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Brick and mortar stores can still outdo Amazon with ‘Amazon Can’t Do That’

Hurried ShoppersIn a study titled “Amazon Can’t Do That” polling 1,500 consumers spanning the three generations of Millennial, Gen X, and Boomers research group, WD Partners concluded that shoppers still prefer feeling, walking around, and gathering with friends and families during the holiday shopping season. Whereas Amazon is no longer just a store for books, the grand giant now sells everything that can be sold or delivered, so how do local stores compete, and what needs to be done to gain customer loyalty even after the last ornaments have been neatly tucked away?

As convenient as it was to shop on Cyber Monday, the news media burst  with headlines displaying throngs of shoppers postponing their family turkey dinners to stand in line for incredible deals such as 50″ flat screen televisions for $199, kitchen appliances at hefty discounts, or the most popular toys being sold in record numbers at Toys R’Us on Black Friday. Mix that with movie stars such as Jessica Simpson, Justin Bieber, and others superimposed talking to Kris Kringle in the Macy’s Department Store advertisement, which for the first time ever, opened on Thanksgiving Day, there’s still some profound popularity for the brick and mortar experience to find good service, good sales, and the nostalgia of the Season.

Still stores can’t depend on that warm and toasty experience shoppers love as they purchase gifts for their families and friends. Stores need to give customers what they want and make the experience pleasant if they want to see these same people post holiday time. If the shoppers’ experiences wind up with poor customer service, it’s apt to show up quite quickly on social media, and that could end up in a long run to recovery. It’s about making the experience stand out; some bonuses the shopper may not experience if they chose the online shopping path can also help build loyalty. For instance:

  • Offer free attractive gift wrapping and have numerous employees there to keep line waiting time to a minimum.
  • Offer free shipping for more expensive and luxury items with insurance.
  • Make customer assistance convenient and quick for shoppers. Use email, telephone calls, and live chats to help with service.
  • Use loyalty cards and give one out to every customer during the holiday shopping season that can quickly add up and provide a benefit or discount after the season. Make it an attractive offer and build customer loyalty at the same time.
  • Make sure to thank every customer, apologize for any oversight, correct the problems, and ask how you can be of any further assistance.
  • Offer discounts for multiple purchases. Everyone likes “buy one get one free.

According to WD Partners, however the brick and mortar store should be ” a place of inspiration and ideas that leaves shoppers with a high or sense of euphoria. The in-store shopping experience must offer more than a warehouse does. Retailers who provide this type of shopping experience will be successful this holiday shopping season.

“The store should be a place of inspiration and ideas that leaves shoppers with a high or sense of euphoria,” Lee Paterson, executive vice president of creative services of WD Partners, said in the study. “The in-store shopping experience must offer more than a warehouse does. Retailers who provide this type of shopping experience will be successful this holiday shopping season.” – See more here.

The top remedies to quell ‘customer rage’

Cliente enfadado?

In the world of social media, where consumers publicly speak out against poor customer service, it has been estimated that U.S. businesses can lose $60 billion in future sales of goods and services. A recent report from a cloud contact provider stated  85% of consumers retaliate against a company with bad customer service. “Customer rage”, as it is called, has caused 49% of consumers from doing business with a particular organization, and interestingly enough, the 18 through 34 year-old age groups are three times more likely to vent their frustrations out on social media.

For at least 70% of the purchasing population, the first line of complaint begins with a phone call. As so many  large organizations utilize call centers, customers get easily frustrated with the maze of number presses, the disconnects, rudeness from call center personnel, language barriers, and of course, the incompetent service representative.  That adds up to a lot of complaints when 43 billion calls a year are processed through these call centers.   The major companies which notoriously press a customer’s “rage button” include cable television providers, satellite providers, telephone products and services, electronics, retailers, banking institutions, and automobile manufacturers. Ironically these most often are big ticket items; thus involving more hard earned income and therefore more serious consumer consequences.

So what enrages customers the most and how can we improve our services? Oddly enough, out of the ten most popular solutions to improving customer service, six suggestions have no bearing on prices. The overwhelming top response from unhappy consumers centered around being treated poorly and the lack of respect. Although we may laugh at some of the popular “customer rage” videos popular on YouTube, the message to be conveyed is not to have to call back, explain the problem to someone else, and repeat the vicious cycle of ineptness until the proverbial cork pops out of the bottle.

It’s hard to find a company who actually admits blame, but unhappy customers want to hear a company acknowledge they are sorry, and then to make an offer to correct the lack of service or fix or replace the defective product.

“I’m not asking for a miracle, but I want the company to acknowledge my time is valuable, my business with them is important, and they will try their best to make it better for me,” explained Pamela Davis, a former AT&T Bell Labs executive assistant. “I’ll even settle for mediocre now before I change companies, but I want them to resolve my conflict.”

Customer service, despite all of the edginess of progress and innovative tools available to businesses,  still boils down to the importance of communication. “I’m sorry you are unhappy,” and “Thank you for your business,” aren’t  complex formulas, but it brings the humanity back from a very complicated world; and although it doesn’t cost a lot, it certainly encourages brand loyalty.

Service with a snarl: What to look for and how to avoid it

No doubt we have all been victims of bad customer service, and no doubt we have left companies and moved on to their competition because the experience, at least in our own eyes for the moment, had been intolerable. Of course, we all have those particularly heinous stories of sub par service and indignant insults, but fair is fair, and perhaps some of those “fly off the handle” experiences could have been handled better; both by the customer and the service person.

Whereas the warning signs of poor customer service seem to be universal in this day and age of technology and good old personal one on one intervention, the adage of the “customer is always right” can never be a one-size fits all solution. It is true that waiting in line or a long telephone “hold” wears down a customer’s patience, and could very well be the foreshadowing of a busy and understaffed company, statistics state Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line for such services as cash registers, amusement parks, movies, fast food restaurants, and the list goes on.

The real payoff happens when we get to the front of the line or the representative answers the phone. How is the customer treated? Is there an apology for making us wait? Is the service we expect now provided? Is the customer service representative owning the problem, or are we told someone else will have to get in touch with us? The popular recording:

“Your call is very important to us. Please do not hang up. All of our representatives are busy helping other customers,” is only believable to us if we can expect our problems to be corrected or addressed.

The real solution is a customer service representative who is well-trained and intelligent who tells an unhappy customer:

“We’re sorry, and we will make this right.”

On the other side of the customer service debate, however we must remember that customers need to own  respectable codes of behavior. Customer service agents are not FBI hostage negotiators and should not be expected to tolerate screaming profanities, unrealistic goals, and vulgar behaviors. Agreed, everyone can get slightly miffed from waiting in line or being left on “hold” for more than a customer thinks is acceptable, ( could be one minute, ten minutes, or an hour) beginning the conversation in an arbitrary manner is not likely to get the desired results. Try to throw, “it’s the principle” out of your mind and concentrate on the desired end result; whether it is to be a refund, a replacement part, or a better seat in the auditorium for a Katy Perry concert. Nothing replaces the time honored old English proverb:

“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Organizations have

to figure out which way they want to operate. Low levels of service are inexpensive, but the high costs of customer dissatisfaction, the lost business, and the money spent to process and repair the damage, takes its toll. High levels of service are expensive, and it costs more to provide those services, but the costs for dissatisfaction issues are much lower.

So the next time you think you are a victim of a snarly customer service person, why not take a deep breath and imagine the “best in life is yet to come.”

Customer service sparkles with romance at St. Augustine specialty boutique

2011-11-05 023While Cupid may not have the reputation for worrying about customer service when it comes to thoughts of love, it’s clearly evident the diapered imp of romance has never had to deal with an epic proposal like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in the middle of AT&T Park in San Francisco; all resplendent with a 50 piece orchestra and a $3 million 15 carat diamond ring. Still love isn’t always dependent on dazzling drama nor is it only for the privileged or the rich; “WOW” customer service can make even the simplest proposal an affair to remember.

In one of 14 unique stores around the world, Filthy Rich located in St. Augustine, Fla. offers affordable, high quality reproductions of celebrity replica jewelry from collections ranging from the Golden Era of Hollywood to Jacqueline Kennedy and even fast forward to the contemporary collections of Carrie Bradshaw. It’s a store “all about the fun” where a shopper can also find movie props, film cell art, Elvis Presley memorabilia, and even a life size statue of Marilyn Monroe wearing the iconic white dress from the movie The Seven Year Itch.

And so one day a young couple in love walks in to the store to browse the elusive gap spanning the past to the present of Hollywood’s most glamorous and romantic times, and the young woman falls in love with the store, where of course “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” She stopped at every display, read all of the posters, learned, laughed, and left happy.

The next day the young man returned and spoke with the owner about how much his girlfriend enjoyed the experience at the store, and wanted to ask the store owner for a specific favor; the young man wanted to propose to his lady in the store since she found the store to be so romantic. And that is what happened, but with a clever twist and the kind of customer service to be remembered and passed on to friends, relatives, and coworkers. The store owner and the young man arranged the date and time he would bring his girlfriend back into the store. The engagement ring, a genuine diamond purchased from a nearby fine jewelry store, was brought in and carefully placed in one of the contemporary collection display cases awaiting the arrival of the couple.

And so the fun began. The boyfriend told his girl to choose a ring for fun, and pointed to the  real diamond ring. Of course she said it was beautiful, and as the shop owner pulled the ring out for the young woman to try on, the would-be groom fell to one knee and proposed.

Perhaps it is the unconventional and innovative way the “WOW” was delivered that made this an amazing experience because the end result made an emotional impact on the receivers. Since there was no monetary reward for the shop owner, (remember the ring was purchased at a fine jewelry store) could this be another example of going “above and beyond”? While there are no magic formulas for small businesses to guarantee their success, sending customers away who are happy and therefore pass on positive feedback, are the building blocks to repeat business and loyalty. Good service starts at the top; when the owner makes it their mission to set goals of greatness, continue on the challenge for excellent service, and train the staff to be courteous, knowledgeable, and helpful. Keeping promises, paying attention to complaints, and answering the phone help to form those very important relationships because we are judged more by what we do than by what we say.

Of course, throwing in incredible experiences and being helpful even if no immediate compensation is realized is sure to catch the attention of many others. Where do you think that couple will shop the next time?

‘Social listening’ can help businesses become more effective

Catching up on e-mail...The buzz phrase “social listening,” also known as social media monitoring, can help organizations and businesses be more effective and build stronger brand relationships. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, media marketing software combines both monitoring and analytics to help us listen, understand, and engage. Through Facebook and Twitter, conversations can be measured to help attract new customers, and ultimately these customers can become advocates helping our businesses to grow.

Perhaps the Dell story with the “power to do more” further explains the concept of “social listening.” Dell’s social media 10,000 employees are tuned into more than 25,000 conversations about Dell every day claiming the more information gathered, the better the company will be able to deliver the precise products and services customers want. The company considers social media an extension of their brand, however it’s not that easy, and it’s not just about purchasing the software. Michael Dell’s “direct-to customer-heritage” starts with training. At the Social Media and Communities University, associates are fully trained and then empowered to listen and focus – transforming “online ranters into ravers.” Eleven languages, 24/7 availability, and participating in social media for the sake of the company, help Dell to continue growing stronger brand relationships with customers.

One can’t separate however, customer service with “social listening”; as Dell states it is a key part of the brand. The company combines customer service phone calls, social media engagement, online strategies, traditional print advertising, and everything in between to further Dell’s recognition.

Once upon a time, businesses would learn how customers felt about them through polls, surveys, and focus groups. Now with “data mining,” specific keywords on social networking, websites, and blogs can identify what is being said, where it is being said, and who is saying it. Of course, the anonymity of sitting behind a computer screen can easily make for bogus complaints, (unfortunately there are no mental stability tests required to type on a computer) but knowledge is a way to be prepared for an action plan if needed.

This information can come from Google Alerts to sophisticated applications, but knowing what to do with the results is as important. Obviously, one can’t join every social network on the Internet, so identifying those who need your product or service, and then joining and being active, will help to build a solid customer base and hear what people are saying about your product and services. Search out the competition, and make your business stand out through customer service and excellent products.

Make customers advocates of your organization and ask those who love your products and services to spread the word. Listen and learn because social media isn’t just about a sales pitch; it becomes a reflection of you.

Is customer service more about loyalty or preventing frustration?

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 07So here we are in the midst of football season, and wherever I sit to watch a game, invariably the question comes up as to whether offense or defense is more important? Of course, in football every yard gained by the offense means the defense has given that yard up, yet it is the offense who has to score. Then again the defense is in charge of keeping their opposition from scoring.

Since customer service is now getting more and more complicated because prices have become so competitive, does it also depend on a better defense or one of offense? In Forbes, “Defense Can be Better Than Offense in Customer Service,” there comes a question whether going that extra mile for a customer much like Nordstrom’s Department Stores, Zappos, or the Ritz Carlton hotels, actually reap the benefits of the amount of money spent to train the staff, or to give employees the latitude to be able to make independent decisions that can ultimately cost an organization a lot of money?

Matthew Dixon’s book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, contends we should not be searching for loyalty by offering customers the ultimate customer service experiences through expensive programs. Instead of recognizing top customers with promotions and rewards, extensive feedback, or even apology programs,  rather it’s less expensive just to focus on “preventing frustration and delay.” The less an organization does, the less the cost. Avoid loss by targeting customers who may be leaving and look for ways to keep them before they run over to the competition.

Remember the defensive position is reactive; responding by emails, calls, live chats, and social media with the end result of loyalty. Some say if you strive to make everyone happy, word of mouth increases business while others say just try not to lose customers because it’s just too hard to get them back. Should we forget about raising satisfaction scores and just try to avoid the lowest scores so as not to lose customers?

Depending on the position an organization chooses is most dependent on the product or the service offered. No matter which way however, both sides depend on the effectiveness of the customer service department including product knowledge, communication skills, and the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Personally I prefer the more defensive approach, and have for years appreciated the customer recognition status and associated perks. With products in two different stores being of equal quality and competitively priced, my business would still be at the store with the better recommendations from my neighbors, family, and friends.

Mayday! Customer service guaranteed to rescue users in times of need

Amazon is stepping up the customer service game for users of the new Kindle Fire HDX. For those of us who might be a tad technologically challenged or for any problem that might occur, Mayday is a built in remote support and instant helpline available to the consumer 24/7/365 days a year. So if you’re confused by the predecessors and have used YouTube videos or Googled your questions for years, the new age of customer service may be setting Amazon apart from their competition.

With just one button found in the tablet’s Quick Settings menu, the Kindle Fire HDX will summon an Amazon employee who is able to help solve any problems – from the simplest to perhaps the most complicated. Within 15 seconds, the Kindle owner can see the representative in a small window of their screen and the representative can even see the apps, and if necessary can draw on the Kindle to help the customer. Amazon assures us that the representative can not see us, but with the customer’s permission, can control the tablet remotely much like LogMeIn or TeamViewer.

The new Kindle Fire HDX offers double the memory, is 34% lighter, and has 11 hours of battery life – especially helpful when reading one of those extraordinarily long suspense novels you just can’t put down, but putting all technological help aside, the customer service aspect is a win, win, win. Since Amazon doesn’t have the convenience of a brick and mortar store like Apple and their Apple Geniuses, this free service guarantees a place in customer service heaven for so many users over the age of 25 who weren’t weaned on iPads and tablets. Amazon states their profit margin for the sale of Kindle tablets is slim, however they admit to raking in the profits in the sale of their devices.

Criticism on the downside of this customer service technology focuses on the possibility of Amazon reps having access to passwords and sensitive information. You can ask them to disable their screen however, but there are still some who are wary of security issues. It’s been said that 95% of the issues happen when devices are working as they should, but Amazon reps will be logging in every question and problem which will help to determine improvements in the future.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos easily stands by the side of such geniuses as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page. Bezos, as he rescues us from our customer frustrations, works on “customer delight.” Tech people who have tried out Mayday thus far have been pleased, but will Bezos’ promise that Christmas morning, my mother will be able to get live tech support within 15 seconds and a tech will be available to instruct my mom step by step? I guess it all remains to be seen.

How not to act when customer service fails miserably

This week was a drama-filled example of a customer “gone wild” when an incredibly frustrated customer service recording from Reddit was made public on YouTube. Picture a client, who for three hours tried in vain to get an issue resolved at an alleged home security organization, and went from agent to agent until finally customer service representative Michelle left a number for the client to call. The problem with that however, is that Michelle was nowhere to be found, and as the customer’s anger escalated, his behavior became inexcusable; pity the service representative named Mark who finally answered the call.

As we all believed once upon a time that the tooth fairy really existed, and the money left on our pillows in the morning came from an unbelievably beautiful princess with a magical wand, we all want to believe that organizations really want to keep our business and ultimately a customer service representative will come to our rescue. Of course, minus the magic wand, and too many times the long hold period with the repetitious sales pitch and elevator music, the transferring of one’s call to another representative, or the even more fearsome threat of being disconnected during call transfers, inept customer service can push the buttons of the most patient and optimistic soul.

It seems this in particular recording, allegedly from four years ago, pushed this customer’s sanity, because he curses, screams, and even threatens violence by coming to the customer center and using a machine gun. Customer service representative Mark who answered the phone at tech support was instructed by the customer not to put him on hold or even transfer him to another representative for fear of being disconnected again. Mark obliged the customer; we don’t really know why because without the necessary information from the customer as to the problem or even the customer’s identity, how could any questions be resolved? Was the customer service rule at the company never to hang up on anyone or be fired?

Regardless of the hysterics caused by this week’s ballistic outbreak from an out of control customer, it’s a good platform to help all of us not overreact to poor customer service. Not too long ago, most of us remember the airline attendant who went ballistic when a rude passenger angered him; he told the person off and then proceeded to slide down the emergency chute and exit the plane. We’ve seen customers break expensive china, throw diamonds into the rivers, and act so much out of control, we either cringe with fear or laugh hysterically, but a lesson for all of us lies somewhere beneath all that anger and the frustration.

Even if it means walking away from your computer or putting your IPhone away for a rest, stay calm. Most companies do allow their representatives to hang up when a customer calls and is profane or threatening. Have a clear, concise summary of your problem, and leave out the emotions. Be polite to the representative, and try to remember that person is there to help and has no preconceived notion to want to hurt you or not resolve your problem as quickly and effectively as possible. Of course, it’s no surprise when we reach low-level employees who have no discretion as to making exceptions or much talent in the problem solving issues, so be prepared to be transferred when dealing with certain companies. Too many companies don’t put the time or effort into proper training.  There’s nothing wrong with asking to speak with a supervisor, and sometimes it does take time for a return call, but try the obvious remedies first and make sure you hone in on the particular department applicable to your problem. Keep good records of everyone you speak with, and be persistent; again without being rude, and when all else fails, never be afraid to turn to government agencies, Better Business Bureau, or social media.

Everyone agrees poor customer service is frustrating, and as hard as we try sometimes, failures happen. Let’s just hope businesses have enough wisdom to want to keep you as a customer and resolves the issue before it is too late.

Here’s the video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/RVdNobKNMig?w=560]

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