Transforming the Customer Experience

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Straight Talk on Customer Service from Larry Winget

Call It Customer Service, Customer Satisfaction, or Customer Loyalty.  We’ve all just made it too complicated according to Larry Winget.

A while ago, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with some of the leaders in the field of Customer Service, Satisfaction, and Loyalty. I’d like to share a key point from my discussion with Larry Winget.

I asked Larry, known for his very direct and straight talk on various business aspects, why he felt the state of the customer experience and customer service seems to be in such disarray.  His answer is exactly what many of you need to know….

“You asked why I feel we fall short of delivering acceptable customer service.  It really comes down to that people don’t seem to understand that when they go into business that they have given over the power and their ability to be successful to their customer. That’s what I said earlier, it all goes back to profitability.

When you go into business, profitability no longer lies in your hands, it lies in the hands of customers.

I heard an old tape many, many years ago by Earl Nightengale that said all of the money you’re ever going to have is currently in the hands of someone else.

In business, that someone else is the customer. They’ve got the money.  The only thing in business you’re supposed to do is figure out how to get it from them.  The best way to get it from them is to serve them well. It’s not that complicated a process. It just comes down to figuring out what they want.

How do you do that?  Well, gee, why don’t we just ask them.  They’ll tell you.  Ask people what they want and then give it to them.

My philosophy of selling and serving is very simple.  Find out what people want and give them a whole lot of it.  Find out what they don’t’ want and don’t give them any of that. They don’t want you to be late.  They don’t want you to lie.  They don’t’ want you to hem-haw around when you say what your product does.  They want your product to do what you said it would do.

All that stuff’s really very, very simple.  But we’ve complicated it with these weird ideas.  Then you add to that we don’t bother to teach our employees, the people who actually deliver the customer service, that it’s all in the hands of the customer. All of it is in the hands of the customer.  We don’t teach employees that.

We don’t teach employees that the real boss is the customer.
And then we don’t enforce that whole feeling that the customer is in charge and that they are the boss.  And so they end up treating the customer like an inconvenience instead of like the boss.”

Larry’s words couldn’t be more true.  The Customer is the Boss of your company. The customer ultimately signs the paycheck and pays the bills for everything you do within your organization.

So, while you are focusing on customer service, customer skills training, and customer retention, please pay attention to the very true words of Larry Winget.

Please share your thoughts on Larry’s views below in the comment area. I’d love to know what you think.

Customer Centricity – The Problem – Not the Solution?

Not Be Customer Centric? Focusing on Customers a Problem?

I came across an article today that made me think at first that the author was way off base.  Then, after reading it, I found that I could not agree with him more.

The article, Customer-Centricity Is Not the Solution, It’s the Problem by Sampson Lee, at first tells how so many companies are doing their best to make each customer feel as if they are listened to.  They are listening to all of their customers and doing their darndest to do what they all want in order to keep them coming back for more.  Profits are driven by returning customers, right?  We all want all of our customers to come back to us, right?  Wrong.

You Only Want the Customers You WANT Coming Back to You

Let this sink in for a minute and I’ll explain.    Imagine that you are a local supermarket and a customer requests an item that you don’t carry.  Acting in the best interest of the customer, you order the product from a supplier with a minimum quantity of 25. Now, another customer requests that you provide a different type of shopping cart to accommodate not only a coffee cup, but a sippy cup as well for toddlers.  Then, you have another customer that is requesting that you have a more expansive deli selection with specialty meat.  Trying to be accommodating, you comply as much as you can.

Did I mention that you are a local supermarket that is focused on Oragnic and Natural Produce?  What if no other customer wants the product that the first customer requested.  You are losing valuable shelf space to a product that lies on the boundaries of what your core business values are – Natural and Organic Produce.  They requested a salad spinner to wash their lettuce with.  Only one customer will buy that and it is not a product that will likely be purchased by that person anytime again soon until theirs breaks.  Salad spinners are not a high volume seller.

You can make the case that the special shopping cart and more expansive deli counter would be attractive to some customers, but at what cost to your business?

Stay True to Your Business Purpose and Goals – Your Desired Customers Will Be Your Repeat Customers

By holding steadfast to your core business values and purpose, you’ll not only be serving the customers that truly want what you have, you’ll be able to focus on what you do best… Organic produce.  You want to be finding out who your core customers are, what they like about your store, what they’d like to see offered, how they cook, and if there is anything that you can do to help make their buying decisions easier.  You need to be sure that your suppliers are staying compliant with the guidelines to be labeled as organic and ensuring that your buying is consistent with the profit margins to allow you to provide the items the majority of your customers want and still come out ahead.

By trying to be all things to all people, you’ll simply set yourself up for failure.  You can’t accommodate the needs of everyone. When you can’t, please try to help those customers find a supplier who can better serve them.  Profit margins, staff resources, and shelf space are certainly at risk if you distribute too many resources to the areas that are not the main focus of your operations.

I’ve used a local grocery store as an example here, but all you need to do is consider how your business operates.  If you have the staff, resources, time and space to accommodate many varied requests… by all means, do it.  If you are a three person shop, you’ll need to weigh what the profit and long term loyalty customer gain will be against the short term gain.

By identifying your main customer base and listening to them, focusing on their needs and wants, then you are working in both the best interest of your ideal customers and your company.

Besides, what customer is going to be purchasing processed deli meat in a store dedicated to providing organic produce?  You’ll be quickly called out as not staying true to your values and trying to please too many people.

Your thoughts?

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.

Do Your Customers REALLY Trust You?

I’ve been saying since Day One that customer loyalty is built on trust.  Think about it, any relationship requires trust in order to be successful and sustainable.  Trust is expected and needs to be earned by both parties.  This is true in both personal and business relationships.

There is an article posted today in Fast Company that really does an excellent job in giving specific hard hitting questions on how well you’ve earned the trust of your customers.  For some of you, it may be a hard wake up call.  If you find yourself falling short, start taking stock now of areas that need attention and get started.

Consumer trust is about transparency, accountability, competency, integrity, and customer specification.  Hopefully, you read the article and know where your business stands in each of these categories.

Remember, any progress is progress.  Just don’t settle for less or “good enough.”  That’s what your competition is doing.  Be better than your competition and your customers will stay with you.

Customer Engagement from a 3rd Grade Perspective

Reaching out to your customers is hands down the best way to build customer loyalty and satisfaction.  They will even fall in love with you over it.

Now, this is a story of how an organization has engaged one if it’s customers, but isn’t your typical customer or organization.

My 8 year old daughter recently took a test administered by our school district to see if she qualified for the “Gifted and Talented” program.  This is a program geared for those students who demonstrate a strong aptitude for math and science.  She regularly receives very high marks in both of these areas, but she is truly a child who excels in reading, writing, and the arts.  She writes and sings her own songs for the annual talent show and her drawings are unbelievably detailed.

My daughter recently was told that she didn’t pass the test and wouldn’t be accepted into the program.  She was really understanding of that concept, but the title “Gifted and Talented” was bothering her.  She truly felt that since she didn’t pass the test, the title told her and the rest of the other students that they were talented in any other areas. She decided to write a letter to the superintendent of the district asking him to consider changing the name of the program to something along the lines of “Advanced Math and Science Program.”  She felt this was more appropriate since, in her words, “everyone is gifted and talented in their own way.”

She sent the letter the other day and I was really hoping that she would at least get a form letter thanking her for her suggestion.  What she got far exceeded our expectations.

My daughter called me from school yesterday extremely excited.  The superintendent drove from his office 12 miles away to visit her at her elementary school.  He wanted to meet with her in person to discuss her letter and to thank her for the suggestion.  Needless to say, we were all thrilled with the dedication he showed to his students.

He didn’t make any promises about changing the name, but offered to start the conversation with the director of the program.

There was one comment that he made to her that stood out to me.  He told her “Since you took the time to hand write me a letter, I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to just email or call you.  I wanted to take the time to get to know you better and find out exactly what made you write the letter.”

He had me at “I wanted to take the time to get to know you better….”  Now, this may look like just a story about a 3rd grader in elementary school, but it’s really the story of a customer writing to a business owner or leader.

The customer took the time to write a letter regarding a concern and suggestion.  Many businesses never acknowledge or recognize the motivations for these letters, emails, or phone calls.  Customers contact us because they have a concern.  They are telling us that there is something about the way we do business that they may have a suggestion or issue with.  If you are smart, you’ll respond in kind. I would suggest that you reach out in a personal way whenever possible.  If a visit isn’t practical, the phone is a great way to accomplish the goal – making personal contact.

Remember, the customer owns your business.  They pay your bills and give you a paycheck. When they have a suggestion or concern, take the time to listen and respond appropriately.  Most don’t do this.  When you do, you’ll be building that loyalty and increasing engagement.  To really build engagement, follow the steps clearly outlined here…  Five Steps to More Loyal Customers.

Personality Can Make or Break Customer Service & Satisfaction

Personality makes much more of an impact on customer satisfaction than most people realize.  While we all are focused on the best way to welcome customers into our businesses, the tones that we set, we often fail to capitalize on the main strength of the people we hire – their unique personalities.

Yesterday I was making a payment on some physical therapy I had to help me get through my last 1/2 marathon.  While I’m not in favor of human cloning, the woman who helped me yesterday would be the ideal customer relations representative that all companies wish they could clone.

Right off the bat, she greeted me in a very friendly, yet professional manner.  While we were discussing the medical insurance glitch that prompted my original phone call, she started asking questions about the progress of my therapy and training. She asked how long I had been running, how I liked it, and told me how envious she was because of her knee issues that prevented her from running.

She then answered my questions about the bill, assured me that she would personally contact the insurance carrier and provide them with the necessary information.

But here is the piece that really grabbed me.  Here are her exact words that she used to close the call…

“Well, it looks like we have everything taken care of now.  Please let me know when you get your statement from the insurance carrier.  If there are any discrepancies, I’d like to follow up on it myself.  Besides, I really enjoyed helping you today.  This was not just a billing conversation, but felt more like a chit chat with a friend.  Please ask for me next time you need any help.”

I’ve never had a billing clerk treat me so kindly.  I then let her know that I’m a consultant for customer service and satisfaction and that I was truly impressed with the way she handled my call.  She thanked me and let me know that I just made her day with the compliment.  Her last call was with a disgruntled patient who treated her very poorly and took all of his frustrations out on her.  She said while that is expected sometimes and part of her job, it get taxing over time and is hard to shake off for the next unsuspecting caller.

I was amazed that she had experienced such a poor call just previous to me calling her.  I never would have suspected that.  Her personality was the defining factor there.  It was in her nature to help and in her nature to connect with the people she was helping every day.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention to the personalities of the people you hire into your business.  You must hire the smile, then train the skill.  The “Nice” factor isn’t something that you can, or should, train for.  Hire the people who are helpers by nature.  They’ll engage with your customers far more successfully than those that may be more skilled or educated.

I’d love to know what personality traits you’ve found your successful or most engaging team members to have and how your customers have benefited because of them.

Customer Service & Humor – Can One Benefit the Other?

Have you made your customers laugh today?  Did you know that you can keep customers coming back by using humor in your business dealings?

We all know that humor is good for the soul.  We tend to hang out with the people that make us feel good and make us laugh.  Humor puts us in a positive mood, gives us a fresh perspective, and helps us treat others well.

Now, take this to the next level and connect the dots to your business.  Would this be a fantastic way to keep customers coming back to you?  Simply make them feel good and use some humor.

In this article in Inc.Com I think the author does a great job highlighting the use of humor.  I especially like the point about humor creating alignment.  Everyone has had similar experiences as a customer, in a family, in a sport, somewhere.  When you can bring two or more people together using humor relating to an experience, it creates an atmosphere of familiarity and comfort, both of which are crucial for a successful business relationship.

Granted, you must be careful when using humor.  I have learned that not everyone appreciates my somewhat sarcastic humor.  But, when I give presentations and consult, people give me the feedback that they appreciate the humor that I use to engage them and hold their interest.

When first starting a new relationship with a customer, relate your humor to the existing situation or light humor in general.  Once you see how your customer reacts, take their reaction as a guide for continued progress.  That might seem that it was an unnecessary comment, but occasionally we as business leaders tend to feel too comfortable too quickly and unintentionally offend or put off our potential customer.  Remember to do everything you can to make your customer feel as comfortable as quickly as possible.

How has humor served you well in your business?  Have you ever run into a situation where it may not have been the best choice?

Use These CRM Software/Skills to Win Customer Loyalty

Customer service, customer satisfaction, loyalty programs, customer centric, CRM …. these and countless other terms are more than familiar to business just like yours, both large and small.

If you are reading this post, you are also more than likely aware of the fact that it costs up to 20 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain your current customers.  But knowing this fact and keeping this fact in the forefront of your operations are two entirely different things.

Acquiring new customers is essential for any business.  But how much attention do you pay them once you get them?  How much tracking of customer trends do you do?  Do you share customer information between departments?  Do you operate internally as separate silos of information, or do you practice the “It Takes a Village…” mantra to take care of your customers?

Customer satisfaction and customer loyalty dramatically improve when customers feel that they are truly being cared for at a personal and company level.  You can accomplish this in many different methods.  The first and foremost is simply…. be nice to your customers during your interactions.  Take this then to next level by sharing information internally that is appropriate.

Example… Joe Smith normally orders casual polo shirts from your company.  All of a sudden a new order for dress shirts is sent in by Joe Smith.  If you are like 95% of your competition, you process the order smoothly and the Joe is satisfied.

But, if you are really on the ball with paying attention to your customers as a company, someone in your order processing position noticed this and sent the info along to the customer relations manager.  That manager then had a conversation with inside sales to determine if there have been any conversations around Joe’s company  and any new areas of focus.

Either the customer relations manager or the inside sales team would then impress Joe by calling him to let him know that his order was received and, by the way, is he venturing into new markets?  Is this a one time order into a new shirt or is this a new product offering?  Would he like the link to other dress shirts or a catalog sent to him?  What are his customers asking of him that you may be able to help him provide? Is there anything that your company can do to help him with these types of orders that will make life easier for him? Is there any feedback that he can provide you that will help you improve the way you deliver products to him?  If you have one, do you log this information in your CRM program to track these answers and adjust accordingly?

Asking these types of questions, using your CRM software and/or soft skills will actively engage this customer and exponentially increase his customer loyalty.  How could it not? Hardly anyone pays attention to their customers like this and when they do, they are seriously rewarded.

By spending just a little bit of time with your existing customer base, you’ll be doing more than any of your advertising dollars could ever accomplish.  There is an article in Inc magazine that ties in some of these points with the concept I’ve just described.  Please leave a comment as to what you think of this concept and/or the article and ways that your business has succeeded or could use some focus on existing customers.

Customer Relationships – Can the Online World Eliminate the Real World?

In a recent article posted on CRM Daily, the discussion of online ease of use versus “in person” assistance comes into play.

The discussion surrounding the way that the internet had become such a huge part of our everyday lives leads us to ask – at what point can ease of use override the need for a real person to assist us?  This particular article revolved around online banking and it’s growth, posing the question as to if the local bank branches that so many of us use may eventually close.

Speaking from personal experience, I utilize the web and many online services more than most people that I know.  I buy clothes, medicine, photos, pet supplies, vitamins, movies, books, cosmetics and numerous other products online.  I also do most of my banking, bill paying, and other financial services online.  This allows me to spend more time with my family and doing the things I enjoy.

BUT, the minute I run into a problem, there is no way that I’m satisfied with resolving the issue online.  I need to talk to a real person, either on the phone or in person.  The relevance of that article in CRM Daily was especially true for me this week.  I ran into some issues trying to consolidate my access codes for my personal and business accounts online.  I went into the local branch of my bank and spent 40 minutes with the branch manager.  He not only consolidated all of my accounts into one login code, he saw that my account activity would benefit by being in a different account grouping, set me up for automatic bill pay for my business credit card, and then proceeded to inform me that I had a sizeable cash payout coming to me from that credit card if I cashed in the reward points.  I think it’s a pretty safe bet that I would not have figured out any of that out on my own online.

Bottom line, customer satisfaction is driven by the convenience factor.  Customer loyalty is driven by the relationship factor.  Relationships are nurtured by that human touch.  While it is possible to develop a personal tone online, the face to face interaction will always be needed at some point.  The trick is to find the balance and provide customers the portal they personally desire.

Besides, what online banking portal is going to offer you a lollipop?

Customer Service Week – All Done? No Way!!

So, now that you’ve received some strategies to increase your customer service and raise the satisfaction levels of your customers, now what?

Keep the Momentum Going!!!

Just because Customer Service Week is over, by no means should you stop paying attention to your customers. If anything you should strive to treat them better every day from now on!

Remember, customers are buying the relationship, not your product or service.  They feel it’s a good relationship when you treat them as if you truly value and appreciate them.

Customer service and satisfaction efforts need to be a continual process, not just a one time event.  Customers like consistency and will pay for it when you consistently treat them well.

By continuing to focus on your customer service expectations and efforts, you are sending a strong message to your teams that this is a priority for your business and that you, as an organization, are determined to stay ahead of the competition and serve your customers better than anyone else will.

A Valuable Resource to Keep Improving Everyday

To help you in your continued efforts of raising the bar in service, I’m including this link for your benefit. Five Steps to More Loyal Customers will change the way you interact with your customers the very same day you use it!  When used as a tool for team development, the results are inspiring.  You’ll get everyone talking and involved on how to make the customer experience so much better.

Five Steps to More Loyal Customers will put you in the category of Walking the Talk when it comes to delivering excellent customer service!

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