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Treat Employees Well

Comedian (of all things) Fred Allen said: “Treat employees like partners, and they act like partners. ” Boy, was he right and that is the subject of today’s post.

How do you treat your customer service representatives? Think about it for a moment or two and once you have thought about it, jot down some keywords and phrases. You can write them down (better) or just think about them. Include about 7-10 things.

Got that done? Great! Now click here. It is a link to a little table with some words. There are six general categories. If you listed a word or phrase I included specifically, take 2 points off. If a word or phrase you included fits in one of the categories, take 1 point off.

Once you have calculated your points, look at this image. It has a few other keywords. Give yourself 2 points for words or phrases you had that I included specifically, and 1 point for general category matches. What was your score?

This test isn’t scientific, but I hope it provides you with an idea of what treating employees well is.

The first group of terms are what I call “HR benefits.” They are very objective and while I am sure employees appreciate them (and want them), it doesn’t set you too far apart and is extremely easy to copy.

The second group consists of more touchy feely terms. They are far more subjective, generally hard to get right, and they end up making a big difference for employees both long term and short term. As a result of the first two characteristics, they are harder to copy.

So the question is: does your company use compensation packages to attract and keep employees or does it promote a supporting, fun, and intelligent work culture?

Personally, I believe it is a better work culture that keeps good employees at your company. Someone who is motivated by money will leave your company as soon as he or she can get more money somewhere else.

Building a strong company culture focused around treating employees well is crucial to success.

More about that on Tuesday. On Monday, there will be a short post. Happy New Year’s!

How to Leverage What You Do Right!

checkI saw a commercial today for an exterminating company that advertised the ongoing training their employees receives. I’m not looking for an exterminator but it made me think about the importance of using what your organization does right and leveraging it as part of your marketing plan.

We moved a few years ago and I researched moving companies to help us. The only way I knew to assess these kinds of companies (this was before Angie’s List) was to ask about their internal practices. I asked if they provided training for their employees and if they solicited customer satisfaction data. I was truly surprised at how different the response was from company-to-company. I ultimately picked a business that did both ongoing training and solicited customer feedback. This was important to me because it told me that employees were put through a structured training program (I didn’t want them dropping my TV) and if they asked for customer feedback, they were probably more likely to respond to customer issues.

So what kinds of things is your organization doing right that you can leverage?

  • Training: Depending on the industry, most people place value on training. Whether it is customer service training or mechanic training, most customers feel a level of comfort in knowing the people who are taking care of their needs have had the appropriate training to do so.
  • Background Checks: Whether you have service technicians who enter customer homes or are a daycare center who takes care of small children, communicating that background checks are part of your screening process can help ease the concern of potential customers. I worked with an organization that hosts a large summer day-camp every year and they do background checks on the army of volunteers they use to manage the children. Parents find comfort with that.
  • Accreditation: Accreditation and certifications demonstrate a person or organizations credibility in providing products or services. Whether your organization is accredited through the Better Business Bureau or have certifications in information technology, the paying customer is interested. These kinds of credentials are what separate the professionals from the not so professionals.
  • Financial Transparency: Nonprofit organizations that solicit and rely on outside funding and donors benefit greatly when they provide financial information to donors. Donors want to know that the money they are donating is being used wisely and for the purpose it was intended.
  • Customer Satisfaction: When a customer purchases a product or service, they want to be reassured that they will receive what was promised to them. Collecting, monitoring and advertising customer satisfaction data can be a powerful tool in marketing to new customers. Customers want to know that their voices will be heard.
  • Quality Data: Organizations that track quality data can use it to advertise products or services. Whether an organization has won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or can claim a 0.001% product defect rate, quality data can be a great way to sell your product or service.
  • Best Places to Work: Customers like to do business with organizations that have happy employees. Being nominated or winning awards for best places to work is another way to demonstrate creditability with the community and improve employee engagement.

Organizations that advertise the things they are doing right have the advantage of attracting the educated consumer. The ever-changing consumer driven culture demands more and more transparency in how an organization is run so you might as well boast of your good practices!

What are other things you leverage in your marketing plan?

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

photo credit: PNASH

When customer service defines a business culture

Bridal Shop, window reflection / Reflet d'une Boutique de MariageCulture is how an organization operates whether you chalk it up to customs, attitudes, or etiquette. It’s difficult to define because every business has a culture, but how effectively does it serve a company, and if we want to transform our culture can we really do it? I doubt there’s a customer service story about successful culture that does not include the examples of Zappos or the Ritz Carlton, but don’t we all want our own unique successful culture?

First, we must identify how we want to transform our business culture? Do we want to deliver a better or different product? Other choices might include customer service, redesign of the work place, or an enlightenment of a stale, outdated company presence. It’s my opinion that all elements help to mold a company, and it starts from the top executive office and works its way down through every crevice of an organization.

Let us begin with hiring employees. It’s not always about their qualifications or education. With a defined culture, an employer can ask the right questions and look for a team player with enthusiasm, creativity, and imagination. There are a lot of qualified candidates out there, but does your company culture seek out ideas, suggestions, and that certain spark? We invent ourselves with words and images; why not bring innovation to a company’s team through new ideas?

The atmosphere of an organization has a direct correlation to the attitude of the employees. I visited a very busy bridal boutique, and in the office, designers were excited, having fun and working together at what seemed a furious rate preparing for a bridal show within the next few days. That enthusiasm most definitely carries over to clients, and happy employees can make “electric” happen.

Some business owners are afraid to empower employees with the authority to make customer service decisions not necessarily in the handbook, but employees who want to come to work, who have trust in their employers and through the goodwill of their employers feel secure and content in their careers, are unlikely to disappoint their bosses with giving “away the farm.” Good employees make intelligent decisions, and through their loyalty use their discretionary authority and funds to enrich the organization’s culture. It’s an absolute necessity that employees are provided with these same tools to promote their company culture.

So how do you know if your company culture is working and people are focusing more on your business than the one of your competition? With the emphasis on social media, it’s perhaps even more important that customers feel as if they count. Just a random testimonial of a very uptight bride to be, and her Facebook and Twitter comment about the bridal shop ordering lunch for her and her mom when they were busily planning a very last-minute wedding, brought a surprising number of kudos for the shop especially when the bride to be told everyone the shop would not hear of her paying for the lunch. And that was before the bride purchased even a garter.

photo credit: Luna The Moon Gir

Panera Bread 2010 “25 Customer Service Champs”

Panera Bread is a casual restaurant that owns and franchises 1380 bakery-cafes. The Panera Bread establishment in Palm Beach Gardens is attractive and offers free wifi, which is where I am writing this blog post.

There is no alcohol or grease here, and I have often printed off coupons to use, but I must warn you they are very strict about expiration dates. They offer freshly baked breads, pastries, sandwiches, salads, and soups during breakfast and lunch. Chairman and CEO Ronald Schaich has stated that the drop in wheat prices last year has been helpful in avoiding any price increases, but claims that the quality of products at Panera are of the highest priority.

So we have a few of Panera’s policies that set them apart from other restaurants, and that includes antibiotic free chicken, no trans fat, many natural ingredients and an impressive list of whole grain breads, but does that have a significant impact on customer service and the Business Week’s award?

Actually the company’s customer service award can be attributed to the attentiveness and concern for the well-being of their associates. Panera kept employee hours steady when other restaurants were cutting hours. Panera also provided cash bonuses for hourly workers as well as management incentives. When I checked the employment page, I noted that employee benefits are comprehensive ranging from complete medical, dental coverage to pension, and disability benefits.

Their philosophy of “happy employees” has brought in more customers. When the general restaurant traffic has decreased nationally by 4%; Panera boasts that their business has increased by 2%. Panera’s attitude towards their employees can only stress the importance of employee satisfaction delivering and contributing to customer satisfaction. In my own experience, I have been to this establishment several times, and I have never seen anyone behind the counter or even wiping the tables seemingly having a “bad day.” It certainly seems the Panera “way” is a success.

photo credit: stevendamron

Customer Service: Better or Worse?

Gap en Cimes 2009 photos Josette (2)The ‘50’s version of Dilbert was a very popular comic strip called Mutt and Jeff. The clever “tongue in cheek” style made many a reader chuckle over their eggs and bacon before rushing off to the office. One strip had Mutt and Jeff enjoying a bit of verbal sparring.

“If everyone saw like I did,” boasted Jeff, “Everyone would want my wife.”

“If everyone saw like I did,” quipped Mutt, “No one would want your wife.”

It provided a humorous lesson on the “eye of the beholder” side of understanding relationships and experiences. When someone asks us, “Why has service gotten so bad,” we think of that comic strip.

Remember the scene in the movie Back to the Future when a customer pulled into a gas station and two squeaky clean attendants cheerfully washed the windshield and carefully checked the engine fluids? Audiences laughed at the obvious spoof.

Was that great service? We do not remember thinking it was back then. It was typical neighborly care by local employees with plenty of time to leisurely serve one customer at a time. They worked for an enterprise with reasonably healthy margins, friendly competition; and without the scrutiny of regulators, the screams of litigious consumers, or the impatience of shareholders. They served customers with limited choices, relatively low expectations, and plenty of time to wait.

Perhaps the gap between good and bad service is less about how far the bottom has dropped and more about how high the ceiling has been raised. As customers, we are a lot smarted than we have ever been. Recall buying your last car? You probably had more information than the sales person had tactics. Additionally, we customers have witnessed great service in pockets of our lives. When the FedEx or UPS delivery person walks fast, we assume the postal service person should do likewise. When we get a company to answer our phone call quickly with smart people we can understand, we get irritated with all those who provide us with less.

It is true that as the landscape of business has changed from the sixties. And, some companies have given us a glimpse of the global economy up close and person by outsourcing call centers to foreign soil with operators who struggle with English or requests that deviate from the script. There are companies that have cut the budget for the frontline, leaving customers to spar with an overworked, indifferent idiot. But a growing number of companies have learned that happy employees make happy customers and are zeroing in on cultural enrichment to increase employee morale.

More and more companies are getting better at communicating with customers so their expectations are more realistic. They are finding better tools to gather customer intelligence so they can be more precise in their offerings. They are helping customers become more knowledgeable customers. And, they are using service hiccups as tools for learning and improvement, not just as alarms for cosmetic damage control.

The payoff is as unmistakable as the message is clear. Look at the bottom lines of Nordstrom, Target, Publix, Amazon.com, Zappo’s.com and Costco. As customers rave about the great service they receive, investors rave about increasing business growth and profits. Companies in the top 20% of the American Customer Satisfaction Index conducted by the University of Michigan outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 93%, Standard & Poor’s by 201%, and the NASDAQ by 355%. These companies yielded an average return of 40%.

So, has customer service deteriorated or gotten better? It depends on whether you are asking Mutt or Jeff!

Writer Bio: Chip Bell and John Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away:  How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers.  They can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: akunamatata

What does it mean to be customer-focused?

On Friday, I wrote about what it means to have a customer-focused strategy. Today, I was asked to broaden the scope a bit and talk about what it means just to be customer-focused. I defined customer-focused strategy as:

Most simply, I would define “customer-focused strategy” as a view on business that puts customers at the center of business decisions.

That, along with several of the other examples and ideas I mentioned in the post on Friday, capture the essence of what I would call customer-focus. But what makes a customer-focused company? It’s a term we hear periodically and can’t think of any sort of successful company that wouldn’t like to describe itself as customer-focused, but what does it actually mean? And most importantly, when is it actually put into practice?

Customer-focus is quite literally and quite obviously, focusing on the customer. That means thinking about them when decisions are made, policies are implemented, and employees are trained. It spans across the whole business and is a cultural thing as much as it is anything else. Customer-focused businesses think about what they can do to make customers happy (as opposed to get the most money out of them, signup the most accounts, etc.) all the time and think about how they can make the customer experience better.

The best companies actually put that view into practice, though. It’s pretty easy to talk about (and to want), but it’s difficult to actually do it. I’d say that customer-focus and customer-focused strategy go hand in hand. The companies that are customer-focused (the ones that actually do it, instead of just say it) are already depending on a customer-focused strategy. If they’re doing it well, they’re most likely seeing that strategy work for them in all areas (happy employees, happy customers, financial success).

How do you define customer-focus? Do you think I’m pretty close or totally off?

Tony Hsieh of Zappos

zappos_logo Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, a $800 million a year online retailer that sells shoes, handbags, and more. The company started in 1999 with almost no sales and is on track to do more than $1 billion sales in 2008.

In addition to being a very successful retailer, Zappos is a well known customer service company. They have a great reputation (see my post about them here) and really do go out of their way to provide the best customer service possible.

This is the first part of a three part interview with Tony Hsieh. In this part, Tony talks about what Zappos does, how big they are, how many report customers they have, the company’s “wow” philosophy, and a bit about their very generous return and exchange policies.

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Who’s accountable?

While accounting and the like may very well be interesting, I promise this post is not about accounting.

I read this post the other day at Customers Are Always. A reader at the blog provided an interesting suggestion, which I have re-printed below (with some minor formatting change):

I have a pretty straight forward clear cut idea on how to improve customer service. 

Every business should create a web site that contains a database of numbers, and have each of their employees represented by their own individual set of numbers.  The computer will automatically print the numbers of the employee on the back of the receipt that they give you at the end of the transaction, whether it be a cashier, a food server, a bank clerk etc. 

On the back of the receipt, make note that (upon returning home) if the customer logs in to the site and rates the performance of their customer service agent that the customer will receive a discount or some type of incentive upon their next visit to the establishment.  With this being known to the employees, it will automatically prompt them to perform with a higher level of Professionalism and there should be a reward system set up for them as well. 

People just wish to feel appreciated, therefore treat your employees with respect and appreciation and they will in turn feel inclined to do likewise for your customers. 

Happy employees + Satisfied customers = Thriving Business; it all adds up!

Sounds like the three legged stool, eh? Actually, this suggestion is all about accountability. If there are a few buzz words that make for good customer service, accountability is definitely one of them (along with empathy, resolution, etc.).

When people are held accountable, they generally take more pride in their work. If someone does well, they can easily be recognized and rewarded. On the other hand, if someone does poorly, it’s very easy to find out who is responsible. Accountability is great for things like that.

The suggestion above is practical accountability. It is also a great way to collect feedback – good and bad. The incentive (discount, points, etc.) will hopefully ensure a higher return rate. If representatives are instructed to tell people about it, the return rate may be even higher.

This tackles a lot: give the customers an excellent way to provide feedback, make employees accountable, reward employees who do well, and work with employees who don’t do well.

To take it a step further, let customers do the survey using text messages, regular voice phone calls, IM, etc. The more ways (and the easier it is) for them to complete the survey, the more likely they will be to do it.

In short, great idea. Definitely worth looking into and if possible, doing.

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