I have this dream that repeats itself at least once a week. I’m living in a world where companies value their customers so much they have well paid employees who answer their phones. And, upon the rare occasion when a customer finds all lines busy they get to leave a message without having to go through phone tree hell. And, someone always gets back to them right away with an answer to their message.
In this same dream, companies who sell products and software never outsource their support to organizations that haven’t a clue about what they are supporting and instead provide answers based on a few words, maybe a decision support engine, or too often, an uneducated guess.
And, best of all, in my dream people who make the kinds of decisions to remove the human touch from service and support because they believe they will save money are banished to back offices to crunch numbers and are never again allowed to influence or make a business decision.
Do you really appreciate your clients, members, team, or customers? Are you constantly managing and tending to the interactions you have with them? Business relationships are like any other relationship – they need attention. And, the most important way to nurture these relationships is not with words but with action.
Here’s one thing you can do today to make a difference and to build upon these relationships. Go through your contact list and make a list of the people you’ve not seen or spoken with for a while. Now go see them – today. Take them some bagels or stop at a Whole Foods or Trader Joes on your way and pick up some good tea or coffee for them. If you can’t see them in-person then call them. Tell them you appreciate them and were thinking of them. Treat them like you would a very good friend. Ask them about their life and not just their business. If they’re busy then let them know you care and thank them.
If you don’t take time to nurture your relationships they will gradually fade and people may feel abandoned.
Do as Mother Teresa suggested and “Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.”
It really is one thing you can do today to make a difference.
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A while back, I spent a week interviewing 17 people about their views on what makes good customer service and who are the best companies. Two things came out of the interviews that I think are worth remembering.
A person’s idea of whether or not a company is good at customer service is totally dependent upon their own personal experience with that company.
Now that might not seem like a radical insight but think about it for a minute. In just 17 interviews I found people who absolutely hate companies that are rated in the Top Ten in the United States over and over again.
You see it didn’t matter if your company is number one in customer service in the world if you left them with a bad taste in their mouth and if you didn’t delight them with extraordinary service.
This means that your company has to be vigilant to delight every single customer.
Your customer service program needs to be a Zero Tolerance one when it comes to unhappy customers.
The second thing is something that was consistent over and over again. People used the word “feelings” when they discussed their experiences. And, the stronger the feeling – whether positive or negative – is what makes the interaction one of delight or one to rant about.
Again, this doesn’t sound like an “aha” moment. But, it is because it gives you, the business owner/executive, the opportunity to align your customer service programs and goals with feelings which is the most powerful motivator in the world.
Instead of focusing on things like how long it takes a customer service rep to end a call, or the percentage of total customers who say they like you in your latest survey; when you use customer feelings as the measuring of delight, you will have to put the responsibility and authority to create that extraordinary experience right where it belongs – with your front-line customer service professional.
What kind of a difference do you think that will make? Here’s a note I got yesterday from one of my readers. As a matter of full disclosure, this is from my sister Judy who retired as a bank manger in Ohio. She sent it to me unsolicited and I think it is a wonderful example of what happens when you give your front-line people the responsibility, authority, and goals of creating an extraordinary customer experience.
Let me tell you about one of my CSR’s, Cathy, and her customer service. A couple from China recently moved to our small town and definitely had a language barrier upon arriving. The husband spoke a little broken English and the wife none at all. Upon arriving in East Liverpool, they bought a home and the title company needed a place to close on the house and asked if it could close at our branch. Once they were in the branch my CSR tried to make them right at home and comfortable with the proceedings. They needed to open a checking account and during the process the CSR was able to figure out that they needed to have their utilities turned on but they didn’t understand what they needed to do or who to contact. Cathy took it upon herself to call all of the utility companies, get the information as to what needed to be done and have them turned on. Then because they had no credit in their names in the United Stated she called a credit card company and was able to get them a credit card with a small limit so that they could start to build up their credit.
Needless to say, Cathy went above and beyond. Instead of being an order taker, opening the checking account and being done, she spent over an hour with this new customer to help them. We now have a customer and friend for life and it was all because Cathy created an exceptional experience for them.
This is the kind of extraordinary customer service, which is all part of marketing and sales, we all should be delivering.
You start learning the difference between good and bad customer service on your very first job. It could be babysitting, cutting grass, or delivering the local paper (back when there was such a thing.)
How do you learn? It’s usually one of two ways. Let’s take grass cutting as an example. You get done with the job and you knock on the homeowner’s door to collect your pay. She comes out to inspect the job and this is where you get your first lesson.
“I know I didn’t tell you to rake up the clippings and put them in the trash but I expected you’d do that as part of the job.”
You sigh and realize she’s right. You didn’t do a complete job so you apologize and make a special effort to not only clean up the clippings but pull some weeds from the flower bed. And, the homeowner smiles as she pays you and invites you to come back in one week to cut again.
Over time you form a relationship and the homeowner asks you to do other odd jobs. She also tells the other neighbors what a good work you do and pretty soon you’re in the landscaping business. You buy a lawn tractor to go along with your push mower and by the time you’re ready to start college, you have enough money in the bank to pay for the first two years.
Then there is the other way you learn customer service. I’ll use the babysitting example.
There is a young couple in your neighborhood that has a 4 year-old boy and a 1 year-old girl. They also currently have someone they call a fantastic babysitter. She is a classmate of yours. But, she just moved with her family to another state and the parents are looking to replace her.
You jump at what could turn into a great local job and approach them with your rates and experience. Two days late the wife calls you to sit for them. You take the job and you figure you’re on your way. They ask you to come an hour early at 6PM so you can spend time with the kids while they are still home and they can answer any other questions.
At 6:15 you glance up from playing Angry Birds and notice the time so you rush out the door and get there by 6:20. A little late but no biggie you think. The father greets you at the door. Mom is in the family room dressed to go out and feeding the baby a bottle. She looks a little bit pissed that you arrive late but nobody says anything (including you) and at 7PM the parents leave with instructions for both kids to go to sleep at 8PM.
The kids are perfect angels and are asleep in minutes. Now you’re on your own until around 11PM when mom and dad return. It’s time to text one of your friends and start a Words game. You notice the 4 year-old left his toys all over the family room. “Kids!” you think. When you go to get a coke from the fridge you notice that the family apparently ate dinner but didn’t have time to put things in the dishwasher or cleanup. But noticing is all you do.
Finally the work night is over. Mom and dad are home and you’ve got your money and are out the door.
You never hear from them again. After a few weeks you drop by their house and find mom at home. You ask her if she is still planning on using your services and wonder why you haven’t heard from her. “We found someone else.” she says. “She also straightens up and does some other things for us while she sits. We’ll keep you in mind.”
And, so you walk away pissed off and thinking, “Hey, I’m a babysitter not a maid. If they wanted me to clean up after their kids they should be paying me for it.”
“Oh well, there are lots of fish in the sea.” you say to yourself.
But, as the months and years pass the neighborhood babysitting jobs are infrequent for you.
These two young teens have experienced the importance of customer service. One embraced it and it changed his life. And, the young lady never really “got it.” After school she got a job in customer service for USAirways.
The difference between poor and good customer service isn’t a whole lot.
The difference between good and exceptional service is the key to success in your business – and quite frankly – in your life.
I finish up this five-part series on customer service tomorrow with stories about exceptional companies. Between now and then, please send me any stories you’d like to share about your personal experiences with extraordinary service. You can drop me a note at [email protected] or leave a short message at 215-804-9133. Thank you.
This is Part-Three of a Five-Part Series on Customer Service. Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s including some updates about Avid Technology. Why not sign-up hereto get the rest of the series delivered to you by email? Thank you.
Difficult to Believe!
On Saturday I got an email from Avid Technology asking me to complete a customer satisfaction survey. Really – I’m not making this up!
Even More Difficult to Believe!
You may remember from yesterday that I was waiting to hear back from both Avid offshore support and a gentleman whose name is Adam from Avid Social Strategy | Corporate Communications in Burlington, MA. I assumed that Adam was still working on the problem and that’s why I hadn’t heard from him yesterday. The offshore guys had promised they would get back to me with a solution Thursday or Friday. I’m pretty sure they meant last Thursday or Friday but I started to wonder if we had a communication problem.
Then finally last night, I got an email from offshore support. I thought finally I’ll have my answer. Here’s what it said:
We have not heard from you concerning your request for support in the 5 days since we sent you a response.
Consequently, we have changed the status of your question to SOLVED
At this point in the story you have GOT to be laughing with me.
I couldn’t take any more craziness so I forwarded the email to Adam with a note that asked the question, “Are you embarrassed by this?” To Adam’s credit, he called my office and left a voice mail last night around 9:30 letting me know he had received the email, that he is still working on the problem, that he apologizes for the delay, and he left his mobile number so I can call him anytime if I have a question.
So Adam is one of the good guys. The question is will Avid let Adam deliver the kind of exceptional service that Adam obviously wants to deliver. I hope so. Not for me but for Adam. He deserves better.
On to the last name in our Customer Service Hall of Shame.
AWeber Email Marketing – I’m shopping for a new Email Marketing partner and since AWeber is in my back yard, I thought I’d check them out. The first thing they told me is they would have to run an confirmed opt-in on mine and my client’s email addresses to make sure they are all permission based. I had already explained I have a large, active list that gets mailed regularly and they are all permission based. I even told them what email services provider I’m with now.
I also told them “we” were not going to be doing a confirmed opt-in because I know for a fact that 50-80 percent of the people on the list just won’t see the email and then they will get dropped from the list. Then we will spend months answering their emails when they ask why they aren’t getting their newsletters, blogs, reports, etc. And, remember we do this for clients and not just our company so our clients will definitely be unhappy.
AWeber responded by asking me more questions. Okay so far – sort of – although I felt like I was working hard to become a customer.
Their next response was to ask me a lot more questions that all had to do with them asking “Are these permission based emails?” And, it was work this time as I had to gather a lot of statistics from my current system reports.
The last email (and the last email forever with AWeber as far as I’m concerned) was from Chase the Import Specialist who told me he wanted my login and password for my email service provider account at my current provider so he could see the data and history for himself that I had just sent him – much of which was cut and pasted so he could see it came from their system and not mine.
At first I considered sending the login and password to him along with my date of birth, social security number, long-form birth certificate, passport, and the encrypted pass-code to every login and password I have. Then I thought, “On second thought, I think I’ll find a different email service provider.” One that doesn’t approach potential customers with the attitude that they are obviously lying since this is how AWeber left me feeling.
And, Chase, the Import Specialist, has lived up to his name and chased away a new potential customer.
I could go on with more examples and I know you have plenty of your own. Feel free to respond in the comments as you already have yesterday. The point isn’t to take these companies to task. That would be too easy. My concern is that too many companies still believe they are the ones in control of their customers when this is absolutely not the case anymore.
And, that is a wonderful thing for all of us!
By giving up control and allowing the customer to have control, companies can get instant feedback from many sources on the web as to how they are doing and they can put out any fires before they get out of control. That’s why Adam at Avid is monitoring Twitter. He can get positive and negative feedback instantly. Now if they only let him act on it the way they should Avid will be on its way to a big change in customer service. By the way, so you know I’m not picking on Avid, this is the second time I’ve had this type of experience with their offshore support. Last time it took a product manager in Germany to jump in and find the solution.
While product managers should get constant feedback about their customer base it is not a good use of their time to be first-line support. That’s why companies have got to continually invest in the quality and education of the people who deal face-to-face, phone-to-phone, etc. with their customers.
Customer Service should not be an entry level job which too many companies consider it to be. And, Customer Service should potentially be on a career track to anywhere in the company.
Who do you think knows more about your customers, products and services – your C-Level executives or the people in customer service?
Now where will you invest your company funds, raises, and bonuses this year?
This post turned out to be so long I have turned it into two-parts. Part-two will be available early Wednesday morning. Or, why not sign-upto get it in email?
You’d think with the economy as slow as it is right now that companies would be doing all they can to retain their customers. It is a fact that it is a lot more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to retain the ones you have.
But, it appears that once again that the Sales Prevention Department in many companies has reared its head. Instead of investing in the people who communicate with and serve the customer; companies are using this economic downturn as an opportunity to cut-back on customer service.
Instead of doing everything possible to thrill and retain their clients companies are outsourcing their customer service, using half the number of people they need in front-line, customer-centric jobs, and refusing to upgrade both support infrastructure and employee education.
And, when things go to hell and the customer is mad as a wet hornet, the company often uses the economy (or in the case of one company – the heat) as an excuse for the problems of their own making.
Here are a few of my recent personal experiences:
Nature’s Prime Organic Foods – I became a customer in March. Well, I tried to become one. I bought a coupon through Groupon for Nature’s Prime. I placed my order and I also spent another $100 in addition to the $80 Groupon. The first thing the company did was charge my credit card for the entire order despite the fact they were not shipping for a couple of weeks. Those couple of weeks became months.
During all this time Groupon was fantastic. They were also embarrassed by Nature’s Prime’s communication and inaction. As the weeks turned into months, Nature’s Prime refused to communicate with me at all. NONE! They just ignored all requests. And, once again, that is what they did to many, many more customers.
Groupon finally gave up after they missed two more delivery dates and told me to file a dispute with my bank credit card. I sent that message to Nature’s Prime and suddenly got a call. The young lady was much harried and I could tell she was probably getting an earful from customers every minute of her day. She refunded my purchase.
Some companies will never learn they are not in control of their customers. Natures Prime Organic screwed over hundreds of people this year by not shipping their orders after immediately charging their cards. Most of this was part of a Groupon deal. Even Groupon could not get them to comply.
Yesterday the CFO posted on their Facebook Fan page “very pleased to announce the signing of lease for retail outlet/dist. Center in Melbourne Fla.” Fifteen people immediately responded with complaints. I posted that they might want to consider investing in their people and customer service instead of brick and mortar for distribution. They responded by
removing my and some other posts. Then they took away the ability for people to leave them comments. The obviously believe customer communication is one-way and they are in charge.
I guess they never heard of Dell Hell. Here are some links I quickly found of people posting complaints.
By the way – they are the company using the heat as an excuse for not shipping. I’m sure the heat has been a problem in shipping at times this summer. But it wasn’t a factor all year. And, the heat wasn’t a reason for not returning calls, emails, and following through when they said they’d do something. And, when you have this many problems turning the conversation into what you think is one-way is a recipe for turning the internet into a megaphone blasting out your actions.
Avid Technology is a large, publicly traded, international audio and video company. One of their divisions is Pinnacle. I’ve used Pinnacle products for a few years for video editing, creation, etc. so a few months ago I upgraded to their latest product called Avid Studio. I’d love to let you read the entire log of emails over the last couple of weeks between their first-level, offshore support and me. You’d either die of laughter or from crying.
Here is a little of our email dialogue:
Me: I am shooting video in widescreen. I also have Control Panel, Project Settings, and New Movie format set for NTSC Widescreen. I have both tried checking and unchecking the “Detect format from first clip added to project. If we cannot detect the format we will use the format above.” However, when I drag a clip onto the timeline it will only put black borders on each side of the image filling up the widescreen. It will play widescreen movies fine that I previously made in Pinnacle using the same equipment with no problem. Your help is appreciated. Thank you.
Support’s Answer was – “I apologize for the inconvenience. Let me help you with that. That would be great also if you can provide me a screenshot of your problem for me to have a clear understanding of your case. Please give me a screenshot of the problem.”
“Screenshot!” I thought. “This is a video editing problem. How will a screenshot help?”
So I wrote back, “Instead of a screenshot which won’t actually show you what is happening, I created a video of the problem using GoView. All you have to do is go to this URL to see it. I look forward to a solution soon.
Their response – “I do appreciate the video you made. But I still need some information. Please do a right-click on the thumbnails of your videos then select ‘Display Information’ and please tell me what do you see the value of ‘Frame Aspect.’ You can actually toggle the project format and set it to NTSC widescreen or other, but for that to apply in a project, you need to change the settings first then create a new project to apply the changes made in the settings. “
The discerning reader will notice that the last sentence is exactly what I told them I was already doing in my first email.
This went in circles some more and then I asked to have my case escalated to the next level of support. They agreed and I then heard from another guy who I eventually decided sat in the same cubicle as my first support person. He asked me to send him a piece of the actual clip that is not processing correctly. I did a week ago on last Tuesday and he promised to get back to me by Thursday or Friday with a solution. I thought, “Why will it take 2-3 days more for them to respond. “ I was wrong. I’m writing this Monday afternoon and I still have not heard from them.
In the meantime, I started putting some tweets out about Avid’s customer service and looking for help. I also sent emails to two people I knew of from a couple of years ago but did not hear back from them. I did hear from a guy in their home office on Friday who follows their Twitter account and he promised to look into it and he had hoped to get back to me by COB on that day. I dropped him a note on Saturday morning and he said, “I’ll be in touch.”
Let’s stop here since the Avid story is ongoing. It’s Monday at 3:45PM EDT and I’ve yet to hear from the guys at the offshore site who promised to get back to me last Thursday or Friday. Nor have I heard from the guy at corporate who wanted a solution by last Friday but who now says he’ll be in touch. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have an update.
Meanwhile, we all know what good and bad customer service feels like. With one you come away feeling like you just enjoyed a bite of an Amedei Chuao chocolate bar.
With the other, you feel like you just discovered you’ve run out of toilet paper and you’re in a public restroom.
Somebody Has to Say It!
A 5-part series about customer service.
At some point in a company’s growth phase, someone in management will present to the board what they think is a fantastic idea for saving lots of money and thereby earning more money for stockholders. Usually this person has a role in finance and their title, while not important, is often controller, director of finance or maybe even Chief Financial Officer.
The really great idea goes like this, “Let’s outsource our customer service department.” And, the majority of the time when they say outsource they are referring to offshore outsourcing.
They will quote statistics and other company’s experiences to back-up their belief that outsourcing customer service can be done both effectively and with a positive outcome if correctly implemented. They’ll probably propose that the 30% in costs that they save by outsourcing can be applied to enhance other customer service interactions.
They might even keep a straight face when they say it.
All this and more is the story third-party call centers tell the finance departments and it’s an easy story to swallow if you believe:
You will also be able to reduce capital equipment costs.
You will be able to fire your current customer support staff.
You will have a fixed expense that will look so much better in your annual report.
In my opinion, companies that outsource their customer service don’t care much about the level of their customer service in the first place. How could they when they are willing to place short-term monetary gains over their customers’ satisfaction? Meanwhile, every single person who hasn’t been living alone in a cave for the past 15 years has horror stories of dealing with customer service that has been outsourced.
This is the first post in a five-part series about customer service.
In tomorrow’s post, I detail names and experiences that left me feeling like my pocket was picked and the thief left behind a razor blade for me to find when I went looking for my wallet.
I very rarely go to a mall. Truth is I rarely go shopping unless it is online. But every once in a while when I’m out of town on business I’ll find myself at a mall. One time I found myself wandering the nearly deserted attached Tysons Galleria when I got stuck in the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner, VA in an ice storm for two days. I had such a good time shopping that American Express called to see if my card had been stolen because of all the “different to me” purchases.
This story is about a different time spent in a mall. I was traveling in the Palm Beach Gardens area of Florida and I was looking to kill some time while waiting on a friend so I stopped into what turned out to be a very upscale mall. My plan was to people watch.
That’s where I met her – The Best Customer She Never Knew.
I was looking at watches in what would be best described as an independent, upscale, jewelry store. I actually don’t wear watches these days and I have a bunch already so I’m not a good prospect. But, I enjoy looking at them and this store had quite a few expensive ones. A well-dressed woman who might even have been the owner approached me and asked what most salespeople ask, “Can I help you?” I responded the way most customers do by saying, “No thank you. I’m just looking.” I expected her to say something else to leave the door open to come back to me but she just wheeled on her high heels and went back to whatever she was doing before I came into the store. I think it was polishing something.
A few minutes later a woman came in and also approached the watch display case. She seemed to know what she was looking for so I moved aside to let her get a better look. At the same time we made eye contact and exchanged hellos. The salesperson who had to have seen her come in since she walked right by her to get to the watches continued polishing or whatever it was that was keeping her occupied. After a few minutes, the woman looked around and smiled at me again and said, “I guess nobody wants to make a sale today.” I laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess the jewelry business is just too good these days.”
Finally the woman walked back toward the salesperson and said, “Excuse me. Could I get some help here?”
The sales rep let out an audible sigh and slowly made her way toward the watch display case.
“I’d like to see that Breitling right there,” she said pointing to a beautiful man’s timepiece.
I don’t know much about high-end watches but I know Breitling is one of them and I know they are expensive – like thousands of dollars expensive. I also knew that my people watching was about to get more interesting.
You see the woman was dressed in faded jeans and a blouse and she had a look of being a bit disheveled. She was carrying a handbag that was made of distressed leather. But, it appeared to me that her most pertinent feature (from the disdain the salesperson showed) was her skin color. It wasn’t white. And, that fact plus her way of dressing had already made up the sales rep’s mind that the customer was, at the very best, wasting her time.
She sighed again as she got the watch out of the case and held it tight in her fingers as she showed it to her. I was pretty sure the woman would want to hold it if she was going to spend that kind of money on what must be a gift. I was also pretty sure the salesperson wasn’t too keen on letting her touch it. She reached for it and finally the rep let her hold it. “It’s a beautiful watch,” she said admiringly.
She looked it over and even put it on her wrist. Since it was a man’s watch it was much too big for her but you could see she was imagining it on someone else’s wrist. She had a large smile on her face and I knew she liked it. I waited to hear the big question.
“How much is it?” she asked as she took it off her wrist. The rep took the watch and put it back into the display case and locked the door. She then looked up at her and with condescension dripping from her lips and another sigh, she said, “$7,250.” She then put her hands on her hips and stared at the woman with a look that said, “Will you now please leave.”
As her eyes narrowed, the customer started to open her mouth to say something. Instead she started laughing. At first it was more of a chortle and then it turned into a melodious giggle as she walked out the door shaking her head. I think the sales rep thought she was laughing at the price. I was positive she was really laughing at the clerk when what she really wanted to do was give her a piece of her mind.
I didn’t realize it but I started chuckling myself. The salesperson gave me a look as if to say, “Why don’t you join her and get out of my store.” And, so I left thinking about how poorly the clerk treated the lady. I didn’t know if she was a real prospect or not but I did know that the salesperson never bothered to find out and that she had judged her as not worthy of her time as soon as she saw her.
But, that’s not how this story ends.
I walked a few stores down the mall and decided to stop in and have a coffee at a cafe. As luck would have it, our would-be customer was sitting at a table having her own cup. I got my coffee and sat at a table that faced her. I could see she recognized me so I smiled and said, “I enjoyed how you dealt with that rude clerk back there. You had me laughing with you.”
She put her cup down and said, “Well, I really wanted to tell her to bite me. But, I was afraid she might.” And, with that we both started laughing all over again.
Wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes my new friend said, “The watch is for my husband. It’s his birthday on Saturday and he loves watches. There is another store not too far away where I can buy it. I’m getting it to go with his car.”
“Go with his car,” I thought. “What does she mean?”
She saw the look of puzzlement in my eyes and explained, “He drives a Bentley. The watch is a Breitling Bentley.”
And, with that revelation, I started laughing all over again!