Posted by: Andy Porter | October 14, 2010

Customer Service IS Marketing

It is interesting to me how companies view the subject of customer service. Most every business will tell you that customer service is important to them and that they always strive for the best service possible. If you had a group of business owners rate the relative importance of say:

  • Developing an internet marketing plan
  • Creating new advertising
  • Attracting new customers
  • Improving customer service
  • Increasing sales

I would venture to say that improving customer service wouldn’t be at the top of the list. It seems that some businesses act as if customer service is one of the things we have to do, but maybe not as vital as other things.

Of course I say this not because of what owners tell me, but based on what I see businesses do. I mean, how many companies to you encounter that have really great customer service? Not too many. That in itself tells me that not a lot of businesses take it very seriously.

I realized that maybe many business people do not see customer service as a part of marketing.

What’s missing is the idea that good customer service, by itself can increase your cash flow.

Advertising, selling, customer service, storing and shipping, are all integral facets of marketing. They cannot be separated. You cannot remove customer service from marketing any more than you can remove advertising.

Looking at customer service as one part of your marketing plan sheds a new light on things.

Any intelligent marketing plan includes customer service. Take Starbucks for example. They clearly do a lot of things right. One of those things is customer service. The entire company from upper management to baristas works hard to provide it and have good success achieving it. And consistently good customer service has become one of the main reasons for their expansion.

There is a world of difference between actually providing personal, friendly customer service and simply pretending that you care about your customers.

In this years “MSN Money: 10 Worst Customer Service Companies” Five different banks achieved the ignoble honor of horrible customer service. The banks on the “10 Worst List” are: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank and HSBC, Capital One. So let’s use banking as an example of the opposite side of the coin.

In many companies, like the above banks, customer service is simply something handled by the PR department. They SAY they have great customer service, they ADVERTISE their incredible customer service. And unfortunately that’s as far as they take it. The bank tellers in the local branches may be friendly and remember your name and smile. But that does not make up for the way the rest of the company treats its customers.

What, specifically, does great customer service entail?

Starting at the bottom or entrance to a company, it starts with the staff that deals directly with customers, either in person, on the phone or through Internet lines. How a customer is greeted, how the phone is answered, the general level of friendliness and patience of the employees to customers is part of customer service.

But customer service does NOT start and end here. In fact this is just the beginning, the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Customer service ALWAYS starts at the top levels of an organization. It starts with a commitment; this carries from founders, owners, and board directors to executives and management, on to general employees and ends with the customers themselves.

There is an entire section of customer service related to the policies and procedures established and followed in a business. What is the return policy? Does the company share customer’s private info with other companies? Are there any hidden costs? Is there any confusing fine print?

It really doesn’t matter that you have friendly people answering the phone if your company policies and methods of doing business are not customer friendly.

Advertising is also part of this equation. If a company is exaggerating in its advertising with half truths or even untruths to gain customers it will eventually alienate its customer base. Have you ever seen or heard an advertisement that you think stretched the truth?

Another large factor in customer service is internal atmosphere. How do the staff like working at the company? Do they get along with each other? Is there interdepartmental bickering and finger-pointing? Employees who are happy with their job will always provide better customer service than those who aren’t.

Here is the basic customer service equation:

Dedicated, alert management plus Loyal employees plus Teamwork through out the entire company plus Customer-friendly procedures and policies plus Staff training and education equals Great customer service.

Omit any part of the equation and customer service suffers.

The most obvious connection between customer service and marketing is word of mouth. The better the word of mouth about a company the more business they will garner. Good word of mouth means more referrals, higher staff morale (and better staff retention) and more repeat sales. Great word of mouth also makes all of a company’s other advertising and marketing efforts more effective.

Where to go from here? It seems unfair of me to end with out offering some sound advice to get started with.

I am not going to call this a customer service program, or even a teamwork program, I am going to call it a marketing program. Then maybe some of you will actually try to implement it!

Marketing program

1. Establish several avenues to receive feed back from your customers. Have surveys to pass out, email out, have a feed back form on your web site and most importantly have customer comment log books all over your business so the employees can jot down any customer comments when they hear them.

2. Hold weekly employee staff meetings. At each meeting do the following:

  • Read each and every customer comment, good or bad, out loud to all staff. No censoring, just the raw comments.
  • In the case of positive comments, give everyone a big pat on the back, this reinforces what’s right.
  • In the case of complaints, with the staff decide if there was any error on the part of anyone in the company. If there was an error, ask the staff to workout what should have been done and create any needed policy to prevent it happening again. Get the staff to work out how to make sure the problem doesn’t repeat.
  • If the consensus is that there was no internal error, just a grumpy customer, don’t stay on it, go to the next compliment/complaint.
  • Review how the company is doing, statistically. Employees should be apprised on how things are really going. Do NOT use PR to make things seem rosier than they are, just the facts, Ma’am. Ask the employees to come up with ideas for improving everything from customer perception of the company to customer service, to reducing wait times.
  • Do these steps each and every week.

3. Set aside time each week to educate staff on some aspect of improving service. A few ideas are:

  • Have the staff make a list of the most commonly asked question. Then have the staff, as a group, create complete answers to each question. (make sure to get this all down on paper).
  • Arrange for lunch meetings where staff can get educated on the various services or products you offer. Ask vendors to come give lectures on software or to teach staff technical details about products, etc.
  • Find a book on customer service and go through chapters one at a time, with staff, start a dialog, do role-playing drill, as needed.

4. Work out with all your staff exactly what is the procedure for compensating customers if you do screw up. Buy $100 worth of $5 coffee cards and give them to customers who have to wait. Get $20 movie passes and have them on hand if you really mess up bad. Make sure ALL employees are empowered to compensate customers for any mistakes you make.

5. Write a policy for your company that that says griping, gossiping and complaining are grounds for dismissal. Pass out the written policy. Go over the policy in all job interviews. Add it to the employee manual. Insert the policy in the employee agreement. Go over it at the weekly staff meeting. Enforce the policy. If the griping/gossiping/complaining continues, find your most vocal griper/gossiper/complainer and fire them.

If you do these 5 points and keep doing them you will gradually build a team of loyal employees. Your customer service will improve. Your word of mouth will improve. You will get more new customers. Your staff turnover will decrease. The level of drama and stress in the office will decrease! Of course there may be a few bumps along the road, you may lose a few staff along the way. But if you just keep going all will come out better than you expect!

Best of luck and many happy returns!

Click here for more information about WelcomeTeam Training!

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Posted by: Andy Porter | September 8, 2010

So you want more new customers…

Word of mouth is widely recognized as the single most effective form of advertising. Yet at the same time it is commonly under utilized as a distinct marketing avenue and taken for granted.

Conversations with management about Word of Mouth marketing often go like this: “Yeah, I know word of mouth is the best form of advertising, heard it a million times…okay, but what I want to talk about is how to move our web site up in the Google rankings…!”

If you survey owners or managers as to what is important to fix or improve in their business you always get a big hit on “attracting lots of new customers’ or “increasing sales” and a much smaller hit on “improving customer service”.

A major reason for this is that it’s generally thought that it’s easier to get more new customers than it is to improve the quality of service.

One can rather simply create some advertising or marketing materials and get them sent out. Whether it is via email, letters, signage, radio, TV, or whatever medium, creating a message and getting it out there is not very difficult. If an owner cannot do it himself or herself, or they can always hire someone to do it for them.

Creating really great word of mouth for a company takes a LOT more work. It demands that every level of management become intimately involved in every nook and cranny of what happens at every level of the company. From hiring to staff training, from staff benefits to employee discipline, from every phone call answered to every letter or email sent out, every possible point of contact between your company and the “outside world” AND every interaction between owners, managers and employees sets your level of customer service and word of mouth promotion of your business.

Those are a LOT of areas to work on! Maybe it IS easier to just focus on getting lots of NEW customers! This is EXACTLY what a lot of larger companies do. Cell phone companies and banks, to name two examples, more often than not fit into this example, they have given up any real pretense of taking care of their customers, and their MAIN focus is to attract an ever-expanding influx of new customers.

The illogic of what they’re doing never seems to sink in: If they looked to improve their performance for their existing customer base, word of mouth would bring in new business; and then they wouldn’t NEED such an inflow of new people.

Perhaps these large companies with lousy service have had their accountants crunch the numbers and it turned out it was cheaper to get floods of new customers than to spend the time, money and effort to actually improve customer service and garner really great word of mouth from their existing customers.

Smaller businesses have a much greater necessity to ensure that their word of mouth is good. Actually not just good, but great! The smaller the community, the more competition the more important word of mouth becomes.

So, where to start?

Word of Mouth Marketing Basics:

For starters there are actually several different types of word of mouth promotion.

The way MOST word of mouth goes is like this: Your friend just got a new puppy and asks you if you know a good veterinarian. You tell them about Dr. Tim down the street. This is called Solicited Word of Mouth Promotion. This follows the sequence, they ask, you answer.

This is good. BUT if you own or manage a business what you really need and want is UN-solicited Word of Mouth Promotion.

UN-solicited word of mouth promotion is when one of your customers tells other people GREAT THINGS about your company BEFORE they were asked. In this case your customer starts talking you up to people who NEVER asked them for a recommendation. In the case of the veterinary hospital, the happy customer tells their friends and acquaintances how great you are EVEN IF THESE PEOPLE DONT HAVE PETS! This follows a DIFFERENT sequence; the customer loves you, and starts telling everyone.

People who provide unsolicited word of mouth promotion about your business are LOYAL CUSTOMERS. They will tell people (friends, relatives, people at work, etc) about you. They will write about how great you are on their Facebook page (or My Space, or Twitter, any other form of social media).

Another angle on un-solicited word of mouth promotion is that whenever a customer hears or sees an ad for a company that they liked very much (or disliked very much!) they will comment on it to whom ever they are with at the time. If you’re sitting with a friend watching a game or show on TV and see an ad for an insurance company that gave you the most horrible run-around service recently you will probably comment about it to your friend. “That company is HORRIBLE!”

On the other hand if your service from the insurance company was fast and you were quite happy with the result then the TV ad might move you to make a positive comment to your friend.

It is quite interesting to see how your overall word of mouth status affects your other marketing actions. There is actually a magnification factor, plus or minus, good or bad, of your advertising efforts al based upon the word of mouth out there about your company.

(By the way, are YOU a loyal customer of any local business? Have YOU ever provided unsolicited word of mouth promotion for a local business??)

Of course any positive word of mouth promotion about your business is wonderful. But as an owner or manager what you are really after is the un-solicited variety.

Here are a few important questions that you are probably asking yourself right now:

  • What are the specific steps needed to create great word of mouth?
  • What is needed to maintain it?
  • How does one measure and keep track of changes when your word of mouth gets better or worse?

And here are some of the specific points that MUST be addressed fully to answer the above questions:

  1. Top down customer service. Great customer service starts at the top. It flows from the owner to the management, onto the staff and then between the staff. We already know that people tend to treat others the way they are treated. If the owner or management treat the staff with kindness and understanding and follow the next 5 points they will have loyal customers and great word of mouth. If not, they will have trouble.
  2. A business must have a system to gather accurate, up-to-date feedback from customers to really know how the customers feel and what needs work. Otherwise it’s all just guessing.
  3. Constant unrelenting attention on customer service based on the feed back you receive. Hold weekly meetings to discuss what is working and what needs to work better. Ask your experienced staff to come up with ways to handle any customer service problems.
  4. An ongoing program to train and educate staff. This includes: training for their basic duties and complete understanding of the services or products offered, mastery of all applicable software, customer service training and when that’s all done, cross training on related positions.
  5. Recognize and reward service excellence. Employees who excel at customer service should be acknowledged and if possible promoted. Building a team of motivated, empowered staff is the key to creating loyal customers.
  6. Recognize and get rid of employees who constantly gossip, gripe and complain. They cause stress for the rest of the staff and make everyone’s life miserable including their own). If management does not rapidly rid the company of these people they will drive your best staff away.

DO THIS EXERCISE RIGHT NOW Give your company a grade on each of the 6 areas above. Grade each point like in school: A, B, C, D, and F. Write the grades on the left side of the page. If applicable, grade your department on the right in the same manner.

How did you do? Are you interested in tools to improve any of these areas?

These bullet points make up the contents of our management training program “Customer Service Boot Camp for Owners and Managers”.

Our next open-enrollment full day seminar is scheduled for Thursday, September 30th.

The Boot Camp will be held at the Calico Cupboard Café; 121-B Freeway Drive, Mount Vernon, WA

The event starts at 8am and will end at 4pm. A detailed work book and lunch at the Calico Cupboard are included in the fee, which is $150.00 per person.

To visit our web site click here: www.customerservicebootcamp.com/

To register click here: http://www.customerservicebootcamp.com/CSBCForm.pdf

To read more articles click here: https://customerservicebootcamp.wordpress.com/


Posted by: Andy Porter | March 26, 2010

Creating Customer Service Survey Questions

The purpose of a customer service survey is to get your customers to tell YOU if there was anything they didn’t like.

The general rule is that only 1 in 25 customers will tell you what they didn’t like. This is not good! A customer who leaves unhappy may or may not come back to see you, or they may start to look for a new service provider. They will almost always tell other people what they didn’t like about your business. It’s always better for them to tell you, and the sooner the better, so something can be done.

From my view, I always want to know what went wrong, why did the customer leave? Maybe you can fix things and the customer stays, maybe you can’t. But even if the unhappy customer does leave, if you know why, you can make changes and prevent other customers from leaving as well.

Have you ever gotten lousy service or product and yet you didn’t complain? Why didn’t you say anything? The most common reasons are that the customer:

  • didn’t want a confrontation
  • was in a hurry
  • didn’t want to get someone in trouble
  • felt that it wouldn’t make a difference

My philosophy is that pointed questions are more likely to get a response. Have you ever seen one of those never-ending multiple choice questions that some businesses use?

What are the things that your customers are most likely to get irate about? Here are a few possible categories:

  • Cost
  • Speed of service
  • Receiving the wrong item
  • Schedule
  • Selection of products
  • Friendliness
  • Cleanliness

Based on this list create your questions. If the questions on your survey almost make you nervous asking them, then you are on the right track!

I recommend that you list all your questions and have one box for the customer to answer. Below is a sample of a customer service survey from a web site:

How are we doing?

Your input is valuable and helps us in our never ending quest to improve our levels of customer service. Please take a moment and let us know how we did.

  • When you called was the receptionist friendly and helpful?
  • How about when you arrived, did things go smoothly?
  • Was the doctor compassionate, helpful, knowledgeable?
  • Did you receive more or less than you expected?
  • Do you have any suggestions for us on how we can get better?
Comments

You can leave your contact data if you like, but it is not required.

Your Name: ____________________________

Date of service: _________________________

Posted by: Andy Porter | March 25, 2010

Are you making the most of your word of mouth marketing?

Is word of mouth really the best form of advertising?

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising. If you haven’t heard that a billion times you must be only 5 years old. It’s one of those things that “everyone knows”. Well if “everyone knows” this gem of knowledge, then why are so few companies actually DOING the things that create great word of mouth for their company?

Attracting new customers is always important. A healthy flow of new customers to a business keeps the business alive. Our current economic condition magnifies this need. So, recognizing that there IS an overall awareness of the constant need for new customers it could simply be that the apparent lack of effort in customer service is due to a lack of understanding, by both management and staff, as to what is considered great customer service and how, exactly, to provide it.

If a business is providing adequate, normal, regular run-of-the-mill service they will get SOME word of mouth referrals. The way this works is that if, for instance, someone asks you where to go for dry cleaning or computer repair you will most likely want to give some recommendation. People generally want to be helpful and we all like to give advice, so we will give some answer, we will often refer someone to a place where we received simply mediocre service. The point is that if you are providing what is considered to be good, or acceptable service you can only expect a few referrals.

On the other hand great word of mouth comes from a remarkable or memorable experience. Lets say that you have been in to your local veterinary hospital, or Thai restaurant and the experience was memorable you very possibly will not wait until some asks you for a good vet clinic or Thai place before you tell people about it. Your word of mouth becomes unsolicited. Have you ever done this or seen it done? I have seen people talking up their hair stylist or espresso stand to people who are bald or don’t even like coffee!

Let there be no mistake, unsolicited word of mouth is what will really drive in more new customers. This is (or should be) the goal of any company.

Unsolicited word of mouth DEFINITELY applies for bad service! Customers who are irate with a business will sometimes tell as many as 20, 30, maybe up to 50 people about their bad experience, with out ever being asked directly about the business.

Why IS word of mouth the most effective form of advertising?

Well, the first answer is that word of mouth means that someone, probably someone who you know, is telling you that Olympic Pizza has the best pizza, or that Fred’s Auto Repair does fantastic and reasonable work. You’re hearing it from a person, someone that you know and (probably!) trust.

Compare this with normal advertising: TV, Radio, news papers, magazines, web, direct mail, etc. Let me ask you this, as a consumer, do you BELIEVE what you see advertised? I mean really, if you get a flyer in the mail offering you a “low cost mortgage”, do you believe it? If you see an ad for a cheap airline ticket to Florida, are you suspicious that it may be a scam? Do you wonder if the quoted price for the ticket actually includes things like airport fees, taxes and that your baggage actually gets to go with you?

By far the majority of consumers, when they hear any advertisement, wonder: “What’s the catch?” We look for the fine print. We think, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!” We have all heard the pat phrase, “new and improved” so many times that the words don’t have meaning to us. The point is the very few people completely believe ANY regular advertisement. We know that ads all too often contain exaggerations, half truths, gimmicks and sometimes even complete fabrications. In case you haven’t noticed, this trend is getting worse, not better.

But if someone you know, or better, someone you like, or even better, someone whose taste or opinion you respect, tells you that the Mocha’s Espresso stand on 4th and Main is awesome, or that the North Cascade Veterinary Hospital is the best around you will listen. If you have a connection with the person telling you about a business it becomes much more believable. Another reason for this believability is that the person has no reason to mislead you. The person telling you about the fantastic service North Cascade Veterinary Hospital probably doesn’t work there, or get commissions from them, so we reason that they don’t have any reason to mislead us.

There is also a common statement that not only is word of mouth the best form of advertising, but it’s the cheapest. This brings up the question of how to determine how much it costs to attract a new customer, client or patient. Most businesses I see are sorely lacking in any effective method to track where their new customers come from, but at least they can say how many new clients they had in a month. Calculating the “cost of each new customer” is not too difficult, simply add up your entire expenses for advertising and marketing for a month and divide this by the number of new customers, and there you have it, you can now see how much you “paid” for each new customer. This is a great exercise, by the way and I highly recommend not only doing the calculations but sharing the results with ALL of your staff.

Of course if you are really on the ball and can track not only how many new clients you got in a month but HOW each new client heard of you, it is possible to calculate the cost-effectiveness of each form of marketing you use. (Look for a new blog entry coming soon on tracking new clients.) For example you can see how much your yellow page ad cost, and how many new clients it brought you and do the math. This is a very enlightening exercise and the most intelligent way to make decisions about where you spend your advertising dollars.

In either case I bet you will be surprised to see how much one new client “costs”. In a later article we will revisit the idea that word of mouth is the cheapest form of advertising, so stay tuned!

Great word of mouth about your company makes all of your other marketing efforts much more effective.

The above statement should be in huge bold CAPS. This is one of most important and grossly overlooked laws in all of advertising and marketing.

Let’s say that you have a spa. You are sending out all sorts of marketing messages; yellow page ads, a web site with search engine marketing, you’re in lots of travel guides, you attend chamber meetings, maybe you use billboards, you are using a whole host of avenues to get your name out there.

Now let’s look at this from two possibilities, let’s say first that the overall word of mouth about your spa is awesome. If someone has already heard from a friend that the spa is great and then they see one of your ads, or maybe a special offer you are currently running, they are much more likely to respond. Positive word of mouth makes your other marketing more believable, more effective, more productive. A business will get a MUCH bigger bang for their advertising buck when they have great word of mouth.

Once in a while I have heard people talking positively about an ad they saw or heard for a business or product. Your friend tells you about the great experience she had at a clothing store recently. A little later your with a different friend and you see or hear an advertisement for that same store, and you say: “Hey, isn’t that’s the place Sally went last week where she bought those cute new dresses?!”

The effect of great word of mouth on your other marketing efforts cannot be overstated!

A person may hear some good word of mouth about a company and at that time not need the service or product, but later when the need arises and they are searching or when they get exposure to an ad, they will TRY to remember what they heard and will respond.

On the other hand, if the word of mouth about your spa is poor, then the money you spend on marketing will get LESS response. If a potential new customer has already heard some negative feedback from someone about the Bayside Spa and then they see an ad somewhere promoting the Spa, their tendency will be to discount it, or ignore it. They won’t listen to your message, their mind is already turned away from the business.

Have you ever experienced this? If you have heard bad word of mouth about a company and THEN hear an advertisement for the company, what’s the first thing that flashes in your mind? The negative story you heard before, that’s what!

How about this example, lets say you yourself had a very bad experience with a company (think telephone service provider, or maybe bank…). Now you’re sitting with a friend watching TV and an ad comes on for the company that you feel wronged you. What happens? In many cases just seeing the ad will elicit a negative comment from you to your friend! “That’s the bank that ripped me off!” “I used to have that cell phone service and I’ll NEVER go back to them!!!”

Have you ever seen this, or done this yourself?

What can be done to improve your word of mouth?

Here are two of the most effective (and rarely done!) things to do:

Follow up.

Calling a client, customer, patient, back to see how they are doing is an AWESOME way to improve word of mouth. Has your doctor ever called you back to see how you were feeling? If they did, did it impress you? Have you ever been to a restaurant where the chef (or cook) came out into the dining area and asked the customers how they liked the food? This can be done in auto repair, chiropractic clinics, schools, nail salons, cleaning companies; really, the list of businesses that can make use of follow up contacts is endless. It does take some basic communication skills so that your follow up doesn’t make the customer angry, but it’s pretty simple. And the higher up the person doing the follow ups is, the more wow factor it imparts. Anyone who is doing follow up calls MUST be interested in what ever the customer has to say, positive or negative. I think that one reason that follow up calls are NOT done is because there is trepidation that the response will be less than positive. Who ever makes the calls has to be equally happy to receive positive or negative response, and be prepared with what to say and do if the response is negative.

  • “Did your shipment arrive on time, did you receive what you expected?”
  • “How was your adjustment with the doctor last night? How is your neck feeling today?”
  • “How was your chicken cordon bleu? Did you like the green beans?”
  • “I know that yesterday was your first visit to see us, did things so as smoothly as you hoped?”

There’s an infinity of questions that you can ask.

Follow up calls, done correctly, show the customer that you genuinely care about the product or service that was provided, that you care about the customer and that their complete satisfaction is important.

Follow up calls can give you valuable feed back from your customers that you can use right now to make your product or service better.

Remember that statistics show that only 1 in 25 unsatisfied customer will ever say anything to you about what they don’t like. (Although they may tell 25 other people what they didn’t like about you!) Asking them in a way that shows that you WANT them to tell what they liked or didn’t like REALLY works.

Compensation when things go wrong.

Every company has things go wrong with clients from time to time. Customers get shipped the wrong thing, or someone’s steak is cooked wrong, or there is WAY too little chocolate in their mocha. How you handle it when things go wrong is HUGE. If a customer has to wait, or a client came in to pick up a product (which you forgot to order for them), or what ever you did wrong, be sure to have on hand some form of compensation ready. I recommend buying $100 worth of $5 coffee cards, and also movie tickets, or restaurant gift cards and have them on hand to give out. I say have three types and values for the various levels of how badly you may have messed up (or how irate the customer is!)

Your company should have a set system for compensating irate customers. Create “tiers” of compensation, start with the coffee card, then the movie tickets, then the restaurant gift card. If the client has to wait more than a short time, use the coffee card: “Mr. Thompson, we are very sorry you had to wait so long today, here is a gift card for the “Mochas” espresso stand over on Fir Street,  thanks for hanging in there with us today!”

You may not think that a $5 coffee card is going to make any impact, but it DOES. Your customers will feel appreciated, acknowledged, validated and recognized.

I have gone over this idea with many businesses and everyone thinks it a great idea, but implementing it is not always a snap. From my experience the hardest thing is to get the staff to hand them out as much as I would like! Sometimes employees will get a little stingy with them, “Well, she only had to wait half an hour, and it wasn’t our fault she had to wait, so no card for her”. “I don’t want to waste the card on that person, or why give away five dollars…” are some of the things I have heard. Some times you get busy and just forget to hand them out…

Let’s go back to an earlier article: Why IS word of mouth the most effective form of advertising?

This was where we discussed the cost of a new customer, and if you did the calculations in that article you probably saw that a new customer may “cost” $50, $80, $100 or possibly a lot more.

Well, how many people will your customer talk to about you if they receive a coffee card or movie tickets? Do you think that they’ll tell anyone? If you give out a $5 coffee card and the customer tells 7 people about it, how does that work out? You get the idea, giving out a $5 coffee card that results in even one new client is easily the “cheapest” form of advertisement ever! So, give the cards out when there is any even slight problem.

Back to our tiered system of compensation, the coffee card is for a small upset or inconvenience, the movie tickets for a bigger screw up on your part, the restaurant gift certificate is used for…you get the idea, figure out your own system and tiers. If you don’t like coffee cards you can use discounts for future services at your business, you can credit money to the clients account, give out free items, the list is endless. The stuff you give out does not need to be expensive to create a powerful effect.

This is NOT only for irate customers!

Do you have awesome customers or clients who you love? Give them coffee cards or what ever you decide for “compensation” once in a while! “Julia, I just wanted to say that you are the most awesome customer! Here, have a coffee card (or movie tickets, or what ever).” There doesn’t have to be any set system for this (like giving a gift card on a special holiday, etc), in fact random and unexpected tends to create more of a memorable experience.

Two more short footnotes:

  • Employees who are encouraged to liberally compensate customers are happier employees! They feel empowered and will also give your business good word of mouth to THEIR friends.
  • The better your word of mouth the higher employee morale will be and the easier it will be to hire great employees and retain them!!!

So, here is my challenge for you: What are YOU going to do at your business to improve your word of mouth marketing? There is no doubt that working out a program based on these ideas will improve your marketing effectiveness and that will make everyone happy! Good Luck!

Posted by: Andy Porter | March 21, 2010

The Very Best Form Of Advertising

Is word of mouth really the best form of advertising?

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising. If you haven’t heard that a billion times you must be only 5 years old. It’s one of those things that “everyone knows”. Well if “everyone knows” this gem of knowledge, then why are so few companies actually DOING the things that create great word of mouth for their company?

Attracting new customers is always important. A healthy flow of new customers to a business keeps the business alive. Our current economic condition magnifies this need. So, recognizing that there IS an overall awareness of the constant need for new customers it could simply be that the apparent lack of effort in customer service is due to a lack of understanding, by both management and staff, as to what is considered great customer service and how, exactly, to provide it.

If a business is providing adequate, normal, regular run-of-the-mill service they will get SOME word of mouth referrals. The way this works is that if, for instance, someone asks you where to go for dry cleaning or computer repair you will most likely want to give some recommendation. People generally want to be helpful and we all like to give advice, so we will give some answer, we will often refer someone to a place where we received simply mediocre service. The point is that if you are providing what is considered to be good, or acceptable service you can only expect a few referrals.

On the other hand great word of mouth comes from a remarkable or memorable experience. Lets say that you have been in to your local veterinary hospital, or Thai restaurant and the experience was memorable you very possibly will not wait until some asks you for a good vet clinic or Thai place before you tell people about it. Your word of mouth becomes unsolicited. Have you ever done this or seen it done? I have seen people talking up their hair stylist or espresso stand to people who are bald or don’t even like coffee!

Let there be no mistake, unsolicited word of mouth is what will really drive in more new customers. This is (or should be) the goal of any company.

Unsolicited word of mouth DEFINITELY applies for bad service! Customers who are irate with a business will sometimes tell as many as 20, 30, maybe up to 50 people about their bad experience, with out ever being asked directly about the business.

Be sure to read the three related entries in the “Word Of Mouth” series for more!

Posted by: Andy Porter | March 21, 2010

Why IS Word Of Mouth The Most Effective Form Of Advertising?

Well, the first answer is that word of mouth means that someone, probably someone who you know, is telling you that Olympic Pizza has the best pizza, or that Fred’s Auto Repair does fantastic and reasonable work. You’re hearing it from a person, someone that you know and (probably!) trust.

Compare this with normal advertising: TV, Radio, news papers, magazines, web, direct mail, etc. Let me ask you this, as a consumer, do you BELIEVE what you see advertised? I mean really, if you get a flyer in the mail offering you a “low cost mortgage”, do you believe it? If you see an ad for a cheap airline ticket to Florida, are you suspicious that it may be a scam? Do you wonder if the quoted price for the ticket actually includes things like airport fees, taxes and that your baggage actually gets to go with you?

By far the majority of consumers, when they hear any advertisement, wonder: “What’s the catch?” We look for the fine print. We think, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!” We have all heard the pat phrase, “new and improved” so many times that the words don’t have meaning to us. The point is the very few people completely believe ANY regular advertisement. We know that ads all too often contain exaggerations, half truths, gimmicks and sometimes even complete fabrications. In case you haven’t noticed, this trend is getting worse, not better.

But if someone you know, or better, someone you like, or even better, someone whose taste or opinion you respect, tells you that the Mocha’s Espresso stand on 4th and Main is awesome, or that the North Cascade Veterinary Hospital is the best around you will listen. If you have a connection with the person telling you about a business it becomes much more believable. Another reason for this believability is that the person has no reason to mislead you. The person telling you about the fantastic service North Cascade Veterinary Hospital probably doesn’t work there, or get commissions from them, so we reason that they don’t have any reason to mislead us.

There is also a common statement that not only is word of mouth the best form of advertising, but it’s the cheapest. This brings up the question of how to determine how much it costs to attract a new customer, client or patient. Most businesses I see are sorely lacking in any effective method to track where their new customers come from, but at least they can say how many new clients they had in a month. Calculating the “cost of each new customer” is not too difficult, simply add up your entire expenses for advertising and marketing for a month and divide this by the number of new customers, and there you have it, you can now see how much you “paid” for each new customer. This is a great exercise, by the way and I highly recommend not only doing the calculations but sharing the results with ALL of your staff.

Of course if you are really on the ball and can track not only how many new clients you got in a month but HOW each new client heard of you, it is possible to calculate the cost-effectiveness of each form of marketing you use. (Look for a new blog entry coming soon on tracking new clients.) For example you can see how much your yellow page ad cost, and how many new clients it brought you and do the math. This is a very enlightening exercise and the most intelligent way to make decisions about where you spend your advertising dollars.

In either case I bet you will be surprised to see how much one new client “costs”. In a later article we will revisit the idea that word of mouth is the cheapest form of advertising, so stay tuned!

Posted by: Andy Porter | March 21, 2010

How To Make All Of Your Marketing Efforts More Effective

Great word of mouth about your company makes all of your other marketing efforts much more effective.

The above statement should be in huge bold CAPS. This is one of most important and grossly overlooked laws in all of advertising and marketing.

Let’s say that you have a spa. You are sending out all sorts of marketing messages; yellow page ads, a web site with search engine marketing, you’re in lots of travel guides, you attend chamber meetings, maybe you use billboards, you are using a whole host of avenues to get your name out there.

Now let’s look at this from two possibilities, let’s say first that the overall word of mouth about your spa is awesome. If someone has already heard from a friend that the spa is great and then they see one of your ads, or maybe a special offer you are currently running, they are much more likely to respond. Positive word of mouth makes your other marketing more believable, more effective, more productive. A business will get a MUCH bigger bang for their advertising buck when they have great word of mouth.

Once in a while I have heard people talking positively about an ad they saw or heard for a business or product. Your friend tells you about the great experience she had at a clothing store recently. A little later your with a different friend and you see or hear an advertisement for that same store, and you say: “Hey, isn’t that’s the place Sally went last week where she bought those cute new dresses?!”

The effect of great word of mouth on your other marketing efforts cannot be overstated!

A person may hear some good word of mouth about a company and at that time not need the service or product, but later when the need arises and they are searching or when they get exposure to an ad, they will TRY to remember what they heard and will respond.

On the other hand, if the word of mouth about your spa is poor, then the money you spend on marketing will get LESS response. If a potential new customer has already heard some negative feedback from someone about the Bayside Spa and then they see an ad somewhere promoting the Spa, their tendency will be to discount it, or ignore it. They won’t listen to your message, their mind is already turned away from the business.

Have you ever experienced this? If you have heard bad word of mouth about a company and THEN hear an advertisement for the company, what’s the first thing that flashes in your mind? The negative story you heard before, that’s what!

How about this example, lets say you yourself had a very bad experience with a company (think telephone service provider, or maybe bank…). Now you’re sitting with a friend watching TV and an ad comes on for the company that you feel wronged you. What happens? In many cases just seeing the ad will elicit a negative comment from you to your friend! “That’s the bank that ripped me off!” “I used to have that cell phone service and I’ll NEVER go back to them!!!”

Have you ever seen this, or done this yourself?

Take this datum and work it over and see how it applies to you and your business. You may find that it opens the doors for a new phase of expansion.

Good Luck!

Posted by: Andy Porter | March 21, 2010

What Can Be Done To Improve Your Word Of Mouth?

Here are two of the most effective (and rarely done!) things to do:

Follow up.

Calling a client, customer, patient, back to see how they are doing is an AWESOME way to improve word of mouth. Has your doctor ever called you back to see how you were feeling? If they did, did it impress you? Have you ever been to a restaurant where the chef (or cook) came out into the dining area and asked the customers how they liked the food? This can be done in auto repair, chiropractic clinics, schools, nail salons, cleaning companies; really, the list of businesses that can make use of follow up contacts is endless. It does take some basic communication skills so that your follow up doesn’t make the customer angry, but it’s pretty simple. And the higher up the person doing the follow ups is, the more wow factor it imparts. Anyone who is doing follow up calls MUST be interested in what ever the customer has to say, positive or negative. I think that one reason that follow up calls are NOT done is because there is trepidation that the response will be less than positive. Who ever makes the calls has to be equally happy to receive positive or negative response, and be prepared with what to say and do if the response is negative.

  • “Did your shipment arrive on time, did you receive what you expected?”
  • “How was your adjustment with the doctor last night? How is your neck feeling today?”
  • “How was your chicken cordon bleu? Did you like the green beans?”
  • “I know that yesterday was your first visit to see us, did things so as smoothly as you hoped?”

There is an infinity of questions that you can ask.

Follow up calls, done correctly, show the customer that you genuinely care about the product or service that was provided, that you care about the customer and that their complete satisfaction is important.

Follow up calls can give you valuable feed back from your customers that you can use right now to make your product or service better.

Remember that statistics show that only 1 in 25 unsatisfied customer will ever say anything to you about what they don’t like. (Although they may tell 25 other people what they didn’t like about you!) Asking them in a way that shows that you WANT them to tell what they liked or didn’t like REALLY works.

Compensation when things go wrong.

Every company has things go wrong with clients from time to time. Customers get shipped the wrong thing, or someone’s steak is cooked wrong, or there is WAY too little chocolate in their mocha. How you handle it when things go wrong is HUGE. If a customer has to wait, or clint came in to pick up a product (which you forgot to order for them), or what ever you did wrong, be sure to have on hand some form of compensation ready. I recommend buying $100 worth of $5 coffee cards, and also movie tickets, or restaurant gift cards and have them on hand to give out. I say have three types and values for the various levels of how badly you may have messed up (or how irate the customer is!)

Your company should have a set system for compensating irate customers. Create “tiers” of compensation, start with the coffee card, then the movie tickets, then the restaurant gift card. If the client has to wait more than a short time, use the coffee card: “Mr. Thompson, we are very sorry you had to wait so long today, here is a gift card for the Mochas Espresso stand over on Fir Street,  thanks for hanging in there with us today!”

You may not think that a $5 coffee card is going to make any impact, but it DOES. Your customers will feel appreciated, acknowledged, validated and recognized.

I have gone over this idea with many businesses and everyone thinks it a great idea, but implementing it is not always a snap. From my experience the hardest thing is to get the staff to hand them out as much as I would like! Sometimes employees will get a little stingy with them, “Well, she only had to wait half an hour, and it wasn’t our fault she had to wait, so no card for her”. “I don’t want to waste the card on that person, or why give away five dollars…” are some of the things I have heard. Some times you get busy and just forget to hand them out…

Let’s go back to an earlier article: Why IS word of mouth the most effective form of advertising?

This was where we discussed the cost of a new customer, and if you did the calculations in that article you probably saw that a new customer may “cost” $50, $80, $100 or possibly a lot more.

Well, how many people will your customer talk to about you if they receive a coffee card or movie tickets? Do you think that they’ll tell anyone? If you give out a $5 coffee card and the customer tells 7 people about it, how does that work out? You get the idea, giving out a $5 coffee card that results in even one new client is easily the “cheapest” form of advertisement ever! So, give the cards out when there is any even slight problem.

Back to our tiered system of compensation, the coffee card is for a small upset or inconvenience, the movie tickets for a bigger screw up on your part, the restaurant gift certificate is used for…you get the idea, figure out your own system and tiers. If you don’t like coffee cards you can use discounts for future services at your business, you can credit money to the clients account, give out free items, the list is endless. The stuff you give out does not need to be expensive to create a powerful effect.

This is NOT only for irate customers!

Do you have awesome customers or clients who you love? Give them coffee cards or what ever you decide for “compensation” once in a while! “Julia, I just wanted to say that you are the most awesome customer! Here, have a coffee card (or movie tickets, or what ever).” There doesn’t have to be any set system for this (like giving a gift card on a special holiday, etc), in fact random and unexpected tends to create more of a memorable experience.

Two more short footnotes:

  • Employees who are encouraged to liberally compensate customers are happier employees! They feel empowered and will also give your business good word of mouth to THEIR friends.
  • The better your word of mouth the higher employee morale will be and the easier it will be to hire great employees and retain them!!!

So, here is my challenge for you: What are YOU going to do at your business to improve your word of mouth marketing? There is no doubt that working out a program based on these ideas will improve your marketing effectiveness and that will make everyone happy! Good Luck!

Posted by: Andy Porter | December 31, 2009

How To Be a Good Customer

There are hundreds of articles written about customer service; how to attract them, how to impress them and how to appease them when they are mad. But this article is about how to be a good customer!

When I am the customer and I have a problem that I need help with I get varying levels of service. I figure that I usually get great customer service 5 % of the time. I get good customer service 20% of the time. I get poor customer service 50 % of the time. I get horrible service 25% of the time.

However when I make contact as the customer and I am happy and friendly the above numbers change. The happier I am the nicer the person is who is servicing me. If I am anything less than happy and friendly it is reflected in the attitude of the person dealing with me.

Try this for yourself and see. Next time you call a customer service number and finally get to speak to a person start the conversation in the friendliest tone you can muster.  If you then explain your problem or complaint, no matter how big, in a generally friendly way you will notice that the staff member you’re speaking to will be friendlier. And helpful. When I am calling with a complaint and I am seriously pissed off I start the conversation by saying: “George (or what ever the customer service person just told me their name is) I am calling because I am not happy with ___________. And from the start I want to make it clear that I am not mad at YOU. So, please as I explain how angry and upset I am don’t take any of it personally.”

What does this tell me? Well for one it tells me that if I want good service then I have to be friendly and kind. Not always an easy thing to do when the repair technician is 6 hours late in getting to your home or business or when you discovered that your credit card company just increased your interest rate to 28%.

One of the most important things to remember is that is almost all cases the person you are speaking to is NOT the person whom is “guilty” of whatever ill deed has come your way. Yelling at the receptionist because the doctor kept you waiting for 45 minutes or being nasty to the cashier because the ATM doesn’t work right are likewise wrong. No one likes to be wrong-targeted.

Now if we can convince all customers to be kind and patient then all of our customer service problems will be solved! However this is not very likely!

I have written many articles and trained hundreds of customer service staff in handling of irate customers. The first most important rule is: don’t take it personally; never get angry with the customer.

Unfortunately we all tend to mirror the emotions that we get from others. Do you get irritated when someone is angry with you? Defensive? Do you ever get teary eyed when talking to another who is crying about a loss? This is a normal reaction when dealing with people, but is not a good thing when dealing with angry irritated customers. The only way to remain effective is to not let their anger or irritation have any effect on you.

But it works both ways, doesn’t it?

The next time you are irate and want to get a problem solved try being nice to the person who answers the phone. I can almost guarantee that you will get your problem solved faster.

Posted by: Andy Porter | December 11, 2009

Free Market “Customer Service”

One of the hallmarks of free market capitalism is deregulation.

The idea is to do away with all those pesky, confining rules. A company should be able to follow whatever course it deems profitable. The theory is that if the company veers too far astray it will go out of business because customers will avoid it. So in place of government regulations we have the consumers “setting the rules” by deciding where to go to buy products and services.

This doesn’t sound too bad at first. The idea of “freedom” and “no rules” is alluring. But in practical application it is not a very good idea. It tends to be rather hard on the customers.

If you have a company with large customer base and let’s say that they implement a policy to automatically sign up every customer for a service that costs $9.00 a month. They decide they won’t ask the customers, just start billing them for the service. Of course this is unethical and possibly illegal. But that does not stop many large companies from doing this exact thing. Some of the customers don’t even notice. Some call to cancel the service. Some are very irate. But the company’s bottom line improved and that’s what it is all about!

How long does it take for this action to drive them out of business?  It could take a very long time. And how many customers will be cheated out of $9.00 a month in the meantime? It has been quite clear for many years now the tobacco companies falsified their “scientific studies” about the dangers of smoking costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, yet they are still there making money selling cigarettes. Banks and credit card companies are guilty of calculatingly cheating their customers. They purposely change the due dates on credit cards hoping that the consumer will be late and so be charged a late fee. They arbitrarily raise your interest rate to its highest limit.

Many companies driven blindly by a desire for bigger profits come up with more and more brazen ideas to rip off their customers. Companies that “have you over a barrel” tend to take more liberties because they know that you don’t have any place else to go. Or it’s hard to change service providers. Cell phone companies and banks both often practice predatory customer policies designed to make more profit knowing that it’s difficult for the customer to jump ship easily.

There have always been airlines that charge extra for each bag checked. But more and more you see bigger airlines resorting to this sort of mis-representation to get sales. When you go on line to check for flights and prices you see the price, decide to buy, and when you get to check out you find out that there will be very substantial additional fees for each and every little thing. These “extras” used to be included in the price (as they should be!).

Buying services or products on the internet is often a tricky game. For example with camera gear there are many sites that advertise name brands at very low prices. You try to buy, and soon find out that it was all lies. They ship a different product. They change the price. They pull a bait and switch. Many of these companies will send you the most basic part of the product, in the case of a camera, just the body. Then if you want the battery, or a strap, or a memory card, or a lens, etc these cost WAY more than they should.

So, in the end really what does it mean “Free Market”? Who is free? Who benefits? Certainly not the customer, that’s for sure! The customer is stripped of any protections and basically fed to the wolves! Only the corporation benefits from this system. They are free. Free to do what ever to make a profit. Yes, the customer is free to go somewhere else, that’s true. But the question is how many customers will have to suffer before the market forces in changes?

What does all of this have to do with customer service? All of the companies who engage in these anti-consumer acts, large or small, have plenty of customer service staff. They try to be friendly when the irate customer calls or comes in. They have to listen to the same complaint over and over again from customers who find the company is ripping them off. But the customer service employees cannot change any of it. The decisions to take advantage of the customer come from the top. When the customer service staff make it known at the top what is causing the customers to complain it all falls on deaf, uncaring ears.

Most of the regulations needed to afford protection are simple. In most cases you wouldn’t think that you HAD to regulate against this or that action. You would think that common sense and the desire to deliver the best possible service would have been enough.

Companies that take part in misleading, predatory or dishonest practices should not be allowed to use the term “customer service” at all! Because obviously if they had intention to provide good service then they would never have engaged in those practices to begin with!

In the end the “free market” system is not customer service friendly. It’s simply back to the old “buyer beware” policy.

Many of your worst customer service experiences stem from this exact situation. If you take a look at your most nightmarishly horrible customer service experiences I bet you trace it back to this source.

Posted by: Andy Porter | October 16, 2009

Welcoming is an art. Master it!

When you walk into a store (office, hospital, restaurant etc.) how often are you given a friendly greeting with a sparkly smile and real interest? Half the time? No, that’s too high. More like 10 to 20% of the time. This means that 80 to 90% of businesses are missing on the initial greeting.

That’s not good!

The first greeting when you first arrive is SO important.

If you’re going somewhere for the first time you may be anxious, upset, nervous, worried, who knows? What’s your mindset when you go to see a doctor or dentist for the first time? Are you happy and positive? How about the auto mechanic? Some people walk in half expecting something to go wrong, or maybe wondering if they made the right choice to come to your business.

But if you walk in and someone gives you a real genuine friendly greeting it brightens a person up. You tend to have a more positive attitude towards the business, possibly even become more agreeable. Just a simple warm greeting can change someone from LOOKING for things they don’t like to looking for things they DO like. It tends to change your state of mind.

A warm first greeting:

  • Sets the tone for the rest of the interaction
  • Disarms the customer
  • Shows the customer that you have an interest in them

The rule that “everyone must be greeted in a very friendly way” is known to everyone. Its not like you go to some store or office and the people don’t greet the customers because no one ever told them that they should.

So then why is it that sometimes we are not greeted right? Here are some real-life common reasons:

The greeter/receptionist/person-in-the-front was:

  • In a bad mood
  • Busy filing, typing, scanning, etc
  • Just had a bad experience with another customer (or employee) (or the boss!)
  • On the phone or with another customer
  • Suspicious of strangers
  • Distracted from more important work
  • Waiting to see if the customer will be nice first
  • Busy thinking, snoozing, gossiping, etc.

What to do?

Nothing is more important than simply getting someone out there greeting people who actually LIKES people and is a genuinely happy person. Its not impossible to find people like this, you just have to set your sights high and keep looking until you find the right person. Of course KEEPING the person is important. A great receptionist is worth their weight in GOLD to any business. If you do find a person like above you should pay them well, give them benefits and do what ever to keep them!

And any one who is out there working with customers, patients, or clients should be given some version of the following job description:

Prioritized list of duties:

  1. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  2. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  3. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  4. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  5. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  6. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  7. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  8. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  9. Greet everyone who walks in the door in the friendliest way possible, with a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes.
  10. Take care of your other duties such as inventory, stocking, price checks, filing, faxing, scanning, cleaning, data entry, etc.

I mean really, its that important, you cannot over stress the importance of the first greeting. No matter how much effort you put into making sure it is good, it will all be worth it!

Posted by: Andy Porter | June 15, 2009

First Impressions, Personalized Service and Customer Loyalty

By this stage of the game pretty much everyone knows that the target of customer service is NOT a satisfied customer. Satisfied means that they will stick with you only until something better comes along. And trust me, every satisfied customer you have IS looking! If a customer is in the satisfied category and they have a bad experience they most likely won’t tell you about it. They just won’t come back. Word of mouth referrals from a satisfied customer are not frequent. Of course satisfied is better than unsatisfied, or irritated. Satisfied is not horrible, but your aim needs to be higher.

If you want to have a booming business and garner great word of mouth advertising you have to have LOTS of loyal customers. This is the true goal of customer service. Loyal customers will drive past 10 of your competitors to come see YOU. If one of your loyal customers does have a bad experience they will probably tell you about it and give you a chance to make everything right. And they will refer your business to anyone who will listen to them.

The number of books and articles about the need to create customer loyalty are too numerous to count. They include literally hundreds of ideas to make your satisfied customer loyal to you.

As I give customer service training workshops on a constant basis I am always asking people: “Where are you a loyal customer?” And then: “Why, what do they do to make you loyal?”

The first answer I get, as you might suspect, is consistent high quality of product or service. No one is going to be a loyal customer if the basic service or product is poor. You won’t go back to the auto repair center if your car breaks again right after they “fixed the problem”. You most likely won’t return to your hair stylist if they butchered your hair the last time you went in.

The second answer I most often hear is personalized service. Someone remembered them. Some one cared and served them as an individual, not as just one person in a blur of people. In all the people I have surveyed about “why are you loyal?” everyone said that this was a key.

Loyalty is not about what gets the customer to come in for the first time, it’s what gets the customer to keep coming back.

When you go into a business for the first time you expect them to be friendly. This does not always happen, but it is certainly what we expect. Many businesses seem to focus their best efforts towards pulling in new customers. The employees you interact with as part of the sales or introduction cycle are very friendly. Actually the very best customer service people are used when the customer wants to cancel their service. If there is an option for wanting to cancel your service, then the people who you speak to are the best at trying to be nice and understanding and talk you out of it. So in many companies the customer service focus is on the beginning and the end. Not much in the middle.

But if you DID focus in the middle (meaning focus on delivering personalized customer service to your regular customers) you would have more loyal customers, get more referrals from word of mouth (maybe have a need to spend less on advertising as the referrals come in) and the number of customers trying to jump ship would shrink.

An example is a health club. When you go in for a tour and are thinking about joining you are given the royal treatment. Once you are all signed up you’re not so important. Even if you go in regularly you don’t get greeted warmly and personally. Sometimes the staff look at you like they have never seen you before! Of course this is crazy, in a health club the members who regularly visit is the people who keep them open!

So, assuming that your first visit was okay and you received a quality service or product you will most likely return. This is where personalized service comes into it. When you go back do they remember you? Does anyone remember your name, your pet’s name, your child’s name? Anything that is remembered about YOU makes a world of difference. Where you went on vacation, what kind of coffee drink do you like, even just a spark in the persons eye that says that they remember seeing you before.

Whenever you go anywhere and you are recognized it makes a difference. Have you ever been into your local ______ store (fill in the blank), a place where you have been literally hundreds of times, see the same people who work there, and not gotten even a faint flicker from them that have ever seen you before? How do you feel? Dull, unimportant, routine.

How about some business you frequent where there is that spark of recognition, or some comment that shows them they DO remember you? Does it make a difference to you? Do you FEEL different?

People suffer from not being recognized, being just another face in the crowd. The more populated the area you live in the less likely you will be recognized. As businesses grow they become more and more impersonal; more faceless; and seemingly more uncaring.

We have discussed two aspects of good service: being friendly and personal service.

They are NOT the same thing.

Friendly is smiling, being patient, helpful, expressing some care for the customer. But being friendly is not enough to make a loyal customer. Have you ever had an interaction with someone and they were very friendly up until the understood that you weren’t going to actually buy their service or product and then you got the cold shoulder? Have you ever dealt with some “business professional” and you could sense that the friendly demeanor was an act and that they were not in fact actually a very friendly person at all?

Personal service is not the same thing as friendly service. Personal service, as we have described above, is some interaction which shows the customer that they remember YOU, your likes, dislikes, desires. Personalized service is individualized service.

Of course if the goal is to create loyal customers, then ideally the customer service person would be both friendly AND deliver personal service.

There are literally hundreds of ways to provide personalized service.

  • Greeting a customer by name when they call or arrive
    • Review your schedule to see who is coming and refresh your mind on the personal details of the person.
  • Greeting their child or pet by name
  • Take time to note down any small details about the person, what is their favorite flower, or flavor of ice cream, where do their kids go to school, what is the name of their dog or cat.
  • Remembering and commenting on any personal details such as where they went on vacation, a child’s graduation,
  • Showing in your speech or manner that you recognize the person remember seeing the person before.
  • Sending letters or cards that are clearly for the individual, either by content and/or hand addressed and signed.
  • Personal follow up phone calls by the doctor, manager or owner.

I am sure that there could be a specialized list for every kind of business. The thing to do is to make sure that everyone understands this concept and ask them to come up with their own practical ideas of how to apply it. It takes planning and practice and diligence to deliver personalized service. But before you hesitate from the effort required be sure to ask your self, “What is the value of a loyal customer?”

One last aspect of personalized service: it’s fun and interesting to deliver personalized service. When you are there on the front lines and everyone becomes a blur and there is no personal interaction the job becomes dull and boring. When you work to become more personalized in your service people look nicer, customers are more interesting, and generally life looks better!

So there you have it! Personalize your service, have more loyal customers and make your own job and life brighter! Not a bad deal!

Posted by: Andy Porter | February 3, 2009

First Impressions and Greeting Customers

First impressions are everything.

We have all seen examples of this in our personal lives. When we meet someone new their appearance, tone of voice, manners (or lack of!) all have a very big effect on us.

When a customer calls or goes into an office, business or agency the first person they talk to represents the entire company. This goes even further with people who are traveling to new places: just ONE rotten experience with a rude “customer service person” can ever after sour the person’s attitude to the entire city, region, or country!!!

To the customer YOU are the company. A good first impression starts a positive relationship with your customers. On the other hand a poor first impression can sometime end the relationship right there. And when you factor in word of mouth and how many other people the customer may talk to about their bad experience with your company you can see how important first impressions can be.

A bad first impression is not impossible to undo, but it sure takes a lot of effort. The point is if you make a great first impression things are a LOT easier.

Let’s look at things from the customer’s point of view:

When a customer calls or walks into a business for the first time they may be: happy, anxious, worried, lost, angry, frustrated, excited, or possibly all of the above! When you, as a customer, are new to a business you don’t know anyone, you’re not familiar with how things work. You don’t know if you’re going to like it there, if they will provide good service, if they will be friendly or helpful. There are a lot of doubts and questions! Many customers go in to a business for the first time actually expecting things to go badly. Some even “get ready for battle” before heading off to a new restaurant, hotel, doctor or auto mechanic.

When you meet anyone new “little things” can affect your attitude towards the person very fast. If you already have a relationship with someone, and that person has a bad day or is in a bad mood it probably won’t ruin or end your relationship. But if the person is new to you just one or two small negative points could end your relationship with the person right there.

Speaking of first impressions, it is vital that you, as the customer service professional, do not make any assumptions about customers. Judging a customer by their appearance or how they speak is a huge mistake.

So, anyone working on the front lines is supposed to do everything to make sure that they give all customers a great first impression and at the same time be sure to NOT let your first impressions of the customer in any way prevent you from delivering the best possible service. This can be a tall order sometimes.

Greeting a customer

Always make eye contact with the customer the first second they come in. Even if you are with another customer or on the phone, make eye contact and acknowledge that they are there immediately. A simple gesture tells the new person that you see them and will be right with them.

Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile!

Your greeting should tell the customer, “I am glad you’re here!”

Greetings such as:

  • “Good morning! How can I help you today?”
  • “Hello, how is your day going so far?” What can I help you with today?”
  • “Hi, we haven’t seen you in a while!”
  • “Welcome, what can I do for you today?”
  • “Good afternoon! What can we do for you today?”

A friendly greeting immediately disarms the person and sets them at ease. It sets the tone for the rest of the interaction. No matter what the customer’s emotional state this will make things better. This is probably the single most important point for anyone working in any position where they greet customers.

Every person who walks in the door

Every person who comes in MUST be greeted in the most friendly way possible: new customers, old customers, customers who come in all the time, all of them. Repair people, delivery people, people who are lost and need directions, everyone. Remember, even if the person who comes is not and never will be a customer they still will relay their experiences with your company, good or bad, to everyone they talk to.

If there is going to be a wait, tell the customer about it. Explain why, offer coffee, tea, etc. then every 10 to 15 minutes give the customer an update. Have gift cards from a local store, restaurant or espresso stand available for customers who have to wait too long. Always tell the truth about how long the wait will be. Saying it will be “just a few more minutes” when you know it will half an hour only makes things worse!

Things you should never do:

  • If the customer is early for their appointment NEVER communicate in any way that this is bad or creates a problem. The point is that the person arrived! That’s great! Go give the customer a hug! Don’t berate them for the “crime” of being early. In fact you should not use the word “early”. If the customer comes early the first thing to do is to tell them how happy you are to see them. You can say something like, “Just have a seat and I will go (or call) and see if they are ready for you.” Or something positive, just work it out so that what you are saying is not “You’re early and you’re RUINING my schedule!!!”
  • Carry on a personal conversation with another employee, or phone call, while servicing a customer. This is particularly important when the customer first comes in. If you are at the front desk with another co-worker and a customer walks in you need to end any conversations you are having and look up at the customer with a smile BEFORE they reach the counter. Other wise the customer will get the impression that they are distracting you from your more “important” duties.
  • Carry on ANY negative type of conversation ABOUT ANYTHING if there is a customer with earshot. This includes conversations about: other staff, other customers, other competitors.
  • Convey the idea, feeling or attitude of being “way too busy”, “overworked” frantic or ANYTHING ELSE which would tell the customer that their being there is a problem. Generally customers don’t want to hear about your problems at work or in your personal life. Just be positive, friendly, cheerful and happy to help them NO MATTER HOW SWAMPED YOU ARE.

Click here to learn about our WelcomeTeam Training program.

Posted by: Andy Porter | February 3, 2009

First Impressions and Answering the Phone

Who ever answers the phone at any business is the most important person on the payroll! Why? It’s simple, they talk to more customers than anyone else. A great receptionist is worth their weight in gold. It doesn’t matter whether the caller is a new customer or an established one, how the phone is answered and how the caller is handled makes ALL the difference.

First impressions, First impressions, First impressions

If the caller is a potential new customer how the phone is answered is of the highest priority. Of course when you pick up the phone you don’t know if the caller is new customer or an established one. Any small mistakes or misses on the phone and the potential new customer may very well move on down the street.

Your attitude and tone are EVERYTHING!

The most important characteristic is: FRIENDLY!

The telephone should be answered promptly and should not be allowed to ring more than three times.All telephone calls should be answered with a warm greeting,

Example:

The telephone rings: “Good morning, San Rafael Construction Company.This is George.How I can help you”?

Be cheerful, positive, concerned and helpful no matter what the caller has to say.

As soon as you know the callers name write it down!

If you ask the question: “May I please put you on hold?” then you MUST wait for the answer before doing so! If you’re not going to wait for the answer, don’t ask the question, just say: “Please hold” and put them on hold.

You should NEVER convey to the person on the other end of the phone anything other than “I am happy you called and eager to help you!”

Who ever answers the phone MUST be able to answer the customer’s questions. Customers expect that anyone answering the phone will be able to answer all of their questions! If you don’t know, find out! Get trained, make a list of common questions and their answers, and receive some cross training. Do what ever it takes.

Usually in any company there is a chain of people who are assigned to answer the phone if the receptionist is too busy. In my opinion this is better than an automated system. But the problem with this is that often these “secondary receptionists” are horrible! They pick up the phone sounding annoyed, distracted or even angry. Of course this is completely wrong! Every company MUST preach the rules of how the phone is to answered and train EVERYONE who works at the company to answer the phone perfectly. Every employee should be cross trained as receptionist a top priority. Not only will this improve customer service, but it will increase everyone’s appreciation for the companies most important people: the receptionists!!!

Attitude, attitude, attitude! Your tone of voice, sense of humor and level of seriousness are the most important factors. The busier you are the more important these points become!

Ending a phone conversation:

Always end the conversation with a “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” and “Thank you for calling!”

Click here to learn about our WelcomeTeam Training program.

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 28, 2009

Five Key Strategies to Increase Customer Satisfaction

Train all staff to answer Commonly Asked Questions

    1. Customers expect all employees to be able to answer their questions. This can be an unreal expectation, but nonetheless it is expected.
    2. Every business gets a lot of the same questions over and over. Have you ever noticed that you may have an employee who is excellent at answering certain questions, and other staff who are fantastic at answering different questions?
    3. Make a list of the most common questions; this list can be separated by departments, or for the entire business.
    4. At the next staff meeting go over each question, one at a time. Get the group to answer the questions (make sure one or two staff take exact notes!) and come up with what they feel is the best possible answer.
    5. The final goal is that ALL employees can answer all of the questions smoothly and easily.

To Do: Make a list of common questions. At the next staff meeting start the program!

Know what your customers really think!

Survey your customers. It is probably not possible to get too much feed back from your customers. Most businesses get way too little. If done right surveying your customers in itself will increase the customer perception of your company. Surveys show that you care and want to improve. Surveys MUST be done by someone who really cares, who is good at the nuances of communication!

What are some methods to survey customers?

  • Mail out survey forms to all of your new or existing customers
  • Have survey forms to hand to customers
  • Place stacks of surveys forms for customers to fill out or take home an send back.
  • Have a survey section on your web site
  • Send out emails with surveys
  • Call new or existing customers and survey them on the phone.
  • Survey the customers in person while they are still in the store or business

What can you do with your survey results?

  • If you know where you’re doing great you can make sure you don’t stop doing it!
  • You can validate the employees for all their great work.
  • You know who needs a promotion and a raise!
  • You can fix an area that is doing poorly.
  • You can create or rewrite procedures to make sure things get better.
  • You can use the results in your advertising and marketing.
  • Offer a bonus or discount for doing the survey

To Do: Decide what is the most effective way for YOU to survey and get started!!

Keep the staff in the know and focused on customer service

    1. The customer service log is a large sized book with specially divided sheets which is used by all staff to record any and all customer compliments of complaints, large or small. The log is a vital tool for improving customer relations and creating staff members who care what happens and work hard to improve the company.
    2. Every day employees get feed back from customers about your service or products. Usually the bad comments get relayed, but in a normal day there are many comments. These should all be noted.
    3. Create log books to collect the feed back. Have the logs at several points so everyone can get to them. Get the name of the customer, what was said, the date, and what, if anything was done to fix the problem.
    4. Make sure no one can get punished for noting down what the customer says!
    5. The log book provides a healthy way for employees to relay the complaints that they hear. 

To Do: Get the log books made, explain their use to staff and get started!!

Create a team atmosphere. Hold a weekly staff meeting

    1. The internal atmosphere of a company is EVERYTHING. If there is bickering, gossiping and griping your customer service will suffer.
    2. Read ALL customer complaints and compliments (from surveys and the customer service log) to all employees.
    3. If there are any complaints discuss them and decide if YOU (the company) did anything wrong. If you did get the employees to come up with the best solution.
    4. If you keep all customer complaints (and compliments!) out in the open, totally transparent, you will create a healthy group who work together to improve the business. 

To Do: Schedule and hold your first weekly “customer service” staff meeting.

Get all employees Cross Training

    1. Here are some reasons to do cross training:
  • If everyone is cross trained they can jump in if someone is missing or busy
  • It’s MUCH harder to be critical of another department if you have actually done the work of that department yourself!
  • Employees who are cross trained are more valuable to the group.
  • Any employee who is cross trained will be better educated to answer customer questions, field their complaints and will excel in customer service. 

To Do: Ensure that every employee has a checklist of what they need to be cross trained on, and get them started!!

Click here to learn about our WelcomeTeam Training program.

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 11, 2009

The tools of customer service

Every profession has specific tools that are used to create a product. An artist may use canvas and a paintbrush; a photographer uses a camera and a tripod; a mechanic has a wrench; a chef uses a French knife and a sauté pan; a teacher may use a textbook and a computer.

Actually every profession has MANY tools that are used on a constant basis to create and produce results.

What is the difference between someone who gets so-so results and someone who regularly turns out high quality products? It has a lot to do with knowledge of the tools of the trade. Actually there are several steps or levels of knowing about tools. They are:

  • Knowing that there ARE tools.
  • Having some familiarity with these tools.
  • Being able to confidently use the tools.
  • Knowing when each tool should be used.
  • Having a comprehensive understanding of how to use the tools in conjunction with each other, ie: mastering the tools.

Someone new to a subject is may only know of the existence of one or two tools. For example a person who uses Photoshop but only knows how to crop pictures. Have you ever seen a person who tried to everything with one tool? People can get really good at using just a few tools to do everything. But of course the more tools you know and can use the easier you can get results, and your results will be of higher quality.

What are the basic tools and skills of someone who works with customers?

  • Attitude/Friendliness
    • No question, it all starts with attitude. This is the most important point and cannot be skimped. If the attitude is lousy no amount of training will make up for it. Great customer service embodies empathy, the ability to BE in the customer’s shoes.
  • Knowledge about the product or service.
    • It’s hard to help a customer service if you don’t know what you’re talking about. This includes knowing all common questions and their answers, but to be really good you need to understand why things are so, how the products/services work and why.
  • Knowledge of company policies and procedures
    • Unfortunately this is the point that most customer service staff know the best: the rules! You can’t do this and you can’t do that. But understanding the rules is important and if employees do not know the proper procedures they will create big problems, fast!
  • Communication skills: how to control a conversation
    • Listening – this is a skill just about everyone needs work on.
    • Acknowledging – understanding when and how to properly acknowledge is an immensely important skill.
    • Redirecting a conversation – conversations can easily get off track, one needs to be skilled in redirecting the customer back to the subject smoothly.
    • Ending a conversation – have you ever been caught like a deer in the headlights with a customer who would not stop talking? Knowing how to politely end conversations is a key survival skill.
  • Understanding of emotions and ability to not take it personally
    • This is one of the most difficult points. In most cases the person dealing with the irate customer had nothing to do with the problem. Then why is the customer yelling at you? If a customer service person cannot deal with this they will soon be on the road to burnout.
  • Mastery of applicable software
    • It seems that every industry has its own software, and in some cases hundreds of variations. It takes time to learn and be proficient in using these applications.
  • Knowledge of the duties and functions of the other posts connected/related to your own post
    • If you are working in a group you have to know not only your post and duties but to some degree, the duties of those around you. Cross training is a very effective way to educate staff and if there is ANY interdepartmental strife, it is a MUST.
  • Customer service surveys
    • Counting on customers to tell you how they feel is not going to work. Every business must employ a host of ways to get feed back from customers. Surveys, emails, letters, customer service phone surveys, a link on your web site, all must be employed to gather input.
  • Customer service log book and weekly meetings.
    • Employees hear positive and negative comments from customers daily. These should be written down! Each comment is valuable! All customer comments and survey results should be shared with all staff! Having a weekly meeting where you discuss any and all compliments and complaints and how to improve service is imperative to improve service and create a real team.
  • Skill in handling irritated customers
    • All of the above skills are part of this, but anyone who been doing customer service successfully for some time will have developed successful actions. Maybe there are phrases to say, or a way to ask a question, or a specific way to tell the customer your policy, or, or , or.Getting customer service staff together regularly to discuss complaints and what works to handle them is very important and will pay huge dividends.
  • Problem solving skills
    • Problem solving skills do not seem to be native to all people! Solving customer problems can include not only finding a remedy for the customers complaint, but suggesting what needs to be done so that problem does not repeat with more customers.

Have you ever run into someone who was in customer service and had a great attitude and was really friendly, but knew next to nothing about the product? (maybe a person working at an overseas call center). Or someone who knew ALL about the product or service but severely lacked in friendliness? (a tech support “person”). Or a person who was friendly and knew the product, but not how to use the company software?

It seems rare to encounter someone who has all of the above skills together, but there is really no reason that it should be so difficult to achieve this. Probably every company needs a workbook and a checklist that includes the above points outlined and detailed for each key post. With examples, common questions and their answers, real scenarios and then exercises to work on.

If this were compiled and someone helped the person get through it then it wouldn’t take years to get someone up to the level of being a customer service expert. And that would be good for everyone!

Click here to learn about our WelcomeTeam Training program.

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 11, 2009

Contextualized customer service

When customer service is lacking there are really only two possible causes:

1.Lack of caring

2.Lack of training

Of course if there is a lack of caring about customer service from management it will manifest in lack of staff training. In many companies there is not and never has been any intention to deliver anything even approaching decent customer service. These companies constantly do things that antagonize their customers. They use irritating automated phone systems, farm out “customer service” to cheap-priced overseas call centers and in some cases adopt procedures to rip of their customers. Several large telecommunications companies and banks will generally come to mind as examples here.

However, in the majority of companies the intent to deliver good customer service does exist. What is often lacking is a workable system to train people.

The thing about small companies is that you usually get better service. I notice that often the best service I get anywhere is from a business where the owner is the one dealing with customers. There are a lot of obvious reasons for this.

When a company is a one-man (or woman) show, they do everything. Any business starts with the basic product or service for sale. Say a person starts a company as a computer repair specialist, or marketing consultant, or plumber. Of course the “owner” is the plumber, or consultant, or tech. But when you get started you also do all the other functions of the business: sales and marketing, customer service, etc.

So when there is a customer service problem, the owner knows all about it, he or she doesn’t need to go ask a coworker about what happened with Mrs. Johnson. He knows. The owner doesn’t need to ask for approval for her idea of what to do to handle the customer, there is no one else to ask. The owner does not have a customer service handbook or manual. There is no written policy. He or she has or gathers the data and makes a decision on how to resolve the problem in the best interests of the company and the customer.

When a business is run like this (assuming there is a good quality product) there will be plenty of new customers through positive word of mouth. Expansion occurs!

Now as a company expands the owner tries to shed hats and duties. Maybe there is someone hired to help with delivery or production; new techs are hired, or apprentice plumbers. Or maybe there is a sales person who joins the company. Maybe they found a bookkeeper to handle the accounting and customer statements. If the business has a storefront it could be a new receptionist or cashier that is hired to free up time for the boss to get more things done.

I have known several small business owners who grew their business through a great product and wonderful, personal service. Their income went up and up, so they figured “if I hire several new employees the stats will go up faster and higher.”

All too often, this is not what happens. Now the owner does not personally service each customer, but relies on new staff to do what he was doing. You can graph these two vectors, number of staff and customer satisfaction. When one goes up, the other goes down. Have you ever seen a business go through this?

With the owner off the customer service lines things begin to suffer and the expansion of the business stalled. The overall word of mouth of the business started to drop. Some customers became un-enamored with the lack of service.

The owner was operating on the idea that the business would continue to grow when the new staff members were hired. That’s how the increase in payroll was justified. But the decrease in customer service has slowed the flow of new customers and the income did not increase as planned. In some cases it appears that the more new employees the company hires the less profit the company makes.

Why did customer service suffer when new employees were hired? Well, employees don’t always have the motivation to ensure the customer is happy. They are often paid by the hour. Some have a bad attitude:“I am not getting paid enough to be nice to customers”, “They’re not MY customers”, “I don’t care, my shift ends at 4:30” etc.

Or the reason could be that the employee does not know as much about the product as the boss, or the employee does not have the authority to make decisions to handle the customer.

But let’s look a little deeper. How are most employees trained in the first place? They are given a list of rules and procedures. They are told to follow them. It is made clear that if they don’t, they will get canned. That’s the system. I know you can make it sound sweeter; there are workbooks and training manuals, staff meetings and training seminars. There are videos, DVDs and pod casts. There is Employee of the Month, awards and pats on the back. But if you boil it all down, it’s the same thing: here is the book of procedures, please follow them, or else.

What else is there? Well, as in the example above with the small business owner who does everything, the best customer service comes from someone who has an intimate knowledge of the product and service, has authority to think and decide and who cares what happens.

We can call this type of customer service Contextualized Service.

Lets look at the definition of the word context: the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc. Contextualizing your service means individualizing your service. It means taking into account all of the details and information that fits the situation.

It’s the kind of customer service you would expect to get from the owner. One way to describe it would be to say that the person doing it is educated, motivated and empowered.

Why is Contextualized service the way to go? Well, what’s wrong with policy? As soon as you set it down in writing you are limited. And owner does not go back and read the policy when handling a customer complaint. He evaluates the situation based on available data and makes the best decision that will benefit the customer and help the business expand. Customer loyalty, satisfaction, money/financial considerations, word of mouth, availability, these are all variable factors that need to be weighed to come up with an intelligent answer.

Have you ever been on the customer end of a discussion/argument where someone is explaining to you that “the reason we are treating you like shit is that it’s our policy”?

I was in an animal hospital recently and we were discussing creating a written policy on what to do when the customer comes in with an animal in bad shape, but with no money. Should we extend help and treat the animal for free? Should we turn the person and their injured animal away? If the animal is in bad shape and the owner has no money should we offer to euthanize the animal for free? If the owner can’t pay should we offer free pain medications? (For the pet, not the owner!). These are all tough questions. And the more we discussed them the clearer it became to me that a policy was not the answer. Even the most perfectly policy cannot take the place of a person.

The best possible solution is to have a well-trained person there, who can gather and evaluate all data, who has in mind the best interests of the customer, the pet and the business.

It may seem that these two points of interest are at odds with each other, and in some cases this is so, but in the majority of situations these two points of interest are parallel. What’s best for the customer is also what’s best for the business.

A policy presupposes that the person there will not be able to gather data and decide. It implies that the person on the ground is not clever enough to come up with the best solution.

Why do some people need written policy? In some cases they don’t want to think, don’t want to take responsibility. Or they have not been trained and don’t understand the big picture. In some cases they don’t want to have to decide anything, for fear of getting into trouble. Sometimes it is very convenient to be able to tell the customer “I am sorry, I can’t help you, but I am only following company policy.”

I know that just the idea of empowering staff to make these decisions has many readers squirming in their chairs. But lets look at this: If you can’t trust your employees to do any thinking then why do they still work there?

Training employees in contextualized service is not as difficult as one would think. In many ways it is easier than the “old system”. In reality the size of the company should not be a barrier. Any business can improve customer service and achieve profitable customer relationships. Employers can work on providing a package of training, incentives & flexible authority that would address the education, motivation and empowering gaps, needed for contextualized customer service.

Check back in the near future and we will post Contextualized Training checklists and provide more information and insight into how to achieve a truly contextualized customer service experience for your customers!

Click here to learn about our WelcomeTeam Training program.

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 11, 2009

Who should you blame for bad customer service?

It starts at the top!

If you want to know who to blame for bad customer service look no further than the top of the food chain. The owners and management are the ones responsible for what ever type of customer service a company provides.

Usually when a customer service training program is started though, the normal starting place is at the bottom. The general staff employees: the sales people, receptionists, front desk, technicians etc are the ones sent for the training. This bottom-up customer service training program is backwards! Actually the training should start at the top, not the bottom!

With some companies I really wonder what in the world are they thinking! Do they honestly care for the customer, or is the customer thought of as a farmer thinks of a cow, something to be milked for all it can provide. Actually that’s unfair to farmers. They are much more interested in the cow’s well-being than many companies are in their customers.

Advertising is a direct reflection of the attitude of management. So much advertising this day is really nothing more than a pack of lies. We see this all the time. Advertisements with the word FREE in them are inevitably full of lies. There is Free Credit report dot com. Definitely NOT free. Products are often advertised for free, and of course they are not. There is always more to it. Why can’t they just be honest? If the offer is two for the price of one, why not say it. Instead they say it’s free and then when you read the fine print, you see that the product is “free” only when you buy another product.

Advertising and marketing practices speak volumes about the company’s attitude toward the customers.

Of course EVERY business claims to REALLY CARE about their customers. This phony, false caring is seen through sales procedures, pricing and billing policies.

Some companies will sign you up for services you didn’t order, bill you for products or services you didn’t want and only correct things when the customer raises a stink. What kind of customer service is that? It seems that the bigger a company gets the more brazen it gets in its predatory and criminal practices.

Some recent examples I have seen are:

Recently many banks have been changing the due date on their credit card statements. The idea is that the customer gets used to paying on the 10th of each month. So the bank changes it to the 7th. The idea is to catch the customer napping and then the bank gets to hit the customer with a late payment fee of $35.00. Not to mention a negative credit report entry, or a higher interest rate.

I used Verizon for some of my business accounts in the past. In one year I had three separate instances where they billed us for services we didn’t want or use, lied to entice us to sign up for new services and then tried to delay our switching lines when we finally decided to go with another provider.

These examples of abuse are not customer service issues. Somewhere there is a management person who comes up with these “bright ideas” to make a few extra bucks by ripping off the customers. The company probably gave the “genius” a bonus, more stock options and a bigger office for devising these new scams.

How about some companies exchange or refund policies? Have you ever tried to change your airline ticket or cancel your ticket due to an illness or accident? The policy is a total penalty to the customer. I recently saw an ad for an online site for purchasing airline tickets. They were making light of a person who can’t complete the transaction to purchase airline tickets. Of course the person is nervous about the final purchase selection! If you make a mistake or change your mind, there goes half your money!!!!!

All of these examples are management decisions. These policies and actions are NOT decided by the customer service staff. They are the unlucky ones who have to enforce these polices and take the brunt of the pissed off customers who feel ripped off and abused by the managements decisions.

Employee loyalty is everything.

But when I say that management bears the responsibility of good or bad customer service, I am speaking about more than the above examples. Really good customer service starts with loyal employees. If the employees are not loyal to the company they are NOT going to do the extras that add up to great service. Management may THINK that the employees will do what is best for the company because “this is what they should do” or “this is what we pay them for”. Maybe managers go out and watch how employees treat customers directly and see good service and so assume that this is what happens when they are not watching.

But when they are NOT watching employees who are not loyal to the company I can tell you from being there that this is NOT the case. Any management person who thinks otherwise is delusional.

How many times have you seen an employee change the way they treat customers when there is not anyone supervising them? Ever go to a 7-11 late at night? Or anyplace really. I have seen this on airlines, at hotels, restaurants, stores, hair salons, dental offices, ad infinitum. ONLY loyal employees make loyal customers.

So, how does a company make loyal employees? Pay and benefits are part of it, but there is a lot more: acknowledging employees efforts; creating and maintaining a safe environment; continuing education; empowering people; involving employees in making decisions. These are what make an employee loyal. Honesty from management is also a key factor in what makes loyal employees! You wouldn’t think you had to point that one out, but have you ever seen any management that was less than honest with its employees?

Internal atmosphere

The overall atmosphere inside a business has EVERYTHING to do with its level of customer service. We already spoke about the relationship between management and employees, but what about the internal attitudes between departments and employees? I don’t think I have ever seen any large company where there was not loads of bickering and infighting between departments. Sales versus production. Shipping versus sales. Accounting versus everyone. Front office staff versus the back staff. The list goes on and on. 80% of all customer complaints are caused by dropped communication. The message did not get relayed, was lost, etc. Or it could be that the system is at fault, there were no correct channels for the communication to flow on. All of these problems are again management problems. If there are ANY communication problems, any bickering between departments, then right there you have management who are too unaware or lazy to be considered management. And there are the bulk of your complaints from customers.

Another version of this I have seen is where the employees are bluntly critical of the customers. The customers are ”stupid”, “idiots”, “morons”, etc. I was in a computer repair shop not too long ago and the staff were making deriding jokes about how stupid their customers were. What idiot would do this, or do that, ha ha. No wonder the moron’s computer broke. Then the managers walked in the room and went right into agreement with them! They started laughing and agreeing and telling their own stories about what idiots the customers were.

What an example to set! Those “stupid” customers are the only reason you have a job! When employees work in an environment where it is okay to make these sorts of comments, don’t you think this is going to come through when the employees deal with customers? Of course it will! Have you ever run into a smarmy or condescending computer repair tech? Where do you think they got it?!

Being a manager is a lot like being a good gardener: you have to be good at weeding! Employees who constantly gripe, gossip, criticize and complain about each other AND / OR about customers are the ones who need to get weeded out ASAP. They set a bad example and drive way your loyal employees who DO care. Of course if a company has management fitting into some of the categories you see above its very unlikely that they will do any weeding. Simply because they need to weed them selves out first! And that’s not very likely.

Where to start?

Good management sets policies and procedures for advertising, marketing, pricing, customer service, etc, that in themselves demonstrate a commitment to great caring customer service. They then hire, train, nurture and keep loyal employees. Good management sets an example for all employees. They set an example in how they treat all employees and their customers. Good management creates a safe productive environment by weeding out the people who don’t care and who just want to be miserable.

These are the basic points necessary to achieve to attain great customer service.

I always have a derisive laugh when I see a company with poor customer service try to fix it by sending a few of their lowest paid employees to some customer service classes. Because the ones who need the classes are the ones at the top, not the bottom!

So, the next time you go into or call any company and get steamed because they provide lousy customer service, now you will not only know who to blame, but you will also know where they need to start to make things right!!!

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Posted by: Andy Porter | January 11, 2009

What is needed to create loyal customers

  1. Top down customer service. Great customer service starts at the top. It flows from the owner to the management, onto the staff and then between the staff. We already know that people tend to treat others the way they are treated. If the owner or management treat the staff with kindness and understanding and follow the next 5 points they will have loyal customers. If not, they will have trouble.
  2. A business must have a system to gather accurate, up-to-date feedback from customers to really know how the customers feel and what needs work. Otherwise it’s all just guessing.
  3. Constant unrelenting attention on customer service based on the feed back you receive. Hold weekly meetings to discuss what is working and what needs to work better. Ask your experienced staff to come up with ways to handle any customer service problems.
  4. An ongoing program to train and educate staff. This includes: training for their basic duties and complete understanding of the services or products offered, mastery of all applicable software, customer service training and when that’s all done, cross training on related positions.
  5. Recognize and reward service excellence. Employees who excel at customer service should be acknowledged and if possible promoted. Building a team of motivated, empowered staff is the key to creating loyal customers.
  6. Recognize and get rid of employees who constantly gossip, gripe and complain. They cause stress for the rest of the staff and make everyone’s life miserable (including their own). If management does not rapidly rid the company of these people they will drive your best staff away.

 

Drill: Give your company a grade on each of the 6 areas above. Grade each point like in school: A, B, C, D, and F. Write the grades on the left side of the page. If applicable, grade your department on the right in the same manner.

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Posted by: Andy Porter | January 3, 2009

Competitors price and quality survey

There are umpteen articles written about the need to go above and beyond the customers expectations. But how do you KNOW what exactly constitutes above and beyond? You may have your own opinions or ideas of this, however to be successful you need more than your own opinions to create an effective customer service plan.

This will take some research. You will need to survey your customers. You can simply ask them what constitutes above and beyond.

AND if you’re smart and on the ball you will need to find out all about what your competitors are doing, offering and delivering. What do they charge, what exactly is included in that price, how fast do they deliver, and how friendly/professional is the service.

Why do you need to know all about the competitors? Because your customers will inevitably be comparing you to them.

The only way to get this data is to become a customer, call your competitors and or visit their storefront, purchase their products or services. It is not enough to simply call on the phone and check on their prices. You need to know all that is added (or missing) from their delivery of the service or product.

Areas that you need to rate:

  • How was the phone answered? Was there an automated system? Was it voicemail?
  • How does the business look? What is your first impression of the building and sign? How is the parking?
  • How are they greeting the customers?
  • Was there personalized service by the staff?
  • Was the staff knowledgeable?
  • Was the staff friendly, helpful and patient while you were considering their products or services?
  • Did you learn anything new while being their customer?

When you note prices be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN to note exactly what “comes with it”. This point is often missed, and missing this data will throw off all other conclusions.

In some cases the competitor’s survey can be done over the phone. In many cases it should be done in person. A simple chart should be made with the questions to be asked and space for the answers and impressions noted. The chart should be completely filled in at the time of the visit, or call. This ensures that you won’t forget important bits of information, or your impressions at that time.

Who should make the calls and do the survey? Of course it is ideal that you, as the owner or manager make the calls or visit, but not always. I often recommend that they be done by your employees that are on the front lines of dealing with clients. Why? Because they will hear for themselves what their counterparts at “the other companies” are doing and saying.

I recently had a clients staff do such a survey and the staff came back to see me wide-eyed. There were many comments like, “Wow, they were good, we need to work on our service.” This is a great way to get your staff on a customer service crusade. They get to hear and see for themselves.

If your employees are going to do the secret shopping, I recommend that before the first call is made that you spend some time with the staff that are to make the calls and drill the script first. Do some roll playing and have the staff go through the survey on a dry run before they start calling.

A list of competitors to be called is then provided. And a time target is set to get all the calls done.

When you have analyzed the results you can now write out a program on what needs to be done. You may want to: change the way you interact with customers, arrange for more training for your employees, adjust your prices, give all your staff a raise, modify your marketing materials, and…… there are many new ideas you will get from this.

Here is a sample list of questions to ask or specific items to note:

  • Ask about 3 to 5 different products or services offered, getting prices and exactly what is included in each price.
  • Describe the receptionist’s tone of voice and demeanor during the phone call. Was he or she friendly and happy to help? Were you thanked for calling?
  • Describe the extent to which the receptionist tried to genuinely assist you over the phone or offer information that you didn’t request.
  • Describe the timeliness of the phone call. Were you put on hold before being helped? Was the receptionist in a hurry to end the conversation?
  • Describe the extent of the receptionist’s knowledge of the surveyed services or products. Were the answers clear and concise? Did he or she know all of the answers?
  • Did the receptionist use your name as the conversation progressed?
  • Did the receptionist offer to schedule an appointment?
  • Did the receptionist offer to mail a brochure?
  • Did the receptionist ask “How did you hear about us?”

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