by Kevin Stirtz
Several times a year I get a CD from a well-known PR consultant. She is a very aggressive and consistent promoter of her business. She has done a good job making herself well-known in her niche.
But, when I listen to her CD I often resist her message. Not because of its quality. She has a lot of good ideas and advice. What drives me away is the amount of time it takes to introduce her on each CD program.
Her intro seems to go on and on. It talks about every little thing she’s done. By the time I get through it I’m exhausted. Or I try to fast forward through it and I miss a big chunk of the program.
Even though this PR expert might be the best in her business, I am still left with a less than great experience when I listen to her CD program. This experience transfers to her as a professional. Whatever emotions I associate with that experience will also attached to her, in my mind.
In other words, her CD programs have the opposite of their intended effect. They don’t make me want to hire her. And the main reason for it is the long and winding intro. It makes the whole thing sound like it’s all about her.
But as a customer (or potential client) I want it to be about me. I’m interested in what I want, in what I’m trying to accomplish. I want the experience to be focused on me and my objectives.
Sure, I want to know my PR person is good. I’d like to think she or he has the experience and expertise to help me accomplish what I want.
But I determine that in many ways. A brief intro that highlights her experience and successes would help me determine this. I would also listen to and read her content. Does it mesh with my view of the world? Does it make sense to me? Does it challenge me or bring me new ideas? Does her material position her in my eyes as an expert I can trust to look out for my interests?
Most of what I base my opinion on will be the expert’s performance. It will not be based on her advertisement disguised as an introduction. An ad is an ad no matter how well you try to cloak it.
We’re in a time where advertising is becoming less effective at establishing credibility. It’s less effective at showing how good we are at what we do. We have many more tools available to us now to help people become informed about who we are and how we might help them. Blatant ads touting our greatness are a waste of time and money.
And beyond the new tools we have to communicate with our market, we also have new standards to meet. In ‘the good old days’ we were just fine blabbing about ourselves. Decades ago that worked.
But not anymore.
These days customers want it to be about them. The whole experience needs to focus on the customer, not the supplier. Customers are more knowledgeable, more informed and more demanding than ever before.
If you ask most people they’ll tell you they ARE customer focused. They exist to serve the customer is what they might say. Then you’ll see their latest TV ad or brochure or website and 90% of it talks about them. It reminds me of the song called, “Let’s Talk Me”.
When you talk about yourself (or your company, your product, your services, etc.) you are showing people that’s where your focus is. If they believe you are more focused on yourself than on them, how likely are they to want to do business with you?
Take advantage of the new economy. Work with the trends that are shaping how business gets done in the 21st century. Show your customers you are focused on them in as many ways as possible. A good start is to talk about them.
Customer loyalty is a direct result of the integrity displayed by the company.
Integrity – adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
In the business world today, integrity is something that we hope to find in the companies that we interact with. The successful companies are those that have integrity as one of their core values. This characteristic comes through in the way they do business and the way that they treat their customers. Customers appreciate the organizations that work in their best interest. Working in the best interest of the customer is the typical business model that most organizations strive to live by. It’s a common principle that if you treat me well, I’ll treat you well by continuing to do business with you.
Holding Integrity as a Core Value, Even When it Results in a Loss for the Company
Recently, 6pm.com, a sister site to Zappos.com that offers greatly discounted and reduced prices, encountered a pricing issue which resulted in a 1.6 million dollar loss to the company. Their pricing engine capped all products on the site to $49.95. The system allowed this glitch to happen for approximately six hours, resulting in many products being purchased far below their true price on the site.
In an excerpt from the 6pm.com blog post, Aaron Magness, Director of Brand Marketing and Business Development explained how they handled the situation. It’s an example of real class and integrity displayed by a company revered for their dedication to service.
While we’re sure this was a great deal for customers, it was inadvertent, and we took a big loss (over $1.6 million – ouch) selling so many items so far under cost. However, it was our mistake. We will be honoring all purchases that took place on 6pm.com during our mess up. We apologize to anyone that was confused and/or frustrated during out little hiccup and thank you all for being such great customers. We hope you continue to Shop. Save. Smile. at 6pm.com.
Director of Brand Marketing & Business Development
Zappos Development, Inc.
To explain why they did not contact customer and notify them of the issue to recover some of their losses Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, added these comments to the blog post….
To those of you asking if anybody was fired, the answer is no, nobody was fired – this was a learning experience for all of us. Even though our terms and conditions state that we do not need to fulfill orders that are placed due to pricing mistakes, and even though this mistake cost us over
$1.6 million, we felt that the right thing to do for our customers was to eat the loss and fulfill all the orders that had been placed before we discovered the problem.
The payoff is increased customer satisfaction and loyalty
Although 1.6 million dollars is a lot of money, I suspect that 6pm.com will recover most, if not all of those costs simply because of the fact that consumers appreciate and value the way they handled the situation. Studies show that truly loyal customers will come back to your business and spend more money with each return visit. Based on the comments that the blog post generated, they have now converted many customers into the truly loyal customer category and can certainly expect higher purchase points from most of them.
Integrity should be part of your branding
While most small businesses don’t generate as many sales as Zappos.com, why can’t they still handle similar situations the same way? By doing so, they will be developing loyalty and strengthening relationships with their customers in a way that matters. Knowing this, their loyal customers will then turn into their best marketing resource – spreading the news by word of mouth referrals. People do business with those they know, like and trust. Given this situation, 6pm.com did a fantastic job of branding themselves with integrity, even at their expense in the short term. I bet the long term payoff will make them glad they handled it the way they did.
When we consider customer service and it’s basic premise, it really comes down to the fact that it’s just the right thing to do. If people pay me money for something, I can’t imagine a scenario where it wouldn’t be the right thing to be appreciative and deliver the best service possible. If you are trying to profit from your products and services, and people are willing to pay for it, why on earth would you treat them indifferently or with aloofness?
Customers Deserve the Best You Can Provide
Customers are the driving force of any business. It makes good business sense to treat those who sustain you with respect, genuine caring, and customization. Too often, we tend to let our customers become a hassle to us. Granted, we all have days when we just can’t accomplish anything or we have those few customers who truly do cross the line. We need to recognize that these are the exception, not the rule. Most of your customers are pleasant people and deserve to be treated as such. Again, they are giving you money. When we were young and we received a few dollars from an aunt or the Tooth Fairy, didn’t we hold them in high regard? Well, now that we are adults in business and depend on customers to remain in business, we need to hold them in the same regard.
How Pleasant is it to do Business with Your Business?
Consider your business as objectively as possible. Would you want to do business with your company? If not, they why specifically? Look at all of the customer contact points. Consider the portals through which your customers access you – web, phone, store, office, etc. What works and what doesn’t? What are pleasant experiences and where are the barriers or obstacles? Who or what would make you want to return? Who or what would make you want to leave?
Please comment below on the biggest obstacles you’ve found in business as well as the nicest surprises you’ve found.
The ability to make each customer feel as if they are the most important customer – this is the experience customers crave. Everyone knows they are not your only customer, but if they felt that they were important to you when they last did business with your company, they will return to you. If you delivered excellent customer service and created an experience that gave them that feeling of importance, your competition is no longer an issue.
Your Most Important Customer
Assume for just a moment that you actually do run a business that is 90% financially dependent upon one customer. How would you treat that customer? What would you be doing for that customer? What are the bare minimum service expectations that you would expect everyone within your organization to practice when interacting with that customer?
Now, apply those principles to each and every customer that walks through your door. Every customer needs to be treated as if they are important, because the are. Each customer contributes to the financial stability of your business.
This brings up the topic of stratifying your customers, or providing better service or perks to those customers who spend more money with your business. While everyone deserves to be treated with excellent service no matter what their expenditures are, it is in the best interest of your business to provide value added services to those who do spend more. The key is to be transparent about it. Perhaps it’s free shipping to those who spend a certain amount of money during a transaction. Perhaps it’s free deposit tickets and deposit stamp for those customers who maintain a certain balance in a business bank account. Some department stores offer personal shoppers to those purchasing suits to help them create a matching ensemble or accessorize.
The point here is that customers will know from the onset that when they spend more money with you, they will receive more services. Not better service from the staff, but value added services. Customers not qualifying for the added services will know that if they spent more, they would get more, but are still delighted with the service they did receive from your associates.
I love being a mom more than anything else in the whole world, even chocolate. But, one of the things I dread as a mom is getting that phone call from school informing me that one of my children has “Pinkeye.” So, last Tuesday, I picked up my daughter from school and headed to the doctor’s office for the diagnosis that I already knew was coming and then to the drug store to pick up the prescription drops.
Now, putting drops into the eyes of a six year old is no easy feat. Especially when that six year old has decided that she is a drama queen and is going to milk the situation for all it is worth. When I picked up the drops, the pharmacist at Rite Aid suggested some methods for administering the drops that might make it easier and less stressful. Nonetheless, the suggested methods were just as torturous as me literally sitting on my daughter and squirting the drops in her eyes.
However, after two days of drops every four hours, my daughter and I came to a point where we did try the pharmacist’s suggestion and were able to administer the drops with no drama at all.
So, this is a pretty mundane situation. Nothing really noteworthy.
Until………. we get the call from the pharmacist two days later asking how my daughter’s eye infection is doing and if we had any problems administering the eye drops. No, this wasn’t a call from the doctor’s office. It was the pharmacist from Rite Aid delivering excellent customer service. She was taking the time and interest to call and see how the treatment was working, if we had encountered any problems, and if we had any questions she could answer. She was connecting with me, the customer. The business transaction, for all practical purposes, was complete. She was following up to nurture the relationship. That’s effectively managing the customer experience. Now, they may have designed this into the process at Rite Aid. But that’s the point – they design a positive customer experience into their plans.
This really might not seem like a big deal, until you think about how often this doesn’t happen. How many times do you receive a follow up phone call from the provider of the product or service you purchased from to see if there was anything they could help you with? I’ll bet it’s less often than you think.
The noticeable thing is that it wasn’t the physician who treated her, or even that office. I paid them much more for the physician’s time and diagnosis than I did the drug store for the drops.
Customer satisfaction comes from the extra step that we put on to our delivery of service. I was happy just to leave the pharmacy with the drops I needed and the fact that they were nice and pleasant to me. I’m delighted that they called to follow up. Even though I know I may pay a little more to go to Rite Aid, the fact that I received that follow up call tells me they care about my business.
What do you do for your customers that tells them you value their business?
Enhancing the customer experience sometimes has nothing to do with the product or service that you provide. Customer experience management is all about focusing on that customer and the way they do business. Customer satisfaction dramatically increases when you reach out to your customers for something relevant to them and their business. It’s about building and nurturing the relationship you are forming. When you communicate with your customers outside of the business transaction, they value that.
Notice the Coverage or Accolades of Your Customers
Today I received an ezine featuring one of my clients, a small business owner. She has built her business from the ground up and has endured many of the same challenges that small business owners encounter today. The article detailed her start in her industry and how she finally made the decision to start her own business. It represented her well, both professionally and personally and gave an accounting of her growth over the past few years.
Celebrate the Successes of Your Customers
I emailed my client congratulating her on the article and the way it presented both her and her company. I congratulated her on the feature coverage and on the success of her business and told her how proud she should be of her accomplishments and all that she has ahead of her. She immediately emailed me back and thanked me for the note. She was very happy about the article and that I had noticed it and congratulated her. One line stood out in particular –
“This has been such an exciting ride and I’m so glad to know that the people who have helped me along the way in business, like you, are here to celebrate my successes and to help when I face challenges. I’m glad I have you in my corner.“
When you reach out to your customers, you strengthen the bond – both professionally and personally
When you take the time to notice anything said or written about your customers, be sure to pass it on to them. It lets them know that you are thinking of them not only as a revenue source, but as a partner. Everyone loves to be noticed and thought of on some level. If you come across an article relevant to the field of one of your customers, email or send it to them with a short note that you thought of them when you read it. Perhaps they might find it helpful, perhaps not. But the point is that you are showing them that the relationship you have with them is not focused on the dollars they bring in, but on them as a person and the way they do business.
Just a quick note on the importance of core values in regards to managing the customer experience and improving customer service. A colleague of mine was talking about the difficulty he was having with different departments in his company. He mentioned that he felt that most departments weren’t quite clear how they fit into the overall company or what their role truly was. He also thought that most staff didn’t really know what the company really stood for.
This is a dilemma that is by no means unique. I started asking him about the core values of the company and he was not aware if they had ever been identified. If they had, he had no idea. He thought that would be a good place to start bringing the business together as a more cohesive group.
What are your core values? While you may have many, develop a core list of 10 and make them known to everyone in your organization. To really be customer focused, make these known to your customers as well. You will use these core values as guiding principles for business decisions that you make, the way you do business, new business ventures and opportunities, and for hiring and firing decisions. They will serve you in the forms of customer service and satisfaction, retention, and increased profits.
In order to be successful and to truly ingrain these core values, they cannot be something that are simply posted on the wall. They must be upheld consistently across all levels of your organization. Have you heard the saying “Do as I say, not as I do?” You must walk the talk here. Leadership must exemplify these core values for them to be reproduced in your teams.
In your ideal customer centric culture, consider how are your teams and staff working together. They hand off the task with all of the necessary information for the next link in the chain. They cover each other’s responsibilities when necessary. They integrate the customer into the team feeling by letting them know that everyone in your company is working together to serve them.
The communication practices within the company go a long way toward creating a team oriented feeling. Top level decisions are quickly made known to the front line staff along with selected reasoning for decision. Communication within the different levels of the organization, along with management to front line staff, are open and work two ways.
Before decisions affecting workflow, production volume, processes, policies, or anything to do with the amount and quality of work being done by the front line are being made, it is important to have an open dialogue with all parties involved. Front line staff and managers will be able to give open, honest, and candid feedback about the proposed changes based on what they currently can and are doing in their responsibilities. They will know what is possible or not. They will be able to identify any changes that need to be made with the current situation before future changes can be made. They willing to give insight as to any other strategies or methods they see as being able to accomplish the objective of the leadership team.
Including the staff actually doing the job of the impacted area will engage them and deepen the relationship they feel with the leadership of the company. As your internal customers, when they feel appreciated and valued by being asked for their input, they will go to great lengths to make things happen in the best interest of the company and the customer.
Take this same principle and apply it to the external customer. When changes are being made to procedures, policies, products, or programs impacting the customer’s world, include them in the process. Get their opinions, ideas and suggestions. Ask what they would like to see more or less of. Identify changes they would like to see made. Again, like your internal customers, your external customers will feel valued and appreciated by the mere fact that you are asking for their opinions and ideas. Their perception of the relationship you want to deliver them will become that much stronger. The key here is to act on the information they provide.
80% of companies believe they deliver a superior Customer Experience; however, only 8% of their customers agree.
Clearly, here is an example of perception disconnect. If you are a smart business leader, you will pay more attention to the perception of the customer since it is their buying behavior that drives your profitability.
But why is there this much of a difference in perception?
First off, I think that most companies genuinely do believe that they deliver excellent service. They know that they tell their staff during training to deliver good customer service and feel it happens naturally. Most business owners would honestly tell you that they would gladly improve the customer service they are delivering if there was a need for it. I think it’s highly unlikely that any business out there sets out to deliver poor service. But they often think that because leadership sings the “Let’s deliver good service” song, that it happens with just that minimal effort.
The key word there is effort. We’ve all heard that all things worth having require some effort – take this into the business perspective. If you want customers, you need to work at it. If you want them to stay with your company and be happy about it, it takes even a bit more effort. The nice thing is that it is simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but it is much easier than most companies realize.
- Just use your manners.
- Be polite.
- Say please and thank you.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Train your staff to deliver excellent service by telling them and showing them exactly what you expect and what the customers want.
- Thank your customers for their business and ask them to come back again.
- When they do come back, interact with them and ask them how you can better serve them.
Just by doing these things, the customer satisfaction levels will increase dramatically.
It also comes back to the fact that many customers will claim to be satisfied, yet will actually leave the business without telling management why. Think about it – haven’t you ever been in a restaurant and had the manager come by to ask you how everything was? Most patrons simply say everything was fine because 1) they don’ think the manager really cares to hear the truth, or 2) they don’t want to address the problem themselves. They’ll just eat at another restaurant next time.
The strategy here is to ask probing questions and pay extra attention to the way the questions are answered. Look for hesitancy. That is a big clue that there is more than meets the eye. The right questions will help draw out the answers you need in order to truly delight your customers and keep them coming back for more.