Transforming the Customer Experience

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3 Things I Learned From 25K Training About Improving Customer Service

I’m training for a 25K this May and on my short run this morning, it hit me how similar the process of training for a 25K is to improving customer service.  Three of the main points are 1) Take it slow 2) Have a plan and 3) Use the right equipment for the environment.

Take it slow – No one in their right mind registers for a race without training for it.  They’d injure themselves and set themselves back further than if they’d just not started at all.  It’s one step in front of the other.  You ease into it.  The same goes with improving the customer service you deliver to better serve your customers.  You seriously can’t just jump in both feet first at full steam ahead speed and expect wonderful outcomes.  When you know what you want, you ease into it and achieve one milestone, then the next, then the next.  Enough steps gets you to the finish line and looking ahead to the next race.

Have a plan – When training for a race, you have a training schedule.  A few short runs during the week, longer runs on the weekend that get longer and longer every week.  Throw in some cross training and some speedwork and you are on your way.  Improving your customer service levels is exactly the same thing.  You’ve got to have a plan.  It doesn’t happen successfully without one.  You need to have a goal of what the ideal service experience is for your customers.  That’s your goal.  Then, you plan it out step by step.  Start at the top with leadership.  Then move on to the teams to consider every touchpoint with the customer.  Look at how you greet the customer, how you interact with them, how you serve them, how your processes work for them… you get the picture.  Start at the beginning and work from there.  Again, one step at a time.

Use the right equipment for the environment – As you can see from the picture, it was snowing this morning.  Knowing that my grace and coordination abilities are somewhat absent, I made sure that I used my Yaktrax to help me on the snow and ice.  I used my earmuffs and mittens to keep my hands and ears warm.  Using the right equipment for customer service means that you have to get help when you need it, use training manuals, get a CRM software if it will benefit your customers and staff.  Ask your teams what they need in terms of training or delivering great service and supply them with it.  Making the investment in your team, be it time and/or money, always pays off in the end when used the right way.  Please don’t be an example of “Shelf Help’ where you’ve purchased training books, dvd, or consultants like myself and never followed through and left everything sitting on the shelf in your office.

Remember to take it slow, have a plan, and use the right equipment and you’ll make great strides in getting to the point of being know for the service levels you provide, regardless of your product or your price.

See you at the finish line!  Let me know what some of your challenges are.  I’ll be helping and cheering for you every step of the way.

Hampton Inn Personally Reaches Out to Customer Reviews to Strengthen Customer Relationships

Small Gestures Build Customer Intimacy

I noticed today on the the TripAdvisor Site that there were some reviews for the Hampton Inn in Manhattan/Times Square in New York.  In the review section there were numerous extremely favorable responses and just a few non favorable reviews.

What got my attention was not the reviews themselves, but the responses.  Luis Santiago is listed as the Front Desk Supervisor and has responded to each and every review given for as many pages that I was willing to flip through.  When I hit 15 pages containing at least 3 reviews each, I was satisfied and happily impressed.

The responses that Luis gave were not canned responses at all.  He took the time to craft each and every one.  Now, the beauty is that these responses were just a few short sentences, not lengthy at all.  That’s the point, it doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort or time to connect with customers.  It just takes a small step.

Now, for those of you who may be wondering if there any negative feedback, yes there were a few.  I couldn’t find any that were a “One Star” or “Two Star” review, but I did find some negative feedback imbedded in an overall favorable response.  Luis addressed those topics specifically with the reviewer and thanked them for the feedback.  He also told the reviewer that he would take it under consideration to see if any improvements could be made.

Bottom line… This is an example of building and strengthening the customer relationship after the interaction or transaction has been made.  Just the small effort of thanking for the review, thanking the customer for their business, encouraging them to return and addressing any incidental issues is huge in the mind of the customer.

And, it just may garner some unintended unsolicited marketing… as I’m doing here in this blog.  I have no ties whatsoever to the Hampton Inn or plans to visit New York anytime soon.  I’m hoping that this post serves two purposes… 1) to show business leaders that the little things count massively in the overall customer experience; and 2) to send a little extra business to the Hampton Inn in New York.  Please be sure to tell Luis hello!

Please comment below to share your thoughts….

No Matter What Your Job Title Is – You Are a Customer Experience Officer

Disregard the title on your business card. That’s right, whatever title you currently have, disregard it.  It doesn’t matter if you are the business owner or the entry level summer position.  Your title on your card is irrelevant except for the fact that it details some of your functional responsibilities.  Your true purpose within your business is to serve the customers who pay money for your product or service.  If you don’t serve the customer face to face, you are still working to support those who do.

No matter what your titled position is designated as – you are in customer service.

Everyone in your organization is serving the customer. Even those who work behind the scenes and never come face to face with the customer bringing in the dollars are working to support those who do. The person who answers the phone, the person who distributes mail, the person making purchasing decisions, the person managing projects, the person providing janitorial services – all of these people are performing functions that ultimately impact the paying customer in some form or fashion. The trick is to make sure that all of these individuals recognize that they are not working independently, but as a team to benefit the customer.

The main reason customers leave? You and your treatment of them.

Customers are leaving your business mainly because of how you treat them. The number one reason cited 70% of the time for leaving a place of business is based solely on the experience that you provided. Consumers today are delighted when they are treated as valued partners in the business and are not processed through the system. When businesses practice the basic concept of courtesy and good manners, customers notice it and come back for more. Customers are hungry for businesses that welcome them into their place of business, that greet them warmly, make eye contact, introduce themselves, offer assistance when needed. They enjoy the experience so much more when they are thanked for their business at the end of the transaction and are encouraged and invited to come back again.

Too often, customers are treated as a nuisance or necessary evil of running the business. They are seen as time wasters. While we all have had the occasional bad day and don’t want to interact with another customer, we need to recognize that those very customers are the ones sustaining our business.

If you don’t serve your customers well, someone else will.

The smart companies are those that are focusing on their customers and looking for ways to serve them well. The customer is the sole determining factor in the success of your business. Customers are recognizing this fact and are looking for those businesses that deliver excellent customer service. They want to do business with those that effectively manage the customer experience.

It’s all about Customer Experience Management.

Delivering excellent customer service involves all aspects of the customer experience. It starts from the initial desire of your product or service on the part of the customer and extends through every customer contact point, to the point of follow up after the transaction. When this process is well managed with the customer benefit as the focal point, the entire company has then become customer centric and started to build the relationship that customers are craving from those they do business with.

By making sure that it is the customer and their needs that you are serving, you are working in the best interest of both the customer and your business.

5 Steps to Improving the Customer Service Experience

How to improve the customer service experience?

It’s a question that is really starting to separate the progressive businesses from those that are wondering where their customers are going.  Today’s customers are more and more savvy and expect to be treated well when they spend their money with us.

I would like to share a report from Customer Management IQ that can help shed some light on exactly how to do that.

In it, you’ll discover…

According to an Ovum survey of 300 US-based consumers, customers are willing to pay a premium of almost 10% in order to receive great customer service. By improving the customer experience at every touch-point, enterprises will gain more loyal customers who are also likely to act as brand advocates.

This whitepaper provides readers with Ovum’s viewpoints on:

  • How changing consumer behavioral trends are impacting customer service;
  • The importance of various metrics in determining the success of a contact center;
  • The five key steps to improving the customer experience.

Please click here to download the report directly to your computer.

Customer Complaint Resolution – A Fishy Restaurant Tale

Resolving a customer complaint isn’t just about handling the issue, it’s the way you handle the issue. Customer satisfaction and customer retention depends on it.  Here is how one unsuspecting restaurant lost a customer for life.

My family and I were on a weekend getaway in northern Michigan and stopped in at a restaurant to enjoy some dinner.  Since I have a younger child, we always get the child’s menu plus some regular menus.  My daughter ordered the fish and chips off the children’s menu for $ 4.99.  My husband and my older son ordered the fish and chips off the regular menu for $14.99.  It was a nicer restaurant right on the water and we were really enjoying the experience.  The server engaged us and was quite attentive.

When the meals arrived, we instantly were put off.  My daughter’s plate had one piece of fish and french fries.  My husband’s and son’s plate each had two pieces of fish identical to my daughters and french fries.  We could have ordered two children’s meals each for my husband and son, received the same amount of food, and saved $ 4.99.

In the first place, the pieces of fish were not that large and was not enough to satisfy anyone that would order a meal off the regular menu.  The second issue was the price difference did not justify the quantity of food.

The server graciously sent the manager to our table.  We explained how we thought there would be a bit more fish on the plate, especially due to the price. We explained the math I presented above. Her response was “I’ll get you some more fish.  I don’t want you to leave hungry.”  When she returned, she provided only one piece of fish for my husband, not for my son.  When we asked for him to have another piece as well, she agreed but was clearly irritated.

My point is this… When customers voice a concern, really try  to understand it.  Customers have a level of expectation that they internally monitor based on the type of store/restaurant/facility factored in with occasion and price points. While some customers are unreasonable, most are not.  Most simply want to be understood and typically have a very good point that deserves to be considered.

While this manager “solved” the problem by bringing more food, she failed to understand the issue from the customer perspective.  The feeling that was in our minds was that we were trying to get something for nothing or receive special treatment.  She didn’t try to understand that there simply was not enough of the protein on the plate to satisfy anyone over the age of 14, aside from the fact that it was simply double the child’s portion at triple the cost.

While everything else about the restaurant really was very nice, we were left with such a sour taste in our mouths, there is no way we will ever go back there.

Now, we fell into the typical business to customer situation.  We didn’t tell the manager that we were so disappointed for two reasons – 1) We were really enjoying ourselves otherwise and didn’t want to spend more time there than necessary.  2) We didn’t think she would ever get it.

How many of you, as business leaders/owners/and managers really train your teams to understand and resolve customer complaints?  How many of you train your teams about not just what to do, but how to do it?  This customer complaint lack of resolution altered our ultimate customer experience.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please share below.

Can One Person “MakeUp” for the Poor Customer Service of Another?

In between business meetings today, I decided to make a quick stop into a well known national chain of high end cosmetics.  I typically am a brand loyal girl, but was wondering if I was up for a change today.

I drifted away from the makeup counter that I typically shop at and started looking at the counters and aisles of other brands.  I noticed that there were a few women in black capes that worked for the store, but none approached me.  That was the beginning of my experiment.  I’m pretty good at looking “lost” when I need some help, so I put on the “lost” face, but still no one came to my aid.  Four minutes passed.  Because I had another client meeting, I had to get the ball rolling myself.

I approached a staff member myself and asked her a bit about the new brand and quickly told her what what my goals were.  She basically just shrugged and replied “Yeah, it’s a pretty good brand.  It should help you out.”  She didn’t ask any further questions and didn’t offer any other input.

Because the name of the new brand is very well known and I like the colors in the palette, I decided to proceed and purchase the products.  I waited patiently in line and for the two cashiers at the counter to work their magic.  I was next in line eager to checkout.  The moment one of the cashiers was done with their customer, she immediately grabbed some paperwork next to her register and began scanning codes in.  The lady behind me said “It appears as if we are invisible today.” in a joking voice.  By that point, I was really ready to just put my product down and leave.

At that moment, the next cashier was done, smiled, looked at me, and said “I’d be happy to help you now.”  That blew me away.  She engaged me in conversation and told me that she had just purchased the same eyeshadows and was sure I would like them. (I tried to let the fact that she had 6 inch false eyelashes not sway the compliment.)

She then offered some samples of some skin care products to me and I readily accepted them.  She asked if I had “my frequent flyer card” with me.  “If not, I’d be happy to look it up in our system and give you credit that way.”

I left with a smile on my face.  This last interaction that I had was long and engaging enough to make me forget about the neglected feeling I had a the beginning of my shopping experience.  I wonder if I would have had the same feeling had she merely been more pleasant than the others, but kept the interaction to the necessities and not offered samples or help with the card.

The first woman who helped me only offered enough customer service to satisfy my most basic inquiry.  The last woman offered enough customer service to actively engage me to the point that I plan on returning again. If so, why hadn’t the others picked up on that as well.  I also wondered if any of her customer service was taught or encouraged by the manager or leadership of the store.  Your thoughts?

Customer Intimacy – What is it About Our Product?

When we are looking to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty through customer intimacy, it again boils down to asking questions of your customers.  You know you have a good quality product.  You know you provide pretty good service.  But do you really think it’s a case of “Build It and They Will Come?”

You need to really be in tune with your customers.  You need to ask them the right questions to determine what it is about your products that brings them back to you.

Ask these questions…

What is it that they like about your product or service?  What is it that they DON’T like about it?  How do they benefit by using your product?  If you are business to business, how do your customers make money with your service?  What challenges do they face when using your product?

Now, a lot of you may think that you already do a pretty good job of asking these or similar questions of your customers.  If that is truly the case, then congratulate yourself because you are already ahead of 95% of your competition.  They are still lagging behind in the “Build It and They Will Come” mentality.  Really, that’s so 1989.

If you want to be even smarter about the way you do business and tailor it to your customers, take this next step…

Ask those same questions, but instead of asking about your product or service, substitute the word “business” to get a better gauge on how your business itself is serving your customers.  How is your response time?  Are your salespeople really helping solve problems or just trying to sell product that your customers don’t really need?  Are your customer support staff knowledgeable enough about  your products and services?  Are there any obstacles that make it difficult to do business with you?

There was a saying that I used when I was young to defend my constant question asking.. “The one who asks the most questions learns the most.”  As a business leader, you could use this same premise with a twist…

“The business that asks the most questions and acts on them EARNS the most.”

What do you think?

Customer Intimacy – Who ARE your customers?

Increasing customer satisfaction through customer intimacy depends on one very important thing – How well you know your customer base.  Who is it that is doing business with you?  This may seem very basic and rudimentary, but it is actually one of the factors that most businesses have taken the time to ask themselves.

We all know that customer are the ones who bring dollars into our company and sustain us financially, but who are they really?  It’s time to discuss this point with your leadership team.  You need to clearly define who your customers are in order to take the next step toward customer intimacy.   You can’t get to know someone intimately on a personal level without getting to know more about them.  The same holds true in the professional world.

By clearing identifying who your customers are, you’ll be better able to decipher how to serve them better.  Discuss your customer base with your leadership team, front line staff, and sales staff.  What type of customers do you have?  Are they individuals or businesses?  Are they large companies, small businesses, or solo-prenuers?  How long have they been in business?  What field are they in?  What are their similarities?  What are their differences?  Ask yourselves these questions in order to open up the discussion to dive deeply for knowledge.  You must determine who your customers are before you can go about improving your business for their benefit.  If you don’t know who you are serving, it’s really just a shot in the dark.

Improving customer service and satisfaction requires an appreciation of the people that are currently coming to you for your products and services.  By doing this exercise, you may even discover that the people who are keeping you in business are not the ones you originally thought would ever do business with you.  You never know unless you ask.  By asking, you understand. When you understand, you are in a better position to serve and increase customer loyalty, as well as profits.

Customer Service Provides Value

Recognize the Big Picture….
I was recently paying a bill to a medical group with whom my family seeks medical care.  The Billing Specialist commented that she was feeling a little burned out with her job and wished she could make a difference for people.

She Didn’t Recognize Her Value

I told her that she made a very big difference to me and my family.  The current medical insurance requirements and changes have our minds literally swimming.  She has provided us the expertise with coding and requirements to ensure that our claims are billed accurately to receive the appropriate and highest reimbursement.  I reminded her that she educates me every time we speak about how the claims have been billed according to what the physician codes and how the insurance company can pay according to our policies.  When there is a mistake made in the system, she contacts the appropriate people to fix it and have any corrections made.

Above all else, she explains things to us in layman’s terms and reassures me that everyone in their department is working to be sure that our claims are handled appropriately.  This gives me peace of mind.
People Do Business With Those They Know, Like, and Trust
Because Marilyn has proven to be a valuable resource to me in regards to our medical billing, anytime that an issue arises, I simply call her.  I have recommended several people to this medical group simply because of the way she handles our accounts and lets me know that she has me covered.  Obviously, the medical care is excellent, but it is the personal touch that Marilyn gives that lets me know she values the relationship our family has with that group.
This is the type of reassurance that customers need, no matter what the field of business. Customers want to know that you are there to help them solve their problems and are watching out for them.

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!

Small Stores Trump Big-Box Stores in Service

Why are some small specialty stores having their best year ever?  Because more consumers than ever are putting an emphasis on customer service to determine where they do their shopping. The smaller stores recognize that they may not be able to beat the larger stores in price, but they can more than make up for the difference with the service they provide. Younger adults are now more than twice as likely to choose stores based on service.  This shows that delivering excellent customer service is more important than ever before and shows no signs of fading into the background.

There is tremendous competition based on prices, so the smart retailers are focused on providing an experience, not just a deal.  The Mom and Pop stores, small retailers, and specialty stores are finding their niche in delivering something that the big box stores just aren’t providing – an enjoyable shopping experience that engages the shopper.

Readers of this blog know that there are three ways to differentiate yourself in today’s market:

  • Price
  • Product
  • Service

Service is the easiest, cheapest, and provides the largest return on investment and effort.

Read what a small retailer in Kalamazoo, Michigan has to say about providing a unique shopping experience that sets them apart from the larger stores.

“Certainly there is tremendous competition,” said Vicky Kettner of Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated . They’ve gone to battle for your buck, placing billboards miles from downtown and right on the front lines of its big box competitors.

Their idea is to sell a holiday experience that consumers say is lacking in modern retail.

“When someone is looking for a relaxed environment, where experience is important, customer service is important and selection is important for the uniqueness of things, then we have a good story to tell,” she said.

To really provide a unique experience to increase your profits and loyal customer base, you’ll find all of the strategies and techniques right here at

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