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

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

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

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

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

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

Personalize your customer service

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

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

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

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

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

How credit card companies offer different levels of customer service

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer service principles learned from a dentist

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

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

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

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

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

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

A practical approach to dealing with customer service frustrations

irslogoNo doubt, it has been a tough week for customer service. Internal Revenue Service acting agency head, Steven T. Miller who is resigning from his post stated earlier this week:

“I can say generally, we provided horrible customer service. I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selections.”

And if that didn’t capture enough of America’s attention, how about the Maserati owner only identified as Wang who smashed his $420,000 Quattroporte with sledgehammers to protest the dealer’s poor customer service while shocked onlookers watched?

Of course, the normal customer service experience for disgruntled customers rarely take on the profound consequences as these two examples, but the importance of being able to successfully and calmly maneuver through a maze of frustrating obstacles before getting problems resolved can seem insurmountable to consumers at any moment. With that in mind, the better part of valor calls for the customer to wait until he is calm before instituting contact for a bad product, poor service, or any project requiring the help of an organization’s customer service department.

In businesses that continue to concentrate on the value of great customer service, “chat” lines have become great assets for a positive link between customer and service personnel. The lines of communication are open immediately, and consequently there may be a quicker and friendlier resolution to the problem. Winding one’s way through the phone maze may be infinitely more challenging however, but staying calm and listening to the voice commands will hopefully get you to a representative. Of course, one can always just punch in “0” for operator; that works fine on some systems. If you get the music and are asked to hold, why not place your phone on the “speaker” option and continue with your other work while waiting?

Have all of your paper work available when speaking with the customer service representative. Have the notes in front of you of people you have already spoken with, what correspondence and emails you have already received, customer reference numbers, and any other pertinent information you may have to make the process move along quicker and more efficiently. As you speak with the representative, remember not to be rude, never curse, hold back on sarcasm, and remember that the person you are speaking with isn’t the enemy and probably is not the person responsible for the defective product, lack of promised return, refund, or the cause of the poor service. Human nature commonly follows the basic premise of the more gracious you might be, the more interested the customer service agent will want to extend her arms of helpfulness.

Suppose the telephone conversation and subsequent actions or promised actions of the customer service department doesn’t solve your problem or meet up with your expectations? A popular solution is to take it to social media. Post on Twitter or the company’s Facebook page that the action taken has been less than what should have happened, or that no one has ever returned your call. More than likely, that action will garner attention. And when it’s clear that you need to move up the complaint ladder to a supervisor, again it is suggested to be cooperative and complimentary to the representative you have been dealing with – please don’t say you don’t want to deal with them anymore, but thank them for their time and ask to speak with a supervisor.

By this time most customer service problems have been resolved, but if it’s a fight to the bitter end, then it might be time to email the CEO. Surprisingly enough, some correspondence does make it to their desk while others have had to rely on television news anchors for the latest IRS complaints.

Consumer Reports says Apple does customer service better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of kaichanvong via Flickr 

Avoid costly mistakes by creating a better call center for customers

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

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

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

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

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

Walmart’s dismal customer service scores drive customers away

walmart-logo

Since 2007, Walmart department and discount stores repeatedly have been labeled with the dubious distinction of having the “worst customer service in America.” The Bentonville, Arkansas based retailer scored a 71 out of 100 rating; the lowest grade for customer service as rated by  The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an independent national benchmark of customer satisfaction in the United States. As a supermarket, the company didn’t do much better; scoring a 72 out of 100 rating  and similarly low scores since 2005.

The problem with Walmart is multifaceted. Having a person who greets customers at the door is hardly a solution for often poor quality merchandise, poorly trained staff, and dismissive sales associates who seem more interested in going on break than solving customer issues. While shoppers tend to overlook product quality and concentrate on lower prices during tough economic times, once people head back to work and their economics have begun to improve, buyers become less tolerant of rudeness from the customer service desk or inferior merchandise that may have split at the seams after only one laundering. Yet, shoppers can be a forgiving lot if customer service personnel are at the job and eager to please, but that doesn’t seem to happen much at Walmart.

Many Walmart customers opt for one-stop shopping, especially as the gas tank prices continue to rise, but is it really worth the long wait, the rude staff, and the mere frustration of seemingly no solutions to certain product deficiencies? Even Walmart’s e-commerce scored a low 78 out of 100 for performance during the 2012 holiday season. Amazon led all e-commerce retailers with a score of 88 according to For See’s E-Retail Satisfaction survey.

Perhaps Walmart needs to begin with the basics and start to treat employees with respect, offer better wages to attract talented employees, offer competitive health care, bonuses, work incentives, and consistent work schedules. As it is now, the constant turnover of employees make it impossible to properly train and promote talented individuals. The company needs employee pride, a well-tuned culture, and a mentoring program where associates can learn how to deal with customer complaints.

If you’re still a shopper at Walmart and have customer service issues, here are some alternate solutions however that may help:

  • Bypass the automated phone menus if you can. There are many free services to help customers find direct numbers. Check out dialahuman.com for one such service.
  • Have a precise history of everything you have done and everyone you have spoken to in order to rectify the issue. Write it down, have names available, times and dates you have spoken to customer service reps, and how long you have been kept on “hold.”
  • Elevate the importance of your issue by asking to speak with a supervisor.
  • Don’t be negative. Once you get to someone with authority, you want to be cooperative and at least let them think by treating you right, you will want to be a Walmart shopper again.
  • Don’t say “it’s the principle” of the issue. Have a reasonable solution to offer. Don’t be rude, don’t raise your voice, and don’t ever use profanity.

Brick and mortar shopping still remains the most popular, but as shopping behaviors change and traffic continues to shift to online stores because of low prices, greater selections and convenience, customer service needs to improve. It has been stated that consumers continue to lower the bar as to customer service, but it only stands to reason that e-commerce is going to take a huge chunk of business away from organizations that ignore their customers’ needs.

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