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

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

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

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

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

Sending flowers and customer service

Mother’s Day is coming, and with that comes the busiest day of the year for florists. Many of us order our flowers over the phone or the Internet, and since holidays are a one shot deal when it comes to flowers being at their required destination on time, we as consumers hold florists to a high level of “flower” responsibility.

This past Valentine’s Day, Washington Post’s Melissa Bell stated, “Love hath no fury like a flower customer scoffed.” It seems a popular wire service 1-800-Flowers failed to deliver bouquets for many customers creating a plethora of Twitter and Facebook complaints with the fervor of an inevitable doom. Boyfriends, husbands, and significant others complained about flowers not arriving, damaged products, hundreds of botched deliveries, and an acute shortage of customer service personnel. Only a few dissatisfied customers ever received an answer on that ominous February 14th.

The Bradenton Patch’s 2012 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Customer Service awarded Ms. Scarlett’s Flowers and Gifts thumbs up for customer service in a very consumer oriented industry. In an interview, the owner Ryan Bringman reminds us of many of the basic essentials of fine customer service – primarily to always match or exceed customers’ expectations.

So what are the most important issues when dealing with flowers and customers? Consumers want their arrangement to look like the picture, they want a competitive price, they want a quality product, and they want their orders to be delivered on time. During Valentine’s Day, 1-800 -Flowers, headquartered in Westbury, New York with franchises, owners, as well as  “order takers” were unprepared for the volume of orders and left sweethearts demanding apology notes and refunds.

Bringman says that customer service is what really sets his store apart from everyone else. He is careful about quality control, meaning he uses the best flowers to make his floral arrangements and has adopted the philosophy that the less time spent on talking to the customer about issues, the better the service will be. He claims to be committed to his clients which might mean some bizarre orders like dead flowers, black roses, or baskets for cats or dogs, but if his clients are happy, then Bringman is happy.

Middlemen like 1-800-Flowers may seem convenient, but Bringman says in terms of customer satisfaction it is better to order direct because not only will you get a better product, but the prices are often less costly. He suggests looking up a florist in the city or town you want the flowers sent, and either email or call the shop directly.

The last flower delivery I received from 1-800-Flowers spelled my first name incorrectly and wished me a Happy Birthday when the occasion was to congratulate me on a very difficult real estate transaction which finally changed title. While the flowers weren’t meant to be a “love connection,” I just can’t help imagining the damage a wrong name or occasion on the card could have caused.

Social marketing 101; respond to your customers about social issues too

Does your organization have a Facebook page where a customer can either “Like” or become “Friends”? Nowadays businesses are either riding the social media train or stranded at the depot. Clients and customers love the personal touch and having the ability to comment on an issue; the problem arises however, when no one from the company responds back or follows up on a complaint, lack of service, or even a social issue.

Statistically the majority of Facebook posts and Tweets remain unanswered. Of course, if the news media grabs onto something particularly egregious, the firestorm rages on, but in general customers just fade away because no one ever responds. As we live in a technologically advancing world where even seven-year-old children carry  smart phones, social consciousness becomes a major factor when building brand loyalty and increasing the number of new customers referred by existing customers.

Recently the Northface clothing company, a high end organization of outerwear was singled out by one of the humane organizations for purchasing and using duck down for their coats and vests that had been purchased from a company who participated in the especially cruel practice of raising ducks for foie gras. If you’re not familiar with the ongoing contentious issue, geese or ducks are fattened artificially by inserting metal tubes down their throats and fed enormous helpings of maize to fatten up their livers. Foie gras is considered a delicacy and commonly sells in excess of $30.00 an ounce. At first Northface ignored the comments on their Facebook page, but as irrefutable evidence of Allied Feather and Down being one of their suppliers who support the foie gras industry, Northface needed to address the issue. Finally on February 20, the organization posted an update stating they did not condone the practice of force-feeding geese, apologized and regretted not having “greater insight into the origins of down” and were working to find long-term solutions to avoid sourcing down. The company now claims to have organized a Down Task Force establishing a traceability system of new procedures.

In another example of a growing social consciousness, Lancome (L’Oreal) still tests finished products on animals; another especially cruel practice when photos of suffering dogs, cats, rabbits and even mice are posted all over Facebook and other related media outlets. It is interesting to note that by 2013 all animal testing for cosmetics will be banned across the European Union. A few weeks ago I posted on the Lancome Facebook page and asked why they were still using live animals. My first post was deleted, but the second time I received a reply denying that animals were still being used, but also directing me to a press release link explaining that the company was working on alternative skin testing methods.

There’s no doubt that companies need to continue working on their social media listening skills because the Internet is not going away. Customer service representatives need to establish reasonable policies aligned with their brand in a social conscious world where information is no farther away than typing in the word “Google”. We live in an ever emerging mindset of sustainable products and new moralities. While we all strive to make a living and produce the best products at the best prices, the world has changed and more customers demand more answers.

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 4 of 4

This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob talks about performance reviews, how Zappos encourages employees to further their knowledge (and pays them for doing so), what he thinks about seniority and tenure amongst call center agents, how Zappos handles scheduling, how the company encourages “personal emotional connections,” and finally, what Rob thinks companies can do to deliver Zappos-like service.

You can read part one of the interview here, part two here, and part three here. To read this part, click “read more.”

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Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 3 of 4

This is the third of a four part interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob talks more about the service metrics that Zappos tracks, how the company empowers its Customer Loyalty Team Members (and has avoided bureaucracy), how escalations to managers work at the company, how the Zappos compensates its employees, and the extensive continuing education programs employees have access to at Zappos and how they work.

You can read part one of the interview here and part two here. You can also jump ahead and read part four here. To read this part, click “read more.”

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Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 2 of 4

This is the second of a four part interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob discusses how Zappos motivates members of their customer loyalty team, what programs they have in place to recognize good service, and what service metrics the company tracks and how.

You can read part one of the interview here. You can also jump ahead and read part three and/or four. To read this part, click “read more.”

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Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 1 of 4

After interviewing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh  and seeing the company’s HQ outside of Las Vegas, I knew I wanted to learn more about the nuts and bolts and day-to-day operations of Zappos. To get this information, I spoke to Rob Siefker, Director of the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team. In part one of this four part interview, Rob talks about what he does at Zappos, how the company handles operating 24/7, what the training process is like for Zappos employees, and how the company makes the most out of cross-training its employees.

Click “Continue Reading” to see the questions and answers. You can also jump ahead and read part two, three, and/or four.

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Auto insurance companies working on their customer service experiences

Unfast Cars Moving Fastly, Subaru On SpeedAutomobile insurance companies are going all out to please their customers. Once upon a time we just called the insurance agent our parents dealt with for twenty years and gave them the information about our car and the amount of liability, collision and uninsured motorist protection we needed and sent in the premium. We didn’t shop around, and who would have thought that an automobile insurance company would actually cater to a customer?

Now less than ten years later all of this has changed. Insurance companies flood television commercials with proposals for the best services one can imagine. Amid the promises of the lowest cost policies, companies now have new ways to win you over. Progressive Insurance Companies promise you customized quotes and immediate personal service. Who doesn’t identify with Flo, the loveable and helpful cashier with the tricked-out name tag? Who doesn’t recognize the reptilian mascot with the Cockney accent for GEICO?

Still when it comes to customer service and brand recognition, Allstate might be onto a better way. No fancy gimmicks in their advertisements, but instead the company has been swaying customers with such programs as accident forgiveness, reward programs, and safe driving bonuses. Last week Allstate announced their new Claim Satisfaction Guarantee which promises its customers to be satisfied with their auto claim service or they will get a credit to their auto policy. This new feature which makes eligible customers who are not happy for any reason with the service they receive a finite opportunity to receive an actual credit on their auto policy.

Allstate’s new program actually lays a pretty big responsibility on the company because the satisfaction promises stretch from the agent, to the adjusters, to the claims representatives and to the very people who are entrusted to repair a client’s car Allstate, however states the repairs must be done through an Allstate Good Hands Repair Network or Sterling Auto Body Center. Still the network shows the company’s trust in the people they deal with thus helping to build trust with their customers.

And when once upon a time we could only call our insurance agent during business hours, Allstate as well as other insurance companies now have 24/7 service in case of a problem. Ten years ago, clients had to wait until Monday morning to report a collision that happened on Friday night – now there’s immediate help and advice.

Allstate tested their new program last year in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Georgia and hopes to extend opportunities to even more areas in the near future.

photo credit: David E. Starr

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