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Service with a snarl: What to look for and how to avoid it

No doubt we have all been victims of bad customer service, and no doubt we have left companies and moved on to their competition because the experience, at least in our own eyes for the moment, had been intolerable. Of course, we all have those particularly heinous stories of sub par service and indignant insults, but fair is fair, and perhaps some of those “fly off the handle” experiences could have been handled better; both by the customer and the service person.

Whereas the warning signs of poor customer service seem to be universal in this day and age of technology and good old personal one on one intervention, the adage of the “customer is always right” can never be a one-size fits all solution. It is true that waiting in line or a long telephone “hold” wears down a customer’s patience, and could very well be the foreshadowing of a busy and understaffed company, statistics state Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line for such services as cash registers, amusement parks, movies, fast food restaurants, and the list goes on.

The real payoff happens when we get to the front of the line or the representative answers the phone. How is the customer treated? Is there an apology for making us wait? Is the service we expect now provided? Is the customer service representative owning the problem, or are we told someone else will have to get in touch with us? The popular recording:

“Your call is very important to us. Please do not hang up. All of our representatives are busy helping other customers,” is only believable to us if we can expect our problems to be corrected or addressed.

The real solution is a customer service representative who is well-trained and intelligent who tells an unhappy customer:

“We’re sorry, and we will make this right.”

On the other side of the customer service debate, however we must remember that customers need to own  respectable codes of behavior. Customer service agents are not FBI hostage negotiators and should not be expected to tolerate screaming profanities, unrealistic goals, and vulgar behaviors. Agreed, everyone can get slightly miffed from waiting in line or being left on “hold” for more than a customer thinks is acceptable, ( could be one minute, ten minutes, or an hour) beginning the conversation in an arbitrary manner is not likely to get the desired results. Try to throw, “it’s the principle” out of your mind and concentrate on the desired end result; whether it is to be a refund, a replacement part, or a better seat in the auditorium for a Katy Perry concert. Nothing replaces the time honored old English proverb:

“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Organizations have

to figure out which way they want to operate. Low levels of service are inexpensive, but the high costs of customer dissatisfaction, the lost business, and the money spent to process and repair the damage, takes its toll. High levels of service are expensive, and it costs more to provide those services, but the costs for dissatisfaction issues are much lower.

So the next time you think you are a victim of a snarly customer service person, why not take a deep breath and imagine the “best in life is yet to come.”

‘Social listening’ can help businesses become more effective

Catching up on e-mail...The buzz phrase “social listening,” also known as social media monitoring, can help organizations and businesses be more effective and build stronger brand relationships. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, media marketing software combines both monitoring and analytics to help us listen, understand, and engage. Through Facebook and Twitter, conversations can be measured to help attract new customers, and ultimately these customers can become advocates helping our businesses to grow.

Perhaps the Dell story with the “power to do more” further explains the concept of “social listening.” Dell’s social media 10,000 employees are tuned into more than 25,000 conversations about Dell every day claiming the more information gathered, the better the company will be able to deliver the precise products and services customers want. The company considers social media an extension of their brand, however it’s not that easy, and it’s not just about purchasing the software. Michael Dell’s “direct-to customer-heritage” starts with training. At the Social Media and Communities University, associates are fully trained and then empowered to listen and focus – transforming “online ranters into ravers.” Eleven languages, 24/7 availability, and participating in social media for the sake of the company, help Dell to continue growing stronger brand relationships with customers.

One can’t separate however, customer service with “social listening”; as Dell states it is a key part of the brand. The company combines customer service phone calls, social media engagement, online strategies, traditional print advertising, and everything in between to further Dell’s recognition.

Once upon a time, businesses would learn how customers felt about them through polls, surveys, and focus groups. Now with “data mining,” specific keywords on social networking, websites, and blogs can identify what is being said, where it is being said, and who is saying it. Of course, the anonymity of sitting behind a computer screen can easily make for bogus complaints, (unfortunately there are no mental stability tests required to type on a computer) but knowledge is a way to be prepared for an action plan if needed.

This information can come from Google Alerts to sophisticated applications, but knowing what to do with the results is as important. Obviously, one can’t join every social network on the Internet, so identifying those who need your product or service, and then joining and being active, will help to build a solid customer base and hear what people are saying about your product and services. Search out the competition, and make your business stand out through customer service and excellent products.

Make customers advocates of your organization and ask those who love your products and services to spread the word. Listen and learn because social media isn’t just about a sales pitch; it becomes a reflection of you.

Is customer service more about loyalty or preventing frustration?

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 07So here we are in the midst of football season, and wherever I sit to watch a game, invariably the question comes up as to whether offense or defense is more important? Of course, in football every yard gained by the offense means the defense has given that yard up, yet it is the offense who has to score. Then again the defense is in charge of keeping their opposition from scoring.

Since customer service is now getting more and more complicated because prices have become so competitive, does it also depend on a better defense or one of offense? In Forbes, “Defense Can be Better Than Offense in Customer Service,” there comes a question whether going that extra mile for a customer much like Nordstrom’s Department Stores, Zappos, or the Ritz Carlton hotels, actually reap the benefits of the amount of money spent to train the staff, or to give employees the latitude to be able to make independent decisions that can ultimately cost an organization a lot of money?

Matthew Dixon’s book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, contends we should not be searching for loyalty by offering customers the ultimate customer service experiences through expensive programs. Instead of recognizing top customers with promotions and rewards, extensive feedback, or even apology programs,  rather it’s less expensive just to focus on “preventing frustration and delay.” The less an organization does, the less the cost. Avoid loss by targeting customers who may be leaving and look for ways to keep them before they run over to the competition.

Remember the defensive position is reactive; responding by emails, calls, live chats, and social media with the end result of loyalty. Some say if you strive to make everyone happy, word of mouth increases business while others say just try not to lose customers because it’s just too hard to get them back. Should we forget about raising satisfaction scores and just try to avoid the lowest scores so as not to lose customers?

Depending on the position an organization chooses is most dependent on the product or the service offered. No matter which way however, both sides depend on the effectiveness of the customer service department including product knowledge, communication skills, and the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Personally I prefer the more defensive approach, and have for years appreciated the customer recognition status and associated perks. With products in two different stores being of equal quality and competitively priced, my business would still be at the store with the better recommendations from my neighbors, family, and friends.

Mayday! Customer service guaranteed to rescue users in times of need

Amazon is stepping up the customer service game for users of the new Kindle Fire HDX. For those of us who might be a tad technologically challenged or for any problem that might occur, Mayday is a built in remote support and instant helpline available to the consumer 24/7/365 days a year. So if you’re confused by the predecessors and have used YouTube videos or Googled your questions for years, the new age of customer service may be setting Amazon apart from their competition.

With just one button found in the tablet’s Quick Settings menu, the Kindle Fire HDX will summon an Amazon employee who is able to help solve any problems – from the simplest to perhaps the most complicated. Within 15 seconds, the Kindle owner can see the representative in a small window of their screen and the representative can even see the apps, and if necessary can draw on the Kindle to help the customer. Amazon assures us that the representative can not see us, but with the customer’s permission, can control the tablet remotely much like LogMeIn or TeamViewer.

The new Kindle Fire HDX offers double the memory, is 34% lighter, and has 11 hours of battery life – especially helpful when reading one of those extraordinarily long suspense novels you just can’t put down, but putting all technological help aside, the customer service aspect is a win, win, win. Since Amazon doesn’t have the convenience of a brick and mortar store like Apple and their Apple Geniuses, this free service guarantees a place in customer service heaven for so many users over the age of 25 who weren’t weaned on iPads and tablets. Amazon states their profit margin for the sale of Kindle tablets is slim, however they admit to raking in the profits in the sale of their devices.

Criticism on the downside of this customer service technology focuses on the possibility of Amazon reps having access to passwords and sensitive information. You can ask them to disable their screen however, but there are still some who are wary of security issues. It’s been said that 95% of the issues happen when devices are working as they should, but Amazon reps will be logging in every question and problem which will help to determine improvements in the future.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos easily stands by the side of such geniuses as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page. Bezos, as he rescues us from our customer frustrations, works on “customer delight.” Tech people who have tried out Mayday thus far have been pleased, but will Bezos’ promise that Christmas morning, my mother will be able to get live tech support within 15 seconds and a tech will be available to instruct my mom step by step? I guess it all remains to be seen.

How not to act when customer service fails miserably

This week was a drama-filled example of a customer “gone wild” when an incredibly frustrated customer service recording from Reddit was made public on YouTube. Picture a client, who for three hours tried in vain to get an issue resolved at an alleged home security organization, and went from agent to agent until finally customer service representative Michelle left a number for the client to call. The problem with that however, is that Michelle was nowhere to be found, and as the customer’s anger escalated, his behavior became inexcusable; pity the service representative named Mark who finally answered the call.

As we all believed once upon a time that the tooth fairy really existed, and the money left on our pillows in the morning came from an unbelievably beautiful princess with a magical wand, we all want to believe that organizations really want to keep our business and ultimately a customer service representative will come to our rescue. Of course, minus the magic wand, and too many times the long hold period with the repetitious sales pitch and elevator music, the transferring of one’s call to another representative, or the even more fearsome threat of being disconnected during call transfers, inept customer service can push the buttons of the most patient and optimistic soul.

It seems this in particular recording, allegedly from four years ago, pushed this customer’s sanity, because he curses, screams, and even threatens violence by coming to the customer center and using a machine gun. Customer service representative Mark who answered the phone at tech support was instructed by the customer not to put him on hold or even transfer him to another representative for fear of being disconnected again. Mark obliged the customer; we don’t really know why because without the necessary information from the customer as to the problem or even the customer’s identity, how could any questions be resolved? Was the customer service rule at the company never to hang up on anyone or be fired?

Regardless of the hysterics caused by this week’s ballistic outbreak from an out of control customer, it’s a good platform to help all of us not overreact to poor customer service. Not too long ago, most of us remember the airline attendant who went ballistic when a rude passenger angered him; he told the person off and then proceeded to slide down the emergency chute and exit the plane. We’ve seen customers break expensive china, throw diamonds into the rivers, and act so much out of control, we either cringe with fear or laugh hysterically, but a lesson for all of us lies somewhere beneath all that anger and the frustration.

Even if it means walking away from your computer or putting your IPhone away for a rest, stay calm. Most companies do allow their representatives to hang up when a customer calls and is profane or threatening. Have a clear, concise summary of your problem, and leave out the emotions. Be polite to the representative, and try to remember that person is there to help and has no preconceived notion to want to hurt you or not resolve your problem as quickly and effectively as possible. Of course, it’s no surprise when we reach low-level employees who have no discretion as to making exceptions or much talent in the problem solving issues, so be prepared to be transferred when dealing with certain companies. Too many companies don’t put the time or effort into proper training.  There’s nothing wrong with asking to speak with a supervisor, and sometimes it does take time for a return call, but try the obvious remedies first and make sure you hone in on the particular department applicable to your problem. Keep good records of everyone you speak with, and be persistent; again without being rude, and when all else fails, never be afraid to turn to government agencies, Better Business Bureau, or social media.

Everyone agrees poor customer service is frustrating, and as hard as we try sometimes, failures happen. Let’s just hope businesses have enough wisdom to want to keep you as a customer and resolves the issue before it is too late.

Here’s the video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/RVdNobKNMig?w=560]

More to customer loyalty than just having a great product

Lizzie #265Most of us take great pride in the excellent products or services we provide, but let’s face it – there are many great organizations and service providers who do the same thing. So  how do we set ourselves apart from our competition? Better yet, how do we deliver customer service above and beyond; services and products which shoot us out of that “good” box and upward towards the big blue sky of “great”?

At one time, the only way to really figure out what customers wanted was through either the customer service help desk or via telephone. The task of customer feedback however, has now taken the social technology route – namely Facebook and Twitter. It’s easy for businesses to connect with customers, and we have the extra advantage of gathering information about our clients and customers – making it easier for us as business owners to fit their needs. Consumers readily tell us what displeases them, which for the astute listener and passionate organization owner, then helps us to analyze our strengths and weaknesses.  That encompasses listening to feedback very carefully and making adjustments when needed. For instance, if a customer complains on Facebook about a faulty product and the problem is addressed immediately, those wrongs become tools to turn the negative into the positive. If the problems with the faulty product are solved, it implements positive feedback, and as customers realize they are actually dealing with real people eager to help, we garner brand loyalty.

On the other hand, organizations can become victims of smear campaigns. Sometimes it happens because of rival competition while other problems may have arisen because of an unfortunate run of inadequate services or an inferior product. The best solution is to address the problems accordingly since negative accusations can certainly tarnish a business’ reputation. Whereas loyal customers statistically allow four tries to rectify a problem before moving on to the competition, shouldn’t a company just “fix it” in no more than two tries?  Acknowledge mistakes, apologize, and fix it. Those are the loyal customers who will speak favorably about an organization, thus encouraging others to speak out about their own favorable experiences. It may not always be a complete win, win, win; unfortunately social media also attracts a few less than desirable critics who for unknown reasons may just lash out for the sake of creating havoc. Again identify and address concerns, and just move on when indicated.

Brand loyalty develops deeper meaning as current customers continue buying our products or using our services year after year. What has commonly happened however, is the obsession with finding new customers. Too many times the old customers are ignored. We advertise great offers and customer service excellence for new customers signing up, special discounts, and promo packages. Meanwhile the “regulars” may have to tolerate poor support and lose out on the benefits offered to new consumers. Don’t get obsessed with finding new customers; it’s much more expensive to lose those loyal clients who year after year have helped your business to grow. Be fair, be honest, be gracious, and treat each customer as a respected individual.

Memorable experiences make for “WOW” customer service

Ritz Carlton

Perhaps the best of the best try to make every experience memorable by paying special attention to details. One recent experience at the Ritz Carlton where my real estate partner and I recently visited for lunch to meet with a European client who had flown into Palm Beach for the day to preview a listing we were offering, certainly left a wonderful customer service memory I had never experienced before, but have mentally earmarked as one of the most memorable customer appreciation opportunities I’ve ever witnessed.

For women who know that wearing high heels may not be comfortable after hours on your feet and previewing properties, both Erika and I were more than happy to relax in a comfortable lounge in the reception area to wait for our client. We laughed and cajoled with each other how sore our feet were, and moments later when our client approached, she was also wearing similar ridiculously high heels and readily recognized with good humor how uncomfortable the extended wear of such shoes can be. In less than five minutes, a young woman from the Ritz Carlton staff came over to us and very politely told us, she had seen us rubbing our feet and knew exactly how we were feeling. She then invited all of us into the spa for a complimentary foot massage. Of course our client happily obliged, and for the next 20 minutes, the four of us (including the client’s husband) were indulged in pure relaxation and what must count as one of the greatest impromptu customer experiences for a hotel.

So what makes something like this so memorable, and why did the employee take it on her own to offer us such a complimentary service? Strong leadership skills and great training enhance the talents of great employees. When searching for the best customer service personnel, integrity, mutual respect, innovation with a mixture of creativity and the ability to have fun and like what they do catapults these valuable employees to the top of the list. Highly motivated and successful employees who complement an organization that encourages their staff to “own a situation” and gives them the ability to make free standing decisions reflects the high level of care and concern that excellent leadership skills include in the day to day quest for excellence.

While the complimentary service may have cost the Ritz Carlton a few more dollars than a more customary perk for a hotel guest and their friends, think of the residual benefits for this five star establishment. After all there is a lot of competition in Palm Beach to be the best of the best. Still what guest wouldn’t tell the story to her friends over cocktails and dinner? And then what friend wouldn’t remember the story when getting ready to book a few days on the luxurious Island of Palm Beach? And never underestimate the connections and kind words from the local real estate agents who often are asked by foreign clients where to stay.

For the grateful, andfor the people who capitalize on opportunities to create a great service experience, it’s about more effort, and a unique way to spread the word about the extra mile some organizations will go to that brings back the faith in “WOW” customer service.

Recruiting talented employees to enhance customer service

smile!Happy employees make for motivated people who want to deliver the best customer service they can to assist consumers and clients. These are the people who become the eyes, ears, and voices for any organization, often beginning at the receptionist desk  and progressing all the way up the corporate ladder to the person in charge of operations. Recruiting and keeping talented employees therefore is very important when building relationships with people and developing a company’s brand, because it’s what people say about you and your business when you’re not in their presence that makes a profound difference in the world of customer experience.

If we consider that customer service is the most important part of our marketing plans, both immediate and future, then we must concentrate on hiring and keeping the best employees because these are the people who can drive a company forward. Too often we read stories of disgruntled employees who have complained about belittling actions from their superiors, the lack of benefits for health and retirement, the absence of training programs, or the lack of confidence and permission for employees to perform their duties without having to get special permission every step of the way during a customer crisis. Once a company creates doubt and demonstrates a lack of integrity, employees lose faith and thus there is no denying that the elephant is in the room. Will your employees be your dream weavers or will they make nightmares come true?

So how do we keep employees happy and engaged? Since it’s a reality that it costs money to hire and train the best of the best, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to recognize and celebrate accomplishments – much as we would want done to us as we reach new milestones? Start with the best training, the best coaching, and the best communicators who can teach all aspects of one’s business. Once employees have the same vision and want to help improve the experience by sharing, they become more confident and empowered to put their best foot forward when faced with unique situations. Employees are empowered when they are well-trained, well-advised, and encouraged to improve and help to advocate changes as needed.

Organizations need to be transparent, for the more that is shared with the staff, the more opportunities there will be to iron out the problems and move ahead with new ideas to make better choices. Encourage personal development, and celebrate career advancement when it is deserved. Employees are proud when their accomplishments are recognized at staff meetings and celebratory events. Make the working environment a place where employees want to show up every day; not a place where they stand outside dreading the tick of the clock.

Encourage employees to participate in community events; having rewarding and humanitarian experiences enrich a community and our country. Humanize your company, build relationships with people because everyone has family and friends who can spread the word and appreciate your efforts.

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