand is described and thus promoted. Marketing campaigns then proceed to develop brand recognition, but if that were all that any organization had to do to promote their particular company, many of us in customer service would be out of a job.

Successful branding is largely contingent upon credibility. Customers can be attracted to catchy names, clever tag lines, and beautiful web designs, but customer loyalty is built through customer interaction, quality products, and competitive prices. Once a customer has checked out your website, tried your product and was satisfied, you then have begun to build a customer database. Now to turn that customer into repeat business requires customer service that clearly separates one company from their competition.

What builds that foundation of trust that keeps customers coming back to one particular company? Customers return when they are more than satisfied. Customers return when they are 100 percent content with their experience – the organization has made their branding part of the integral practice of their company. It’s as simple as a customer knowing that a company and their employees have listened to what they want, followed up on a complaint and handled it expeditiously, and ultimately addressed the customer’s  concerns. Erika Atkins, a frequent Palm Beach shopper sums it up, “It’s about what you sell, how you sell it, and all the after you sell it. That’s what makes me come back!”

So what makes your branding and customer service better than your competition? Sometimes it is all really too close to call, so the need to show your integrity, personality, and that unspoken willingness to step out of the box and go the extra mile makes that profound difference to that customer sitting on the fence of indecision. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure your employees are happy. A well-trained staff and a positive environment where everyone works together brings harmony to the workplace. When people want to come to work, they want their company to succeed and demonstrate their pride through their own professional actions.
  • Always evaluate and rate the competition. Part of branding is the ability to deliver the best and stay ahead of your competition.
  • Use your customer database and follow-up on all sales. Make sure customers were happy and listen to their suggestions to improve your organization. Feel privileged when customers take an interest in your organization.
  • Stay in touch, be gracious, and always thank your clients and customers for your continued success.
  • Find a passion and spend time making a difference with something beneficial to humans, animals, etc. Show that you care. Just get out there and participate.

photo credit: VFS Digital Design

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