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“We Only Update The Website Once A Month!”

I received this customer service story from a member of a local organization here in Houston, Tx . This member volunteers as a liaison between new members and the organization. She received a phone call from a new member regarding the location for an organizational committee meeting. It appears that the new member was at the wrong location. The liaison member conferenced the new member to the organization’s phone number in an attempt to get the correct meeting location. When the new member advised the organization’s receptionist of her dilemma, the receptionist asked “Where did you get that information?”. The new member advised the receptionist that the information was retrieved from the organization’s website. The receptionist then asked “When did you get the information?” to which the new member responded “A few days ago.” The receptionist responded “Well that’s the wrong information.” The new member already knew this! The receptionist then stated ‘We only update the information on the website once a month!” The liaison member was still on the line and interjected at this point with the question “Wait a minute. Are you saying you knew the information was wrong on the website, but you didn’t update it?” The receptionist again stated “We only update the website once a month.” She then proceeded to provide the correct meeting address in such a rapid manner that the new member had to ask for the address to be repeated. The call ended without an apology to the new member for the error and the inconvenience.

It’s important to correct errors on your website quickly as your customers can view the site twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Your customer is depending upon you for the correct information. On another note, the most important step to take when a customer is inconvenienced through no fault of their own is to apologize. The receptionist acted as though the new member was responsible for being at the wrong place. To go a step further, the organization should send a card entitled Oooops! Add a few lines offering an apology for the error and perhaps include an inexpensive gift certificate for good measure. Remember, the customer acts upon provided information. Make sure the information on your website is current. Oh yeah, make sure your customer contact personnel have some basic customer service skills!

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“You Have To Be More Considerate Sir!”

A good friend of mine here in Houston recently underwent hip replacement surgery. He’s recovering at home now where he receives both physical and occupational therapy. For a while both therapies took place on the same day of the week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My friend is comfortable with this schedule as it allows for a day of recovery between therapy sessions. He also has doctor appointments during the week as well. A few days ago, the occupational therapist advised my friend that they would have to perform therapy on Tuesday and Thursday. After communicating his reservations with this schedule to the occupational therapy provider, my friend was told – “You have to be more considerate sir!”

This scenario brings a couple of questions to mind – Who’s the patient here? Where’s the empathy for the patient’s situation? I understand that my friend’s request for a day of rest between therapies may create internal issues for the therapy provider, but patient comfort and satisfaction should be the primary focus. If the therapy provider placed himself in my friend’s shoes, perhaps more consideration would be shown for my friend’s situation. It’s important to remember that all situations are different. Is it possible to customize your products or services to meet the needs of your customer? Perhaps the “team” mentality could assist with this issue whereas the doctor and therapy providers could meet with the patient to develop a therapy schedule that addresses the patient’s recovery requirements and patient concerns – in this case a day of rest between therapy sessions. Take a look at your customers’ requests to identify possible customization opportunities. Customization leads to happy and more often than not loyal customers. Remember, you the service provider should be vigilant about meeting the needs of your customer.

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Today’s Customers – What Do They Want?

I’ve noticed something different about today’s customer. Unlike the customer of yesteryear who did not have easy access to product information and multiple avenues by which to locate and purchase products, the customer of today can easily access information, compare prices and formulate product or service questions in the comfort of their home or office. The question of “What does today’s customer want?” often comes to mind. Here’s what I think they’re looking for.

Convenience – Lifestyles have changed over the years. People are working longer hours. More and more of us are working from home. The internet has assisted in making the world a twenty-four hour marketplace. Today’s customer wants the convenience of researching and making purchasing decisions without having to leave their home or office. Does your web presence allow them the ability to acquire enough knowledge about your product or service to make a purchasing decision? Is it possible to make a purchase right now? Twenty-four hours a day? On the other side of the world? Can they make purchases via their smartphone? Now I know this one may be a little tough, but can they communicate with someone within your organization when it’s convenient for the customer? I know this may mean asking the customer to email your organization, but can they feel confident that someone will respond within a reasonable amount of time? The busy customer of today wants to have the ability to do business with your company at their convenience.

Knowledgeable Workforce – Because your customer has the ability to perform their own research regarding your product or service, they expect your employees to know even more! Have you ever asked questions regarding a product or service only to feel that you knew more than the employee? Your customer expects your employees to be experts. Are your employees trained properly? Do they know the history of your company? Do they know how your products are made? Materials required to manufacture the product? Can they provide comprehensive answers regarding your service concept? Are they familiar with your competitor’s products/services and how they compare to your offerings? When today’s customer interacts with your company, they want assistance from competent, knowledgeable employees.

Speed – Today’s customers are busy with the everyday hustle and bustle of life. The idea of dealing with inefficient processes and procedures when attempting to do business with your company is very unappealing. Your customer wants to be serviced in a timely manner. Today’s customer wants to utilize technology to assist in reducing the amount of time required to make purchasing decisions and completing transactions. Is purchasing products or services a simple process for your customer? Once your customer makes a purchasing decision, how long does it take to complete the transaction? What’s the wait time at your retail locations before the customer is serviced? Are you aware of your peak periods and staffed accordingly? Can your customer easily find products or services on your website? Is your customer able to walk into one of your “brick and mortar” sites and quickly locate their items of choice? Make sure that your company allows your customer to quickly and efficiently conduct business.

Consistency – The customer of today wants to know that they will receive the same level of service every time they choose to do business with your company. Whether it’s through your website, over the phone or in person, your customer wants to know that they can count on your company to consistently deliver a great customer experience. As we stated previously; speed, convenience and a knowledgeable workforce are key ingredients required to service today’s customer. Can you provide these ingredients for every customer – during every interaction? I hear someone saying “For every customer Errol – during every interaction?” Yes, for every customer – during every transaction. Consistency is one of the building blocks in creating both customer retention and customer loyalty. Your level of consistency is key to building trust with your customer. Make sure that your customer consistently receives a high level of service regardless of how they choose to conduct business with your company. Does the customer receive a high level of service at all of your retail locations? Does it matter which customer service person interacts with the customer in regards to the level of service provided? Your customer expects your service delivery to be consistent across all channels and from all company personnel.

A Great Mobile Access Experience – Technology has created a multitude of avenues that assist your customer in their daily living. Today’s customer can make dinner reservations, and check for parking availability near the restaurant directly from their smartphone. Does your company take advantage of technology to create a better mobile experience for your customer? Do you have a mobile website? How would your customer rate your mobile website? Are you aware of what percentage of your customers found you via your mobile website? According to Compuware, fifty – seven percent of consumers would not recommend a business with either a bad mobile website or no mobile website. Forty percent have turned directly to a competitor’s mobile website after a bad mobile website experience. Does your mobile website provide enough information for your customer to take the next step: call you or visit in person. A smartphone usage study (The Mobile Movement) from Google in 2011 reveals that a positive mobile experience drives traffic to your business. The study found that after conducting a local search, sixty-one percent of smartphone users called the business, fifty-nine percent visited the business in person and ninety percent of callers or visitors did so within twenty-four hours.

In today’s marketplace, your competitors are no longer just in the same local area, state or even the same country. The customer of today has many purchasing options. Garner your share of today’s customers by including the ingredients of Convenience, A Knowledgeable Workforce, Speed, Consistency and A Great Mobile Access Experience.

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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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