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Do The Unexpected

Every entrepreneur or business owner strives to get the attention of potential customers and to retain existing customers (You do have a retention strategy right?) I often hear business owners discussing what’s required to separate themselves from their competitors. A word of advice that I offer is to do the unexpected. Now I know someone is asking “What does that mean Errol?”. Let me explain.

Doing the unexpected means taking positive action in a manner that sets your business apart from your competition. It could mean following-up immediately after service delivery to gauge your customer’s satisfaction level. How about contacting your customer a few days after they purchase your product to say thank you and to inquire about their usage experience. Did your cable service provider call you after installation of their product in your home? Think about sending a personal handwritten ‘Thank You” note to your customers. How many of these have you received lately? If your business provides services at your customer’s site, call to make arrangements for an onsite inspection. These are all simple yet effective ways of “doing the unexpected.” Recently, it was necessary to hire a new lawn care company. After choosing a company, I was a little surprised that no communication was received after the initial service. It didn’t help their cause that I in fact was not exactly pleased with their service. I quickly changed to a different lawn care service provider.

Doing the unexpected will assist in creating loyal customers. My wife Theresa is a virtual assistant here in Houston, Tx. I remember her personally delivering a small gift to each of her clients as a way of saying “Thank You” for being my customer. Imagine their response to this unexpected act of customer appreciation. Is it possible for you to personally thank your customers? If yours is a large organization, I would suggest upper management spend time calling customers just to say thank you for being a customer. Can you think of many large companies where upper management actually takes the time to randomly call customers – no matter the size of the customer’s business or the size of their revenue contribution? Have you ever received a random phone call from upper management of a company to gauge your level of satisfaction?Imagine the impact of such an “unexpected” phone call.

There may be situations when your customer is unhappy with your product or service. After resolving the issue to the customer’s satisfaction, how about refunding the cost of your product/service and providing the next purchase/service rendering for free. A month of free service to a monthly subscriber who’s experienced an unwarranted service interruption is a way to express how important that customer is to your business. I believe that most customers are not expecting an offer of this type. Hopefully you don’t have very many unhappy customers, but think about the resulting impression of taking this “unexpected” step. The signal sent says “We want to retain you as a customer.”

Most customers have a particular method for communicating. Some prefer a phone call or email while others prefer a text message. Instead of asking the customer to fall in line with your preferred method of communicating. Do the “unexpected” by determining their preferred method of communicating. How many of your service providers asks for your preferred method of communicating? Doing so tells your customer that you’re willing to communicate in a manner that’s comfortable for them – the customer. Now I know attempting to communicate in your customer’s preferred method may be a little difficult for large companies. Is it possible to place the customer’s preferred method in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool? Your customer contact personnel can utilize this information when attempting to connect with the customer. Communicating with your customer in their preferred manner will certainly set you apart from your competition.

There are situations that arise which may cause your customer to wait to be serviced. What can you do for your customer during this pause in the service experience? Is it possible to offer a free beverage if your business is a restaurant? If you’re in the retail business, can you offer a ten or 20 percent off coupon for your customer’s next visit as a way to say “Thanks for being patient with us!” If your customer orders online and incurs a delay through no fault of their own in receipt of your product, in addition to resolving the current issue, do the “unexpected” by offering free shipping on their next order. More than likely, you’ll get a positive response (repeat business) for your “unexpected” goodwill gesture.

When it comes to satisfying your customer, do the unexpected to increase the possibility of a higher level of customer retention. Think for a moment about how often you are the recipient of “unexpected” gestures from service providers. Very often or not at all? Are there opportunities to do the unexpected for your customers? Take a look around. I think you can come up with a few!

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Voice of The Customer – Attributes Of An Effective System Part 1

In last month’s issue, we discussed three methods of gathering data regarding relative to Voice of the Customer methodology – internal metrics, customer contact and surveys. In his book, Strategic Customer Service, author John Goodman tells us there are eight attributes necessary for an effective Voice of the Customer system. Let’s discuss four of the attributes here.

Unified Management of the Program – One key factor of any successful program is the assignment of responsibility for how well the program functions with the goal of insuring the realization of the desired outcomes – in this case – collecting data in a unified manner. Program responsibility should assist in determining the best format to use for collecting data across the organization. According to Goodman, without someone at the helm of the Voice of the Customer program, departments tend to collect data in the format that’s easiest and most useful to them. One main goal of the program is to collect the data in a format that allows for easy reconciliation later in the process. Putting it simply, someone must be in charge of the program in order to:

1. Define the goals.

2. Provide direction,

3. Insures that the program stays on track,

4. Assist in identifying what actions are necessary as a result of the data.

5. Using the data to persuade senior organization officers of the need to act.

A Unified Data Collection Strategy – In knowing that there are an unlimited ways to describe a problem, it’s important to develop problem classification schemes that lead to the collected data fitting together and easily reconciled. We all know that departments speak different languages – shipping/receiving labels customer issues in one way while the customer service department describes them in a completely different manner. A unified system requires a cross-functional mindset where one can create a scheme with compatible problem and experience classifications. Doing so allows for the development of a clear picture of what the customer experiences along with the identification of areas of opportunity.

Integrated Data Analysis – Now comes the fun part. How do you put all of this data together so that customer issues are apparent, the causes are identifiable and the overall impact to the organization becomes apparent? Goodman suggests that this challenge is two-fold: 1. The data categorization schemes must be compatible – Customer interaction, internal metrics and survey data must be coded in uniform ways across the organization as this is crucial when it’s time to combine, analyze and attempt to act on the data. 2. In order for the customer contact data and operations data to be compatible to the survey data, they must first be extrapolated to the marketplace as survey data normally describes what’s actually unfolding in the marketplace – Goodman explains that it’s important to know what percentage of your customers who experience a problem go to any particular touch point. In other words, when there is a service problem, to whom and by what method does the customer report their unhappiness.

Proactive Distribution of the Analysis – It’s been my experience that oftentimes everyone within an organization does not have critical information that can contribute to the creation of a better product or service. It’s also been my experience that someone within an organization possesses information that can make someone else’s job easier or assist in eliminating service delivery problems. The key is to make sure information is proactively delivered. Goodman says that while it’s important for employees to be able to pull data as needed, it’s even more important that the data is pushed out to those who need it most. I’ve also found that not everyone needs to receive all of the available information. Often as a result of people receiving too much data it’s ignored which usually means lost opportunities for improvement. It’s crucial to determine who needs what information, then filter the data and provide it proactively. A summary report would be nice for all to receive along with a report containing pertinent data related to the recipient’s specific function.

Well that’s four of the eight attributes required for an effective Voice of the Customer system. In the next Voice of the Customer article, we’ll continue with the remaining four attributes. Get your copy of John Goodman’s book, Strategic Customer Service. It’s great reading if your interested in providing great customer service!

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3 Ways To Get Your Customer To Help You Provide Great Customer Service

In our efforts to provide great customer service, we often forget to remember that it’s important to get the customer to participate in helping us to do so. In some situations, customers can assist in the quest if given the opportunity. Here are a three ways to proactively do so:

Tell your customers what you need them to provide: It has often been my experience that if I had been advised of what was needed when calling or visiting certain businesses, the interaction may have been more efficient for myself and the customer service employee. Post contact requirements on your website’s contact us page, on your snail mail information, in your emails when appropriate, in your interactive voice response system (IVR) , at customer service counters, and other contact points. If your customer has an appointment to visit your business, advise them of what they should bring in order to make the experience a positive one. Doing so prompts your customer to have all of the necessary information readily available, which in turn assists the customer contact personnel in promptly and efficiently servicing the customer. Before having minor knee surgery a couple of years ago, I was advised by a representative from the surgical facility what information and documents to bring when arriving the morning of the surgery. The interaction was very smooth and efficient upon my arrival for surgery.

Tell your customers what you need them to do: Recently I visited the post office to retrieve a certified document. I stood in the line for 10 minutes before catching a glimpse of a sign stating – “Customers picking up certified mail form a line here.” The sign was located behind, to the left and above the front counter, in a recessed storage area, thereby increasing the possibility of one not seeing it when entering the post office. I would recommend placing the sign near the post office entrance and once again at the entrance to the main area where most transactions take place. This would aide the customer in going to the proper counter, thereby eliminating unnecessary time spent in the wrong line. Strategically placed signage assists your customer in going to proper locations for service. Anxiety and frustration levels tend to rise when the customer is not sure where they need to be when entering your facility. Make sure the signage is clear – During a visit a few months ago to a local car wash, I noticed the signage had changed, but the new signage was a little confusing. As I pulled forward and asked the attendant which line was the correct line for someone on my specific wash program, he bluntly stated that the information was on the sign. After reminding him that I can read, but the signage was a little confusing, he gruffly advised me that I was in fact in the correct line. In both situations, a little time taken to become the customer in regards to the sign location and language may have prevented the negative interactions. By the way, the car wash employee was the recipient of my “Secret Service Agent” stare after his remarks.

Tell your customers how to help themselves – Not all customers require the personal touch. Some prefer to do things themselves – not necessarily because they fear the level of service they may receive when interacting with customer service personnel – it’s just their preference. When a customer chooses to utilize your “self service” channels, make sure that instructions are readily available. Place clear instructions on your website, in your interactive voice response system (IVR) and at your self service counters. Make it a point to regularly check your self service systems to insure smooth functionality for your customer. Once again, become the customer to make sure your instructions are clear and to insure your systems are customer friendly.

Your customer depends upon you for a great customer experience. Get them to assist you in doing so by proactively : 1. Telling them what they need to provide. 2. Telling them what they need to do. 3. Telling them how to help themselves. They will appreciate your attention to detail and your front line employees will benefit as well via increased interaction efficiency.

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He Just Handled It!

My son drove in from Austin a few days ago and his car’s exhaust was a little louder than normal. He stated that he was scheduled to take it into the Houston dealership, Russell & Smith Ford, where it was purchased on the next day which happened to be a Saturday. At his request, I tagged along. The car was checked in at the service department with my son being told that the service person would contact him in about an hour with an update. We took a short walk to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. After about an hour, we arrived back at the dealership just as they were notifiying my son of his vehicle’s status. It seems that the repair person felt that he could not properly make a repair weld and didn’t want to perform a substandard repair. The service advisor, B.J. Villareal advised my son that the repair should be done by a one of their vendor muffler shops as they are experts with exhaust repair, but he did not have access to purchase orders on the weekend. Without a purchase order, the vendor muffler shop would not perform the repairs. When B.J. was advised that my son lived in Austin, he called his manager at home to get authorization and then called the muffler shop to make sure that they would do the repairs without the purchase order. He then advised my son to take the vehicle to the muffler shop for completion of the repairs. We arrived at the muffler shop a short time later and the repairs were completed within 40 minutes. Now B.J. could have easily told my son that without having the ability to create a purchase order, he couldn’t authorize the repairs until Monday or he could have said just take it to a dealership when you get back to Austin. He didn’t do that! He took the necessary steps to get the repairs done and for that he is a recipient of the “Now That’s Customer Service!” Award. Congratulations B.J.!

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