* You are viewing the author archive. To see a listing of the people who write for Service Untitled, click here.

More to customer loyalty than just having a great product

Lizzie #265Most of us take great pride in the excellent products or services we provide, but let’s face it – there are many great organizations and service providers who do the same thing. So  how do we set ourselves apart from our competition? Better yet, how do we deliver customer service above and beyond; services and products which shoot us out of that “good” box and upward towards the big blue sky of “great”?

At one time, the only way to really figure out what customers wanted was through either the customer service help desk or via telephone. The task of customer feedback however, has now taken the social technology route – namely Facebook and Twitter. It’s easy for businesses to connect with customers, and we have the extra advantage of gathering information about our clients and customers – making it easier for us as business owners to fit their needs. Consumers readily tell us what displeases them, which for the astute listener and passionate organization owner, then helps us to analyze our strengths and weaknesses.  That encompasses listening to feedback very carefully and making adjustments when needed. For instance, if a customer complains on Facebook about a faulty product and the problem is addressed immediately, those wrongs become tools to turn the negative into the positive. If the problems with the faulty product are solved, it implements positive feedback, and as customers realize they are actually dealing with real people eager to help, we garner brand loyalty.

On the other hand, organizations can become victims of smear campaigns. Sometimes it happens because of rival competition while other problems may have arisen because of an unfortunate run of inadequate services or an inferior product. The best solution is to address the problems accordingly since negative accusations can certainly tarnish a business’ reputation. Whereas loyal customers statistically allow four tries to rectify a problem before moving on to the competition, shouldn’t a company just “fix it” in no more than two tries?  Acknowledge mistakes, apologize, and fix it. Those are the loyal customers who will speak favorably about an organization, thus encouraging others to speak out about their own favorable experiences. It may not always be a complete win, win, win; unfortunately social media also attracts a few less than desirable critics who for unknown reasons may just lash out for the sake of creating havoc. Again identify and address concerns, and just move on when indicated.

Brand loyalty develops deeper meaning as current customers continue buying our products or using our services year after year. What has commonly happened however, is the obsession with finding new customers. Too many times the old customers are ignored. We advertise great offers and customer service excellence for new customers signing up, special discounts, and promo packages. Meanwhile the “regulars” may have to tolerate poor support and lose out on the benefits offered to new consumers. Don’t get obsessed with finding new customers; it’s much more expensive to lose those loyal clients who year after year have helped your business to grow. Be fair, be honest, be gracious, and treat each customer as a respected individual.

Memorable experiences make for “WOW” customer service

Ritz Carlton

Perhaps the best of the best try to make every experience memorable by paying special attention to details. One recent experience at the Ritz Carlton where my real estate partner and I recently visited for lunch to meet with a European client who had flown into Palm Beach for the day to preview a listing we were offering, certainly left a wonderful customer service memory I had never experienced before, but have mentally earmarked as one of the most memorable customer appreciation opportunities I’ve ever witnessed.

For women who know that wearing high heels may not be comfortable after hours on your feet and previewing properties, both Erika and I were more than happy to relax in a comfortable lounge in the reception area to wait for our client. We laughed and cajoled with each other how sore our feet were, and moments later when our client approached, she was also wearing similar ridiculously high heels and readily recognized with good humor how uncomfortable the extended wear of such shoes can be. In less than five minutes, a young woman from the Ritz Carlton staff came over to us and very politely told us, she had seen us rubbing our feet and knew exactly how we were feeling. She then invited all of us into the spa for a complimentary foot massage. Of course our client happily obliged, and for the next 20 minutes, the four of us (including the client’s husband) were indulged in pure relaxation and what must count as one of the greatest impromptu customer experiences for a hotel.

So what makes something like this so memorable, and why did the employee take it on her own to offer us such a complimentary service? Strong leadership skills and great training enhance the talents of great employees. When searching for the best customer service personnel, integrity, mutual respect, innovation with a mixture of creativity and the ability to have fun and like what they do catapults these valuable employees to the top of the list. Highly motivated and successful employees who complement an organization that encourages their staff to “own a situation” and gives them the ability to make free standing decisions reflects the high level of care and concern that excellent leadership skills include in the day to day quest for excellence.

While the complimentary service may have cost the Ritz Carlton a few more dollars than a more customary perk for a hotel guest and their friends, think of the residual benefits for this five star establishment. After all there is a lot of competition in Palm Beach to be the best of the best. Still what guest wouldn’t tell the story to her friends over cocktails and dinner? And then what friend wouldn’t remember the story when getting ready to book a few days on the luxurious Island of Palm Beach? And never underestimate the connections and kind words from the local real estate agents who often are asked by foreign clients where to stay.

For the grateful, andfor the people who capitalize on opportunities to create a great service experience, it’s about more effort, and a unique way to spread the word about the extra mile some organizations will go to that brings back the faith in “WOW” customer service.

Recruiting talented employees to enhance customer service

smile!Happy employees make for motivated people who want to deliver the best customer service they can to assist consumers and clients. These are the people who become the eyes, ears, and voices for any organization, often beginning at the receptionist desk  and progressing all the way up the corporate ladder to the person in charge of operations. Recruiting and keeping talented employees therefore is very important when building relationships with people and developing a company’s brand, because it’s what people say about you and your business when you’re not in their presence that makes a profound difference in the world of customer experience.

If we consider that customer service is the most important part of our marketing plans, both immediate and future, then we must concentrate on hiring and keeping the best employees because these are the people who can drive a company forward. Too often we read stories of disgruntled employees who have complained about belittling actions from their superiors, the lack of benefits for health and retirement, the absence of training programs, or the lack of confidence and permission for employees to perform their duties without having to get special permission every step of the way during a customer crisis. Once a company creates doubt and demonstrates a lack of integrity, employees lose faith and thus there is no denying that the elephant is in the room. Will your employees be your dream weavers or will they make nightmares come true?

So how do we keep employees happy and engaged? Since it’s a reality that it costs money to hire and train the best of the best, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to recognize and celebrate accomplishments – much as we would want done to us as we reach new milestones? Start with the best training, the best coaching, and the best communicators who can teach all aspects of one’s business. Once employees have the same vision and want to help improve the experience by sharing, they become more confident and empowered to put their best foot forward when faced with unique situations. Employees are empowered when they are well-trained, well-advised, and encouraged to improve and help to advocate changes as needed.

Organizations need to be transparent, for the more that is shared with the staff, the more opportunities there will be to iron out the problems and move ahead with new ideas to make better choices. Encourage personal development, and celebrate career advancement when it is deserved. Employees are proud when their accomplishments are recognized at staff meetings and celebratory events. Make the working environment a place where employees want to show up every day; not a place where they stand outside dreading the tick of the clock.

Encourage employees to participate in community events; having rewarding and humanitarian experiences enrich a community and our country. Humanize your company, build relationships with people because everyone has family and friends who can spread the word and appreciate your efforts.

In the fiercely, competitive struggle of fashion and service, Burberry does it well

burberryy-logoWhat keeps a company in business in today’s competitive retail market? For the luxury brands, buyers insist on the quality of  merchandise accompanied by exceptional customer experiences.  Within minutes of entering a boutique, can a prospective buyer be confident of a friendly atmosphere, of comfortable surroundings, and that of a customer service consultant capable of expertly assisting without being annoying?

Welcome to the world of Burberry, a company which dates back to 1856 with 21-year-old Thomas Burberry opening his own outdoor apparel shop in Hampshire, England. Introducing gabardine, a water-repellent and comfortable fabric, Burberry’s trench coat eventually became a household word often included in the wardrobes of the rich and famous, and happily filtering down to the working class.

But it’s not just about the high end clothing even though the men’s single breasted trench coat sells for $1,295 or the cotton polo with the Burberry distinctive tartan trim sells for $150, it’s also interesting to observe some of the innovative methods used in a highly competitive market to set themselves apart. Chief creative officer Christopher Bailey made sure only one central location would be responsible for the Burberry theme; thus concentrating on design and the ‘brand’ which is inexorably fashion. The strong growth in China has boosted the organization’s growth more than 13 percent in the last three months, and according to Wikipedia, the organization has 500 stores in over 50 countries.

With the expert incorporation of social media, Burberry has more than 10 million Facebook followers, but even Twitter was not to be the final public method of expanding the younger consumer desire of fashion and function communication. Burberry began its own social platform capitalizing the roots of their 150 year-old British tradition with The Art of the Trench, described as a “living celebration of the Burberry trench coat and the people who wear it.” Where one might think that customers may have turned up their perfectly coiffed hair at such a public display, the site is full of young, good-looking customers; even featuring a few pint-sized kiddies modeling their trench coats.

And in my own experience, the Burberry store in Palm Beach Gardens offers the visually appealing, experienced sales consultants, and the ease of completing a purchase with the least amount of stress. Since 2012, sales personnel use iPads as part of the company’s technological makeover which contains customer history,  buying preferences, and all that is needed to tailor one’s shopping experience. Match that with their online collections, excellent return policies, concierge service, and alteration facilities, the customer experience keeps you smiling and relaxed. Shopping should be enjoyable, and should it matter if we pay $49 or $149 for a polo shirt? Can’t other stores take a lesson or two from a London tradition who just seems to do it better than most stores?

Personalize your customer service

Everyone wants to be treated as an individual with their own specific needs catered to; in the perfect world that’s the epitome of “wow” customer service. Of course whether we use one company or service over another usually stems from past reputation, helpfulness, integrity, or a friendly referral. That personal touch is an ever developing finely tuned rapport emanating from new products, discounts, and the knowledge and behavior of those valuable customer representatives who are an integral part of a successful organization.

Where brick and mortar establishments may have an advantage in serving up some initial pleasing customer service as smiling, friendly, and knowledgeable representatives are there to personally greet and meet, Internet and online customers are saved from those sales people who “hover.” Who hasn’t had the experience of being annoyed by an over zealous employee following you around or seemingly lurking too closely into your personal space even after you informed them you were only browsing? Who hasn’t had the annoying experience of a too pushy salesperson? And equally as annoying, is being in a store where there is no visible salesperson to help with a purchase when needed.

Internet sales continue to pull forward. First of all, customers get it the way they like it. Online companies are even making it personal with Facebook and Twitter. Representatives post on Facebook; customers get to reply, ask questions, and learn more about the product without having to find a parking space at the mall. No pushy salespeople, bigger selections, value, and competitive prices. The most competitive organizations even offer free delivery and returns.

So it would seem a valuable key to outstanding customer service would be expected service, but with an unanticipated value that sets an organization apart from others. For instance, a spa service in West Palm Beach is offering tremendously discounted prices in July and August for facials, body wraps, and massages. As a customer walks into the spa, she is lavished with the same topnotch service as would happen at the height of the Florida tourist season. Therefore, besides the value of the expected service  provided, the additional giveaways, complimentary extras, and a thoroughly pampered experience brings that personal touch that incorporates unexpected additional value.

It’s still all about building loyalty, and all about taking care of customers.  In 1901, John Nordstrom started with one Seattle store, and his philosophy hasn’t changed in over 100 years.  Amazon, Apple, and Zappos continue to hold the top reasons their customer service is so exceptional. Each company continually assesses customer service and views it as a positive challenge, each company’s founder has been personally involved, and employees are treated as valuable assets to the company and given the training, knowledge, and trust in their capabilities to bring out the best in each organization.

How credit card companies offer different levels of customer service

Credit cardsCredit cards are an important way of life for most Americans. According to CreditCards.com, the average consumer has nearly $16,000 in credit card debt, and the average interest rates of credit cards range from 10.37% for those with excellent credit to 28% for instant approval credit cards. So are there different levels of service for credit card customers depending on one’s credit and past financial history?

For a consumer who has been involved in a bankruptcy, has judgments or poor credit based upon late or skipped payments, interest rates are always higher, but poor customer service should not go hand in hand with poor credit. Many people in dire financial predicaments have been unfortunate victims of a stressed economy, catastrophic medical emergencies, or divorce, but are now looking to obtain the tools to once again demonstrate their strong financial responsibilities.

Bad credit comes with high fees and interest rates, but as a consumer works their way up into a more acceptable credit score, the perks get better, and the fees get lower. Where it is dubious for someone with a secured credit card based on high fees and  money needed in an account to expect the same level of customer service one receives from the American Express Gold or Platinum cards, it certainly is a reasonable expectation to receive fair and timely service for all credit cards. Unfortunately some credit card companies rate the effectiveness of their customer service representatives by how quickly they can get the consumer off the phone, and then onto the next.

Need to know how to maneuver your way around customer service departments of credit card companies to get satisfactory service? Here are some suggestions:

  • Stay calm. For the more credit challenged consumers, often the customer service departments have been outsourced to another country. No matter while the recording states, “Your business is very important to us, and please don’t hang up, but all of our service representatives are busy at this time,” wait time can be very frustrating and tends to escalate tempers. Customers who are nasty to representatives tend to receive less service and less consideration. In fact, don’t be surprised if a customer service representative hangs up on you if you become hostile and rude.  So take a deep breath, and start the conversation with, ” I know this isn’t your fault ____, but these charges don’t seem fair. Could you help me with this problem?” Say the person by name, and stay professional. Once the representative sees that you are not attacking her personally, you’re apt to get more time and attention.
  • Perhaps you forgot to make a payment last month, and the credit card company hit you with a late fee? Again, remain calm, but instead of acting insulted that the company had the audacity to charge you with a late fee because you have never been late before and sometimes even the most organized people forget a payment, turn it around and explain to the agent what happened. Then ask the service representative to look at your credit record, and ask if there is something that could be done about the problem.
  • Looking to lower your APR or have a fee waived? Ask the representative to review your credit history and explain how much it has improved in the last six months to one year. Credit card companies are forgiving if they see strong and consistent efforts to rebuild credit.
  • Not getting anywhere with a customer service agent? Sometimes new agents do not have the authority to waive fees or increase credit lines.  If you find yourself getting frustrated, thank the agent, hang up, and call again. You might get another agent who has more clout and who is more sympathetic. If that still doesn’t work, ask for a supervisor. Keep going up the ladder; you may get a different answer. For those consumers who have trouble staying calm amid these often frustrating “hoops and loops,” why not use the chat digital online services? Conversations can be kept civil and professional, and there is little chance of losing one’s temper.
  • Keep accurate records. Make sure you keep dates, names, and a record of specific conversations.
  • And when all else fails, take to social media in such forms as Facebook, Twitter, or the organization’s blogs, but stay calm and professional. Someone is sure to answer.

Fortunately there are many credit card companies which strive to deliver excellent customer service. Just remember, you “attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.”

Customer service principles learned from a dentist

Not many of us look forward to visiting the dentist, but it bears witness that those who ignore their teeth, eventually their teeth go away. Of course notwithstanding anything to the contrary, dentists along with their expertise to keep our smiles shining, should also prescribe to the ultimate quest of customer service no matter how advanced their dental education may have been.

So what qualities should a dental office present? After all patients are customers and therefore should be appreciated and valued. During the last few weeks I’ve had some complicated dental work completed because of a bicycle accident some years back, and have had the perfect opportunity to assess what makes positive experiences. These customer service principles carry forward to all professions; going that extra mile to deliver that extra service makes all the difference to a customer or to a patient.

Aside from an attractive waiting room, which is the accepted standard of the dental trade, having a friendly staff is compulsory. Remember the days of the opaque windows when a receptionist would slide it open and read the clipboard after a patient checked in? That’s pretty much unacceptable today, although some offices still abide by that antiquated and perhaps rude introduction. From surgeons to CEOs, getting out from the exam room and being seen raises the bar of confidence with patients and customers alike. The open atmosphere gives the dentist the opportunity to see how patients are being treated and how employees are interacting.

The soft colors and the background music continue the gentle ambiance, but it becomes the employees and the talented staff who help to solve problems. Successful dentists count on their staff to listen to their patients. Staff who are empowered to solve problems and work closely with patients can make an unpleasant experience tolerable. Add that to a dentist who listens to his staff and takes feedback for future improvement, shows his commitment to providing an exceptional experience.

So what did I learn from my experience at Etheredge and Schry Dentistry in Palm Beach Gardens about customer service? I found out that calling the office and speaking to Jennifer because I was unhappy with my temporary crown did not resonate against deaf ears. Instead I was told to come right into the office, and she would make sure I saw Dr. Etheredge. I found out that a reliable dentist takes time, even with short notice to make adjustments because his patient was going out of town. I found out that exceptional customer service is done by those who genuinely love what they do, and engage their patients as well as their staff with a genuine concern in their voices.

And best of all I learned that reliable, consistent and competent professionals help to make smiles brighter.

A practical approach to dealing with customer service frustrations

irslogoNo doubt, it has been a tough week for customer service. Internal Revenue Service acting agency head, Steven T. Miller who is resigning from his post stated earlier this week:

“I can say generally, we provided horrible customer service. I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selections.”

And if that didn’t capture enough of America’s attention, how about the Maserati owner only identified as Wang who smashed his $420,000 Quattroporte with sledgehammers to protest the dealer’s poor customer service while shocked onlookers watched?

Of course, the normal customer service experience for disgruntled customers rarely take on the profound consequences as these two examples, but the importance of being able to successfully and calmly maneuver through a maze of frustrating obstacles before getting problems resolved can seem insurmountable to consumers at any moment. With that in mind, the better part of valor calls for the customer to wait until he is calm before instituting contact for a bad product, poor service, or any project requiring the help of an organization’s customer service department.

In businesses that continue to concentrate on the value of great customer service, “chat” lines have become great assets for a positive link between customer and service personnel. The lines of communication are open immediately, and consequently there may be a quicker and friendlier resolution to the problem. Winding one’s way through the phone maze may be infinitely more challenging however, but staying calm and listening to the voice commands will hopefully get you to a representative. Of course, one can always just punch in “0” for operator; that works fine on some systems. If you get the music and are asked to hold, why not place your phone on the “speaker” option and continue with your other work while waiting?

Have all of your paper work available when speaking with the customer service representative. Have the notes in front of you of people you have already spoken with, what correspondence and emails you have already received, customer reference numbers, and any other pertinent information you may have to make the process move along quicker and more efficiently. As you speak with the representative, remember not to be rude, never curse, hold back on sarcasm, and remember that the person you are speaking with isn’t the enemy and probably is not the person responsible for the defective product, lack of promised return, refund, or the cause of the poor service. Human nature commonly follows the basic premise of the more gracious you might be, the more interested the customer service agent will want to extend her arms of helpfulness.

Suppose the telephone conversation and subsequent actions or promised actions of the customer service department doesn’t solve your problem or meet up with your expectations? A popular solution is to take it to social media. Post on Twitter or the company’s Facebook page that the action taken has been less than what should have happened, or that no one has ever returned your call. More than likely, that action will garner attention. And when it’s clear that you need to move up the complaint ladder to a supervisor, again it is suggested to be cooperative and complimentary to the representative you have been dealing with – please don’t say you don’t want to deal with them anymore, but thank them for their time and ask to speak with a supervisor.

By this time most customer service problems have been resolved, but if it’s a fight to the bitter end, then it might be time to email the CEO. Surprisingly enough, some correspondence does make it to their desk while others have had to rely on television news anchors for the latest IRS complaints.

« Previous Page  Next Page »