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In the fiercely, competitive struggle of fashion and service, Burberry does it well

burberryy-logoWhat keeps a company in business in today’s competitive retail market? For the luxury brands, buyers insist on the quality of  merchandise accompanied by exceptional customer experiences.  Within minutes of entering a boutique, can a prospective buyer be confident of a friendly atmosphere, of comfortable surroundings, and that of a customer service consultant capable of expertly assisting without being annoying?

Welcome to the world of Burberry, a company which dates back to 1856 with 21-year-old Thomas Burberry opening his own outdoor apparel shop in Hampshire, England. Introducing gabardine, a water-repellent and comfortable fabric, Burberry’s trench coat eventually became a household word often included in the wardrobes of the rich and famous, and happily filtering down to the working class.

But it’s not just about the high end clothing even though the men’s single breasted trench coat sells for $1,295 or the cotton polo with the Burberry distinctive tartan trim sells for $150, it’s also interesting to observe some of the innovative methods used in a highly competitive market to set themselves apart. Chief creative officer Christopher Bailey made sure only one central location would be responsible for the Burberry theme; thus concentrating on design and the ‘brand’ which is inexorably fashion. The strong growth in China has boosted the organization’s growth more than 13 percent in the last three months, and according to Wikipedia, the organization has 500 stores in over 50 countries.

With the expert incorporation of social media, Burberry has more than 10 million Facebook followers, but even Twitter was not to be the final public method of expanding the younger consumer desire of fashion and function communication. Burberry began its own social platform capitalizing the roots of their 150 year-old British tradition with The Art of the Trench, described as a “living celebration of the Burberry trench coat and the people who wear it.” Where one might think that customers may have turned up their perfectly coiffed hair at such a public display, the site is full of young, good-looking customers; even featuring a few pint-sized kiddies modeling their trench coats.

And in my own experience, the Burberry store in Palm Beach Gardens offers the visually appealing, experienced sales consultants, and the ease of completing a purchase with the least amount of stress. Since 2012, sales personnel use iPads as part of the company’s technological makeover which contains customer history,  buying preferences, and all that is needed to tailor one’s shopping experience. Match that with their online collections, excellent return policies, concierge service, and alteration facilities, the customer experience keeps you smiling and relaxed. Shopping should be enjoyable, and should it matter if we pay $49 or $149 for a polo shirt? Can’t other stores take a lesson or two from a London tradition who just seems to do it better than most stores?

Personalize your customer service

Everyone wants to be treated as an individual with their own specific needs catered to; in the perfect world that’s the epitome of “wow” customer service. Of course whether we use one company or service over another usually stems from past reputation, helpfulness, integrity, or a friendly referral. That personal touch is an ever developing finely tuned rapport emanating from new products, discounts, and the knowledge and behavior of those valuable customer representatives who are an integral part of a successful organization.

Where brick and mortar establishments may have an advantage in serving up some initial pleasing customer service as smiling, friendly, and knowledgeable representatives are there to personally greet and meet, Internet and online customers are saved from those sales people who “hover.” Who hasn’t had the experience of being annoyed by an over zealous employee following you around or seemingly lurking too closely into your personal space even after you informed them you were only browsing? Who hasn’t had the annoying experience of a too pushy salesperson? And equally as annoying, is being in a store where there is no visible salesperson to help with a purchase when needed.

Internet sales continue to pull forward. First of all, customers get it the way they like it. Online companies are even making it personal with Facebook and Twitter. Representatives post on Facebook; customers get to reply, ask questions, and learn more about the product without having to find a parking space at the mall. No pushy salespeople, bigger selections, value, and competitive prices. The most competitive organizations even offer free delivery and returns.

So it would seem a valuable key to outstanding customer service would be expected service, but with an unanticipated value that sets an organization apart from others. For instance, a spa service in West Palm Beach is offering tremendously discounted prices in July and August for facials, body wraps, and massages. As a customer walks into the spa, she is lavished with the same topnotch service as would happen at the height of the Florida tourist season. Therefore, besides the value of the expected service  provided, the additional giveaways, complimentary extras, and a thoroughly pampered experience brings that personal touch that incorporates unexpected additional value.

It’s still all about building loyalty, and all about taking care of customers.  In 1901, John Nordstrom started with one Seattle store, and his philosophy hasn’t changed in over 100 years.  Amazon, Apple, and Zappos continue to hold the top reasons their customer service is so exceptional. Each company continually assesses customer service and views it as a positive challenge, each company’s founder has been personally involved, and employees are treated as valuable assets to the company and given the training, knowledge, and trust in their capabilities to bring out the best in each organization.

How credit card companies offer different levels of customer service

Credit cardsCredit cards are an important way of life for most Americans. According to CreditCards.com, the average consumer has nearly $16,000 in credit card debt, and the average interest rates of credit cards range from 10.37% for those with excellent credit to 28% for instant approval credit cards. So are there different levels of service for credit card customers depending on one’s credit and past financial history?

For a consumer who has been involved in a bankruptcy, has judgments or poor credit based upon late or skipped payments, interest rates are always higher, but poor customer service should not go hand in hand with poor credit. Many people in dire financial predicaments have been unfortunate victims of a stressed economy, catastrophic medical emergencies, or divorce, but are now looking to obtain the tools to once again demonstrate their strong financial responsibilities.

Bad credit comes with high fees and interest rates, but as a consumer works their way up into a more acceptable credit score, the perks get better, and the fees get lower. Where it is dubious for someone with a secured credit card based on high fees and  money needed in an account to expect the same level of customer service one receives from the American Express Gold or Platinum cards, it certainly is a reasonable expectation to receive fair and timely service for all credit cards. Unfortunately some credit card companies rate the effectiveness of their customer service representatives by how quickly they can get the consumer off the phone, and then onto the next.

Need to know how to maneuver your way around customer service departments of credit card companies to get satisfactory service? Here are some suggestions:

  • Stay calm. For the more credit challenged consumers, often the customer service departments have been outsourced to another country. No matter while the recording states, “Your business is very important to us, and please don’t hang up, but all of our service representatives are busy at this time,” wait time can be very frustrating and tends to escalate tempers. Customers who are nasty to representatives tend to receive less service and less consideration. In fact, don’t be surprised if a customer service representative hangs up on you if you become hostile and rude.  So take a deep breath, and start the conversation with, ” I know this isn’t your fault ____, but these charges don’t seem fair. Could you help me with this problem?” Say the person by name, and stay professional. Once the representative sees that you are not attacking her personally, you’re apt to get more time and attention.
  • Perhaps you forgot to make a payment last month, and the credit card company hit you with a late fee? Again, remain calm, but instead of acting insulted that the company had the audacity to charge you with a late fee because you have never been late before and sometimes even the most organized people forget a payment, turn it around and explain to the agent what happened. Then ask the service representative to look at your credit record, and ask if there is something that could be done about the problem.
  • Looking to lower your APR or have a fee waived? Ask the representative to review your credit history and explain how much it has improved in the last six months to one year. Credit card companies are forgiving if they see strong and consistent efforts to rebuild credit.
  • Not getting anywhere with a customer service agent? Sometimes new agents do not have the authority to waive fees or increase credit lines.  If you find yourself getting frustrated, thank the agent, hang up, and call again. You might get another agent who has more clout and who is more sympathetic. If that still doesn’t work, ask for a supervisor. Keep going up the ladder; you may get a different answer. For those consumers who have trouble staying calm amid these often frustrating “hoops and loops,” why not use the chat digital online services? Conversations can be kept civil and professional, and there is little chance of losing one’s temper.
  • Keep accurate records. Make sure you keep dates, names, and a record of specific conversations.
  • And when all else fails, take to social media in such forms as Facebook, Twitter, or the organization’s blogs, but stay calm and professional. Someone is sure to answer.

Fortunately there are many credit card companies which strive to deliver excellent customer service. Just remember, you “attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.”

Customer service principles learned from a dentist

Not many of us look forward to visiting the dentist, but it bears witness that those who ignore their teeth, eventually their teeth go away. Of course notwithstanding anything to the contrary, dentists along with their expertise to keep our smiles shining, should also prescribe to the ultimate quest of customer service no matter how advanced their dental education may have been.

So what qualities should a dental office present? After all patients are customers and therefore should be appreciated and valued. During the last few weeks I’ve had some complicated dental work completed because of a bicycle accident some years back, and have had the perfect opportunity to assess what makes positive experiences. These customer service principles carry forward to all professions; going that extra mile to deliver that extra service makes all the difference to a customer or to a patient.

Aside from an attractive waiting room, which is the accepted standard of the dental trade, having a friendly staff is compulsory. Remember the days of the opaque windows when a receptionist would slide it open and read the clipboard after a patient checked in? That’s pretty much unacceptable today, although some offices still abide by that antiquated and perhaps rude introduction. From surgeons to CEOs, getting out from the exam room and being seen raises the bar of confidence with patients and customers alike. The open atmosphere gives the dentist the opportunity to see how patients are being treated and how employees are interacting.

The soft colors and the background music continue the gentle ambiance, but it becomes the employees and the talented staff who help to solve problems. Successful dentists count on their staff to listen to their patients. Staff who are empowered to solve problems and work closely with patients can make an unpleasant experience tolerable. Add that to a dentist who listens to his staff and takes feedback for future improvement, shows his commitment to providing an exceptional experience.

So what did I learn from my experience at Etheredge and Schry Dentistry in Palm Beach Gardens about customer service? I found out that calling the office and speaking to Jennifer because I was unhappy with my temporary crown did not resonate against deaf ears. Instead I was told to come right into the office, and she would make sure I saw Dr. Etheredge. I found out that a reliable dentist takes time, even with short notice to make adjustments because his patient was going out of town. I found out that exceptional customer service is done by those who genuinely love what they do, and engage their patients as well as their staff with a genuine concern in their voices.

And best of all I learned that reliable, consistent and competent professionals help to make smiles brighter.

Consumer Reports says Apple does customer service better

2973554634_da5fc5c9b3The ultimate success of a company is predicated on exceptional customer service experiences. For post-sales service, Consumer Reports ranked Apple Customer Service ahead of other companies for best PC tech support with the company scoring an 86 out of a possible 100 points. The survey included 6,313 owners of PCs and laptops and explored their experiences with technical service over the past year via telephone, online communication, and in-store help.

According to Consumer Reports, Apple’s in-house technical support service, the Genius Bar, rated as high as telephone and online services stating as many as 88% of problems are addressed in person. So peeking in at the Genius Training Student Workbook chock full of Apple “Dos and Don’ts,” we can understand the psychological mastery of an organization that clearly understands when you make people happy, they tend to buy more. The training manual concentrates on the psychological aspect of customer service and builds the learning experience with role playing. Within the compressed 14 days of boot camp however, and while learning the emotions and skills of happy customers, the bottom line is always to be in the “business of selling.”

So before the new Genius dons his blue official Apple blue shirt, sales and customer service training teaches:

  • A  APPROACH
  • P  PROBE
  • P  PRESENT
  • L  LISTEN
  • E  END

Apple students learn the lessons taught in most service industry jobs, and that is one of being helpful and knowledgeable. With that comes the soft approach; don’t be pushy. Build a confident relationship with a customer, and find out what they need and then present choices as what to buy. Hear the customer out, and as the deal is finished, let it be done in such a way that the customer feels he is the one who made the choice. In practice sessions, the new Genius puts himself in a customer’s shoes in order to understand every interaction and how to successfully mingle skills and sentiment into one satisfying and successful endeavor.

The learning techniques have become so refined as Geniuses learn to take ownership, have respect,  and show empathy to achieve those good vibes which affect all of us while we consider buying a product. The best sales people are those who customers genuinely like; those of us who know how to make customers happy before, during, and after the sale.

And even if a customer doesn’t rally over to the Genius Bar for personal human contact, Apple Support provides video tutorials, community support forums, online product manuals, and easy, user friendly links. It’s a positive experience wherever one might decide to find help because it’s never a “crash” – rather one’s Apple may have “stopped responding.” It’s never a “disaster” – rather an “error” occurred, and instead of “eliminating” the problem – the problem is “reduced.”

The Apple Genius Bar is a cheery place to visit; perhaps not the “happiest place on Earth,” but darn close in the technical world.

Photo courtesy of kaichanvong via Flickr 

‘WOW’ customer service has to be reliable and consistent

logoOnce again it’s Spring when our fancy changes to thoughts of love and the beautiful outdoors. We picture the lush green lawns, the colorful summer blooms, the pool, the grill, and the patio designed for that blissful oasis as casual parties for friends and family become welcome weekend events. And so the shopping begins. With the convenience of online browsing, the possibilities are endless, but how will our online retailers handle customer service?

Now all of those outdoor pillows, cushions, umbrellas, and rugs are looking a bit shabby from the hot Florida sunlight of the past years, and online shopping is just so convenient; it’s time to measure and order. And that’s how this story begins. The Home Decorators Collection catalog arrived, and I placed an order. The customer service representative was exceptional and spent the time trying to figure out what replacement cushions would have the best result. Unfortunately, after a consultation with our decorator, it was confirmed the cushions wouldn’t fit at all. The next morning the call to cancel the order didn’t turn out as it should have, and thus began a lesson in a customer service failure.

Perhaps every online store catalog or website we see promises to provide great customer service, but it can be a constant challenge to be reliable, consistent, helpful, and make a customer believe an organization lives and breathes customer service. Customer service has to become part of a company’s culture and with the ease and ability of finely tuned humans, these valuable employees must be able to make decisions on service at the very time it is needed. Let’s look into that a bit further through this experience.

As I call to cancel the order and ask to have a written confirmation on my credit card of the cancellation, I am told the company must first inform their vendor of my desire to cancel. It’s only been eight hours, and during that time the company was closed for the evening. When I express my dissatisfaction having to wait at least three business days to be informed my order has been cancelled and credited, I ask to speak with a supervisor who tells me she will immediately put the request through and that I will get email confirmation. And then the excuses began. Home Decorators, as I was told was sold to Home Depot, and according to the supervisor’s excuse, Home Depot’s return policy is antiquated.

I never heard another word from that supervisor, and by the next day, I went online to find more information about the customer service policies of Home Depot online. Their return policy provides for an immediate credit to the original form of payment. If an organization doesn’t have a clear vision of how to do business and how to do it better than their competitors, shoppers walk away. No where else can it be better determined how to treat a customer than to place oneself in that customer’s shoes and determine how you would want to be treated. Growing a successful business demands a strategic plan for spending the time and money to train customer service agents how to think “outside of the box.” Being a good listener and being able to convince a customer you have the empathy and compassion for their problem and you are willing to solve their problem within the realm of your responsibilities, builds consumer confidence and repeat customers. Companies just need to learn to do it better.

For this particular experience, I was able to find an online survey about my customer service experience with Home Decorators, and by the next day I was called and the problem was solved. As an apology I was sent a $50 gift certificate, but will it be enough of a compensation to motivate me to do business with Home Decorators again?

Customers should never be put on the defensive when presented with a negative customer service experience. It took three representatives to get a $600 credit. In the end I received a sincere apology of which I appreciated, but this is an excellent example to show that great customer service doesn’t just happen; it needs to be part of an organization’s ultimate vision and one that should be executed daily.

Book Review: The Customer Service Survival Kit

9780814431832_p0_v1_s260x420The Customer Service Survival Kit was written by Richard S. Gallagher, a practicing psychotherapist and the author of many customer service books who has trained over 20,000 people on how to handle the most daunting situations with customers while improving their confidence and an organization’s customer relations.

The Customer Service Survival Kit helps us to diffuse even the worst emotional and intentional customer complaints, and step by step helps the customer service representative diffuse the anger and angst of those stressful situations in a calm, reflective manner.  Whereas customer service is and has always been all about communication, Mr. Gallagher’s book provides us with a few of the skills used in hostage negotiations, crisis counseling, and police work in order to handle the worst situations calmly and professionally. These skills of “leaning into criticism” can affect the rest of our lives and the way we communicate with our business, our children, and even our life partners.

Chapter One begins with the “uh-oh” moment; one most of us in any service oriented business has encountered. It’s that extreme situation when one can almost see the smoke emanating out of the customer’s ears because they are so angry, and until we are taught how to handle those serious conflicts, most customer service representatives will operate out of the defensive mode which most likely irritates customers even more. Even though the representative may be smart, nice, and respectful, we are lost when faced with a most egregious situation, and the standard reaction is to act in self defense. So what are the ways to defuse angry customers? Be trained, be prepared, and know how to handle a crisis if and when it presents itself by:

  • Asking open ended questions to assess a person’s needs
  • Listening to the person and then paraphrasing what the customer told you
  • Using appropriate questions to focus on the problem
  • Never saying “no” and responding in what can be done terms
  • Letting people know their feelings and the way they think counts

The books recreates some interesting examples of customer angst in different situations and then asks how any of us might handle the situation. Often we take the defensive position. Let’s try the “leaning into criticism” method by first listening to the customer’s complaint, paraphrasing in our own words his complaint, and instead of saying phrases like, “please calm down,”  or “it could have been worse,” which only tends to poke the bear more, why not use “WOW” language – that preemptive strike  and mirror the customer’s feelings as if how you would have felt if in the same situation? And then as the author points out, it is time to “steal a customer’s good lines.” At this point you have already agreed with them.  Taking a defensive position too soon is ineffective – remember angry customers don’t want to hear your side of the story; they want to be heard and they want you to listen. For instance, if their shipment is delayed and in turn their customers are complaining, what will be accomplished by a sales representative saying “it’s not my fault.” It would be better if that same representative began with, “that’s really terrible, I can see why you’re so angry.”

Chapters 3 through 6 give us practical ideas and examples to ponder and some of those trigger phrases which the author states gives a customer a “distorted sense of who is serving whom.”  Try to avoid the negative; rather turn your choice of phrases to the positive which encourages customers to nod their heads instead of the vigorous “no” shake. Strive for the phrase, “here is what we can do.”

Chapters 7 through 10 teach us how to understand the angry customer and how we can diffuse that person in the “red zone.” We get to put our learning into practice and the importance of good closings. As Mr. Gallagher states, in the perfect world we would all get handshakes and hugs from our now happy customers, but that always doesn’t happen, however future business is often predicated on the way the transaction ended. When we are able to normalize a situation, do a recap of what has happened, and express sincere thank yous, apologies, and solutions, it means everyone walks away from a bad situation calmly, and hopefully it has brought an amenable solution to the problem.

Part III of the book helps us to understand more about calmly handling extreme reactions using the new vocabulary and the new perspectives of the previous chapters about “leaning into criticism.” And in the world of social media which includes Facebook, Twitter, and blogs devoted to our organization, here is what we can do when a negative comment shows up on Facebook complaining about a product or delivery delay. A firestorm of negative comments can take a life of their own on social media, and phrases such as “we are investigating your complaint,” only make people shake their head while a comment such as ” that sounds really frustrating, and we want to make this right for you,” posted immediately already connects you personally – thus giving an organization that personal touch all of us want when spending our hard earned money. Of course, then it is necessary to reach out to that person. An organization that has continually demonstrated excellent customer service will often find past customers defending them. No organization will ever be exempt from all negative comments, but there is no need to take offense at everything. Companies that are proactive and show concern for their customers continue to be successful.

The book uses practical scenarios and dialogue throughout to help customer service representatives learn specific problem solving techniques during critical times. Mr. Gallagher continues to reinforce that sometimes irresistible urge not to defend ourselves initially when a severe situation presents itself. The phrase all of us practiced from the time we learned to speak, “it’s not my fault” doesn’t do much to solve customer conflicts.

Bottomline: The book is an excellent resource for diffusing the worst case customer service problems, and once we learn the art of peaceful and practical negotiation, all of our personal and professional dealings can benefit. I found Chapter 17 on Anger Management’s techniques of validation and identification as discussed in Chapter 3 and methods to respond to angry outbursts extremely helpful.

Pros: This is a well-written and logically planned book. It is quite different from other customer service books because it deals with some extreme cases. While it is true that most customer service complaints are practical and relatively easy to handle because of guarantees, company policies, and a knowledgeable staff, having the insight into the psychology of hostage negotiation and crisis counseling equips all of us with that extra knowledge to please our customers even more and in the most dire situations.

Buy: The Customer Service Survival Kit is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Avoid costly mistakes by creating a better call center for customers

Call centers can range from one or two people in a small office to thousands of customer service representatives in huge office complexes, but a customer’s view is set by their first impression or that first phone call needed for help. Whereas customers don’t ever want to feel that once their purchase was made, the organization no longer cares about them and is just out there fishing for new clients, one of the prime frustrations often deals with call centers and their notorious poor service ranging from finding the right representative, hanging on hold for an extended amount of time, repeating the problem to representative after representative, or to never being able to reach an authorized person capable of making a decision to rectify a problem.

The most lucrative businesses cultivate a base of loyal customers who typically campaign on an organization’s behalf as to the reliability and excellence of the brand. With people spending an average of five hours a week on social media with the average of 150 friends on Facebook and 300 Twitter followers, negative feedback on a business can affect an average sized company’s profit margin. With consumers very willing to switch brands nowadays for better service, and even if it means spending more money, statistics show that 73 percent of consumers will eagerly make the change.

So what can a company do to improve the quality of their call centers? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t outsource your company service outside of the United States. One major turnoff and a significant reason why customers will not recommend an organization to their friends, relatives, or co-workers is the inability with poor language communication skills.
  • Customers want their problems solved in a single call if possible by one customer service representative who speaks clearly, is knowledgeable, polite, and helpful.
  • It is important to have the technology to access a customer’s records quickly and not have a customer “on hold” for more than a few minutes.
  • When a customer calls in for help to a call center, navigating the menu and a path to a human representative should be simple.
  • Customer service training should provide representatives with the knowledge to solve most problems.  And just as important, a customer should also be offered an alternative to be given a credit if they are not happy with the outcome.
  • A supervisor should always be available at a call center if a problem has not been resolved.

An antiquated way of thinking once perceived service and call centers as costs, but the loss of a customer is much more expensive. With repeat customers come recommendations and more customers. It’s not much different than cultivating a garden. As the plants grow and spread, the garden gets bigger and bigger yielding more vegetables. Never cut back on training, and continue to be an inspiration for those employees who make a difference in an organization’s campaign on behalf of their brand. Why not call in one day and pretend to be a customer? In fact, call in with a problem that is not in the usual text training manual and see how the unusual issue is handled; it promises to provide an excellent insight into your customer’s world.

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