Monday, May 2, 2016

Consistent Service Counts

Every time I see my friend "Barb" (not her real name), she has a terrific story for me about either good or bad customer service. This past week was no exception. 

In a previous post, I described how she had become a "customer for life" of one company because of the service she had received. There's a saying in customer service that you are only as good as your competitor's last interaction, but the same is true for any company, whether you are competitors or not. If a customer receives outstanding service, their expectations are raised, and those expectations will be applied to you when it's your turn to assist.

This time, Barb told me that she had received a great gift last Christmas: A new push-pull golf cart. It stayed in the box until a couple of weeks ago when the weather here in Maine got warm enough to start thinking about golf. When she went to assemble the cart, she found a couple of small pieces of plastic, and then discovered that the lower strap that holds the golf bag to the cart was broken. Undaunted and confident that she'd receive great service, she called the manufacturer to ask for a new lower strap.

The customer service rep who handled the call was a man; you'll see later why that is a factor in the story. He listened as she told him why she was just contacting them now about a Christmas gift, and she described the problem. With only the upper strap, a golf bag would not be stable on the cart. The rep told her that she would have to download a PDF form, fill it out, and mail it in to request the strap.

"What if I went to the retail store where this was purchased?" Barb asked.
"Same thing. You'll have to fill out the form, and the store will send it in. It will probably take longer."
"You can't just send me a new strap?"
"No. You have to fill out the form."
"OK," agreed Barb. "Can you email me a link to the form?"
"Yes," said the rep. "You'll get email today."

No email came that day, or the next, or the next. Barb called the company again, and got a woman on the phone this time. She related the story of her previous conversation. 

The female rep asked, "Was that rep a man or a woman?"
"It was a man," said Barb. 
"Unh-hunh," said the new rep. "Let me get your mailing address and I'll send you out a new strap. You'll have it Wednesday." The rep confirmed the model of the cart, and whether it was the upper or lower strap. Barb had her doubts she'd really receive the new strap, despite the attentive nature of the female rep.

The new strap did arrive on the following Wednesday, and Barb installed it with ease. No PDF form, no fuss, no trip to the retail store.

Now, it seemed to Barb that the question about whether it was a man or a woman who told her she'd have to fill out a mail-in form was a clue that a male on the team (maybe the male on the team) was known to provide less-than-stellar service. Of course there's no way to confirm that. She hopes that he received some instruction on how to respond to a simple customer request, as well as being told to follow through on commitments, even just sending an email when you said you would.

Here's the point: Consistent service counts.

  • All your reps should offer the same level of service
  • The solutions for the customer should be the same
It should always be easier for the customer than it is for your business. Let's not forget who is paying whom.

Give it some thought.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thinking About Customers: The Pink Bicycle

V Manninen, Creative Commons
One morning shortly before Christmas, a man and a young girl entered the bicycle shop. The owner of the shop greeted them and asked how he could help.

"I'm getting a new bicycle!" said the girl.
"You've come to the right place," said the owner, looking from the girl to the man. 
"She has a December birthday," said the man, smiling.

The man and the girl began looking around the shop at the various sizes, shapes, and colors available. After a short time, the owner of the shop noticed that the girl was spending some time looking at a blue bicycle, while the father was carefully checking out a pink one.

"Come look at this one, sweetie," said the dad.
"I kind of like this one, Daddy," replied the girl.
"They are both really nice bikes, and suitable for someone her age," said the shop owner to the man.

After a fair amount of debate, the man and the girl left the shop, with the man telling the shop owner that he would call later in the week. He did call, and he talked over the purchase with the shop owner, who wanted to know the outcome of the pink-versus-blue debate. The dad said simply that he had decided that the pink one was the right one, and put a hold on the bike by making a deposit with his credit card. The pink bicycle went to its new home the following day.

A few weeks later, the girl came to the shop with the pink bike.

"I was wondering if I could trade this bike for the blue one," she said.
"I think I have to talk to your father, since he's the one who bought the bike," said the owner.
"Oh, OK. Never mind then," said the girl. She turned and rode away.

The pink bicycle wound up staying in the garage. The girl almost never rode it, despite expressing gratitude to her father for the gift.

What had happened?

If we consider the dad--who paid the bill, after all--as the customer, the shop owner did everything right. If, however, we look beyond the payment, the person who would actually use the bike didn't really want that one, but a different one instead. So, rather than a great gift, the dad wound up with a disappointed daughter and an unused bike. There would be no word-of-mouth about how great the bike was, and no friends of the girl would be buying from this shop.

The shop served the wrong person. The owner could have said to the father, "I think your daughter would be much happier with the blue bike. It has all the features she wants, it's safe, and she really likes it." Instead, he listened only to the man with the money.

Is the customer you are are serving the right customer? Will they benefit from the product or service you sell, or are you just making a sale?

Give it some thought. 


Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Customer Experience Better Be Good for the Customer

Some years ago, a couple of investors bought an old church in a lovely town in New York's Hudson Valley. They hired an architect who transformed the church into a lovely, modern, artsy restaurant space. The owners hired kitchen staff who had attended the nearby Culinary Institute of America. The place generated a lot of buzz, and even won a pre-opening architectural award or two. The customer experience was promising: Beautiful surroundings and great food.

But it went out of business.

Why? Because the architect didn't understand the food service business. The design made it virtually impossible for the waitstaff to get into the kitchen and get the food out to the customers in a timely manner. Collisions happened. Dinners were ruined, dropped, or arrived at the table cold. Customers stopped going and the place was vacant again within months.

The investors had thought that the customer experience consisted of world-class food in a world-class facility. They were wrong. A good customer experience would have consisted of customers enjoying world-class food in a world-class facility. But the customers couldn't enjoy it.

Businesses are now talking about "designing the customer experience." If you are trying to do that, make sure that the basics are included--like getting the food to the table. If you can't deliver, don't try to design.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Attentive Service Yields a "Customer for Life"

In a previous post, I mentioned my friend "Barb" and how she came to realize that service can be a two-way street. I talked with her a few days ago, and she related the following story about how she has become a "customer for life" for one company that provided terrific service to her this winter.

Unless you've been hibernating, you probably know that the northeast U.S. has been having a very rough winter. Barb lives on the coast of Maine, as do I. It has been intensely cold and very snowy. Some of the storms have included high winds, and that's where the story begins.

Barb has a Char-Broil grill out on her deck. She had a cover for it, until the cover blew off during a storm, and disappeared either into the distance or into the snow, so she checked out the company's website to see if she could get a replacement. After a minute or two, a box popped up asking if she wanted to engage in a live chat. She accepted the invitation and started chatting with an agent--let's call him Brian.

Brian asked the basic questions, such as what Barb was looking for. When he found out she wanted a new cover, he asked if she knew the model number of her grill, so she'd be sure to order the correct one. Unfortunately, Barb didn't know the number, and the grill was embedded in snow. He asked her some questions about the grill and said he thought it would take a 65-inch cover. She said OK, and they worked through the order.

Now that her curiosity was roused, she went dug out the grill enough to see the model number, and started having doubts about the size of the cover. She jumped back online, clicked on the Chat Now button, and asked if Brian was stiff available. The reply came that he was. (More about this later.)

Indeed, Barb had ordered the wrong cover, but it was easy enough to fix, said Brian. He asked if she had received a confirmation email. She had, and Brian confirmed the order number with her. He then said he could cancel that order and place a new order for the correct size. Barb agreed. She said there was no rush in shipping, and so the standard shipping method was specified--one that begins the shipment with UPS and completes it through the US Postal Service. Barb thought it was a regular UPS shipment and so no red flag was raised. (UPS and USPS need to find better abbreviations so that it's clearer who is delivering a package, by the way.)

A couple of weeks went by, and the cover did not come. Barb contacted Char-Broil, and they confirmed that it had shipped by the specified method. Since it should have arrived and hadn't, Char-Broil said they would send another, this one via FedEx. 

Barb asked, "What if the first one gets here?"
"Don't worry about it," said the rep. "Keep it with our compliments. You never know--another one might blow away."
And Barb decided, right then and there, that she would buy her next grill from Char-Broil. And the next. For the price of a grill cover ($40 retail) the company created a repeat buyer who already has her eyes on a $500 purchase. For the actual cost of a $40 product (probably half of that price) they had virtually eliminated the competition and created great customer loyalty.

By the way - the first cover did show up, about a week later. The USPS normally doesn't deliver to houses in Barb's area (everyone has P.O. Boxes), so the delivery was delayed.

Now, Char-Broil could have put a trace on the original shipment. They could have said, "We are not responsible." They didn't. They owned the interaction, took responsibility, and made the customer very happy. They probably also saved themselves money trying to track the errant cover, or restocking a return if they asked her to send one back. That's not only good service, it's smart business.

Now back to Brian still being online: Was he? Maybe. But with a good customer relationship management system and a good knowledge base, he didn't need to be. Any agent could answer the questions and take care of Barb.

Is your business being "penny wise and pound foolish"? 

Give it some thought.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interview: Customer Service in the Digital Age

Last week, I spoke with Real Business about the State of Customer Service in the Digital Age. There's little doubt that mobility, social media/social business, and "always on" access to a world of information have changed the customer experience in general and customer service in particular.Among the questions Real Business asked:
  • How has the conversation around best practices changed?
  • What are the areas that still need to be improved?
  • Has the tech age changed the ways customers want to be engaged?
  • It what ways is new technology going to shape customer service in this decade?
  • How will innovation such as virtual agents factor in?
Read the entire interview here.

Then, give it some thought.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Some Thoughts on Labor Day

"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." - US Department of Labor

Today, Labor Day--like many other American holidays--has become a big day for special promotions and sales in many industries, especially retail. Retail workers, as we know, are often part-time, and usually are at or close to the minimum wage.

I cannot help but think of the irony that this holiday is now taking a holiday away from those it was intended to celebrate. 

Say an extra thank you to those who are staffing the checkouts or handing over the ice cream cones, or taking your tickets at the county fair today.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Four Elements of Good Customer Service

A few years ago, I was asked to zoom in on some of the elements of good customer service for a brief talk at a meeting of service professionals. In preparing the slide deck, I came to focus on four things I believe are the keys to everything else, and I often refer to them as "Roy's Famous Four" because others have picked up on them and repeated them elsewhere. There are many other elements that you might focus on, but for me, you don't get really good service without these, each of which builds on the prior one.

Listening: Whether a customer is calling you or sending email or chat messages, you need to be paying attention to what they are saying and the way they are saying it. Whenever I've "jumped the gun" and started to offer a solution without actively listening to the customer, I've gotten it wrong. Really paying attention and thinking about what the customer is saying--and how they are saying it--can give you a wealth of information about the customer's context, the urgency of the issue, and other factors that might very well figure into the correct solution to assist your customer toward the best outcome. As Covey says, "Seek first to understand..."

Empathy: Every call for assistance, technical or otherwise, has at least two components: One is the stated reason for the contact (question, difficulty, complaint, suggestion, praise, exchange, return, etc.); the other is the emotional state of the customer. There's an example I've seen in more than one customer service textbook about a woman who rushes into a hospital and excitedly asks where her sister is. Without that first component, listening, we're not sure whether the sister has been seriously injured in a car accident, or whether she is giving birth to a child. Once we've determined which it is, we can empathize, either to share the deep concern or the joy of the new child, and act appropriately.

Clarity: Once we understand the circumstances and the emotional components, we have come to the point where we have gained some insight into the issue. At this point, it's a really good idea to confirm with the customer that you do have a grasp of why they are contacting you by asking something like, "If I understand you correctly, you're calling because..." and then restate the issue, question, or complaint. (Don't forget to practice active listening when the customer responds. You may pick up details you missed.) 

As you begin to provide the customer with a solution, clarity is extremely important. Here are some quick tips:
  • Don't speak in jargon.
  • Don't use internal language--that is, language your company uses, but that the customer normally would not.
  • Don't talk down to the customer, but assess what level of information they are comfortable with.
  • Confirm that the customer understands what you are telling them.
  • Don't wander off track; stick with the customer conversation.
  • Don't ask the customer to "bite off more than they can chew." Keep it concise.
Consistency: Not every customer should be treated exactly the same way, but the level of service and the information you provide should be consistent. This requires that a body of knowledge be developed and shared so that the entire team is giving responses that match up and serve to solve the problem.

Note: Scripts, in my opinion, are death to customer service, especially if your representatives are unable to deviate from them. Customers see right through scripts, and often get the impression that the representative has no understanding of the issue, and doesn't have the authority to solve the problem. Provide guidance, good shared knowledge, and training, not scripts.

There you have them, in very short form: Listening, Empathy, Clarity and Consistency. The four corners of the customer service foundation.

Give it some thought.