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How to improve customer service in the digital world

Wachovia turned into Wells Fargo in March 2011. The conversion had been going on since 2008, and Wells Fargo promised to become more environmentally friendly and use less paper and forms. They also promised to have more in-house personnel to assist customers and to become more efficient. There’s no denying that the Wells Fargo branch I use in Jupiter, Fla. has had the best and brightest customer assistance I have ever had the pleasure to meet in a long line of mediocre banking institutions, however their digital world has problems that still need to be addressed.

At this time it’s impossible for me to access any of my cash in a Wells Fargo banking machine because only one of my PIN identifications came in. When I visited the website there was insufficient information for me to figure out what was happening. Besides when I realized I needed extra cash that afternoon, I wasn’t home and tried to access my information via my Iphone. So then another question came to pass in my mind. What if I was traveling and either lost my ATM card or didn’t remember my PIN? I’m not always the best organized when it comes to having multiple passwords, and in an attempt to keep my accounts safe from hackers however, I still keep them in a private notebook. The problem is I do not always have that particular notebook with me.

So how can Wells Fargo and other institutions or businesses become more customer service friendly? First of all we should always have the ability to use our own PIN combinations. How about letting us access that first bank assigned PIN through our account information online instead of through these mailings? Why not make call centers more customer friendly? If the monotonous standard message is telling me that my business is very important to you, then why do I need to be on hold for ten minutes or more? Why isn’t there an application that will take my phone number and call me back as soon as the next customer service agent is available? Train customer service agents better. Of course there are always red flags that go up when a customer over the phone is trying to access their PIN identification numbers, but many times the request is real. Why not have banks be proactive in updating security information? When I tried to access my account from another bank, the question related to a pet my former husband had when he was ten-years-old even though the joint account had been transferred to my name three-years ago.

Companies need to use human contact in conjunction with the digital world. It doesn’t work to decrease customer service representatives in lieu of pressing multiple numbers on our phones to just wind up in a complete circle. Customer service is still and will always center on people helping people.

Transportation Security Administration criticized for poor customer service

It seems that even the TSA is under scrutiny as to their lack of customer service, and passengers who have encountered problems trying to navigate through the woes of 21st century airport security have a valid argument. TSA Administrator John Pistole stated in a recent interview on CNN that less intrusive rules have been implemented lately. For instance, passengers over the age of 75 are no longer required to shed their coats or take off their shoes while going through security. Also 1.5 million passengers have gone through TSA’s PreCheck which is a pre-screening investigation which expedites security clearance.

In a recent Congressional hearing, Representative Mike Rogers (R-Ala) of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee stated the TSA is a huge bureaucracy that pays little attention to citizens. Customer service, even at its most basic qualifier demands an individual be treated respectfully. Is there something awry with TSA customer service when recognizable individuals such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are patted down at the entrance to airport security?

The subcommittee’s new efforts will now concentrate on their “poor customer service image and become a leaner, smarter agency,” according to Rogers. It’s profoundly understood that the job of the TSA is to provide airline passengers with safe transit, but the long lines, the less than pleasant attitudes of some agents, removing belts, coats, and shoes, and having to acquiesce to “striptease” in certain arbitrary situations aren’t the ways to satisfy passengers. Where most people will agree that many of the procedures are necessary to insure the safety of Americans and all travelers, others cite the hypocrisies of some regulations that no longer apply. Not too long ago, passengers had to turn on their laptops nor were cigarette lighters permitted. Now smaller laptops don’t have to removed from a passenger’s backpack or carry-on.

If people are outraged and disgusted by TSA agents for their inefficiency or their callousness to addressing tenuous situations with expertise and professionalism, the media can easily multiply the assumed bullying and defiance of the TSA officers. The story went viral when a four-year-old child was searched on the suspicion of having a firearm possibly given to him when hugged by his grandmother. Fortunately none of it was true, but the less than professional behavior sent unflattering criticism from one end of the planet to the other end.

On the plus side, Pistole states that TSA personnel are now being trained and retrained as to respect for passengers as well as treating people professionally. There are just too many different rules, and Americans have legitimate concerns over radiation incurred during body screening or of nasty agents bragging about having made passengers cry.

Meanwhile the prices of flights continue to rise, but still the planes are 82 percent filled to capacity. Many passengers do opt to no longer fly. Let’s just hope the retraining of the TSA agents help them to add customer service strategies to their job descriptions.

Making sure you receive great customer service

Last evening a group of us went out to dinner at a popular Italian restaurant. One has to realize that South Florida – namely Palm Beach County is rich with tourists, snowbirds, and an occasional rude diner which gives us the opportunity to learn by someone’s mistakes. Our party was only seated for a few minutes when a rather rude uproar began at the next table. Apparently the dinner order wasn’t to the satisfaction of one very nasty gentleman, and as he raised his voice and insulted the young server, everyone in the restaurant and bar area turned around almost snarling with disdain aimed toward the rude customer.

So does getting angry and raising your voice get one better customer service? Of course, the obvious answer is no, but it lends some thought to getting better customer service when everything else seems to go awry. Some customers seem to always get better customer service than others, and let’s face it, we still get more bees with honey than with vinegar.

Did the clerk at the store sell you the wrong sized drill? Did the expensive sweater you ordered online shrink after the first washing? Did the waiter serve your fish poached instead of grilled? It’s not too much to ask that whatever we purchase or wherever we go that as consumers we are entitled to fine service and good products. When service isn’t what we expected however, let’s spend a few moments first and think. Of prime importance is to keep one’s cool and if necessary, wait until you’re not angry or explosive anymore. Face it – no one wants to deal with a raving lunatic.

Once you have calmed down, take a few minutes and put your story together concisely. Leave out the insults. Explain to the customer service representative that you are angry at the product or the company and not at the individual who is trying to help you. In this particular restaurant debacle, the kitchen didn’t prepare two meals as ordered. Instead of addressing the server by her name, the customer raised his voice and accused the server of not paying attention to his order. The need to connect to the person trying to help you is very important, and civility and politeness goes a long way in any customer complaint.

Assuming that you are documenting everything and to everyone whom you are speaking to about your problem, ask when the problem will be addressed. Never be satisfied with a customer service representative telling you that someone will be calling you or that your complaint will be filed accordingly. Insist on a specific time period when someone will get back to you.

What if no one answers your complaint as promised? By this time you have everything documented with times and names, so feel obliged to climb the ladder to the next higher department. Inform the company that you are already considering contacting their competition for your future business, but remember when the problem is finally resolved, and hopefully that happens a great majority of the time, be positive and thank the representative for taking the time and addressing your issue. Positive feedback is appreciated by everyone – make someone’s day just a little brighter and say thank you.

Sending flowers and customer service

Mother’s Day is coming, and with that comes the busiest day of the year for florists. Many of us order our flowers over the phone or the Internet, and since holidays are a one shot deal when it comes to flowers being at their required destination on time, we as consumers hold florists to a high level of “flower” responsibility.

This past Valentine’s Day, Washington Post’s Melissa Bell stated, “Love hath no fury like a flower customer scoffed.” It seems a popular wire service 1-800-Flowers failed to deliver bouquets for many customers creating a plethora of Twitter and Facebook complaints with the fervor of an inevitable doom. Boyfriends, husbands, and significant others complained about flowers not arriving, damaged products, hundreds of botched deliveries, and an acute shortage of customer service personnel. Only a few dissatisfied customers ever received an answer on that ominous February 14th.

The Bradenton Patch’s 2012 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Customer Service awarded Ms. Scarlett’s Flowers and Gifts thumbs up for customer service in a very consumer oriented industry. In an interview, the owner Ryan Bringman reminds us of many of the basic essentials of fine customer service – primarily to always match or exceed customers’ expectations.

So what are the most important issues when dealing with flowers and customers? Consumers want their arrangement to look like the picture, they want a competitive price, they want a quality product, and they want their orders to be delivered on time. During Valentine’s Day, 1-800 -Flowers, headquartered in Westbury, New York with franchises, owners, as well as  “order takers” were unprepared for the volume of orders and left sweethearts demanding apology notes and refunds.

Bringman says that customer service is what really sets his store apart from everyone else. He is careful about quality control, meaning he uses the best flowers to make his floral arrangements and has adopted the philosophy that the less time spent on talking to the customer about issues, the better the service will be. He claims to be committed to his clients which might mean some bizarre orders like dead flowers, black roses, or baskets for cats or dogs, but if his clients are happy, then Bringman is happy.

Middlemen like 1-800-Flowers may seem convenient, but Bringman says in terms of customer satisfaction it is better to order direct because not only will you get a better product, but the prices are often less costly. He suggests looking up a florist in the city or town you want the flowers sent, and either email or call the shop directly.

The last flower delivery I received from 1-800-Flowers spelled my first name incorrectly and wished me a Happy Birthday when the occasion was to congratulate me on a very difficult real estate transaction which finally changed title. While the flowers weren’t meant to be a “love connection,” I just can’t help imagining the damage a wrong name or occasion on the card could have caused.

Received lousy customer service? Complain about it on Gripevine

Beyond the long arms of social media where we frequently address our complaints to organizations that have “done us wrong,” enters another new kid in town who stretches beyond the 140 character Twitter or the full time media Facebook guru, and claims it can connect you directly to the top decision makers. In the media age when companies know too well the firestorms that can be created from negative events and a failure to respond in a reasonable amount of time, perhaps Gripevine.com promises some good results.

Just a month out into the public venue, the site Gripevine emerged offering dissatisfied customers the ability to “amplify their online voice.” Started by singer David Carroll of Nova Scotia, Carroll’s own negative experience with United Airlines made headlines when baggage handlers threw the singer’s band equipment and his own $3500 guitar haphazardly into the baggage compartment on the plane as Carroll watched helplessly from his airplane window. Despite all of his efforts to thwart the carelessness of the actions, nothing worked. When Carroll wrote a song entitled ‘United Breaks Guitars,’ it became a sensation. Obviously the negative publicity didn’t fare well for the airlines.

Most organizations know not to argue on Facebook with customers. No matter what the problem, other sympathizers are sure to join into the conversation and before long the complaint turns into a fray. Nothing gets resolved, but chances are the organization already lost customers. Twitter complaints can also present a problem because an organization does not always know who the unhappy customer is; it is always better to directly contact the person and have a private conversation to solve problems rather than to let it grow via social media. Sometimes other people will arbitrarily join into the conversation – not always what a business needs to hear.

Gripevine offers companies the opportunity to be automatically notified whenever someone has a complaint. Right now the most popular complaints center around phone companies and airlines, but Bank America and several debt resolution organizations have been solicited by consumers with unresolved issues.

Gripevine is free for the consumer and extremely user friendly. The customer begins by writing about their gripe, but first it is suggested by Gripevine to begin one’s gripe with a catchy title. It does ask that one clearly describe the problem and use professional decorum while writing. Complaints are then categorized into sections like billing complaints, contracts, misrepresentations, and poor service. Next the consumer is asked what they are looking for – perhaps an apology, compensation, refund, etc? Finally the unhappy customer has the ability to post photographs, receipts documents or any other information which will help lead to a satisfactory resolution. When all is done, the link says, “Plant it!”

Gripevine.com encourages those who participate to rate a company on their customer service once a company responds, and that will be added to their own customer satisfaction index. A person wrote into Tampa General Hospital with a complaint about customer billing, and the hospital did respond asking the writer to contact them personally about the problem. Ironically United Airlines, despite several written gripes has not responded.

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 4 of 4

This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob talks about performance reviews, how Zappos encourages employees to further their knowledge (and pays them for doing so), what he thinks about seniority and tenure amongst call center agents, how Zappos handles scheduling, how the company encourages “personal emotional connections,” and finally, what Rob thinks companies can do to deliver Zappos-like service.

You can read part one of the interview here, part two here, and part three here. To read this part, click “read more.”

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Are mobile devices serving customers properly?

C3GZBefore I leave my house in the morning, I grab my car keys, purse and of course, my smartphone. AT&T sold 9.4 million of these in the fourth quarter of 2011. Is it any wonder that the 2X4 inch tidy packages of computer chips have revolutionized everyday behaviors including the way we shop? We read on them, play Words With Friends, make dinner reservations, buy concert tickets, and frequently text. Now smartphone application users have even surpassed the amount of people texting and talking.

Online sales from mobile devices continue to increase as applications scan, share favorites, share technical advice, and create consumer buzz about new products and special promotions. We  use our smartphones to read bar codes, read blogs and join in on Twitter and Facebook. It was only a matter of time before retailers were able to provide customer service giving consumers a more direct route to resolve problems than either visiting the brick and mortar establishment, on the phone, or in front of the computer.

The advent of the branded icons gives retailers a great opportunity to deliver personalized service, however businesses must be careful not to slip away from the traditional care service when customers insist on finding a real person. No doubt the application far surpasses the call menu and the maze of service representatives consumers have to dance around when trying to resolve a complaint, but customers have to know that they are still able to communicate with an agent for a specific task when needed. It’s a company’s duty to have a cohesive and efficient team who are properly trained when an unresolved issue presents.

Organizations now have the opportunity to present highly personalized information and keep track of a customer’s spending history as well as their preferences. I was recently amazed when I signed up for a shopping application for shoes. I entered my preferences, size, and price range, and within moments the app was operational. The first pair of shoes I ordered were not comfortable at all, but when I tried to return them the company’s return process didn’t work, and there was no credit given to me for the return. I was finally able to resolve the problem, but it took a human to help, however the positive reaction toward  customer service will most likely have me purchasing another pair of shoes from the same company.

photo credit: Symic

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 1 of 4

After interviewing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh  and seeing the company’s HQ outside of Las Vegas, I knew I wanted to learn more about the nuts and bolts and day-to-day operations of Zappos. To get this information, I spoke to Rob Siefker, Director of the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team. In part one of this four part interview, Rob talks about what he does at Zappos, how the company handles operating 24/7, what the training process is like for Zappos employees, and how the company makes the most out of cross-training its employees.

Click “Continue Reading” to see the questions and answers. You can also jump ahead and read part two, three, and/or four.

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