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Getting back to the basics of effective customer service

In one of the most successful self-help books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey identifies the elements truly effective people use regularly as tools towards their success. No matter how quickly technology continues to dazzle us with innovative ways to contact our customers, understand new products, or strive to make purchasing convenient and quick, satisfied customers and our future relationships with them are what keeps our businesses growing. Might we just build trust and more satisfied customers by getting back to basics, and using  proven methods of success? Here are Covey’s habits as explained in his book. Read how easily they can be related to the core values of effective customer service:

  1. Habit number one calls for us to be proactive or to take the initiative to realize the decisions we make will ultimately determine the course of our businesses. No matter how far technology takes us, people still want to speak to real people when they are having a problem or expecting excellent service. Customer service has always been a top priority for American Express as compared to the endless prompts and procedures of other credit card companies. It’s interesting to note that more credit card companies have recently been reaching out to the public stating that real people are now readily available when a customer calls.
  2. The second habit is to begin with the end in mind or picture where you would like your business to be in the future. Amazon, Zappos, and the Ritz Carlton hotels pictured clients and guests having access to every amenity, guaranteeing satisfaction with unquestioned return policies, and hiring the most effective agents who could bring a dream to reality.
  3. Put first things first and prioritize your tasks as to your customers. Keep promises, work on your company values, and above all concentrate on the most ethical and respectful ways to promote better relationships with all of your customers. Sometimes it isn’t just about the sale, and people remember when you go out of your way to help.
  4. Can you think win-win? Outstanding customer service calls for everyone to win. Can you solve problems and still be fair? While you may not make a customer happy all the time, the win-win situation still counts if there is value and respect for both sides. If one can concentrate on long term solutions and still come up with a reasonable compromise, all parties can maintain their dignity.
  5. Habit five says to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Communication is a two-way street. The most important part of excellent customer service is the ability to listen. We can’t solve problems if we don’t understand.
  6. Next we synergize which is to join forces with our teams and work together to encourage the best possible customer services. We just cannot depend on the front desk agent who answers the phone or who replies on Facebook. Customer service includes every department from CEO to delivery. The best customer service oriented companies encourage employees to learn, join together to teach each other, and work where the “whole” complements the “parts.”
  7. And finally the seventh most successful habit is described as sharpening the saw. The analogy pertains to the man who kept sawing through a piece of wood, but his saw was too dull to finish the job on time. When asked why he didn’t just stop and sharpen his saw, the man replied he couldn’t because he wouldn’t be able to finish his job by stopping. All of us need to take  time to energize ourselves whether we choose to spend time with our children, run ten-miles on the beach, or relax in the mountains of New York State. Take some time, and learn from our mistakes.

The valuable time we spend honing our best talents and helping our colleagues to be the best they can be will help to establish the  most successful companies.

Transportation Security Administration criticized for poor customer service

It seems that even the TSA is under scrutiny as to their lack of customer service, and passengers who have encountered problems trying to navigate through the woes of 21st century airport security have a valid argument. TSA Administrator John Pistole stated in a recent interview on CNN that less intrusive rules have been implemented lately. For instance, passengers over the age of 75 are no longer required to shed their coats or take off their shoes while going through security. Also 1.5 million passengers have gone through TSA’s PreCheck which is a pre-screening investigation which expedites security clearance.

In a recent Congressional hearing, Representative Mike Rogers (R-Ala) of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee stated the TSA is a huge bureaucracy that pays little attention to citizens. Customer service, even at its most basic qualifier demands an individual be treated respectfully. Is there something awry with TSA customer service when recognizable individuals such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are patted down at the entrance to airport security?

The subcommittee’s new efforts will now concentrate on their “poor customer service image and become a leaner, smarter agency,” according to Rogers. It’s profoundly understood that the job of the TSA is to provide airline passengers with safe transit, but the long lines, the less than pleasant attitudes of some agents, removing belts, coats, and shoes, and having to acquiesce to “striptease” in certain arbitrary situations aren’t the ways to satisfy passengers. Where most people will agree that many of the procedures are necessary to insure the safety of Americans and all travelers, others cite the hypocrisies of some regulations that no longer apply. Not too long ago, passengers had to turn on their laptops nor were cigarette lighters permitted. Now smaller laptops don’t have to removed from a passenger’s backpack or carry-on.

If people are outraged and disgusted by TSA agents for their inefficiency or their callousness to addressing tenuous situations with expertise and professionalism, the media can easily multiply the assumed bullying and defiance of the TSA officers. The story went viral when a four-year-old child was searched on the suspicion of having a firearm possibly given to him when hugged by his grandmother. Fortunately none of it was true, but the less than professional behavior sent unflattering criticism from one end of the planet to the other end.

On the plus side, Pistole states that TSA personnel are now being trained and retrained as to respect for passengers as well as treating people professionally. There are just too many different rules, and Americans have legitimate concerns over radiation incurred during body screening or of nasty agents bragging about having made passengers cry.

Meanwhile the prices of flights continue to rise, but still the planes are 82 percent filled to capacity. Many passengers do opt to no longer fly. Let’s just hope the retraining of the TSA agents help them to add customer service strategies to their job descriptions.

Google enters into customer service industry with Trusted Stores Program

Critics are saying that Google has entered into the customer service arena which in the past  directly contradicts their automated tech abilities and less than stellar customer-centric talents. The introduction of the Google Trusted Stores Program may be the foundation for competing with Amazon someday, but it’s interesting to see Google becoming a customer service representative for customers right down to even offering a purchase protection plan when a sale goes awry.

So how does the new program work? Actually Google has been testing their “Trusted Stores” badges since October 2011, and it is offered to all United States businesses with a self-service sign up interface. The service is free of charge to customers and merchants, and according to Google the intended purpose is to increase trust for online shopping, so if a customer doesn’t know the company they can check its reliability before turning over their cash. According to an article by NBC:

The new program is Google’s attempt to make nervous buyers calmer about parting with their credit card numbers on an anonymous site.

The Google Trusted Stores Program will rate online stores on their delivery of an overall customer experience. A potential customer will be able to see who ships quickly and their reliability. For instance, shipping will be rated on the percentages of on-time shipping based on the time frame specified by the company and the average days for a product to ship. The service section of the evaluation will be based on the percentages of issues resolved within a short amount of time and the low percentages of customers needing assistance from a particular organization.

What makes the program most interesting is the promise of a Google customer service representative who will mediate between a participating merchant and customer when a problem occurs and of course the Google new purchase protection plan of $1,000 at no charge for qualifying purchases.

Google  group product manager Tom Fallows states they are not getting into a ranking system, but trying to help shoppers feel more comfortable with buying online. It would seem that the less known merchants would benefit the most from this program; so far Wayfair, Timbuk2 and Beau-coup have all signed up and subsequently announced that business has increased. To date Google states 50 merchants have signed up for  the program.

Whether Google expects more merchants to spend their increased revenue on AdWords or if it’s just a push to compete in  customer service excellence that garners the attention of all customers, the Trusted Stores Program will be even more interesting when Google rivals sign up for the service.

Employ more customer service options to provide a concierge level of excellence

It’s not that we need surveys to show which organizations step out of the box to ensure a concierge level of excellence so coveted by consumers; organizations like Zappos, Amazon, and Nordstrom essentially offer everyone “fantastic” service. Customers who feel they have been treated royally will return to spend more money and even pay a premium for products or services. The problem is that only 55 percent of customers will share their good experiences whereas 82 percent of customers will share their bad experiences, and that’s what cuts into revenue and the coveted bottom-line to success.

Consumers are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to what they believe to be a great buying experience, and as entrepreneurs and innovative business owners there is the constant challenge to present customers with the most convenient and innovative ways and technologies to deal with consumer needs. For instance, what could be more frustrating and time consuming than having to navigate through a maze of telephone prompts when the Internet goes down or a defective product arrives in the afternoon mail? Why don’t all organizations supply an “escape” prompt where a live person will intervene? There should always be a way for a customer to engage a representative of a company before their last ounce of patience runs awry. It’s true that not every company can employ the 24/7 quality phone service of a corporation like American Express, but customers look for the least amount of work they have to do in order to be the happiest with their purchases.

In 2011, over 72.6 percent of Internet users purchased products online, and therefore customer service excellence needs to offer the sensational experiences which used to be associated only with brick and mortar establishments. Facebook and Twitter continue to gain popularity, and as organizations realize that IT personnel are not equipped to handle customer service, trained representatives have taken the wheel and hopefully provide clear and accurate responses to customer complaints before the frustration “factor” sets in and conversations get out of control. Email has become the most popular alternative to the telephone, but companies need to realize a quick answer is most likely going to make the difference in a consumer’s future shopping choices.

So how does an organization keep abreast of delivering the best buying experience besides telephones, email and social networks? No matter what the service or product, always clearly display every option a consumer can employ to reach out for help. Let a brick and mortar store prominently display liberal return policies, terms of special sales, guarantees and sincere promises of quality customer service with the best product or service an organization can make available. Let online companies use SMS text and online chat options to optimize a customer’s experience. Give an online customer the option to pick up their product in a store if the customer chooses. Clearly state F.A.Q.’s on company websites, be clear and concise when dealing with a problem, and treat each and every customer the exact way the company president would want to be treated.