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Making it easier for customers to be right

High Heels Cobble StonesCustomers aren’t always right, but outstanding customer service representatives who can say yes to correct service issues are more likely to garner support and help an organization recover from mistakes. No matter how hard we try, at some time or at some location, there is bound to be a service breakdown and that impact on how the experience is resolved can ultimately affect future business.

Some companies repeatedly fail at customer service, because of inconsistencies. Use the catchphrase “customer-focused culture” as often as looks good in training manuals or on websites, but unless the training and support is consistent, too often the product or service failures leave that negative customer perception and off that customer goes to the competition. Studies reflect that those customers who have had positive experiences with customer service resolutions are more apt to recommend a company to their friends, family, and coworkers than those consumers who have never had any issues. Maybe you’re shaking your head at that, but isn’t it always the “drama” we remember and therefore relate to others in conversations when we’re out to dinner or at a social event?

So how do those “WOW” companies create the best experiences when recovering from a product breakdown? In a recent experience, I purchased a pair of expensive evening shoes at the Nordstrom department store in Palm Beach Gardens. As the heels were much higher than I normally wear, it was a training experience one hour prior to the social event I was to attend, learning how to walk in them. Just as I was beginning to feel comfortable with them, the stiletto heel of one of the bejeweled shoes broke. As I fell, I sprained my ankle, and of course, I missed the opportunity to attend a prestigious, charitable evening event at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.

Two days later, with my ankle wrapped in a bandage, I went to Nordstrom to return the shoes. Not only did I get a refund, which was expected, but then the “WOW” part came. Besides the apologies, the company picked up my tab at the emergency medical facility for my injury, and gave me a full refund for the original price of the shoes although I purchased them on sale.

The recovery process is what separates the good service from the best service. It doesn’t end with a refund or an apology. The best resolutions are acted upon quickly, blame is graciously taken, customers are compensated fairly, and something extra is done for the customer’s inconvenience. Service representatives have the training and knowledge to use their discretion for each and every failure, and as the problem is resolved, just the “extra extra” attention is what sets it all apart.

Would I return and purchase new shoes at Nordstrom? Of course I will, and why not tell my friends about this experience?

And what did I take away from this experience? Even after a major blunder like this one, customer service “stepped in” with the apologies needed and showed an actual interest in my needs. The representative who helped me had already written to the Italian manufacturer informing them of the product failure; a problem very rarely encountered with the high end designer. A representative from the shoe company contacted me after the product had been returned, and have since sent a credit slip for another pair of shoes directly through their showroom.

It’s leaving you with the positive that keeps us coming back.

Bad customer experiences make customer service mistakes harder to forgive

Perhaps the most repeated complaint when having to deal with poor customer service is the need to keep calling back when something is wrong with a product. Most of us want to think problems should be resolved with the initial contact; at the very least let’s get our complaint directed to the department in charge. Too often however, it becomes a litany of bad experiences, repeated phone calls, and thus the eventual loss of brand loyalty and business.

Statistics tell us that bad customer experiences are shared twice as much as good experiences, and the vast majority of bad service is vocally transmitted to family members, friends, and then coworkers. Why is that?

When I remember my college days, and yes, I loved the experience, but what sticks out in my mind when friends and I are reminiscing is always the Economics II class that I barely eked through with a respectable grade. When I think about my family life as I was growing up, and yes, I had lots of fun with older brothers, but what sticks out in the past is one of my brothers pushing me out of a tree. In high school, I remember losing my wallet with $50 in it; rarely do I mention bringing home a paycheck from being a waitress at a small breakfast and lunch cafe and having the disposable income to buy new clothes.

Psychologists suggest that bad memories and their details stick further into our minds than positive ones. Haven’t we all formed some bad initial impressions quicker than good ones, or haven’t we stereotyped situations or people before ever realizing the good attributes? At the top of the list of things we tend to remember is losing money and losing friends. It just seems the bad wears off slower than the good.

Therefore with all of this in mind, is it any wonder that poor customer service triggers those negative feelings in us? It drives us to spread our poor experiences with others as well as to move on to the competition hoping for a better resolution should a similar experience happen again.

In a recent experience with my new car, the negative repeated service experience already has me convinced to abandon my brand loyalty with Mercedes Benz of North Palm Beach. Although it is not a critical mechanical defect needed for safe operation of the car, customer experiences are expected to impress us. As the same problem has continued for months and months, this disappointing experience has now resulted in negative feelings towards the product and the people employed to “make it right.”

As bad experiences most often trigger customers to move on to another organization, it’s important therefore to address the dissatisfied as a priority. When a customer is impressed with the product, and when a disgruntled customer shows their displeasure, it’s a stellar customer service department that goes beyond the basic acceptable customer experience to “wow” someone back from the edge of their past loyalty. Bad experiences need to be managed separately; the loyal and the satisfied are already there. The unhappy ones are ready to move away. We must be aware of the customer’s needs and improve performance to cancel out those disappointing moments in time.

How to act like an adult when you need customer support

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Maybe your medical insurance didn’t pay for a service you thought should have been covered or that manufacturer’s guarantee should have included repairing the rip in the leather carrying case you overpaid for last year, but acting like a petulant brat on a preschool playground isn’t the way to handle the complex world of customer service representatives and real people in support positions. Companies are not inherently evil, nor are they always wrong. Our mothers told us when we were very young that we wouldn’t always get everything we wanted, and we must learn to be fair with everyone we deal with in life.

So carrying all of this along to adulthood, let’s assume there is something that compels a person to complain about a product or a service. Let the primary focus begin with becoming educated and a thoroughly informed consumer. In any dispute, there is always another side, so the better one knows “their enemy” perhaps the better to ask questions and come out with a reasonable solution. In the old days, customers didn’t have the advantage of the Internet to research issues. Possibly the organization has had issues with the precise complaint currently in dispute. Research how the company handled it; they may have visited this particular problem in the past. How was it resolved?

The cardinal rule is to never back oneself into a corner or act like an ass. Play the devil’s advocate and be prepared, however never lose one’s temper and make your bad day a bad day for everyone.

As an example, on Sunday evening, I was at JFK International Airport in New York at the Sky Lounge when an older woman called Amazon to complain about a package that obviously had not arrived in time for Christmas. There was a crowd of people sitting around since we were all weather delayed from getting home, so a few light cocktails, soft music, and comfortable chairs created a welcome respite over the blaring announcements, plastic chairs, and unruly children screaming around the other parts of the airport. That is, maybe we all spoke too soon, as the woman shouted obscenities, and slammed her expresso cup down upon the table actually flinging liquid onto someone’s James Patterson latest novel.

So may I now offer some age-old suggestions on how to act when one needs customer support?

  • Do not assume everyone is having a bad day, and don’t take your bad day out on the customer representative. Maybe the representative’s child is gravely ill, or his dog just died.
  • Do not exaggerate to the point when it is reasonable to assume you are lying. The absence of that new Kindle Fire didn’t ruin your daughter’s Christmas completely.
  • Don’t lose your temper and raise your voice in public. Bad enough the customer support person has to listen to you being an ass; is it really necessary to bother 35 other people seeking a moment or two of peace in an airport lounge?
  • Take a deep breath. Calm down. Not every customer service representative is trained in conflict management and getting angry is surely not going to solve the problem.
  • Be reasonable, and ask the representative what they would suggest if placed in your position?

Be prepared to compromise; be prepared to act like an adult. And if you can’t …please carry on like an ass in the privacy of your own home.

To Sell is Human Summary and Review

This year, we decided to give copies of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink (signed by the author himself) to all of our employees at A Small Orange as part of our holiday gift package. As a very service-centric company, we wanted to illustrate the fact that sales isn’t what it used to be and isn’t all about conning people into making a buying decision they otherwise would be against. We believe that sales should be consultative and should focus on helping customers choose the right combination of products and services and we wanted this book to help explain that.

Here’s a quick summary of some key points that I prepared to help capture my full understanding of the book. I hope it’s helpful, though keep in mind I was a casual reader and my understanding of some of the key points may vary:

Part one: Rebirth of a salesman

  • Sales used to be defined as a certain profession, like the Fuller Man who went door to door to sell cleaning supplies and such. Today, more than 15 million people work in sales (more than manufacturing and only less than office and administration works).
  • Through a survey, the author determined that people (who don’t work in sales in the traditional sense) still spend 40% of their time engaged in non-sales selling such as persuading, influencing, and convincing others that don’t involve a purchase. The question was “What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you have?”
  • Small business owners (i. e. 0-3 employees) and entrepreneurs spend much of their time selling, whether that’s dealing with customers, enticing partners, negotiating with sellers, or motivating employees.
  • Some companies don’t have traditional sales people. Pink cited enterprise software company Atlassian and Palantir as examples. Atlassian has no formal sales people (therefore requiring everyone to pitch in) and Palantir puts engineers in sales roles (called “forward-deployed engineers”).
  • Educators and medical professionals also have to convince people to part with things (time, energy, habits, etc.).
  • People largely hate sales people in the traditional sense. Used car salesman comes to mind when most people are asked what they think about sales people.
  • Today’s world makes high pressure sales less effective because of reduced information asymmetry. In other words, the world of sales is switching from caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) to caveat venditor (let the seller beware).

Part two: How to be 

  • Instead of “Always be closing,” Pink suggests that the new ABCs of sales are “Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity”.
  • Attunement is about looking at things from the other person’s perspective. It starts with increasing power by reducing it – essentially a lesson in having the humility to put your assumptions aside and listen to others and their concerns. It also requires understanding what others are thinking (such as understanding any biases or preferences) in addition to just what that they are feeling. Strategic mimicry in a non-obvious manner can also be effective.
  • Ambiverts tend to be more successful at sales than extraverts or introverts.
  • The first step in buoyancy is interrogative self-talk, which is asking if you have the ability to do something. Research shows it’s more effective to question rather than just pump of confidence.
  • Sales people need a good ratio of positivity and negativity to flourish. The research ideal is between 3:1 and 11:1 (positive:negative). Appropriate negativity helps keep people motivated and egos in check. Too much negativity is wearing.
  • Sales people with “optimistic explanatory styles,” or their thought process of explaining negative events to themselves do better than sales people with negative explanatory styles. Those with optimistic explanatory styles tend to explain negative events as specific, temporary, or external.
  • Finding the right problems to solve is important. It’s about being a partner with the buyer and thinking of the right solution instead of just trying to close a deal. This is commonly called consultative selling.
  • Frames of reference are important. Think about the question, “compared to what?” Potential frames of reference are more/less, experiences, labels, blemishes, and potential.
  • Providing clarity on how to act (an off ramp) is important. A lot of sales focuses on trying to improve clarity of thinking while ignoring clarity of acting, which is just as or more important.

Part three: What to do

  • There are six main pitches types: the one word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch (helps increase retention), the subject line pitch, the Twitter pitch, and the Pixar pitch (story like).
  • Improv can teach a lot about sales. Hearing offers, saying “Yes and”, and making your partner look good are all improv lessons that apply to sales.
  • In service (and sales), personalizing things (demonstrating an account is a person) and adding purpose (illustrating doing something has a meaningful impact on someone besides the seller) are applicable to both sales and services. Emotionally intelligent signage and language helps too.

The Review: To Sell is Human is a great book to help you and your employees reframe your thinking of sales. It’s a simple enough read where it’d be appropriate for just about anyone, but still has enough examples and references to various social science studies to be useful for more experienced and senior professionals. The book is not a sales manual, but it will serve as a frame of reference as you think about how best to sell as an individual or an organization.

Pros: The book is a quick and easy read and is well written. There are a number of actionable exercises after each chapter and frequent references to academic studies that provide additional context for those who are interested in finding them.

Cons: Some may find the points mentioned somewhat obvious the arguments simplistic. However, the book is not supposed to be an in depth sales manual or a treatise on how sales has changed as a profession.

Interested: To Sell is Human is available on Amazon in a variety of formats (including the Kindle and in audio formats), starting at $9.99.

Beware of the fine print in Terms of Service before you complain online

unhappyfaceJohn and Jennifer Palmer of Layton, Utah are suing an online retailer over a $3,500 charge assessed to them by KlearGear.com, a Grandville, Mich. company which the Palmers posted a negative online review with Ripoff Reports.com.

Perhaps you have never read the fine print in the Terms of Service when ordering merchandise, but this situation might encourage consumers to pay attention, since it is well known that litigation costs money. So let’s start from the beginning.

In December 2008, John Palmer ordered a desk toy and key chain from KlearGear.com; the entire purchase added to less than $20. It seems the tchotcheke never showed up, so after a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach the company, the couple canceled their order via their Paypal account. Pretty standard fare one would say, except Jennifer decided to post an unfavorable review of her dissatisfaction with the company on Ripoff Reports.com, a site that doesn’t remove posts unless legal fees are involved. Jennifer’s criticism, in part, included the following:

“There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being. No extensions work.”

So who would have thought after three years, the KlearGear company would seemingly send the couple an email giving them 72 hours to remove the unflattering review. According to CNN.com, the company’s demand was based on an obscure (or maybe not so obscure) “non-disparagement clause” which stated:

 “Your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com.” The Palmers say this clause was added after they purchased the items, citing their 2008 customer agreement which they found.”

The Palmers claim their credit has been adversely affected by the company who reported the $3,500 charge to the credit bureau as an unpaid charge. The couple is taking this to court and have vowed not to give up. CNN legal expert, Paul Callan stated the terms of use of the company would most likely be deemed as unfair and be thrown out of court.

“We don’t want them to get away with this,” Jen Palmer said. “We are apparently not the only ones that they have done this to, but we are the only ones who are fighting back. And we’re not giving up.”

Meanwhile KlearGear seems to be taking a lot of heat and criticism.

Interestingly enough, the First Amendment does guarantee us the freedom of speech, however you better be sure it’s accurate because you could be sued for libel; even without a “non-disparagement clause.”

During this busy holiday shopping season, take the time to read the fine print.

The golden rules of customer loyalty

It’s well recognized amongst all business owners that it cost more money to find new customers than to keep the customers we already have while trying to attract more clients to climb aboard our growing organizations. No matter how we try to dazzle, the golden rule of presenting the best product and doing it right, continues to successfully align our future for growth and success.

The ultimate satisfaction for customers is receiving the best product at a reasonable and competitive cost. We must strive to deliver all that we have promised on our websites, in our flyers, and on social media. To add to the best product or service we can supply, can we then deliver more? How do we step out of the box to help our customers realize the extra mile is what we are anxious to provide? Most of us have experienced customer service at its best and its worst. I treasure the shoe store where the salesperson knows me by name, knows what I like, and sends me a quick email when new merchandise comes into the store. And when I get a moment and arrive at the boutique, I am greeted with a big smile by my name and can always be assured the best is yet to come.

Now on the other side of the customer service grid lies the company only interested in viewing me as a dollar sign. “Look around, and if there’s anything we can help you with, just holler,” was the only interaction I received after having been in the store for 15 minutes. Those were the words the salesperson uttered as she looked up from the customer she was assisting seemingly annoyed; as if I was going to interfere with her lunch break.

Studies have shown that retail and restaurant customers will spend 40% more if the service provided is outstanding, so everyday we as business owners, should try to do better. Understanding their reality and adapting our programs, efforts, and products to enrich our customers lives show how we value each person.

Here are the Golden Rule suggestions of showing customers how much we value their business:

  • Treat all customers equally. Of course, some customers may spend more than others, but the referrals are what help us to succeed and grow. One never knows who just might walk into your store one day or call upon you for your expert services.
  • Value each customer and make everyone’s experience as efficient and as pleasant as possible.
  • Appreciate people and show them your appreciation by being on time, listening, acknowledging them as they walk into your store even if you are with another client, be polite and smile, and be well informed.
  • Have a process formulated to thank your customers; whether you send out personal thank-you notes, email appreciation letters, small gifts, or coupons for discounts on subsequent business.
  • Use loyalty reward programs. Especially useful now during the holiday shopping season when customers are plentiful, plan something special for after the holidays when business slows. Take that time to work on customer retention.

Although it is human nature to cater to the top tier of our business customers, we must never forget that earning the trust and respect of everyone is what helps us to succeed.

Image courtesy of Andres Rodriguez

Customer service sparkles with romance at St. Augustine specialty boutique

2011-11-05 023While Cupid may not have the reputation for worrying about customer service when it comes to thoughts of love, it’s clearly evident the diapered imp of romance has never had to deal with an epic proposal like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in the middle of AT&T Park in San Francisco; all resplendent with a 50 piece orchestra and a $3 million 15 carat diamond ring. Still love isn’t always dependent on dazzling drama nor is it only for the privileged or the rich; “WOW” customer service can make even the simplest proposal an affair to remember.

In one of 14 unique stores around the world, Filthy Rich located in St. Augustine, Fla. offers affordable, high quality reproductions of celebrity replica jewelry from collections ranging from the Golden Era of Hollywood to Jacqueline Kennedy and even fast forward to the contemporary collections of Carrie Bradshaw. It’s a store “all about the fun” where a shopper can also find movie props, film cell art, Elvis Presley memorabilia, and even a life size statue of Marilyn Monroe wearing the iconic white dress from the movie The Seven Year Itch.

And so one day a young couple in love walks in to the store to browse the elusive gap spanning the past to the present of Hollywood’s most glamorous and romantic times, and the young woman falls in love with the store, where of course “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” She stopped at every display, read all of the posters, learned, laughed, and left happy.

The next day the young man returned and spoke with the owner about how much his girlfriend enjoyed the experience at the store, and wanted to ask the store owner for a specific favor; the young man wanted to propose to his lady in the store since she found the store to be so romantic. And that is what happened, but with a clever twist and the kind of customer service to be remembered and passed on to friends, relatives, and coworkers. The store owner and the young man arranged the date and time he would bring his girlfriend back into the store. The engagement ring, a genuine diamond purchased from a nearby fine jewelry store, was brought in and carefully placed in one of the contemporary collection display cases awaiting the arrival of the couple.

And so the fun began. The boyfriend told his girl to choose a ring for fun, and pointed to the  real diamond ring. Of course she said it was beautiful, and as the shop owner pulled the ring out for the young woman to try on, the would-be groom fell to one knee and proposed.

Perhaps it is the unconventional and innovative way the “WOW” was delivered that made this an amazing experience because the end result made an emotional impact on the receivers. Since there was no monetary reward for the shop owner, (remember the ring was purchased at a fine jewelry store) could this be another example of going “above and beyond”? While there are no magic formulas for small businesses to guarantee their success, sending customers away who are happy and therefore pass on positive feedback, are the building blocks to repeat business and loyalty. Good service starts at the top; when the owner makes it their mission to set goals of greatness, continue on the challenge for excellent service, and train the staff to be courteous, knowledgeable, and helpful. Keeping promises, paying attention to complaints, and answering the phone help to form those very important relationships because we are judged more by what we do than by what we say.

Of course, throwing in incredible experiences and being helpful even if no immediate compensation is realized is sure to catch the attention of many others. Where do you think that couple will shop the next time?

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:

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