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Iceberg of Ignorance – Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

IMG_7713I was having lunch with a colleague and we were talking about some issues she was having at work. She was saying how difficult it was to get her senior leadership to understand issues the front-line employees deal with every day. She shared concerns for what she described as a big disconnect between employees who interact with the customers and upper management. It reminded me of some research I was exposed to years ago – The Iceberg of Ignorance.

The Iceberg of Ignorance is based on a study that was done by Sidney Yshido in 1989 which indicated that senior management often fail to understand business operations from the perspective of the customers and employees. The interesting finding of this study was that this can affect a company’s profits by as much as 40%.

The study revealed the following:

  • Issues known to senior management were 4%.
  • Issues known to managers were 9%.
  • Issues known to supervisors were 74%.
  • But front-line employees were aware of 100% of the issues that affect the product or service that was being delivered to a customer.

How can senior management be so clueless?
The art of recognizing and solving problems is essential for leaders. Senior levels of the organization should strive to be in tune with day-to-day issues confronting employees. Unfortunately, if there is not a structured process for gathering and analyzing performance data, executives can fail to see what is affecting employees and sadly their customers. Whether it is a broken purchasing process, faulty manufacturing equipment or an aging facility – senior leaders need to be aware so they can help resolve issues.

What is troubling about these findings, is that the very people with the ability to affect positive change for the organization, are the ones who are not aware of the issues that employees or customers are dealing with.

Four ways that senior leads can be aware of customer issues will be covered in another post this week.

Patricia is the President and CEO of The Thriving Small Business, a business performance consulting company. Patricia helps small businesses develop and grow by helping them create infrastructures that support increased revenues, decreased costs and improved customer experience.

photo credit: Jenny Varley

Amateur rap video presents an odd approach to Apple culture

Apple Store ShinsaibashiIt seems an Apple rap video was posted on Vimeo and performed by Apple employees in New Hampshire. Obviously the video didn’t last long; it was pulled from the Internet, but besides being somewhat amateurish and mildly ludicrous, the theory of presenting the proper solutions to customers based on their needs still rang through as truth.

Back in July, the Apple Store in the Hong Kong IFC building presented parts of their five-day course in employee training. It is called “Core Training.” On the first day, new employees learn about the company, gain technical training, learn how Apple systems work and the importance of the Apple culture. Days two, three and four teach employees how to interact with customers, teaches about inventory and progresses to the “complete solution” which is finding out what the customer needs, asking them what they need it for, and then proceeds to presenting the product that will satisfy their needs. Day five summarizes the past four days of training and shows employees how to access Apple systems.

So the rap video seemed a bit immature as compared to what Steve Jobs would ever consider acceptable no less proper, but the message came across as far as calling customers “promoters” which simply means happy and satisfied customers are the ones who promote one’s business by recommending, returning and thereby acting as the best word of mouth advertising there is. The “rap stars” spelled out APPLE as the following:

  • A – Approach (how to approach a customer when they walk into the store)
  • P – Position, Permission, Probe (initial questions and follow-up to best help a customer find what they really want and need)
  • P – Present (solution)
  • L – Listen
  • E – End

Perhaps the rap soundtrack could be seen as mildly offensive to some, but it presented an energized and interesting approach to teaching some very important principles of customer service. If one needs an acronym like AAA to remember “Acknowledge, Align, and Assure” to help recognize and handle acceptable standards and procedures that really work when an unhappy customer approaches or calls, and it happens to be chanted, rhyming lyrics that help employees to remember and do their jobs well – maybe it’s just not so bad.

photo credit: matsuyuki

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

Businesses using Facebook for customer service

Social Media Word CloudMarket Tools, a software and service provider for management and research conducted a survey of 331 companies with an annual revenue of more than $10 million annually. Of those organizations, 23 percent rely on social networks to support their customer service and to provide feedback. Topping the list with 48 percent was Facebook, 17 percent used Twitter, and another 17 percent relied on company blogs.

Almost every organization from animal shelters to zoos has to be aware of public opinion. With 500 million active Facebook users, logos and pictures and carefully thought out postings create and maintain serious platforms businesses depend on in the social media world. Facebook can spot out the latest trends, behaviors, and what the most influential customers are buying.

So how can a business use social media such as Facebook effectively? To begin, the efficient use of Facebook is not a hit or miss exercise. An organization will want to think carefully about who will handle this – from getting the company profile created, the gathering of data, posting, creating content, and even approval of content. Social media responsibilities can be a full-time job, and an intimate knowledge of the company and its brand and culture have to be serious contemplations when deciding who will be in charge of the day-to-day maintenance of either Facebook or Twitter – or both!

Remember where word of mouth has always influenced your friends, family, and co-workers, it’s not unusual for “friends” meeting up with new “friends” on Facebook and having hundreds and hundreds of consumers and potential new customers visiting your “page.” Fast and friendly personal responses can be very influential. If a business has a social conscience which reflects a particular responsibility, perhaps a local or national charity, social media can launch a company’s approval index substantially. Customers with complaints, for instance expect a fast response; if not there is likely to be more complaints thus creating a poor company perception. On the other side of the spectrum, however compliments from happy customers do a lot for a company. It’s almost as good as sitting at the local pub praising an organization personally.

But no successful Facebook campaign is random. It must be carefully orchestrated so an organization can present itself with a superior product, a welcoming personal message, well thought-out posts, timely responses, and a carefully educated and trained staff whose job it is to deliver great service and do it with pride.

photo credit: Rubber Dragon

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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Chick-fil-A recipe for excellent customer service

Free FryDayToday in the Jonesboro, Arkansas Regional Chamber of Commerce presentation, franchised restaurant operator and owner of Chick-fil-A, Mike Fullington explained to his audience how customer service can have an impact on a person’s day and even his life. He explained those who really do it well have a certain “spirit,” and that is not something that is trained; rather it comes from the heart with the desire to serve and help others.

In the world of fast food, there has to be a special talent to prepare fast food and still be able to pass out a survey asking a customer to rate taste, speed, attentiveness, courteousness, and cleanliness. That sounds more like the upscale restaurant we visit once in a while, but the Atlanta-based franchise is well-known for its passion and service. Instead of a “thank you” at the end of a customer’s purchase, the more genteel “my pleasure” is used. Truett Cathy, founder, chairman and CEO stresses “servant leadership,” meaning managers treat employees how they want employees to treat customers.

It’s not the extra mile of service franchises bring to Chick-fil-A; it’s been described as the second extra mile. It’s where new franchise owners can take up to a year to come aboard. They have worked in the restaurant, gone through countless interviews, involved their families in the business, and identify with corporate values. All Chick-fil-A’s for instance, are closed on Sundays as a day of rest and prayer. While it’s not mandatory to be Christian, all owners must have demonstrated a special passion, humility, and genuineness Cathy finds mandatory. He places families first, and is a firm believer in strong family units.

Innovative ideas to promote the Chick-fil-A culture for outstanding customer service is rewarded. Contests for competitiveness are rewarded as teams show exemplary work ethics and ideas. Technology and training assist employees in attaining goals of efficiency and speed; 90 seconds for service at a drive through and 60 seconds for counter service.

As an incentive to heighten customer loyalty, coupons, restaurant openings, and special community occasions bring forth new opportunities for “ambassadors” to spread the word to someone not familiar with Chick-fil-A.

And to constantly keep a check on the best ingredients for Chick-fil-A, Cathy spends $1 million dollars on quarterly evaluations which questions customers about their experiences. Respondents receive a free sandwich for answering twenty questions about their experiences. Each location is then forwarded a two-page report.

Excellent customer service is adding that special recipe people just don’t expect to receive. With over 1200 restaurants and $1.5 billion in sales, there’s a lot to be said about integrity taking first place as has been shown via Truett Cathy’s philosophy.

photo credit: Carl Black

How to establish a customer service culture

Chase BankCustomers frequently offer feedback; sometimes it is solicited, and sometimes it comes back as a complaint or a question. No matter how the delivery, it comes down to what you do with the feedback that keeps customers and affords an organization the opportunity to build customer loyalty.

More often customers are displeased with a company’s service than with the product. When an organization disappoints a customer, it becomes personal. For instance, my recent experience at Chase Bank in Palm Beach Gardens is an excellent example of what went wrong and what should have been done to correct the problem. Briefly, I needed to see a banking representative to move one account to another. There were six personal representatives; two were involved with customers, and the other four were doing something else, but definitely not serving customers. It was during my lunch hour; there was a general attitude of indifference. I couldn’t wait any longer, and notified a teller I wanted someone to call me to make an appointment for the next day. No one ever called; no one ever apologized, and I wound up at another branch of Chase a few days later and closed all of my accounts.

Analyzing what went wrong with the bank, it seems someone lost sight of customer importance. Customers should not have to wait while representatives are doing work at their desks. In order to establish a customer service culture, the emphasis needs to be placed on the customer. All departments need to attend to a customer so their problems can be solved and someone is not getting shuffled back and forth within the company or just left sitting in a chair wondering about the cavalier attitude of the employees. By that time, customer frustration has grown; surely not a positive experience for anyone.

Someone should have come over to me and explained why I was not being served. Someone should have come over to me and introduced themselves and worked on my customer needs. There should have been trained staff members available that could have addressed my growing frustration before I became a disgruntled customer. After all, statistically 90 percent of dissatisfied customers will not return, and one unhappy customer will tell nine others.

Here are a few basic rules to help establish a customer service culture that can lead to success:

  • Make your customer the most important part of your work. That means put the other work away when a customer is waiting.
  • Train all personnel so they can attend to a customer.
  • Staff members need to have resources and the training to be able to resolve customer problems. Employees need the training so they are equipped to take action when others are engaged in business.
  • Bring customer service to a personal level by greeting people by name.
  • Have resolutions and compromises available. It’s not always just “yes” or “no” and be flexible. Picture yourself as the customer and how you would feel if placed in a similar situation.
  • Reward staff members for outstanding service.
  • Ask customers what you can do to improve customer service.

The ultimate reward for companies that provide excellent service is that we keep coming back. Today I was at the Wachovia Bank in Jupiter, setting up a new account. The staff provided efficient, friendly service; exactly what you expect from a well-run bank.

photo credit: paulswansen

Customer service benefits by going green

CCC2 MRF Glass2The environment matters! The concern over the environment does affect people’s choices of business. We bring our own recyclable grocery bags to food markets, we use less paper in our offices, we adjust our office lighting, we use more environmentally friendly detergents to wash our clothes, and most of us are willing to spend more for “green” products and packaging.

Green marketing is not just the weekend garden place you can go to buy fresh vegetables, fruits, and home-made goods in your community; it is a tried and true marketing strategy to get more customers and make more money. There are no special customer service tricks in going green, but there are some basic principles to be followed to ensure a successful endeavor.

Most important in green marketing is to be true to an organization’s environment saving campaign. A business has to be consistent. For instance, Mary S. owns a shoe store, and encourages her customers to bring their own recyclable cotton made bags to her store when they go shopping. She no longer accepts cardboard or the plastic packaging in the boxes from the manufacturers; working in her own little way to cut down on paper and plastic goods, and when a customer buys a pair of shoes, the customer just puts them in their reusable bag. Rarely does she ever get a complaint, and word of mouth has brought in new customers just because Mary S has stepped out of the “box” in a very traditional community.

Part two is that Mary S actually educates her customers as to the overuse of plastic packaging and how plastic bags, packaging, and bottles end up in landfills or oceans. She tells people how plastics are made up of petroleum-based, and non biodegradable materials. Since we live within moments of the Atlantic Ocean, she is able to be even more convincing by explaining how plastics are designed to last forever and do not break down, are not digested by marine organisms, and describes the potential danger to our oceans and our futures.

Let’s face it; it’s all part of customer service. We do our best to provide the best products and services for all of our customers. As part of the living planet, we have the opportunity to educate and then let our customers participate. Now more people may choose to utilize better practices in their lives; use less plastic, and even use alternative packaging.

“My customers don’t have any qualms about walking out with a product from my store that hasn’t been wrapped. I give them a sales receipt, and they’re grateful because I reflect my savings back to them, plus I’m helping the environment and actually doing something more for my customers. I’m making them aware of our planet, and they like it! They tell their friends, and we’re all utilizing new ideas to make this a greener world,” stated Mary S.

photo credit: siftnz

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