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Bed Bath & Beyond – Going the extra mile

Bed Bath & Beyond is a truly fun place to shop. From the moment I walk in and smell the gentle aromas of sweetly scented candles, attractive displays and sales representatives who greet me at the door and bid me a good morning, I am already in a good mood.

The store is great for home improvements as well as home decor. In the bed linen and blanket department, displays of  blanket covers, matching duvets and color coordinated accessories provide innovative decorating ideas. Last week when I was redoing my guest room, I wanted to purchase two new throw pillows to match the comforter. I had the material swatch with me, and to my dismay that line of bed covers and accessories had been discontinued.

To my rescue, however came the best sales representative I have ever met in Bed Bath & Beyond. I showed her the fabric sample; she took a picture of it on her cellphone and emailed it to other stores looking for the exact match. Two days later, Melinda called me and told me she had found two matching pillows for me.

Melinda’s personal focus on my problem was truly impressive. She used her own ingenuity to tackle my problem and followed up until she found the exact merchandise I was searching for and followed up with a personal phone call to me. I was also able to use Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, each one good for 20% off for each item, and even though they had expired, the company continues to honor them. The coupons come in the mail on a regular basis, and I am able to use them whenever I shop in the store and never have to worry about expiration dates.

Typical management strategy is to use expiration dates on coupons to create an urgency so you get to the store quickly, but Bed Bath & Beyond not only honors expired coupons, but also has a price-match policy on identical items and will honor competitor coupons and prices as well.

I now find myself a frequent shopper in this store, and whenever Melinda is working she even greets me by my name.

photo credit: PlayfulLibrarian

Credit cards offer extra customer service perks

My new Nordstrom credit card came in the mail, and I was pleasantly surprised. Their rewards program provides 2 points for every dollar spent at Nordstrom’s and provides for 1 point when I use the card elsewhere. For every 2,000 points I accumulate, I receive a $20. Nordstrom “note” which can be used for any Nordstrom store including online purchases as well as  the use at all Nordstrom outlets. This works out to a 2% rebate, and if I use the card to purchase all my merchandise at Nordstrom, it comes out to a 4% rebate.

The only downside is the rebate is only redeemable at Nordstrom’s and points expire in six months, but it is possible to convert the notes to cash. For instance, if I use my points to purchase a pair of shoes for $200 and then return the shoes, the company will give me a credit for $200 and apply it to my balance.

The other credit card I really like for their customer service is my American Express Platinum Card. The downside of the card is the $395  annual fee, but traveling and using the American, Delta, and Continental airport lounges as part of the services provided far out weighs the expense of the annual fee. I can also convert points to miles on many different airlines, and use the points and redeem them at various hotels and Hertz car rentals. The Platinum card offers many room upgrades and commonly a free night at some of the best hotels here and abroad.

The downside of the Platinum card centers around the travel and concierge services. This past Christmas, I was not able to book tickets for a major event I wanted to see, and often times the prices on hotel and travel are far more expensive than if I booked them myself. I was also disappointed last year when I had a problem (not my fault) with American Express; they lumped all of my accounts together, and it wasn’t until I spent hours chasing after an elusive manager that I was finally able to get all of my accounts reinstated.

Why pay for the use of credit cards if they aren’t able to offer some remunerative customer service rewards? Just make sure you always read the fine print.

photo credit: romulusnr

Going the extra 50 feet.

The other day I wrote about how a check out clerk at a grocery store went the extra 50 feet (as opposed to the extra mile) to make my shopping experience faster and more convenient. His going the extra 50 feet brought the service experience from acceptable to great in my eyes. He didn’t do that much extra, but he did do enough to make a difference.

I preach about the importance of the little things day in and day out and when companies have employees that do them consistently, they always do end up making a difference. It doesn’t matter if the company is an average customer service provider or a world-class customer service company, employees going the extra 50 feet consistently will make a difference. It makes a difference because customers appreciate it when employees do put in that extra effort to make their customer service experience better than usual.

I am working with a company that needs to adapt the extra 50 feet mentality. They do a great job at providing the basics and while they often do go the extra 50 feet, they don’t do it consistently. They are now at the stage where they are building the idea into their processes and procedures.

They’re hoping to go from acceptable to great by not only encouraging employees to go the extra distance, but by building it into all of their processes and procedures. If going the extra distance becomes standard operating procedure, chances are, it’ll happen a lot more than if it was left up to chance. For companies that don’t really have a culture of customer service ingrained into the company DNA just yet (very few companies do – think Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton as examples of companies that do), the extra distance has to be built right into the processes. Eventually, going that extra distance will be automatic and assumed, but chances are it won’t start off that way.

The challenge that my particular client, as well as countless other companies, is facing is where and how to go that extra distance. What’s too little and what’s too much? There is no definitive answer for any particular company or industry. Everyone has different customers and different ways of providing service. And I think that is what makes it such an interesting question and an interesting challenge.

Freelancers: Get Extra Business with Customer Service

So perhaps this is the post everyone has been waiting for – how freelancers can get additional business through customer service. Some people may be saying “Nah, that’s impossible.” Well, it is possible. There are plenty of companies that have done it, so why can’t individuals?

There were some items discussed in the previous post about tips for freelancers to improve their customer service. Some good ways to get additional business through customer service (mainly by the way of referrals):

  1. Getting to know the client.
  2. Go the extra mile.

By getting to know the client, you have a good chance at identifying what else they may need and you can gain referrals. By going the extra mile, you can introduce your client to additional services you provide and generate some great word of mouth advertising.

So how else can you use customer service to get additional business?

  1. Make yourself the go to guy or girl. Make yourself the go to guy or girl for everything. Build up a network of friends, partners, etc. that do things that your clients need. For example, if you do web design, have friends who do business card design or web hosting. This way, whenever a client needs something, he or she will ask you.You can either get a referral fee from your friends/partners and/or eventually you’ll be asked about something that you can do. Oh, and your friends/partners may very well send you business in return.
  2. Be honest. Be honest and don’t sell clients more than they need (no matter how gullible they may be or how rich they are). Sell them what they need and clients will respect that and continue to do business with you and refer their friends to you.
  3. Be the solution. A big problem with a lot of freelancers is they aren’t very reliable. Don’t make this the case with you. Give clients your cellphone number, your personal email address, or whatever – make it so that you are the solution and that your clients have no reason to go to a full service company. Furthermore, make sure that your friends and partners you refer your clients to are as reliable and as dependable.
  4. Follow-up. Read the posts on Service Untitled about following up. Following up is extremely important and something that you should do. When you are done with a project, follow-up with them. When a potential client says “We’ll need you in three months.” contact them in three months.
  5. Be nice. As always, be friendly and it will pay off. Make yourself easy to work with and keep the client in mind. It also doesn’t hurt if whatever work you produce is what the client wants (note: not good – what the client wants) as well.

Be sure to read other things on Service Untitled as well. The suggestions provided in topics like Little Things, Big Differences and Etiquette really make the difference between an acceptable and great customer service experience.

Monday will finish up this series. If you have any suggestions of things to cover, please do provide them. On Tuesday, I have a post in mind about a customer service call turned disguised as an (effective) sales call.

On an unrelated note, this is an interesting read. It is the manual that the people who prevent members from canceling their AOL subscriptions use (also known as Retention Specialists, I believe).

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

Is customer service more about loyalty or preventing frustration?

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 07So here we are in the midst of football season, and wherever I sit to watch a game, invariably the question comes up as to whether offense or defense is more important? Of course, in football every yard gained by the offense means the defense has given that yard up, yet it is the offense who has to score. Then again the defense is in charge of keeping their opposition from scoring.

Since customer service is now getting more and more complicated because prices have become so competitive, does it also depend on a better defense or one of offense? In Forbes, “Defense Can be Better Than Offense in Customer Service,” there comes a question whether going that extra mile for a customer much like Nordstrom’s Department Stores, Zappos, or the Ritz Carlton hotels, actually reap the benefits of the amount of money spent to train the staff, or to give employees the latitude to be able to make independent decisions that can ultimately cost an organization a lot of money?

Matthew Dixon’s book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, contends we should not be searching for loyalty by offering customers the ultimate customer service experiences through expensive programs. Instead of recognizing top customers with promotions and rewards, extensive feedback, or even apology programs,  rather it’s less expensive just to focus on “preventing frustration and delay.” The less an organization does, the less the cost. Avoid loss by targeting customers who may be leaving and look for ways to keep them before they run over to the competition.

Remember the defensive position is reactive; responding by emails, calls, live chats, and social media with the end result of loyalty. Some say if you strive to make everyone happy, word of mouth increases business while others say just try not to lose customers because it’s just too hard to get them back. Should we forget about raising satisfaction scores and just try to avoid the lowest scores so as not to lose customers?

Depending on the position an organization chooses is most dependent on the product or the service offered. No matter which way however, both sides depend on the effectiveness of the customer service department including product knowledge, communication skills, and the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Personally I prefer the more defensive approach, and have for years appreciated the customer recognition status and associated perks. With products in two different stores being of equal quality and competitively priced, my business would still be at the store with the better recommendations from my neighbors, family, and friends.

Memorable experiences make for “WOW” customer service

Ritz Carlton

Perhaps the best of the best try to make every experience memorable by paying special attention to details. One recent experience at the Ritz Carlton where my real estate partner and I recently visited for lunch to meet with a European client who had flown into Palm Beach for the day to preview a listing we were offering, certainly left a wonderful customer service memory I had never experienced before, but have mentally earmarked as one of the most memorable customer appreciation opportunities I’ve ever witnessed.

For women who know that wearing high heels may not be comfortable after hours on your feet and previewing properties, both Erika and I were more than happy to relax in a comfortable lounge in the reception area to wait for our client. We laughed and cajoled with each other how sore our feet were, and moments later when our client approached, she was also wearing similar ridiculously high heels and readily recognized with good humor how uncomfortable the extended wear of such shoes can be. In less than five minutes, a young woman from the Ritz Carlton staff came over to us and very politely told us, she had seen us rubbing our feet and knew exactly how we were feeling. She then invited all of us into the spa for a complimentary foot massage. Of course our client happily obliged, and for the next 20 minutes, the four of us (including the client’s husband) were indulged in pure relaxation and what must count as one of the greatest impromptu customer experiences for a hotel.

So what makes something like this so memorable, and why did the employee take it on her own to offer us such a complimentary service? Strong leadership skills and great training enhance the talents of great employees. When searching for the best customer service personnel, integrity, mutual respect, innovation with a mixture of creativity and the ability to have fun and like what they do catapults these valuable employees to the top of the list. Highly motivated and successful employees who complement an organization that encourages their staff to “own a situation” and gives them the ability to make free standing decisions reflects the high level of care and concern that excellent leadership skills include in the day to day quest for excellence.

While the complimentary service may have cost the Ritz Carlton a few more dollars than a more customary perk for a hotel guest and their friends, think of the residual benefits for this five star establishment. After all there is a lot of competition in Palm Beach to be the best of the best. Still what guest wouldn’t tell the story to her friends over cocktails and dinner? And then what friend wouldn’t remember the story when getting ready to book a few days on the luxurious Island of Palm Beach? And never underestimate the connections and kind words from the local real estate agents who often are asked by foreign clients where to stay.

For the grateful, andfor the people who capitalize on opportunities to create a great service experience, it’s about more effort, and a unique way to spread the word about the extra mile some organizations will go to that brings back the faith in “WOW” customer service.

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.

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