Customer Service

What If a Party Broke Out In Your Doctor’s Office?

I was sitting in my family doctor’s waiting room this morning when a crazy idea flashed into my brain. Now, you should know I was fasting for the previous 12 hours so perhaps my brain was a bit addled. But, here it is and you can be the judge.

Wouldn’t it be a lot of fun if doctor’s offices had patient appreciation days? Your average doctor’s waiting room is about as much fun as the local undertakers. Actually, my local mortician is a whole lot more entertaining than any physician I know. I especially like it when he removes his toupee or puts it on backwards.

Anyway, back to the doctor’s office. At least once a month, I think they need to have patient appreciation day complete with balloons, costumes, some music (other than the usual PBS stuff), refreshments (they can be of the healthy variety) and some good, old-fashioned hugs handed out by the staff and physicians.

I know you’re thinking this is a dumb idea. I bet you’re worried about catching something from one of the other patients. Listen, as far as I’m concerned, I believe that if you’re sick with something potentially contagious what the hell are you doing mingling with people that are just trying to get their birth control or anxiety drugs?

Which leads me to my other idea for doctor’s waiting rooms – two rooms – one for sick people and one for well. I bet it would cut down immensely on colds, flu and dirty looks being spread around. And, we’ll make sure the sick people get refreshments too. And, yeah, a couple of the balloons. Sorry – no hugs.

Health care is one of the most expensive things we pay for in this country. Doesn’t it make good customer service sense to say thank you to the people footing the bill? And, if you think you’re not footing the bill because insurance is paying for it then you need to make sure you always go into the sick person waiting room.

So, what do you think? How are you going to feel if the next time you visit your doctor a party breaks out to thank you for being a patient?

Trust me, you’ll thank me.

And, while you’re thinking about it, how can you show your customers, clients, or patients that you appreciate them? When is the last time you said thank you? When is the last time you had balloons for them.

When is the last time you gave them a hug?

Image compliments of deltaMike

Give Them One On The House

Walt knows how to run a bar and restaurant and he knows how to deliver extraordinary customer service. He also knows it is a lot easier and less costly to keep the customers you have than it is to find new ones. He makes it a practice to give his customers a drink on the house on a regular basis. They appreciate it and they keep coming back. They also tell their friends about Walt's Place.

What about you and your customers? Do you make it a habit it give them one on the house to let them know you appreciate them and their business? Or, do you nickle and dime them for everything you can get?

People want to feel like they are appreciated.

People prefer to buy from people and not companies when possible.

People buy from people they like and trust.

Walt knows this and lives it.

What about you?

Self-Employed and Afraid of Selling

Lots of people have made the decision to become self-employed. Some even decided it themselves without an ex-employer helping. I have the opportunity to talk with people in this group everyday about their challenges and the number one seems to be selling. By selling, I mean fear of selling, don’t know how to sell, and wish they didn’t have to sell.

As a group they are extremely bright, educated, and talented. Many of them awe me with their abilities and passion. However, almost all of them tell me they need help in selling. Some say they need marketing help but they can get a lot of marketing help from these days without looking too far. So even those people are usually referring to sales.

Why is it so hard for them? Selling means actually asking for money because unless you’re bartering poultry or beans you’re going to need money to stay in business. And, asking strangers for money is fearful and often starts a process in our head which in turn causes some or all of the following.

  • Our mouths freeze up while weird sounds emanate from our throat
  • We begin babbling and talking incessantly about ourselves and our products and what we can do for the customer.
  • We wonder what ever possessed to think that our services or products are worth that kind of money.
  • If the customer questions the price, we blurt out “I can make you a better offer.”
  • We have no idea what to say when someone says, “I’ll get back to you and let you know after I discuss it with my spouse, accountant or Reiki master.

Here are five-steps that if you follow should help you increase your number of sales with much less stress. In fact, you might even start enjoying the process.

  1. Connect – it starts with the relationship. People buy from people. And, they more they trust and like you the more likely is that they will do business with you. If you don’t take the time to establish the trust and for them to genuinely like you, then you are already at Failure Level Three with Level Five being “Forgedaboudit”
  2. Focus – You want to focus on what is important to your customer. And, guess what, it isn’t you, your company, your products, services, or the size of your office. It’s not about you. It’s about the customer. Put your focus on them and what they need and want. What problems do they have that need solved? What’s keeping them awake at night? What value and meaning can you provide? And, guess what? It might not be what you’re selling. Maybe what they need is to be connected to someone who can solve their problem. Maybe that isn’t you – this time. But, if you focus on them and not on yourself then you will find yourself making just the right recommendations. Now the trust level really goes up and you’re not a vendor. You’ve just become a trusted adviser.
  3. Ask – This may seem like common sense but it isn’t that common. By ask I mean you will want to ask questions that will elicit the type of information you need in order to provide the kind of value and meaning for the client. These are almost always open-ended questions that begin with who, what, when, where, how, and why. Pretend you’re a journalist and you’re searching for answers.
  4. Listen – Goes hand in hand with asking but you must really listen with your entire being. Don’t listen with one ear while your brain is thinking about how you can sell something. Listen and ask more questions. You should be listening at least 80% of the time which is about 100% different from what most of you usually do.
  5. Reassure – Even when someone trusts you and believes that the solution you’ve recommended adds value or solves their problem they almost always need a little reassurance that they are doing the right thing. This is where you need to be a storyteller. And, if you’re a good teller of stories you will seldom have to worry about the dreaded “Let me check with…and I’ll get back to you.” Tell them a story about someone just like them who had the same need or problem to solve. Tell them how you solved it or how it was solved. Reassure them you will make sure they get what they need and want. Guarantee it. Hold their hand. Take care of the details for them. Ask them if you can do business together. And, make sure you do the next step.
  6. Follow-up – I wrote yesterday about having the courage to handle the truth. You must follow-up and ask if the customer did indeed get what they paid for. In fact, you want them to feel like they got more than what they paid for because then they will buy again from you. And, they will be willing to tell others about you and help you build your business. They will become part of your sales force.

I could write a book about all of this – actually I did. And, I often spend 3-5 intensive days with people who want to become more proficient in selling. But, I think if you take the time focus on these six-steps you’ll find the process easier and more profitable.

And, as always, feel free to ask questions in the comments or in a direct email to me at [email protected]

Thank you and talk with you soon!

Because I Say So and No Soup For You

You may of heard of the terms hunters and farmers as they relate to salespeople. Farmers supposedly are the type of sales people who farm current customers. They call on their customers who give them repeat business. Hunters are at the top of the sales food chain (at least they believe they are) because they open new accounts. They only call on prospects with the goal of making them customers.

In my experience too many farmers have never been taught to really sell because management believes they are only order takers (waiters for example) which without the right knowledge they often become. And, many hunters (stockbrokers looking for new accounts) focus entirely on their own needs, egos, and compensation and are the type of salesperson who often gives salespeople and selling in general a bad reputation. And, as one of the top hunters ever for my division of 3M Company, I've got the credibility to back up those observations.

So, let's forget about being a hunter or farmer. Throw those terms away for good and concentrate on being a salesperson because every single one of us has to be able to sell. It doesn't matter if you are a surgeon or an artist you'll want to sell a patient on a course of treatment or a patron on seeing the genius of your art. If you're a parent your sales skills will be tested for years by your children. Imagine telling a prospect about your product and when they ask why they should buy it you say, "Because I say so!"

Let's use my interaction with Dell Computer's support forum yesterday as an example of what not to do when you are selling current customers. Dell has a forum they monitor and use to solve problems, answer sales questions and pretty much anything related to their products and services. That's a great idea and a really excellent way to talk to customers in almost real time without having them wait in line to speak to someone who is usually better at preventing sales than making them. Score one for Dell for the forum.

But the reason I was on this forum is because one of my LCD monitors went to sleep and won't wake up. It turns out by following the conversation on Dell's own forum that this is a major problem with lots of monitors (maybe thousands or hundreds of thousands) and Dell knows about it. You can Google the problem or follow it in forums. So, what is Dell doing about it? Well, based on the forum they let people spend time and money trying to fix the problem by working on everything but the monitor itself. Then eventually someone from Dell pops up and offers a Dell solution which sounds a little bit like reciting an incantation around a campfire and waking up with hope in your heart that the problem is fixed.

I tried the incantation and it didn't work. I couldn't find evidence that it works for anyone else either. What would work is if Dell contacted everyone who has ever bought an A01 or AO2 monitor and ship them a new one. They thought they fixed it back in July 2008 when they came out with the A02 but they didn't and now they are sticking their heads in the sand and replying to customers like Dell-Chris M did when she answered a customer's email by saying the useless incantation sequence was Dell's only fix for the problem. She also said they don't have a firmware patch to fix it. When the same customer jokingly asked if he had to stand on his head when doing the incantation solution Chris-M's response was "That is up to you."

By the way – Sales rule number one for business owners – Never let anyone communicate with your customers who is not in possession of a sense of humor. If they really do add value to your organization keep them away from all customers and other employees too.

One last thing, Chris M from Dell told a customer in Feb. 2010 she believed all problems were solved when the A02 version replaced the A01. However, In May 2009 she was addressing the exact same issue. Bad memory? At least in that Feb. 2010 post she admits that "I see your A02s still have issues and she would check with engineering. How many Dell customers said, "Let me out of Dell Hell" as a result of how they are handling this?

By now you are probably thinking neither me nor my employees would treat our customers this way. You'd be wrong. I know good companies who do it all the time because they pay too much attention to pennies and no attention to the value of a long-term customer asset. Think GM, Ford, Verizon, most airlines, and my favorite sushi restaurant – Ooka.

A waiter or waitress is a salesperson. Last week my salesperson at Ooka failed badly. I arrived ten minutes after they open for lunch and was the first customer in the door. I ordered a lunch special and 3 more sushi/sashimi choices. That's a $30 lunch order at this place. The special comes with soup and salad but it seemed someone had dropped the ball in the kitchen and the soup was cold and would be 15 more minutes. I said, "Instead of bringing me my soup and salad halfway through lunch would you please bring me some seaweed salad and forget the other salad and soup."

You already know what she said, "I can't do that." I said, "Why not? You'd be exchanging soup and a salad for another salad and making a good customer not have to wait." Her answer again, "I can't do that."

The difference is price is $1.00.

I would guess that I spend $700-$1000 a year there. That means over the last ten years I've spent as much as $10,000 and I'll spend another $10,000 over the next ten years – unless I find someplace that values me more. By focusing on pennies – the bottom line – this restaurant stands to lose many thousands of dollars from me and the other ten people I'll send to my new favorite sushi place. By the way, this is the second time this has happened to me at Ooka. I was hoping this time the result might be different.

These are only a couple examples of how not to build value and relationships with your customers and prospects. They happen in millions of companies every day and every day billions of dollars are lost because you or your employees don't know how to sell.

The question is – what are you going to do about it?

Good Vibrations

Ever try typing with one of these things on both your hands? I don't recommend it. In case you're wondering why it has been a little quiet here lately, the photo to the right is the reason.

Carpal tunnel troubles have caught up to me.

I felt this coming on for a couple of weeks and ignored it. So, now I'm paying the price and trying to get back to being able to type at more than 10 words a minute. 

Don't expect to find me wearing them in public. I'd rather be caught wearing a kilt.

We went to a new restaurant Saturday night. Well, it's sort of new. The building it is in has housed at least 4 other restaurants in the past ten years. They all failed. I heard this one was doing well and we agreed to meet friends early so I didn't even think about reservations. That could have been a big mistake but we got lucky.

The parking lot was full when we arrived at 6pm. Luckily someone was just pulling out carrying a doggie bag so I know they ate. I mean how early do these people dine around here? Anyway, it was obvious that the "new" restaurant was a hit.

So, what was different that allowed this place to flourish while 4 other people lost their shirts.

Everything!

They did a total makeover. The place was remodeled from top to bottom. The food was fresh, excellently prepared, well served and priced extremely low compared to comparable places. And, then there is the thing I can't quite describe. Let's call it a new vibe. The place felt good. People were having fun.

You can't buy a vibe. You have to create it. You can have a bad vibe or a good one. Apple has a good vibe. Microsoft not so good.

The same place, person or product vibe can be 180 degrees different depending upon who is receiving the vibrations. For example, I love New York City's vibe. But, you have to drag me to visit LA. Yet, I have plenty of west coast friends who feel just the opposite and Pittsburgh friends who don't have much good to say about either place.

What kind of vibe are you creating for your company, products and yourself? If you're not tuning your vibe to your type of customers you're missing an opportunity. Trying to have one that appeals to everyone comes off as out-of-tune and off key. It doesn't feel like it was meant for anyone.

Are you clients picking up good vibrations? Are you giving them excitations?

Is Complaining About Poor Service Windmill Tilting?

Bill is always looking for examples of extraordinary customer service but he says he doesn't experience it nearly as often as poor customer service. That probably does not qualify as breaking news to you.

Bill says that when he finds extraordinary service he makes sure to recognize the person directly and also by letting their company or supervisor know. I asked him what he does when he experiences bad customer service and I think his response is typical for a lot of us.

"I used to let the person know their service was unacceptable and also notify their management but I pretty much gave up doing that," says Bill. "I found out that most of the time the company and management did nothing or made excuses rather than taking responsibility and making the customer happy."

Personally, I haven't given up on letting people know despite the frustration that often accompanies my efforts. I think if you don't tell them you're unhappy and their service is unacceptable it is unlikely to change. But, sometimes I feel like I'm tilting at windmills.

For example, I print my own postage online. It's no different than using a postage meter which has been happening since 1920 when Pitney-Bowes invented it and got it approved by the USPS for commercial use. With online printing you can do even more things including printing photo stamps. I use ones with a photo of "Listen First – Sell Later" on the stamp. It's inexpensive marketing and every week someone who gets mail from me comments about the stamp. I'm happy to share with them how they can do it themselves.

But, back to customer service. I live in the little town of Perkasie, PA which is served by a post office that is probably less than half the size it needs to be. While the town is small the mailing area for Perkasie is huge. I'm sure it was created back when there were more cows than people. That has changed and now it is a very busy and understaffed place. However, I find that the postal employees there are a great group of people and my mail carrier gives exceptional service.

Then there is the one guy who usually mans the window in the lobby. Two people could work this window but other than holiday mailing season it is always the same guy. And, he doesn't care about good service. In fact, he seems angry that his customers can do what he get paid to do. He's the guy who weighs your mail and puts the stamp on it. And, he knows all the rules. Well, actually he kind of knows all the rules. Nobody knows all of them because the USPS is always changing them and some are contradictory.

It never fails that when he is presented with mail that is already stamped and all he needs to do is say thank you and put it in the bin to go out that he has to make a comment about it. He wants to argue about packaging, stamping, forms, and anything else that is presented. I've seen him do this with pretty much anyone that drops things off where he doesn't get to sell the stamps and interpret the rules.

Today, I mailed about a dozen books to people and I used media mail. The stamp I printed has media mail printed on it. When I gave him these packages and told him they were all media mail he looked like he wanted to open each one to make sure I wasn't including some kind of contraband. He then told me, "These should be stamped media mail." and proceeded to use a stamp older than the post office to stamp red "Media Mail" all over the packages.

I said, "The stamp itself already has media mail printed on it." "Well, someone might not read that." was his response as he continued stamping away in glee. Out of curiosity I looked online to see what the post office required. Here is the rule – Mark each piece "Media Mail" and "Presorted" or "PRSRT" in the postage area. That was exactly what I had done. And, once again he was wrong and making his own rules up.

Now this may not seem like terrible service to you but it really is. In fact, it is probably worse service than the person who just doesn't care. If the post office were a business it is most likely that they would be out of business. Upper management has gone to great lengths to encourage the use of their services in order to help stem the flow of red ink. This guy, for whatever reason, makes people want to do anything but do business with him.

AT&T mobile is being attacked right now by Verizon for providing poor service with their 3G network. You've seen the ads and I've read many a blog and tweet that seem to agree. You'd think they would be working really hard to keep every customer happy.

Nope. In fact they have a policy right now that is likely to drive people away. More on that in a future post. Meanwhile, you might want to check out Validas. They might be able save you money on your mobile phone bills. I have no connection to them but they saved me a pretty good chunk of money by letting me know about a better plan that AT&T never mentioned to me. And, I've been their customer since they bought Cingular!

How do you deal with poor customer service? Do you let them know? Do you let management know? Or, have you given up like Bill?

If a Cat’s Got Your Tongue – Who Is Selling The Sushi?

What would happen to your sales numbers if suddenly you could not communicate in the language of your customers? For example, your customers only speak Japanese and you only speak English. Do you think you could effectively sell?

Or, what if you suddenly could not hear and had to rely on body language and lip reading. Would you use that as an excuse to quit your job and find a career that didn't require you to speak or hear? That might limit things quite a bit for you.

I'd do what my favorite sushi chefs do when I visit their restaurant. I'd smile aOoka_sushi lot and let customers know by my non-verbal communication that it is great to see them again. Then I'd use my hands and eyes and smile to show them my favorite fish for the day and point at suggestions. That's what these guys were doing for me yesterday when I took their photo. They don't speak English and I don't speak Japanese. Best sushi in PA, by the way.

Sure, they have an English menu but that's too easy. I've been a many restaurants in Asian countries where I was the only person who spoke English. It's a lot more fun to see how you can communicate with just your body language.

My mom has been almost totally deaf for over 30 years and hearing impaired before that. She got one of the very first cochlear implants which helped a good bit – for a while. Now, she relies on lip reading and body language. She's retired now but for 50 years she was in the sales business. And, always at the top of her field. Not bad for someone who could barely hear.

The next time you speak with a customer think about how you are communicating with your eyes, your smile, your posture – your entire body language. What if this was the only way you could communicate? What things would you change? What would you add?

Ask yourself if your non-verbal communication matches your verbal. Practice looking into a mirror. You may be surprised at what you see.

Arrested for Not Leaving a Tip and More

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" column we have two stories today. The first took place in my backyard at the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem, PA where an extremely intelligent restaurant manager had two of his patrons arrested for not leaving a tip. Yes, that's what I said. They refused to leave a tip for their party of eight. Talk about customer service!

It seems it took over an hour for them to be served their salads and wings and they ended up having to get their own napkins and soda refills since their waitress was missing and outside smoking much of the time. The restaurant has a mandatory 18% surcharge. When they got their bill the tip surcharge was 22% and that put them over the tipping point. They told the manager that because their service was so terribly poor they would not pay the tip. They did pay the bill for the food, drinks and tax.

After taking their money, the genius manager called Bethlehem police and had them arrested for theft of services. The cop in this case has to be related to the manager or the owner. Otherwise, he or she needs to be removed from the force for stupidity in uniform. You can read about it here. Or, just Google it as it is all over the Internet now.

Next up is the Philadelphia city council. Philadelphia has a problem with bicycle riders that don't obey traffic laws. Two pedestrians were killed last month after being struck by cyclists. So, what's the answer? I would think it might be a good thing if the laws currently on the books were enforced. They aren't and both council, police and bike advocates agree on that.

So, what is the solution from legislators? Two council members are introducing a bill to license everyone over the age of 12 who wants to ride a bike. They would pay $20. Yeah, tax the bastards – that will stop bike accidents. Make those kids pay up and they won't ever break another law.

Finally a good story from my back yard. Crayola Company in Easton, PA is going to be focusing a lot of effort on green in the coming year. Not the color but the technology. They are building a 15-acre solar park near their plant where the energy produced by the panels will be enough to manufacture 1-Billion Crayons a year. Kudos to Crayola!

Switching

Yesterday, I wrote a post about a drug store that is trying to get customers to switch to them from the store right next door by offering free groceries to the switchers while ignoring their current customers.

Then this morning I noticed Seth Godin wrote about how hard it is to get customers to switch. The timing seemed perfect to share it with you.

I'll be back to you later on today.

Nose Thumbing

I got a direct mail piece from my "Neighborhood Drugstore at Giant" today. It was addressed to resident. I've been a customer of this particular drugstore for as long as Giant has had a pharmacy in their supermarket.

I stopped and read the postcard because the front of the card said I could get up to $60 in free groceries. That sounded good to me especially since I'm a customer.

However, I need to give you a little back story. Within the last year a huge CVS drug store opened about 50 yards away from the Giant store. CVS is known for good prices, a frequent buyer club, and more importantly for me – a drive through.

If I need something from my Giant pharmacy I have to park and then go into the store. It's a hassle compared to drive through – especially when you're not feeling well. But, I didn't really think about moving my prescriptions and my wife's from Giant. I like the people at the pharmacy and they have given us good service.

Now someone in Giant marketing is offering me $60 in groceries for being a pharmacy customer. How great is that! Then I turn the card over and I read the sub-head after the $60 headline. It says, "for new or transferred prescriptions!"

I'm not so happy now. Giant is willing to pay out $60 to get new customers but nothing to keep the customers they have. Which do you think costs more – keeping customers or finding new ones? You know the answer. Everyone intuitively knows the answer. Everyone except the marketers at Giant.

I'm sure they have already lost plenty of customers to CVS. It wasn't like they didn't know they were coming. It took months to build the big store. Why didn't they launch a proactive plan to thrill their customers so they'd never want to leave? Why would they spend a lot of money on a resident mailing to try and lure people away from CVS?

And, why would any business reward new customers while thumbing their nose at the people who have supported them for years?