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I Just Wanted To Renew My Vehicle Registration!

Recently I visited a large well-known grocery store near my home to renew my vehicle registration. A simple transaction – or so I thought. After receiving the customary “Next in line please.” summons, I advised the young lady of my reason for being there. Before she even asked, I gave her the information required to complete the transaction. She looked over my information and asked a question that I had trouble understanding because she was looking down at the paperwork instead of looking at me.  I said “Excuse me, I didn’t understand what you just said.” She repeated what she said still without making eye contact to which I responded – “I’m up here, I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying because you’re talking to the paperwork.” She then raised her head and repeated her question – this time with an offensive tone – “Cash, credit or debit card?”  I advised her that this would be a debit transaction – no response from her. She stepped away, retrieved the registration sticker and stated “Go ahead and make your payment.” After doing so, she slapped the registration sticker and my verification documents on the counter. She then turned to walk away. I said “Excuse me, you’re welcome.” I repeated my statement as she continued to walk away. You can guess what happened next – I asked the other clerk if she could get the manager.

It’s important to maintain eye contact during face to face transactions. This is a basic human interaction principle as it’s  important to make sure the other party feels valued as a person. In this case, making eye contact with your customer also makes it easier to be understood. Make sure that the customer receives a pleasant experience, especially during face to face contact, by self monitoring your actions.  Making eye contact, using the correct voice tone and maintaining the proper body language can go a long in scoring points with your customer. By the way, on my way out of the store, the clerk and I crossed paths. She gave me this sullen look and I gave her my Secret Service stare.

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A Great Customer Service Experience!

Now most people don’t know that besides being passionate about all things customer service, I’m also a photographer. In preparation for a recent event, I realized that it might be a good idea to acquire a lens that’s appropriate for low – light indoor photography. After researching online for the proper lens, I realized that the price was a little higher than what I was prepared to pay. My other option was to rent the lens. That’s when Photo Rental Source entered the picture! I found them via Google and visited their website. The lens for my needs was listed in their online inventory and the rental rate was great. It was simple and easy to place my order via the website. I chose to pick the lens up at Photo Rental Source’s physical location and was greeted by Patrick Garza and Carl Cramer. To make sure that I had chosen the right lens, I informed them of the type of event and lighting situation I anticipated on encountering. They both assured me that my choice was correct and recommended the rental of a Speedlite flash to compliment the lens. I was given a quick tutorial on operating the flash before leaving the location. Needless to say, the pictures turned out great, my customer is happy and so am I thanks to the guys at Photo Rental Resource! Let’s add this one up -1. Customer friendly web site 2. Great rental rates. 3. Employees made sure I was comfortable with the Speedlite. 4. Great overall customer experience! Congratulations to the March winner of the “Now That’s Customer Service!” AwardPhoto Rental Source. Visit their website at http://www.photorentalsource.com. For samples of my photography, visit my website at http://www.shotsphotographyofhouston.com.

IMG_4241Photo Rental Source

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How Do Your Employees Really Feel?

Customer service is a people industry. Although self-service has become an option for customers, people still play in important role in the customer’s experience. Employees are people. Just as customers share information regarding their experience with your company, employees do the same. What are your employees expressing about your organization? There are several websites which contain employee expressions regarding their employer. After reviewing some of the remarks, it’s clear that employers should take the time to check the “employee thermostat” of their organization. Here are several ways to do this.

Simply Spend Time With Them – This is probably the easiest and most cost-effective way to determine how your employees feel. Get in the trenches with your employees. Experience their daily routine right along side them. Do this without criticizing their methods. Spend more time learning about them as people – How long have you been with the company? What makes you happy here? What causes you frustration when attempting to perform your daily duties. This is the first step to improving employee morale.

Ask For Their Opinion – Another simple way to determine how your employees feel is to ask for their opinion. A key phrase in employee relations is “What Do You Think?” Most people appreciate being asked for their opinion. Give your employees the opportunity to state how they feel about the organization. When provided with a vehicle to express their opinion, most employees will utilize the opportunity to honestly communicate how they feel. It’s also a good idea to be receptive to unsolicited opinions. Now I’m not a proponent of tactless communication – giving one’s opinion in an inappropriate or distasteful manner as this will put the employer in a defensive position which creates a no-win situation for the employee. I am however a proponent of being open and receptive to unsolicited opinions. Instead of asking employees to wait for the annual employee survey to voice their opinions, encourage them to give their opinion – tactfully and respectfully – when they feel it’s necessary.

Keep Fear Out of Your Organization – There is one item that will simply destroy an organization from the inside out – it’s called fear. This morale killer has no place in your organization. It works against any attempt to create a positive culture. If employees feel that voicing their opinion is met with reprisal, they will refrain from sharing the opinion within your organization, but that will share that same opinion elsewhere. Check the “fear” level within your organization. Do your departmental or team meetings take on the characteristics of a lecture vs a meeting? One way or two-way communication? Questions from the employees to management? How does management respond to employee questions or comments? When in group settings, does the leader (manager/supervisor) answer all of the questions for the group? These are a few ways to spot the existence of fear within your organization.

Be Open To Making Adjustments – Most employees care about the welfare of their employer, after all it’s where they spend a good portion of the day. I can say from experience that employee opinions usually contain ideas for improvement within the organization. Maybe they feel that the workload is too great or time constraints do not allow for proper servicing of the customer. Your willingness as a leader to spend time with employees and solicit their opinions will surely result in identifying operational improvement opportunities. The big questions is – What do you do now that you see that these opportunities exist? Knowing of the opportunities and acting upon them is two different things which can generate two different messages. Send the message of “We Care” by implementing adjustments and changes and not the message of “It’s Just Another Game”. Employees will feel that you really don’t mean what you say if their opinions fall on deaf ears or if suggestions go without some implementation.

Remember, employees are needed to properly service the customer. Take steps to gauge how they really feel. As I have often asked leaders – Can you do all of this work by yourselves? Let your employees know how valuable they are by simply asking – How Do You Really Feel?

 

 

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Customer Service During a Crisis

Here in Houston, Texas, it’s not uncommon to face the possibility of an approaching hurricane from time to time. The last major storm was Hurricane Ike in 2008. This storm left some residents in the area without power for a week. In thinking about this crisis situation, I thought about some ways to handle customer service both during and in the aftermath of a crisis.

Planning – I hear someone saying “Planning! Errol how do you plan during a crisis?” My response to that would be “Hopefully you’ve planned before the crisis.” While it’s not always within one’s power to know of an impending crisis, that does not mean that multiple scenario plans should not be in place. Take a look at your organization and think about what external issues can cause a crisis for you. Is it weather? How about a shortage of a component that’s necessary to build your product? What about internal issues – defective product, incorrect billing information or maybe it’s a large service outage caused by equipment failure. It’s important to specifically determine who and what, both internally and externally, might be impacted by a crisis as this helps one to formulate a plan to work through the situation or perhaps prevent one altogether.

Communication – This is another critical component of providing customer service during a crisis. Whatever the crisis – weather related, product related, operations related – communication is a key factor in successfully manuevering through the situation. Good internal communication is necessary for executing the plan. It’s important to be able to quickly gauge the severity of the crisis in order to properly communicate both internally and to impacted external customers. Take proactive steps to communicate with your external customer. Proactively notify them of the situation. Be honest and open about the issue and the possible impact. Provide regular situation updates to your customer. When the situation has the potential to create a flood of inbound calls to your organization, utilize your Interactive Voice Responder (IVR) to advise callers that you are aware of the situation,  what steps you’re taking to address the issue and where appropriate how long before normalcy is restored. Proactively email or text your customers with information regarding the situation. When utilizing these two methods, be sure to give enough information so as not to generate an influx of inbound calls – the nature of the issue and expected time/method of resolution may prove adequate.  Communicate to your front line employees what they are to inform inbound callers/web chatters that want to “hear” a voice. Regularly provide internal updates to keep everyone informed of the status of the crisis. As the situation changes, change what you communicate. Push out the information to impacted customers versus waiting for the customer to contact you for updates. Depending upon your industry and your crisis, proactive media notification may be required as well.

Evaluation – Take the time to evaluate how well your plan is working during the crisis. Get feedback during the situation – you may need to make adjustments to your response plan. Have unforeseen issues arisen that were not considered when creating the plan? What are those close to the crisis reporting? How will our external customers be impacted? How do we adjust our plan execution to include these unforeseen issues?

After normalcy is restored, it’s important to evaluate the situation. A post crisis evaluation allows for a reflective look at the situation. What created the crisis? Was the situation preventable? How well was the response plan executed? How well did we communicate internally? How well did we proactively communicate with the external customer? Has anyone called any of the impacted external customers to get feedback on the handling of the crisis? Now that the crisis is over, take the time to get answers to these questions. Get the viewpoint of those responsible for interacting with the customer during the crisis. What questions did the customer present? Did they have the information to confidently respond to the customer? Were they updated in a timely manner. Evaluate the IVR reports to determine the percentage of customers that deemed the “crisis information” adequate by not optioning out to customer service agents. This information can can be considered when reviewing crisis plans and adjustments made accordingly.

Providing customer service during a crisis can be tough for any organization. Remember to the importance of Planning for the possibility of a crisis. Be sure to Communicate regularly both internally and especially with the external customer in the midst of the crisis. Evaluate your execution during and after the crisis to identify necessary adjustments. Your brand reputation may be at stake!

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