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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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Internal Customers – They’re Important Too!

During a corporate stint with a cable television service provider, I happened across a service installer with a not so pleasant look on his face. I inquired as to the source of his displeasure. He passed me his work orders while saying “Read those Errol and tell me what you would do!” After reading the work orders, it became apparent that he would encounter difficulty in determining what services the customer actually ordered. I asked “Okay, so what will you do when you arrive at the customer’s home for the installation?” to which he replied “I’ll ask the customer what they ordered.” That didn’t sound quite right so I asked another question “How does that make you feel?” He responded quickly – “It doesn’t make me feel too good Errol. I should be verifying what they ordered, not asking!” While it’s important to make sure that a purchasing customer is satisfied, it’s also important to make sure that our internal customers are satisfied as well. Here are steps that I recommend.

Identify What You Contribute – Get everyone within the organization to identify their product. In other words, what do you create within the organization? Are you able to express your product as a noun? While it’s quite easy to do in a manufacturing setting, it’s not always considered in the service industries. In the above scenario the product is a work order. A hospitality industry product might be a reservation. In the training industry the product might be a manual. A product in the marketing industry could be a brochure. After identifying your product, let’s give it a specific name. Is it a report? What’s the name of the report? Perhaps it’s a sales report or production report. In the hospitality industry example, the reservation may be more specifically defined as a room reservation. In the scenario above, the product is a work order, but more specifically it’s an installation work order. Be specific in naming your product. Doing so helps you to identify your internal customer. What you produce is more than likely utilized by someone within the organization.

Identify Who Utilizes What You Contribute – After everyone puts a name to their contribution; now get them to identify who utilizes their product. To continue the initial scenario, the product was identified as an installation work order. So quite naturally the installation department utilizes this product. If equipment is required for the installation, inventory control and/or the equipment warehouse are probably users of this product. If the manual created within the training industry is a sales manual then the sales department is the likely user for this product. The user of the room reservation might be the check-in clerk or the housekeeping department. Now let’s move on to why it’s important to know who utilizes your product.

Identify The Requirements of Your Internal Customer – I like to say that providing great internal customer service is like baking a cake – you have to know what ingredients are required for the finished product. While some people can probably bake a cake from memory, most of us would require a recipe to make sure we’re including the correct ingredients. Do you know what ingredients are required by the users of your products? The easiest way to find out is to simply ask! In the room reservation scenario, might it be smart to ask the check-in clerk if the reservation contains pertinent information that allows for a timely customer check-in. If that is not the case, then simply inquire as to what ingredients are required in the quest to provide great customer service to the purchasing customer? What about that production report? What information do the users of that product require? In what format? How often? Knowing the answers to questions like these helps one to design a product that fits the needs of their internal customers. Consider that patient appointment – what information does your internal customer require to provide great service to the patient?

Design Your Product According To Your Internal Customer’s Requirements – Now that you’ve identified your internal customer’s requirements, design your product to meet their needs. Doing so insures that when your internal customer utilizes your product, they can do so without the need to make changes as this most often creates delays in workflow or decision-making. If your internal customer deals directly with the purchasing customer, a flawed product design may contribute to a less than great customer service experience.

Just as it’s important to design products and services to meet the needs of your purchasing customer, it’s just as important to do the same for your internal customer. You can accomplish this by Identifying What You Contribute, Identifying Your Internal Customer, Identifying the Requirements of Your Internal Customer and by Designing Your Product According To Your Internal Customer’s Requirements.

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Why is the Customer Angry?

Why is the customer angry?

I see so much information about how to handle an angry customer. My question is – Why is the customer angry? Are multiple customers angry about the same thing? Does anybody know? I spent a lot of my corporate career asking this question. There would be discussions regarding the need to properly handle customer complaint calls. My question would always be – “Why are we receiving customer complaint calls? Does anybody know? The complaint is a symptom of an underlying problem. Has anyone taken this into consideration?”

Customer complaints are often the product of broken processes. When one takes the time to identify and examine the process connected to the complaint, often there is evidence that the process is creating customer complaints. During one corporate stop, a particular billing cycle created an inordinate amount of inbound calls from customers. I sat with a few customer service representatives to get an understanding of what about this particular billing cycle caused the inbound calls to spike, “It’s real simple Errol, the billing information received by the customer is wrong” is what I was told. There was an error in the bill creation process for this cycle. After bringing this to the attention of the correct department, the error was corrected. Guess what? Yep, no more customer complaints because of improper billing on this billing cycle.

Are your processes creating angry customers? Are steps missing in the process that can create angry customers? Conduct angry customer prevention by examining processes that impact the customer. Take a good luck at your customer facing processes via process mapping to ensure they will not create customer complaints. Mapping your processes step by step with the right people helps to identify improvement opportunities that can lead to the elimination of customer complaints. Remember – the goal is to not have a pattern of customer complaints vs focusing on learning how to handle customer complaints.

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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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