Transforming the Customer Experience

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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?

Improving Customer Service Starts at the Top

Improving customer service is something all companies and businesses say they focus on.  But do they really?  I find that many say they are doing this, yet few have a set plan on how to do it.

You must set clear expectations for customer service

To improve the customer service and satisfaction levels within a business, there must be clear expectations.  “Be nice to customers” is by no means a clear expectation.  Good customer service skills are not enough. Your staff truly wants to know what the expectations are and will most likely meet them once they are spelled out.  What defines “Good customer service” to one person is likely very different to another.  Leadership needs to clearly define what they consider excellent customer service and give clear expectations on how to treat the customers. This includes phrases to use, how to address customers, responses to questions, ways to interact with the customer that are appropriate for the business setting and culture.

Leadership must set the example

In order for any expectations to be effectively implemented, leadership must set the example.  If leadership is treating the internal customers – the staff and associates poorly – it is virtually a guarantee that the external customers – the ones spending their money with you – will be treated poorly as well.  Leadership is in the position to create and foster an environment that is working the in the best interest of the customer.  Staff is watching, hearing, and learning all of the behaviors that management is practicing.  These, in turn, are the behaviors that will be adopted by the staff and how they will treat the customer.

Improving customer service is an ongoing process

Many companies and businesses hire coaches like myself to deliver a presentation on delivering excellent customer service and hope that it is the “Magic Bullet” they are looking for to improve the service they are delivering.  However, on a good day, most participants will learn perhaps one or two ideas presented to them and integrate them into their daily actions.

To be truly service oriented, leadership needs to present customer service as a main focus and objective.  The service that is delivered to your customers is the most important factor in determining whether or not that customer will return to your business.  Service needs to be taught, addressed, discussed and brought up at every possible opportunity.  Customer service training needs to be a regular part of the company’s ongoing development.  Skills need to be refreshed over time.  Perhaps there are some techniques that are not delivering the desired results.  By addressing the topic regularly, it can be determined if the technique is applicable or effective anymore.

The smart and successful companies are those in which leadership is cultivating a service oriented environment.  They recognize the importance of customer service and the impact that it has on customer retention.  They set clear expectations to the teams and provide the training in order to achieve those expectations.  In the words of customer service expert Lisa Ford – “You must have clear customer service expectations.  Otherwise, everything is left to chance.”

Are Core Values Important in Customer Experience Management?

Just a quick note on the importance of core values in regards to managing the customer experience and improving customer service.  A colleague of mine was talking about the difficulty he was having with different departments in his company.  He mentioned that he felt that most departments weren’t quite clear how they fit into the overall company or what their role truly was.  He also thought that most staff didn’t really know what the company really stood for.

This is a dilemma that is by no means unique.  I started asking him about the core values of the company and he was not aware if they had ever been identified.  If they had, he had no idea.  He thought that would be a good place to start bringing the business together as a more cohesive group.

What are your core values? While you may have many, develop a core list of 10 and make them known to everyone in your organization.  To really be customer focused, make these known to your customers as well.  You will use these core values as guiding principles for business decisions that you make, the way you do business, new business ventures and opportunities, and for hiring and firing decisions.  They will serve you in the forms of customer service and satisfaction, retention, and increased profits.

In order to be successful and to truly ingrain these core values, they cannot be something that are simply posted on the wall.  They must be upheld consistently across all levels of your organization.  Have you heard the saying “Do as I say, not as I do?”  You must walk the talk here.  Leadership must exemplify these core values for them to be reproduced in your teams.

Don’t Get Disconnected from Your Customer’s Experience

80% of companies believe they deliver a superior Customer Experience; however, only 8% of their customers agree.

Clearly, here is an example of perception disconnect. If you are a smart business leader, you will pay more attention to the perception of the customer since it is their buying behavior that drives your profitability.

But why is there this much of a difference in perception?

First off, I think that most companies genuinely do believe that they deliver excellent service. They know that they tell their staff during training to deliver good customer service and feel it happens naturally. Most business owners would honestly tell you that they would gladly improve the customer service they are delivering if there was a need for it. I think it’s highly unlikely that any business out there sets out to deliver poor service. But they often think that because leadership sings the “Let’s deliver good service” song, that it happens with just that minimal effort.

The key word there is effort. We’ve all heard that all things worth having require some effort – take this into the business perspective.  If you want customers, you need to work at it.  If you want them to stay with your company and be happy about it, it takes even a bit more effort.  The nice thing is that it is simple.  Simple doesn’t mean easy, but it is much easier than most companies realize.

  • Just use your manners.
  • Be polite.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Train your staff to deliver excellent service by telling them and showing them exactly what you expect and what the customers want.
  • Thank your customers for their business and ask them to come back again.
  • When they do come back, interact with them and ask them how you can better serve them.

Just by doing these things, the customer satisfaction levels will increase dramatically.

It also comes back to the fact that many customers will claim to be satisfied, yet will actually leave the business without telling management why.  Think about it – haven’t you ever been in a restaurant and had the manager come by to ask you how everything was?  Most patrons simply say everything was fine because 1) they don’ think the manager really cares to hear the truth, or 2) they don’t want to address the problem themselves.  They’ll just eat at another restaurant next time.

The strategy here is to ask probing questions and pay extra attention to the way the questions are answered.  Look for hesitancy.  That is a big clue that there is more than meets the eye.  The right questions will help draw out the answers you need in order to truly delight your customers and keep them coming back for more.

Want to Improve Your Customer Experience? Say It Like You Mean It!

I made a call to an office today and was greeted with the most droll sounding phone receptionist – “XYZ’s Office.  This’s Elaine. Mayep you?”  No, those were not typos, that was exactly how she sounded.  Besides the fact that I couldn’t really understand her words, she had the enthusiasm of someone who had just been told that she needed a root canal.  Which, actually, is funny because it was the dentist’s office that I was calling.

My point is this – When you have staff in a public position that interacts and communicates with customers, be certain that you have told them exactly how they should be interacting.  They need to be enthusiastic.  They need to sound professional.  They need to sound like they mean it when they ask if they can help.  It’s disrespectful to ask the question if you don’t mean it and are only asking because it is your job.  Customers know it’s your responsibility to help, but they are impressed when you sound like you actually want to help them.

As customers, we are so used to the poor level of service being delivered these days that we are impressed when someone actually does their job.  We are even further impressed when someone does their job well.  And, we are over the moon when they do their job well and come across as if they enjoyed it and appreciate the fact that we paid them to do their job.

The indifference that is perceived by customers is the determining factor as to if your customers will leave you.  If your public positions aren’t sounding professional and genuine with your customers, you need to replace them.  You need to clearly tell them what is expected of them, effectively teach them how to deliver your message, and then hold them accountable for it.  Some people have a natural gift for sounding professional and cheerful on the phone.  Those are the ones you want to have as your main phone operators.  You need these people to deliver your customer service expectations.

Make sure that your sales staff and receptionists are attentive and genuine from the moment that your customers walk through your doors.  They need to genuinely sound like they want to help, not just saying it because they are expected to.  If your staff doesn’t sound like they mean it, your customers will find one of your competitors who does.

Customer Experience Management? Walk a Day in Your Staff’s Shoes

Customer experience management can be enhanced by walking a day in the shoes of your front line staff.  I’m not a fan of reality television, but there is one show that has recently caught my attention for a very good reason.

Undercover Boss
is a new show that takes the CEO’s of huge corporations and infiltrates them into the front lines in order to see what is really going on behind the scenes.  This gives the CEO an opportunity that they would otherwise never have.  They see, hear, and experience everything that their teams experience.  If they went in as their titled position, there would most likely be a positive spin on everything since most people want to impress leaderships, or figure that they really aren’t interested and are just presenting themselves to make an impression.

The CEO’s are introduced as someone who is documenting the process of their job search, or some story that explains why there is a camera crew following them around.  The CEO is presented to a trainer or manager for a given department and does the work of a regular staff member for the shift.  They perform a variety of tasks throughout the week – loading trucks, working on a dump truck, cleaning “Port-a-Potties,” making food in a restaurant, sorting recyclables, answering phones in the customer care call center, etc.

During the week long process, the CEO’s get the opportunity to really talk with the people they are teamed up with.  They find out what motivates these people, what their stories are, what they think of the company, how they feel about their jobs, etc.

The part that I like the best is that the CEO gets a chance to perform a job that they themselves have never done, yet make decisions about regarding performance and need.  Often times, the CEO has no idea what challenges the teams are facing when actually doing their jobs, yet they are asking companies to work harder and faster, often time with less resources.  They have gotten so caught up in the productivity and business aspects of their companies that they have lost sight as to who makes their companies actually run – their teams and staff.

My second favorite part is the realization on the CEO’s part that spirit and attitude is the key factor in determining the success of their company.  Staff with the best attitudes are the one’s that make the leadership proud and they are often offered positions to help ingrain their attitudes into the culture of the company. They also see people who have physical and medical limitations operating with such a positive attitude that it becomes an emotional time for some of the CEO’s.

The hiring decisions that you make within your organization must be centered on the culture and atmosphere that you desire to convey to customers, both internal and external.  If you hire someone that does not exemplify the values and characteristics of your ideal culture, this one employee will damage your reputation further than you can imagine.  In the eyes of your customer, the person they are interacting with IS the company.

The message of this show is that as a leader, you must know what your teams are facing while performing their responsibility in keeping your company alive.  Become familiar with the demands and requirements of the jobs.  As a leader, every decision you make regarding productivity impacts your teams.  It will strengthen the rapport you have with your teams when you make your decisions with them in mind.

When the show wraps up, the thing that strikes me the most is how much the staff appreciates the acknowledgement for the work that they do.  Most of them become very emotional as they are appreciated for their attitudes and efforts and feel that they are genuine team members within the organization.

Again, the point of this message is that it is essential for leaders to understand the responsibilities that every position has in the company.  As leaders, we make decisions each and every day about working harder, smarter, faster, and often with fewer resources.  But what we sometimes fail to recognize are the consequences of our decisions when we are removed from the front lines.  How does quality service suffer?  What are the consequences to the morale of our teams? Does the customer feel the impact of our decisions?  How can we expect our staff to promote a positive attitude toward the customer when we are making their responsibilities more challenging?

Work side by side for just an hour per week with various team members.  They will show you how the customer contact points are faring and will give you insights as to how to make some changes to improve the company in everyone’s best interest.

Lasagne – Should You Pay for It If You Didn’t Order It?

Have you ever purposely put someone in a situation just to see how they handle themselves?  I did this yesterday, not to watch the poor girl sweat, but to see how well she had been trained to deliver good customer service.

Yesterday I had lunch with a client at a local restaurant.  It is a great Italian restaurant that has good food and good service. I ordered Rosemary Chicken and my client ordered the Whitefish.  We had both decided to order healthier entrees because we started our conversation about our workout routines and watching what we eat.  The server brought us water and bread promptly and was very nice.  When she delivered our meals, she instantly knew something was wrong.  Once she put my lunch in front of me, she apologized to my client and stated that she entered in the wrong entree into the computer.  She placed a large serving of lasagne in front of him.  I joked with him that he was going to have to run 10 miles to work off those calories.

The server did offer to bring him the fish, but we were pressed for time and didn’t want to wait for a new entree.  She said that she would see what she could do.  So, he ate half of the lasagne.  I told him that if they were smart, they wouldn’t charge him for his meal since it wasn’t what he ordered.

When the check came, his meal was on the bill.  My client wondered if he should say anything, but didn’t want to embarrass me.  Since he is such a kind person and I knew he would handle it tactfully, I told him to go ahead so that we could see how she would handle herself and what her customer service skills were like.  I said that the way she would handle herself would reflect two things – her personal outlook on serving customers and how well the restaurant has trained it’s staff to resolve these situations on their own.

The conversation went like this-

“I’m surprised that I’m being charged for the lasagne when I didn’t order it.”

“Well, remember, I rang in the wrong item.”

“Yes, but it’s not what I ordered and I only ate it because we didn’t have time to wait for a new entree.”

“Do you want me to get a manager to come out and talk to you about it?” she asked.

“No, you can talk to them to see how they want to handle it. Thanks.” he replied.

My client was very diplomatic and never stated that he wouldn’t pay for it.  The server clearly was at a loss in her own resources and had not been instructed as to what to do when these occasions arise.

She returned a few minutes later red faced and very abruptly handed him the check again and told us that it had been taken off and then left. Clearly, she had been reprimanded to some degree.

While it wasn’t the cost of the meal that was at issue, it was the fact that we didn’t think that we should have to pay full price for something we didn’t order and didn’t really want.  Remember, we had started our conversation on the topics of exercise and weight loss.  Lasagne does not fall into either one of those categories.  Since our service had been very good, she did receive a tip based on the full price of both meals.

Ideally, the charge would not have shown up on the bill at all.  Since it did, she should have instantly said that she would remove it when questioned about it.

Hopefully, she will use it as a learning opportunity since it will most likely happen again.  The restaurant business is a hectic one and mistakes happen from time to time.  Remember, the mistake does not define you, but how you handle it will.

Is Your Customer Experience Transformation Consistent?

Transforming your customer’s experience is successful only after you have made it a consistent expectation.

Your customers are already having an experience, good or bad, when they do business with you.  When you are looking to transform the experience, the key is to look at every part of your business through the eyes of your customer.  Make changes where you see a need or where you see an opportunity to delight them.  Delighting your customers is the result of having surpassed their initial expectations.

So, now you may be thinking that your experience is transformed based on the changes that you have made.  This is only partly true.  The true measure of success is when you have made the new experience a constant for them.  They need to be able to expect the new experience each and every time for it to be a successful transformation. Otherwise, it is merely a one time chance event.

Here’s the rub: while you have delighted your customer today with the novelty of the new experience, it will become tomorrow’s minimum expectation.  They key is to keep revisiting everything in your business to discover ways to make your operations and business processes unforgettable.  Your competition will copy the innovative changes you just made.

What will you do next to stand out from the crowd?

Yawn… I can’t wait to stop helping these customers and leave this place.

Did this really just happen? People, when you are paid to speak to your customers on the phone, please don’t take total leave of your senses and treat us with complete lack of common courtesy.  I think I may have just found a prospective new client in need of some training to improve their customer service telephone skills.

Having received a bill in the mail, I called the facility to pay with my credit card.  I was greeted by a woman who was not rude, but certainly didn’t sound cheerful or happy to help me.  She sounded bored by having to help me and asked me for my account number.  While she was waiting for the account to come up, she actually yawned with an audible sound!  I asked her if she was tired.  She said it had been a long Monday and she couldn’t wait to get home.  Then, she did half-heartedly apologize for yawning while on the phone with me.  Well, at least there was an apology.

All business owners, leader and managers, RIGHT NOW, have a quick meeting with your staff that comes into contact with your customers in any way and tell them that it is absolutely unacceptable to yawn audibly in front of your customers, even on the phone.

Now, I completely understand the overwhelming need to yawn.  If you absolutely must, then go ahead, but USE YOUR MANNERS!  Cover your mouth and try to minimize the yawn.  Then, IMMEDIATELY apologize.  If you are on the phone, cover the mouthpiece if you even think there may be a sound involved.

As a customer, all I know is that I’m pretty irritated that this customer service representative didn’t possess the most basic telephone skills required to properly handle my call in a pleasant manner.

1.  She wasn’t cheerful or pleasant with me at all. – Anyone who even remotely comes into contact with customers must be pleasant and cheerful at all times.  Not giddy, just pleasant and personable is considered professional and respectful.

2.  She merely processed me through the system.  She didn’t engage with me at all on any level. – At no point during our brief conversation did I feel that I was anything more than an account that was being paid.  I didn’t feel like a person, or even really a customer that was paying them for a service provided.

3.  She openly and audibly yawned during our interaction, then didn’t apologize. – Really?  Do I need to say more?

4. She openly told me it had been a long day and told me she couldn’t wait to leave for the day. – Everyone in your company should have the mindset that without the customers, they wouldn’t have a job to be bored with in the first place.  We are paying you to do business with us. Respect that.

Treat your customers with the respect they deserve by spending their dollars with you.  Now, do you think I’m going to look elsewhere for this service by someone who may actually appreciate the fact I’m spending my money with them and not their competition?  Absolutely.

Hospitality Advice on Service – Do You Have Guests or Customers?

Hospitality dictates that customers are “Guests”in our business

We all strive to excel in customer experience management.  Judging by my last post, there is a lot of interest involving the words that we use and the phrasing of our words when focusing on the customer experience.  Words make up only 7% of our communication (body language is 58% and tone of voice is 35%).  So, that means we need to choose our words wisely.

I was meeting with a prospective client yesterday and we discussed this very topic.  Her family owns four restaurants in town.  During our conversation,she referred to the patrons as customers, while I referred to them as “guests.”  She asked me why I was making the distinction between the two words.

Since we were in the restaurant setting, I used the analogy of people coming to her home to eat dinner or to her restaurant to eat dinner.  I asked her how she would treat the people coming to her house.  She replied “I treat my guests very well.  I try to make them feel like family.”  As soon as those words were out of her mouth, she understood what I meant.  Especially since we were talking about the same meal, just served in two different places.

The guests coming to her house were most likely not paying her to serve them dinner.  They were invited guests that she was looking forward to spending time with.  Take this same thought into her business – a restaurant.  She is looking to increase marketing to increase business. By referring to the customer as a guest, it makes them feel special, that she was looking forward to serving them a meal, and increases the positive feelings of the dining experience.  Remember, it is the feeling that our customers/guests have that determine if they will return to us.

While not all industries can use the term guests appropriately for customers, many can.  Use your good judgement.  It may be the difference that makes the difference. Theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and the entire hospitality industry use the word “guest” as opposed to “customer” whenever possible.  Mirriam-Webster defines “guest” as a person to whom hospitality is extended.  My advice to any client, manager, or business owner is to be as hospitable as possible when interacting with customers.

Because customers are paying you to treat them well while they are doing business with you, all business should treat them as guests.

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