Transforming the Customer Experience

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Tips for Successful and Postive Customer Relationships

“Superior customer service can often fall to the wayside, lost in the midst of an overload of daily tasks, responsibilities and expectations. However, research studies have shown that customer service is the key to customer loyalty; not something to be overlooked or de-emphasized, especially in this economic climate.

Businesses need to value their customer relationships, listen to their clients, hear their concerns, and carefully plan and put in place ways to make sure their customers are satisfied.

More than likely, if a customer feels they receive poor service, that situation could be enough of a slip-up to make them switch to another company- often the competitor.

Business VoIP solution provider, Nextiva knows the importance of customer service. The company strives to enhance its service with each and every customer, so they feel satisfied with the service provided to come back in the future.” January 16, 2009,  Business VoIP Provider Nextiva Delivers Superior Customer Service, By Michelle Robart, TMCnet Editor

This article sums up the importance of the entire customer experience and the value that companies must put on their relationships with their customers.

The article goes on to state how the company strives to give 110% customer service in order to achieve the highest customer satisfaction rankings possible.

It is this mindset towards customer service that will carry successful far.  By focusing on the  relationship value with their customers, the are making it much more likely that their customers will return to them.

Think of any relationship.  What steps are involved to maintain successful relationships?  Successful communication and rapport leads to trust and loyalty.  Feedback is also essential in order to recognize how the relationship may be changing and to allow the necessary steps to be taken to strengthen it.

These are the same things that successful companies are doing, and must continue to do, in order to remain leaders in their fields.

Great Customer Service…. Do You Really Deliver It?

In so many of my conversations with business people, they are quick to agree that customer service is more important now than ever before.  The customer service that your company delivers can give you a huge advantage over your competitors.

One thing that I have noticed lately is that many people know when they receive good customer service, but they are not exactly sure if they themselves are delivering it.

One way to determine this is to ask for feedback from your customers.  Directly asking them will offer candid responses that may be the most genuine.  There are also comment cards and other methods that when properly used can offer helpful information as well.

Another way to quickly start the process of looking at your customer service abilities is by taking an objective look at your processes in your organization.  Look at things through your customer’s perspective and determine if you are making things as easy and efficient as possible for them.  Does your phone system work for or against your customers?  Can you streamline any processes and cut delivery times?  Do you have an area in which you can have confidential conversations when necessary with customers?  Are your team members ingrained with the mindset of satisfying your customers at all costs?  In your business, how would you define the absolute best scenario for an interaction?  Once you have done that, motivate all team members to strive for that.

Look at your minimum standard expectations that you have for your services currently and better them wherever possible.  It may be something along the lines of “Delivery is promised in five days.”  Is there any possibility of changing that goal to four days?  “All calls will be returned by the end of the business day.”  What about striving to return all calls within three hours?  Little things like these can send large messages of service to your customers.

It really only takes you looking at a situation and deciding how you would like to be treated as the customer.  Make the small changes immediately and the larger ones can always be a work in progress.  As long as you are looking to impress your customers, increase their satisfaction, you will win not only their business, but their loyalty as well.

Offer Up Your Help…… Connect the Dots for Your Customer

I just had two very completely different experiences with two stores.  I was on the phone trying to locate two books for my son.  The library does not carry this series, so my son wanted to purchase them.  I telephoned a large mega store in the area.  After being transferred only once, I was able to speak with someone in the book department.  I specified which books I needed.  He told me that they were out of the first book.  I asked if they had the second one. He said that he didn’t see it on their computer at all.  I asked if they would be ordering any more of the first book.  He said that they would.  I asked when I could hope it would be in the store.  He said perhaps within the next week.

I then called a national chain book retailer and was connected with a bookseller.  I specified which books I was looking for.  He said that they did have a few of the first book, but did not have the second one.  He then asked me if I wanted to have him order the second book for me.  I told him yes, then I asked him how long he could hold the first book for me since the weather is so cold and it is a 30 minute drive to their store.  He asked if four days would work for me.  I told him it would.

Two different stores, two different scenarios.  The first store was not a bad experience, but the second store made life so much easier for me.  The clerk informed me how many they had, offered to order more of the second one, then offered to hold the book for me for a time he hoped would work for me.  I did not have to ask him more than two questions in the entire process.

My point is this,  you know that your customers are in need of something if they call or come into your business.  Offer up the options and suggestions that will help them make their buying decisions.  The easier you can make it on your customers, the happier they will be.

We Are All in Sales….. Like It or Not

The perception of your company’s customer service is only as strong as it’s weakest link.  Where ever that weak link is, that is the point where your customer will make the decision to stay with you or go elsewhere.

Today I’d like to address a point that so many of us forget from time to time……  No matter what your position, you are a salesperson for your company.  The service that you give your customers is a direct reflection on your organization as a whole.  Even the delivery people, phone operators, front desk personnel, everyone who even briefly comes into contact with customers is in sales.  We are all selling the perception of service and relationships in our interactions.

Companies that have truly successful customer relationships have embraced some sort of a corporate culture that ingrains excellent service.  Be it a decision to give a brief warm smile each and every time they pass a customer on the floor, to  developing a service oriented scripted response, each and every interaction gets filed into your customers mind.  All of these interactions form the feelings that the customers get when they interact with your company at any level.

Be sure that everyone in your organization knows the service culture that is desired.  Be sure that they know what is expected of them and give them the tools to deliver that.  One sure way to undermine the best service standards is to have some staff that don’t deliver them.  Make sure that your phone staff, your support staff, your delivery personnel, your sales team, everyone in your company has the same customer service standards.

When the service standards are consistent throughout your organization,  you will set yourself apart as the service leader in your industry.

Patience is a Virtue!

I just wanted to dedicate a special blog post to the folks at GoDaddy.com.  I spent almost two hours on the phone with tech support at GoDaddy.com today with some issues regarding my email account.  Doug, the tech, was more patient that I would have expected. I had already spent quite a bit of time on the phone with a friend of mine regarding this issue and was already frustrated by the time I was in contact with GoDaddy.

Let me start off by saying Customer Service is my game, not computers or anything that it takes to make them work.  So, I do know enough to make me dangerous, but not entirely effective.  Doug walked me through the different settings on my account with the patience of a saint.  He checked and rechecked all of my settings through their system, some of the settings on my computer, and offered more suggestions that I could follow once we were off of the phone.

Doug’s patience and appreciation for my lack of technical savviness clearly came through in his layman’s explanations of what he thought the challenges were.

The bottom line is, customer satisfaction levels will soar when you have people on your teams that can quickly identify with the perspective of the customer.  If you are flexible in your explanations, chances are that your customers will have a better understanding of what your company does and how to address different challenges.

Again, hats off to Doug and the folks at GoDaddy.com!

Resolutions for Excellent Customer Service

Customer service

“Our second resolution is for businesses, including the Craig Daily Press: Remember how important customer service is to success.

Many local businesses have worked in 2008 to boost up customer service, but there always is room for improvement in this area.

We urge everyone to keep moving forward in delivering excellent customer service, no matter the business or industry. When we do, we all win.”

I ran across this article the other day and thought that this was a wonderful way to be proactive for the new year.  There are so many ways that companies and businesses can win loyal customers and so many customers that will reward them with their patronage and dollars.  It actually turns out to be a highly reciprocal process.  As stated in the quote – we all win.

My wish for you all in the new year is to Focus On Your Customers and have a Happy and Prosperous 2009!

Where is the Service for the Customer?

I ran across an interesting situation the other day.  My son received the 5th Harry Potter book as a Christmas gift.  Since he is currently reading that book, I took it back to exchange it at a large local bookseller for the 6th book in the series.  I had the receipt that showed the book cost $9.99 but was on sale for 25% off.  I took the new book, the book I wanted to return, and the receipt to the cashier.  She then informed me that I would need to pay the balance of $2.53.  I asked her why that would be, since the value of the new book was $9.99, as indicated on the sticker, the same as the book I was exchanging it for.  She explained that the new book was not on sale and that the store would be losing money.  I showed her that the books were in the same series, the same original price.  It should be an even exchange.  She refused to do so.  The woman behind me in line plead my case as well, but to no avail.

So, because this cashier could not see from the customer’s perspective how this was confusing, she managed to collect the $2.53, but has now lost a customer to the store.  In a previous blog, I wrote about taking into account the lifetime value of a customer.  This book store had the potential to win me over because I am an avid reader, it is a very nice store with a huge selection of books, has a great cafe and sandwich shoppe right inside, and is a nice environment.  However, all of those extra niceties, which are all very expensive to maintain, are lost on me, a potential loyal customer, because of something that costs nothing – excellent service in putting the customer first.  The stores that have the highest customer satisfaction levels are those that recognize situations from the customer’s perspective and work within guidelines.

Excellent Customer Service is Where It’s At

To survive and prosper in today’s environment, and to advantage of opportunities when better times return organizations should change their cultures to growing, tending, and replanting their customers, rather than slashing-and-burning them. They should treat every one who has done or is doing business or could do business as golden, because they are: it is their gold they are spending. They should also welcome each opportunity to interact with customers and prospects as their lives depend on it, because they do. A firm is as only as good as its last interaction, sales, and product made, delivered, and used.To Get Through Crisis Serve, Not Burn, Customers, By Brendan B. Read, December 15, 2008

The above quote is taken from an article in CRM Daily.  It serves as an accurate reminder of how important the service we provide to customers truly is.  Our business lives depend on our customers and the second we forget that, we risk the failure of our business.

No matter what your title is, you are in the field of Customer Service.  The operative word here is SERVICE.  According to dictionary.reference.com, one of the definitions of the word “SERVE” as a verb is – to render assistance; be of use; help.  This definition needs to be in the forefront of our minds each and every time that we interact with our customers, either in person, by phone, or via the web.

Our product or service is filling the need of our customer.  We need to make the process for the customer as easy as possible and MUST do everything that we can to help our customers through our processes and systems.

By doing everything that we possibly can to exceed the needs of our customers, we dramatically increase our retention percentages.  It has been documented that a two percent increase in customer retention has the same impact on our bottom lines as cutting costs by 10%.  In the long run, that means more jobs and company expansion.  Also remember that your retained customers are going to be a referral source for your company.  If you impress them, they will pass that message along to those who matter.

Excellent customer service is not simply meeting the needs and expectations of your customers.  You must find ways to exceed their expectations and experience as often as possible.  What is new today will become tomorrows standard expectation.  Keep looking at everything in your organization and double and triple check each process to ensure that it is keeping the Customer Centric at all times.

Follow Up and Follow Through to Your Customer’s Hearts and Loyalty

Follow up and follow through are two completely different things, but both can make or break the relationship that you have with your customers.

I have a personal example that will demonstrate both dynamics.

I belong to the local Chamber of Commerce.  Through this association, I am supposed to receive a discount on various products at Office Depot.  Recently, I signed up for the discount program through the Chamber and was told by the contact at Office Depot that everything was set and once they ran my credit card through the machine at the store, I would then receive the discount.

While I was at the store, I noticed some office furniture that I felt was worth considering.  I asked the store manager if there was a discount. He explained that he would have to run my card through and then void the transaction. He ran the card through with the purchase tags and the totals came in at around $1,000.  No discount came through, but the manager said that he did not think furniture was discounted.  I then went to purchase the supplies that I needed.  The transaction total was $176.00, my card ran through, no discount.  Since it was around 8:00 pm, I could not contact my Office Depot coordinator and asked the cashier to void the transaction and that I would return the following day.  I assumed that perhaps the paperwork and the computers needed time to get all of my membership information matched up still to receive the discount.  I was led to believe that there would be as much as a 50% discount on most of the products I was purchasing.

The next morning, I contacted the Office Depot coordinator and explained the situation.  He apologized and explained that there had been a glitch in the setup, but that it should be resolved now.  I explained that it is a 30 minute drive for me to the store and that I needed to be certain that everything was set up. He told me that he would verify that it was.  He followed up by calling me back within 30 minutes and told me that the computer showed that everything was activated and that there should be no issues.

I headed back to Office Depot and my purchases, still in the basket from the night before, were rung up again.  However, this time when my card was run through the machine, it was declined.  Now, completely irritated and perplexed, I just gave my personal credit card to use to get the supplies I needed for a workshop that night.  My drive home left me worried that someone had stolen my corporate credit card number and maxed it to the limit, or that somehow I had exceeded my limit which I believed to be quite high.

Upon arriving at home, I contacted my corporate credit card bank and was informed that they had frozen the account because they had two purchases late the night before at Office Depot, one for over $1000 and the next for $200 within five minutes of each other.  That crossed their security lines and they froze the card.  That meant that when the manager rang up the furniture, he had never voided the transaction. That also meant that the second transaction that night had not been voided.  The credit card company told me that Office Depot would have to contact the credit card company themselves to void the transactions.  It also meant that I still had not received my discount.

At least the card had not been compromised, but now I had nearly $200 on my personal card that I would have to expense to my company, and had wasted an extra 2 hours in driving time and time spent in the store.  I contacted my connection to Office Depot and he apologized for everything.  I asked him to please contact the store manager to have them void the transactions from the night before and to see what they could do about refunding me for the discount I never received.

This incident happened one month ago.  To this date, I have never heard a word from Office Depot.  I had to contact the credit card company myself to verify that the charges had been voided, which they had.  I have not heard a word from my contact through the Chamber about the discount that I never received.  The only thing that I received was the Office Depot catalog and his business card.  At the very least, I expected a sticky note acknowledging that things had been taken care of and to apologize again for the extreme inconvenience and expense.

Because of this, I am actively purchasing my supplies at other office supply stores.  Because of the lack of follow through to reassure me that the charges had been voided and to credit me the discount that I should have received with my membership, it tells me that Office Depot clearly does not value customer loyalty.

To follow through means to make sure that all of the dots in a process are connected and that the customer is informed every logical step of the way. It also means fulfilling responsibilities so that the customer is not inconvenienced.  Remember, I had to contact the credit card company to make sure that the charges were voided.  That should have been done by the store manager, who then should have contacted me to tell me that it had been voided and to apologize for not voiding the charge in the first place.

Companies that look out for their customers as part of their corporate culture and make life as easy as possible for them are the ones that are known for their superior customer service.  They also experience the highest customer satisfaction ratings, which in turn leads to higher customer retention, which in turn leads to higher referrals, which leads to an increase in profits.

The main point here after this lengthy example is that when you say you will do something, do it.  If you sense that there has been an issue, follow through to make sure that everything was completed in the best interest of your customer.  They will thank you for it by returning to your company again and again.

Make Yourself Unique with Service!

Customer service is the way to distinguish your organization from your competitors.  Find ways to surprise and delight your customers.  “It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.” – James C. Penny.

I recently had lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen.  My friend and I enjoyed our salads and shortly after we were done, our pizzas arrived.  We had been enjoying a day of shopping and girl talk and had not noticed time passing.  Imagine our pleasant surprise when our server approached our table and informed us that she had spoken to her manager about what she felt was too long of a wait for our pizzas to arrive at our table.  The manager and server both felt that we should have been served sooner and offered us either a free dessert or 20% off of our bill.  Needless to say, we were impressed with the fact that the service had been great to begin with, but to have her looking out for us and feel that they could have done even better made us feel like valued customers.

Another example –

Last weekend I was at a speaker’s conference in Los Angeles and had ordered a “Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte” at the Starbucks located in the hotel lobby.  The manager joked with me about the fun being gone from the drink and happily made it for me.  She did notice when it was ready that it wasn’t quite hot enough, so she had the barista make me another one right away.  I thanked her for looking out for me and took my drink.  As I was walking through the lobby, another guest was rushing past me and knocked the latte right out of my hands before I had even taken my first sip!  She was in such a hurry that she didn’t even know that the drink had gone flying all over the floor.  After the hotel staff had empathetically cleaned up the mess, I headed back to the Starbucks to purchase yet another coffee.  The manager jokingly asked if I had already finished my drink.  I explained to her what had happened and that I was back to purchase another one.  She was not behind the bar at that time and I did not notice her actions, so imagine my pleasant surprise when she quickly handed me another drink exactly the same as the first one at no charge.  I thanked her profusely and left a tip in the box.

The point to these stories is that the end result was clearly not expected.  Truth be told, I did secretly hope to receive another latte from Starbucks, but it was not expected in the least.  When providers present their customers with unexpected service, such as a replacement or discount for something they perceive as not serving the customer well, it leaves a lasting positive impression.  That is the way the companies raise customer satisfaction levels and retention.

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