Posts Tagged ‘customer experience’


The Customer Is At The Center Of The Customer’s Universe

Here's a powerful, deceptively simple rule of customer service. Learning this rule is a central principle of successful business. 

The customer is at the center of the customer's universe.

Stocksy_txp0ac24513DK9000_Small_108905It's hard, but necessary, to drill this reality into your staff–not just once, but as often as every day–and to keep it in mind, in good times and bad, yourself.

Here's what "the customer is at the center of the customer's universe" means in day-to-day language:

  • Your hangover doesn't matter to a customer, even though it's making you ache behind your eyeballs.
  • The traffic jam you suffered through on the way to work doesn't matter to your customer, even though it's still rattling around in your head.
  • Your frustration with the new technology in the office doesn't matter to the customer. Even your fascination with nifty new features in the technology doesn't matter to the customer.

What matters to the customer is the customer, and the people the customer cares about, a category that only tangentially at best includes you, the service provider.

Seth Godin once pointed out that "when you hand someone a photo album or a yearbook, the first thing they will do is seek out their own picture."

I would extend this thinking even further. Every minute the customer is with you, the customer is thinking about his own reality. Or the reality of his relationship with the people who matter to him.

Think about this reality–because it is reality. Incorporate it into everything you do in business. You'll be amazed at the rewards you reap.


Should Employees be Tipped?

10-23 Tipping SmallI stay at Marriott Hotels over 50 nights a year. I was surprised to learn that with the help of Maria Shriver, Marriott Hotels recently started a formal program to encourage guests to tip employees that clean their hotel rooms.

The campaign, called "The Envelope Please," places envelopes in 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada to solicit tipping by guests. The "name of the person who cleans the room will be written on the envelope along with a message: "Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts." Source 

One of the motivations behind this campaign is that these employees want an increase in their compensation. The company's assumption is that this increase should come from tips, the same way other hotel employees accomplish this. This is a surprise coming from a company like Marriott that has $13 billion a year in revenue, and $626 million in profits. Arne Sorenson, the CEO, who suggests you leave $1 or $5 a night, makes $7 million a year. Source 

Is this fair to the guest after paying hundreds of dollars a night? Should a small business support the tipping of employees through various solicitations like signs and tip jars?

Unlike the rest of the world, restaurant tipping is a large part of employees’ compensation. It allows employers to pay less than minimum wage in some states. Expected tipping is a terrible custom. It allows the employer to pay low wages and puts that burden on the customer. For example, in Chicago, a meal costs 30 percent more when tax and tip are added in. Pricing on the menu almost amounts to false advertising!

People that argue for tips will improve service. In fact, TIP stands for "to improve performance". But evidence suggests something else.

Brian Palmer of Slate writes that “Tipping does not incentivize hard work. The factors that correlate most strongly to tip size have virtually nothing to do with the quality of service. Credit card tips are larger than cash tips. Large parties with sizable bills leave disproportionately small tips. We tip servers more if they tell us their names, touch us on the arm, or draw smiley faces on our checks. Quality of service has a laughably small impact on tip size." Source

Small business owners should not encourage tips for employees. This sends a strong message that they value their employees and pay them fairly. It states that they do not ask customers for more money beyond what is charged for the service. 

If a customer wants to leave an extra tip for exceptional service let them, but the company should not expect customers to supplement employees’ wages.

When I stay at a Marriott, I expect a clean room. I shouldn't have to pay more to get one.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Reflect Your Brand?

Barbeque: Waiter Seating Guest at TableHave you ever stopped to think about how well your company’s customer service reflects your brand? As workers on the front lines of your business, customer service employees are often the first contact customers have with your company, making their role as “brand ambassadors” crucial.

How do customer service employees convey your brand? Consider the different types of customer service you might receive at a fancy, white-tablecloth restaurant vs. a casual, ‘50s-style diner. Waiters at the fancy restaurant might be formally dressed, speak quietly and address you as “Sir.” Waitresses at the diner might chomp gum, call you “Hon” and slide into your booth to take an order. In both cases, they’re conveying the business’s brand.

Here are some aspects of customer service that can build your business brand.  

  • Uniforms: If your customer service employees interact with customers in person, uniforms are essential to building a brand. Uniforms should tie in with your business’s colors and logo, its mood (formal or informal, fashionable or functional), and the demands of the job.
  • Grooming: Along with uniforms, grooming standards reinforce your brand. If you own a hip graphic design firm or restaurant, you might want staff to show off their tattoos and nose rings. If you own a conservative accounting firm, you probably want these covered up removed during work hours. To make sure your grooming standards don’t discriminate against any category of employee, allow for work-arounds. In other words, you can’t refuse to hire someone because of tattoos, but you can require the tattoos to be covered on the job.
  • Speech: The ways your customer service representatives talk to customers says a lot about your brand. You might require a more formal conversational style, such as always addressing customers as “Ms.,” “Mr.” or “Mrs.” And saying “Please” and “You’re welcome.” Or you might be fine with employees addressing customers by their first names or using casual expressions like “Sure” and “No problem.” Either way, setting guidelines for employees to follow—such as scripts for customer service reps who deal with customers on the phone–creates a level of uniformity that reinforces your brand.
  • Assistance level: At some businesses, customer service is more of a DIY affair; at others, it’s a white-glove approach. Set standards that are in line with your brand. Should customer service reps guide customers through every step of a complicated process, or get them started and then let them finish on their own? Can an employee assist more than one customer at the same time, or must they handle one customer’s issue before interacting with the next? When transferring a customer to another phone line, should the employee stay on the line and introduce the customer to the other service rep, or just transfer the call and hang up?

When it comes to customer service, little things make a big difference in how your brand is perceived.


How to Get Your Business Email Delivered

Stocksy_txpf1294e40taA000_Small_354765Spam has been a problem since 1865. When a group of British politicians received unsolicited telegrams promoting a local dentistry shop, they were angry. One of the recipients wrote a letter to the editor of The Times asking “by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is evidently simply the medium of advertisement?” He proceeded to request a stop to this “intolerable nuisance”.

Flash forward over 100 years to 1978. Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., sends a message promoting a new computer model to 393 users on ARPANET (the precursor to the internet) and becomes the “father of spam”. The reaction was almost completely hostile and Thuerk was harshly reprimanded.

So after so much backlash, why does the sending of spam messages continue? Because this marketing technique works. Thuerk’s company sold more than 20 computer systems for more than a million dollars apiece from this type of message.

In the years since, spam has continued to be sent and continued to be fought by email gatekeeping filters. Some estimate that 90% of all email sent is actually spam.

So how do you get a company’s email through all that spam filters?

  1. Use double opt in when possible. A subscriber fills out a form and then confirms that subscription again via email. While this two-step process is a bit cumbersome and will result in a reduction of the list, it is the best way to preserve a reputation and therefore the deliverability with the email provider.
  2. Keep complaints low. When someone does complain, remove them from the list immediately. It is surprising how these people do not remove themselves when they make the complaint.
  3. Use a reputable email marketing provider. Most professional services like Infusionsoft, and Constant Contact have strict standards of mailing. Every email address on a subscriber list must be verified by the sender or the receiver to keep deliverability high.
  4. Do not use Yahoo, Gmail or AOL domain names. Since these types of accounts represent the domains where most spam is sent from, they have a higher likelihood to be filter out as spam.
  5. Stop using trigger words. This increase the chances of the email being labeled as spam. For instance, do not use the words “free”, “you have been selected”, “24 hours”, “test”, “hello”, “help”, “percent off” or “reminder”.
  6. If images are used, include more text. Images alone have a greater chance of going into the spam bucket. Use plenty of text along with those images to improve deliverability.
  7. Always spell check the email. A lot of spam is from non English speakers who have a tendency to misspell words. Always spell check the entire email to get past this filter.
  8. Use 25 character subject line. Keep the subject line short. Not only does this help to get past the spam filters, it increase readability on mobile devices.
  9. Watch the “From” field. Always use a real person’s name and not Sales@Mystore.com. These have a greater probability to get caught in the filters since they are viewed as less authentic.
  10. Encourage recipients to add the domain to their address book or white label list. This will ensure that the emails always land in the inbox.

What is the deliverability of your email like?


Stop Dropping The Customer Service Ball On Your Handoffs

I have a pretty good idea of where you're dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.

Although you and I, as far as I know, have never met,  from what I’ve seen in the world of business, I can tell you that the odds are good that you’re dropping the customer service ball when you make your handoffs.

It's easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results. Fair enough: but did the details of the customer's needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball? And did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow-up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And they’re often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

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Going to Lexus levels to eliminate handoffs

When the Lexus brand was being created by Toyota, the company zeroed in on a dealer strategy of reducing service defects through the minimization of ‘‘handoffs’’ between service providers.

Think of what an automotive customer typically experiences: You bring your car for service to a service department. There is a person at the door who greets you and takes you to the service advisor. The service advisor writes up what’s wrong and calls the mechanic. The mechanic takes the car away. At the end, when it’s time to pay the bill, the service advisor reappears, gives you the bill, and you have to go and deal with a disconnected, bored cashier, who is probably not focusing on you, not living up to service standards that match the car this same dealer sold you, and not capable of explaining what the strangely coded charges were for, because she wasn’t even aware of your existence until this very moment.

Imagine instead that a single superbly trained service advisor, Sharon, takes care of you from the moment you enter the premises until the moment you leave the premises. Sharon greets you. Sharon writes up your service ticket. Sharon summarizes your complaint to the mechanic. Sharon alerts you when the car is ready. Sharon presents you with the bill, and Sharon accepts your payment.

Lexus settled on this as their ideal approach, to be used to a greater or lesser extent depending on the size and other realities of a specific dealership.

You may want to consider it yourself. 


Ten Common And Dangerous Customer Service Mistakes

????????????????????????????????????????????Here are ten common but hazardous customer service mistakes.   All fixable (which keeps me in business), but each tragic in its own little, or not so little, way.

1. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.  Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.

2. Forgetting it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use.   Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on

3. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.

4. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned. 

5. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you'll be able to provide good customer service anyway. 

6. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.

7. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of  putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

8. Refusing to say you're sorry.

9. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really. 

10. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers.  Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.


Stop Thinking Of Customers In The Plural

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It's time to stop thinking of the people who patronize your business as "customers."

(Don't worry: I'm not going to ask you to start calling them "guests."  A big box store could start calling me a "guest" and it wouldn't change a thing. When you graft Disney language out of context it only makes you look, um, Goofy.)

I would argue that this group you've been calling "customers" doesn't exist as an aggregation, as an abstraction, as a plural.

There's just one customer, the one you're facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There's only Jim. One Margo. One Alecia.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their Jim-ish, Margo-ish, and Alecia-ishness.

Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn't care how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn't in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Now, every customer's different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  Regardless: I suggest in the strongest terms that you think of every one of your customers as a core customer—and treat the loss of a customer as a tragedy.

Here's why: Because Every single customer is irreplaceable.

Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it's probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business.

If Margo leaves, she's gone, forever. That Margoish opportunity has evaporated for the length of your enterprise.  Your available market has diminished by one: one you already had on your side.

And this is a calamity to be avoided.

(The same principle holds true, by the way, in B2B companies with large accounts.  Stop thinking of a customer called "IBM." There's no "IBM account." There's only Juli in A/P at IBM, Jeff in design, and so forth.  Without them, you're right: there won't be an IBM account.)


Win More Customers with These Body Language Adjustments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Small business owners get out of practice. They spend so much time in their offices and online that they sometimes forget how to act when they come face to face with a prospect or customer. While many professionals spend time practicing what they will say in a meeting, few focus on what their body language looks like. This is unfortunate since studies show over half how we communicate comes from our facial expression and body positions.

Here is what you can do to win over more customers:

  1. Smile. The first thing a person sees when meeting is your facial expression. This begins on your approach and will set the tone for the entire meeting. Prepare for this by remembering positive things that make you smile about a minute before beginning that meeting. This will make smiling more unconscious and authentic. In the meeting, looking someone straight in the eye and smiling will instantly make them more comfortable. It will also make you more likable which increases the chance of a sale.
  2. Sit up straight. Customers get more confidence from people that hold themselves up straight then those that slouch. Most small business owners have poor posture from being at computers all day or talking on a smart phone. Before the meeting, stand with feet shoulder width apart and get a grounded footing. Then stand straight as if someone had a string attached to the top of your head. This will help you stand, walk and sit straighter. Customers will buy more from people that show confidence in themselves with this type of posture.
  3. Lean in. The physical orientation of two people together says a lot about their relationship. Slouching back in a chair or sitting straight on the end doesn’t make the other person comfortable. Instead, leaning forward will engage people in any conversation. This also enables you to talk more softly so people need to tune in to what you are saying. Leaning in can also show a greater intent to listen which the customer will appreciate. However, be careful not to invade their personal space. Also, try to sit side by side with someone you are trying to win over rather than two opposing chairs or across a desk or a table. This will help them feel you are both on the “same side”.
  4. Matching body language. When you “mirror” similar body language to the customer, it builds feelings of trust because it generates unconscious positive feelings of affirmation. It will make them think you agree with what they are saying which increases the likability factor.  This does not mean that every time the customer crosses their leg, you need to do the same. Instead, look for body language cues to copy over the course of your meeting.

Remember that business body language differs by culture. All of this takes practice so always make it a standard part of your pre-meeting preparation.


The Customer Experience Can Always Be Improved

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Customers place a certain value on consistency and familiarity when it comes to painlessly ordering or experiencing goods and services. For example (as a customer myself):

  • When I order something online from a company I’ve visited before, I expect the menu screen to be essentially the same as I’ve become accustomed to—I don’t want to bother with relearning the ordering protocol.
  • When I phone my heating oil company to place an order, I expect the usual protocol: to be told the current price per gallon, to be given a reasonable time frame for the delivery, and to have the delivery driver already know exactly where my fill spout is and how to get to it, without requiring me to be home at the time.

However, while customers value a feeling of consistency, a masterful company knows it always needs to improve, even to maintain that semblance of consistency, because customer expectations are continually getting more intense.

In the early twentieth century, just about thirty years after the telephone was invented and greeted with awe, the great writer and observer Marcel Proust made note of how unappreciated the phone had already become. Within a single generation, the telephone had gone from a miracle to an ordinary nuisance, spending more time complaining when hum or static broke up the line than on recognizing the essential wonder of this still quite new technology.

What was true of the telephone then is true today of all aspects of the customer experience.  And today, of course, the timetable in which perceptions change is much shorter than thirty years. What was a groundbreaking improvement in customer convenience last year is ho-hum today; what was timely last week feels as slow now as a dial-up modem.

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

A masterful company understands this and adapts and retools continually. For instance, a retail chain could have a simply stated goal as follows for each new location: “Make this store better than the last one we opened.” This simple approach is an optimal way to improve with every store opening and also avoid endless second-guessing and regrets about past shortfalls.

“Better,” sadly, is always going to be subjective.  And “better” very likely does not mean “change up everything.”  To do so will unnerve your existing customers who have gotten used to things the way they are.  And it may also deter not-yet customers, who are surprised by something so outside the norms of your industry.  A subtle, deft hand is necessary.

And, sometimes, the success or failure of your intended improvement won’t be clear for some time.  This stuff isn’t easy.  But standing still doesn’t work either.  Because it will feel to your customers, and your prospective customers, as if you’re moving backward.

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Sooner or later as you continue to improve the customer experience you provide, you’re going to run into another issue:  “Is this [our customer experience, our customer service] better than it needs to be?

Think this through carefully.  Features (even very subtle features and nearly invisible touches) that your customers value need to be shielded from willy-nilly cost cutting. At the same time, there are undoubtedly excesses built into some customer encounters and services. A specific sort of excess you should tune your antennae for is called lily-gilding. (The term comes from an approximation of Shakespeare:’‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily’’—to overdo the already perfect, in other words.)

Lily-gilding is the brilliantly hand polished finish on an end table—when the end table is always hidden by a tablecloth. It’s an air conditioning compressor too powerful for the space it cools.

In customer interactions, lily-gilding takes the form of fancying up your offering beyond what your customers are interested in (or interested in paying for). This has both obvious and hidden costs. The hidden costs include excess features that can make your offering less attractive by complicating it for customers or implying to customers that they’re paying for something they don’t need.

This is rarely a central problem in customer service.  But it is absolutely one to keep half an eye on as you strive, always, to improve. 




 
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