Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No one wants our business.

What do a pediatrician’s office, a boutique and a mega communications corporation have in common? No one wants our business.

Isn't it comforting to know there are companies out there in this day and time that do not need business. On two consecutive days, during business hours, voicemail messages were left at our pediatrician’s office and an upscale boutique. Here we are 7 days later and still no return phone calls from anyone.

The absolute best is the new U-Verse from AT&T, after searching for quite a while we finally found a phone number to call to ask questions, we were ready to order. Understand U-Verse is being widely advertised on television and via mailings to us and after 30 minutes on the phone with them, an appointment was scheduled to make the switch. We were ready and happy to pay them about $1800 less annually than our current provider, we were going for the entire package.

Then the follow up call came from the installation support group. It was to confirm our address – makes sense if it wasn't AT&T who has been sending us four bills a month for four phone lines for over 21 years at the same address. The need to confirm our address was explained poorly and defensively by this employee. If we could not confirm that we were either NW or NE they could not do the install, and if we could not tell them, it would take them at least 3 days to figure it out. THREE days in this day and time and our street address is the ONLY street by its name in our city!

The original appointment had been set by a friendly and thorough person and was less than 36 hours away. The installation support call ended with my husband kindly suggesting that when they finally found us on a map, then please call us to reschedule the appointment. We have not heard back from AT&T U-Verse since then. Not only have they lost our business, they wasted a lot of employee man-hours with unbelievable incompetence. And if any of you out there want to forward this on to someone you know at AT&T -- be my guest.

Any lessons here for you? Consider these questions –

* What systems do you have in place to make certain calls are returned? If an employee does not take ownership, then create technology to keep your customers from falling through the cracks.
* How much damage occurs when one employee undermines the goodwill or even the “sale” of another employee?
* Do your employees know the importance of a timely, responsive return call?

The only reason a business exists is to service and sell a customer. This experience does cause me to wonder how the pediatrician’s office handles emergency messages. Thankfully my call was to book a non-life threatening appointment. My messages for the boutique were simply to check on an item in a certain size, not a life threatening matter either. However I am a customer who has left two messages and deserve the courtesy of a call.

It seems so simple – call your customer back. Must not be as simple as I think because 7 days later, we are still waiting for the phone to ring.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hire Smart to Start

After speaking to a customer service representative on the phone, I was reminded of one of my hiring tips. I know some of you reading this would love to be hiring right now and not shrinking your staff. But when hiring is back on your agenda, make certain you get the best possible employees. Here is my laundry list for hiring smart to start –

Hire the attitude. You can do that by the use of behavioral interviewing which I hope is pretty much the standard for your hiring practices. Ask questions to get at how this candidate will behave not just what they have done.
Pose specific customer situations and get their opinion on how they would handle it.

When you are down to the last few candidates, bring them in and have them observe the job. Give them real life experience of your specific job expectations. This will give other team members a chance to react to them. Use those team members in the final selection process. The more current team members are involved in hiring, better the chance that new employee will get on board faster.

Tell them the good, the bad and the ugly. Give the candidate the real story about working at your company. No surprises are a good thing and can minimize turnover. You don’t want a great new employee to have buyer’s remorse.

Do some of the interview on the phone. This is the hiring tip I referenced at the beginning of this. Most of your "customer facing" team members spend quite a bit of time on the phone. Test your candidate with a call to hear their “phone voice”.

When one on one you have the advantage of the entire package - the smile, eye contact, gestures and posture. Those can make a great difference in how this person is perceived. However none of that is available when on the phone. So call them, listen closely and think how that voice and tone would represent your organization. I find most companies do not practice this as a hiring technique. Use it and you will stand apart from your competitors.

Hiring is easy, getting the right person is not so easy. Take your time, involve others, get creative, use your gut and you might just “get lucky”..

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Final questions can build customer loyalty .

I recently stopped using a service that was getting $984 annually from me for the last 7 years. I called the local office to check on cancellation procedures and discovered it was amazingly simple. I was told just don’t pay the next monthly invoice.

Here is the really amazing part – the manager did not make any attempt to salvage my business. There was no inquiry of, “Can I ask what is causing you to….” or “What can we do to keep you as a customer?” After that first call, I stopped by the office to get my final bill to show the account was closed. Once again, the manager missed an opportunity to do an exit interview.

It would have been very simple to just ask – “Since we are always looking for ways to improve our service, what is the one thing we could have done differently to make that a better experience for you?” Or how about a polite, “Mrs. Ford, we do appreciate your business for these last 7 years. We will be happy to serve you again in the future if your needs change.”

It is easy to blame the economy as the reason customers are leaving. Stop assuming and find out the real reasons for customer loss. Your questions, show an interest and appreciation that may keep their loyalty. You may certainly gain valuable information to improve your business. My lifetime value was $6,888. Aren't a few questions worth that? Now is the time to start asking more questions. Prepare your final questions and you may create some new beginnings.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where is the Leadership for Customer Focus?

The most frequent question I get from clients is how do we get our people to do something differently tomorrow. They are asking about getting better execution from their top leaders, managers and front line teams. The executives have spoken of service excellence at many meetings and yet they still don’t see implementation. Or they see too much variability and not enough accountability. Eventually it always ends up the same, some people get it and others don’t. Here are three thoughts –

Start the hard-wiring process. Do this by creating metrics. Most of you have plenty of numbers but is anyone really “owning” the data. Publish your current status. Tracking and sharing the information can make a difference. A roadmap is needed but you have to start with “where are we” to move forward.

Make someone responsible. Who will be the champion? This goes back to someone owning the customer focus. The champion needs to look at the metrics as well as hiring, training, service standards, performance evaluations, coaching processes and empowerment issues. Nothing will happen until all processes are aligned with the desired customer focus.

Create service standards. As I have said to many audiences, “Without service standards everything is left to chance.” Do people know what is expected?

Exceptional customer service does not happen by just talking about it. What will you do differently tomorrow to create a culture of service?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Little things matter. Make a service experience memorable.

A few service experiences in the last few days remind me how the little things matter. My daughter and were I shopping at Target and had a 44 pound bag of dog food loaded on the bottom rack of the buggy. As we were cruising down the aisle, it started to slide a bit forward and drag the ground. We both leaned over to push and shove it back when an employee stopped what he was doing and took care of the shoving for us. It was such a simple thing but memorable.

An incident at Panera Bread Company caught my attention also. I had waited in the line and had money counted out for my iced tea. I stop often so I knew $1.92 was what I owed. Much to my surprise the price had gone up by a few pennies so I start to fumble for the additional money. The employee was quick to take my $1.92 and asked that I not give him the additional. He said he appreciated me making Panera a regular stop and wanted me to enjoy my tea one more time at the old price. Again simple and memorable.

Too often team members do not take such action. They are very much aware of the customer’s need yet do nothing about it. So many have the ability to look through us, “appear busy” and ignore our plight. It is usually a well- rehearsed act. Most service continues to be mediocre at best.

For those of you in leadership, what are you doing to inspire your team members to serve at such a caring level? Are you making it clear that this level of service is expected? Are you rewarding exceptional service when you see it or hear about it? Most of this doesn’t happen by magically motivated employees, leaders must be dedicated to creating a culture of service excellence.

Little things matter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How much more would you pay for great customer service?

According to Strativity Group’s August 2009 research, customers will remain loyal when you exceed their expectations. Here are the highlights from their study –

1. More than 70% of customers are willing to spend 10% more with a business if that business exceeds expectations

2. Loyal customers are almost 3 times as likely to continue doing business with a company for another 10 years than a dissatisfied one

3. 52% of dissatisfied customers expect discounts of 5% or more to continue doing business with the offending organization. Loyal customers expect none.

I am not one bit surprised by these results. I am willing to pay more and will be loyal when you deliver a great experience. What is the lesson from this latest research?

- Don’t take the customer for granted. Mediocre and average service is the norm. It cost too much to attract one, don’t screw it up by offering a normal experience.

- Sit down and talk about how to exceed expectations. Make this a regular conversation at team meetings. Design experiences that matter and will keep your customers returning.

- Hire people who can think this way. Train people to exceed expectations.

- Check your systems and processes that are interfering with your employee’s efforts. Take the customer view of your processes to see the roadblocks. Our good intentions can not be demonstrated until we get brutal with eliminating the roadblocks.

Great customer service is not costly. Research continues to show customers want it enough to pay 10% more. Keep in mind you are only as good as your last interaction.

Loyalty is the only measure of your success. Now is the time to be really great.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Showing Up Is Just Not Enough!

In my daily interactions, I notice many employees are showing up for work but are totally disconnected from the job, the customer and the experience. Their behavior is rote and nearly robotic. On a recent Delta flight, the passenger seated next to me had asked for a glass of red wine. The flight attendant delivered it. Then in a few short moments the same flight attendant delivered another glass of red wine to the same passenger. He never noticed that he had just placed the first glass on the same tray table. My seatmate, a jovial Australian, was amused by the inattentiveness. And not too unhappy about having two glasses of wine! However the flight attendant was clueless.

What has happened to employee engagement?

You have certainly heard how an engaged employee leads to an engaged and satisfied customer. At a recent visit to Panera, one of my favorite on the go restaurants, I saw engagement in action. A customer was walking towards the garbage area to put away her finished meal. I watched an employee stop to take the plate and bowl from her. Upon seeing the customer had left quite a lot of food unfinished, the employee asked sincerely if anything had been wrong with the food. The customer assured her that she simply was not as hungry as she thought. I love how this employee noticed and took action to assure the customer’s satisfaction. She showed up and was engaged – how refreshing.

What is your strategy to engage your team? At team meetings talk about the power of customer satisfaction and tie it to the bottom line and their paycheck. Connect customer satisfaction to their performance appraisal. Do something to get your employees attention. Simply paying them is not working. Rote, mediocre, inattentive employees are not your ticket to customer loyalty and your success.

It is not enough to have employees show up for work, they must be engaged and connected. Seems so obvious…..now make it happen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jump In with Tough Questions

In these interesting times, you may be trying to figure out how to successfully weather this storm. This marketplace seems to be demanding change so it is a good time to ask tough questions. Let me add a few questions to add to your list.

1. Can you identify where it is HARD to do business with your company? Consider your website, phone system, email response time, physical layout, process and policies. It is amazing how we make it difficult for our customers to do business with us. Arrogance and ego can create systems that are convenient for the company but not for the customer.
2. What rules do you need to eliminate? Most rules are written for 3% of your customers. Then we start to think all of our customers are out to cheat us. Believe me, the majority of your customers are not a problem, stop punishing the wrong group.

3. Are you one mistake away from losing a customer?

That mistake could be a broken promise, no callback, a missed deadline or not getting it right the first time.

4. Who needs to go? The right people are crucial to your company’s success. It is a great time to hire really good people as many of them are out of jobs. Work on upgrading your team. If you are not hiring, then what cross training needs to be done so the employees are at their best to serve your customer.

5. Would you want to do business with your organization? No need for elaboration on this one.

No one likes change but it is needed and demanded. So go to the edge, jump in with both feet, hold hands and get it over with.

Make something good happen today.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What do The RITZ and Waffle House have in common?

I just returned from a trip to San Francisco and had the good fortune of staying at the Ritz Carlton. I arrived at noon and was greeted by a doorman (employee #1). He welcomes me to the Ritz, assists with my luggage and asks my name. The next employee (#2) then opens the door and uses my name as he welcomes me. This employee was within earshot of #1 so using my name was an easy feat. Here’s where it gets interesting – I enter the hotel and am greeted with, “Welcome Ms. Ford”. This employee (#3) had been seated at a desk, rose quickly and offered me a bottle of water as she walks me to the front desk. Now she could not have heard the name exchange that happened outside the hotel. When arriving at the front desk I hear, “We are glad to have you at the Ritz, Ms. Ford. How was your trip?” Just to keep it straight, this was the 4th employee to use my name and it all happened in about 60 to 90 seconds. I know you are thinking – It’s the Ritz, what do I expect. Yes, I do expect it. However there are plenty of places with great reputations where the experience does not live up to our expectations. So it is a delight to see their philosophy of “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” in action.

My question is: does it take a Ritz to make this magic happen? Nope. Let’s go back to the Saturday before my arrival at the Ritz. After a fun run at our daughter’s school, two families went to the Waffle House for breakfast. A smiling employee opens the door, greets us with menus, a “Good Morning” and directs us to a table. Immediately our waitress says, “Good Morning” and takes our drink order. No, they don’t ask for my name and use it four times. But my waitress smiled sincerely, served me with hospitality and called me “honey”. And at the Waffle House, honey is just as good as hearing your name.

Who would think the Ritz and the Waffle House have so much in common…. both know how to provide a memorable experience by paying attention to details that matter to their customer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Do you feel lucky today?

As customers we are impatient, demanding, time starved and knowledgeable. Given all that, we know what we want and when we want it. And contrary to popular belief, it does not always have to be fast. But it does need to be resolved by a competent person in a responsive manner. We really don’t want to be on hold for what feels like an eternity. But if and when we reach a human we want it to be the right person.

It is the same with your website, social media or however your customer chooses to reach you. If we have done the necessary navigation we want to know your company will respond with more than an automated answer to someone else’s question just not mine. We prefer to deal with one person, not two or three people who are not empowered to help us.

I love when I finish an interaction and feel, “I got lucky – I got the right person” or “Wow, that was easy”.

As a leader, what are you doing to make every team leader the “right” person?” Does every interaction leave your customer feeling it was their lucky day?

Customers are not that easy to come by. It is your job to make sure the customer’s experience is one that keeps them loyal.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Just What The Doctor Ordered

It was quite refreshing to read a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a local prestigious hospital, Emory Healthcare. This hospital has been hit hard like many other hospital systems. Patients are seeking healthcare with no insurance and the stock market has decimated their investments by $50 million. They are fortunate that during this tough period they have remained profitable. However the bottom line still suffered a $20 million dollar loss according to the CEO, Jeff Fox.

Most organizations facing this type of loss would start looking at layoffs. In the healthcare industry, this would affect customer care. Emory decided to try another approach first. It is an old fashioned tried and true technique – talk to all employees, explain the situation and ask for their ideas on how to get through it. Employees suggested hundreds of cost saving ideas which translated to a savings of $30 million dollars. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered!

The ideas ranged from employees reducing paid time off by one day to giving up benefits in order to save jobs. All employees will feel the changes in their pay. That obviously was a small and acceptable price to pay when the alternative was job losses and reduced patient care. No layoffs are scheduled at this time. I wish this stuff was rocket science then it would be easier to not act because you just aren’t smart enough. It is not that tough so there are no excuses.

Employees will rally and support leadership when engaged in the process. Are you willing to ask employees for their ideas. The team knows these are tough times. They will buy in to tough decisions if you involve them. Start talking, leading and asking. They get it.

Make something good happen today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Will Home Depot's new slogan work or backfire?

I was reading an article about Home Depot’s latest advertising slogan. Here it is – “More savings. More doing.” According to their spokesperson, the philosophy behind it is, “barebones, do it yourself and bargain prices.” They are shouting from the rooftops that price is king. Their current view is customers want value only.

If your definition of value is price-based only then your long term future may not be too bright. That definition assumes there is no value in customer service. We all know the old adage of how price will get a customer however it will not keep the customer.

I have always been a fan of Home Depot. I live in Atlanta and Home Depot is a very generous corporate citizen. I want to remain one of their customers. However if “more savings, more doing” translates to fewer employees with fewer answers then my business is at risk. My guess is this will be the case.

In this economy, value may have a limited definition. Your business will be caught short if you don’t think long term. Value means a competitive price AND value means customer service, developing relationships, creating difference and a memorable experience that will keep customers loyal.

Make something good happen today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Extreme Customer Service

The third annual ranking of Customer Service Champs by Business Week (www.businessweek.com) was recently published. It is always interesting to see who gets recognition and why. Many familiar names are on are the list, Amazon at #1, Zappos at #7 and Marriott at #25. This issue devoted to customer service answers how customer service is relevant in this shrinking economy. I think these thoughts will help you see the reason certain organizations are deemed champs.

Ace Vice President John Venhuizen says, “During tough times there are plenty of other pressures customers face. We don’t want customer service to be what makes them blow their cork.”

Simon Cooper, COO of Ritz Carlton, noted that with occupancy rates falling, “you have to better because you are forced to.” I find that comment so enlightening as most organizations use a slowdown in business to only make excuses about their lousy customer service.

Zappos continues to innovate especially for their best customers. CEO Tony Hsieh has decided to invest more in their most loyal customers. They are offering a VIP service for them – a special website that offers early access to sales and new products as well as overnight shipping. Hsieh understands the repeat customer deserves special treatment.

How refreshing to see some companies do know today’s customer wants an experience and needs to feel valued. As Business Week reports, ”the best performers are actually doing more to safeguard service in this recession.”

What is your mindset? How do you rank among the top performers? When we do come out of this recession, will your customers remember that you put them first?

Make something good happen today.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Your Attitude Is Showing

In this marketplace, you can not afford to have a poor attitude showing to your customers. What are your employees saying when you are not listening?

I have to admit my jaw dropped when I heard this on a recent flight. This was a ComAir (operated as a Delta codeshare) flight out of Cincinnati. I was getting settled in my seat and it was nearing departure time. Some passengers were starting to switch seats for more comfort as it appeared all the passengers had boarded. Then all of a sudden a large group of passengers arrived late and started to board. Well you can see the confusion as their assigned seat had someone in it. The flight attendant was called over to help. At that point, the late arrivals started to say they had been at the gate and waiting for the announcement to board, then questioned the agent who did not know this flight had been called. It sounded like they had every right to defend their late arrival.

However the flight attendant decided to show her frustration to her customers. Here was her announcement over the PA system – “As you can tell, the gate agents here have no idea what they are doing so I recommend you write Delta. They always welcome your comments and you may get a $75 voucher. Let them know about this lovely experience.”

I can understand her irritation as she and the crew are trying to get a flight out on time. However her professionalism and judgment were sorely lacking. Employees are the face of your organization. What “face” will show up today and represent you? Do you know what is going on when you are not there? It is time to be more vigilant.

Make something good happen today.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Magic of Chick fil A

What is the magic?
Chick fil A just reported their system-wide sales numbers for 2008. It is their 16th year of straight year of double digit growth. Now I know you are thinking in this economy fast food is one of the few companies reporting profits. But the 16 year figure and same store sales up by 4.6 percent indicates this is not a company simply benefiting from people watching their dollars. And how did they accomplish this?

Customer service seems to be their trump card. They are rolling out an initiative called “second mile” service. The first mile is already solidly in place. This includes basics such as a clean parking lot, smiling faces and great food. Employees also say “it’s my pleasure” when responding to a customer thank you. That is a lot better than what I mostly hear when I say thank you and the most common response is “no problem”.

So what can a fast food restaurant do to go the second mile? The second mile is teaching staff more etiquette and encouraging a walk through the dining room to check on guest’s needs. I was recently approached and asked, “May I refresh your beverage?”, now that was a surprise. Truett Cathy, the founder and owner of this 63 year old business, says they are always tweaking and refining. He poses these 2 questions, how do you stay relevant with the customer? And how do you continue to reshape and retool the business?

Now is a good time to ask those questions for your own business. Think for a moment, this is fast food – a business with limited face time with the customers yet they have figured out how to create very loyal customers. What have you done lately to create second mile service? This stuff works. I even have my favorite Chick fil A where I love to be served by Sair at the drive through and am hugely disappointed when he is not there – that is fierce customer loyalty.

Make something good happen today.