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Commandments 8-10

I’m going to finish up my mini-series on the Top 10 Commandments of Customer Service today with commandments 8 – 10.

8. Give more than expected. In the sense the article suggests, the advice probably belongs more in an article about business in general than about customer service specifically. Regardless, you should always try to be better than the rest. Always try to Wow your customers (as I was yesterday) and go the extra mile whenever possible. Your customers will certainly appreciate it.

9. Get regular feedback. I talk about the importance of collecting and using feedback a lot. It is probably one of the most talked about things on my blog. Always solicit feedback from customers, and once you have it, use it.

10. Treat employees well. Remember the three legged stool? Employees (not just customers) have to be happy as well. I talk a lot about what you can do to make employees happy – just remember: your employees are your customers too. Search for happy employees on Service Untitled and you’ll get an idea of what needs to be done to make employees happy.

So, those are the Top 10 Commandments of Customer Service according to that article. I think they are fairly accurate – 100%, no, but certainly on the right track. If most companies just followed these rules, they would be far better off than they are now.

Short post today, but it got the information across.

(Lack of) Total Management Cooperation

It’s been a long week. I’m going to end the week (and start the weekend) with an above average post (if you are thinking that all of my posts are above average, then this post is above that).

I constantly babble about how important it is for the commitment to customer service to start at the top (also known as management dedication). However, a question I am asked a lot is “How do I convince my company’s management team that customer service is important?” This post will hopefully help you convince them and is dedicated to people in charge of a company’s customer service department.

Very few companies want to look at customer service as anything besides a gigantic cost center (which it is – good customer service departments are extremely expensive to staff and run). Successful customer service companies don’t look at as a cost center, but instead a potential customer winner over center (that isn’t the official term, but it does work).

Remember the stool!
Remember the three legged stool? I vowed to talk more about it, but it is hard to work it into posts as often as I’d like without overusing it. However, the three legged stool is so important. Explain it to your company’s management team. Employees have to be happy or they won’t be nice to customers. If customers aren’t happy, they won’t be nice to employees. If the business results are bad, everything will likely fail. However, if all three legs (items) are good, everything will work out.

Show them examples.
I have talked about quite a few companies that have seen above-average levels of success largely due to customer service. Companies like Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, Headsets.com, Rackspace, Chick-fil-A, Printing For Less, and Starbucks are all companies I have talked about that have seen success partly (if not more than that) due to a strong commitment to customer service. Explain to your management team what these companies have done and what they have seen.

Concrete figures.
It’s more like soft concrete figures across the street, but they are figures nonetheless. Business people like facts and figures. Fact: Great customer service increases customer loyalty. Fact: Happy employees are more productive. Fact: Great customer service helps create customer evangelists, who definitely help businesses. None of these are solid facts (not in the 2 + 2 = 4 sense), but with research and logic, you should be able to find plenty of articles, white papers, research studies, and academic papers stating the same or very similar points.

Management teams don’t like to (but need to) hear about how their competition is doing something better. Say something like:

“We at Company X have 25% customer retention. At Company Y, where they have great customer service, has 65% customer retention. I spoke to Bob in our business department and he ran some figures and said that if we could increase our customer retention by 40%, we’d make another $5 million. That’s one tenth of what I’m asking for to help improve our customer service and that’s just one figure.”

That should get them almost every time. Management teams hate to hear how much better their competition is doing, especially when they can be doing just as well.

Get support.
Before going to your management team, talk to both customers and employees. Do they want to shift to a more customer service focused company? Customers probably will, but will they spend more? Ask! Explain what you want to do and ask for support. The reactions can’t hurt (worst that can happen is you stay like you are), but certainly can help.

Be sure to.
Explain to your management team that giving you a bigger budget for customer service, hiring a few consultants, or giving you a bigger salary won’t necessarily make their company the next Nordstrom or Ritz Carlton. Tell them that for this to work, it requires constant work and a constant dedication to customer service by everyone – including them.

Take an answer.
If the management team says yes, you are free to jump up and down because you are so happy. However, if they say no, take an answer. Work on your data, talk to more people, and get more examples and try again in a few months. It may be a slow (and painful) process, but if your data is good enough, you should be able to convince your management team.

Five W’s of Success Through Customer Service

I have an interview ready to get posted – just waiting for a few clarifications from the company before I post it. I’m doing a few more interviews over the next week, so there will be a few interviews posted here in the upcoming few weeks.

Today’s post is about the Five W’s of having a successful company by utilizing customer service. Basically, it’s a way to achieve success like Headsets.com and Printing For Less (ordinary product/service made extraordinary company through customer service).

The management and employees. A commitment to customer service has to start at the top and go all the way down. If the management team isn’t fully committed to customer service, the company won’t be able to succeed using customer service. Furthermore, the management team has to recruit employees who are as committed to customer service and customer satisfaction as they are.

What: Customer service (in case you didn’t know) is technically defined as providing product or service support to potential or existing customers. In non-technical terms, it’s making customers happy, encouraging customers to refer you to their friends, family, and colleagues because they have had a pleasant experience with your company, making customers happy (customer satisfaction), and more.

You’ll see increased customer referrals, increased customer satisfaction, fewer complaints, have higher employee productivity (not proven, but companies with good customer service generally have happier employees. Happy employees general are more productive than unhappy employees), you can charge a little bit more for the extra service you are providing, etc.

You need to provide excellent customer service through any medium that you use to interact with customers. This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to: in person, telephone, email, live chat, company forums, company blog, and anywhere else you happen to interact, talk with, etc. customers.

A commitment to customer service should be a permanent one. It isn’t a phase, a monthly project, or anything like that – it is a full fledged and permanent commitment. Whenever you interact with customers, you need to be ready to provide great customer service.

How: Through however you can provide great customer service. Read articles, read blogs, read books, hire consultants, hire people with experience in customer service, practice, ask around, etc. That’s the best way. It’ll come naturally if you think “How can I make this part of the customer experience better?” and pay attention to companies that provide great customer service.

The key to seeing success through customer service is to be committed to it all the time. Every person in the company has to be committed to it and always work to make the customer experience better (including the customer service experience better). There are literally thousands (and likely many many more) ways to do this and it all depends on what works best for your company.

Whatever you do, don’t treat customer service as a company theme of the month, the quarter, or even the year. Make it an ongoing commitment and something you are always working on doing.

You will see positive results in your customer and employee satisfaction scores, customer and employee retention, business results, and so many other ares.

A Trophy!

Wow, I got a trophy from Maria at CustomersAreAlways for telling a customer service story (Headsets.com should get the trophy for doing the actions in the story). However, more importantly, it gave me the idea for today’s topic – how to award employees.

It seems to depend on the employee. Some employees like to be publicly recognized for achievements, other do not. Either way, when an employee does something well, as a manager, you should go up to them and say “Job well done.” Some companies have formal systems in place for doing this, and whatever works, should be done. Everyone likes to be appreciated and when employees do something well, they should be.

Another point that comes up often is whether or not to give employees monetary awards. It seems to be depend on the company’s culture – some are strongly against it, while others are strongly for it. What companies should try to avoid, though, is bribing employees to do their jobs correctly. Their salary and work ethic should be enough – monetary compensation for jobs well done is something extra for when employees do something amazing.

Some good ways to balance effective monetary awards and bribing:

Cards and raffles.
When you notice an employee doing something well, give them a little card stating the time/date, what they did, their name, and your name. Then, at the end of the month or quarter, have everyone put their cards in a bowl and pick one randomly. The owner of the random card gets a prize (money, prizes, time off, whatever). This way, cards don’t directly equal money, but the more cards someone has, the better chance they have of winning.

Consistent service.
Award employees who provide consistently great service. For example, award an employee who got at least one card from a manager 75 out of 90 days. This way, you know the employee is consistently a top performer and isn’t just trying to gain cards at the end of the month or the quarter.

(Slightly) Random.
Give out a prize randomly to a ticket that was marked as “Excellent” (by the customer). This way, the more excellent an employee gets, the better their chances of winning. It provides another motivation to provide consistently great service. Be sure to have rules for your employee stating they can’t ask customers to rate them except for something standard like “Please rate our service: [link to survey].”

Hopefully some interesting ideas on how to award employees. Making employees feel important is extremely important, so be sure to make it a part of your company’s culture. Happy employees almost always perform better than unhappy ones.

Employee/manager conflicts

It’s something that’s hard to avoid: employee/manager conflicts. They’re bound to come up when people work together at all, much less when they work in a job like customer service.

(Note: Customer service isn’t always call-center type customer service, which in general, is more “intense” than something like retail customer service. Most people who go to a nice store to shop are happy. Most people who call a call-center have problems. Not always the case, but in general.)

So, how do you deal with employee/manager conflict?

Use the three-legged stool.

Measure manager achievement/success with the three-legged stool theory. Employees should be happy, customers should be happy, and financial/business results should be good. It’s much harder said than done, but if everyone’s happy, then it’s a good thing.

Ask the employees for feedback.
If you’re a manager and don’t get along well with your employees, ask the company management to issue some sort of formal “feedback survey” to your employee. Have the company provide you with a copy of the results so you can work on improvement. Actually consider the feedback and try to make changes.

Do something to increase morale.
Whether it be taking your employees out to lunch, to a sports game, or whatever, do something to help increase morale. As a manager, pick up the tab, encourage conversation, and be friendly.

Set positive examples.
Above all things, as a manager, you should try to set a positive example. Do things that show you’re committed to great customer service, being an excellent manager, or whatever example it is that you have to set. Those “inspirational” management speakers always tell you to lead by example, so try and listen to them.

Ask your peers.
Whether you’re a customer service representative with a “bad manager,” or a manager with “bad employees,” ask your peers about what they’d do in such a situation. Try to ask exemplarily peers who get along well with their employees/managers.

Don’t rule by fear.
Don’t lead, manage, rule, etc. by fear. Look at employees as equals, and have them look at you as a friend/advisor, not so much a manager. Management consultants may disagree with me, but I don’t think having people listen to you because they’re afraid is very effective.

Have an open-door policy.
Same principle as above. You may have to say it directly (“My door is always open, so don’t hesitate to ask me anything.”) quite a few times, but it’ll eventually pay off. On the end of every memo, include a line like “If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do let me know.” Solicit feedback and appreciate it.

Be kind to your employees.
If an employee is having a bad day, don’t make it worse. Try and be nice to all of your employees and listen to their problems and concerns. If people like their job, they’ll be more likely to go and enjoy it.

Read the blog.
Okay, this is a new point of advice I don’t normally give. Read Service Untitled every now and then, and you’ll pick up some tips to have happy employees. I intend to post one of my “exercises lists” sometime soon about how to improve employee morale and keep employees happy.

Remember, your employees are one of your most important assets and their satisfaction is just as important as your customer’s satisfaction (assuming you can’t run the entire organization by yourself).

P.S. New category. This one is called “Employees.”

Three Legged Stool

I normally don’t like the metaphors that a lot of consultants use, but one I read about and have liked is the three-legged stool. The three-legged stool is an important way to measure satisfaction and it covers everything. First of all, the three legs of the stool are:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Business results

The three items of the three-legged stool measure all elements of satisfaction. If every item of the three-legged stool is met, chances are that everyone is happy. I’ve thought of a lot situations and if customers and employees are happy and business results are being met, no one really has any grounds for complaining.

The thing is, though, that if any leg of the stool is missing or too short – chances are it’ll fall down or be uneven. If customers aren’t happy, business results will likely be bad. If employees aren’t happy, they won’t be nice to customers. If the company isn’t making any money, it’s not effective and costs will have likely have to be cut.

Again, this isn’t a business management blog – it’s a blog about customer service and the customer service experience. The question is how does the three-legged stool tie into customer service and the customer service experience?

Customer satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction is something that every customer service department should constantly measure. It’s critical, because ultimately, the customer’s satisfaction is the ultimate goal since it’s their money being used to pay the employees and fuel business results. Good customer service departments (and representatives) care a lot about customer satisfaction. You should use customer satisfaction ratings to measure how effective your employees are.

Employee satisfaction.
If employees aren’t happy, it’s unlikely they’ll be motivated to provide great service to your customers. If employees aren’t happy, they won’t go the extra mile (or the extra 3 feet), and will look at the money involved with the job. If the job doesn’t pay well and employees aren’t happy, good luck with keeping your current employees. Recruiting, hiring, training, and if necessary, firing employees is an expensive process, so try and keep your employees happy.

Business results.

Business results are likely why the customer service department is even there. Business results shouldn’t really be the main responsibility or primary motivator of the customer service department, but they should always keep it in mind. If the money isn’t coming in, people aren’t getting paid.

That’s how the three-legged stool ties into customer service and the customer service experience. Happy customers, likely happy employees, likely good business results. It’s an interesting way to manage your business’s overall success – managers or departments who have high ratings of customer and employee satisfaction, plus good business results are doing a great job. Managers or departments that are lacking in one or more areas need to work a bit harder.

I’m positive there’ll be more about the three-legged stool in the future. Tomorrow’s post will be about employee-manager conflicts.

P.S. I might (no promises) take a day off this week, since I noticed a lot of regularly updated blogs (i. e. Lifehacker) didn’t post on Monday and I did. (Great example of going the extra mile, right?)

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.

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.

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