Transforming the Customer Experience

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How Bad Customer Service Slashes Your Sales and What to Do About It

Bad customer service – we’ve all experienced it. The receptionist that seems impatient with us on the phone. The server at the restaurant that is condescending and rude, thus ruining our dining experience. The clerk at the store that seems to think we are invisible and rolls her eyes when we actively try to get her attention.

Poor customer service is rampant these days. It’s one of the most vocalized complaints on Facebook and Twitter. Business leaders and owners know that it is a big issue, yet few take any action to correct it, much less know HOW to correct it. They tell themselves that the offenders “are really very good people.” “They’ve been with us forever.” “They have a lot going on in their personal lives.” “It’s just a phase.”

While most of us dislike having to face negative facts, we just have to. The impact of poor customer service on your business is more than just the occasional upset customer.

Customers leave because of bad service. That’s it. Plain and simple. 70% of your lost customers have stopped doing business with you simply because someone within your company treated them rudely, indifferently, or barely acknowledged them. It has nothing to do with your product or price. Someone just didn’t deliver a smile, use their name, or engage. They just processed them through your system.

It lowers the standard of customer service in your company. No matter how well you train your staff, if you allow poor service to continue by one or more of your employees, it will slowly erode the level of service experienced by your customers.  The coworkers of negative employees will slowly start to slip in their own actions and will likely display lower levels of service than their norm. By allowing poor service to continue, you send the message to your staff that the customer experience and service skills are not important enough for you to address.

You’ll lose your best employees. The employees that are the best representatives for your company and pride themselves on the way they help your customers will soon be so uncomfortable in the environment that they will seek employment in a different department or, worse yet, another company. These are the people your customers know, like, and trust and want to continue working with. Once they leave, you’ll also lose some customers.

What to do about it…

Train Well. Be sure that you have clearly identified customer service level expectations and specifically train your staff how achieve these standards.

Coach to Success. Should you identify someone not meeting these minimum expectations, immediately be proactive and coach them on the necessary skills to guide them.

Free Up Their Future. Sometimes folks just can’t consistently meet the minimum expectations of customer service. After you’ve coached them with unsatisfactory improvement, you must help them find another position, preferably in another company. These are hard conversations to have, but your profits depend on them. You’ll also notice morale will quickly increase in the impacted department.

For help on training your staff to deliver great customer service consistently, my Excellent Service Skills: Start to Finish training package will give you everything you need, step by step. Don’t let the service your staff delivers drive customers away. Let your service reputation be the reason your customers WANT to do business with you.

Best Way to Handle Upset Customers? Show Genuine Empathy

Improving customer service in the way we handle customer complaints will serve you well. We’ve all had those customers that come looking for an argument when an issue arises. The number one way to win them over?

Use empathy. Most of the time, customers simply want someone to genuinely listen to them and understand their perspective. Empathy is the perfect way to do this. Notice I didn’t say sympathy. That can suck you in emotionally and cloud your judgment and resolution skills. Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Customer satisfaction levels can actually increase based on how companies handle customer complaints. A problem or issue does not define the staff or the company. How the company handles the issue DOES define them. Customer complaints often stem from the customer not feeling understood. They feel they are being treated like a number or a widget, not like a real person with real frustrations when issues arise.

Feelings of alienation set in when customers don’t feel listened to. When the statements “It’s our policy to…” or “It’s not our policy to do that.” comes into play, any relationship that has been built with that customer will be damaged.

Ultimately, the customer will take their business and their dollars to your competitors that have made customer service a top priority.

In order to resolve issues and keep your customers, respond to issues quickly with empathy. Your customers simply want to feel validated in their frustrations. When a product does not function properly or a commitment was not met, listen to the customer and their frustrations. It is necessary to state that their frustration with the situation is understood. It is an inconvenience for the customer to even have to pick up the phone and make the call to your company, much less hassle over how to resolve it.

Once the inconvenience and frustration has been handled with empathy, then resolve the issue in the best interest of the customer. Upgrade them to the next product level, if possible, to make up for the inconvenience and time involved. Express ship or deliver them a new product at no expense to the customer. Perform the service again and make sure that the original issues are taken care of.

Or, the ultimate loyalty builder, purchase the service or product from one of your competitors and deliver it to your customers at no charge. This may sound extreme, but if you are determined to have service be defining factor, what better way to exceed the customer’s expectations than by doing right by your customer – no matter what. By putting the customer’s best interest first and resolving it to their benefit, you will exceed their expectations, delight them, and earn their continued loyalty.

Those customers that have had issues that have been well handled will be stronger proponents of your business than those who were satisfied and had no complaints in the first place.

I’d love to hear your thoughts below…

Customer Reward Programs Gone Bad

Don’t hoodwink your customers!  It’s not a good business practice , it’s terrible customer service, and it’s just morally the wrong thing to do.aeroplan

Usually on Monday’s I try to find an upbeat story to blog about.  But, I found this story and it really bothers me.

The original story can be found here for you to read.

In a nutshell, the story tells of a woman who has had a rough few years recently with major health issues and wanted to get a change of scenery by taking a vacation.  When she went to redeem her credit card miles she had earned over several years, she was told that the points were now expired.  According to the story, the reward system was changed a few years ago, but inadequately explained to customers in the program.  There are so many customers impacted by this and not informed that there is now a class action lawsuit to reinstate the lost points to customers.

Before anyone gets really upset with my stance on this, I want to say that I recognize that there are many situations where companies must make unpopular decisions based on the economic stability of the business.  There are also guidelines and rules that follow most reward programs and there is responsibility on the consumer’s part to understand these when they partake.

My thoughts…..  This company should reinstate any lost points to all customers until an arbitrary date… let’s say March 1.  Then, in the next 40 days, it should make an all out effort to clearly and repeatedly explain the program changes to any and all customers enrolled in the program.  Educate them on how to make the most of the points they currently hold and how they will be used in the future.

If business is down and you realize the program is costing you more than you anticipated, stay on top of things, be honorable, come clean with your customers and find a way to work with them.

It angers me when companies make changes and hide behind the small print claiming that they informed customers of changes.  Customers are the lifeblood of your business and many of them do business with you because of the promises you make.  When you change the game plan, that’s fine.  Just be sure that you inform and educate those that are funding your programs and business – your customers.  To not do so is just playing dirty and being cowardly.

Is it just me that is angered by this?

Lego Connects More Than Blocks – It Connects People Through Excellent Customer Service

Connecting with customers is essential to customer loyalty and satisfaction.  It takes a special company, and a special representative, to really make that connection one that makes the news and touches hearts.

Luka is a little boy at the age of 7, but is the customer in this case.  He saved up all of his money and bought a special Lego set.  After taking one of the Lego characters to the store, it unfortunately was lost.  These things happen.  But, Luke wasn’t about to give up.  He wrote a letter to Lego to see if he could get a replacement.

Now, so far, this story isn’t too special.  Yes, he’s a cute kid and many kids and customers write letters to companies when they need some help.

What is so special about this story is the response that he received from Lego. Here is a copy of that letter he received from Lego’s superstar representative Richard.  Richard wrote that he had spoken to Sensei Wu, a master from the  Ninjago line.

Luka,

I told Sensei Wu that losing your Jay minifigure was purely an accident and that you would never ever ever let it happen ever again.

He told me to tell you, “Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago minifigures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu!”

Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you because anyone that saves their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan.

So, I hope you enjoy your Jay minifigure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay minifigure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight!

Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your minifigures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your dad.

Not many companies bother to respond to letters, much less respond on such a personal level.  This is a stellar example of not only following up, but following up consistently with the branding of the company and making a true connection with the customer.  You bet your last dollar that Luka and most folks that read this story won’t go out of their way to do business with Lego or buy their products at the next opportunity to do so.

Bottom line…  When you get a letter from a customer, respond to it.  And don’t bother to send a canned response.  Folks just don’t like those.  Go ahead and use a framework response if needed, but customize it as much as possible.  Use the sender’s name and reference their specific issue in the way they described it, not just your internal “issue or reference number.”

How many of you can site an example as great as this one?  Unfortunately, I bet it won’t be too many of you.  If you have one, no matter what role you played in the situation as the customer or company, please share below…  I love hearing stories and examples of companies that do things well.
If you’d like to read the original article, click here, then come back and leave your comments below here on this page…

A Lesson In Customer Service… A Tale of One City

I just came across an article that highlights what can, and hopefully should, happen when you start responding to what your customers really want.

In League City, the municipality started fixing the concrete sidewalks that so many of the residents had been complaining about for quite a while.  This, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing.  The people/customers voiced their concerns  – – the city/business responded by giving them what they wanted.

What they didn’t realize was that once people saw that the sidewalks were being repaired, they started calling about other things they wanted done as well.  This has now caused somewhat of a “Honey Do List” for the municipality.

If they handle this right, they will have one of the most well run cities in the country.  What is happening is that the residents found that the local government was responsive to the needs of the residents and acted upon their input.  Since the residents pay the taxes that run the local government, then they should have a fair amount of say in how things are done.

You know where I’m going with this.  Since your customers are the ones that literally pay your salary and operating costs, they should have a fair amount of input as to what you should consider doing when operating your business.

I’ll bet that the municipality will from time to time grumble about the workload, but once these suggestions or complaints are handled one by one, I’ll venture that they will have a much more highly engaged group of citizens that will stand behind them.  Even through some of the tougher decisions as well.

The same holds true for your business. Customer engagement breeds higher customer satisfaction and retention levels by the responsiveness you show them.

3 Tips to Handle an Unhappy Customer

The unhappy customer who is complaining

We’ve all had them.  Some yell, some cause a scene, some silently simmer.  Believe it or not, it is a very good thing to have a customer that is unhappy because you have the opportunity to regain their trust and even turn them into one of your most loyal customers ever.

Many customers tell us that they will even spend more money with us the next time they return after we’ve handled a complaint better than they ever would have expected someone to do.

So before you start to panic when that next unhappy customer storms into your office or calls you on the phone and has already told the receptionist that they are very upset, stay calm and follow these simple steps.

1)   Apologize Immediately

Even if you aren’t at fault, the apology is crucial.  Now keep in mind, it is very possible to apologize without taking the blame.  Everyone who has ever felt wronged really wants to hear a genuine apology.  When you or someone in your company has made a mistake, it goes without saying that you need to accept responsibility and apologize.

“Mrs. Smith, I’m so truly sorry that I forgot to file those papers on time.”

In the case when it is not your fault, or even the customer’s fault, and they’ve contacted you to vent or to resolve the issue, here is my suggested wording…

“Mrs. Smith, I’m so sorry that this situation is happening.”

Many times it is the customer themselves that is causing the situation to go south.  Be sure not to point this out to them.  You can re-educate them during the follow up.  For now, only apologies will be accepted by the customer.

2)  Use Empathy

Empathy is the golden piece of this equation.  Saying sorry is a great start, but it simply isn’t enough.  The customer appreciates the apology, but they really want to know that you feel their pain.  Keep in mind that the customer is usually more irritated by the need and time necessary to resolve the situation than the issue itself.

“I know it is really frustrating when the process is delayed due to paperwork and logisitics.  You wanted to get this taken care of and now you are forced to wait.  I’m sorry.”

The main thing here is to let the customer know that you feel their pain and that you would most likely feel the same way if you were in their shoes.  That’s what they need at this point.  You won’t be able to fix the problem until you understand their perspective.  This step does that.

3)  Make it Better Than Right

This is when you show your customers that you are in it to win it and keep their business. Not only do you need to fix the problem, you need to do it in a way that not only makes up for the initial problem, but also makes the customer feel good about it.  My suggestion is to offer the customer no more than three solutions, all of which you are confident will work in their best interest.  Your customer will be left with the feeling that they’ve made out better in the end than if there were no problem in the first place.

Should you find yourself challenged to come up with an acceptable fix, simply ask the customer what they would like to see happen.  You’ll be surprised to see how reasonable they actually will be.  Often times, they’ll ask for far less than you were prepared to have to offer.

Bonus Tip – Follow Up Wins Every Time

This is your time to shine.  Not only have you fixed the problem to their satisfaction, now you are going to go the extra mile to truly show how much you appreciate their business.  You are going to call them within a few days to again apologize for the situation happening and to find out how they are doing with the resolution. This is when they will thank you for the follow up, your help in resolving the issue, and really give you some honest feedback that you can apply.

Believe me when I tell you that none of your competition is doing this.  They don’t feel that it’s worth the time. Or they think it’s important, but they don’t make the time.  Service is the best and most cost effective way to set yourself apart and this one step alone has huge payoffs.

This may also be the time that you discover the resolution did not work or they are still not happy.   Go through the process again and work with them until they are.

I’d love to hear about any companies that you feel do go above and beyond in how they handle their customer complaints.

Could You Be Missing This One Idea to Have More Satisfied Customers?

Customer Satisfaction – How Much Are You Willing to Do?

This has been the hottest 12 months in recorded history.  As some of you have been letting me know, your sales are either the best or the worst these past 12 months in your recorded history.

I’ve been suggesting a way to determine how in tune you are to the requests of your customers and many of you have found that it is getting great results.

Keep track of every customer question that you or someone on your team says “No” to.  Now, write these requests and questions down and put them into two categories….

“CAN’T” – –  These are the requests that are simply not cost effective, outside of your business model, not enough demand, truly can’t obtain the product to sell, or for some reason you truly can’t fill the request.

“DON’T / WON’T” – – These are the requests that you should really investigate as to the practicality of providing.  Those that have done this exercise found that there really wasn’t a good reason for not fulfilling the request.  Many found that by simply asking their team, or suppliers, that they could indeed fulfill the request and increase the satisfaction of their customers.

The telling question for the “DON’T / WON’T” category is….  I know that we don’t do this right now, but if we really wanted to provide this, what would need to happen on our end?  Once you and your teams answer this question, you’ve most likely got the buy in to deliver your customers exactly what they are looking for.  And we all know what that means….  more repeat business, loyal customers, and higher profits.

Customer Complaint Resolution – A Fishy Restaurant Tale

Resolving a customer complaint isn’t just about handling the issue, it’s the way you handle the issue. Customer satisfaction and customer retention depends on it.  Here is how one unsuspecting restaurant lost a customer for life.

My family and I were on a weekend getaway in northern Michigan and stopped in at a restaurant to enjoy some dinner.  Since I have a younger child, we always get the child’s menu plus some regular menus.  My daughter ordered the fish and chips off the children’s menu for $ 4.99.  My husband and my older son ordered the fish and chips off the regular menu for $14.99.  It was a nicer restaurant right on the water and we were really enjoying the experience.  The server engaged us and was quite attentive.

When the meals arrived, we instantly were put off.  My daughter’s plate had one piece of fish and french fries.  My husband’s and son’s plate each had two pieces of fish identical to my daughters and french fries.  We could have ordered two children’s meals each for my husband and son, received the same amount of food, and saved $ 4.99.

In the first place, the pieces of fish were not that large and was not enough to satisfy anyone that would order a meal off the regular menu.  The second issue was the price difference did not justify the quantity of food.

The server graciously sent the manager to our table.  We explained how we thought there would be a bit more fish on the plate, especially due to the price. We explained the math I presented above. Her response was “I’ll get you some more fish.  I don’t want you to leave hungry.”  When she returned, she provided only one piece of fish for my husband, not for my son.  When we asked for him to have another piece as well, she agreed but was clearly irritated.

My point is this… When customers voice a concern, really try  to understand it.  Customers have a level of expectation that they internally monitor based on the type of store/restaurant/facility factored in with occasion and price points. While some customers are unreasonable, most are not.  Most simply want to be understood and typically have a very good point that deserves to be considered.

While this manager “solved” the problem by bringing more food, she failed to understand the issue from the customer perspective.  The feeling that was in our minds was that we were trying to get something for nothing or receive special treatment.  She didn’t try to understand that there simply was not enough of the protein on the plate to satisfy anyone over the age of 14, aside from the fact that it was simply double the child’s portion at triple the cost.

While everything else about the restaurant really was very nice, we were left with such a sour taste in our mouths, there is no way we will ever go back there.

Now, we fell into the typical business to customer situation.  We didn’t tell the manager that we were so disappointed for two reasons – 1) We were really enjoying ourselves otherwise and didn’t want to spend more time there than necessary.  2) We didn’t think she would ever get it.

How many of you, as business leaders/owners/and managers really train your teams to understand and resolve customer complaints?  How many of you train your teams about not just what to do, but how to do it?  This customer complaint lack of resolution altered our ultimate customer experience.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please share below.

Customer Complaints Shuffled Off to a 3rd Party?

Customer Complaints? Don’t Push Them Off

I recently came across an article that had the perspective that an answering service is a helpful way to diffuse customer complaints.  The article, Why An Answering Service is an Excellent Option to Diffuse Customer Dissatisfaction stated that having a 3rd party resource to handle complaints would be advantageous to customers calling outside of normal business hours or for the smaller businesses that may not have the resources.

Their premise is that customers would see how invested the company is in their customers that they are providing a resource for handling issues.

Please take a moment to read the article if you are so inclined.

My thoughts:

While I think the author was well intended, I strongly disagree that a third party is helpful in most situations.  Putting myself in the customer’s shoes, my immediate reaction is that I’m having to deal with an outside resource who will most likely not have the authority to fix my problem or offer a solution that is plausible.  Recently, many companies are using overseas resources to handle calls and complaints and customers have responded overwhelmingly that this is only adding to their frustration and irritation.

The best way to handle customer complaints is to plan for the resolution process internally.  The company itself, not a third party, should be listening to the customer and handling the issues.  The customer wants to know that they are being treated as a person, not a numbered consumer that will forever remain anonymous.  Internal resources must be properly trained on how to handle complaints, be genuinely empathetic, offer realistic and fair solutions, and follow up with the customer after the issue.  Depending on the size of the company, this may be assigned to a designated department, person, or be handled by the business owner themselves.

The only way to get around the impersonality of a third party is to be sure that they understand the way your business works inside and out.  They need to understand and have access to customer records or history to get a feel for the specific concern.  Above all else, they must be empowered to handle the complaint in a way that will more than satisfy the customer.  The customer will likely be already looking for a fight or frustrated by having to deal with an outside resource, but if handled correctly, it can be pulled off with the right resource.

In my personal experience, I’ve never found this to be the case.  I truly don’t mean to rant against this particular author or firm.  They may very well have excellent training and solutions for their customers.  I want to caution customer care teams and business leaders from taking the easy way out in regards to customer complaints.  They are an opportunity to make or break trust.  By all means, win that customer’s trust!

Okay, I’m off my soapbox.  How do you feel about having a third party, or an answering service, handle customer complaints?  Are there some areas you feel this would work?

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