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What Two and a Half Men Can Teach Us About Customer Service

01 (285)Customer service isn’t an easy task, and for the representatives who successfully calm angry customers, soothe irate tempers, and are able to solve consumer problems in a polite and reasonable manner are those employees any great company should consider giving a raise in salary. Staying calm isn’t always the easiest task to do, especially when the attacks are often met with rudeness and unprofessional behavior on the part of the customer.

Angry clients, customers that feel a product is defective, poor service, an insecure co-worker  may be all in a day’s work for an experienced customer service representative. Now what makes one representative so much better, and what are some of the traits successful agents all possess?

One of Charlie Sheen’s most memorable Two-And-A Half Men stories centered around Allan’s former wife Judith being frustrated and angry with life’s turmoils. On one particular afternoon, Judith was ready to lay into Charlie’s lack of respect and whatever else was bothering her, when Charlie immediately diffused Judith’s anger. And how did he do that? Charlie assumed a natural, relaxed posture, softened the expression in his eyes, and as Judith shot off her frustrations and anger, Charlie shook his head in agreement and repeated “I understand.” As much as the sitcom is designed for pure enjoyment, isn’t how Charlie acted and responded those very traits a seasoned customer service agent utilizes when dealing with angry clients?

Breaking it down, the primary initial response is to stay calm, be reasonable, and let the client vent. Of course, there is no need to ever be subjected to rudeness, unacceptable behavior or profanity, and in that case inform the customer that their behavior will not be tolerated. If it is a phone call, then warn the customer you will hang up, or perhaps they would like to call at another time when they have calmed down. If you are in a face-to-face confrontation, excuse yourself and ask that person to get herself under control.

Never resort to anger yourself, because the situation more than likely will become explosive, and then nobody wins, and nothing gets solved. By now the anger should be waning, and the real problem is most likely somewhere near the surface. Listen carefully to the customer; don’t interrupt but assure the customer you are on their side and will do everything you can to rectify the situation to the best of your ability. At all times, remember you are speaking just like Charlie – both calm and engaged. From there you and the client can work on an amicable solution.

Remember however – if the problem was your fault, the first necessary protocol is to apologize. Customers will forgive you if you make a mistake, you apologize, and then rectify the situation. Don’t embellish your excuses with blaming other people; you represent your organization, and you need to fix the mistakes.

Whereas every company has their own standards and procedures for customer service, the ABC’s of staying calm, knowing your product, and having the ability to right those wrongs in a professional and satisfying method which suits your customers’ needs, is the key to a successful organization. And at the end of the day, that same professional wipes her hands, grabs her purse, and leaves the day’s complaints behind her as she goes home to her family.

photo credit: Victor1558

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

Check out lines getting to be more customer friendly

The CashiersThere’s a December 25 deadline, so it’s not really optional whether or not we want to wait at a checkout line – that is unless we shop online. This year, according to a Deloitte survey, online shopping is up in the United States from one-third last year to one-half this year showing more consumers opting to stay away from shopping malls.

There’s hardly anyone who has been immune to choosing the wrong line. My own experiences seem to escalate when I use the drive-ins at the bank because there are no easy ways to change bank aisles. In supermarkets, we get to choose our line, but in many other retail stores customers wait in one line and then move on to the next available register. Other stores more interested in keeping their customers off the Internet and still having the patience to wait for the next register to check out are much more innovative.

Home Depot brings in “line busters” who are employees who scan items in carts before the customer gets to the cashier. Apple Store employees have hand-held devices to help consumers check out. Yesterday I was at the AT&T store which positions a greeter at the front door asking how he could help and entered my phone number so the next available agent already knew my name and why I was there. Walt Disney World has taken a pro-active approach and while a customer waits online, a Disney character entertains them. Once the consumer is at the register however, efficiency and accuracy become the main attraction. And in Publix, the supermarket has their employees stand in front of the cash registers to not only say hello and smile, but indicate to shoppers their availability.

In the book, “Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping,” customers feel less stressed when an employee or electronic screen guides shoppers to the next available register. One line is often thought to be far less frustrating than switching back and forth between lines, quietly seething while someone else who came later gets to the checkout counter in another aisle quicker than you, or in the worst situation abandoning the product because the consumer is out of patience or time.

It’s interesting to ask people how they choose which line to enter. This morning at Publix, I asked a shopper behind me how she picked her check-out line? She told me she pays attention to what people have in their shopping carts, the age of a person, or how many children accompany the shopper. Carts overflowing with groceries take longer to check out, older people tend to unload their baskets slower, and children often are distracting to their mothers and the entire process takes longer.

So what should we do? The bottom line is if people don’t feel like a store is doing all they can to make the buying experience convenient, there are a lot of options out there. It’s holiday time everyone – hire extra help if needed and don’t keep your customers with their wallets in hand waiting.

photo credit: Aaron Jacobs

Complain constructively for better customer service

Cliente enfadado?In a global survey, Accenture wrote about deteriorating customer service and how most of us have at least switched one of our own service providers because we were displeased that our expectations had not been met. Now in the great realm of this very complicated world, happiness with a company might be perceived differently – that is depending on what we expect, how and of course to what extent.

Statistically, or at least according to the Accenture survey of 2010, two-thirds of the respondents stated that customer service is a significant issue, and over half of consumers are not willing to compromise. We’re obviously all looking for better prices and better service, but how do we handle situations when they go awry? Do we abandon a company the first time there is a mistake? All companies are bound to drop the ball at one time or another, but I think it’s important to complain constructively. Chances are you will get what you want, and just as importantly it will give you the opportunity to see if that particular organization truly deserves your loyalty by how they handle the situation.

Too often when people are frustrated and lose their tempers, the dispute ends up at a dead-end. The consumer no longer will deal with that organization, and the company has lost a customer. So how do you deal with a problem so you can come out on top? Begin with taking a deep breath, and do not get near the telephone or the computer until you are calm. Remember the ultimate goal is to give the business the opportunity to resolve the problem. Also make sure you address the problem immediately; don’t ever procrastinate on a complaint.

Now on to a positive outcome. Be pleasant, polite and charming. In my own career I sell real estate, and especially in this economy realtors aren’t always the most pleasant with other realtors, however greet someone (even a grumpy realtor) with a cheerful “hello, how are you today, ” and rarely do you ever encounter a growl of displeasure. Do the same when contacting an organization. I also suggest you know what you want the outcome of your resolution to be. Last month Continental Airlines provided very poor on flight service to myself and my companion during a flight from Florida to Las Vegas. Immediately on my return I wrote to CEO Jeff Smisek, informed him of our disappointing service and reminded him of my customer loyalty for all of these years.

I received an apology and a promise to research the problem in the future, discounts for  new tickets were issued to our accounts, and the problem was solved. It was important however that I maintained all of my receipts, vouchers, and provided times, dates, and destinations. Each time you complain, you want to ascertain complete credibility – much better when you state your case using facts.

And may I make another suggestion that positively elevates one’s status when it is time to lodge a complaint? If you are speaking with a representative over the phone, be sure to use proper grammar, and make a conscious effort not to use “filler” words as “like,” “you know,” “uh,” “um,” and “er.” When I used to teach a speech class, I would count the number of “ums” a student would use during his seven minute speech, and at the end of his presentation told him the number of “fillers” he used and how it was most distracting. Additionally, if you are writing a letter to a CEO of a company, use spell check and find a friend or relative to proofread your letter for grammar and content before sending it out. Professionalism does count, and it is guaranteed to help you achieve results.

photo credit: Daquella manera

Has the holiday shopping season started off with quality customer service?

Electronics Expo Black Friday 2011 Ad Scan - Page 1Black Friday and Cyber Monday certainly hit the news. Between the deals that started Thanksgiving night when the turkey was barely off the dining room table to Cyber Monday when the children just crawled into their  beds Sunday night only to be  awakened by the sound of mom’s manicured nails tapping at the keys and hitting “shopping cart,”  the frenzy continued. On Friday, it got so bad the police were using pepper spray to fend off the over-anxious shoppers, the lines to get into stores wrapped twice around the parking lots, and employees yawned and complained as they had to report to work at “dark o’clock” and be bubbly and alert. Hardly sounds like much customer service was going on.

So now statistics and polls get confusing. Dozens of surveys state that customers will pay more for a better customer service experience. Customers get turned off if a retail organization gets it wrong and doesn’t make it right in a short amount of time, or consumers resent the purely impersonal treatment of such grandiosity displays of super sales.

Off to the mall I went this afternoon in search of shoppers who braved the crowds, who fought the parking lot musical car juggle, who dived into the $49.99 cashmere sweater sale, and who found and purchased 47 inch LED televisions for $199.00. And what did I discover from my unscientific research? Polly M. told me it was only the deep discounts that motivated her to a particular store to purchase sports equipment for her son and a gold bracelet for her daughter, but said she had no intentions of returning to either of the stores because of their lack of customer service. Mark H. told me his Internet shopping on Monday was much more civilized than his experience at Target on Friday, but the sales were too good to pass up despite the long check out line, the difficulty finding a parking space, and having to deal with the rudeness of other shoppers.

According to the National Retail Federation, the four-day shopping weekend which now includes Thanksgiving day, consumers spent $52.4 billion which is up 16 percent from last year’s $45 billion in sales. There is no way however anyone can guarantee that this kind of shopping will continue for the next five weeks, nor does it guarantee that any of these shoppers will return to the stores which offered the biggest discounts this past weekend.

In the long run, when I asked several more shoppers how they felt about price versus customer service, most seemed to make Black Friday and it’s friend Cyber Monday exceptions to the customer service expectations although everyone questioned expects the return and refund policies to follow suit if the need exists.

But even though the sales were huge, the shoppers all agreed on what they look for in outstanding customer service. Polly looks for friendly and knowledgeable staff, Mark expects an organization to answer his calls when he has a problem with a product, Amy looks for the personal touch and everyone I spoke to wanted me to remind all businesses to remember to tell their customers they are appreciated.

photo credit: Hotcouponworld.com

Using mistakes to make memorable moments for your business

smiley face stress ballThere’s more to building a business than advertising, yet how many organizations spend more of their budgets on marketing and attracting new customers, while neglecting the importance of maintaining current customers and making sure their needs have been met? There is no doubt that every company is going to make mistakes, but how many companies lose the opportunities to build their brand by using those complaints to their advantage?

It’s not enough to just acknowledge a mistake – customers want organizations to make the correction, and they don’t want to be kept waiting. So much attention has been brought to the airline industry lately from truly disgruntled passengers who despite the airlines acknowledgement and apology in the media for keeping passengers locked in the plane on the tarmac for seven hours, no contact information for passengers trying to desperately find flight connections, or rude attendants, corrections are never established nor does anyone ever get back to the passengers affected by the inconceivably poor customer service.

In a time when people don’t want to be kept waiting when it’s obviously the fault of the organization and those very angry paying customers are feeling as if the company just doesn’t care, what do you think is going to happen? Unhappy customers tell their friends, relatives, and coworkers. Just supposing Susan Jones gets poor service from a company, and she tells six people who now tell six  more people. Keep multiplying and before long, the numbers can get staggering. While it may not make a significant lump in the throat of JetBlue Airlines, any small or medium organization can take a big hit out of their profit margins when the news of unhappy customers spiral.

So how do organizations mitigate issues and turn those frowns into smiles? Of course, we all know that mistakes are going to happen, and no one is perfect. The key to controlling the situation however is to apologize immediately and to apologize directly to the customer. Make the correction and do it immediately. Employ key customer service personnel who have been trained to deal with angry customers and who have the discretionary ability to appease the customer using whatever it takes (of course within reason) to show the customer the company really cares.

Those are the customers who will more than likely one day appear again as a brand supporter. People want to talk about good experiences, so instead of companies spending all of their money on advertising, try focusing on the customers. There should be no boundaries when it comes to pleasing those very people who have helped to make you a success.

photo credit: jetheriot

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