Transforming the Customer Experience

Category : Customer Experience Management

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Customer Service Skills Make an Impact on Profits

Small business owners are recognizing that delivering excellent customer service impacts their bottom line.

I was at a business conference last weekend and found it interesting that so many business leaders and owners were a bit surprised to realize the financial impact that delivering excellent customer service can make in their business – either positively or negatively.

Train your staff well.  Ingrain it into the DNA of your culture that the customer is the most important person in your business.  They are the ones paying your salaries and covering your business costs.

I’d love to hear your comments…….

On a side note, which would you prefer to see on this blog….. video posts, written posts… combination of the two?

What Responsiblity Does the Customer Have in Service?

Are customers responsible for the service they receive?

Unless you’ve been living in a literal cave for the past few days, you’ve all heard about Steven Slater.  He’s the Jet Blue airline attendant who blew his stack when a passenger “allegedly” deliberately hit his head with her oversized bag as he was trying to help her get it into the overhead compartment.  When she refused to apologize, he lost his cool, grabbed the microphone, swore over the speaker system, said “I’m done! I won’t take this anymore!” He then grabbed two beers, deployed the emergency chute from the plane, slid down it and was promptly arrested.

The real story is the feelings on both sides

So that’s the nuts and bolts of the story.  The fascinating part to me is the ensuing furor from both sides.  Many are calling Steven Slater a hero for the working class.  He was sick of being treated poorly by customers and finally told the world, or at least that plane full of passengers, how he felt about it all and quit.  There have been hundreds of blog posts about it, news stories, Fan Pages on Facebook, and more coverage than I’m sure he ever imagined possible.  Many are lauding him for having the guts to speak his mind where most of us are timid in fear of losing our jobs, or being required to “suck it up” by management.

Some have also criticized Slater for his actions.  He is in a position that is known for taking a certain amount of abuse from passengers.  Passengers are more and more upset everyday by fees and restrictions by airlines, so he should know that some are going to be more ornery than they used to be.  You could also say that he is being paid to do a job, therefore, he must do it with professionalism and grace.  As long as he chooses to remain employed by Jet Blue, or any employer for that matter, he should perform the required responsibilities and if he is unhappy with that, go find a job somewhere else doing something else.

Customers are EVERYWHERE

So if he did leave, does that mean that the new customers he is serving in his new position would be nicer?  No.  Customers are the lifeline of any business and, unfortunately, one belligerent customer can sour your whole day.  No matter how positive your mindset is and how genuinely you truly try to best serve your customers, there are some folks that you wish you could send to another planet.  There will always be those customers that we love to serve, and those that we wish did business somewhere else.  Ideally, our level of customer service needs to be excellent, all the time, every time, with every customer, in spite of the customer’s actions.

Here’s my take….

I do believe that there is a certain level of responsibility on the part of the customer that determines the attitudes of staff.  Communication is a two way street.  If I irritate a staff member to the point of distraction, I can easily see how the level of service I receive would go down.  I’d hope that the person would be able to maintain themselves, but if I’m annoying or rude, or in this case actually hit someone with something and didn’t apologize, I’d expect poor treatment.  Maybe not to the degree of this incident, but poor treatment would be the appropriate consequence for my actions.

Yes, Steven Slater has a job to do. He is required to do it and ensure the safety of the passengers.  He is not required to be a baggage handler, but to assist passengers.  I haven’t seen any interviews with other passengers who can back up the statement that she really did hit him on purpose, but I do think that she should have apologized for him being hit, even by accident.  By being stubborn and rude, she helped him reach his breaking point.

Customers need to recognize that overall, staff are doing things adequately and generally are not “out to get us.” We need to recognize that every transaction is a two-way street.  There is responsibility on both the consumer and the provider to act appropriately for the situation and transaction in order to make it successful and positive. When one side falters, the other will as well.  Unfortunately, the few unruly customers are the ones that put service providers on edge and in the mindset that there could always be a potential problem.

I think Steven Slater was appropriate in how he felt, but should not have acted out in the manner in which he did.  My recommendation would be to have had someone else handle that passenger and get her settled. Had that not been successful, then she should have been escorted off the plane. He is responsible to provide excellent customer service. He should know that there is a certain level of abuse that will come with the nature of his job.  But I don’t believe that he should be treated rudely, injured – even accidentally, and then not be apologized to.

I know, there are thousands of stories where service providers have been rude and have deserved the rude treatment they got from the customer or deservedly lost the business, but what are your thoughts on THIS particular incident?  What role does the customer have in the transaction?

Customer Service, Core Values, and Leadership – Walk the Walk

Here’s an excerpt from the action guide Creating a Customer Centric Culture that is soon to be launched.  I’m posting this not only to get your feedback, but also because it is the crux of several conversations I’ve had with clients this week.  We’ve been improving customer service training and focusing on customer satisfaction.  It all comes back to the way that you want customers to feel when doing business with your company.  The experience is what will keep them coming back or life, or what will lose them forever to your competition.

The focus of my conversation with clients this past week was to have the Core Values of the company transparent to everyone – staff and customers alike.  It is essential that everyone understand them in order to live by them and to best serve the customer and the company.  Leadership must be committed to this process and serve as the example in all areas.  Staff watch and learn at all times.  Yes, they even judge when we make mistakes.  The point is to lead by example because teams will do exactly what they see their leaders do.

Now that you have your Core Values, broadcast them to your teams.  Share these values with your staff.  Tell them that you value their efforts to uphold these values while interacting with customers and with each other.

Your staff will appreciate the fact that they know what is important to the organization.  They need to know this in order to know what is expected of them and how to best serve the customer and fulfill their own responsibilities.

During meetings and events, hang posters or banners with these core values on them. Some companies even go so far as to have cards with their ideal culture and core values printed and laminated for staff to carry with them at all times while at work.  If you are able to have these printed on your payroll, that is an excellent way to reinforce to your team that they are being compensated for their role in providing a customer centric culture and demonstrating the core values of the company.

While it may seem that they are being flooded with these core values, that is exactly the point.  They need to be the DNA of your company.  Staff needs to be able to recite these in their sleep, practice them, live them, teach them, and demonstrate them with customers.

Again, all of this is for naught without the commitment of the leadership team to exemplify, reinforce, and practice these core values.  You must talk the talk, and walk the walk.  It’s all about accountability and leadership by example.

How many times have you encountered leadership that has said one thing, but they themselves have done another or have not promoted the very ideals that the company has promoted?

Improving Customer Service – The Three Most Important Things

I recently had the privilege to interview Mark Sanborn, author and speaker about leadership, service strategy and turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. During our conversation, he gave me his answer that many of my clients and small business owners ask regarding trying to improve the customer experience through service.

KE: What are three things that every company or organization should be doing right away to improve customer service?

MS: Number 1 – I think all customer service is predicated on a simple idea. I think all business is predicated on a simple idea. Say what you’ll do and do what you say. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t create expectations you can’t fulfill. Make sure you’re every bit as good or better than you’re advertising. So No. 1, say what you’ll do and do what you say.

Number 2 – Treat customers like friends. That doesn’t mean you have to be their friend, it just means treat people like they’re friends. My friend Fred Shea, who I wrote about in my book The Fred Factor is an extraordinary postal carrier. I said to Fred, I said how is it you’re able to give such great service to all the customers on your route? Fred said, well I don’t think of them as customers, I just think of them as friends and it’s easy to take care of your friends.
I think that’s a pretty good guiding principle. If you want to know how to treat people, here’s a question, how do you treat your friends? Assuming you have some. We hopefully all do.

Number 3- The third thing is, and this one will really get the attention of management, compensate customers for mistakes you made. Don’t just say “Geez, I’m sorry.” We had a customer who, because of a snafu in our system didn’t receive something they ordered. We reshipped a second one even though the first one was on the way. Gave it to them for free and paid the shipping.
In other words, we didn’t just fix the mistake, we compensated them for the mistake. It’s not enough to just fix what was broke. You need to demonstrate your commitment to the customer. And by the way, when you do that and the data gets to management about the money you’ve had to spend to keep customers happy, that will certainly get their attention focused on service delivery.

KE: That’s right. When they see it coming out of their bottom line, they also understand that they could have done right the first time, too.

If you’d like to read the rest of the interview, please click on the resources tab and you’ll find both the ebook and audio versions of the Customer Centric Conversations.

EVERYTHING Counts in Customer Satisfaction

The other day my husband and I were driving down the street and we passed a local oil & lube shop. I made the comment that I like that place because they always have cute sayings on their marquee to get people to come and do business with them. The funniest was one they had last year – “The best looking oil change guys in town! Come see for yourself!” That was something that made me giggle and it was different than anything I’d seen anywhere else. When I think of it, it makes me smile because of that and it’s a good feeling. It had nothing to do with the customer service they deliver, the quality of their work or their prices, but it was a feeling generated through humor.

My husband, while amused by my memory of that marquee, has quite a different feeling about the same shop. He had met the owner of that oil & lube shop at a Christmas party in our neighborhood a few years ago. We were new to the area at the time and my husband said to the owner “Oh, you own that shop. I’ve got a Chrysler and am looking for someone local to do business with for minor repairs and oil changes.” The gentleman responded “Oh, Mopar parts. I don’t like working on those. They are always trouble to deal with.”

Guess where we’ve NEVER gone to get our oil changed, even though it’s less than 2 miles away from our house. Now, it has nothing do with the quality of their work, the timeliness in which they can change oil or their price. We’ve never even set foot in the store. It’s because of the negative feeling projected because of the car we owned. And it was in a social setting, not in any way related to business.

The one thing that I constantly blog and speak about is that buying decisions are based on emotion. If people don’t like the way they feel about you or around you, they won’t do business with you. Everything, tangible or not, will impact the customer experience. Even though this conversation had not taken place in the business setting, the experience fed into the feeling of confidence that customers need to have when doing business with us. The customer’s highest need is certainty, and this did nothing to help foster that.

Because the owner clearly told him he didn’t like working on Chrysler cars, my husband questioned the quality of work they would do. Really, it’s not too far of a stretch. If we don’t like doing something, we usually don’t tend to do our best at it.

Had this owner recognized the fact that he had a potential new customer in front of him, he may have used the following response “Welcome to the neighborhood! Make sure you come on by next time you need an oil change. We’d love to have you as a new customer.” Really, that is all it takes for most people to try a new place. An engaging feeling and a sense of value for the business customers bring to them. The words that we use make a big difference. The way we say things make a big difference. The way we communicate in any way with a customer makes a big difference. What we do and say consciously or not feeds into the feelings of the customer that make up the overall experience.

So when interacting with anyone at all, remember that in both professional and social settings, remember that everything counts.

Customer Satisfaction and Service Lessons Taught by my Hairdresser

As I was leaving my hair appointment yesterday, I wished I could send big businesses to Mary to learn about customer satisfaction,customer service skills, and training. She really makes it a wonderful customer experience. I realized why I’ve stayed with the same hair stylist for more than 7 years……

I ALWAYS leave with a smile on my face.  Yes, Mary always does a good job and her price is very reasonable, but it’s the fact that she always makes me feel good during our short time together.

Without consciously knowing so, she follows many of the strategies that successful companies follow….

She greets me warmly. I always get the big smile and the genuine questions about what I’ve been up to and how I’ve been. She also makes a point to tell me how glad she is to see me.

She makes a point to know my preferences and interests. Without making it obvious to me, she takes notes on what I’ve told her that I like in regards to my cut and style. But more importantly, she makes notes of things I’ve told her about my family and interests so that she can ask me about them at the next visit.  That shows me that she really wants to demonstrate to me that she is making an effort to engage me. I’m also tickled that she took the time and effort to ask.

She LISTENS to me. Whether it be concerns about how I’m trying to style my hair, or about an issue I’m sharing with her about life in general, she really listens before offering advice.  Often, as customers we get frustrated when the vendor tries to push their ideas or solutions on us before we feel that they truly understand what we are saying.  By listening, we can better understand our customers and sometimes discover an issue that they couldn’t vocalize easily.

She offers her suggestions with a few options. Once Mary understands what I’m trying to accomplish, she’ll tell me two ways that we can get my hair to do what I want.  That way, I make the decision between a cutting option or product.

She’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Mary is truly one of those people that you consider yourself lucky to know.  She is the perfect person for her trade and as a business owner.  It’s in her DNA to get to know people and serve them in their best interest.  More importantly, she’s engaging, funnier than most comedians, empathetic, and just outright friendly.

This is the tricky part for some  companies. It all starts with the hiring decisions that we make.  When we hire the right person, the rest is pretty basic. Hiring the right fit for your culture and customer service standards is 90% of the equation.

All of these factors put together are the reason why I refer so many of my friends to her.  I really don’t even focus on what a great job she does or her reasonable price, but start by saying how much they will love her because she is so nice and friendly.

If you’d like to get a better feel for what it takes to accomplish the same feelings with your customers, watch this free video series I just put together.  It briefly summarizes what your customers are looking for and exactly how to deliver it.

3 Ways to Distinguish Yourself from Your Competitors

In today’s world, everyone is fighting for customers.  Your competitors are trying to lure your customers away and you should be trying to attract their customers as well.  But how can you set yourself apart from the competition and retain your customers?

There are three ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors –

Price – You must be competitive, however, this usually will bring you into a bidding war with every transaction
Product – If you have the time, money, and research teams available to you, this will support many businesses.
Service – The fastest, easiest, and least expensive way to impress your customers and cultivate loyalty for life if done right.

The nice thing is that delivering excellent customer service is simple. Note, simple doesn’t always mean easy, but most of the time it is far easier than we think.

As in any relationship, it is the little things that make the biggest difference. Customers appreciate the basic common courtesies of smiles, eye contact, “Please and Thank You,” and any small gesture that treats them as a valued part of your business.

Customers today feel as though they are processed through our systems. The majority of face-to-face contact they have with companies are perceived as inconsiderate and aloof.

Customers are craving to feel engaged with us, not as a cog in the wheel or a problem that gets in the way.

Just the mere fact that you are concerning yourself with delivering excellent service puts you ahead of 95% of your competitors. They are too focused on the logistics of their business. You have the mindset to focus on the customers. Customers notice and appreciate that. Sure, they are always looking for a good deal and, occasionally, you will lose a customer over price. Most of the time, however, you will find that they will come back to you because the level of service you provided gave them the connection that they were looking for with a service or product provider.

Consumers make their buying decisions based on emotion and back it up with logic. The customer is NOT buying your product or service. They can buy that from any of your competitors. They are buying the relationship you are promising them.

How to Make Your Customers WANT to Give You Money

I’m thrilled to present a guest blog post from one of my favorite sites and speaks directly to the experience we all desire to create for our customers.

by Laura Petrolino

In these tough economic times, it may seem like a false hope to create an environment where your customers not only freely pay you for your product or service, but do so eagerly and gratefully. Ah Contre’ dear business owning friends….it perhaps is easiest in a tough economy to produce this type of sentiment in a customer. Since money and resources are scarce, a customer wants to feel confident and justified in what they spend their hard-earned dollars on, all you have to do is give them a convincing reason why spending their money with you is worthwhile (and then, of course, follow through).

I had a great experience last night that served as a perfect example of this. While I was in the shower, my wonderful (yet mischievous dog) decided it would be a good idea to devour an entire bottle of a new glucosamine supplement I had bought earlier in the day. I discovered his ‘joint relief’ feast too late to simply provoke him to throw up, so I was faced with the need to call up animal poison control (run by the ASPCA)  to see what I should do and if he was in major danger. As I was researching where to call, I found myself becoming very angry at the fact that I would be forced to pay $65 for a call. “What a rip-off!”, I thought to myself, “$65 for them to tell me that he would probably be fine but just have a bunch of diarrhea”.

Since my dog is my child, although the $65 angered me, I didn’t see any choice in the matter, so I begrudgingly called up. I was greeted with a HUMAN voice…not an automated machine, who was extremely friendly and carefully went through the situation with me, did a google search to find the exact supplement he ate, gave me a case number and then passed me on to a Vet.

The Vet was also extremely pleasant, took quality time to double and triple check things, told me what a normal reaction would be, and what an abnormal reaction would be. She then set up a follow up call and told me to call back (for free) at any time if things didn’t seem right or I had any questions. Before she took my money, she took the time to see if I was registered with a specific microchipping organization, which if I had been, would have made the consultation free.

I hung up the phone in a completely different state of mind than I called with. I felt like I truly received a quality service and would both call again for any reason and recommend them to others. I was actually happy to give them my money! What created this change of opinion? I can narrow it down to a few things, that can be actively applied to any business or service:

-They were nice: seems simple huh? Guess what…it is! Too often though, businesses act like the customer should be serving them vs. the other way around. Being nice goes along way!

-They provided a complete service: Consultation, follow up and emergency call back (if needed) ALL INCLUDED. They didn’t try to nickel and dime me, but instead provided more than I expected. Nothing bad ever comes from OVER DELIVERY

-They trusted me as a customer: Although they mentioned at the beginning the fee to make sure I was aware of it, they didn’t charge me until the end. They trusted that if they followed through on their service, I would follow through as a customer. I could have easily just hung up, but they provided such a good service it was well worth paying for. Communicating trust to your customers is an attribute of good businesses that is often overlooked and undervalued. Trust is important to a customer and it is a two way street. How can you expect your customer to trust you, if you don’t trust them in return?

-They established credibility: This goes along with feeling like I’m receiving value for my money.

What do you do to make your customers feel good about paying for your product or service?

Are Thank You Notes to Business Customers Silly?

Last weekend, I ran a 5K and it was very apparent that I needed new running shoes. Being that I’m not an expert runner (except in my own mind), I usually go to a department store, try on a few shoes, and buy a pair at a reasonable price.

This time, I took the advice of one of my running buddies and headed to Gazelle Sports in Grand Rapids, MI.  The customer service experience that I had was truly a experience, but in the “real world.”  The customer service skills of the staff were superb and they connected with me on a personal level that engaged me as a customer, not just processed me through their system.

The Positive Customer Experience Engaged Me Immediately

I entered and we immediately greeted by two people who directed me to where the running shoes are.  Josh then found me looking at a variety of shoes and offered his assistance.  He listened to my concerns about my feet, special arch support needs, and had me take my shoes off and watched me walk around for a few minutes to see how my feet actually moved in action.  He brought me four pairs of shoes to try on and explained the benefits of each pair.

He also spent a great deal of time speaking with me about my running the race that morning, the pain I have in my IT band, my plans to run a 1/2 Marathon in the fall, and finding a training schedule for me.

Now, like Zappos, Gazelle does not typically sell discount shoes and has sales infrequently.  That being said, the benefits they offer far outweigh the higher sticker price.  At least three times during the trying on phase, Jose reminded me that I could run with the shoes for a few weeks, and if they did not feel “just right” I could exchange them for a different pair that would work for me.

I left the store with a new pair of running shoes, a sense of excitement for my next run, and an appreciation of a good customer experience and the knowledge that excellent customer service skills are not lost on those companies that truly value their customers.

The Final Touch

This post could end there, but they took it one step further.  Yesterday in the mail, I received a handwritten Thank You note from Josh.  He thanked me for letting him help me, hoped that my new shoes fit me well, reminded me to stretch like we spoke about, and wished me luck in my training.  This Thank You note connected the final “Dot” on the Customer Service Skills.  It further deepened the good feeling that I had by doing business with them in the first place.

So the answer to the title of this post is – NO, Thank You notes are not silly. I’ve not met a person yet who was not thrilled to get the Thank You note that they considered to be the icing on the cake of the customer service experience.

The first thing that people have said when I tell them I bought my shoes as Gazelle is “Aren’t they a little pricey?” I say that they really are competitive for “real” running shoes and that the level of service that they give convinces me not to try on 10 different pairs of shoes in a department store, left on my own to wonder if these shoes are good for my feet, and with the anxiety that I will be stuck with these shoes if I run outside and discover that I can’t actually run in them.  The customer service experience has been well thought out by their leadership team and they have developed that loyal customer base that all companies strive to achieve.

Top Ten List to Improve Customer Service and Satisfaction

Dear Customer Service Leader:Staff Wish List

It’s us, your staff.  You’ve been talking to us lately about how we should focus on improving customer service with our company.  So, in order to do that, we’ve compiled a list of things that we need from you to help us deliver excellent customer service.


Tell us what is expected of us. We have no way of knowing what it is you want us to do or how to act if you don’t tell us what you expect.

Communicate with us. By opening the lines of communication as to how we are doing, what you like or what you don’t, we can tailor what we do to the expectations.

Empower us. The more power you relinquish to us, the better able we are to serve our customers needs.

Recognize and reward me. We don’t need a party thrown for us every time we do something well, but it is certainly nice to know that you notice when we do things right.“I noticed how you took the extra time to really help that customer.  I like the way you handled that.”  Those words will carry me for a long time.

Treat us the way you want us to treat the customer.
When you give us the service you’d like us to deliver to our customers, we’ll know exactly what to do.

Hold me accountable. When I know that my compensation will reflect my efforts to develop positive customer relationships, I’ll do everything I can to deliver quality customer service.

Help me manage customer expectations. Please work with us to let customers know when they can reasonably expect products to be delivered, to see results, or know what to expect.  When we say, “You should receive this soon.” Soon can mean tomorrow or next week, depending upon the customer’s perception.

Support my decisions that we make using good judgment.
Know that we make the best decisions we can at the time with the information available to us.  It increases our confidence when you support us.  Yes, we will make mistakes sometimes. We promise we will learn from those and not repeat them if at all possible.

Walk a Day In Our Shoes. Could you take an hour a week and do our jobs?  If you answered the phones once in a while, made  the deliveries, scheduled shipments, prepped the procedure, you would know the challenges and needs that we have.  We would also know that you truly appreciate the work that we are doing.

Set Customer Service Minimums. Help us set some Customer Service Minimum standards that we all know are the very least  we will do for our customers. This will encourage us to revisit our service and continually increase the level of service that we provide.

These requests are really customer retention strategies that will help us to develop profitable customer relationships.  We know that without our customers, there is no business.  Without the business, we don’t have jobs.  In today’s economy, good jobs are hard to come by and we sincerely appreciate having our jobs.  We would love to work with you to build customer loyalty and improve the customer’s experience when they do business with us.


Your Staff

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