Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Customer Service Commitment

It's a strange thing: Businesses know for a fact that it's more expensive to get new customers than to keep existing ones, as I've mentioned elsewhere. Businesses also know that there are certain things they need to do to keep customers. Isn't it reasonable to think that most businesses would commit to making Customer Service paramount? As we know from our last shopping trip or purchase-related phone call, many businesses simply do not get service right.

Why is this the case? Why do companies—large and small alike—spend so much money on marketing to potential customers while they place so much less emphasis on getting the Customer Experience right? I suspect there is not one answer to that question, but that there are many. Here are a few:

There isn't time to do everything right.
How much time did you spend last year trying to win new customers and, more importantly, recover from Customer Service complaints or dissatisfaction? Get it right the first time, build a loyal customer base, and take the time to think about the way customers see your business.

We can't train people; it's too expensive.
"What if we train them and they leave?" is the wrong question. "What if we don't train them and they stay?" is the right question. You don't necessarily have to provide expensive training, either. Work with your new and existing employees to help them understand what you expect from them in the way of Customer Service, and explain how this contributes to their own success as well as yours.

It's hard to get good help.
This may be true, but it also might be worth it to your business to keep looking. There are people who are looking for entry level positions who do get it, and who will work with you if you show them the way.

Before any of this can happen, though, you need to commit to good Customer Service, like Leon L. Bean did, backing up his boots with a 100% guarantee and having to put his money up after the first batch failed.*

Your company, however small, might wind up being legendary for the service you provide to your customers.

Give it some thought.

*Of the 100 pairs of his Maine Hunting Shoes that were ordered and sent, 90 were returned because the tops had separated from the bottoms. Rather than give up his fledgling enterprise, though, Bean honored his guarantee and then borrowed $400 to redesign and perfect his boots (Bean also perfected his guarantee, making it unconditional and, in fact, the essence of Bean's customer service culture through the present day).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Expectations: How Consistent Is Your Service?

Recently I encountered a disparity of Customer Service that pointed up the necessity of consistency. I was on my way to the HDI 2010 Conference in Orlando, and had chosen to fly into Sanford, Florida, because I could get a direct flight from Bangor, Maine and save 4 hours and a connection. My plane arrived about 20 minutes early. (Yes, you read that correctly.) I had arranged for a shuttle ride from Sanford to the conference. I had the instructions on where to find the shuttle when I emerged from the terminal. I looked, but found no shuttle in the lot.

I walked over to the friendly-looking taxi stand and asked if they knew whether I was in the right place for the shuttle. They said that I was, and suggested I go to the shuttle company booth nearby. I did, and found a very friendly woman named Debbie. She was surprised I was early and suggested that I could get out of the wind and grab a soda or coffee inside the terminal. Then she said, "I'll come and find you when the shuttle gets here." Now, that's a good service attitude, I said to myself.

I didn't go inside, but sat out in the breeze and enjoyed the sunshine. A short while later, the van with the company's logo appeared and parked. I stood up to let the driver know I was there. Quickly, he put up his hand in the "talk to the hand" position and called across the lot, "We're not going anywhere yet," in a less than friendly manner. What a letdown!

We were apparently waiting for another flight to come in, and that one was running late. I say "apparently" because I overheard some other people talking, not because the driver informed me. I was very disappointed. Then, after I got into the van, the driver was missing some papers, and told (not asked) me to get back out so he could check the seat where I was sitting. (I knew there was nothing there and told him as much.)

So, the next time I fly into Sanford, should I take that shuttle? Would I recommend it to my friends? I don't think so. Did I get from the airport to the hotel? Yes. Was it a good experience? No.

Too bad Debbie wasn't driving.

Give it some thought.