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Customer service for Web users?

SIMO Network (2010)It seems the federal government is making some strong suggestions to companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple that it’s about time they employ some technology to prevent advertisers from tracking consumer movement across the Web. In other words, why isn’t consumer privacy protected when we power up and go online? Isn’t that all part of customer service; to protect our privacy wherever we shop? Of course some tracking is needed for the Internet to function, but invasive practices by advertisers and online publishers have taken the privacy out of our virtual shopping carts too many times.

It seems rather strange to the technologically handicapped person like myself to understand why advertisers get away with tracking consumers around the Internet? No matter where we go or what we buy, some company is making a pitch to sell me something, and I just know it’s not a coincidence. This practice, called behavioral advertising is invasive and generally annoying. After all, don’t we all remember the constant badgering of telephone solicitations during dinner hour? Didn’t we all welcome the “Do Not Call” registry for telephone solicitors?

Let’s face it; consumers don’t want to be tracked, and I shutter to think what is being done with the personal information these “cookies” gather on me whenever I search the Web. No matter what I look up, what I buy, or what advice I seek, someone is looking to invade my privacy and make a profit.  According to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), consumers want to shop, browse and share information that is respectful of someone’s personal information.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va) stated;

“I want ordinary consumers to know what is being done with their personal information, and I want to give them the power to do something about it.”

Online privacy demands began with the Federal Trade Commission and are calling for a “Do Not Track” type of technology. Surely the entrepreneurial technology gurus have an idea how to protect customer privacy. If this were to become law, it would become illegal to collect identifying information including names, email addresses, and credit card numbers without an individual’s consent. Sensitive data like religion, sexual preferences and identity as well as health related issues would be prohibited unless a person consented. Businesses would have to make it clear how data is used; customer service on the Internet would prevail.

photo credit: red.es

Can’t get much customer satisfaction with Facebook

MurrayHill_MS_FacebookFacebook has become a ubiquitous part of our national culture – like it or not. Just this week the American Customer Satisfaction Index partnering with  ForeSeeResults polled 70,000 users of websites and social networks including Facebook, Google, CNN and Wikipedia. Facebook scored a low of 64 out of a 100; an “F” for any high school report card.

Facebook has no subscriptions, and it’s free. Are we expecting to get something for nothing? Complaints about Facebook concentrated on their interface changes, the company’s privacy policies, and their profound increase in commercialization. It’s doubtful that Mark Zuckerberg meant Facebook to be a charity, so marketing is a key factor. Most of us find customer service and customer satisfaction a challenge just in the businesses and organizations we pay to use. It’s a stretch to think that a social media site conjures up the scrutiny of a customer service report card.

I find it hard to believe that Facebook gets so much criticism. Let’s face it; we are all subjected to the customer indignities of airlines, cable companies, print newspapers, and wireless phones. Airlines more or less have monopolies as do television and telephone companies. With those organizations a lack of customer satisfaction and a total lack of customer service are arguable points since we pay for these services, require these services, and don’t receive what we pay for or use.

On June 12, the Facebook monitoring site, Inside Facebook stated the social networking site has been declining throughout North America and parts of Northern Europe. With the launch of Google+ will a new social network cater to the customer service demands of demographics ranging from six-years-old to sixth-six years old, from Alaska to New Zealand, and from every imaginable background and heritage? Zuckerberg claims he is trying to meet the demands of his users. Do you believe?

Now new critics are telling us the launch of Google+ will overturn the world of Facebook. If Google+ promises to carry their customer-centric ethos to this social media site, they might be some serious competition for Zuckerberg. At the very least, it all brings more awareness to the necessity of customer service – no matter which way you cut the pie.

photo credit: The Daring Librarian

Customer services rate customer service

PreparationIf you sometimes find yourself hesitating when shopping online, you’re not alone. It doesn’t take much to set up an attractive website, display some fine merchandise or services, and go about the business of selling. If we’re lucky and our orders arrive just as we were promised, the sale is a success, and we most likely will give that company our repeat business. Our problems begin however, when something goes awry, and we search for ways to hold an online company accountable for our complaints.

We used to be able to call the Better Business Bureau and get ratings for how effective a company’s reputation was or how customers were treated. The sheer volume of businesses and the popularity of online shopping just make traditional ways of evaluating customer service dinosaurs of the past, hence the arrival of independent companies who generate measurements to assess customer service experiences we all hope or dread  as we go about our online shopping moments.

It is very interesting that companies like STELLA Service now rate online customer service from Elite, Excellent, Approved, and Not Approved. The STELLA service independently rates customer service using such criteria as the effectiveness of navigating a site, conduct usability tests, ordering, returning, sales interactions, phone, email, and even live chat. It’s not just mystery shopping either, but more of an investigative report using data that really breaks down to some serious information about a company’s service.

For instance, STELLA breaks down how long it takes to reach customer service agents. The longest wait was with Dell (27 minutes), and Verizon phone (26 minutes) while the fastest customer service representatives were from Amazon (under a minute), Hyatt ( two rings for  reservation assistance), and T-Mobile (answered by a United States customer service representative).

Then there was the fastest hold times. Sierra Trading Post answered within six seconds while Nordstrom.com answered within 21 seconds. The longest hold times were Barnes and Noble (eight minutes, three seconds), and Macys.com (seven minutes, and twelve seconds).

Now if online businesses could follow the lead of companies who have been rated as Elite and Excellent and essentially start policing themselves to provide the best shopping experiences for their customers, shoppers wouldn’t be throwing their phones across the room waiting 25 minutes to speak to a Dell representative when there is a complaint about someone’s six-month old laptop flashing the blue screen or waiting for a Verizon customer service representative to figure out why a consumer’s monthly bill is off the charts. I would rather do business with organizations who “WOW” me, and now it’s getting easier to sift through the contenders.

photo credit: Ryan Q

The Mercedes Benz customer experience shines

Ahrweiler - Town SquareEven though most of us love new cars, the actual experience of visiting the dealership and dealing with a car salesperson can be closely akin to having a tooth drilled at the dentist. The biggest complaints are waiting for someone to help us, sales personnel with little knowledge of their product, and sales people who are pushy and obnoxious.

Pied Piper PSI, a California-based dealership for sales and marketing sent 3524 secret shoppers to various dealerships across the country from July 2010 to June 2011 to evaluate different dealerships and how they treat car shoppers. The results weren’t really surprising, but it does provide us with some interesting information that lends itself to customer service improvement ideas.

Mercedes-Benz came out on top for customer service followed closely by Jaguar, Lexus, and BMW. In the luxury brands, Lincoln scored at the bottom. The lowest customer satisfaction scores were from Suzuki and Mitsubishi.

The lowest customer satisfaction scores weren’t a result of less expensive cars, although it’s much more likely to find a cappuccino machine at the Lexus dealer than at the Hyundai showroom. Shoppers complained about the reduced staff. The fewer salespeople mean more wait time and a deterioration in customer treatment. Car shoppers also reported salespeople rarely mentioned specific features of the car the buyer was interested in; an indication of not knowing their product or being in a rush and not meeting their customers’ needs.

Let’s face it; good salespeople are hard to keep if they’re  not making money because of low volume. “Not all brands have struggled during this recession,” states Fran O’Hagen, CEO of Pied Piper, “but reduction in dealership staffing has been common. Over the past year the successful salespeople stop thinking like a salesman, and instead think like an owner of a dealership.

So what can we learn from Mercedes-Benz that is universal to all organizations who want to win customers over with their excellent service and product? The basics of great customer service is to think like an owner because an owner thinks if you provide the best for your customers, they will tell their friends or they will be repeat business in the future. People remember how they were treated, and when you present exceptional customer service and concentrate on the consumer’s needs, your organization becomes a leader in that industry.

photo credit: DomSupra

How to effectively complain using social media

FacebookedIt used to be the only way to make a profound impact with a consumer complaint when no one would listen, was to send a registered letter to the company headquarters. Before the days of Google however, it wasn’t easy to figure out the name of the right level of executive. Now the average customer can get immediate gratification; no phone calls to the organization to find out the CEO’s name and no waiting weeks for a response as the letter snakes itself around various departments looking for a solution.

Social media, namely Facebook and Twitter get unhappy customers attention. Businesses are paying more attention to tracking complaints because they want to mitigate negative effects against their product or service. New software has been developed where specialized social networking modules can track what is being said. From there, representatives can weed out the serious posts, trace the origin to see if there was previous contact, and answer posts that are worthy of follow-up.

There are some responsible and effective ways to use social media to resolve your problems. Here are a few suggestions to make sure you get to the higher tiered customer service representatives:

  • Social media should not just be used as a platform for complaints. Use your real name so a company can find out who you really are and therefore will have the ability to respond in a timely manner.
  • Start with the traditional customer service steps first. I understand that it can be frustrating, but having your name and your problem on record is the best way to build credibility with a company.
  • Check a company’s reputation and how they handle customer complaints. Check the local Better Business Bureau for complaints about the organization if it is local, or check social media sites to see how they have handled complaints in the past.
  • If you decide to use Twitter, be nice. Ask the company to get in touch with you, and send the message during regular business hours.
  • If you have a blog which is respectable and well-read, tell your story in detail. Come up with a clever title; try to stay away from sarcasm, bad language, and questionable humor. Use spell check, and check your grammar.
  • If you feel the need, use Digg, Reddit and Delicious to make your complaint. Plan a video, but again; do not use profanity and most of all keep it professional.

Organizations want to keep their image upstanding and professional. A public relations team wants to keep business moving smoothly, and it is likely someone will respond to you and work out a mutual resolution.

photo credit: angermann

How supermarkets work to enhance the customer experience

DSC00557Self service popularity has taken a major role in airports kiosks, movie theaters, and even libraries, but in supermarket technology interest seems to ebb and flow – depending on the customer. There are always going to be some customers who want the traditional checkout person while other consumers prefer to do it themselves.

Albertsons, a Boise, Idaho based supermarket chain is removing their self checkout lanes; the biggest complaint – slow lanes because someone is having trouble with their self checkout. The supermarket, in the interest of providing the best customer experience, therefore is going to revert to staff checkout lanes with more lanes open during peak shopping times. The spokesperson for Albertsons, Christine Wilcox stated;

“Our customers are our highest priority and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave.”

Supermarkets who are more concerned with customer experience contend that customers miss that one on one interaction with a cashier as they check out. Stella Overton, a Florida resident who often shops at Albertsons stated;

“I like that the cashier says hello to me, and if I have a problem with the price of a product, I just stop her, and we check it out. When I tried to do the self-checkout, I’m not that good on the computer, I don’t always scan the product right, and I get confused trying to get my change. I have to bag the groceries myself, and so I rather would use a live person.”

The more customer service oriented formats include the personal touch with technology in order to speed up the process to help customers get out quicker and still cater to the individual that very well may set one store apart from another. Some supermarkets are considering European style checkouts where an organized format queues customers from one main line into multiple staffed express lanes. Called Metro Lanes, Whole Food Stores is trying it in some of their establishments. Customers move through the lines much quicker and still have a personal connection with a staff member, if even for just a few moments.

Kroger Foods is trying a new advanced system, hoping to improve customer experience and at the same time eliminate loss due to theft or misringing the product. The machine resembles an airport luggage conveyor belt, and scans the items as they move through a tunnel. An employee mans the machine, and the groceries are bagged by an attendant which still provides the customer with a full service experience.

Let’s face it; everyone goes to the supermarket, and we all want to get there, do our shopping, and get out as quickly as possible. Why not have a good customer experience too?

photo credit: thetalesend

Consumer Reports’ fast food survey echoes public demand for service

365 Day 2That McDonald’s motto “I’m Lovin’ It” didn’t  have much influence on the June 30 Consumer Reports’ survey where 36,700 subscribers made a total of 98,000 visits to 53 fast-food chains. It seems that McDonald’s scored as the worst fast food burger place in the nation; followed closely by Burger King.

In the name of competition, fast food establishments are judged on their food, their customer service, and customer experiences. Customers want innovative meals, and they want great value with cheap prices. Consumers called establishments like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell “uninspiring.”

So of the “uninspiring  food,” the only “so-so service,” or cheap prices which is the most important to consumers? Fifty-four percent respondents stated low prices were the reasons they chose particular fast food restaurants, but only 19 percent said they thought they received excellent value. Then came the super star of the fast food establishments with an amazing menu of what consumers seem to want.

In-N-Out Burger, which started out in 1948 as a “mom and pop” burger place in Baldwin Park, California ranked highest among all burger places. There were even some cult like reactions, for instance from a customer where a new In-N-Out Burger opened, thanked “Lord Jesus” for bringing the store to his neighborhood. Another woman choked back tears as she welcomed the new store.  When one of the stores opened in Texas, traffic was backed up for miles. Its grand opening was even worthy of a YouTube video.

So what makes In-N-Out Burger so different? You’re right if you just smirked a bit and mumbled somehow they must be catering to what consumers say they want. You’re right if you are thinking service, value, and speed. If people are willing to wait overnight for a grand opening, what is a fast food place doing that’s different from all of their other competition?

At In-N-Out Burger, everything is made to order. Nothing is frozen. All the beef patties are ground from whole chuck, and the stores use in-house butchers. The french fries are cut in the stores and fried in vegetable oil. The hamburger buns are baked on premises. And along with their quality of food and service, value and speed, their prices start at $1.95.

So the outcome; a better solution to those rush evenings when there’s no time to cook, and it even may be just a tiny bit healthier, but most important of all, at least from this writer’s point of view, the organization has succeeded in giving customers the kind of service and product they want.

photo credit: LaurenKates

Brick and mortar retailers can compete with their online competition

SucrerieThere is a lot to say about the convenience of sitting down in front of my computer at 11:00 at night shopping for a little black dress I happened to see on a movie I was watching with my friends. Not that it matters what I’m shopping for, since online shopping has grown exponentially.

The most popular products selling online are computer software, electronics, digital books and magazines, yet other online retailers have also taken a notable place in the wallets of American shoppers. When you think of the convenience that online stores are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year, it can certainly make that July 4th celebration where area stores close for the holiday inconsequential, because if you feel like shopping, just hit any key on your computer. Even if you’re bored, there’s no need to get dressed, warm up your car, find a parking place, or wake up your spouse to tell him you’re going shopping.

There are, however in this alleged perfect world of online shopping, distinct disadvantages that all brick and mortar retailers can take advantage of to increase their businesses while building customer loyalty so these very same customers will want to return to your store at a specific street address. Let’s face it – internet shopping is impersonal, dispassionate, and detached. As a brick and mortar establishment, it all adds up to improving and perfecting customer service. Here are some suggestions:

  • There’s nothing more motivating to a shopper than being captured with the “experience” as she walks into a store. Have you ever walked into the Apple store? Even my son has to pull me out to tell me it’s time to go. Make the store experience relaxing, interesting, show plenty of displays, use interactive displays if the product is applicable, and use senses and sounds.
  • Make me feel important when I walk into your store. Have in-store promotions and special sales or previews for customers who have been loyal and continue to shop in your store. Do you do home deliveries? Do you do free alterations?
  • Stay in communication with me by direct email, newsletters, interesting guides, and trends pertaining to your product or service and individual thank you notes and gratitude cards. I never get tired of receiving good news in the mail; it’s a refreshing diversion from mortgage payments, electric bills, and car repair maintenance. When I lived in New Jersey, I used to shop at a boutique in Spring Lake called The Spot. The owner, Isa would always send out something personal in order to stay connected with her customers. It’s a fool-proof and endearing method for staying in touch.
  • Have special occasions in your stores. Internet companies can only display special occasions on their websites, but brick and mortar stores can bring in refreshments, champagne, wine and cheese, and make the experience personal and fun. I don’t especially remember which website was running the anniversary sale, but I remember the champagne Isa served and the fun we had at her boutique when we collectively celebrated her tenth anniversary of her store.
  • Do something very special for your customers. It’s not always about running a sale and trying to compete with the discounted prices of your competition on the Internet. It’s more about you doing something special for your clients. Perhaps buy one and get something free? Perhaps buy a certain amount and receive a certificate for ice-cream at the store two doors down the street? Just make it special so your customers will remember you.

photo credit: besopha