Transforming the Customer Experience

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Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Thank you , Thank you , Thank you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Customer is Here, How do You Come Across?

When customers physically are in our business or organization, how are they treated?  One of the most important points that I stress is that it is essential to acknowledge customers as soon as possible.  There are few things more aggravating than having to look for a sales person or receptionist to help us.  The customer should be acknowledged within seconds of them walking through the doors.  Eye contact, a smile, a nod of the head, and a genuine verbal welcome tells the customer that you are happy that they are here and that you can help them.

The verbal welcome should be similar to the one you give your guests in your home.  Welcome them inside, offer your name, and ask how you may help them.  An example would be…. “Welcome to XYZ Enterprises.  My name is John Smith.  How may I help you today?”

Notice the wording in these examples above.  Instead of asking how you CAN help them, ask them how you MAY help them.  Everyone knows you most likely CAN, but that simply begs the questions, WILL you actually help them?  By asking them if you MAY help them, it presupposes that you want to help them and will.  A little nuance, but one that speaks volumes to the customer.  Again, to increase your customer satisfaction levels, convey the message that you are eager to help them.

Another thing to consider when customers are in your physical location…  How does the place look?  Customers unconsciously notice everything in their surroundings.  Do you want them to notice the professionalism of your clean and inviting lobby?  The way that the chairs are arranged not too close together, but close enough to have small groups together?  The way that the decor makes them feel relaxed and comfortable?  Or, will they notice the stains on the chairs, the worn paths in the carpet, the peeling wallpaper, the dead leaves on the plants, and the outdated and worn magazines that you have out for display?  The customers will unconsciously notice every detail in their surroundings and this will factor into their feelings when dealing with you and your company.

Smaller Retailers CAN Prevail Over Their Larger Competitors with Relationship Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Social Networking Sites in Mind When Handling Your Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Impressions Count!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Establishing Superior Customer Service is a PROCESS, not an Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even with technology and data, the human touch is critical

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

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

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

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

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

Under Promise – Over Deliver

Have you ever been upset when a company makes a promise that it doesn’t fulfill?  This is one of the easiest ways to lose customers.  Otherwise known as “Over-promising and Under-delivering”, this demonstrates the company’s lack of commitment to follow through and satisfying the needs of their customers.

If your company recognizes the importance of following through on every commitment made, it is on the right track to becoming known as an organization that values its customers.  The company needs to stand behind their employees when promises are made, even in the occasional circumstance when it may cost the company some money.  The mere fact that the promise was kept will go much further in customer retention and satisfaction than the actual dollars lost would have gone in marketing to other customers.

Customer satisfaction levels soar when they perceive things are accomplished ahead of schedule or at a higher level of quality for them.  If you know a process will take two days to complete, tell the customer you will get back to them in three to four days.  That way, you have built in some “fudge-factor” time to account for any unforeseen delays.  Then, when the process is complete, you can them inform your customer that you have fulfilled your promise to them.  They will perceive this as exemplary service on your part, and you now have a positive customer who will give you more referrals, more purchases, and the most important, customer loyalty.  

With access to literally hundreds of thousands to people via social and professional networking online, people will and do take notice of comments that are made regarding service.  You want people to associate good customer service stories with your organization.  The very basic fundamental business of Under-promising and Over-delivering to your customers will increase customer satisfaction and customer loyalty each and every time.

Back to Basics

A lot of companies today are recognizing the importance of customer loyalty. Some studies suggest that a 2% increase in customer retention will have the same impact as a 10% operating cost reduction. The factors that go into this can be numerous depending on which study you are looking at. I think that it really comes down to the basic foundations of business… develop a great product or service, know your market, get your key players in place, but most importantly……. TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS WELL!

Customer satisfaction is what is distinguishing the successful companies. Smart companies are making their customers a true partner in their business. They ask the customer what they want, they listen to what their customers are saying, and they are actually considering those ideas for implementation.

On a level playing field, customer satisfaction and customer service will set your company apart from your competition.

“Blow them away with legendary, remarkable service,” enthuses Robert Craven, managing director of business consultancy The Directors’ Centre. He believes that going the extra mile is the key to keep them coming back for more.

“We are in a world of mediocrity where we are competing with similar products, similar companies, similar people and similar prices,” he explains. “In that world of bland, beige, mediocrity, you have to step up to the mark, be distinctive, smarter, faster, brighter, harder, cleverer and get closer to the customer. If you are the same as the competition, why should people bother to buy from you?”

People choose the people and companies they associate with based on how they feel when they are around them. This directly demonstrates the cause and effect between customer service and customer loyalty. When you treat your customers well, they will feel valued, when they feel valued, you have developed customer loyalty. When you have customer loyalty, those customers will increase their referrals to your business and you will see increased profits.

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