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Put Your Customer’s Shoes On

Now I want you to put your consumer hat on for a minute. How often have you as a consumer grumbled about a not so great customer experience? The product or service did not meet your expectation. The service provider was a little curt during the interaction. It was somewhat difficult to locate the items you wanted to purchase. The website was not very user-friendly. An issue was resolved in a less than timely manner. These are just a few items that can cause a customer to refrain from doing business with your organization. In knowing how you feel when in the “consumer mode”, how about “putting your customer’s shoes on” and examining your organization from the customer’s perspective. Here are a few ways to do this.

Put Your Customer’s Shoes On and call your organization to see what your customer encounters. Is the receptionist robotic or pleasant and courteous?  It’s important to put the right person in front of your customer. Did you know that your receptionist or other persons answering the phone are the face of your organization? This initial encounter is an opportunity to make a lasting impression on a customer. What about that other robot – the interactive voice response system (IVR)? Are the menus user-friendly or do you become confused or worn out? If it’s confusing to you, it’s probably confusing to your customer.

Put Your Customer’s Shoes On and visit your organization. Ok now I hear someone saying “Errol, I’m already here at my organization!” Ok then determine where a physical visit starts for your customer. Usually when the customer physically visits an organization, their experience begins outside and down the street. Can they easily spot your organization’s signage? In what condition is that signage? Is it visible during your evening hours? The next step for most customers is your parking lot. In what condition is it? Is it well-lit for evening hour customers? Depending upon your industry (the medical industry comes to mind – hospitals, clinics, doctors’ office, etc), distance from your parking lot to your organization’s entrance may be an issue for your customer. Taking that into consideration and your customer, is there adequate parking available? What options can you think of that may improve the exterior experience for your customer. Now let’s go inside. What does the customer see upon entering? What about your interior signage? If there is a receptionist available, is he or she pleasant? (You may have to observe this behavior from a distance.) Is it easy to locate items or specific areas within your facility? If it’s difficult for you, it’s probably difficult for your customer.

Put Your Customer’s Shoes On and visit your organization’s website. How often do you visit your organization’s website as a customer? Attempt to make a purchase just as your customer would. How easy is it to do so? Were you allowed to confirm what you were purchasing? Did you receive a confirmation of your purchase and expected delivery date? Did you get a follow-up email providing tracking information? Are items easy to locate on your website? Is the information regarding your products and services up to date? Is that information clear and easily understandable? Is the information free from industry acronyms and unexplained jargon? Are all of the links fully functional? Whatever you experienced, your customer is experiencing the same. If your site offers web chat, put on your customer’s shoes and chat with your organization. Is the “conversation” tone friendly and upbeat? Are you asked open-end questions that allow you to elaborate about your reason for chatting? Does the chat person able to quickly provide the information to address your needs or issue? Again, whatever you experience, your customer is probably experiencing the same.

Put Your Customer’s Shoes On and file a complaint. Try doing this via the phone, website email or chat. How long does it take for your complaint to be acknowledged? What type of questions are you asked in regards to your complaint? What steps are taken to resolve the issue? How long does it take to resolve the issue? Once again, whatever you experience, your customer probably experiences the same.

Remember, it’s important to know what your customer is experiencing when interacting with your organization. To get their perspective – Put Your Customer’s Shoes On!

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Think Long Term When Servicing Your Customer

When I receive or am told of sub par customer service, I often wonder if the service provider is thinking about the long term impact of this type of performance. Providing a service or product to your customers requires one to always think long term. Customer service decisions made today impact your company’s future.

Thinking long term first of all should mean that the customer is at the forefront of your business strategy. Interactions with your customer should be done in a manner that promotes repeat business. Customer service personnel must be trained to think long-term and provided with options that allow them to resolve customer issues from a long-term perspective. A good friend here in Houston called me while he waited for service at a big box retailer. During our conversation, he paused to ask a store employee “So you’re going to bring another person in front of me? You have yet to ask me what I need!” What the store employee didn’t know was that my friend planned to purchase a laptop for his daughter. Well, he didn’t after this encounter! An acknowledgement of my friend’s presence along with an explanation of the employee’s actions may have led to the purchase of the laptop. Just a moment to consider the long-term impact of ignoring a customer may have led to my friend becoming a long-term customer.

Thinking long-term requires one to consider how to handle a customer complaint. The old adage of “the customer is always right” is not necessarily true in all situations. The customer may have misunderstood, misinterpreted, misread, or just plain wants to have his/her way. What’s important for the long-term is the handling of the situation. Your demeanor, voice tone, body language during phone or face to face interactions and verbage utilized when interacting via chat or email play a huge role in retaining this customer. Think long-term when formulating solutions to the issue. Preserve the customer’s dignity when you know that they are just plain wrong. Don’t allow your ego to enter into this interaction. Go into your INP mode. INP means It’s Not Personal. Take a deep breath and think long-term! Weigh the cost of resolving the situation in the customer’s favor against the possibility of losing long-term revenue.

Think long-term when considering changing your service concept of product. How will your customer be impacted by your decision? Is the change the result of customer input? If not, have you considered getting your customer’s feedback on your proposed change? I think we all remember what happened when a famous soft drink company changed the formula for its popular product. Although focus group results appeared positive before launching the change, customers in the southern U.S. held the original formula dear to their hearts. The backlash from this region was tremendous. Who holds your product or service dear to their hearts? Long term thinking will help you to ask the right questions of the right people when you’re considering making changes to your service concept or product. The trash service provider for my subdivision sent out a letter stating that they were changing the truck type from one that requires a crew of three to one that only requires a one person crew. Now I think that’s great for the expense categories of their budget, but how will this change impact the customer. The new truck’s retractable lift arms called for the customers to utilize a new garbage can – one that is specially made for the lift arms. I called the company and asked is the customer responsible for obtaining the proper garbage can or will one be provided by the company. That was six months ago – I’m still waiting for an answer. If the answer comes back that requires customers to purchase the new garbage can, the company will more than likely lose the contract. My subdivision is small with only 87 homes, but that contract represents about $17500.00 of annual revenue. Long term thinking is required by the company in making the decision as to who is responsible for purchasing the new garbage cans.

The willingness to think long-term when servicing customers is one of the most important business strategies that you can incorporate into your day-to-day operations. Make sure everyone within the organization is thinking long-term in regards to customer service. Thinking long-term requires one to always ask – “If I proceed in this manner, what is the long-term effect for both the customer and the company?”

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The Impact Of Performance Goals On Customer Service

Does this sound familiar? “I can’t possibly complete all of this work and meet the goals to receive a raise. It just doesn’t seem fair. I don’t think management understands what it takes to actually do this job”. Employees today are experiencing more stress than ever in this era of economic uncertainty. It’s very important to align workload and performance goals for long term positive employee morale, long term profitability and long term productivity. Your customers (both external and internal) are impacted by your performance goals. Here are a few issues to consider.

Performance Goals – Is That The Right Number?
When establishing performance goals, take into consideration the total process required for task completion. Base goals on outcomes over which the employee has control. Where the employee has accountability for additional tasks, factor this into goal setting for the employee’s primary responsibility. This will lead to setting realistic goals. Spend time with the employees as they actually perform their duties to get a “real world” feel for what it takes to perform the job. Include the employees who actually perform the job in establishing goals. An environment of mutual respect will exist as the employees will feel that they were able to participate in creating their own goals. The level of service provided to the customer is higher when employees are not overly concerned and stressed out daily about meeting performance goals. Taking these steps has a three-fold effect: 1. Improvement in employee morale. 2. You may be able to create a better process. 3. You should be able to determine if the stated goal is the right goal.

Quality Vs Quantity – Which Is Primary?
Does your reward system encourage quality work? A reward system based on unrealistic performance goals tends to promote quantity over quality. As employees struggle to meet the stated goals, quality will surely suffer as short cuts become the norm in completing tasks. This can lead to poor work audit results, rework (how much does this cost at your company?) and customer dissatisfaction. Employees are prone to display a sense of hurriedness when interacting with customers if the workload and performance goals are not balanced. Those employees choosing quality over quantity will become frustrated as their efforts to perform the job properly are rewarded with inquiries regarding their inability to reach the stated goal. In the quantity over quality environment created by unrealistic performance goals, long term productivity is sacrificed for the short term goal. Focus on systemic thinking and make this a high priority when designing reward systems. Reward actions that insure fluid cross-functional handoffs. This helps to build a culture of wholistic, systemic minded employees who understand the impact of their work to the product/service system.

Work Environment – Is This A Healthy Place To Work?
It is very important to create a positive work environment as your bottom line is directly impacted by employee morale. An environment where performance goals are fair and obtainable fosters an atmosphere of teamwork as employees do not feel the need to protect their “numbers”. Unrealistic goals lead to either unwillingness – for fear of not meeting their own goals or inability – due to unrealistic work load – to truly work as a team. Long term employee frustration usually results in a lower quality of work which ultimately impacts the external customer. Stress levels increase possibly leading to health issues. Employee turnover increases as well as some will seek relief from an atmosphere they deem unfair and unhealthy. This directly impacts your bottom line as the level of customer service delivered suffers via productivity lost to the need to hire and train new employees. How much does a dissatisfied customer cost your company? Promote employee quality of life versus “my work is my life” mindset. Give employees a reason to feel good about coming to work.

Performance goals and reward systems are key components of the business environment. Strive to base both on a “real world” workload. Your long term success depends on it. Your customer will feel the impact of performance goals and the workload. Balance these two in order to insure that the customer is positively impacted and gets great customer service.

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Angry Customer Prevention

Having been in the customer service industry for 25+ years, I’ve heard, seen, attended and listened to various programs/seminars regarding “how to handle an angry customer”. Most often, these programs/seminars are very informative and provide excellent guidance on dealing with a not so happy customer. My question has always been – Why is the customer unhappy and is there anything that can be done to diminish the number of unhappy customers? My instincts say take a proactive stance in the battle to prevent angry customers. Here are a few ways to do so.

Why Are Customers Unhappy?
Is there a pattern to the reasons that customers are unhappy? Is anyone in your organization tracking these reasons? It’s been my experience that if you have one customer complaining about an issue or situation, more than likely there are others complaining about the same things. During one call center stint, it was common for customers on certain billing cycles to experience problems with their bills – improper amounts, additional charges, etc. We all know that this issue will certainly create angry customers and additional phone calls. While it’s important for the agents to be equipped with “how to handle angry customers” skills, how about determining what’s causing the “angry customer” issues. Identify external and internal issues that might be contributing to your customers’ unhappiness with your organization. Doing so will surely diminish or even eliminate the need for the customers to call and for customer service personnel to exercise their “how to handle angry customers” skills for these particular issues. Oh yeah, be sure that your customer facing personnel are equipped with the proper customer interaction soft skills – voice tone, empathy, body language, etc. – so that they do not inadvertently create an angry customer!

Why Are Front Line Personnel Unhappy?
It’s been my experience that unhappy employees are an indicator that there may be organizational issues that negatively impact customers. Customer facing employees become frustrated and angry when it appears no one is interested in addressing issues which contribute to the creation of angry customers. Check with your customer facing employees regarding their experiences when dealing with customers. Are processes both customer and employee friendly? Is the training received sufficient to allow for successful customer interactions? Can employees count on the “system” functioning properly so that they can provide a great customer experience therefore preventing the need to exercise their “how to handle angry customers” skills? Take the time to get and act upon feedback provided by customer facing employees. You might be surprised by how doing so can assist in reducing the number of angry customers for your organization.

How Many Credits or Refunds Are You Issuing?
Another possible indicator of angry customers is the amount of products/services given away, account credits or refunds issued by your organization. Is anyone attaching a reason for these actions? Does your organization’s system allow for logging the reasons for refunds, account credits or other actions taken to appease angry customers? It’s important to monitor these areas as they may be an indicator that customers are not happy with your products or services. Allow your customer facing employees the ability to provide reasons for taking these actions. Analyze these reasons and identify ways to prevent their continuance. Determine how much these refunds, credits or provision of goods/services costs your organization. Spend time with customer facing personnel during their interactions with angry customers to get first hand experience of what appeasement actions are utilized. One’s willingness to take these steps will surely lead to a decrease in the number of angry customers.

It’s a great idea to equip customer facing personnel with “how to handle angry customers” skills. Doing so gives them the confidence to properly handle the situation. Take an additional step by proactively identifying and addressing issues which contribute to the number of angry customers your customer facing personnel encounter. I can guarantee both customers and employees will love you for that!

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