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Are mobile devices serving customers properly?

C3GZBefore I leave my house in the morning, I grab my car keys, purse and of course, my smartphone. AT&T sold 9.4 million of these in the fourth quarter of 2011. Is it any wonder that the 2X4 inch tidy packages of computer chips have revolutionized everyday behaviors including the way we shop? We read on them, play Words With Friends, make dinner reservations, buy concert tickets, and frequently text. Now smartphone application users have even surpassed the amount of people texting and talking.

Online sales from mobile devices continue to increase as applications scan, share favorites, share technical advice, and create consumer buzz about new products and special promotions. We  use our smartphones to read bar codes, read blogs and join in on Twitter and Facebook. It was only a matter of time before retailers were able to provide customer service giving consumers a more direct route to resolve problems than either visiting the brick and mortar establishment, on the phone, or in front of the computer.

The advent of the branded icons gives retailers a great opportunity to deliver personalized service, however businesses must be careful not to slip away from the traditional care service when customers insist on finding a real person. No doubt the application far surpasses the call menu and the maze of service representatives consumers have to dance around when trying to resolve a complaint, but customers have to know that they are still able to communicate with an agent for a specific task when needed. It’s a company’s duty to have a cohesive and efficient team who are properly trained when an unresolved issue presents.

Organizations now have the opportunity to present highly personalized information and keep track of a customer’s spending history as well as their preferences. I was recently amazed when I signed up for a shopping application for shoes. I entered my preferences, size, and price range, and within moments the app was operational. The first pair of shoes I ordered were not comfortable at all, but when I tried to return them the company’s return process didn’t work, and there was no credit given to me for the return. I was finally able to resolve the problem, but it took a human to help, however the positive reaction toward  customer service will most likely have me purchasing another pair of shoes from the same company.

photo credit: Symic

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 2 of 4

This is the second of a four part interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob discusses how Zappos motivates members of their customer loyalty team, what programs they have in place to recognize good service, and what service metrics the company tracks and how.

You can read part one of the interview here. You can also jump ahead and read part three and/or four. To read this part, click “read more.”

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The silent exit of poor customer service

Kelli's editMost customers who feel they have been the recipients of poor customer service will never vocalize their feelings to a particular organization. According to First Financial Training Services and the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, only four percent of dissatisfied customers ever complain making the other 96 percent essentially ripe for the picking when another company offering similar services or products appear in the horizon.

Typically an unhappy customer who perceives that attitude of indifference will tell eight to ten of their friends, coworkers or family members about their bad experiences, and one in five people will tell 20 others. As the story spreads, it can become similar to the kitten over-breeding-epidemic – way out of control.

So what are some of the more obvious signs of poor customer service that silently drive customers away?  Here are a few observations:

  • There are no employees at the store’s front service desk.
  • Floor personnel are talking on their cell phones.
  • Managers ignore customers.
  • No direct eye-contact with personnel and customers.
  • Employees who are not familiar with the entire store – only one department.
  • Rude employees.
  • The attitude of indifference as perceived by a customer.

All is not lost however, since seven out of ten customers will continue to do business with an organization if their complaint is resolved, and 95 percent of consumers will be even happier if the problem is resolved immediately. While statistics also show that the average business spends six times more money to attract new customers and clients, loyalty from the current customers is also very important. Business comes from all over, and a growing client base is what grows a business.

As business owners do we necessarily recognize the signs of bad customer service? The answers actually depend on the owner or managers who first must demonstrate their interest in providing the best experience for every customer or client who interacts with their organizations. The CEO and upper management have to like what they do, because that attitude directly reflects on every employee and customer alike.

For some specific suggestions as to how to keep customers from walking out the door never to return – develop a rapport, call them by name, show that you are genuinely interested in their lives and how your organization can make a positive difference. And when a problem does occur, don’t read into it as the day the world fell apart. Instead step back for a moment and consider the viewpoint of the unhappy customer. Be reliable and credible, apologize when mess-ups occur, and resolve the conflict.

Exceptional customer service where representatives step way out of the box as they do in such luxury organizations as the Ritz Carlton or Mercedes Benz invite all businesses to take a few hints. Of course these organizations have huge budgets to spread the word, however companies like Zappos, Nordstrom, and even Amazon worked their way up the customer satisfaction ladder by careful training, attitude and that all inspiring will to please.

As someone with an infinite knowledge of pleasing customers and resolving conflicts the moment a problem is brought to his attention, his advice still rings in my mind – “you always want to dance with your clients.”

photo credit: Debs (ò‿ó)♪

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 1 of 4

After interviewing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh  and seeing the company’s HQ outside of Las Vegas, I knew I wanted to learn more about the nuts and bolts and day-to-day operations of Zappos. To get this information, I spoke to Rob Siefker, Director of the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team. In part one of this four part interview, Rob talks about what he does at Zappos, how the company handles operating 24/7, what the training process is like for Zappos employees, and how the company makes the most out of cross-training its employees.

Click “Continue Reading” to see the questions and answers. You can also jump ahead and read part two, three, and/or four.

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Best Buy customer service still at odds

Best BuyBest Buy just can’t get it right, and customers continue to complain. Even the company’s promotion on used videos this weekend piled up consumer complaints as customers couldn’t find what they wanted in either the stores or online. To make matters even worse, Best Buy still has unresolved Christmas orders lingering about somewhere  in “back order” or “canceled” land.

Spokesperson for the company, Lisa Hawks blamed the glitches on their software supplier, Oracle which presumably can forecast demand and plan the coordinating inventory, but stated the problem was under control and wouldn’t happen again.

The debacle began on Black Friday when customers ordered products both in the store and online, and all items selected stated “available and ready for shipping.” It wasn’t until weeks later that customers found out their orders were going to be delayed, were “no longer available” or the order had been “canceled.” And all of this bad news just before Christmas just didn’t make for a positive shopping experience. Sonya was notified two weeks after Christmas that her gift product was canceled, but when she called the manufacturer they claimed the products were still being made.

Before Thanksgiving, Sonya loved to visit the store in Palm Beach Gardens. It was a great place to browse, and there was a good selection of televisions, cameras and other techno products – all priced reasonably. The staff in each department were quite helpful, however each staff member seemed to have their own specialty which made getting knowledgeable assistance a corundum at peak shopping hours.

On the Customer Service Scoreboard, there were 300 negative comments out of 336 (89.2%) while positive comments numbered 36 out of 336 (10.71%). What happened? After all Best Buy was supposed to be a positive alternative to online companies like Amazon; it was a place where many consumers who like to touch and feel the products, try them out, and bring them home could fulfill their shopping needs.

Now Best Buy will have to regain the confidence of shoppers, and stop making excuses. According to Sonya it was all about the lack of communication and not so much about the products. “Had I known in time I could have ordered the games and other gifts from another store – namely Amazon. It was impossible to deal with Best Buy’s customer service. I have never heard so many, ‘ I have no further information as to when the product you ordered will be available.’ ” And that seemed to be a large part of the problem.

So what do you do when you want to “infiltrate” customer service and actually find someone to help you? First you need to get past the automated systems which are intended to weed out the most obvious issues. Listen to all of the options first, and select ” for other questions” or even “tech support.” You’re pretty much guaranteed you will connect to a real person who can then forward you on to a customer service agent. Don’t lose your temper, don’t get profane, and keep your story short and precise. Use notes so you don’t forget anything, and if possible record the entire conversation to ensure that the agent you speak with doesn’t change their story at a future time. Make sure you get the agent’s name and a ticket number – at least then you know you are officially in the system.

When a customer service agent isn’t getting the results you want, ask for a supervisor, and if that still doesn’t solve your problem, it’s time to head over to the executive offices of that particular organization. A favorite place to look for the names of executive customer service representatives is Consumerist.com. Have patience, and don’t give up. Best Buy is handing out gift cards to many of their disappointed customers. For those customers like Sonya, make sure you get one – it will make you feel better.

photo credit: matteson.norman

Customers not feeling “a little love back from Starbucks”

Candy StripeStabucks UK has a lot of unhappy customers today after the company decided to change the terms of their loyalty program. The previous rewards card offered a free drink for every 15 transactions and a discount on filter coffee. Now it seems that Facebook is buzzing with caffeinated complaints because of the changes as consumers post everything from their disappointments to threats of shredding their loyalty cards. One of the most significant changes only gives customers one reward point per transaction as opposed to one point per item purchased. Starbucks claims it just holds up the checkout lines, while customers are in a tizzy because they earn far fewer points now and still spend the same amount of money.

Do you think loyalty programs enhance the overall value of products and does it help to motivate buyers into making their next purchase? At least 75 percent of consumers have at least one loyalty card and one-third of shoppers have two or more cards, but many people say the whole shebang is just not worth it. CMO Council, a research group stated consumers have been backing away from reward cards because of the “barrage of irrelevant messages, low value rewards and impersonal engagements.” In 2011, 66 percent of consumer respondents stated that loyalty programs do not make them more likely to shop at one place simply because the programs become too problematic and people are just less motivated to figure it out. I happen to have a loyalty card at CVS; I have yet to figure out their rewards nor do the short expiration dates on my receipts ever coincide when I need something from the store. Now when I need something from a drug store, I use whichever one is closest to me.

Managers have to constantly evaluate the benefits of loyalty programs and compare the costs with the presumed benefit. Where the ideal outcome is to help bond a customer to an organization by offering additional incentives, it’s difficult to predict buyer behavior. The programs do not necessarily encourage customers to spend more, but the database from these programs can help a business figure out who is or isn’t loyal and reward those with the best spending habits. On the other side however rewarding shoppers for spending more doesn’t necessarily build a company’s market share. Organizations only grow by getting more people to buy their products not just getting current customers to purchase products or services more often.

We’re in the age of instant gratification, and we all want to say we got something for nothing – but is anything ever free?

photo credit: HereStanding

You only have one chance for a great first impression

IMG_5028Making a really poor first impression with your customer is almost a guarantee that you can wave goodbye to business in the future, and sadly there are days when the best laid plans of employees and their well rehearsed skills go awry. The question is can a business deal with it so they don’t lose a customer, and how does a business make amends? Here is how one company handled their blunder.

Last week my Mercedes had been making a strange noise – the kind of noise one just can’t turn the radio up louder to ignore; I thought it might be serious. I arrived at the dealership in North Palm Beach and was promptly greeted and led into a waiting area. I waited and waited – lots of  employees going back and forth and in and out, but no one stopped to speak with me. When I saw the original “meet and greet” employee I told him no one had helped me yet, and I was becoming impatient. He told me that everyone was very busy and to continue to wait.

And now in the century of the I phone and with no patience for poor customer service, I called another  Mercedes dealership and asked if I could bring my car in for a diagnosis of its problem. The receptionist Stacy asked me where I lived and told me I could bring my car to them, but the dealership in my area was much closer. I told her that was where I was calling from, and how I had been told to wait in a wide-open lobby and no one had yet to even wave to me. I told her my name, and she promised to get back to me in a few minutes.

And that is exactly what Stacy did. Not only did she remember my name, she called me right back and said a representative would be with me shortly. After that, the service was exemplary – and not only was my car repaired, I was given a Mercedes loaner, and from that moment on my customer service needs were handled as if my father owned the company.

Customers remember good service and good products, but it’s that first point of contact where someone is welcoming and friendly and promptly attends to their clients that define a reputation and future business. That first impression doesn’t just happen by luck or chance, so preparing all the participants with their own customized training skills may require more than letting one of the other employees show someone “around.” In order for employees to be on the top of their job, managers need to provide training courses with “how to” manage different situations, read body language, step out of their “box” to take extra steps to help someone, and learn how to effectively manage unhappy people and difficult situations.

The next day when I returned the loaner car and was ready to pick up my own car, the welcoming staff could not have been more helpful, friendly and engaging. I forgive you Mercedes-Benz – you handled the problem well.

photo credit: CLF

Auto insurance companies working on their customer service experiences

Unfast Cars Moving Fastly, Subaru On SpeedAutomobile insurance companies are going all out to please their customers. Once upon a time we just called the insurance agent our parents dealt with for twenty years and gave them the information about our car and the amount of liability, collision and uninsured motorist protection we needed and sent in the premium. We didn’t shop around, and who would have thought that an automobile insurance company would actually cater to a customer?

Now less than ten years later all of this has changed. Insurance companies flood television commercials with proposals for the best services one can imagine. Amid the promises of the lowest cost policies, companies now have new ways to win you over. Progressive Insurance Companies promise you customized quotes and immediate personal service. Who doesn’t identify with Flo, the loveable and helpful cashier with the tricked-out name tag? Who doesn’t recognize the reptilian mascot with the Cockney accent for GEICO?

Still when it comes to customer service and brand recognition, Allstate might be onto a better way. No fancy gimmicks in their advertisements, but instead the company has been swaying customers with such programs as accident forgiveness, reward programs, and safe driving bonuses. Last week Allstate announced their new Claim Satisfaction Guarantee which promises its customers to be satisfied with their auto claim service or they will get a credit to their auto policy. This new feature which makes eligible customers who are not happy for any reason with the service they receive a finite opportunity to receive an actual credit on their auto policy.

Allstate’s new program actually lays a pretty big responsibility on the company because the satisfaction promises stretch from the agent, to the adjusters, to the claims representatives and to the very people who are entrusted to repair a client’s car Allstate, however states the repairs must be done through an Allstate Good Hands Repair Network or Sterling Auto Body Center. Still the network shows the company’s trust in the people they deal with thus helping to build trust with their customers.

And when once upon a time we could only call our insurance agent during business hours, Allstate as well as other insurance companies now have 24/7 service in case of a problem. Ten years ago, clients had to wait until Monday morning to report a collision that happened on Friday night – now there’s immediate help and advice.

Allstate tested their new program last year in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Georgia and hopes to extend opportunities to even more areas in the near future.

photo credit: David E. Starr