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Building customer goodwill by giving back

There’s a huge Internet buzz today about a Google Android app called “Dog Wars,” where virtual dog fights using virtual Pit Bulls glorify illegal dog fighting. Using such phrases as “Raise your dog to beat the best,” “puts money in your pocket, and lets you earn more in fights,” provides “guns for police raids,” and even “inject your dog with steroids,” has instilled message boards to light up  demanding that the game be taken off the market and the creators fired.

So what does Kage Games, the creator of the free app, do in an attempt to keep their customers and smooth over the controversy? You’re right if you guessed that the game developer released a statement insisting they are indeed animal lovers and a percentage of their profits from this game will benefit animal rescue groups and tsunami relief. Seem a bit contrived?

Giving back means giving back to customers, and the majority of people when making purchases are only too delighted to know that a percentage of their purchase could be going to benefit a charity, the environment, or even to a great disaster. Goodwill, however is not generated by an obvious public relations ploy. If a company makes a grave error, a charitable contribution can even make it worse.

Using Kage Games as an example, the logical solution would have been to immediately withdraw the game. Let’s face it – one of the characters portrayed in the game is “The Athlete” who wears a red football jersey. Just today, Michael Vick and the Humane Society of the United States came out publicly condemning the game as a training ground for “wannabe dog fighters.”

The prime intention of any organization to give back should go to what the customers want. A company builds their reputation by its day-to-day operations and consistently works on caring and honesty. Charitable contributions are a part of consistent goodwill, and whether the donations go to national charities or even community organizations, it should be the customer base that determines where the contribution is headed.

Companies that make mistakes need to apologize and never make the same mistake again. Of course we all expect them to make retribution, but never say it is a charitable donation. That goodwill every business would like to have is a positive added bonus to the ethical and moral standards mankind depends on to make this a better world.

photo credit: Beverly & Pack

Can your business measure up on customer service?

Lesson 7 Survey 1The 2011 Temkin Experience Ratings surveyed 6,000 different consumers from 143 different companies which included retailers, banks, hotels, and financial institutions. Customers were polled mainly on their opinions regarding customer assistance and problem resolution – whether by Twitter, Facebook, corporate websites, telephones, or in person. Amazon.com, Kohl’s Costco, and Lowe’s scored the highest ratings.

Author Bruce Temkin stated the ratings concentrated on direct interactions, and not necessarily on the product ownership. It was more to do with how a customer’s needs were met, how easy a customer could do what they needed to do, and how that customer felt about their overall experience. In other words, consumers rated the functional aspects of doing business, the accessible elements of interacting with the business and employees, and then finally the emotional results and how the customer felt when all was said and done.

So what makes a company measure up on customer service? Amazon.com boasts of having 130 million active accounts. Their customer service is constantly measured and evaluated by user-generated reviews and software that has been specifically designed to help the company and provide feedback on “better customer experience through price, selection, and convenience.”

Amazon.com has expanded from once just selling books and magazines to  appliances, videos, and even groceries. Where many companies lose something of themselves when they branch out too far on products or geographic areas, Amazon seems to be doing great at all of it.

Kohl’s secret to their expanding success is combining their own thrifty labels with “exclusive” brands. Kohl’s uses great value, savings, and value messages to amp up their customer service promises. In turn, Costco, states it simplifies members lives by helping them to make smart choices.

So what do we learn from the top four scoring companies? They all provide great value, they all provide a great selection, and they care how their customers feel about their businesses. While it is true that Amazon.com rarely does personal interviews with customers about their particular experiences, the bells and whistles that consumers find important and relevant to their particular sales are being fulfilled.

When doing business and doing it well, consumers just want the best products, and the best way you can deliver the product to them with the promise that you will stand behind that product and your word. While PR companies exist to slow down negative PR, bad mistakes can cost a company one of it’s most important aspects, it’s customer’s trust.

photo credit: Adam @ ecadamf

How social awareness can improve customer relationship management

2009_06_wk3_DSC03679Businesses grow as more customers come aboard, and that constant search for new clients is the life jacket for success. Of course building relationships with new customers are paramount; the hard part is taking the leads and transforming them into customers. One of the best ways to do that is through customer engagement; in other words having a customer relationship management strategy.

The key is to keep current customers engaged so they will want to use your services or buy your products. Ideally these customers will then refer your services or products to their friends and relatives because you have not only provided them with excellent customer service, but because you have consistently followed-up after the sale, engaged customers into interesting conversations and useful information on social media sites, updated your current clients and potential new ones with relevant emails, offered loyalty programs, and then tapped into social awareness.

Besides excellent products and outstanding customer service, customers want to make the world a better place to live. Customer engagement increases as a customer feels good that an organization gives to the less fortunate, to physical or mental health, or to social causes. Large companies normally expend more effort than midsize  companies, but smaller companies generally do more “face” and “personal one-on-one” contact – even if exclusively done in their small neighborhoods.

For big businesses we label it Corporate Social Responsibility. One can never forget the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the ravaged beaches and heart wrenching photographs of wild life covered in black, gooey oil. Communities and individuals expect organizations that make massive profits to give back to their community, employees, and to the environment. BP spent billions on damage control while cleaning up the environment to regain customer loyalty.

Large corporations like Microsoft use social awareness campaigns. The philanthropic action Bill Gates has taken through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is world renown. PeopleSoft and Workday founder, Dave Duffield and his wife Cheryl created Maddie’s Fund which aims to create a no-kill nation where all healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats are guaranteed loving homes. Starbucks ensures fair pay and health care for bean growers.

Even mom and pop stores like our local deli have pitched in to paint a needy family’s home, raise money for an injured fireman, or spent the mornings cleaning up debris left on our usually pristine beaches. Just get involved and make our world a better place for humans and animals to live. You’ll meet more people, find more customers, and serve them better.

photo credit: gwydionwilliams

Consumers rule!

SaldechinCustomer service is all about what the customer thinks when a business encounter is done. Customers are the ones who decide how much they want to spend, where they want to spend, and how they want to spend. Our job as customer service professionals is to provide the consumer with the best product and the best service so they will want to spend their money, time, and loyalty with us. So what’s the secret?

Some time ago, Douglas Hanna did an interview with American Express’ Doria Camaraza, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Fort Lauderdale Service Center. Ms. Camaraza explained the company’s service ethos as related to their Customer Care Professionals. One of their keys to successful customer service for American Express is to build relationships with customers in personal ways. For instance, a trained Customer Care Professional will pick up on a cue from a card holder; perhaps a baby is crying in the background, someone is in a profound rush, or a frequent traveler is calling from a busy airport. Then it becomes the art of listening, having the information of each card holder available so individual attention can be specifically addressed, and having the ability through a comprehensive training program and mentoring process enabling them to be prepared in making important decisions to accommodate customer requests. Service and advice can then be personally based on the customer’s mood or even if they are  in a rush.

So what does an organization get out of raising the bar on employee training? The Customer Care Professionals at American Express aren’t limited to a certain amount of time when speaking with a customer nor are they required to memorize a script. Yesterday when I called American Express customer service because of a problem I am having with a company that has not sent me my order, my representative within in a few moments knew what I was talking about, and she was able to do the research to figure out what the problem was and why I didn’t receive the product I ordered. So what will I probably do the next time I need to order something online? I’ll use my American Express Platinum Card because their service was efficient, polite, and extraordinary.

So as customers rule, and that is obviously reality, we must learn never to assume we can guess what a customer always wants. Contact with any customer gives us the opportunity to extend our relationships and increase the lifetime value of each one of our customers. As we engage a customer in conversation, we can discover how they feel about our brand and if our brand delivers on its promises. We can gather customer input and initiate new procedures that are more effectively based on our relationship with the customer. We find out the good and the bad, and it’s an excellent opportunity to show customers they matter.

photo credit: mikecogh

Let Your Customers Count Cows

Crow in spruce“Counting cows” was a backseat game that parents used years ago in rural areas to quell the endless “Are we there yet?” queries from their children. The rules were simple: each person took one side of the car when the journey began. One point was given for every cow you saw on your side; five points for every horse, and if a graveyard appeared on your side, you lost all your points and had to start over again. Active participation in a simple, competitive game made the car trip seem much shorter.

Today’s customers have a strong need for speed. They are as impatient and restless as a group of “desperados waiting for a train,” to quote the country music song title made famous by The Highwaymen. Faxes gave way to e-mails which gave way to text messages from anywhere at any time. Netflix and FedEx taught us you could get it next day; Zappos.com surprised us with an order for new shoes placed on line in the evening arriving at our door step the next morning. The customer’s standard for the speed of service has continued to hasten with seemingly no end in sight.

But, there is a way to slow the speed of service. Let your customers “count cows!”  Look for ways to help customers participate. Like Disney World, entertains guests who are waiting in line to board that special ride, perhaps you could entertain your customers in an engaging yet appropriate way. My bank has a popcorn machine and big TV’s playing CNN or CNBC to help you wile away the wait should the teller line become long or the CSR is tied up and not quite ready to provide you assistance.

Is there a way you can make getting service seem to go faster through turning it into a compelling game? Ted’s Restaurant (as in Ted Turner) in Atlanta helps calm fidgety little kids waiting for a meal by providing them color crayons and a kids menu turned into coloring book. What would be the adult version for your customers? How about a clever contest? Or, a social gathering? How can you manage the customer’s perception of service pace as you work to improve the reality of service pace?

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What You Can Do About it due in bookstores in May.

photo credit: alexfiles

Of car dealerships and customer service

pic48Jaguar of North America has just been recognized as a JD Power 2011 Customer Service Champion which means they have excelled in their own industry by delivering superior service to their US customers. Part of the criteria used to measure customer satisfaction were the “touch points” of people, presentation, process, product, and price.

According to JD Power, Jaguar is noted for standing out by satisfying customers with new-vehicle sales experiences. Doesn’t that make one wonder why every dealership can’t provide a similar kind of customer experience?

I remember reading a statement from the CEO of Hyundai who stated, “Americans would rather go to the dentist than visit a car dealer.” Fortunately the Internet has helped us as customers take control, rate dealerships, and even create our own reviews based upon our personal experiences. Since car dealerships are independently owned franchises, they are not entirely controlled by the automobile manufacturer thus there are going to be different concepts regarding customer service. Surprisingly statistics indicate that only 30 percent of car buyers negotiate online. People seem to feel they need to touch the product and do a face-to-face encounter with a car dealership salesperson. So what are the main complaints when shopping for a new car that brings shivers down our spine when we attempt to relate car dealerships and customer service?

  • Negotiations – Car buyers complain about being bullied and intimidated. Too often the process is meant to wear down buyers by bringing out more salesmen and managers.
  • Inefficiency – There is the wasted time while the salesman has to confer with his manager. There is an extended amount of time in the finance office, the contract preparation office, and finally the vehicle preparation procedures.
  • Transparency – There is nothing more frustrating than to feel you overpaid for a car. Too often the salesperson will present only the monthly payments which is an intentional method to obscure the true price of the automobile. Then someone comes over and begins the add-on expenses of extended warranties, insurance, manufacturing fees, transportation fees; all done with little explanation.

So does it have to be an expensive automobile like Jaguar for consumers to expect exemplary customer service? After all when I sell a house for $100,000 or one for $700,000 the service is the same. Customer satisfaction should be based on the salesperson, the efficiency of the deal, the delivery process, and the dealership’s facility. If in doubt while negotiating for a car, keep in mind the following:

  • Walk away if your first impression of a sales person is not positive.
  • Ask for a new salesperson if you feel at any time you are being bullied or “herded” into an uncomfortable situation in “turnover houses.” (wear down buyers until they purchase a car)
  • Speak to the general manager.
  • Ask to speak to someone over the general manager if you are still not satisfied.
  • Use social media to carry your message.

There have been positive changes, however in the car industry. GM brought in trainers from the Ritz Carlton to help Cadillac dealers treat customers royally. AutoNation shows customers how much they will pay for a car thus avoiding the add-on expenses after the deal is made, and has cut down the transaction time a customer actually spends during the process of buying a car. Maybe someday other car dealerships will realize how customers should be should be treated, and make car shopping a positive experience no matter what your budget.

photo credit: chuckoutrearseats

Employee recognition beneficial to customer service

10di1555-19If you’re in business, you’re in customer service, and direct employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are ultimately intertwined. So why not hedge your bets and recognize employees for their time and effort? If you see employees as important investments, then you realize the need to show appreciation for jobs well done, time spent serving your company, and those extra steps some staff members always seem to demonstrate that make us as company owners and compassionate humans just so proud.

Yesterday at a Super Bowl party I attended, an older gentleman told me about working for a company over 30 years. He reminisced about an amazing sales career and told me his own office was filled with top salesperson awards from wall to wall. He was obviously proud of his accomplishments and even more impressed with his company’s continued recognition of his successes by their milestone announcements, gifts, dinners, and those personal touch rewards every employee appreciates.

Even when the company he worked for was forced to downsize and economize on expenses, there were still gifts and dinners to highlight employee recognition. The company originally distributed a company catalog the staff  could browse through and select a gift based on their length of service, their contribution to the company, or whatever criteria that enabled a staff member to participate and choose a reward. For instance, there were company branded gift items employees could put on their walls and their desks. Gift certificates were handed out for the local malls, as were personalized gifts, accessories, and lunch invitations with the boss; all meant to show a sincere appreciation of a job well done. When you think about how much it cost to find, hire, and train new employees, isn’t it even more important to consistently demonstrate how important that person is and has been to the workforce community?

Of course, the type of gifts selected depends on the philosophy of the organization. One of the journalism companies I work with has an employee website with access to personalized gifts, gift certificates, and assorted rewards for outstanding staff contributions. The selection of gifts is based on your anniversary date, extra service, and your work evaluations. I think it is far more appreciated than just handing out the obligatory gold watch after 25 years, and it certainly means a lot to anyone when your boss shows the appreciation.

If you want your customers to be served well, serve your employees well too. There’s nothing like walking into a Monday morning staff meeting and having someone hand you a certificate of accomplishment for a job well done.

photo credit: USDAgov

When customer service defines a business culture

Bridal Shop, window reflection / Reflet d'une Boutique de MariageCulture is how an organization operates whether you chalk it up to customs, attitudes, or etiquette. It’s difficult to define because every business has a culture, but how effectively does it serve a company, and if we want to transform our culture can we really do it? I doubt there’s a customer service story about successful culture that does not include the examples of Zappos or the Ritz Carlton, but don’t we all want our own unique successful culture?

First, we must identify how we want to transform our business culture? Do we want to deliver a better or different product? Other choices might include customer service, redesign of the work place, or an enlightenment of a stale, outdated company presence. It’s my opinion that all elements help to mold a company, and it starts from the top executive office and works its way down through every crevice of an organization.

Let us begin with hiring employees. It’s not always about their qualifications or education. With a defined culture, an employer can ask the right questions and look for a team player with enthusiasm, creativity, and imagination. There are a lot of qualified candidates out there, but does your company culture seek out ideas, suggestions, and that certain spark? We invent ourselves with words and images; why not bring innovation to a company’s team through new ideas?

The atmosphere of an organization has a direct correlation to the attitude of the employees. I visited a very busy bridal boutique, and in the office, designers were excited, having fun and working together at what seemed a furious rate preparing for a bridal show within the next few days. That enthusiasm most definitely carries over to clients, and happy employees can make “electric” happen.

Some business owners are afraid to empower employees with the authority to make customer service decisions not necessarily in the handbook, but employees who want to come to work, who have trust in their employers and through the goodwill of their employers feel secure and content in their careers, are unlikely to disappoint their bosses with giving “away the farm.” Good employees make intelligent decisions, and through their loyalty use their discretionary authority and funds to enrich the organization’s culture. It’s an absolute necessity that employees are provided with these same tools to promote their company culture.

So how do you know if your company culture is working and people are focusing more on your business than the one of your competition? With the emphasis on social media, it’s perhaps even more important that customers feel as if they count. Just a random testimonial of a very uptight bride to be, and her Facebook and Twitter comment about the bridal shop ordering lunch for her and her mom when they were busily planning a very last-minute wedding, brought a surprising number of kudos for the shop especially when the bride to be told everyone the shop would not hear of her paying for the lunch. And that was before the bride purchased even a garter.

photo credit: Luna The Moon Gir

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