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Continental employees go out of their way to help stranded pooch

The airlines seem to frequently score high grades in the customer service rudeness polls, but every once in a while we need to acknowledge those who go above and beyond what is expected and congratulate the company for hiring and maintaining such excellent employees – you know those dedicated people who don’t have to read those extra customer service suggestions in their manuals.

It seems that Continental customer service had some holiday magic this year. A four-month-old puppy named Whopper was scheduled to fly to Spain to meet his family, but he got stranded. It seems his owner didn’t have the health certificates with Whopper signed by a veterinarian to allow the canine bundle of cuteness to board his flight. Equally as tragic, little Whopper wouldn’t be able to be placed in a shelter or a pet hotel without proof that he had all of his shots. What is an adorable puppy with limited veterinarian records to do? Who would care for him? Where would he stay?

Yes, you guessed it! Airline attendants at Continental who had seen Whopper’s canine boarding pass denied jumped right in to save the day and of course the pooch. Jane Bossi took the puppy home and sent daily emails and photos to Whopper’s owner in Spain. When Bossi was due to leave for her Christmas vacation to visit her mother, another co-worker took over.

Continental Airlines does have a proactive program for the safe traveling of our four-legged friends. Their PetSafe program and their Pet Relocation services can relieve some of the pressure pet owners may experience when moving domestically within the United States or internationally like our little friend Whopper. And in the summer when the heat is unbearable and pet owners are warned not to fly with their pets, Continental uses pressurized temperature controlled cargo areas as well as expedited areas for on and off boarding on the tarmac for pets.

Thank you to the  special employees of Continental Airlines for taking care of Whopper.

Amazon.com still a leader in customer service

IMG_4777Amazon.com’s newest customer service facility opened on Friday with a fanfare of speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new 70,000 square-foot center in Kinetic Park, West Virginia was described as a “perfect fit” by Vice President of Amazon customer service Tom Weiland. The new site will provide the company with more flexibility to train workers and take care of customers.

There are approximately 500 employees, and Amazon is planning through a job fair to immediately hire 200 more innovators and problem solvers. The company states they look for candidates that know what needs to be done and then acts upon those tasks. Products sold and supported at the Huntington facility will be Amazon’s retail Kindle, Amazon Instant Video, and Amazon Prime. Service representatives will be handling phones, emails, and chat contacts.

Customer service representatives are recognized as valuable partners in the company’s success also. Creature comforts such as a quiet reading areas, game room with television, pool tables and ping-pong tables are available for some downtime.

So what makes Amazon so successful? After all the company is rated as one of the favorite online businesses customers want to use. The answers are obvious – Amazon makes everything easy. The company offers low prices, vast selections, fast delivery, and convenient buying and returning. The focus is on the customer experience and having everything the customer wants.

Amazon’s innovative ideas have resulted in price guarantees, alerts to rising and dropping prices, and through this builds consumer confidence – enough to be labeled as one of the “most reputable” businesses. Their product reviews have surpassed most other sites, and more people continue to use Amazon as a research tool. Even the company’s technological advances such as the Kindle e-reader, the Android app store and movie streaming service has set them apart from their competition.

In my own experience, my son just purchased a Kindle for my birthday recently, and not more than two-weeks later, the Kindle Fire was announced. I had already thrown most of the packaging away, but wrapped up the original one, sent it back, no questions asked and I am eagerly awaiting the new one when it is released on November 15.

When once asked what founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos thought about on his own time, he responded he was obsessed with customers and felt driven to become the most customer-centric company on the planet.  It looks as if that might be happening.

photo credit: Chrysaora

Retaining customers require the right people for the right job

HouseThe real estate company I work with in South Florida has one of the most progressive software programs relevant to the ever-changing scope of real estate prices, inventory, and customer service. For instance, a home buyer can call me and tell me they are interested in purchasing a home sometime in the future, and in preparation for the purchase they have requested information about homes for sale in a particular community or homes that have recently sold. All of that is relatively simple – most Multiple Listing organizations for realtors can supply that, but new software and technology can keep potential home buyers informed the moment a new property comes onto the market, can keep track of homes sold, can track price percentage changes, and continue to send out “market trackers” until a new home sale is procured.

There is no trick to retaining customers, but maintaining a strong customer support and service program helps to build one’s brand and deliver better and faster service to customers – taking into account recognizing the value of a customer’s time. Long term success comes from meeting the expectations of your customers. Essentially in real estate sales one never wants to surprise or embarrass a customer, so staying on top of the market and the complicated issues of real estate management in these troubling economic times is paramount to maintaining customer loyalty.

Technology isn’t the answer however to retaining customers because nothing is more important than the right people doing a great job. Long term success depends on the quality of the team and their skills. So how does a company ensure the best people for the job? Human resource departments have to have their priorities when hiring. To have longevity and loyalty from employees, businesses and organizations need to offer competitive employee programs, merit based rewards, and recognition for jobs well done.

Successful organizations have to provide opportunities for success, and with that comes the need for education and resources for the staff to improve their skills. Companies with strong cultures create opportunities where the “right” people will be able to grow and evolve as the company grows and changes. As the staff becomes more efficient so do the tools that can be provided by an organization introducing new features and new products.

We strive to deliver on time, to meet our customers expectations, and to be honest and work hard for all of our customers and clients. We strive to serve our communities, and be the best we all can be.

photo credit: roarofthefour

Take lessons from Disneyland and learn how customers are treated

Corvette Z06Mark Reuss, President of General Motors North American operations has a three-fold plan to increase Chevrolet sales in California. As is the progressive California mindset, Chevrolet production will have to develop smaller and more fuel-efficient models to compete with the imports, make Chevrolet dealerships more physically attractive, and amp up customer service.

General Motors has lagged behind Toyota, Honda, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen for years. Statistically California Chevrolet dealerships are only capturing three percent of the market share for passenger cars. Time for a change? It seems so since Disneyland in Anaheim will be the setting for some intense customer service training with the purpose aimed at making a car salesman into Prince Charming.

Salesmen won’t be riding pirate ships and teacups, but will be concentrating on Disney’s attention paid to detail. Not that there is anything especially wrong with tattoos and body piercings, I wasn’t surprised however to hear a woman tell me about her disappointing first impression with a car salesman who had facial and lip piercings. The customer couldn’t concentrate because she was so distracted by what looked so very painful and offensive. Would the Little Mermaid ever sport a lip piercing?

Sales people won’t be smoking in public view while on the job. Disneyland says that would be equivalent to Cinderella smoking a cigarette. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from Disneyland is that customers are always to be appreciated, and it’s the small things that count which customers always remember. Can you ever remember seeing loose garbage on the sidewalk of any Disney kingdom? Can you ever remember any Disney character ever looking disheveled or having the slightest rip in her costume? The car dealerships can find small but effective ways to pay attention to details also. Service departments can show how their customers are appreciated with a free car wash with every service or a bottle of cold water in the beverage holder when a customer comes to pick up their car.

A big part of the total experience of purchasing a car is about the dealership – more than what the salesman has to say. Once GM brings forth a product that appeals to California car buyers – fuel and environmentally efficient, the physical appearance of the dealerships are next. GM promises to pour in $60 to $100 million into over 100 franchises – primarily in Los Angeles to make a uniform entrance, redesign others and even move dealerships to better areas – all with the intention of creating a brand known for quality and excellent customer service.

Time will tell if Disneyland comes to “Chevroletland”, but it definitely can’t hurt.

photo credit: Hertj94

I’m telling my friends about the bad customer service

Tony HsiehHow many of us really take the time to sit down and Google all of the information we need to make a formal complaint when a business treats us poorly? At the time and day this poor service happens we are angry, and we vow the moment we get home we will get a letter out to the CEO of the company and reiterate the miserable events of either our last purchase or service.

As reality settles in, and the other demands of life weigh more importantly upon our daily lives, often the letter doesn’t get written. Good thing for social media and Twitter however, but will that solve all of the problems we can’t quite condense to 140 characters or less? Sometimes we just need a letter with the chronology of events to point out every wrong either imagined or real done to us while spending our hard-earned dollars.

So who do we tell about bad service? Most of us will tell our friends. We go out for a Saturday night dinner with our neighbors, our relatives or our co-workers and the conversation most likely centers around that last unhappy experience at the airport, the restaurant, or the mall. Sometimes we just observe another shopper losing her patience, and we’re not sure if we should stay for the “show” or join in if the complaint is valid. Still imagine all the damage this entire bad customer service experience has had on the business.

How many times have any of us just left our would-be purchases on the ledge or on the counter because service was so slow? That then becomes a direct hit in the company’s wallet, but what can we do about some of this to make service better and keep customers coming back?

Some organizations seem to have misplaced the concept of customers first. Instead company policy intended to streamline and reduce costs wind up costing an organization more money. For example – a consumer’s cable television isn’t working correctly and the customer is told to call back later to see if the problem has been resolved. Unfortunately the  customer has then to repeat the entire telephone maze process again – thus releasing that exhaled breath of pure frustration and obscene muttered curse words.

What happens to customer service when the right candidates aren’t hired for the job? Customer service requires a certain type of person – one that can effectively demonstrate their patience and knowledge of customer preferences. One size does not fit all in the people pleasing category, but all too often customer service jobs start out as entry-level positions with entry-level salaries. In the nearby mall, there is a young adult clothing store which hires its sales personnel by their physical attractiveness – agreed the young women and men are extremely good-looking, but it hasn’t been any boom to their customer service skills. Many of the representatives have had no customer service training and appear to be incapable of making decisions when required they think “out of the box.”

And what every business needs to succeed and rise above the “bad” customer service is to lead by example. I just toured Zappos last week, and along with all of the camaraderie and team spirit, one aspect of the business plan particularly captured my attention. The CEO, Tony Hsieh’s desk and “cubicle” is out in the arena with all of the associates. There’s no special sign – no fancy glass walls – just a dangling bunch of green vines hanging through the aisle way as if out of a scene from a cheesy island adventure. The point – however – Hsieh is involved with the entire organization and has made customer service a priority – not by telling his employees, but being right there in the middle of the action. That my friends is what makes great customer service.

photo credit: jeffkward

Tour of Zappos HQ

Zappos is a company we’ve talked about a lot on Service Untitled (including an interview with the founder and CEO Tony Hsieh), so earlier this week when I was in Las Vegas for the first time, I made sure I got a tour of the Zappos.com Headquarters in nearby Henderson, Nevada.

The tour was really interesting. Unsurprisingly, the Zappos offices don’t resemble a typical office or call center. And the employees working in the Zappos office also don’t resemble the people you see in an average call center. The main difference? They seem very happy to be working at Zappos. I think you’d have a difficult time finding a call center with as many happy people as I saw walking around the Zappos headquarters. The place looks like a fun place to work and as followers of Zappos (and readers of Service Untitled) know, they clearly do things very differently than a lot of companies.

Some interesting tidbits from the tour:

  • All employees go through Customer Loyalty Training and are taught how to use the company’s various systems. That way, when the holidays come around, every employee can pitch in during their down time or if they want, work some overtime, and help out. Cross training helps make it so Zappos doesn’t have to hire as many temporary service employees.
  • Employees move cubicle locations every six months.
  • Customer service employees are divided into teams by mediums (phone, live chat, and email) and then each team is further divided into groups of about 15 or so with a team lead. Team leads sit at the end of each row on a larger desk. Live chat has been the company’s fastest growing medium.
  • There are no offices at the company and everyone, including the CEO, sit at a cubicle. I also didn’t see any executive conference rooms.
  • Zappos gives tours to approximately 100 people per day, sometimes way more.
  • Most employees are paid hourly, but all have access to the cafeteria that has free light meals and snacks and hot meals available for $3.00. The vending machine is $0.25 and proceeds are donated to charity. There are also unlimited free drinks available.

I’ve included a bunch of pictures after the jump. I’ve also included comments and further information with each picture. Click “read more” to see the gallery with photos and comments. To see a larger version of a photo with comments, just click on the photo. To see the full size version, click on it again.

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Bringing more customer service strategies to traditional shopping stores

PICT0103My son was raised using the Internet and whenever we talk about buying a new product, he’s already on the corresponding website and has a wealth of information before I even find my car keys. In 2010, Forrester Research stated that retail online sales had grown 11 percent and expected increases of 10 percent a year through 2014. By 2014, consumer purchases using e-retail is expected to exceed $249 billion.

Blame it all on a stressed economy and an increase in Internet shopping, many commercial strip malls are begging for retail clients and are taking a financial beating. What we need, therefore is to return to basics and plan innovative methods to win back some of the sales from the Internet. Primarily the best defenses against customers sitting in front of their computers and buying products is to compete in price, selection, and customer service. While I agree a brick and mortar store can not always compete in the wide selection of products available on the Internet, shoppers still trust local brands and knowing the people who own the businesses.

Even though shoppers like to take advantage of the latest technology, nothing replaces human contact and those sensory experiences of actually going shopping. Customers like to touch, feel, and taste; it’s all part of the retail experience. Brick and mortar stores need to only take advantage of the human need and integrate expert, seamless customer service experiences to build loyalty. Offer those tactile experiences that can’t be matched on the Internet, and develop relationships with customers by follow-up and offering good prices, good value and outstanding service.

Educate your sales force and enable all employees to be so efficient and comfortable with their knowledge of the product or service they are selling to help educate buyers. After all 70 percent of United States consumers research online before they ever go to a store. Consumers know prices, know products, and know good service. Deliver good service in person, and show that customer how much better it is to deal with you in person, and build your client and customer list with referrals and beaming testimonials.

Never forget that the Internet is also your friend. Develop a website; that’s where the shopping begins. Use media to your advantage such as online discounts, photos of the latest merchandise, newsletters offering knowledge and interesting community events, or even send text messages announcing new merchandise. Just this morning I received a picture and text message from my favorite shoe store with the latest designer shoes the store knows I love. That’s the reason I stay loyal to a particular shop; they provide the most outstanding customer service anyone could imagine  while keeping it all low-key, professional, and not excessive.

In today’s market, a brick and mortar establishment needs to do it all!

photo credit: sancho_panza

Using Twitter to get a company’s attention

ディスプレイ前にジンベイ親分が睨みきかせてる。ハンコック様がよかったなBillie Joe Armstrong used Twitter to make a lot of noise over the Internet about his latest experience on Southwest Airlines when he was recently kicked off because his pants were too low.

@BJA official (Twitter)

Billie Joe Armstrong

Just got kicked off a southwest flight because my pants sagged too low! What the (expletive)! No joke!

Supposedly the story centered around a flight attendant who told Billie Jo to lift up his pants. The flight was preparing to leave when the popular entertainer asked the flight attendant if she had better things to do than to worry about his low slung trousers. The attendant asked him again, and then kicked Billie Joe and his traveling companion off of that flight.

After Armstrong tweeted about his experience, a Southwest Airlines customer service representative contacted him and arranged to get the couple on the next flight out, and in their public statement said:

“We reached out to apologize for this Customer’s experience.”

Armstrong is famous, and the combination of  high-profile plus Twitter and arbitrary reasons to kick people off of planes, surely becomes a public relations nightmare. Many might remember another Southwest Airlines debacle when”portly” celebrity screenwriter and actor Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank because he was too fat.

@That Kevin Smith’s (Twitter)

Dear @Southwest Air-I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?”

And of course Southwest had to think fast and reply since Smith has 1.6 million Twitter followers, and Southwest didn’t want this embarrassing  failure pointed out so publicly on social forums.  But even if you’re not famous, you can still share your problems and more than likely get better results than trying to call on the phone or any other methods of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

Share your problem and tag the company’s Twitter account publicly which means you should include the Twitter handle within your message so all of your followers can see it. We’re finding out that most companies are very serious about Twitter now and have special services employed to track and respond to customers tweeting about their particular organization. Someone tweeting about an embarrassing policy or situation can quickly become an Internet firestorm – not a positive public message any company wants out there.

Google the company’s Twitter account. You can search “company name + Twitter.” And remember, you may have to be consistent. Whereas celebrities with huge followings like Billie Joe and Kevin Smith command a quicker response just because tweets get ugly when there are millions commenting out of anger, rage, and sarcasm – results do happen quickly using the fastest forms of communication known.

Tweets don’t necessarily always have to be nasty or negative. If a customer experience was especially pleasing, or an organization stepped out of the box to be of extraordinary help, why not Twitter and give a company credit when credit is due?

photo credit: gabuken

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