Transforming the Customer Experience

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Poor Customer Service – Whose Fault is It?

Who is to Blame for Poor Customer Service – Management or the Staff Themselves?

This was the question posed on a Customer Experience Management discussion forum board.  While on the surface I can see that this question can be answered both ways, it really comes down to one party’s responsibility – the management.

Management sets the tone for the customer service standards and expectations

I think it is first and foremost the responsibility of top level management. They set the tone for the customer service attitudes and exemplify the attitude of service that should be delivered to all customers, both internal and external. They are the leaders of the organizations and will set the examples by what they do and say.  Top level management needs to support mid-level managers and front line supervisors in the area of service.  They need to encourage all management levels to think in terms of service and how to best partner with the customer.  What can be done to get rid of the obstacles that are facing the customers?  What can be done to make the entire process easier, if not enjoyable, when doing business with the company itself.

Top Level Management Needs to Listen to the Mid-Level Managers and Front-Line Supervisors

Listening to the feedback and ideas presented by mid-level management and front lines supervisors provides incredible value.  These folks are the ones in your company that are working directly with the customer, or supporting someone who does.  They are hearing what the customers are asking for, they know what the customers like, what they don’t like. They know how the customers use the product or service and what could be changed or, if need be, improved.  When this information flows back up the organizational chart, the highest levels of management need to reinforce the attitude of service by encouraging feedback, actively listening to it, and responding appropriately.

The Right Hiring Decisions Need to be Made to Support Leadership Expectations

From there, the right hiring decisions need to be made. If you hire folks who are not service oriented in their mindset, it is a recipe for failure. By hiring the right people within your company, you are consistent with the culture and everyone works in the best interest of the customer.  You need to make sure that you are supporting and encouraging the service expectations.  Should sub-standard service be noticed, coaching needs to happen quickly to determine the cause.  The solution would be to set clear service expectations and counsel on how to achieve those, or, the less pleasant but essential step, to correct a poor hiring decision.

Customer service training is essential to the success of any organization – large or small.  Customer service is essentially connecting people to a process when delivering a product or service.  The key is to have the right people in place with the right customer service skills and training.  All efforts need to be focused around the needs of the customer. When working in the best interest of the customer, you are ultimately working in the best interest of your organization.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the balance of responsibility here.  How much do you feel is up to the staff and how much falls on the shoulders of management?  What specifically do you think management should do to improve the experience for the customer?

5 Star Customer Service at the Apple Orchard

Small businesses have just as much to gain by superior customer service as large companies do.

I was out today with my three children finishing up some last minute school supply shopping (yes, I am that mom).  We took a route home that would take us by the Schwallier’s Apple Orchard where our family makes it a point to visit for our annual pumpkin hunt.  We didn’t know if the orchard was open yet, but as soon as we saw that it was, we veered over to make a quick stop.

As soon as we walked in, the very reason that we make a special trip to go out of our way happened again – the owner tossed a just-picked apple to me and each of my three kids.  I thanked the owner and told him how much I appreciate the apples and the we look forward to them every time we visit them.  He stated “Every person who walks through that door gets an apple.  I can’t expect them to buy anything from me if I don’t give them something first.”

Now, you could take issue with that statement that he is doing something to be nice only to get something, but he is in business for a reason – to make a profit.  But the neat thing about this orchard is that he really is a nice guy and wants to give people apples because he wants to be just that – a nice guy. He knows that people come to the orchard, as our family does, because the enjoy the friendly atmosphere. I don’t feel like I’m being nickled and dimed when I’m given an apple as soon as I walk in.  They offer assistance whenever they can about which apples to buy for which purpose – eating or baking.  They also have a great pumpkin patch, petting zoo, and barn full of new little kittens that kids can play with. No, I’m in no way affiliated with this place or receive any compensation. They don’t even know I’m writing this post. I jut like it that much.

During our conversation, I asked the owner when the Honey Crisp apples would be ready.  He said that they’d be ready next week, but that he had a few that he’d be happy to give me now.  They just might not be quite as ripe as I’d like.  I selected some different apples and some peaches, then asked about tomatoes.  He said that they had more in back and asked me how many I’d like.  I received the three that I asked for and he told me that those were my treat for the day on him. The clerk ringing up my items reminded me to come back when the Honey Crisps were ready and told me that she’d be sure that there would be some pumpkin spice donuts waiting for me.  I guess she caught me longing for the ones that had just come out of the oven.

So, as I paid for my peaches and apples, carried everything from the car, my son asked me why I was talking with the owner so much.  I told him that the owner engaged with me, helped me out with what we were looking for, gave me some tomatoes as a gift, and just made the last part of our shopping day a real treat.  Mind you, I had just spent 6 hours shopping for shoes and school supplies and lunch with my three kids.  They are the best kids in the world, but even they have their limits. This pleasant encounter addressed all of the main points of excellent customer service delivery –

  • They welcomed me into their store with warm genuine positivity
  • They asked questions about what I wanted and informed me according to what I needed to know
  • They encouraged me to come back
  • They knew that my business was based on their willingness to serve me with sincerity

Because of all that, this simple apple orchard has won a loyal customer for life.  And, not only am I returning, I encourage all of my friends and anyone reading this post that lives in the area to visit that orchard.

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.

Service Can Overcome Unrelated Customer Complaints

This week I’ve been traveling with my family across the midwest to the East Coast.  Along the way, we’ve been staying at Hampton Inn every evening because we like the price, the consistency of quality, friendliness of staff, and the great continental breakfasts.  Any hotel chain that can provide a breakfast spread that delights each of my three children deserves my business.

The point of this post is that we did have one issue this morning that dampened our experience, but the customer service in an unrelated incident more than made up for the original guffaw.

This morning, at 8:00 am, we were awakened by the housekeeping staff asking us if we were ready to have them clean our room.  They literally woke all five of us up.  In all of the years that we have stayed at Hampton Inns and especially on this trip, we have never even seen the cleaning crew until past 9:00 am.  When we told her we weren’t even close to being ready, she proceeded to knock on each of the rest of the doors on the floor asking the same question.

My husband, who is really a reasonable and accommodating person, was really riled up about this.  His feeling was that we were on a family vacation and this was one of the few days we had available to sleep in since we had planned to leave later in the day. He called the front desk to let them know of his irritation that we had been awakened by their cleaning crew.  The front desk staff advised him that we should have put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.  While he was professional in his tone, my husband perceived it as a bit condescending.  It really got under his skin to the point that he wanted to complain to a higher level to let them know that if it is common practice to awaken everyone on the floor to clean so early, guests need to be advised when they check in to put the sign on the door.

Needless to say, we went down to enjoy the breakfast and then proceeded to enjoy a day of sightseeing.  Now, there is a heat wave in the Boston area with heat indexes over the 102 degree mark.  When the five of us dragged ourselves into the lobby and it was apparent to the new front desk clerk that it was more than just a bit humid and hot outside.  She immediately went into the back room and approached us with five bottles of refrigerated water and insisted that we start drinking it soon to avoid dehydrating.  She was so kind and sincere about it, we really felt like she was a friend looking out for us.

So, when we got into the car to proceed to the next Hampton Inn from which I am writing this post, my husband looked at me and said “Okay, I guess I won’t complain since she was completely unaware of the issue this morning and went out of her way to make sure we were comfortable. That’s why we stay here – because we like it, the breakfast is good, and she won me back with her service.”

Hmmmm…… maybe my husband has been listening to me after all 😀

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.

Trying to be Nice CAN Cause Distress

Feeling StupidI gave a presentation on communication last week and had an interesting conversation regarding the use of words when we are trying to be helpful.  We had already covered the basics of body language being 55% of the communication model, tone of voice being 38%, and the words we use accounting for 7% of our message.

The gentleman stated that there is a technician in his web-designing company that is often on the phone with customers explaining how to program or navigate through an issue.  His clients often call for assistance when they are stuck or feeling frustrated because they can’t figure out how to program something.

He told me that this technician tries to be helpful when she tells them “Oh, it’s simple. You just do this, this, and this.”

Her customer satisfaction results have been dropping dramatically.  He said that he is certain that is customers feel stupid for not being able to figure out the answer since she said it was so simple.  They are even more frustrated when she explains the process to them, but the still don’t understand.  He was looking for another way to phrase her response since he is certain her intentions are good.

Express empathy for the frustration the customer is feeling.

My suggestion is to always let the customer off the hook with empathy.  Remember, the customer is looking for the personal touch when you interact with them and you are well served to boost their confidence in their quest for assistance.

“I know that this can seem a bit overwhelming at first.  Many people feel this way when this issue comes up.  I will walk you through it and teach you how to program this. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll be thinking to yourself that it is actually easy.”

Increase customer confidence with the right phrasing

This phrase accomplishes so much more than merely offering assistance.  It is telling the customer that they are not alone, it is a process that usually requires direction, you are their partner in the process, and that you have confidence in their ability to learn the process and do it themselves.

Phrasing is very important when interacting with customers.  I often help clients develop a few key phrases for specific situations in order to give their staff the tools to build the rapport and use empathy while trying to fix a problem.

I’d love to hear some examples of situations similar to this story above or some of the phrases that you use that help customers feel more confident.

Deliver Excellent Service Always-Value Add with Purchase Points

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.

Stratifying Customers

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.

Excellent Customer Service is the Best Prescription

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?

Congratulate Your Customers to Enhance the Relationship

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.

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