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How we worship our satisfied customers

With happy customers comes repeat business, referrals, and of course loyalty; all adding to a customer oriented culture that ultimately places an organization as being more popular and valuable. The customer-centric legend, Zappos, an e-retailer with a unique approach to selling shoes and a variety of other merchandise, focuses its culture on pleasing the customer at a personal service level. Their “Happiness Experience Form” evaluates the team member’s ability to personally connect with the customer, build a rapport, address the needs of the customer, and deliver the “WOW” experience.

Perhaps one of the best known Zappos’ customer experiences happened in December 2012 when a conversation between a team member and a customer lasted 10.5 hours. Ironically, when the duration of the phone call which concentrated more on what it was like living in Las Vegas than selling shoes aired throughout the media, Zappos did not perceive the news as bad. A Zappos Customer Loyalty Team supervisor, in fact stated:

“Zappos’s first core value is to deliver wow through service, and we feel that allowing our team members the ability to stay on the phone with a customer for as long as they need is a crucial means of fulfilling this value.”

The customer did reportedly purchase a pair of Ugg boots.

Everyone wants to work for the best company which ultimately then attracts the best potential employees; therefore costing less money to recruit the most talented. With successful companies come better revenues, stability in the economics of the company, and more opportunities for future employee growth and promotions.

Many companies question how an organization changes from being focused on products or transactions to placing the focus on customer experiences where people become engaged emotionally. Beginning at step one with employees, evaluate if they are willing to help each other, are compassionate and helpful, and treat each other with respect. Have new strategies been defined to help employees embrace the experience – both by in depth training and by the involvement of partners who are able to enrich these experiences?

Customer-centric organizations incorporate their company culture and teach by example the following basic elements:

  • Customer experiences are customized; everyone is an individual and not just included in the one size fits all or “Please do not hang up. Your call is important to us.”
  • Customer needs are anticipated.
  • Customers receive quick responses.
  • Customers are involved in the development of services needed by asking clients and consumers what they find to be important.
  • Customer data is recorded and used to deliver a better experience.
  • Customer trends are tracked.
  • Trends and problems are shared with the team; what better way to improve customer experiences?
  • Send out and collect reviews after transactions to improve the customer experience and the products being sold and delivered.

And at the end of the day, have a plan to recognize the achievements of employees. Celebrate that incredible “WOW” experience a team member managed to pull off by “stepping out of the box.” Encourage employees to focus on customer experiences and make each unique experience a part of the company culture.

Customer satisfaction for retailers at all time high

For the third year in a row, customer satisfaction in the retail trade for the United States is at an all time industry high, but of course there are always some caveats since many of the top retailers who scored relatively low for customer satisfaction are among the top retailers. Go figure!

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report examined the implications of both e-commerce and retail businesses concluding that better customer service, discounting of prices, and lower gasoline prices offset a drop in Internet sales. For instance, gas station business is based solely on price, and with GasBuddy.com, it’s easy to check, however stations have also improved by offering customers quick options for groceries instead of having to head off to the nearest supermarket and  make another stop.

Perhaps one of the more interesting conundrums of the report stated that eight of the ten retailers with the worst customer satisfaction scores were among the 20 top retailers in 2012. Macy’s, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walmart with the supermarket scoring the lowest ACSI score for customer satisfaction  and poor customer relations, still received a high customer satisfaction score for mobile and Internet business. Part of the problem of low scores come from employee feedback where lack of benefits and competitive salaries evoke mediocre to low reviews from the staff.

Interesting enough however, even though brick and mortar stores suffered this past year from less foot traffic, customers were pleased with shorter waiting lines, more products in stock, and the personal service that brings consumers into a store. Add that kind of exemplary service to a romantic city street decorated with twinkling lights and attractive merchandise offered from decorated windows, the holiday season became a fun experience for shoppers.

For specialty stores, the availability of merchandise scored the highest benchmark for customer satisfaction, and in general consumers were pleased with relatively good service, clean and attractive spaces well laid out, and quicker checkout. The down part of specialty stores compared to department stores, however are less sales and promotions. (Even the wealthiest shoppers enjoy a good bargain.)

The Internet retail experience was affected this year by a huge mess of weather delays; scarcely was there a day in the news that supply and delivery didn’t make headlines. Amazon.com didn’t seem to suffer much by offering free delivery and other “wallet oriented” apologies. It doesn’t seem one can beat the convenience, the merchandise selection, ease of navigation, useful customer information on the sites, and customer support of e-commerce; especially coming from an age of young professionals who spend more time online shopping than at the mall. Brick and mortar organizations are constantly challenged to meet and surpass a shopping experience worthy of a personal adventure.

Maybe one of the worst customer satisfaction experiences lately, scoring at the very bottom of ACSI benchmark are Internet Service Providers. Comcast Corporation, as it wens it way to a $45 billion mega merger with Time Warner Cable may be destined to become the two worst companies combining for the worst service imaginable. Facebook pages like Comcast Sucks and I Hate Comcast have thousands of likes and complaints ranging from outrageous bills, endless waits on the phone for service, and inconsistency of service. It’s practically unimaginable that Internet providers will ever do better.

As a new year of customer satisfaction rolls on, let’s hope to continue to see improvements whether we step into a store or sign on to the Internet.

Be an ‘Undercover Boss’ to help employees please customers

detectiveIf you have ever tuned into the CBS show “Undercover Boss” where owners and corporate executives work undercover to examine their own companies, it is indeed an interesting concept that has aroused some significant awareness and changes in organizations. Of course, there’s always some interesting drama associated with the television production, but it’s that individual attention and demand for fair treatment and loyalty that sustains success and growth for all of us.

While it may not be necessary to don a disguise with a fake beard, hair dye, and bushy eyebrows, why not use the idea and do some anonymous shopping of your own to determine what customers want, what customers get, and how skillfully and competently customers are getting what they want? For instance, if it’s a big company and you’re rarely in “the trenches,” maybe it’s  time to go shopping? For a brick and mortar establishment, buy something, ask for help, and ask some difficult questions. Are employees knowledgeable about their products? With an Internet based business, order off of the website and check how efficient the ordering process is and how efficiently orders are handled. Ask a friend to order something; get an objective opinion.

So let’s assume the staff is well trained, industrious, customer service oriented, and all around great employees in the sales or service department, but what happens when a customer isn’t satisfied? Most employees deem it much easier to make the sale, or contribute to the desired service, but when there’s a problem, the solutions too often go awry.

Most customers begin the complaint route with the telephone. The job of keeping people calm after they’ve been on hold for what may seem like an extended amount of time can set the pace for impatience and short tempers. If I’ve had a pleasant experience buying a product and I was treated fairly, chances are I will remain loyal and pay more because it has made my life easier, but that’s rarely the end of the transaction. The real test of time comes somewhere down the road if the product breaks, fails, or the customer needs to reach out for extra service or assistance. Customers aren’t going to call you if everything is fine, but be aware the protocol for pleasing customers far more than they expect will exponentially lead to more referrals, more business, and faster growth.

Customer service, therefore is a department not to be decreased because sales are down. Look to the problems being reported and document each and every issue. Here is the time to identify problems, fix them, follow up, review and apologize. Here is an event that can show a customer that you care, and through careful monitoring by rectifying problems in a timely manner, show customers they really matter.

It’s a win, win situation which most likely will leave a smile on someone’s face.

Ease up on customer service demands during inclement weather

Snow Storm, Dec. 2008Whether it be hurricanes, blizzards, fogs, or floods, inclement weather has its own way of leading an otherwise civilized society into moments of rage and unacceptable behavior. Spend a few hours in a busy airport and listen as a few narcissistic and petty customers scream profanities at service workers in fast food establishments, airline employees, or transport personnel as if the adverse weather and all of the complications that frequently occur during such times are the fault of the employees.

For airlines at least, and of course in my business of real estate sales, force majeure, or an act of God as contracts state, parties are free from liability when an extraordinary event or circumstance prevents them from fulfilling their obligations. Of course this rarely excuses them altogether, but at the same time airlines are not required to compensate passengers for hotels or other expenses during the delay, and hence something seems to click negatively in the human brain of a few, but no matter how upset we may all become, maybe a “teachable experience” can remind us of what we teach our children.

It is the responsibility of airlines and other services to safely operate during severe weather and emergency  conditions. Businesses that stay open during harsh conditions often have employees who have risked their own safety and comfort to provide necessary services. So instead of telling the person behind the desk she is a “blithering fool,” please learn how to treat people with decency and respect.

For employers who need their staff to brave serious weather conditions, be flexible and realize the difficulty of the situations. Employees are not automatically entitled to being paid if they can’t get to work, and those policies should be clearly explained in staffing contracts or the company handbook. Maintain fair and consistent employment relations with employees before emergencies and have an “adverse weather” policy in force for the continuation of services in case of such emergencies. If employees are able to work from home using remote devices, it maintains stability of the business as well as an important morale booster in times of stress for both employers and employees.

And for all of my fellow travelers in the airports of the world, although airline companies can be a challenge all of their own, use these simple suggestions to ensure a better experience during inclement weather:

  • Check online before your flight or call ahead when adverse weather conditions are expected.
  • Call reservations. While most delays do not require rebooking, some do.
  • If you are expecting to board a connecting flight, see the reservation personnel for additional help.
  • Maintain your patience.

Check the website of the airline carrier for their policies concerning inclement weather. For instance, United Airlines has some extremely useful and informative information.

How to act like an adult when you need customer support


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.

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

Brick and mortar stores can still outdo Amazon with ‘Amazon Can’t Do That’

Hurried ShoppersIn a study titled “Amazon Can’t Do That” polling 1,500 consumers spanning the three generations of Millennial, Gen X, and Boomers research group, WD Partners concluded that shoppers still prefer feeling, walking around, and gathering with friends and families during the holiday shopping season. Whereas Amazon is no longer just a store for books, the grand giant now sells everything that can be sold or delivered, so how do local stores compete, and what needs to be done to gain customer loyalty even after the last ornaments have been neatly tucked away?

As convenient as it was to shop on Cyber Monday, the news media burst  with headlines displaying throngs of shoppers postponing their family turkey dinners to stand in line for incredible deals such as 50″ flat screen televisions for $199, kitchen appliances at hefty discounts, or the most popular toys being sold in record numbers at Toys R’Us on Black Friday. Mix that with movie stars such as Jessica Simpson, Justin Bieber, and others superimposed talking to Kris Kringle in the Macy’s Department Store advertisement, which for the first time ever, opened on Thanksgiving Day, there’s still some profound popularity for the brick and mortar experience to find good service, good sales, and the nostalgia of the Season.

Still stores can’t depend on that warm and toasty experience shoppers love as they purchase gifts for their families and friends. Stores need to give customers what they want and make the experience pleasant if they want to see these same people post holiday time. If the shoppers’ experiences wind up with poor customer service, it’s apt to show up quite quickly on social media, and that could end up in a long run to recovery. It’s about making the experience stand out; some bonuses the shopper may not experience if they chose the online shopping path can also help build loyalty. For instance:

  • Offer free attractive gift wrapping and have numerous employees there to keep line waiting time to a minimum.
  • Offer free shipping for more expensive and luxury items with insurance.
  • Make customer assistance convenient and quick for shoppers. Use email, telephone calls, and live chats to help with service.
  • Use loyalty cards and give one out to every customer during the holiday shopping season that can quickly add up and provide a benefit or discount after the season. Make it an attractive offer and build customer loyalty at the same time.
  • Make sure to thank every customer, apologize for any oversight, correct the problems, and ask how you can be of any further assistance.
  • Offer discounts for multiple purchases. Everyone likes “buy one get one free.

According to WD Partners, however the brick and mortar store should be ” a place of inspiration and ideas that leaves shoppers with a high or sense of euphoria. The in-store shopping experience must offer more than a warehouse does. Retailers who provide this type of shopping experience will be successful this holiday shopping season.

“The store should be a place of inspiration and ideas that leaves shoppers with a high or sense of euphoria,” Lee Paterson, executive vice president of creative services of WD Partners, said in the study. “The in-store shopping experience must offer more than a warehouse does. Retailers who provide this type of shopping experience will be successful this holiday shopping season.” – See more here.

The top remedies to quell ‘customer rage’

Cliente enfadado?

In the world of social media, where consumers publicly speak out against poor customer service, it has been estimated that U.S. businesses can lose $60 billion in future sales of goods and services. A recent report from a cloud contact provider stated  85% of consumers retaliate against a company with bad customer service. “Customer rage”, as it is called, has caused 49% of consumers from doing business with a particular organization, and interestingly enough, the 18 through 34 year-old age groups are three times more likely to vent their frustrations out on social media.

For at least 70% of the purchasing population, the first line of complaint begins with a phone call. As so many  large organizations utilize call centers, customers get easily frustrated with the maze of number presses, the disconnects, rudeness from call center personnel, language barriers, and of course, the incompetent service representative.  That adds up to a lot of complaints when 43 billion calls a year are processed through these call centers.   The major companies which notoriously press a customer’s “rage button” include cable television providers, satellite providers, telephone products and services, electronics, retailers, banking institutions, and automobile manufacturers. Ironically these most often are big ticket items; thus involving more hard earned income and therefore more serious consumer consequences.

So what enrages customers the most and how can we improve our services? Oddly enough, out of the ten most popular solutions to improving customer service, six suggestions have no bearing on prices. The overwhelming top response from unhappy consumers centered around being treated poorly and the lack of respect. Although we may laugh at some of the popular “customer rage” videos popular on YouTube, the message to be conveyed is not to have to call back, explain the problem to someone else, and repeat the vicious cycle of ineptness until the proverbial cork pops out of the bottle.

It’s hard to find a company who actually admits blame, but unhappy customers want to hear a company acknowledge they are sorry, and then to make an offer to correct the lack of service or fix or replace the defective product.

“I’m not asking for a miracle, but I want the company to acknowledge my time is valuable, my business with them is important, and they will try their best to make it better for me,” explained Pamela Davis, a former AT&T Bell Labs executive assistant. “I’ll even settle for mediocre now before I change companies, but I want them to resolve my conflict.”

Customer service, despite all of the edginess of progress and innovative tools available to businesses,  still boils down to the importance of communication. “I’m sorry you are unhappy,” and “Thank you for your business,” aren’t  complex formulas, but it brings the humanity back from a very complicated world; and although it doesn’t cost a lot, it certainly encourages brand loyalty.

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