Monday, November 29, 2010

Use the 5 Bs In 2011 - Be What Your Customers Want

Customers are impatient, picky, demanding and savvy. They are also THE reason a business exists – to serve and sell the customer. To make 2011 a profitable year, here are the 5 Bs of what customers want –

1. Be Fast. Customers are impatient and want things faster than ever before. Think about your customer experience. Look at email response time, on hold time, IVR systems, live chat capabilities. Make it an experience that works for the savvy customer.
2. Be Good. Have team members who can answer customer’s questions. Make certain they have more answers than the customer has questions. Empowered employees make for happier loyal customers. Get rid of scripts.
3. Be Complete. Do what you say you will do. Do it right the first time, Do it when you say you will do it. It is that simple. Customers want to talk to one person and tell their story one time.
4. Be Responsive. This is especially important as customers interact with companies more via their computer. Your social media presence is worthless if you are not responsive. Emails should be answered at least within 4 hours. Whether face to face or on the phone, connect and care. That is the essence of customer service.
5. Be Personable. Give customers a reason to do business with you. Make the experience memorable. Show you know them and value their business.

You may have a great product but it can not stand alone in this crowded, competitive marketplace. In this coming year, stand out by being what your customers want.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Customer Loyalty Can Be Surprising

Many companies use a customer loyalty scheme whether it be miles, points or other free stuff. All are based on dollars spent and frequency of usage.

None of that is big news.

I am a member of plenty of these programs. And many of us will admit,
some of those companies we really do not like yet the attraction of the
benefits keep us using the product or service. But I have to tell you about
one that has my attention.

This summer Panera Bread Company introduced
Enrollment requires a visit to the website to enter the needed information.
The card is presented to you at the store. Here is what I like about their
approach – you can go to an in-store terminal and register immediately.
Once registered you are surprised with a free item (mine was a bagel). No
accumulation of spending, just an immediate reward. In a very short time, I
had a number of surprises offered - $2 off of an entrée, free drinks,
99 cents for a higher priced pastry. I never know what “surprise” will be
offered. I like that for a change. Panera is not in a business where I am
working to accumulate points for a trip so no tracking is really necessary.

Surprise works. also has an expiration on the offers. So I am motivated to
get back in to redeem and of course spend even more money while there.
The offers print on the receipt along with the expiration date and can be
found when logging into the account online.

Just this morning, I opened my email to find a “special surprise” in honor
of my birthday this month. Their goal is to surprise in unexpected ways –
it is working for this now loyal customer.
Start thinking about what you can do to surprise your customer. Simple
stuff works especially when the customer does not expect it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cable Companies Forced to Connect

It is a shame that New York City regulators have been forced to get involved in the repair business of cable companies. The city has drafted a contract with the cable TV providers that states: “If the technician fails to show up inside the promised window, the company has to give the customer a month’s service for free.” It also requires that the service tech would call, email or text to say they are on their way. And to top it off, customers calling for service would be connected to a live person within 30 seconds. Obviously this is a victory for New York City customers.

Cable companies have consistently ranked among the lowest in customer satisfaction in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Many have been guilty of abusing customer’s time for a lot of years. I am not a fan of government involvement. I would have preferred that the companies improved their processes so customer outrage would not have required this intervention.

What can you learn from this? Ask yourself these questions –

- How well are you doing at respecting the customer’s time? Think about email response time, on hold wait time, repair service calls.

- How do you communicate proactively? Think about whether you are calling when en route, calling or texting when a delay occurs, following up to report progress on an issue.

- What processes need to be changed so they are customer friendly and not company friendly? Re-think scheduling and long “windows” of promised service times.

Customers want respect, to be treated fairly and to receive value for the money they are spending. It is time to make changes that work for the customer. What will you do differently before your customer’s outrage forces it?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kindness and the Spirit of Service

It is nice to hear about kindness and service in unusual places. Family friends had a very unfortunate car accident on their way to their annual beach vacation. They were traveling in two cars – dad, mom and youngest daughter in the lead and the two teenagers following behind. Traffic came to sudden and complete stop and the teens ran into the back of their parents car at a pretty high rate of speed. The girls were shaken and banged up but thankfully no real serious injuries. The car was a total loss. The parent’s car had rear end damage that needed attention in order to continue to the beach.

Here’s where the kindness comes in Sgt. Jason L. Johnson, Georgia State Patrol, Post Commander, Post 25, Grovetown was the only trooper on duty in a five county area. He reported to the accident and turned into a real hero. After doing the needed paperwork, he led them to the closest dealership for bumper and rear light repair so they could drive the car safely. It was a Saturday. Sgt. Johnson went into the dealership and quickly assessed they had no interest in staying open past the normal closing time of 1pm. This did not deter the trooper. He got on the radio and called ahead to another dealership in Augusta 30 miles down the road. He then went back to the shaken up and shocked family to let them in on the game plan. The Augusta dealership was expecting them and ready to help with any and all repairs. He followed them down the road 30 miles and made certain all was as he promised. Our friends were in great hands with Sgt. Johnson who understood how to truly serve.

Kindness continued to prevail during their trip. While at the beach recovering and relaxing, my friend returned to the rental home and found a real surprise. Sitting on the counter is a lovely cake iced with the words, “Thank you”. This note was attached – “We heard you had a tough time getting here. We also wanted to thank you for sharing your 19th year of vacationing at Sunset Beach, NC with us. We are happy you made it and wanted to show our appreciation.”

How cool is that? She is uncertain how this property management company found out about the accident so you can imagine her surprise. Another example of a person doing the right thing – being kind and serving the customer.

The lesson for all of us – Kindness and a true spirit of service will work every time. Now go and deliver some kindness today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Time Clients Only

It doesn’t get any better than when a colleague sends me her recent customer experience. It is best if I let you hear it from her –

“I made an appointment to get my hair cut a week ago because I received a 50% off  coupon for the salon I’ve been going to for 6 years, 2 – 3 times a year. After my hair cut, I was informed the coupon was good for “first time clients only.” Sure enough, it was there in the fine print, so I paid full price. I can accept the fact that I should have looked at it more closely, but it made me think – why are they willing to give a discount for a new client, but not honor it for me, a loyal client of 6 years! Of course, all businesses are trying to lure new customers, but something about this just felt wrong and it certainly did not produce a favorable customer experience. If they had honored the coupon this one time, or even said we’ll give you 25% off, I would have been thrilled and walked away extremely happy, ready to tell all my girlfriends what wonderful service my salon has!

Also, as I gave the front desk person my debit card to pay, I asked if she would add the tip, as I had always done in the past. She said, “By the way, we’re not supposed to accept tip via credit card any more. Next time, you need to bring cash for that.” I said, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash on me right now. Why didn’t they let me know about this change when I made the appointment?”

Long story short, I left the salon thinking, I’m not sure if I’ll go back. Maybe I will ask friends if they have any other great places to recommend. It would have been so easy to keep a loyal customer happy, yet they seemed more concerned with bringing in new clients.”

Michele is right. Many of you have had a very similar experience to this. Most companies are more concerned with attracting new customers than they are with keeping current ones loyal. Where is the common sense in this experience? Your current customers are more valuable and they are less expensive to serve. Research tells you loyal customers are more likely to try new products and services and even pay a premium. They are your best referral source.

So what is your lesson for this story –

Should the coupon be for all customers?
Do your team members know what to do when faced with a similar situation?
How hard are you working to keep current customers?
What does this type of mistake cost you? 
Even think about the customers who overheard this salon transaction.

Here is my recommendation – Be fair, be respectful. Customers are hard to get so work even harder to keep them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Can I Clone Manny?

Recently I attended the National Speakers Association held at the Marriott World Center in Orlando. This is a bunch of people who travel for a living and are picky about their customer service – myself certainly included. This Marriott is not perfect however the servers in the restaurants stood out. Let me  tell you about Manny who worked in the casual Solaris restaurant. Manny approached us smiling and with enthusiasm. We had a few questions about the food. I can not do his descriptions justice in this blog. When asked if the iced tea was fresh brewed, he told us about the black tea leaves and the hot water going through the leaves. The shrimp salad was described with words and animation that created pictures. We learned about the fresh squeezed lime juice, the finely chopped cilantro and the lightly spiced shrimp over the beautiful greens. Manny believed in his food and enjoyed his role of ambassador. He was professional yet appropriately playful.

My husband was dining at the same time but at another table. His dining companions were speakers who are humorists on the stage. Martha was the server who took care of them with the same spirit of service. She had to hold her own with the humorists as they bantered back and forth. She provided another memorable lunch.

These servers took lunch and turned it into an experience enhanced with a bit of theater along with their contagious attitude. What a pleasure to see a large convention hotel get a number of things right. The executive chef wandered around the ballroom after lunch had been served to 1100 people to check on their satisfaction. Another server recalled a guest’s wine and cocktail choice from the previous night.

Think  about it - one person making a difference in their job. That is how it is done. Everyday people making great choices about how to serve. Now how do we clone Manny and Martha so I can encounter this at every hotel?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Do Your Customer’s Know Your Employees Names?

Are you good or great? A  good business is where the employees know their customer’s name but a great business is when the customer knows the employee’s names. Which is true of your organization?

Loyalty is created when the employee delivers a memorable and emotional service experience. A service experience that stands out can be the reason a customer will know and remember the employee’s name. This starts with an engaged employee. Engaged means connected to the business, feeling a sense of purpose in their job, and understanding how their actions affect the entire organization including hearing feedback about their performance.

When you engage your employees, you have a much greater chance of them engaging the customer. Nothing is foolproof but it is an excellent start.

Be a GREAT business where customers know your employee’s name

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Customers Need Reasons to Be Loyal

In a commodity world, customer loyalty is harder to achieve. Customers want you to stand out and earn their trust. Here is a list of strategies to create a customer centric organization.

1.      Get to know the customer. Listen and show you have listened. Deepen the relationship with your knowledge of them and their buying habits.

2.      Be the editor for the customer. Help them through choices and information. Have knowledgeable team members give them expert advice. Your team members should have more answers than the customer has questions…..or at least have access to easily finding the answers.

3.      Simplify the customer’s life. Are your processes designed for the ease and convenience of the customer? This is a not a new question but it is time to revisit it. Make your processes and systems fast and responsive to your customer’s unique needs.

4.      Connect with the customer. Prove you are in a relationship and customize to each individual customer. You can no longer be all things to all customers.

5.      Surprise the customer. Call and check in, follow up, provide unexpected useful information – do something to show you are thinking about them. Reward their loyalty by doing the unexpected extra.

Customers are creatures of habit and would rather not take their business elsewhere. Use these strategies and they will stick with you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So What Do Customers Want?

Recent research from the Strativity Group, (August 2009), gives us insight into what seems to be a tough to answer question.  
What do customers  want from their buying experience? Their research found –

  1. Quick and Effective Issue Resolution. This means team members must have information and authority at their command. Make certain your processes allow and require ownership. Customers want to talk to one person who can resolve their issue first time.

  1. Common Sense Discretion. Hiring, training and empowerment are the key issues  here. Does your team know what is expected of them? Too often the “script” can get in the way of common sense. Remind employees of when and where to use discretion. Could they be reluctant or even fearful of consequences if they “get it wrong?”

  1. Employees Who Exceed Expectations. The research showed that more than 70% of customers said they are willing to spend 10% more with a business if that business exceeds expectations. Spend time talking about what this means for your customer and your organization. At what touchpoint, can your employee exceed expectations? The Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel does a simple thing that wows its customer. The airport shuttle driver offers the room service menu to guests while in transit. The guest can make a decision and place the order while checking in. Dinner arrives a little earlier for a tired and hungry traveler. A simple idea that translates to a happy customer and more room service orders.

  1. Ease and Simplicity. Are your processes designed for you or the customer? This has been asked many times so take another look at how you have complicated things for the customer. Is your toll free number on the website or are you still hiding it? How do the phone menus work to simplify life for the customer? Ease and simplicity are defined by your customer, so start asking for their insight and use it drive the changes.

Now you know what customers want, what will you do about it?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Make It Personal

It is time to get personal. Customers are over a purely generic, impersonal experience with your organization. Your goal is to remember a customer’s preferences and show them you remember.
Team members need to connect with the customer – like the barista who knows your preferred drink much like Amazon who recommends a book and the financial advisor who reminds you of tax reporting information in a timely manner. For companies of all sizes, a great client tracking system can supply this information. Hold employees accountable for creating this positive personalized experience.

A great experience is not always so easy to identify, however a poor service experience is! 
Poor service is putting customers on long wait times, asking them to repeat information and not following up as promised. Customers are less forgiving than ever. The good news is customers can be more loyal than ever when you give them to reason to be so.

Your challenge is to personalize, anticipate and engage them. When the customer finishes dealing with your organization, consider what they might tweet or post on Facebook. Make the experience so good that their influence is only positive. Now go get personal today.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It really is - All About the Customer

It is refreshing to hear about a healthcare organization that is getting it right. The art and practice of medicine may seem as difficult as rocket science but this idea is not.

Cleveland Clinic is not your standard hospital. Their reputation draws the sickest patients from around the world – a third of the hospital is intensive care units. They have become a model for healthcare as well for other industries looking to improve their processes.

The idea that caught my attention was discussed in an interview in Fortune Magazine,, with the CEO, Delos Cosgrove M.D.

His revolutionary idea is – Let the patient look at their own chart. As he said, “It’s really about the patient….It’s the patient’s information. It’s about them. Why shouldn’t they have the data”. Not so surprising Cleveland Clinic had some hurdles to overcome like fears of how the patient would handle the information about a diagnosis. These concerns drove doctors to improve communication to their patients. This is not a rocket science idea yet it has not been a common practice for healthcare organizations.

When reading the interview with Cosgrove, I thought so when isn’t it about the customer. Too often the focus is not on the customer but on internal practices that have been in place for many years. Ask yourself -

What information should you make available to your customer?

How might that information and transparency improve customer loyalty?

What information needs to be available to employees so they can better serve customers – think across departments and functions?

Your customer may not be as thin skinned as you think. It is amazing what empowering your customer with the right information can do.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just figure it out!

I was in charge of planning the recent meeting of my Mastermind group. Our group of 8 speakers and authors has been meeting three times a year for 13 years. This meeting was held here in Atlanta and happened to be on the night of the Super Bowl.

I had arranged for us to meet at the Atlanta Airport Hilton and eat that evening at their restaurant, Andiamo. They agreed to bring in a TV so we could enjoy good food and the game. I took a break from the afternoon meeting to visit the restaurant and confirm our 6:15 arrival. The manager informed me that no cable was available in the dining room. I had spoken to him personally the night before and had been assured all was set. However I was double teamed quickly, he and the food and beverage manager immediately offered me 3 options. All involved setting up tables in unusual places with the required television – all were creative and acceptable choices. We chose the concierge lounge where tables were set beautifully and menus were ready at kickoff. Steven, a server and bartender from Andiamo, arrived to care of us. He was personable, fun, had opinions about the menu and the game. Steven knew we were set to enjoy our evening and he matched our mood. Andiamo offered complimentary appetizers and desserts due to the surprise change of plans.

Here’s the lesson –

When things aren’t what the customer expects, just figure it out -- fast. This was not really a recovery situation as the team never let it meltdown. They had anticipated and planned options. They provided the right person, Steven, to deliver exceptional service. Next time you face a disappointed customer or soon to be disappointed customer, what will you do to “just figure it out”?

By the way, have I told you about Steven lately?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Boy, was I surprised!

Customers expect you to do the big stuff right the first time. But the way to win their heart is to surprise them with the little stuff. Your goal is to create a positive customer experience that deepens the relationship.

Here are 3 surprises that happened to me over the last two weeks –

* One of my favorite Atlanta restaurants is Bacchanalia, . It is an expensive special occasion place. All through the meal, you are given unexpected gifts from the chefs. On my recent visit those items included a special soup, chocolates, a smoothie and cookies. But here is the real kicker, Bacchanalia operates a food shop and bakery during the day. So as guests leave the restaurant, a staff person hands out a bag of goodies from the bakery. Our bag was filled with a loaf of walnut cherry bread. Our friends received cupcakes and a baguette. What a lasting impression to an already stellar evening!
* I ordered a pair of shoes from Zappo's at 4 o’clock one day and they arrived at my door the next morning at 11am. I paid for normal shipping, not overnight. Their emails are signed “With love, the Customer Loyalty Team”. When you make my life this easy, love is an appropriate emotion.
* During carpool at our daughter’s school, a teacher loves to surprise the drivers and any traveling companions. Ms. Haigler hands out dog biscuits and tootsie roll pops. I love when she is working the carpool line.

It doesn’t take much to surprise your customers because most companies don’t even try. Be different. Surprise them and create a positive memorable experience.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Show Your Love for the Customer

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it is a great time to ask if your customers are “feeling the love?” Most of the same principles that make for a healthy personal relationship apply to your customer relationships.

Here are some thoughts to create an emotional connection with your customers –

1. Customers want a real relationship – one that is mutually beneficial. Loyalty happens when the experience connects them to you. They may be your customer today but if you are not engaging them in a proactive manner then their loyalty is up for grabs.

2. Customers want you to talk to them and must be able to talk to you via their preferred way. Make it easy. Is your 800 number on everything? Stop hiding. Two way communication is required. Listen, listen and then listen some more.

3. Think and fret over their needs. Show your concern and train your team to be empathetic. Look at processes and ask along the touch-points, what is important to our customer?

4. Show the love. Recognize and reward loyalty. Call them and thank them, acknowledge their years of business, send out a unique and customized gift – the idea is to do something that is unexpected to renew the relationship.

You know you shouldn’t wait for a special day to show your love, however Valentine’s Day provides a great excuse. Customer loyalty is fleeting. You must prove yourself with each transaction - one that connects and engages the customer.

Start showing some love!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Have I told you about Tony?

What a delight to experience service that is so deeply woven into the culture of an organization! It is easy for companies to give lip service to the fact that their people are at the heart of their customer service. And for years, I have defined customer service as, “Service is adding people to the product”. However it is still rare to see it in action from top to bottom. Make sure you get that – from top to bottom, from first encounter to last encounter. A few days ago, our daughter had a fall during basketball and we had the “opportunity” to visit the emergency room of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,

The experience started with complimentary 24 hour valet parking a true sign this hospital understands no parent should face parking a car when dealing with a child and an emergency. The check- in process was easy and simple administered by a caring and friendly team. Here is a hint, ALL the employees worked to create a seamless experience.

However there was one employee that I can not stop talking about, Tony Richardson. Tony is the “cast guy extraordinaire”. From the moment he introduced himself, his professionalism, pride and personality shone through. He was patient answering all the questions posed by a very curious and slightly drugged 10 year with a broken arm. We watched him redo bits of the wrapping process to meet his exacting standards. He even suggested and gladly put on his famous custom cast with both blue and red wrapping. His attention to the details was amazing – tone of voice, eye contact, sincerity, attitude and competency. Tony is a stand out in an organization that is already jam packed with service stars.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is once again on Fortune Magazine’s Annual List of 100 Best Companies to Work,

My story about this hospital is not unique here in Atlanta – rave reviews abound. But I really understand how it is woven into the fabric after my chance meeting with the CEO, Donna Hyland. Forty hours after our emergency room visit, I was introduced to Donna at church by a friend. Remember how I can not stop talking about Tony so I took the time to relate my experience. When I got to Tony, she was able say his last name along with me. She knows her team. No wonder CHOA is a repeat star of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies list. The service culture is evident from top to bottom – from CEO to valet parking.

CHOA is #74 this year and in my experience they are #1. By the way, have I told about Tony?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Customer Loyalty and 2010 "Trends To Watch"

With a new year comes the annual list of “trends to watch”. When reading a recent list researched by JWT Intelligence, I started to think how these trends relate to your customer’s loyalty. To gain your customer’s trust and repeat business, here are a few trends to take to heart –

1. Customers are “searching for stability”. They are still showing restraint with their spending, so this means you better provide an experience that is compelling and memorable so they will return.

2. Customers want “transparency”. This means tell it like it is, show them the details. Make it easy to understand – your policies, product information, rates, how to contact you, your green policy, whatever they need to know – give it to them upfront. Customers are reading the fine print. If the customer has to call you back, do live chat for clarification or stop by your business, then it costs you more. One client estimates reducing call in rate by one point produces a savings of $18 million. That is a huge chunk money to reinvest elsewhere. Bottom line is customers want complete and correct information the first time.

3. Customers want information that is “now”. Be connected. That means go beyond current. We are living life in real time. Social media and apps are making that possible. Make a team responsible for communication in real time. Keep the customer loyal by providing “now” information.

4. Customers value the “small movement”. For smaller local based and web businesses, this is good news. Relationships count. For larger organizations, act small. Communicate personally, directly and quickly. Customize your offerings. Customers think they are special and unique – figure out how to treat them that way.

Don’t bother with a resolution. Just get started by looking at your processes, ownership issues, people and customer relationship data systems. Customers want to be loyal – it’s a lot less hassle. Your job is to give the customer a reason to be loyal. No excuses.