Transforming the Customer Experience

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Listening to Customers Tells You Everything You Need to Know…

Listening. We all know how to do it… but few know how to do it well… and it could be driving your customers away if you don’t do it well. Listen well and you’ll increase sales and customer loyalty.

Even though communication involves two parts – speaking and listening – I believe that listening is actually 2/3 of successful communication.

Someone can speak all they want. But if the other party doesn’t listen – REALLY listen – nothing that was said matters… at all. And yes, there is a huge difference between hearing and listening. Hearing means you heard words and sounds. Listening means you understand the purpose, content, and context of the message.

About 70 % of all lost customers left because they didn’t feel valued or felt the service experience was lacking. And they should. If you don’t feel valued or that the experience was at a minimum “good,” why on earth would you continue to do business there?

Much of what goes into creating a memorable and desirable experience is derived from LISTENING to what customers tell you they want… what they like… what they don’t like… what they need… what is becoming a challenge for them… what they are confused about… what their last option didn’t do for them that caused them to leave and find you… etc.

LISTEN to the customer. Listen when they call to complain. This is an opportunity for you to be the hero and solve their problem. You can teach them how to get the most benefit from their purchase/contract/etc.

LISTEN to what is confusing for them. Make changes based on things that are becoming a trend or an issue over a certain threshold. Focus on making that form, procedure, instruction, etc simpler. The customers that voiced their issues will know you listened to them. They’ll feel valued for you taking their concern seriously and making changes as a result. They’ll feel you really want to do right by them to earn their loyalty… and they’ll stay.

LISTEN to what they like about your company and your product. Use that feedback as a springboard to determine how you can integrate those high points into other areas of your company. You know you are doing or providing that well – identify what makes it so and carry it through as far as possible. And in most cases – don’t change much unless absolutely necessary. They’ve told you they like it. Mess with it and they may not.

LISTEN to what they don’t like about your company and product. Seriously listen to that feedback. Hopefully it came about during a conversation which will provide the opportunity for you to ask probing questions to truly understand their perspective, the issue and to identify the cause.

LISTEN to suggestions customers make on something they feel would make a positive impact to them. You won’t necessarily be able to do or provide exactly what they are asking, but you may be able to generate ideas that are on the right track or come close.

Bottom line… LISTENING to your customers is really a crash course on how to stay in business long term and build a loyal customer base. Your customers are telling you exactly how to keep them coming back to you – because they want to.

 

 

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Branding and Quantity Imply Consistency

Consistency is key in many things… but I’m hard pressed to find an area as impactful as the Customer Experience.

Consider the successful consistency in the branding experience of McDonald’s.  Anywhere in the world that you want into a McDonald’s, you’ll quickly notice the same theme, colors, food, overall service, etc.

I believe it is also fairly safe to assume that when they open a new McDonald’s franchise, they hit the ground running with knowing how many staff to schedule for different times of day and days of week, knowing what are the favorite menu items overall and perhaps even by region, knowing how to interact with customers and make them feel welcome, etc. Basically, this isn’t their first rodeo anymore and each new franchise opens with only a minimum of hiccups… again, even those are most likely known to happen over the course of opening so many locations.

Last Spring Break, my family and I headed to Cancun to a new resort that had just opened. We were very excited because it was billed as a 5 star resort… something we hadn’t had the opportunity to do too often because our kids were small and, let’s face it, wouldn’t appreciate the “extras” that such a vacation delivers… and costs.

So, things started off well. We were greeted by the very personable staff and they reviewed the amenities of the resort and asked questions about the things our family enjoys while on vacation.

Our room was quite nice and the first two days of restaurant food met our hopes and expectations.

However… we soon began to notice things that left us confused.

While the resort itself was beautiful in design… we were shocked when we entered the entertainment venue. The seats were nice, but there was something about the stage that bewildered us. It was completely blank…. as in a stage against a completely plain, white, blank wall.  Nothing to match the ornateness of the other buildings less than 50 feet away. But to make it worse… when the performers were on stage, the spotlight would occasionally hit a spot on the wall behind them that had clearly been a door that had been speckled over and painted white. Not trying to sound negative, but it appeared that someone has non-handy as myself had done the job and that no one in the entertainment venue was concerned about the professionalism of the job. It just didn’t match the resort experience we’d had so far.

As I mentioned, the food was very nice overall. The servers were very pleasant, but we did find very quickly that very few of them, perhaps 30%, spoke English. Granted, we were in the Mexican Rivera. English is not the native tongue. But when almost 90% of your customer base speaks English, everyone would be better served when the staff speaks the same language as the customers they serve. While we were frustrated by the language barrier… we also noticed that the staff was as well. I could tell they were trying and making every attempt to understand my 2 years of high school and college broken Spanish.

The Room Service food was quite nice. They would bring it fairly quickly and followed the same protocol as most hotels and resorts we’ve stayed in over the years… enjoy your food and leave the plates outside your door to be picked up. Here’s the thing… those used plates stayed outside SEVERAL doors for over three days. Yes, the rooms were made up daily, yet somehow the staff didn’t know to pick up the plates or it didn’t fall under their responsibility.

We also found that there were staffing shortages during the times that the use of the pool or venues seemed to be high. There were far more guests than the staff could promptly serve during peak times. Yet during non peak times, there were more than enough staff to handle the guests.

In the main buffet… it was beautifully decorated and well laid out. The food was delicious overall. The great part about the buffet is that everyone can pretty much find something they enjoy. However, the experience was dampened when the line for the Benihana style food was over 10 people long… and there was only one chef during the main dinner time. This caused me to be waiting in line while the rest of my family enjoyed the food they found right away.

I was quick to write off these dips in service levels as just part of rolling out a new resort. The gentleman in front of me at the Benihana food line was clearly dismayed at the wait time. Because we had plenty of time and I’m just that type of person, I engaged him in conversation asking him where he was from, if he and his family vacationed in the region often, etc. He was pleasant but was quick to point out his frustration at having to wait for food and at the lack of English speaking staff. I suggested that they would likely have all of the kinks worked out soon as they had only been open 3 months at that time.

Here’s the kicker… he turned at looked at me and said “That would be understandable if this were their first and only resort. This company operates about 6 other of the most popular resorts in the area. This shouldn’t be happening. They should note everything that works and doesn’t work in their other resorts and work that into their new openings. I’m a small business owner. I do the same thing each and every day in my business and with my customers. I take every interaction and experience and learn from it to continuously improve the way I work with customers and my services.”

I hadn’t realized they owned and operated other resorts. I thought this was their first run at it. To me, that explained everything. I checked into the gentleman’s claim and found that this resort was owned and operated by a company that ran over 6 local resorts in the area… all of which were known to be highly regarded. And then dichotomy became very apparent, not only from the company operating the resort, but within the resort property itself.

Here’s where the consistency comes in…

Apparently, I was one of the few at the resort that didn’t know it was one of a chain. Each in the chain did promote the same company logo, so with the others being so highly regarded and not having complaints about language barriers, long lines, staff shortages, etc. why did ours?

Why was there such inconsistency within the resort itself? Why was there such a grand entrance and nice rooms… yet the entertainment venue had a stage that was so beneath their billing and reputation?

Why was the cleanliness of the rooms and overall resort so emphasized, yet the room service trays were left outside for days with staff walking right past them?

Why was the staffing so incongruent with peak times and usage?

Why the language barrier knowing that over 90% of the guests spoke English, yet it was hard to find staff that did?

Again, had this been their first or second resort, these could be overlooked. But because they had rolled out this exact same formula several times before, why did they not take their learnings from the other resorts and integrate them into this one?

This is where branding is also impacted. Remember McDonald’s? They’ve got it nailed. They know how to open new franchises. It doesn’t happen by chance. They are methodical about it because they know their brand name is front and center for all to see.

This resort company hasn’t realized that yet. I won’t mention the name because I’m truly hoping the they’ve gotten these kinks worked out and I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But when folks travel from all over the country – or world – and you are affiliated with a high end name and reputation, be sure the consistency of the experience is strong.

Otherwise, your guests will set your reputation for you and it’s out of your control.

It doesn’t matter if you run a store, a service company, or a resort… consistency of experience is what customers crave and depend on. Those who actively seek out this parent company based on the other resorts may be in for a surprise when then stay at this new one.

Customer Experience Lessons from a Crew Regatta

Customer Experience Requires Teamwork

Teamwork was the focus of my weekend recently. Two of my kids just finished their last crew regatta of the fall season. We were up in the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan and the scenery couldn’t have been better. We caught the last part of the colors and the temperatures were crisp and best of all… NO RAIN.

But, the reason I bring up the regatta is how essential teamwork is in the sport of crew. I know, I know, teamwork is in all team sports. But, I have found that in football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, etc there always seems to be one or two players that really stand out. Some players are known as “ball hogs.” There are also many opportunities for some players to receive all of the glory while the rest of their teammates, simply by lack of mention, seem to be almost insignificant or regarded as less important. Often, some players never even get the ball during a play or even entire quarter or half of a game.

Not in crew. In crew, everyone rows… all the time. There are no timeouts, no water breaks, rotations, etc. Everyone in that boat has a role to play for the duration of the race. The coxswain guides the rowers in their pace and direction and the rowers follow that lead. Each rower has a role and purpose, regardless of their position in the boat. If one rower loses their focus for just a second, the entire boat feels it. Worse yet, if one rower “catches a crab,” it’s a public embarrassment for that rower and the entire boat suffers. And… the crew team is responsible for loading and unloading the boats from the trailer, rigging up the arms, attaching their oars, carrying the boats down to the water, taking them out of the water, and carrying the oars for the boat next scheduled to race.

A successful race comes together when all members of the boat are in such sync that they hardly even notice the effort their bodies are expending. While their bodies are screaming with the pain of lactic acid in their muscles, their shoulders and legs throbbing, and their hands literally blistered… the observer only sees a boat cruising through the water with powerful grace.

My point is this… business is very much the same as a crew boat. There are owners and CEOs, middle management and front line staff. There are so many different ways that each of these positions work into the overall Customer Experience. When all of these positions are in sync, communicate, know their roles and how they impact the roles of others, and all understand and work toward the same common goal… the experience for the customer is the same as the observer of the crew regatta… powerful grace in motion. They don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes to “make the magic happen,” only that they enjoy working with you because you make it seem effortless and natural.

So, consider how well your teams, silos, and departments work together. Keep in mind that the customer never experiences your company silo by silo, but across silos. How well the team functions together across the customers journey is notice by the customer.

Make the time and effort to build teamwork in your company. Have functions, speakers, workshops, etc to keep your teams in sync with the overall goal of creating experiences your customers want again and again… with you.

The Most Important Thing in Customer Experience? The Customer Perspective

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 12.03.39 PMWe make decisions every day, every hour, about how to run our business – how to make it better, how to make it more efficient, how to motivate our staff, how to increase revenue, how to cut costs, etc. The daily decisions are endless.

But – there is ONE thing that is seldom considered in these decisions. And, unfortunately, it’s the most important thing.

The Customer Perspective

Have to reduce staffing hours to cut costs? Okay, maybe that’s a possibility. But first – consider how will that impact customer accessibility to your phones, your storefront, having their questions answered?

If you limit phone hours, yet your data shows that after a phone call to your company, 75% of callers make a purchase within 2 hours at your designated “break-even” purchase price, that cost savings will likely COST you more than you believe you are saving.

When implementing a new process for billing – consider how this will be rolled out and explained to your customers. Will you spring it on them? Or will you give them 2 months of pre-notice and step by step instructions designed to help them through every step – and offer chat or phone help when needed? And… did you make sure your new process is as streamlined and EASY as possible? If it’s too much of a hassle, customers will look for your product or service with a company that makes life easier for them.

And when you just can’t deliver what they are asking. Let’s use the example of a late fee being assessed for late payment. If it’s the FIRST time this has happened with this customer – Do you stick to your “policy” and say “It’s after the 15th of the month, the fee stands as stated in our policy.” Or… can you work with your customer to improve the experience and say ” Because this is the first time we’ve run into this on your account, we can waive the late fee. There may be some ways to reduce the chances of this situation from happening again. We could set you up on automatic payment…”

Consider the news or information you need to convey from the customer perspective. Keep in mind they are likely not in your world or lingo nearly as often as you are. Are you going to confuse them, irritate them, or help them.

Just ask yourself – “If I didn’t know anything about this, how could it best be explained or implemented to keep this customer’s loyalty?”

Your thoughts?

 

Make Customer Service a Habit

Daily actions of Customer Service are what makes a difference in the minds of the people we work with. Both internally and externally, we serve to fulfill a need or obligation. Now, be honest… how often is the way we work with people simply a combination of “habit activities” we’ve designed in order to get us through the workday?

As the graphic points out… many of the functions and actions we perform every day are “thoughtless” processes or habits that we’ve developed to get us from Point A to Point B. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. But I’d like to make this into an opportunity to be systematically good.

My challenge to you is this… BE INTENTIONAL!

Develop habits and processes into your daily conversations and routines with customers that show them you are focused on them, focused on serving them, focused on acting in their best interest, and focused on partnering with them.

You can make this work for you in a few different ways…

  1.  Identify a set routine that focuses on getting your mindset right in working with others. Better yet, develop a Servant Leader attitude
  2. Develop a set routine of questions that are customer focused to help you understand the challenges your customer faces on a daily basis to discover how you or your company can better help them
  3. Deliberately decide on a few actions you’d like to turn into “mindless habits” that show your desire to be intentional and focused on others. Example… If you drive through a coffee shop daily on your way to work, make Tuesday’s your “Pay It Forward” day and buy a coffee for the person behind you.  When you make copies on the copier at work, always fill the paper tray to the top when you are done. etc.

The more intentional your actions are, the more impactful they’ll be. By intentionally doing the right thing, making a positive change, putting a smile on someone’s face and becoming so routine in these that they become habits, the better it is for everyone.

I know it sounds a little “Rosy Colored Glasses,” but really, who wants to look at the world through muddy glasses?

Personalize to Improve Your Customer Satisfaction & Make Your Customers Happy!

Improving customer service and profits… many companies make this so very complicated. Once you realize that you can design service into your processes, it makes much more sense. The magic happens when you’ve committed to the mindset and process required.

Here are a few strategies to get you started…

  • Make sure that you learn and USE your customer’s names at least once during your conversations. Even if it’s when you say goodbye… it makes an impact and sends the feeling of a relationship. Example: “It was nice catching up with you today, Kristina. I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon.”  “Thanks for calling with your question, Kristina. I’m always happy to help.”
  • Take an objective look in the mirror and ask yourself WHY people should like to do business or work with you. If you can’t think of many, you may want to think of what you need to focus on to make working with you desirable. Remember the saying… If you want friends, BE a friend. This same concept holds true in business as well. Want more clients/customers? BE friendly and NICE. The #1 reason people stop doing business with companies is because they are treated rudely and indifferently.
  • Go a little out of your way to show your customers/clients they are important to you and you value them. Ask them questions that show you care and are interested in what they are saying or about their industry/business.
  • “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” – Jimmy Johnson
  • Let them know in your conversation or email that you truly enjoy working with them and value their business. Most companies don’t do this and people notice on the rare occasion that it happens. This is your chance to stand out.

Remember to use these quotes and tips during…

  • The beginning or ending of any and all meetings – leadership, management, and staff
  • Huddles
  • Company or team bulletin board
  • Newsletter – either external or internal
  • Daily and / or weekly emails
  • Training sessions

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

Episode 15 – Written Communication Skills to Improve the Customer Experience

Once it’s in print, it’s ALWAYS in print. Any printed conversations – digital or paper and ink – with or ABOUT a customer live on for eternity. Because of this, we need to be extremely cautious and proactive about what is written to a customer and about the customer. Different topics regarding the length, the way to address your customers, who to include and not include, content of the email or letter, etc are all covered here. Don’t let your written communications be your downfall.  Listen here for more details…

Episode 14 – Telephone Skills That Improve the Customer Experience and Satisfaction

Almost every company in the world interacts with customers on the phone to some extent. But how many do it WELL? This podcast shares proven methods that will present your company in the most professional manner anytime a customer calls. The way you work with customers and callers over the phone forms an impression about your level of caring, knowledge, and professionalism. Let your phone skills show you value customer service within your organization. Listen here…

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