Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Creating How-To Content for Customer Service (and More)

1-27 how-to for customers smallIs how-to content part of your small business’s content marketing strategy? If you aren’t creating content that shows customers how to do something, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to provide customer service in a format that customers increasingly want.

Suppose you own a company that sells kits to remove the “haze” that develops on the headlight lenses of cars over time, decreasing visibility. If you sell your kits wholesale to retailers, you want to make sure customers are satisfied with the product—otherwise, they might return it and retailers will stop carrying it. But a product like this can be tricky to use. The answer? How-to content that expands on the directions packaged with the product.

You can—and should—create how-to content in a variety of formats. Some people learn better by reading, others by looking at photos and others by watching a video that talks them through it, so offering options covers all your bases. In the example above, you could write blogs about how to use the product, make one blog photo-based showing each step with captions below, and finally create a video showing the product in use with a voice-over giving directions.

Once you’ve got your how-to content, share it in a variety of places. Of course, your business website is the number-one place to host it. Include it as part of your customer service page. Also put videos on your YouTube channel and share links to the content on social media.

Expand on your basic how-to content by:

  • Creating new content to deal with common problems or questions customers have with your product.
  • Developing content that shares creative ideas for using the product. For example, can the headlight kit also be used for other purposes?
  • Upsell additional products. If there’s a complementary add-on that goes with the headlight kit, include it at the end of the headlight-kit content.
  • Take it to a general audience. You might create a video about car care in general (like how to maintain a car’s like-new look, or get a car ready for a car show) and include your product as part of the process.

As a bonus, how-to content not only answers customer service questions, but also serves to drive traffic to your website and build your business’s reputation. Using keywords that potential customers are likely to search for, such as car care, car repair, etc., will help attract online searchers to your content and spread awareness of your business.

Done right, how-to content keeps existing customers happy and attracts new ones, too. 


Fourteen Ways To Improve Your Customer Service–Starting Today

1-23-15 first impression smallHere are fourteen new ways to look at your business/ questions to ask yourself/ approaches to consider that will help you improve the customer service and customer experience that you offer.

  1. Are you easy to use? You won’t know until you try.  Try your own website without your company-provided auto-log in.  Is it easy?  Or a pain? Come in the front door and see if the door swings open easily, or whacks you on the shoulder.  And so forth.
  2. First impressions matter. Walk up to, and into, your establishment with the eye of a customer. A customer perception is his reality, and a first impression is important because it tends to linger in a customer’s memory. Ditto if that fist interaction is on the phone, via chat, or via mobile.
  3. Impressions before the first impression matter.  Of course, there is no “before the first impression.” But the first impression is very likely happening before you realize it: how you’re portrayed online, how your grounds look well before the front door.  Disney even obsesses over the route to their parks for this reason.
  4. Last impressions matter. It’s so easy when you’ve “completed” an interaction with or project for a customer, to rush on to the next one with the next customer.  Doing so can erase all the goodwill you created.  The “goodbye” is an important stage, one of the most important, because (like a first impression) it tends to linger in a customer’s memory.
  5. Do you offer self-service options for your customers?  Many customers want them today: unless you’re open 24/7 or at least all conceivable business hours in all time zones in which you have customers, you need such options. And even if you are open ‘round the clock, many times customers today just want to handle it, or at least be able to check up on it, themselves.
  6. Do your self-service options include escape hatches? For when the self-service isn’t working or the customer isn’t in the mood–there should be an easy way out, to reach a human.  Make it obvious, like hitting “O” on the phone.
  7. Do your customers have to ask you to answer questions for which the answer should be obvious?  Customers don’t like to be burdened to contact you for items that could easily be provided for them on a self service basis.  Do your FAQ’s actually include the questions that customers want the answers to?  Or were they written six years ago by your web developer?  Do they get an auto-confirmation when they order or do they need to call to ensure their order wasn’t lost in the ether?  And so on.
  8. Timeliness: Are you considerate of your customer’s time?  This is a big, big, big one.  A perfect product or service delivered late is a defect.
  9. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting”–this is info of great value, not an interruption of your day. What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude. Also: Don’t batch your surveys and then review them at the end of the month—scan them right away to see who needs to hear from you now.  
  10. Benchmark outside your industry. If you sell furniture, don’t just benchmark other players in the furniture industry to figure out how fast, easy to use, nice your company should be.  Your customers’ expectations for manners, timeliness, quality… come as much from Starbucks, Apple, and other great consumer brands as they do from the others in your particular field.
  11. Language matters. It is extremely easy to say the right thing, but to say it wrong.   Actively work on the language that is used in customer interactions 
  12. Standards matter. For example, a doorman at a great hotel is rarely blindsided by a guest trying to enter while the doorman’s back is turned. How can that be? Standards. In this case, the standard is usually that ‘‘doormen work in teams.’’ They simply face each other and subtly tip each other off if someone is coming from behind. They quite literally have each other’s back, leading to a consistently comfortable, welcoming, hospitable experience.
  13. Empowerment matters.  You can’t write a standard for every eventuality. Your employees need empowerment–autonomy–to deviate from it if the case, the customer, requires a different approach.
  14. Fight actively–every single day, every single shift–against getting in a rut.  The principle of hedonic adaptation means that your hundredth day on the job, naturally will not be as intense–as exciting, stressful, and so forth– as the first day.  This is good to some extent, but it means that you have to actively strive to remember that this same day is the first interaction your customer has had with your company, and you need to keep your attitude fresh to match theirs.

Help Out Your Customers Before They Know They Need Your Help

1-15-15 Alerting Customers small

What do customers prefer–strongly prefer–to having to ask your company for help, or for information, and then having to wait for an answer?  They like it if your company gets to them first with what they need as customers before they have to ask for anything themselves.

So, if you want to become irreplaceable to your customers, it’s time to develop a mindset–a companywide customer service policy, in fact–of “getting to them first”: providing customers with the information or assistance they’re going to need before they have to reach out to you to ask for it, before, in fact, they even know that they need it. 

Depending on the scale of your business, you will likely be doing this using modern communications technology and automation.

Anticipatory Customer Service Messaging

Like much else involved in creating great customer service and a superior customer experience, this requires a masterful touch, far removed from the hamfistedness of a spammer. Applied properly, the principle of ‘‘getting to them first’’ is a powerful way to make customers feel remembered, cared for, and, ultimately and paradoxically, left alone and unbothered, since they can now relax knowing you will, for example:

• Notify passengers if flights have been delayed or gates change, and if the worst happens (a cancellation) rebook them and alert them to the new arrangements, without any work on the passengers’ part.
• Reach out to customers if there’s a delay in shipping the item you’d promised to deliver before the holidays, so they can make alternative plans
• Remind customers of something they ‘‘should’’ be keeping track of themselves, but that you, in your quest to become their irreplaceable vendor, are happy to put on your own shoulders. For example, you can remind them, before they ask, when their mortgage payments are due or when a medication needs to be refilled.

Along these lines, you've perhaps noticed that your credit card company has cozied up to you by taking what should be your responsibility—posting my payments on time—off your shoulders and put it on the company’s. Now, as a result, I’ll bet you're a lot less frequently late on your credit card payments these days, and think a lot less about the idea of switching companies anymore, thanks to that simple automated alert sent to your inbox:

Alert: Your Payment Is Due in 10 Days to X Card Services
To: slowpayer@slackfest.com
Your payment to us will be due in 10 days, for your account that ends in 1111.

Leave ways for them to reach a (fabulous) human being

But you can't do everything with automation.  The effect of being cared for effortlessly (or at least with no effort on the part of the customer) that you've started electronically is enhanced by making sure that every automated addition to your repertoire is accompanied by an option for the recipient to easily reach a human being.

Remember, your marketing department would spill its blood to reach a live customer one on one, so talking with customers isn’t an overhead expense. It’s an opportunity. So strive to offer customers a chance to talk with a human, if that’s their preference, even when you’re reaching out to them through automation.

Where to find opportunities to "get to them first": 

  • With anything you think about more than/more frequently than your customers do. If your business is a mail-order pharmacy, it means you work all day on the intricacies of injectable medications. These are expensive and involved medications used for managing multiple sclerosis and other chronic illnesses, requiring pre-approvals from insurance agencies, typically shipped to the customer every ninety days. Your customer, on the other hand, has a life. She’s doing everything other than thinking about her medication supply in the eighty-nine-day span between reorders. So, you set up the ultimate in bulletproof reminder systems, check for her that insurance and physician verifications have remained up to date, etc., and handle everything for her as transparently as possible, thus becoming her indispensable dispensary.
  • Any time your customers would otherwise be waiting in the dark. Projects and products built or shipped in stages, from insurance applications and disaster relief efforts to cross-country relocations and event planning, are important opportunities to get to your customers first. ‘‘No news is good news’’ isn’t something customers assume or should assume. Regular updates should be your mode of operation.
  • With anything that customers need to know about, if you’re aware of it before they are. This could be protection from a new software virus; many stitches are saved when electronic patches are provided to customers before they need them. Or, let’s look at an application from the fine-arts world: Don’t make your patrons find out for themselves that a sporting event has closed off the normal route to the ballet. Courteously and cannily, the ticketing service used by the Philadelphia Ballet makes sure to send an automated call to ticketholders' phones to alert them to leave extra time so as not to miss the opening curtain.  It also couples the phone call—just for safety—with an email, for example, as follows:

An important message regarding your performance on Saturday at 12 p.m. The International Dragon Boat Festival and the U.S. Pro Bike Race will take place Saturday. Throughout the day Kelly Drive will be partially closed and MLK Drive will be completely closed. Please allow extra time to arrive at the Academy of Music for your 12 p.m. performance.

Sure, the ballet could rationalize to itself that the ballet patrons have already bought their nonrefundable tickets. Which is literally true this time–but the way to have them buy tickets repeatedly, and perhaps become that legacy donor you’ve been looking for is to avoid permitting them to encounter an aggravating experience that leaves a poor taste in their mouths.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Learn From Your Company’s Customer Service Mistakes

1-13 customer service mistake smallWhat happens at your small business when somebody makes a customer service mistake? Do you reprimand the employee and then forget about it? Big mistake. Everyone on your team, not only customer service employees, can learn valuable lessons from customer service goofs.

To gain value from errors, just as with everything else in your business, you need to create a system for doing so. Here are six steps to keep in mind.

  1. Start by writing down problems. In the heat of the moment, you may not have time to do more than quickly deal with the issue and satisfy the customer. However, you and your managers should always record what happened so you can discuss better solutions in more detail later.
  2. Set up a system for collecting customer input on an ongoing basis. This can include online reviews and ratings on external websites, comments from customers on social media, emails or letters that your business receives from customers, or comment cards in your business.
  3. Once a month, go through the information you’ve collected about customer service mistakes and problems. Note any recurring trends. For example, maybe several customers have complained about being put on hold for long wait times when they call your business to make an appointment. Clearly, this isn’t just an isolated incident.
  4. Dig deeper. Do long hold times occur on certain days or at certain times? How is your business staffed at these times? Is the issue one of inadequate staff, staff unresponsiveness, or technical issues with the phone system?
  5. Get input. Hold a monthly meeting to discuss customer service issues with your team. Depending on the size of your business and the nature of the issues, you might want to start by going over problems with key managers first and then bringing customer service employees in for a bigger meeting to discuss challenges and solutions. Involving front-line employees will often uncover issues you didn’t know about that could be solved easily. For example, adding a self-scheduling appointment app to your website could eliminate the need for customers to wait on hold at all.
  6. Don’t accuse. The group meeting is not the time to put individuals on the spot. The focus should be not on who made the mistake/s, but on what everyone can learn from them and how they can be prevented in the future. 

Three Ways To Stop Frustrating Your Customers

1-9 angry customer smallWhile customers love being wowed by exceptional customer service, they also appreciate simply being served, without frustration, by a company whose systems, processes, and approaches make sense and are well-executed.

If this doesn’t describe your company and the customer experience it offers at present, here are three ways to turn that around. Time, I have to warn you, is not on your side here: Clunky systems are becoming less and less acceptable in today's marketplace; respect for and anticipation of what your customers want are the watchwords for a successful customer experience.

1. Help Customers Find It For Themselves Customers appreciate the ability to have genuine, meaningful contact with a company, especially if the company has empathetic, intelligent, empowered humans working for it.  However, customers only want to be in touch with you when they need you, not when you force them to contact you because of bad process design and lazy systems implementation. Customers don’t want to have to call you just to find out that their order has shipped; they want an automated confirmation.  They don’t want to call you for your GPS address because your site only lists your PO Box.  And they eventually will stop calling. If you want word about you to spread, don’t let the word that spreads be how hard it was to find something in your FAQ’s—or to find your FAQs in the first place. You, in other words, need to be the expert here, providing expert information where the customer can easily find it, so they feel informed and at ease when they work with you. 

Amazon.com obsesses over these kind of stupid inquiries from customers (note: the customer isn’t stupid for making the inquiry; a company is stupid if it's forcing the customer to make the inquiry) and searches them out (the inquiries, not the customers) for destruction.  Most elementally, they were the first well-known company to replace all the irritating calls you have to make to see if your order had actually been received with that instant automated confirmation that customers now all pavlovianly depend on.

2.  Personalize and Curate Results for Your Customers Apple’s personal assistron, Siri, may seem like a bit of a toy, and certainly has her limitations, but she’s good at finding the question within the question: I tell Siri "I have a headache," and she comes back with “I have found 4 drugstores not too far from you.” (One time she responded “I found 8 emergency rooms not too far from you..” “Siri,” I retorted, with some dismay, “Isn’t that a bit alarmist? I don’t think it’s that bad a headache.”) While Siri seems like a bit of a novelty act, she’s one of the most visible (make that “audible”) manifestations of an important phenomenon that is well on its way to transforming customer service: the trend toward, and desire on the part of customers for, information that is electronically curated for them in a personalized manner, and is delivered to them instantly. Here are some examples, ranging from the mundane to the literally lifesaving, from which you may find inspiration.

Amazon.com (again with the Amazon, Micah!)'s magic mix of crowdsourcing and algorithmic magic  that allows it to know the item you want to buy (even if it’s not the one you thought you wanted)

Route Happy —  sorts air travel options for you based on a “Happiness Score,” which in their words reveals “shorter flights with better planes, seats, amenities, and flyer ratings”

PECO Energy in Pennsylvania: Automated messaging system lets customers know—based on phone they call in from – if problem has already been reported or if it needs customer to provide more details—and lets you know how long until it is resolved

National Weather Service’s pinpointed “stay inside” messaging vs. searching weather underground etc: this can (at least this is the intention) be pinpointed as closely as the nearest cell tower to ensure you don’t get extraneous messages or miss the one that will save your life.

3. Get to Customers First–Before They Know They Need You A third master skill of creating a great customer experience and superior customer service is what I call "Get To Them First" customer service: Developing a mindset–a companywide customer service policy, in fact–of striving to have customers hear from you before they have to ask for anything themselves.  If you want to learn about the "Get To Them First" subject,  stay tuned for my next article!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Resolutions for 2015

1-6 CS resolutions smallIncreasingly, customer service is the standard by which companies are measured, and the service you provide can make or break your small business. To achieve better customer service and more sales in 2015, here are five customer service resolutions for your small business.

  1. I will listen to my customers. You can read everything written about new technology trends, customer service on social media and more, but the reality comes down to one thing: What do your customers want? Don’t make customer service changes based on Top 10 or Hot Trends lists—make them based on what your customers are asking for. Listen to customers in every possible channel, from social media and online reviews to in-person conversations, surveys and emails. They’re giving you feedback every minute of the day if you’ll only open your ears.
  2. I will listen to my customer service employees. Equally important as listening to your customers is listening to your customer service reps and any other frontline employee who engages with customers. They’re the ones who use your tools and systems every day, hear customer complaints and praise, and know when a process is unwieldy, wasting time or annoying customers. Don’t assume they’re just griping—take their complaints seriously and regularly ask them for input on how your customer service could be improved.
  3. I will invest in customer service. Customer service is paramount today, so don’t skimp when it comes to spending on the technology, tools and training your employees need to provide standout service. Carefully weigh the costs of various options and assess how much they could potentially save you. If an investment enables you to spend less time on training, less money on employee salaries or less time getting new employees up to speed, chances are it’s worth the cost. 
  4. I will offer options. Some customers love to talk on the phone to live customer service agents. Others hate dealing with humans and prefer filling out online forms. Still others opt for the speedy resolution of online chat while they multitask on their computers. No one customer service option is right or wrong, and to reach the widest range of customers, you need to offer all the options that your customers express interest in and use.  
  5. I will always remember customers are human beings. This is the most important resolution of all. As customer interactions become increasingly enabled by technology, it’s easy to forget there’s a person at the other end of the online review/chat box/phone line. When you or your team are struggling with difficult customers, stop, take a breath and remember to engage with them on a human level. That means listening to them vent, acknowledging their frustrations and offering a solution that makes them happy.

What are your customer service resolutions for 2015? 


Saving Your Customers From Customer Satisfaction

got loyaltyHave you ever had a customer tell you on a survey that she is "satisfied" or even "very satisfied"–and then leave you the next day for one of your competitors? An experience like this, where nothing goes wrong yet the customer goes away, can lead a business leader to wonder if satisfactory customer service–a solid customer experience, in other words–is enough to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.

The research on the subject would confirm your doubts that there's a connection between self-reported customer satisfaction and what a business really is looking for: customer engagement and customer loyalty.

Various research, including the work that provides the conceptual basis for the entire Net Promoter Score methodology, has found a weak link at best between a self-reported satisfied customer and repeat purchases from that customer. (And most of this research was done before it became as easy to switch suppliers as it is today in our globalized, de-frictionalized, broadbanded economy.)

So here's the deal. Here's the reason there's no clear-cut connection between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. It's quite possible to satisfy a customer without leaving an indelible impression on him or her.  Getting a customer to return depends on more than satisfaction.  It depends on giving the customer a reason to come back. 

The most bulletproof reason you can have for a customer to return, of course, is to have a product or service they absolutely can't get anywhere else, and that they really, truly need or desire.  Apple (if you're hooked), Google (if you're alive), Oxford (if Mum and Grandfather attended and will disinherit you if you don't follow suit) all fall into this enviable category.  Also falling into this category, due solely to geography, are (if you don't like to drive) your corner dry cleaner and (if you don't like to drive after drinking) your corner pub.

For the rest of us in business, those of us whose services or products aren't absolutely unique and irreplaceable, the best way to give a customer a reason to come back is through a customer experience methodology I call "homebuilding." This means building a customer experience that feels to your customer like an ideal vision of home. Think of it as having three parts:

  1. The customer needs to know that you're happy to hear from them and are dropping all other concerns except the customer's own pleasure, safety, and success the moment they enter your establishment/call on the phone/email or chat with you.
  2. The customer needs to feel, while they're experiencing your service or the purchase and use of your product, that they are receiving something special.  Specifically, that you are tailoring your service to their particular needs, interests, and wishes in an anticipatory manner that doesn't even require them to ask or explain themselves.  That you are serving "even the unexpressed wishes" of this customer, to use the Ritz-Carlton's trademark phrase.
  3. The customer needs to know, as they are leaving your business at the end of the transaction, that their business matters to you, and that it matters to you that they return soon.

The business-killing hazard of “Who Cares?” 

These three, somewhat fluffy-sounding customer experience elements are important because the problem of the satisfied-but-not-loyal customer comes down to this: You are always at the mercy of a great big “who cares?" from the customer.

Think about it: Do you think passengers mentally thank Delta every time it doesn't lose their bag, doesn't overbook their seat, and so forth?

Generally they don't. They don't even think to do so.  The airline didn't lose their bag, didn't overbook their seat, but who cares? It's not really their job as customers, actually, to care.

There is a way to build customer loyalty via customer satisfaction. But it's hard.

There is, actually, a way to build customer loyalty via satisfactory customer service.  You can, eventually, build customer loyalty via cycles of repeated, unrelentingly "satisfactory" service. In other words, the correlation between satisfactory service and customer retention increases the more iterations that the customer experiences satisfactory service: if a restaurant treats a guest fine once, it's no big deal, and it's not going to correlate very well with customer retention; that guest may go anywhere for lunch the next time. 

However, if for whatever reason the guest happens to come back, and if she then gets at least temporarily in the habit of coming back, and if she's treated fine-but-not-exceptionally-memorably every time, after, say, 5 visits the likelihood of a 6th visit becomes a pretty good bet.  The tricky thing is that that's a lot of "ifs." For each of those first five iterations, the customer is an open target for other marketing, passive or active.  Who knows where she may go for lunch the 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th time; anywhere in there she may get distracted and wander over to a competitor.

So I try, as a customer service and customer loyalty consultant, to warn businesses away from thinking their best path to a customer’s heart is year after year of giving good-enough service and hoping that nobody else’s good-enough service catches their eye.

The better way to kickstart customer loyalty

Better, I argue, is to give extra consideration and do the extra customer experience and customer service work needed on the important touches–the attention, the recognition–that can directly break through customers' apathy, that can break through a customer's default position of "who cares?"– a default position that unfortunately is likely to be held even by customers who are "satisfied" with everything about you as a brand.

Because that's the way to build customer engagement and customer loyalty, directly and reliably. And it's worth it.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Make Your Employees More Productive

12-30 Office Environment smallThe holidays are the season of giving, so since we’re just days away from the New Year, why not think about ways to give your employees a more comfortable workplace in 2015? This might sound frivolous, but in reality a comfortable work environment has been shown to make employees more creative, productive and happier with their jobs. That type of “gift” can’t help but translate into better interactions with customers!

Here are five ideas for ways to improve your employees’ work environment.

  1. Seating: Ergonomic desks and task chairs have become very affordable. Try letting workers pick the options they want on their own chairs (within a certain price range), such as with or without arms, with different back levels and with height-adjustable options.
  2. Lighting: Natural light is best—it helps keep employees alert, happy and engaged. If your office space doesn’t provide much natural light, look into getting light bulbs that mimic natural light. Also consider creating a break space outside so employees can get some sunlight during their downtime.
  3. Air quality: Since most office spaces don’t have windows that open, keeping air quality high is vitally important. Make sure your business’s air ducts are cleaned regularly so employees aren’t breathing polluted or allergen-laden air.
  4. Heating and cooling: In general, cooler temps are better for keeping workers alert and energetic, but you don’t want it so cold that people have to wear gloves at work or that they start bringing space heaters, which can be a fire hazard. Work with your team to find a comfortable level, and make sure your HVAC system is well maintained.
  5. Variety: Who does their best work in a beige box? Add life to your office with indoor plants, framed artwork and colorful carpeting or paint on the walls. Offering variety in seating and working arrangements can spark creativity and energize workers. For example, a few comfy couches or chairs scattered in inviting areas will encourage employees to chat, which might lead to informal brainstorming and innovations for your business. A cozy break room will get people to hang around work at lunch instead of leaving the building; that means less likelihood of late lunches and more employee bonding.

By implementing these five simple changes, you can create a more inviting workplace where people are happy to spend time and feel “fired up” to do their best. 


When Your Customer Service Can’t Be Any Faster Than It Is, Here’s What To Do

12-26 moving to fast smallA young chef and I were recently discussing how customers today can be prone to unmatchable expectations, because they have instant everything in so many arenas of their lives.

For example, the divergence between instant news —finding out about the pope's resignation within eight seconds of the event, on your cell phone–and the reality that a well-done steak takes 10 minutes on the grill, “makes guests expect me to magically cook the steak in half that time, which is literally impossible,” the young chef told me.

Hmm. What to do? While it’s no secret that customer expectations for speed have accelerated (almost daily, it seems), there are instances where you can’t increase your speed of customer service, your delivery of your product, the deliverables of the customer experience. The reality of such situations is that customer expectations have rushed ahead of what you, being a reality-based business, can provide.

So while generally my advice, as a customer service consultant, has been "get with the program already and meet these new customer expectations–before somebody else does!" there have to be exceptions.

Here's the approach I suggest when your business hits an immovable wall as far as time is concerned:

  • Make sure the wall is really immovable. The chef’s example of a well-done steak taking as long as it takes is a good one.  So is the wait at USAA Insurance (see below) when they are awaiting a grudging eventual response from an opposing insurance company.

If you can't go any faster…

  • Make sure whenever possible you control/clarify customer expectations–and then match or beat those expectations
  • Work on improving how the time spent waiting feels to your customers

Here are nine examples of making timeliness more closely match the expectations of customers–even when actual speed of service cannot be increased.

  1. Five Guys burgers actually take a while to cook, because they are from scratch and need to be cooked beyond the e coli stage, thank you very much.  So Five Guys distracts customers with bags of peanuts—a filler for the hand, mouth, and eyes–during the cooked-from-scratch-burger wait.
  2. Ari Weinzweig, the gregarious co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli, kibitzes with and entertains the epically long line around his block every morning before they open, making the time there in Ann Arbor fly. As does the legendary Batali family here in Seattle, taking care of the epic lines outside their Salumi sausage boutique with fine cured-meat samples that almost make a longer line a better line.
  3. USAA Insurance's claims department offers an excellent online "my account" system that gives the customer (or in USAA terminology, the "member") a feeling of control while awaiting resolution of their claim: it lets you know the status 'round the clock so you know if the opposing driver's insurance company has responded, etc. rather than feeling like your concerns have fallen into a black hole.
  4. One of my favorite examples: Capella Hotels have no set check-in or checkout time; instead they contact their guests ahead of time and ask them when they want to check in and check out.  As long as it's not more than the 21 or so hours that is the maximum if you consider housekeeping time, they accommodate the customer's wish as far as start and end times.
  5. Apple Stores allows you to schedule appointments, via the Apple Store app, so you get devoted, no-wait time even within their hectic retail environment.
  6. Virgin America doesn’t restrict passengers to set meal times. You can order (and pay for) food at any time during the flight other than takeoff, landing, and “unexpected turbulence.” Other airlines are starting to follow suit.
  7. In retail malls, buzzer-alert technology that allows you to shop throughout the mall without missing your turn in line at your original destination is an excellent innovation.
  8. In healthcare, Vocera technology and other solutions allow patients to summon a nurse without waiting for them to notice your light on.
  9. Forward-thinking restaurants are learning to use “lunch,” and “dinner” time slots as guidelines only, not discouraging patrons from coming in in between these periods nor restricting choices during them. Which is especially millennial-savvy (millennial-age customers choose to dine during off-peak hours twice as often as their elders) but has an appeal for almost any age group today, considering the varied schedules of customers today, in a world that is so different from the 9 to 5, rush hour-ruled, blue-lawed society of yesteryear.



 
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