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Continental employees go out of their way to help stranded pooch

The airlines seem to frequently score high grades in the customer service rudeness polls, but every once in a while we need to acknowledge those who go above and beyond what is expected and congratulate the company for hiring and maintaining such excellent employees – you know those dedicated people who don’t have to read those extra customer service suggestions in their manuals.

It seems that Continental customer service had some holiday magic this year. A four-month-old puppy named Whopper was scheduled to fly to Spain to meet his family, but he got stranded. It seems his owner didn’t have the health certificates with Whopper signed by a veterinarian to allow the canine bundle of cuteness to board his flight. Equally as tragic, little Whopper wouldn’t be able to be placed in a shelter or a pet hotel without proof that he had all of his shots. What is an adorable puppy with limited veterinarian records to do? Who would care for him? Where would he stay?

Yes, you guessed it! Airline attendants at Continental who had seen Whopper’s canine boarding pass denied jumped right in to save the day and of course the pooch. Jane Bossi took the puppy home and sent daily emails and photos to Whopper’s owner in Spain. When Bossi was due to leave for her Christmas vacation to visit her mother, another co-worker took over.

Continental Airlines does have a proactive program for the safe traveling of our four-legged friends. Their PetSafe program and their Pet Relocation services can relieve some of the pressure pet owners may experience when moving domestically within the United States or internationally like our little friend Whopper. And in the summer when the heat is unbearable and pet owners are warned not to fly with their pets, Continental uses pressurized temperature controlled cargo areas as well as expedited areas for on and off boarding on the tarmac for pets.

Thank you to the  special employees of Continental Airlines for taking care of Whopper.

Online shopping demand troubles frustrate Yule shoppers

Happy Grouponicus!Just days before Christmas, Best Buy canceled online orders dating back to November because it ran out of some of the hot merchandise. Target’s website crashed twice while Wal-Mart and Barney’s also ran out of popular inventory. Best Buy apologized for the inconvenience and offered gift cards to affected shoppers, but shoppers have long memories and having to get out into the world of shopping malls just days before Santa is due to arrive can harbor some long-lasting ill feelings about any particular organization.

Where previously these brick and mortar stores catered to the shopping mall set, it seems the economy has more consumers heading to the Internet in search of better deals. This year many of these same stores offered free shipping and handling to boost their online sales, but the demand far exceeded their expectations. Although Best Buy’s public statement only admitted to less than 1 percent of their online orders having been affected, will this kind of inconvenience send more shoppers running back to the malls?

In store retailers have traditionally bragged about their personal customer service not readily available to the shopper with an online shopping cart, but statistics still show an encouraging edge to online shopping. STELLA Services, in a recent survey tallied a lot of disappointed online shoppers from Black Friday to Cyber Monday showing only six of the top 25 online United States retailers able to sustain high customer service marks. Still, $32 billion was spent by consumers online through December 18 this year.

The survey also revealed that 41 percent of shoppers were not satisfied with the ability to receive in stock merchandise in brick and mortar establishments compared to only 20 percent online; 27 percent were not satisfied with finding correct prices in stores as compared to only 14 percent on-line, and 42 percent were not satisfied with the in store check out procedures as compared to only 15 percent of check out procedures on-line.

The only category where brick and mortar stores surpassed online expectations were in return, refund, and exchange procedures with 41 percent of online customers dissatisfied as compared to only 25 percent of in store consumers unhappy.

Unfortunately it’s not painting a rosy picture for shopping centers – is it any wonder the vacancy rate is so high in strip malls? It would seem that stores are going to have to bring more to the price, product and customer service experience  if they don’t want to lose out to the competition of the online shopping mecca. Let’s bring in better trained staff, better merchandise choices, competitive prices and create the mood and ambiance to encourage shoppers to want to visit a store – one thing for sure there isn’t any ambiance on the Web, but who knows what the future will bring?

photo credit: Groupon

Check out lines getting to be more customer friendly

The CashiersThere’s a December 25 deadline, so it’s not really optional whether or not we want to wait at a checkout line – that is unless we shop online. This year, according to a Deloitte survey, online shopping is up in the United States from one-third last year to one-half this year showing more consumers opting to stay away from shopping malls.

There’s hardly anyone who has been immune to choosing the wrong line. My own experiences seem to escalate when I use the drive-ins at the bank because there are no easy ways to change bank aisles. In supermarkets, we get to choose our line, but in many other retail stores customers wait in one line and then move on to the next available register. Other stores more interested in keeping their customers off the Internet and still having the patience to wait for the next register to check out are much more innovative.

Home Depot brings in “line busters” who are employees who scan items in carts before the customer gets to the cashier. Apple Store employees have hand-held devices to help consumers check out. Yesterday I was at the AT&T store which positions a greeter at the front door asking how he could help and entered my phone number so the next available agent already knew my name and why I was there. Walt Disney World has taken a pro-active approach and while a customer waits online, a Disney character entertains them. Once the consumer is at the register however, efficiency and accuracy become the main attraction. And in Publix, the supermarket has their employees stand in front of the cash registers to not only say hello and smile, but indicate to shoppers their availability.

In the book, “Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping,” customers feel less stressed when an employee or electronic screen guides shoppers to the next available register. One line is often thought to be far less frustrating than switching back and forth between lines, quietly seething while someone else who came later gets to the checkout counter in another aisle quicker than you, or in the worst situation abandoning the product because the consumer is out of patience or time.

It’s interesting to ask people how they choose which line to enter. This morning at Publix, I asked a shopper behind me how she picked her check-out line? She told me she pays attention to what people have in their shopping carts, the age of a person, or how many children accompany the shopper. Carts overflowing with groceries take longer to check out, older people tend to unload their baskets slower, and children often are distracting to their mothers and the entire process takes longer.

So what should we do? The bottom line is if people don’t feel like a store is doing all they can to make the buying experience convenient, there are a lot of options out there. It’s holiday time everyone – hire extra help if needed and don’t keep your customers with their wallets in hand waiting.

photo credit: Aaron Jacobs

Complain constructively for better customer service

Cliente enfadado?In a global survey, Accenture wrote about deteriorating customer service and how most of us have at least switched one of our own service providers because we were displeased that our expectations had not been met. Now in the great realm of this very complicated world, happiness with a company might be perceived differently – that is depending on what we expect, how and of course to what extent.

Statistically, or at least according to the Accenture survey of 2010, two-thirds of the respondents stated that customer service is a significant issue, and over half of consumers are not willing to compromise. We’re obviously all looking for better prices and better service, but how do we handle situations when they go awry? Do we abandon a company the first time there is a mistake? All companies are bound to drop the ball at one time or another, but I think it’s important to complain constructively. Chances are you will get what you want, and just as importantly it will give you the opportunity to see if that particular organization truly deserves your loyalty by how they handle the situation.

Too often when people are frustrated and lose their tempers, the dispute ends up at a dead-end. The consumer no longer will deal with that organization, and the company has lost a customer. So how do you deal with a problem so you can come out on top? Begin with taking a deep breath, and do not get near the telephone or the computer until you are calm. Remember the ultimate goal is to give the business the opportunity to resolve the problem. Also make sure you address the problem immediately; don’t ever procrastinate on a complaint.

Now on to a positive outcome. Be pleasant, polite and charming. In my own career I sell real estate, and especially in this economy realtors aren’t always the most pleasant with other realtors, however greet someone (even a grumpy realtor) with a cheerful “hello, how are you today, ” and rarely do you ever encounter a growl of displeasure. Do the same when contacting an organization. I also suggest you know what you want the outcome of your resolution to be. Last month Continental Airlines provided very poor on flight service to myself and my companion during a flight from Florida to Las Vegas. Immediately on my return I wrote to CEO Jeff Smisek, informed him of our disappointing service and reminded him of my customer loyalty for all of these years.

I received an apology and a promise to research the problem in the future, discounts for  new tickets were issued to our accounts, and the problem was solved. It was important however that I maintained all of my receipts, vouchers, and provided times, dates, and destinations. Each time you complain, you want to ascertain complete credibility – much better when you state your case using facts.

And may I make another suggestion that positively elevates one’s status when it is time to lodge a complaint? If you are speaking with a representative over the phone, be sure to use proper grammar, and make a conscious effort not to use “filler” words as “like,” “you know,” “uh,” “um,” and “er.” When I used to teach a speech class, I would count the number of “ums” a student would use during his seven minute speech, and at the end of his presentation told him the number of “fillers” he used and how it was most distracting. Additionally, if you are writing a letter to a CEO of a company, use spell check and find a friend or relative to proofread your letter for grammar and content before sending it out. Professionalism does count, and it is guaranteed to help you achieve results.

photo credit: Daquella manera

Four Ways Senior Leaders Can Be Aware of Customer Issues

There are four key ways that senior leaders can make sure they stay in the loop regarding customer issues:

1. Spend Time Talking to Employees
Senior leaders should use a structured process for interacting with employees so front-line issues can be discussed. This is important for both leaders and as well as employees in that it makes workers feel valued but also helps senior management better understand the things staff are dealing with.

I experienced a great model for this which in an organization which invited employees to eat lunch with the organization’s president on their milestone (5, 10, 15 year) anniversary dates. A monthly lunch with front-line employees was hosted by the senior executives and employees were encouraged to share ideas and work related challenges. The model worked extremely well, helped facilitate quick problem resolution and was an encouragement to the employees. It’s pretty amazing to see how quickly some problems can be resolved when an engaged senior executive gets involved.

2. Collect and Analyze Performance Data
Collecting and analyzing performance data is a fundamental management practice for any size organization. Every organization should identify measures of success and monitor them on a monthly basis. Senior leadership is responsible for interpreting the data and responding to data trends.

3. Manage by Walking Around
Walking around and mingling with employees is a great way to better understand operations. This tactic works well because employees interpret leadership presence as an indication that they care and walking around allows the manager to observe behaviors, customer response and potential issues that may not be reported by data.

4. Test the Service or Product
Senior leadership should always be familiar with products or services offered by the organization. Whether it is surfing the company website, sampling the food in the kitchen or watching the printing process in operation, the senior leader should experience what the customer experiences so they can help influence improvements.

The current economic environment demands that issues affecting products and services affecting the customer experience be identified and resolved quickly. Customers today don’t have the patience to wait around for needed improvements, so neglecting to break the Iceberg of Ignorance may very quickly affect the bottom line.

Do you know what your employees know about issues affecting the organization?

Patricia is the President and CEO of The Thriving Small Business, a business performance consulting company. Patricia helps small businesses develop and grow by helping them create infrastructures that support increased revenues, decreased costs and improved customer experience.

Airports and excellent customer service – can it really be?

Indoor TreesThe next time you’re sitting in one of those impossibly uncomfortable hard plastic seats at Newark International Airport and you see a suggestion box hidden somewhere, slip a picture of Singapore’s Changi International Airport in there. It’s certain to be an experience any traveler will remember for years to come.

In the online blog  The Middle Seat, Scott McCartney writes about Andrew Tregonning and his wife’s experience covering the joys of an airport. No it’s not a syntax error – the couple traveling from New Zealand to India actually wanted a long layover at the Singapore airport. Imagine amenities such as comfortable sleeping areas, work areas, showers, pedicures, premium bars, a swimming pool, and even a tour of Singapore for nominal fees. The airport has a four-story amusement park for the children, and in Terminal 3, a city in itself, such passenger services as a dry cleaner, medical center, grocery store, pharmacy, jewelry and clothing stores all at one’s fingertips.

As a sharp contrast, JD Powers and Associates’ nationwide survey 2010 North American Airport Satisfaction Study which rated comfort and amenities in the United States most likely would have exploded if given the opportunity to rate Singapore’s airport. The survey covered basic needs which included seating comfort, ease of moving through the airport, getting passengers in and out of the airport efficiently, and reducing passenger stress with the TSA. Small airports scored significantly higher than the largest airports.

For large United States airports, Detroit Metropolitan scored the best with such amenities as an arbored concourse, people movers, sculptures, an on-site Hyatt Hotel and purple lit tunnels to connect terminals. Scores were rated on accessibility, check-in, security, terminals, food and retail service, and the efficiency of baggage claim. The Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Airport scored closely behind the one in Detroit; the connection between the airport and the Mall of America is cited as being very convenient. My son flies through Detroit regularly and agreed that it was one of the nicer airports in the US. He also reminded me of a post he wrote about the Charlotte airport in 2009.

Do you think it’s possible to actually transform travel into a less stressful environment given the security demands of today’s society? While North America may never be able to offer the top-notch creature comforts of the Singapore Airport, why not start with some of the more practical ideas to lessen the stress? Let us begin with some soothing music quietly resonating throughout our airports. How about reducing the number of announcements and the noisy horns of the passenger carts traveling through the concourses?

In Singapore, touch screens are provided in every bathroom to allow passengers to send a text message to attendants when towels or tissues are needed in the restrooms. Currency exchange booths and clothing stores are all in one area to encourage and stimulate competition for both merchandise and prices.

All of the 28,000 employees at the Singapore Airport are required to attend an orientation to help them help passengers. It’s a people pleasing business where successful concession spaces support 50 percent of the airport’s revenue which keeps the costs down and helps to pay for the amenities. Even the JD Power survey concludes that high levels of airport satisfaction create a strong positive impact on retail spending. Passengers who are “delighted” rather than “disappointed” spend up to 45 percent more at an airport. That’s a substantial difference.

While I’m pretty sure, the United States will never boast a butterfly garden as does Singapore, shouldn’t we still be taking lessons from those who do it so much better? Ironically last week I watched the ABC series Pan Am which takes place in the 1960’s and flying sure looked like more fun, and a much more relaxing and exciting way to travel.

photo credit: mikecogh

Iceberg of Ignorance – Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

IMG_7713I was having lunch with a colleague and we were talking about some issues she was having at work. She was saying how difficult it was to get her senior leadership to understand issues the front-line employees deal with every day. She shared concerns for what she described as a big disconnect between employees who interact with the customers and upper management. It reminded me of some research I was exposed to years ago – The Iceberg of Ignorance.

The Iceberg of Ignorance is based on a study that was done by Sidney Yshido in 1989 which indicated that senior management often fail to understand business operations from the perspective of the customers and employees. The interesting finding of this study was that this can affect a company’s profits by as much as 40%.

The study revealed the following:

  • Issues known to senior management were 4%.
  • Issues known to managers were 9%.
  • Issues known to supervisors were 74%.
  • But front-line employees were aware of 100% of the issues that affect the product or service that was being delivered to a customer.

How can senior management be so clueless?
The art of recognizing and solving problems is essential for leaders. Senior levels of the organization should strive to be in tune with day-to-day issues confronting employees. Unfortunately, if there is not a structured process for gathering and analyzing performance data, executives can fail to see what is affecting employees and sadly their customers. Whether it is a broken purchasing process, faulty manufacturing equipment or an aging facility – senior leaders need to be aware so they can help resolve issues.

What is troubling about these findings, is that the very people with the ability to affect positive change for the organization, are the ones who are not aware of the issues that employees or customers are dealing with.

Four ways that senior leads can be aware of customer issues will be covered in another post this week.

Patricia is the President and CEO of The Thriving Small Business, a business performance consulting company. Patricia helps small businesses develop and grow by helping them create infrastructures that support increased revenues, decreased costs and improved customer experience.

photo credit: Jenny Varley

Poor customer service results in long term brand damage

Waterfront restaurantAmerican Express Global Customer Barometer, a survey conducted in ten countries examined the public attitudes and preferences of consumers toward customer service. While Australian customers ranked high as the most vocal when it comes to bad customer service, the results and feelings of consumers are still universal.

Just think about the effects of poor customer service on our own shores and how easily bad news spreads so quickly. That same bad news continues to spread – reminds us when we played telephone as school children – the story grows legs of its own by the time the last child hears the story because the facts have become so distorted. Probably one of the most common examples revolves around customer experiences in restaurants. Diners are reluctant to say much during an evening out with friends, coworkers, or family; after all who wants to ruin their evening complaining about slow service or mediocre food. That restaurant however becomes part of the “blood oath” never to visit again. We might see a Facebook entry or a Tweet, but for the most part, one person tells another person and before long that bad experience causes lasting brand damage.

The unfortunate part of poor customer service is when the consumer doesn’t vocalize their complaint, but no longer returns to that particular establishment. The business owner may be completely unaware of the problems or circumstances that encompassed that bad experience.So what’s the solution?

Businesses need to find more efficient ways to gauge customer service. Interestingly enough, there is a restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens called Blue Water where the chef comes out of the kitchen and stops by each table to inquire about the guests entire dining experience. It only takes a moment; it’s completely unobtrusive, and more like another way to view feedback as a barometer to help this fairly new restaurant raise their customer service standards. If a business owner knows something has gone wrong, he can then figure out ways to correct the mistakes thus providing better customer service experiences for the future.

The American Express Global Customer Barometer reminds us that every interaction counts, and when business owners train and hire quality employees, keep customer service personal, be receptive, be intuitive about their needs through body language and anticipate customer needs, customers react with their loyalty and their business. A consumer who has become a loyal patron of an establishment is more likely to forgive a faux pas and still return – understanding that mistakes can happen. It’s just building that solid foundation that requires a lot of work. Are you up for the challenge?

photo credit: La Citta Vita

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