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Customer feedback gets personal

There aren’t too many receipts we get from retailers nowadays that don’t offer us some kind of reward to log on to a  short customer service survey about our customer experience. Yesterday I purchased dog food from Petco; hence a receipt offering me $2.00 off my next purchase in exchange for answering questions, and then onto Office Depot with another receipt offering a discount to log in and answer some questions. Of course, companies use these customer feedback surveys to gain more insight into their brands, but I often wonder how does a company know how I really feel about my shopping experience without asking me to actually describe it? Answering a question about my in store experience buying copier toner by rating the display on a “one to ten”  scale doesn’t necessarily reflect my experience that on this particular visit the display was moved to another part of the store, set up differently, and it took me twice the amount of time to find the toner colors I needed.

Competition is so fierce that standard brand and customer experience feedback questions with repetitive numbers are being replaced by open-ended questions where customers can actually articulate their own views and feelings about products and services. Kampyle, a provider of feedback analytics claim they can figure out why a customer has abandoned their shopping cart. Based on statistics, 29% of users will leave their phone numbers when submitting feedback, and 60% will give their real email addresses. When the company allows customers to steer conversations based on their needs, wants, opinions, and questions, feedback gets more personal.

So how do structured data analysis feedbacks work? For sure they are less precise, but companies agree they are “good enough.” Software spots negative and positive comments specific to the organization. For Choice Hotels and Gaylord Hotels, data will reflect service, rooms, and employee behaviors; tracking trends both good and bad. Keywords such as “wouldn’t return” or “wouldn’t recommend” are recognized, and what used to take weeks and weeks to interpret when done by hand can now be applied immediately.

The software is not without its problems however. Huge companies like BP with diverse operations with clients using  50 different languages would have a difficult time analyzing content. Can any of these automated coding programs capture feedback in different languages or with broad and diverse medical, financial, or legal feedback? Can this technology even understand some of the subtle nuances that could make a difference to clients and customers in selective companies?

So we revert back to social media where we can verbalize our feelings and comments and make a major difference in branding and customer service. Just last week GAP launched an online campaign to introduce their new logo, but when 1000 angry customers posted negative comments on GAP’s Facebook, Marka Hansen, president of GAP in North America announced she and her staff had “been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week” and returned to their original ‘blue box’ logo. So whether GAP did this entire online campaign just to get people talking, it worked and provided us with another lesson in the power of social networking and its effect on customer feedback.

Combat offensive customer service

Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesLondon’s Cooperative Bank states each of us “suffer 246 incidences of bad customer service” during our lifetime. This includes lousy service and less than helpful customer service agents. Cooperative Bank’s poll has named the five worst types of companies for customer service. Can we as consumers always fight back?

Topping the list of worst customer service experiences are those at restaurants and bars. Probably everyone reading this will have had at least one or more bad experience with staff, food, or both. Competition for restaurants is still steep, so bad reviews can be devastating. Listen to friends, family members, and read online or newspaper reviews before deciding where to dine. Discount coupons are available for a majority of restaurants during the week. Don’t just make Saturday night the only evening to go out and eat.

With bars, however lousy customer service presents a more complicated problem. It might be hard to walk away from the most popular spots, and they tend to be very busy and congested. Drinks are commonly overpriced, service is practically non-existent because you can not find anyone in the crowd, and the establishment doesn’t care. Why? The place is the current trend, and the establishment need not worry at this time whether you like to be treated like cattle or if the bartender gave you the house wine instead of another brand you ordered. About the only solution to poor customer service in a popular night spot is just to grow older when going to places like this are no longer your first priority.

Poor bank service came in a close second with unreasonable bank fees and long waiting lines. Smaller banks can be more service oriented and more competitive and flexible with bank fees. Banks appreciate customers who actually have money saved, so in this respect, anyone with a nest-egg  is considered highly desirable. Compare rates, compare services, and don’t hesitate to speak up to a supervisor. Bank managers are far more accessible nowadays than in the past.

Mobile phone networks and broadband services didn’t fare well in the poll for customer service. If you are heading to the end of your contract, chances are good that a rival company will offer to buy your previous provider out and welcome you as a new customer. Where to switch will require some research on your part, and sometimes smaller companies shine because they are competing with the larger companies. As with broadband providers, smaller companies don’t necessarily mean inferior service. These are the very companies who want to build their reputations; chances are it will be easier to get in touch with someone when something goes awry with your service.

The last provider that scored poorly in customer service is the energy company. Long waiting lines on the phone when something goes wrong, prerecorded messages when there is a local outage, curt service representatives, and the list goes on. If you are in an area where multiple service providers are in competition with each other, it is likely the customer service will be better. One of the local utility companies advised me to hold my complaints until after the emergency has been corrected. Then call and write  the  appropriate customer service department calmly expressing your dissatisfaction with your personal experience. Chances are much better that you will receive a response and even possibly an apology or solution.

Although most of us have probably not encountered our full 246 bad expected customer service experiences, we can hope that changes will continue to improve our world.

photo credit: Holidayextras

Good service valued over good food?

Specials - Tan Lac VienEmpathica, a customer service management firm, surveyed 3,000 U.S. and Canadian consumers about the value of good service over the quality of food they are given at restaurants.  Only one in five people valued good service over the quality of food. A 55% majority of Americans  think restaurant service is getting worse, while 32% think service is improving. Another 25% would tell their friends and co-workers not to go to a particular restaurant if they received poor service.

Part of the value of a service particularly in a restaurant is the customer relation experience. Most of us go to a restaurant to relax, and we do expect value for our money. With that comes quality food and consistent service. Some established restaurants still ride on their reputations, but the economic boom of the 1990s is over, and almost every business has felt the uncomfortable drop in revenue. “It’s not that we have less customers,” states Dave Billingsby, manager of a local restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens, “they just spend less; an average of 7%. I think the economic downturn has caused us a 10% drop in our total revenue, because people just spend less.”

The Empatica survey found that one in five women “never” eat at restaurants while one in ten men “never” eat at restaurants. Discount voucher offers made a big difference in people going to restaurants. Sales are traditionally slower during the week, so promotions and discounts drive more diners to restaurants regardless of the service. Billingsby agreed, and said there is a 50% increase in business on the weekends.

In an informal survey among my friends, and we do like to try different restaurants, the quality of food overwhelmingly outweighed the service quotient, although a particularly bad customer service experience, no matter how good the food, meant the eatery was crossed off the list for future consideration. “I go to relax, eat some good food, and have a good time,” explained Lorri Kennedy, a local Palm Beach attorney. “I’m very fussy about what I eat, but I also expect good service. If I don’t get the proper combination, I really don’t feel any customer loyalty. It all figures into the equation, and customer service is right up there with quality.”

People relate to affordable prices, cost efficiency, and good management. That’s what keeps all of us coming back. The poll summed up the report by stating; “Be familiar and reliable. In a stressful time, consumers will spend discretionary money on experiences they know they will enjoy.”

photo credit: avlxyz

Customer service outweighed price on JD Powers & Associates’ study

Flu Shot.JD Powers & Associates released the results of its annual national pharmacy study emphasizing customers’ cost issues. Of the 12,300 customers polled who had filled prescriptions during a three-month period prior to the survey, satisfaction was rated in chain stores, mass merchandising companies, supermarkets, and mail-order pharmacies. Ultimately the survey showed more savings in mail-order prescriptions, but customer service outweighed saving money.

Based on the study of consumers, highly satisfied customers generated $227.00 in additional prescription revenues. According to Jim Dougherty, director of the health care practice at JD Powers & Associates, “Customer service still trumps price even in an environment where cost has become increasingly important.”

Value comes in service, and customers talk about their great experiences and their bad experiences; they share with everyone and either way we are all traveling billboards which can make a huge impact on any local brick and mortar business. Since pharmacies can be critical to lives of people, reliability and availability counts. People most likely will choose a pharmacy close to where they live or work since no one wants to trek across town if they’re ill and need a prescription. Service hours are important; at least 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM and preferably be open similar hours on the weekends.

Consumers look for personal attention with insurance companies and co-payments; what’s included in my plan, or what’s not included. If a pharmacy accepts many different insurance companies, it’s more likely a consumer will have an easier time should their own insurance company change. Even Medicare Part D needs to be interpreted at times with a knowledgeable customer service agent to figure out what plan works with what prescription. People with no insurance are just as concerned with customer service, since many pharmacies offer generic drugs at a very low price or offer price matching from one pharmacy to another. It’s not always obvious and well-advertised, so the personal attention approach is desirable.

With the strict adherence to HIPAA compliance (right to privacy act), private consultations can avoid those “embarrassing” prescriptions and a client gets a private consultation. Yes, it’s the friendly personal customer service people still choose when the pharmacy will call your insurance company or your doctor to clarify questions or dosage. Customers like to know the name of at least one pharmacist they deal with and can comfortably ask a pharmacist health questions without having to call their physicians.

photo credit: paulswansen

Listening to customer feedback through surveys

Eighth Day 40th Birthday PartySurveys are most efficient when they can be performed face to face with a customer because one question seems to always lead to another question. What the respondent perceives about an organization or even the level of service can not always be interpreted in answers ranging from excellent, good, fair, or poor. Most of our impressions when we walk into a store are non-verbal. Haven’t most of us had great first impressions from the moment we opened the door? Was it the pleasant smell of the store, the welcoming, smiling appearance of the salesperson, or the overall appearance of other customers engaged in pleasant conversations just heralding the ambiance of a wonderful experience yet to come?

Now how do you put that in writing; no less how do you express that in a survey? How do you get people to respond? Surveys need to be kept simple, easy to complete, and easy to understand. Experiences are going to be different when visiting a brick and mortar establishment as opposed to an online store, but certain questions to judge overall customer service are quite universal. The following points should be considered:

  • Don’t get too personal in a survey. People are wary about questions that could compromise their privacy. Consumers are also concerned about spammers, advertisers, and general annoyances.
  • Make the survey specific. Don’t just ask blanket questions about a customer’s experience. Ask what the consumer purchased, or ask about the consumer’s first impression of the store.
  • Make the survey convenient . Online surveys are the easiest for people to fill out, but postcards can be effective also.
  • Cover all the bases, and that means ask about the greeting, the website, employees, the products, and  product satisfaction.
  • Ask for suggestions to improve your business. If you ask, you will receive.

Now how do you get people to respond? Be creative, and make the offer irresistible. Use special offers, percentages off the next purchase, or prizes. Feedback is worth a lot of money, since customers determine success. If you keep the survey limited to a manageable number, the comments, and feedback are apt to provide an abundance of information to improve customer experience and keep them coming back.

photo credit: BinaryApe

Interview with Doria Camaraza from American Express – Part 2 of 4

This is part two of a four part interview with Doria Camaraza, the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fort Lauderdale Service Center for American Express.

This part of the interview includes information on how American Express decides to hire new employees versus promote them from within, more information on the compensation and motivation methods the company is using, how they use Net Promoter, information on the company’s “Relationship Care” program, and more.

To read this part of the interview, click “read more” below. If you want to read part one of the interview, click here.

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Ranking customer service for airlines

US Airways Express CRJ-900 - N933LAUS Airways ranked first on reliability after three consecutive months during April, May, and June; showing statistics of 83 percent of flights arriving within 14 minutes of their scheduled time in June. They also ranked first in customer service for May and June with complaints listed at 1.87 per 100,000 passengers. All 31,000 employees will be rewarded with a $100 bonus each, which represents a $3.1 million payout.

Most airlines operate on the same air routes, and every day packed planes travel the same routes, so is rating arrival times and customer service just splitting hairs? Statistically the airlines with the best on time records operate out of less congested airports and have less planes. For those of us who have to travel to the busiest destinations, on-time records seem nothing more than myths. After all the country’s arrival times are only as good as current air-traffic technology.

On-time percentages may say something, but not everything. For instance, for some carriers to improve their on-time percentages, why not board passengers earlier? How many times have we all been seated on airlines close to the moment of scheduled take-off when passengers are still finding their seats, still finding space for their baggage, and still having to check baggage because there is no more room on the over-heads or under the seats? Wouldn’t airlines benefit a percentage point or two if passengers boarded five minutes earlier, or if there were no extra fees to check bags? Delta, which Douglas flies on a regular basis, starts boarding 40 minutes prior to departure instead of the standard 30.

Airlines could also save a percentage point or two if employees were scheduled to arrive earlier.  How many passengers have waited around airport lounges extra time only to see pilots and support staff arriving late? Airlines could employ more fleet service workers to load baggage at peak travel times to help maintain schedules.

And finally, one of the basic customer service policies is to accept blame, apologize to the consumer, and correct the mistake immediately. When a flight leaves late, the airline personnel should discuss the problem, figure out a solution, and avoid the problem from happening again. After all it is the expectation of the customer to arrive at their intended destination safely, in comfort, on-time, and with minimal inconvenience.

I do congratulate US Airways for their achievement this quarter, and assume they have succeeded because of their customer service policies, but how many passengers take on-time percentages into account when buying airline tickets?

photo credit: asrusch

The competitive factor of price, value, and customer service

In the recession days of the 1980’s, customers were more concerned about price reductions and convenience rather than the quality of customer service. Now 91% of customers polled in general surveys think that customer service and the quality of that service is important.

People are more tolerant of poor customer relations in service oriented business than what they would tolerate in retail. Cable companies, cellphone companies, banks and credit cards which garner the most articles on Google about poor and frustrating customer experiences, are harder to switch services and often very time-consuming. Sometimes there are no viable alternatives in some areas to change service providers, so we moan and groan and still have to press numbers told to us by a computer to even get to customer service. Using a broad spectrum of companies that provide customer service, 1000 consumers were polled in a recent American Express survey. One-half of the customers stated they would stop doing business with a company after two bad experiences while one-quarter of those surveyed would change stores after just one bad experience.

Many customers think that companies have not done enough to improve their service in this economy. Consumers are more influenced by negative online product reviews than positive ones. A customer is likely to tell seven to ten more people about a small disappointment. On the other hand, people will spend more money at a company that offers great customer service; up to an average of 9% more according to the same American Express survey.

It’s all about giving customers what they want instead of companies thinking what a customer wants. There are just so many choices in retail, consumers don’t have to put up with bad behavior.

So how do customers want to resolve their conflicts the most? A grand majority of consumers rate talking with a “real person” the ultimate service when calling a company. After that comes e-mail correspondence because it is convenient and still personal. Customers feel they have gained something from both “real people” communication and e-mails if they get an apology, a discount, reward points or something for free. Not surprisingly no one has been content with dealing with computers and pressing numbers and following computer directions as a customer service tool. Still how many companies have that procedure in operation?

photo credit: citta-vita

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