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How customer service excels during disasters

With over two million customers without power because of Hurricane Sandy, is it within the realm of possibilities that we can expect customer service to even scratch the surface of what we need or what we want? The first priorities must be with emergency services; getting the hospitals back to their work of saving people, and getting emergency public service personnel back to their desks so they may begin the enormous task of helping us to put our lives back together again.

Speaking from a South Florida resident’s personal experience of having “hunkered down” for a hurricane or two, by no means should customer service be  overlooked or ignored. Of course, it’s not going to be the “wow” experience as far as comfort and convenience, but as neighborhood businesses reach out to help their communities, they are not only providing a service, they are building goodwill which will be remembered long after the boardwalks are rebuilt and our children are once again frolicking in the sand of Seaside Heights.

Even before Hurricane Sandy blew into town, retail stores were staying open late with emergency supplies such as batteries, water, and flashlights for last minute shoppers.  Maybe the lines were long, but few of us complained. We were just relieved the stores stayed open so we could have some light. These are the same people who left to go home right before the cancellation of  public transit. These were the same people who also have families and responsibilities of their own, but stayed on to help.

And then during the storm, could customer service ever be better or more efficient when 250 patients in serious medical need in a New York hospital had to be transferred because of a power outage? Ambulances from out of state miraculously appeared every four minutes as medical personnel brought patients out one by one to be transferred to another hospital. A surgical nurse sat on a gurney administering oxygen to a newborn while critical care patients were shielded by physicians, nurses, and support personnel – all to save lives.

But now it’s after the storm, and if it were only that easy to send 25 Jersey Power & Light Company trucks out to Seaside Heights, New Jersey to replace transformers and climb up poles to do some rewiring, life after Hurricane Sandy wouldn’t be looking so ominous. Now we have the help of businesses who are coming out to volunteer to help their neighbors cut tree limbs off of their homes, bring in fresh water, or help to find a child’s dog who wandered off during the confusion of the storm. It’s a time for businesses like Home Depot to offer the use of wet vacs and building supplies to help families get their homes back together again. Electricians, plumbers, and heavy equipment operators who reach out to their neighbors who offer discounts and also volunteer in their communities will far exceed the expectations of most people, but definitely be remembered in better times when neighbor Brad is ready to build an addition to his home or Traci is ready to remodel her kitchen.

Disasters have a long reputation of gouging people when they are at their neediest, and laws do exist which punish offenders, but at the end of the day it’s the community that comes together and helps to rebuild. For everyone involved in the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, we send our prayers and hope you continue to stay safe and far away from harm.

Building a successful business requires customer loyalty

Every successful business has to attract customers or clients. We need to persuade them to purchase our product or service, buy a lot of our product or service, return to do more business with us because they were pleased, and then tell their friends and family how great we are. Loyalty comes with a number of perks, therefore pleasing everyone we can with a “wow” experience attracts more and more business. In addition our loyal customers may pay less attention to the lure of our competition and will often come running to our defense because they have always been treated so well.

So how do we build customer loyalty? When you think that people are moved by emotions, and they want us to make them our priority, success depends on figuring out what our customers need and want and then delivering that service or product to them honestly, in the quickest amount of time, and in the most convenient manner. As an example, my air conditioning unit stopped working late Sunday afternoon, and when one lives in South Florida in the early autumn, a lack of air conditioning can be a “sticky” matter. I called the emergency service of Aspen Air-Conditioning  convinced that no matter how much a service call was going to cost on a Sunday evening, just being able to sleep would have been worth the extra weekend charge. When the technician called me, and I explained the problem he told me to remove the cover from the thermostat and replace the batteries, and indeed that was the problem. He could have easily charged me for a service call, and I never would have known the difference. This was my second positive experience with this company, and will now be the company I choose to use and recommend.

Organizations don’t just arrive at being honest and reliable with the best products and service by chance. Owners recruit and provide the best training for their personnel  as well as treating their employees with respect so they will treat customers the same way. Sometimes an employee vacancy remains that way until the right person comes along; it’s not just filling the spot so the boss doesn’t have to work on Sundays.

Competition in all business venues is so steep, and too often customers run from one place to another looking for the best bargain or the promise of the best service. When success depends on pleasing and satisfying one customer at a time and making each and every encounter that “wow” experience, we develop our customer’s loyalty. Of course we keep in touch by email marketing and thank you notes, we offer rewards and anticipate their needs, but it’s those personal touches when a customer knows they have been made a real priority.

Building a better customer service experience with expert branding

We all know who our favorite designers are, our favorite beverages, and our favorite services. That doesn’t happen by chance, but rather this branding is the result of our own personal, repeated experiences and our perceptions of these products or services having been the best. Proceed one step further to find out that most of us stay with these particular brands because they provide us with reliability and quality. Let’s face it – we want customer service and quality products on our own terms, and if we don’t get it all the way we want it, we are likely to move on to another product or service who properly “wows” us.

Brands get turned into lifestyles. For instance, the universal perception of the Mercedes Benz is one of affluence. It makes little difference to a Mercedes Benz owner if a General Motors automobile’s price tag is higher, the consumer already believes their car is special and unique especially recognized in the customer service department where cappuccino machines and pastries are offered after a customer is greeted by name. It’s a time where customers are infinitely more demanding and want service on their own terms, and as they perceive service should be. Customer service comes with the ability to be humble; how can I provide exceptional customer service on my client’s own terms and make him feel like the center of the universe?

As we build our own brands, we need to help our customers and clients believe that what we offer is the best, because those who aren’t convinced that we don’t cater to their needs, desires and perhaps even some whims will purchase their next product elsewhere. If the next time a previous client decides to sell their home, we want to be the realtor they call because their last great experience with us helped to build our brand and boost customer loyalty.

So how do you build your brand and provide the best customer service experiences you can?

  • Do what you are passionate about and develop your passions to provide your customers with the best product or service. Don’t ever say or believe “whatever.”
  • Develop your talents. If you are new to the real estate industry, take advantage of every training course you can find. Find a mentor who you know is successful with the same core values as you.
  • Know your customers and find out what they need and how you can successfully help.

Competition is so fierce that it really is a customer’s world.  They want to be helped on their own terms and want you to make it easy and convenient. Customers want to find more time to have fun and spend more time with their family and friends instead of having to put in additional time trying to figure out how to install a cabinet, waiting in line at the post office to return a dress that didn’t fit, or having to repeatedly call a service company because the technician is more than two hours late for a house call. If you want that person who purchased a product from you to forever be loyal, then you need to constantly reassure them and convince them that you are the best of the best.

Providing the customer service that your customers deserve

Shopping for products and services are no longer defined by the hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The Internet provides convenient and easy access to product information 24 hours a day. It makes research convenient and allows us to compare prices, services, and even to formulate questions we want answered by one of the many providers out there, but what about an organization’s customer service? How will they treat me, and what will they do to make sure my needs and my problems are solved?

My first impression of a company might very well be their website, whether I choose to shop online or visit the store at the mall in person. It’s quite often a personal decision, as some of us when shopping actually want to feel or try-on the merchandise, view the product personally, or on the other hand, for convenience sake be able to make an informed decision to order the product online. Regardless of how customers choose their shopping venues, outstanding customer service still sets organizations apart from their competition. Here are some time tested suggestions:

  • Business contact: Customers have grown weary of voicemail and automated responses. They want real people available to answer their questions in a timely manner whether it be by live-chat, phone, email or even giving out a cell phone number to contact someone who can help  solve their problem.
  • Convenience: Customers want their questions answered when they visit an organization’s web site or store, and that means a knowledgeable workforce with up-to-date information and employees who are experts in the products they sell or the services they provide. During peak business time, is there enough of a workforce to provide customers with personalized service?
  • Consistency: Can a customer count on an organization to deliver the same high quality service each time the customer contacts an organization? Whether the service or product is serviced via the Internet or in person, a customer wants to be able to count on a high level of service and an excellent product. That translates into customer service employees having the best training, knowing their product, and being able to give a customer accurate information as to competitor products and how they compare.
  • Courtesy: There should never be a rude employee.
  • Speed: The advantages of technology can provide quick delivery. Just those words “next day delivery” inspires that immediate gratification today’s customers expect. Organizations need to deliver faster than their competition.
  • Honesty: Never misrepresent anything to your customer. The high level of service a company provides makes the difference when it comes to customer retention and customer loyalty. The time honored “underpromise but overdeliver” sets the highest standards for outstanding customer service.
  • Appreciation: Remember to offer  “thank-you” after every sale and remember to show appreciation to customers by loyalty programs and special discounts. Keep in touch with clients with timely and helpful information which will benefit their lives or even by sending a birthday card to show that people really do matter.
  • Mobile Access: More people are using their smartphones to access mobile websites and are taking advantage of the conveniences provided as in making reservations or finding the best deals via one’s phone now. Keep a customer’s mobile experience positive; this trend is becoming more popular.

And a  part of customer service that never grows old, but keeps people coming back for more is an organization’s ability to add value to a customer’s experience at no extra cost. For instance, a pool company offering to install an extra light to make the aesthetics more appealing at no extra charge, a service company offering to provide an extra service  for no additional charge, or that thoughtful  hotel employee offering a tired traveler a glass of cold lemonade are just the little things that keep customers coming back.

Celebrating National Customer Service Week by honoring the best

It’s no coincidence that National Customer Service Week is celebrated this late on the calendar; it’s the unofficial launch of the biggest shopping experience of the year as the holiday season closes in and shoppers start counting down the days to family and friend celebrations. And in anticipation of the “happiest time of the year,” customer service demands rise to the top of the leader board.

Statistics reflect over two-million employees working in the customer service industry, and this week long celebration serves as a reminder to businesses the importance of recognizing those representatives in the front lines who tend to the business of the day by successfully interacting with customers and clients. Why not use this time of the year to develop new customer service ideas that can reward, recognize, and help to advance the talents of these critically important employees?

In the overwhelmingly successful business called Zappos, their philosophy, culture, and obsession with customer service has changed the 1999 Internet shoe business to shoes, clothing and more with annual revenues of over one billion dollars. It’s a company that listens to the voices of the customers and uses the feedback to help train team members become successful which in turn boosts morale, and at the same time motivates employees to want to do better – all in a positive atmosphere where employees enjoy coming to work. So what has made Tony Hseih’s Zappos’ experience so popular and successful?

Without a doubt, Zappos delivers “WOW” service. Although the commercials and advertisements may appear a bit quirky, they make you smile. From the moment you visit the website, you are guaranteed free shipping, immediate delivery, 365-day return policies, and a host of good-natured and efficient customer service personnel right at your fingertips or on the phone should any part of your shopping experience go awry. Of course, the cream of the crop associates don’t just pop out by filling out a job application, and after an extensive training program coupled with the obsession of the organization’s core values and culture, new associates become part of the “family” and even share in the future success by profit sharing.

One may find it interesting that Zappos is not known for their competitive salaries; in fact salaries are considerably lower, but factor in free food, a comprehensive medical plan, and a place where employees share the pride and professionalism of a business where even managers are encouraged to hang out with their employees in a happy place, the motivation for coming on board certainly becomes attractive. Where employees are encouraged to voice their complaints, where learning experiences are based on following other good examples, and where employees are encouraged to volunteer and have fun when not working adds up to a working environment that revolves around happiness. Perhaps the most fun a visitor might notice as you go on a tour of the Las Vegas Zappos facility are the delightfully creative decorations at each employee’s cubicle – ranging from someone’s fanciful interest to Tony Hseih’s jungle theme cubicle thickly decorated with plastic palm trees and hanging stuffed monkeys.

It’s a place to be adventuresome, learn, and grow. It’s a place where humility and passion have just the right mix, and it’s a place where National Customer Service Week and the appreciation of customer service representatives is surely celebrated.