Transforming the Customer Experience

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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.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Thank you , Thank you , Thank you

In real estate, we hear that success is all about three things, Location, location, and location.

If your, or your company’s, success depends on your customers (which they all do) three things to live (and grow by) are Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

It is amazing how many companies take their customers for granted.  Customers have many more options than they ever have before and most companies forget this.  The smart companies are the ones that recognize this and actually THANK their customers for doing business with them.

Most people have a much easier time remembering instances of poor customer service over excellent customer service.  The ones that do remember positive customer service experience usually tell the tale of receiving a thank you either in person or via a personal note.

“I buy all of my work wardrobe at Ann Taylor at the local mall.  I go in maybe three or four times a year.  Each time I do, the manager at the store spends time with me to see what I really need.  Once, I stopped by and told her that I would be in the next week to spend more time shopping.  She told me that she would hold out a few items in my size for me.  She even told me that it was good that I was coming in the next week since some things would be marked down and she would make note of those for me as well.  After my purchase the following week, she sent me a handwritten note, hand addressed and stamped, saying how happy she was to serve me again and was looking forward to the next time I stopped in.  Now, that is why I don’t shop at Macy’s or Banana Republic.  Carolyn has developed a relationship with me, almost to the point that I would feel guilty shopping anywhere else first.” – Michele L. – Michigan

I often meet clients at a local Panera Bread for informal meetings.  Once, while I was waiting for a client, I noticed a gentleman with two boxes of embossed Thank You notes that he was filling out and addressing.  I spoke with him about his cards, hoping he would tell me what he was doing.  I complimented him on the cards and asked him where I could purchase some.  He told me “I am sending these to all customers that are new to my business this month.  I am a fertilizer distributor and it is a competitive market.  I have had many clients tell me that they come back to me because I sent them a Thank You card after our first transaction.  I do this monthly because I want to truly thank my customers for coming to me.  I tell them that their business is important to me and that I value them and want to keep them coming back.”  He knew that his customer retention was due in large part to paying attention to how his customers felt when doing business with him.  How great his customers must feel to be thanked for doing business with him and his company.

One manager of a medical office in town would send Thank You cards to the new patients in their office.  She knew that there were plenty of other medical offices in town and she wanted to thank them for coming in to their office.  One of the patients told her how much it meant that she had taken the time and energy to send the note with a personal touch.

I was in a restaurant the other day and the server thanked us for coming in and dining with them.  She even went on to say “It was a pleasure to serve you today.  Please come back again soon!”  Now, you don’t hear that very often at all.

All of these stories are told to prove a point – people appreciate being valued and thanked as customers.

Saying “Thank You” was a common courtesy that we were all taught (or supposed to have been taught) as children.   Why is it that we have neglected to show manners to the ones that are paying us for our services or products?

Putting a personal touch will do more for your customer satisfaction levels than any amount of marketing you can do.  You will win these customers for life and they will become a lifetime referral source for you.

Remember, in the world of customer service satisfaction and service excellence…..EVERYTHING COUNTS!

Smaller Retailers CAN Prevail Over Their Larger Competitors with Relationship Building

In this article by John Tozzi, How Small Stores Can Lure Holiday Shoppers printed on September 25, 2008 by CRM Daily, it seems that smaller retailers are going to have an advantage over their larger competitors this holiday season.

In whatever market they’re targeting, small retailers need to court their best customers this holiday season. “During the next three months they need to maximize the one-on-one personal relationships that they have with customers,” says Daniel Butler, vice-president for retail operations at the National Retail Federation. “That is the secret weapon that small independents have against big national chains. If I’m savvy and communicate with my customers well, I can draw loyal customers into my store before they go into the national chains,” Butler says.

The retailers that see the same clientele on a regular basis have a huge advantage in developing relationships with their customers and clients.  Because they most likely travel in a close proximity of each other, store owners and customers may even find themselves knowing many of the same people and places.  They will find areas of commonality that will unknowingly build a rapport of familiarity.

Keep in mind, people aren’t buying just things from stores.  They are now aware that they are buying relationships.  With today’s consumers being more sophisticated and demanding than ever before, common sense customer service is not going to be enough.  Consumers today want to feel that they are part of a team and that the retailer is looking out for them.  While they recognize that the retailer needs to make a profit, customer satisfaction levels soar when retailers appear to take a genuine interest in the person they are serving, not just “xyz customer.”

Retailers can also gain a huge advantage by really looking at the buying signals of their preferred customers.

Once rapport has been established, it will be beneficial to the retailer to notice the cues the consumer is sending them.  Does this customer tend to buy more when hearing about the quality of something or when they are shown the actual product and how it works?  Do they tend to buy more when looking at the special invitation card sent to them, or because the retailer called them to invite them to a special event sale?

At times, it can be a challenge to read a customer accurately.  In those cases, you want to answer their needs at any level possible.  Show them how it looks, tell them the benefits, and tell them how they will feel when the product delivers on its promise.

These strategies will increase customer satisfaction levels, customer loyalty, increase their referral rates, and most importantly to the retailers, will increase their profits and reputation.

Keep Social Networking Sites in Mind When Handling Your Customers

The article, How Companies Use Twitter To Bolster Their Brands by Rachael King appearing in CRM Daily.com just goes to show how powerful social networking sites actually are.

Keep in mind the statistics….  Happy customers tell four to five people about their experiences. On the other hand, dissatisfied customers tell nine to twelve people about their dissatisfaction.  To make it worse, the dissatisfied ones go out of their way to tell people.  Now, throw in the instant communication of Twitter and Facebook, and those numbers become exponentially important.

The damage that one or two disparaging remarks can make will need to be considered by all companies and organizations these days.  There just needs to be an intensified awareness as to what the ramifications can be, especially when handling a dissatisfaction issue.  The more immediate the response, the better.  That rush to make things right is more than likely to show up on Twitter or a blog that is read by many.

As the article states, companies often have personnel dedicated to monitoring the remarks made about them on the social networking sites.  Most of them use these personnel to identify issues that they wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of.  Most would agree that they would rather have the customer inform them of negative issues before broadcasting them on the internet, but if they are smart, their prompt and effective follow up will also be reported.

Hopefully, more and more companies will recognize that in today’s market, customers are more demanding and sophisticated than ever before.  They will  report their satisfaction levels to their networks, but their dissatisfaction will also be instantly broadcast.  The smart companies will use this to their advantage and do everything possible to make it known that they will make the customer happy…. no matter what.

How Much Does a Bad Attitude in Customer Service Cost You?

We’ve all had bad days.  The car wouldn’t start, the kids were slow in getting ready and caused you to be late for a meeting, you overslept, you had an argument with a loved one…..  All of these are valid reasons for having a bad attitude… but only your model of the world.  If these reasons cause you to have a bad attitude in the eyes of your customer, it could cost you dearly.

Take, for example, these statistics quoted just last week in  CRM Weekly – Customer Disservice: How Much Is It Costing You? By Anna Thibodeaux September 1, 2008.

“According to a 2006 survey released by a group within the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a typical business only hears from 4 percent of its dissatisfied customers; the other 96 percent leave quietly. Of that 96 percent, 68 percent never reveal their dissatisfaction because they perceive an attitude of indifference in the owner, manager or employee.

But a typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to 10 people about their experience. One in five will tell 20.”

If you know the lifetime value of your customers, these numbers are astronomical.  The scariest part is that most businesses, according to the article above, don’t even know why the customers are leaving, so they are ignorant in how to fix sagging profits.  Statistics show us that a mere 2% increase in customer retention has the same impact as a 10% reduction in costs.

Be it the customer was given the wrong information, the snarky phone receptionist, the cashier or salesperson that appeared to be bothered by your mere presence, an attitude of indifference, any time the customer feels that you are not on their side, it will greatly impact the level of customer loyalty they feel.

Being on the side of your customer is the bare minimum requirement for customer service.  Often times, the customers will demand and expect much more than the bare minimum.  But, most of the time this is appreciated.  The article quoted above goes on to give further examples.

“Service is a huge defining element,” LeBlanc of Hello Sushi says. “You can have a five-star restaurant, but if it doesn’t have good service, what’s the reason to go back? Our guests are looking for something unique.”

That also means going the extra step, LeBlanc says. She recalls when a woman came into the restaurant with her 4-year-old granddaughter, who asked for milk. The restaurant doesn’t serve milk, but an employee slipped out to a nearby coffee shop, bought a glass of milk and brought it to the child at no charge.

“I don’t think you can go to school to learn service,” LeBlanc says. “If you don’t have the love, then it’s something that you won’t learn.”

This goes hand in hand with finding the right employees and staff that personify your corporate culture mindset.  This mindset must be geared toward customer service excellence if you wish to distinguish yourself from your competitors.  Remember, the customer really doesn’t care that much about your product or service that you provide.  They can get basically the same thing from your competitors. What they do care about is how they FEEL when they are involved with you and your organization.

First Impressions Count!

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.”

How true this is!  It takes only a few seconds for people to make a customer service judgment about you and your organization.  Make the first impression count in a positive way.  Here are a few of the top deal makers or breakers that you and your organization should live by:

* Acknowledge your customer as soon as possible – If this means that they are physically in your organization, smile and look them in the eye within the first 10 seconds of their presence.  Few things are more infuriating than waiting to be acknowledged by someone you are going to do business with.

*Verbally greet them with sincerity and ask them how you may help them today.  A genuine ” Thank you for coming in today. My name is _________.  How may I help you?” will do wonders for the service perception that your customer has about feeling welcomed into your organization.

*How does your place look?  Customers perceive sloppy surroundings as laziness and disrespectful.  It is easy to fall victim to becoming used to your environment and not noticing that things are deteriorating.  Things such as peeling wallpaper in lobbies, dead or dying plants, disheveled and/or old magazines, stains on chairs, and worn carpet in waiting areas speak volumes to the attention to detail that your organization will provide.  Look at the areas that your customer see with fresh eyes and be sure to pay attention the details.  On the flip side, pay close attention to the ares that your staff sees.  It is hard to expect staff to treat customers well when they are working in an environment that is not well kept as well.

“Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service” co-author Ron Zemke sums up these premise remarkably well with the following quote, “In service, everything communicates your style to customers.  The way you dress, the way you move, or whether you move at all instead of staying barricaded behind a desk or cash register.  The way you talk, the way you act when you’re not taking care of customers, but still within their view.  The way you take care of the person ahead of them in line.  All of these impressions add up to say, ‘I know what you need.  I can take care of that for you.’”

By keeping these basics in mind, you will see increased customer satisfaction levels among your clients.  They will feel that by paying attention to they way you treat them at the very beginning, you will pay attention to their need for coming to you in the first place.

Establishing Superior Customer Service is a PROCESS, not an Event

In speaking with many companies, I am frequently told “Oh, we have customer service under control. We put our staff through training when they are hired. We even have training programs that we occasionally have for our staff. They really enjoy those events.”

Holding Customer Service Training Programs for your staff is an excellent idea and the best way to reinforce the customer service mindset for your organization. But don’t lose sight of a crucial truth…… Establishing Superior Customer Service is a PROCESS, not an Event.

Customer service is the lifeblood of your business, no matter what product or service that you offer. Customer service situations need to be reviewed at every possible opportunity, preferably a staff or unit meeting. Focus on a few issues at each meeting.

When looking at situations that did not go smoothly, review them and look at other ways it could have been handled. Has the initial problem been resolved? Do you need to educate your customers regarding new procedures? How can this situation be prevented in the future?

Pay particular attention where things went well. What made it go so well? Was it the particular employee or customer? How specifically did they address the situation? Did they have a special technique to listen to the customer? Are there other areas that you can apply these same techniques to?

In both cases, learn from the situations and find ways to carry that learning over to other areas of your organization.

Even with technology and data, the human touch is critical

In a recent article by Joseph Michelli,  the benefits of being able to anticipate the needs of the customer and providing an exceptional experience were covered.  

The case was made that a company can have all of the data and technology in the world, but what distinguishes the successful companies is the customer experience.  In this article, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was held as one of the highest standards most companies strive toward.  

The hotel goes so far as to provide the favorite snacks and magazines of its guests, but also when it “selects” (not hires) their staff.  The newly selected staff members were treated to their favorite snacks and juices during their orientation.

When a company goes to these lengths, it is clear that the needs of all customers are considered, both internally and externally.  

Though data and technological feedback is extremely useful, the sure fire way to ensure customer satisfaction, customer retention, and customer loyalty is to put the needs of customer first, anticipate those needs, and to adopt a cultural mindset that will deliver the best customer service experience possible, no matter what.  Only by the human element will the extra mile be traveled to make the customer know that you care.  Customers really don’t care that much about your product or your service.  They can basically find the same thing you provide at your competitor.  What they do care about is how they feel when they are in your business or in your care.  That is where the difference is made and what separates the successful companies.

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