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Best Buy customer service still at odds

Best BuyBest Buy just can’t get it right, and customers continue to complain. Even the company’s promotion on used videos this weekend piled up consumer complaints as customers couldn’t find what they wanted in either the stores or online. To make matters even worse, Best Buy still has unresolved Christmas orders lingering about somewhere  in “back order” or “canceled” land.

Spokesperson for the company, Lisa Hawks blamed the glitches on their software supplier, Oracle which presumably can forecast demand and plan the coordinating inventory, but stated the problem was under control and wouldn’t happen again.

The debacle began on Black Friday when customers ordered products both in the store and online, and all items selected stated “available and ready for shipping.” It wasn’t until weeks later that customers found out their orders were going to be delayed, were “no longer available” or the order had been “canceled.” And all of this bad news just before Christmas just didn’t make for a positive shopping experience. Sonya was notified two weeks after Christmas that her gift product was canceled, but when she called the manufacturer they claimed the products were still being made.

Before Thanksgiving, Sonya loved to visit the store in Palm Beach Gardens. It was a great place to browse, and there was a good selection of televisions, cameras and other techno products – all priced reasonably. The staff in each department were quite helpful, however each staff member seemed to have their own specialty which made getting knowledgeable assistance a corundum at peak shopping hours.

On the Customer Service Scoreboard, there were 300 negative comments out of 336 (89.2%) while positive comments numbered 36 out of 336 (10.71%). What happened? After all Best Buy was supposed to be a positive alternative to online companies like Amazon; it was a place where many consumers who like to touch and feel the products, try them out, and bring them home could fulfill their shopping needs.

Now Best Buy will have to regain the confidence of shoppers, and stop making excuses. According to Sonya it was all about the lack of communication and not so much about the products. “Had I known in time I could have ordered the games and other gifts from another store – namely Amazon. It was impossible to deal with Best Buy’s customer service. I have never heard so many, ‘ I have no further information as to when the product you ordered will be available.’ ” And that seemed to be a large part of the problem.

So what do you do when you want to “infiltrate” customer service and actually find someone to help you? First you need to get past the automated systems which are intended to weed out the most obvious issues. Listen to all of the options first, and select ” for other questions” or even “tech support.” You’re pretty much guaranteed you will connect to a real person who can then forward you on to a customer service agent. Don’t lose your temper, don’t get profane, and keep your story short and precise. Use notes so you don’t forget anything, and if possible record the entire conversation to ensure that the agent you speak with doesn’t change their story at a future time. Make sure you get the agent’s name and a ticket number – at least then you know you are officially in the system.

When a customer service agent isn’t getting the results you want, ask for a supervisor, and if that still doesn’t solve your problem, it’s time to head over to the executive offices of that particular organization. A favorite place to look for the names of executive customer service representatives is Consumerist.com. Have patience, and don’t give up. Best Buy is handing out gift cards to many of their disappointed customers. For those customers like Sonya, make sure you get one – it will make you feel better.

photo credit: matteson.norman

Customers not feeling “a little love back from Starbucks”

Candy StripeStabucks UK has a lot of unhappy customers today after the company decided to change the terms of their loyalty program. The previous rewards card offered a free drink for every 15 transactions and a discount on filter coffee. Now it seems that Facebook is buzzing with caffeinated complaints because of the changes as consumers post everything from their disappointments to threats of shredding their loyalty cards. One of the most significant changes only gives customers one reward point per transaction as opposed to one point per item purchased. Starbucks claims it just holds up the checkout lines, while customers are in a tizzy because they earn far fewer points now and still spend the same amount of money.

Do you think loyalty programs enhance the overall value of products and does it help to motivate buyers into making their next purchase? At least 75 percent of consumers have at least one loyalty card and one-third of shoppers have two or more cards, but many people say the whole shebang is just not worth it. CMO Council, a research group stated consumers have been backing away from reward cards because of the “barrage of irrelevant messages, low value rewards and impersonal engagements.” In 2011, 66 percent of consumer respondents stated that loyalty programs do not make them more likely to shop at one place simply because the programs become too problematic and people are just less motivated to figure it out. I happen to have a loyalty card at CVS; I have yet to figure out their rewards nor do the short expiration dates on my receipts ever coincide when I need something from the store. Now when I need something from a drug store, I use whichever one is closest to me.

Managers have to constantly evaluate the benefits of loyalty programs and compare the costs with the presumed benefit. Where the ideal outcome is to help bond a customer to an organization by offering additional incentives, it’s difficult to predict buyer behavior. The programs do not necessarily encourage customers to spend more, but the database from these programs can help a business figure out who is or isn’t loyal and reward those with the best spending habits. On the other side however rewarding shoppers for spending more doesn’t necessarily build a company’s market share. Organizations only grow by getting more people to buy their products not just getting current customers to purchase products or services more often.

We’re in the age of instant gratification, and we all want to say we got something for nothing – but is anything ever free?

photo credit: HereStanding

You only have one chance for a great first impression

IMG_5028Making a really poor first impression with your customer is almost a guarantee that you can wave goodbye to business in the future, and sadly there are days when the best laid plans of employees and their well rehearsed skills go awry. The question is can a business deal with it so they don’t lose a customer, and how does a business make amends? Here is how one company handled their blunder.

Last week my Mercedes had been making a strange noise – the kind of noise one just can’t turn the radio up louder to ignore; I thought it might be serious. I arrived at the dealership in North Palm Beach and was promptly greeted and led into a waiting area. I waited and waited – lots of  employees going back and forth and in and out, but no one stopped to speak with me. When I saw the original “meet and greet” employee I told him no one had helped me yet, and I was becoming impatient. He told me that everyone was very busy and to continue to wait.

And now in the century of the I phone and with no patience for poor customer service, I called another  Mercedes dealership and asked if I could bring my car in for a diagnosis of its problem. The receptionist Stacy asked me where I lived and told me I could bring my car to them, but the dealership in my area was much closer. I told her that was where I was calling from, and how I had been told to wait in a wide-open lobby and no one had yet to even wave to me. I told her my name, and she promised to get back to me in a few minutes.

And that is exactly what Stacy did. Not only did she remember my name, she called me right back and said a representative would be with me shortly. After that, the service was exemplary – and not only was my car repaired, I was given a Mercedes loaner, and from that moment on my customer service needs were handled as if my father owned the company.

Customers remember good service and good products, but it’s that first point of contact where someone is welcoming and friendly and promptly attends to their clients that define a reputation and future business. That first impression doesn’t just happen by luck or chance, so preparing all the participants with their own customized training skills may require more than letting one of the other employees show someone “around.” In order for employees to be on the top of their job, managers need to provide training courses with “how to” manage different situations, read body language, step out of their “box” to take extra steps to help someone, and learn how to effectively manage unhappy people and difficult situations.

The next day when I returned the loaner car and was ready to pick up my own car, the welcoming staff could not have been more helpful, friendly and engaging. I forgive you Mercedes-Benz – you handled the problem well.

photo credit: CLF

Online shopping demand troubles frustrate Yule shoppers

Happy Grouponicus!Just days before Christmas, Best Buy canceled online orders dating back to November because it ran out of some of the hot merchandise. Target’s website crashed twice while Wal-Mart and Barney’s also ran out of popular inventory. Best Buy apologized for the inconvenience and offered gift cards to affected shoppers, but shoppers have long memories and having to get out into the world of shopping malls just days before Santa is due to arrive can harbor some long-lasting ill feelings about any particular organization.

Where previously these brick and mortar stores catered to the shopping mall set, it seems the economy has more consumers heading to the Internet in search of better deals. This year many of these same stores offered free shipping and handling to boost their online sales, but the demand far exceeded their expectations. Although Best Buy’s public statement only admitted to less than 1 percent of their online orders having been affected, will this kind of inconvenience send more shoppers running back to the malls?

In store retailers have traditionally bragged about their personal customer service not readily available to the shopper with an online shopping cart, but statistics still show an encouraging edge to online shopping. STELLA Services, in a recent survey tallied a lot of disappointed online shoppers from Black Friday to Cyber Monday showing only six of the top 25 online United States retailers able to sustain high customer service marks. Still, $32 billion was spent by consumers online through December 18 this year.

The survey also revealed that 41 percent of shoppers were not satisfied with the ability to receive in stock merchandise in brick and mortar establishments compared to only 20 percent online; 27 percent were not satisfied with finding correct prices in stores as compared to only 14 percent on-line, and 42 percent were not satisfied with the in store check out procedures as compared to only 15 percent of check out procedures on-line.

The only category where brick and mortar stores surpassed online expectations were in return, refund, and exchange procedures with 41 percent of online customers dissatisfied as compared to only 25 percent of in store consumers unhappy.

Unfortunately it’s not painting a rosy picture for shopping centers – is it any wonder the vacancy rate is so high in strip malls? It would seem that stores are going to have to bring more to the price, product and customer service experience  if they don’t want to lose out to the competition of the online shopping mecca. Let’s bring in better trained staff, better merchandise choices, competitive prices and create the mood and ambiance to encourage shoppers to want to visit a store – one thing for sure there isn’t any ambiance on the Web, but who knows what the future will bring?

photo credit: Groupon

Check out lines getting to be more customer friendly

The CashiersThere’s a December 25 deadline, so it’s not really optional whether or not we want to wait at a checkout line – that is unless we shop online. This year, according to a Deloitte survey, online shopping is up in the United States from one-third last year to one-half this year showing more consumers opting to stay away from shopping malls.

There’s hardly anyone who has been immune to choosing the wrong line. My own experiences seem to escalate when I use the drive-ins at the bank because there are no easy ways to change bank aisles. In supermarkets, we get to choose our line, but in many other retail stores customers wait in one line and then move on to the next available register. Other stores more interested in keeping their customers off the Internet and still having the patience to wait for the next register to check out are much more innovative.

Home Depot brings in “line busters” who are employees who scan items in carts before the customer gets to the cashier. Apple Store employees have hand-held devices to help consumers check out. Yesterday I was at the AT&T store which positions a greeter at the front door asking how he could help and entered my phone number so the next available agent already knew my name and why I was there. Walt Disney World has taken a pro-active approach and while a customer waits online, a Disney character entertains them. Once the consumer is at the register however, efficiency and accuracy become the main attraction. And in Publix, the supermarket has their employees stand in front of the cash registers to not only say hello and smile, but indicate to shoppers their availability.

In the book, “Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping,” customers feel less stressed when an employee or electronic screen guides shoppers to the next available register. One line is often thought to be far less frustrating than switching back and forth between lines, quietly seething while someone else who came later gets to the checkout counter in another aisle quicker than you, or in the worst situation abandoning the product because the consumer is out of patience or time.

It’s interesting to ask people how they choose which line to enter. This morning at Publix, I asked a shopper behind me how she picked her check-out line? She told me she pays attention to what people have in their shopping carts, the age of a person, or how many children accompany the shopper. Carts overflowing with groceries take longer to check out, older people tend to unload their baskets slower, and children often are distracting to their mothers and the entire process takes longer.

So what should we do? The bottom line is if people don’t feel like a store is doing all they can to make the buying experience convenient, there are a lot of options out there. It’s holiday time everyone – hire extra help if needed and don’t keep your customers with their wallets in hand waiting.

photo credit: Aaron Jacobs

Complain constructively for better customer service

Cliente enfadado?In a global survey, Accenture wrote about deteriorating customer service and how most of us have at least switched one of our own service providers because we were displeased that our expectations had not been met. Now in the great realm of this very complicated world, happiness with a company might be perceived differently – that is depending on what we expect, how and of course to what extent.

Statistically, or at least according to the Accenture survey of 2010, two-thirds of the respondents stated that customer service is a significant issue, and over half of consumers are not willing to compromise. We’re obviously all looking for better prices and better service, but how do we handle situations when they go awry? Do we abandon a company the first time there is a mistake? All companies are bound to drop the ball at one time or another, but I think it’s important to complain constructively. Chances are you will get what you want, and just as importantly it will give you the opportunity to see if that particular organization truly deserves your loyalty by how they handle the situation.

Too often when people are frustrated and lose their tempers, the dispute ends up at a dead-end. The consumer no longer will deal with that organization, and the company has lost a customer. So how do you deal with a problem so you can come out on top? Begin with taking a deep breath, and do not get near the telephone or the computer until you are calm. Remember the ultimate goal is to give the business the opportunity to resolve the problem. Also make sure you address the problem immediately; don’t ever procrastinate on a complaint.

Now on to a positive outcome. Be pleasant, polite and charming. In my own career I sell real estate, and especially in this economy realtors aren’t always the most pleasant with other realtors, however greet someone (even a grumpy realtor) with a cheerful “hello, how are you today, ” and rarely do you ever encounter a growl of displeasure. Do the same when contacting an organization. I also suggest you know what you want the outcome of your resolution to be. Last month Continental Airlines provided very poor on flight service to myself and my companion during a flight from Florida to Las Vegas. Immediately on my return I wrote to CEO Jeff Smisek, informed him of our disappointing service and reminded him of my customer loyalty for all of these years.

I received an apology and a promise to research the problem in the future, discounts for  new tickets were issued to our accounts, and the problem was solved. It was important however that I maintained all of my receipts, vouchers, and provided times, dates, and destinations. Each time you complain, you want to ascertain complete credibility – much better when you state your case using facts.

And may I make another suggestion that positively elevates one’s status when it is time to lodge a complaint? If you are speaking with a representative over the phone, be sure to use proper grammar, and make a conscious effort not to use “filler” words as “like,” “you know,” “uh,” “um,” and “er.” When I used to teach a speech class, I would count the number of “ums” a student would use during his seven minute speech, and at the end of his presentation told him the number of “fillers” he used and how it was most distracting. Additionally, if you are writing a letter to a CEO of a company, use spell check and find a friend or relative to proofread your letter for grammar and content before sending it out. Professionalism does count, and it is guaranteed to help you achieve results.

photo credit: Daquella manera

Airports and excellent customer service – can it really be?

Indoor TreesThe next time you’re sitting in one of those impossibly uncomfortable hard plastic seats at Newark International Airport and you see a suggestion box hidden somewhere, slip a picture of Singapore’s Changi International Airport in there. It’s certain to be an experience any traveler will remember for years to come.

In the online blog  The Middle Seat, Scott McCartney writes about Andrew Tregonning and his wife’s experience covering the joys of an airport. No it’s not a syntax error – the couple traveling from New Zealand to India actually wanted a long layover at the Singapore airport. Imagine amenities such as comfortable sleeping areas, work areas, showers, pedicures, premium bars, a swimming pool, and even a tour of Singapore for nominal fees. The airport has a four-story amusement park for the children, and in Terminal 3, a city in itself, such passenger services as a dry cleaner, medical center, grocery store, pharmacy, jewelry and clothing stores all at one’s fingertips.

As a sharp contrast, JD Powers and Associates’ nationwide survey 2010 North American Airport Satisfaction Study which rated comfort and amenities in the United States most likely would have exploded if given the opportunity to rate Singapore’s airport. The survey covered basic needs which included seating comfort, ease of moving through the airport, getting passengers in and out of the airport efficiently, and reducing passenger stress with the TSA. Small airports scored significantly higher than the largest airports.

For large United States airports, Detroit Metropolitan scored the best with such amenities as an arbored concourse, people movers, sculptures, an on-site Hyatt Hotel and purple lit tunnels to connect terminals. Scores were rated on accessibility, check-in, security, terminals, food and retail service, and the efficiency of baggage claim. The Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Airport scored closely behind the one in Detroit; the connection between the airport and the Mall of America is cited as being very convenient. My son flies through Detroit regularly and agreed that it was one of the nicer airports in the US. He also reminded me of a post he wrote about the Charlotte airport in 2009.

Do you think it’s possible to actually transform travel into a less stressful environment given the security demands of today’s society? While North America may never be able to offer the top-notch creature comforts of the Singapore Airport, why not start with some of the more practical ideas to lessen the stress? Let us begin with some soothing music quietly resonating throughout our airports. How about reducing the number of announcements and the noisy horns of the passenger carts traveling through the concourses?

In Singapore, touch screens are provided in every bathroom to allow passengers to send a text message to attendants when towels or tissues are needed in the restrooms. Currency exchange booths and clothing stores are all in one area to encourage and stimulate competition for both merchandise and prices.

All of the 28,000 employees at the Singapore Airport are required to attend an orientation to help them help passengers. It’s a people pleasing business where successful concession spaces support 50 percent of the airport’s revenue which keeps the costs down and helps to pay for the amenities. Even the JD Power survey concludes that high levels of airport satisfaction create a strong positive impact on retail spending. Passengers who are “delighted” rather than “disappointed” spend up to 45 percent more at an airport. That’s a substantial difference.

While I’m pretty sure, the United States will never boast a butterfly garden as does Singapore, shouldn’t we still be taking lessons from those who do it so much better? Ironically last week I watched the ABC series Pan Am which takes place in the 1960’s and flying sure looked like more fun, and a much more relaxing and exciting way to travel.

photo credit: mikecogh

Poor customer service results in long term brand damage

Waterfront restaurantAmerican Express Global Customer Barometer, a survey conducted in ten countries examined the public attitudes and preferences of consumers toward customer service. While Australian customers ranked high as the most vocal when it comes to bad customer service, the results and feelings of consumers are still universal.

Just think about the effects of poor customer service on our own shores and how easily bad news spreads so quickly. That same bad news continues to spread – reminds us when we played telephone as school children – the story grows legs of its own by the time the last child hears the story because the facts have become so distorted. Probably one of the most common examples revolves around customer experiences in restaurants. Diners are reluctant to say much during an evening out with friends, coworkers, or family; after all who wants to ruin their evening complaining about slow service or mediocre food. That restaurant however becomes part of the “blood oath” never to visit again. We might see a Facebook entry or a Tweet, but for the most part, one person tells another person and before long that bad experience causes lasting brand damage.

The unfortunate part of poor customer service is when the consumer doesn’t vocalize their complaint, but no longer returns to that particular establishment. The business owner may be completely unaware of the problems or circumstances that encompassed that bad experience.So what’s the solution?

Businesses need to find more efficient ways to gauge customer service. Interestingly enough, there is a restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens called Blue Water where the chef comes out of the kitchen and stops by each table to inquire about the guests entire dining experience. It only takes a moment; it’s completely unobtrusive, and more like another way to view feedback as a barometer to help this fairly new restaurant raise their customer service standards. If a business owner knows something has gone wrong, he can then figure out ways to correct the mistakes thus providing better customer service experiences for the future.

The American Express Global Customer Barometer reminds us that every interaction counts, and when business owners train and hire quality employees, keep customer service personal, be receptive, be intuitive about their needs through body language and anticipate customer needs, customers react with their loyalty and their business. A consumer who has become a loyal patron of an establishment is more likely to forgive a faux pas and still return – understanding that mistakes can happen. It’s just building that solid foundation that requires a lot of work. Are you up for the challenge?

photo credit: La Citta Vita

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