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Customer Service

ARE YOU CREATING VALUE OPPORTUNITIES?

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This past week a colleague and I had dinner in Cleveland at Mitchell's Fish Market. I snapped this photo as we were escorted to our table.

Mitchell's is a franchise with nearly two dozen locations across the United States and what set's them apart from their competition is their business model. Specializing in serving freshly prepared seafood, Mitchell's also offers a wide variety of fresh seafood for sale to both restaurant patrons and the general public. They have built upon the standard "restaurant" business model to provide additional value to patrons and the general public resulting in increased sales opportunities.

By building a scalable business model that bucks the norm for their industry, Mitchell's now has the opportunity to improve upon a "restaurant experience" by offering direct sales of other products including fresh produce, poultry and meats. The sky is the limit.

Is your business scalable? Are you positioned to build upon your business by offering additional products and services that are complimentary and offer additional value to customers and clients?

Most businesses are built with a single product or service offering in mind. This is a limiting and risky model. To thrive a business should be built on what customers value both today and tomorrow.

Consider these questions relative to your business to identify additional and complimentary value opportunities:

1. What new products or services might your existing customers value?

2. What existing products or services might new customers value?

3. What new products or services might your past customers value?

Building a successful business like Mitchell's requires a scalable business model and ongoing consideration of customer value. How are you identifying additional and complimentary value opportunities?


 


Last Impressions Are First Impressions

I have spent the better part of the last few weeks flying to various events and client meetings. My travels have resulted in numerous encounters with flight attendants and other support staff, and I often find it interesting to observe the difference in staff behaviors and courtesy levels in the same airline. What makes one flight attendant take pride in her job, while another seems to dread even looking at customers? More importantly, what impact does this have on customer perception of service quality?

Let me give you an example.

I flew round-trip between Toronto and Atlanta in December on Delta airlines. On the flight out, the flight attendant went out of her way to ensure that I and everyone else on the flight was comfortable. She provided plenty of snacks, was cheerful, heck she even gave me a free drink (the way to most men’s heart I believe!). My return flight, however, was quite different. As I was boarding the plane, a flight attendant (same airline) backed up into me and stepped on my foot. Upon doing so, she turned, glared at me (as if I was in her way), and then continued to move around me, rather than waiting for me to put my bag in the overhead compartment. She didn’t say a word!

What’s important about this example is that my perception of the quality of Delta’s service is now lower than it was initially, all as a result of this one flight attendant’s actions. Customer service, and in general those who deal directly with customers, have a direct impact on sales, and ultimately whether a business grows or not.

Who is interacting with your customers? More importantly, what is the impression these relationships are having on your customers and prospects?

A last impression is the first impression.

Here are some questions to consider relative to understanding the quality of your prospect’s or customer’s interactions. These can apply to customer service representatives or anyone else who might interact directly with your customer.

1.     Are prospects or customers being greeted with enthusiasm, or with a level of energy that would put a librarian to sleep?

 

2.     How quickly are your customer’s questions or concerns being addressed? Response time is directly proportional to customer satisfaction and confidence.

 

3.     How are aggressive or disgruntled prospects or customers being dealt with? Are employees patient and calm, or do they push back?

 

4.     Are customers placed on hold for extended periods of time? If so, what is the frequency of interaction while on hold? Does someone check on them, or just leave them to float in the abyss?

 

5.     What is the degree of consistency in how prospects or customers are dealt with? Are there varying degrees of knowledge and enthusiasm in your employees?

What I suggest to my clients is to shop their own business. Observe how front line employees deal with customers first hand, and you will gain tremendous insight into whether your business will grow and flourish, or diminish and die.

© Shawn Casemore 2013. All rights reserved.

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World Class Customer Service – Creating & Delivering It To Differentiate Your Company

As more and more businesses find themselves fighting against the tide of commoditization, it is becoming increasing difficult, (if not impossible, depending on the product and services) and significantly more expensive, to differentiate from the competition.

I believe the least expensive way to do it is developing true differentiation in customer service. But it has to be truly, exceptionally, noticeably unique and different. How can a company with limited resources and with its products and services continually fighting commoditization differentiate itself with “world class” customer service?

By creating an initiative that among other strategies combines customer service training and employee engagement. But neither in the way companies traditionally try to do those 2 things.

I thought of this approach after being reminded recently about a former client whose company leadership preached to employees about providing ”world class” customer service.

Yet, when I asked many of those same employees to define “world class” customer service and how they were expected to deliver it, I received mostly blank stares.

The great thing about employees is that they are also customers. Every single one of them has experiences organizational leaders should be tapping into. Most do not.

Instead of bringing in a “customer service expert” to take employees through a training on customer service, there isan alternate solution.

Imagine if you were holding an internal customer service symposium that would tap into the collective genius and life-long experience of the people in your organization. Doing a program like that would:

 

  1. Allow you to engage your best advocates in solutions to improve your company from the bottom up;
  2. Make every one of your employees feel valued because their input was requested and the ideas they provided or contributed to were actually seen to be implemented;
  3. Improve motivation and morale;
  4. Give employees ownership of the ideas and strategies making it easier to hold themselves and their teammates accountable for the implementation;
  5. Improve customer service, customer relationships and customer retention.
  6.  

Here’s how it would work:

  1. Get as many company leaders and employees together in one room as possible.
  2. Pair up people at different levels, President-Receptionist, Board Chairman-janitor, etc.
  3. Give each group 30-minutes to share one story of the BEST example of customer service experience they’ve ever experienced; a time when someone truly exceeded their expectations.
  4. Create a forum/format for capturing the best ideas from each of those experiences.
  5. Brainstorm additional ideas that your company can add or build on the ideas captured from the stories.
  6. Vote on the 10 best ideas that are a fit for your company that you are not already doing.

Now you have a list of 10 hot ideas for improving your customer relationships, but you are not finished as 2 key steps remain:

  1. Identify and list all past, present and future obstacles (excuses) to implementing these ideas
  2. Commit to strategies for eliminating those excuses that are the highest priority items so you can begin implementation of the ideas within 30-days.

These final two steps are what a colleague of mine calls “the secret sauce.”

Without attacking those final two steps, the entire effort will not just be wasted, but it will undermine and sabotage morale and motivation moving forward and you can forget about people contributing their ideas again in the future.

One final note is that you don’t have to necessarily be able to eliminate all the obstacles identified to implement a particular strategy, but you do need to give people reasons for why it's not possible, or not possible at this time. The feedback and loop closing is key so people feel heard and valued.

But if the item is on your top 10 of “Customer Service Strategies we should implement” I’d jump through a fiery hoop to eliminate those obstacles to make it happen and set yourself apart from your competition to create a killer gap between yourself and your competition.

Often, because of emotional connection to the topics and situations, certain relationships in the room and unintended positional intimidation, it is difficult and less than effective to have an internal person facilitate these types of sessions and it can be more effective to have an external facilitator experienced in bringing groups to consensus on ideas such as these.

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How to Keep Customers for Life

How to Keep Customers for Life

I was recently working with one of my San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching clients – the president of a mid-sized company. We discussed how to keep customers for life.

My executive coaching client and I further discussed creating a culture of exceptional customer service to help the company’s sales force seal more deals. I am coaching my client on how company leaders can change the way people think and act to create a more customer fan-based.

When you begin to think about acquiring and keeping customers for life, you need to think about the particular types of customers for whom your competitive advantage is so important that they would be poorly served by using anyone else’s product or service. You need to then emphasize again and again that the special features and benefits you offer are so important that they should not even think of going somewhere else. If, for any reason, you fail to do this, you may lose the customer and all the work you’ve done in building that relationship in the first place.

Identify your most valued customers and spend 80% of your time and resources delighting them. You need to over promise and over deliver.Capturing customers and keeping them is all about creating brand promises and delivering them. This means companies must do what they say—and more. In short, you must exceed customers’ expectations to win your best customers’ hearts.

Consumers are turning away from media and, instead, tuning into each other. Engagement and word of mouth marketing are the buzzwords of our new era. Customers are doing their market research online and listening to each other.

Unfortunately, many marketers continue to look at engagement in a one-sided way. Corporate blogs have become an excellent resource for CEOs and others to connect with customers in a personal manner. In spite of the possible pitfalls in opening two-way communication between the public and employees, there is much to be gained by being personable, accessible, authentic and transparent.

Customers are already communicating with each other online about products and experiences with your company. If you can join the conversation in a real way, in real time, you’ll have an advantage over those who remain silent and inaccessible behind corporate doors.”

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to create a culture where customers really like you? Enlightened leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more customer-focused culture.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do my customers really like me?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their peak performance leadership development program.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create a culture where all employees are more positive and fully engaged. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252.

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When Customer Help is Not Very Helpful

It seems everywhere you turn these days, you hear someone else telling you about how the importance of customers: Your call is important to us. We're listening to our customers. We need your customer feedback. With all these people focused on the customer, you'd think things would be pretty darn good for those of us on the customer side – especially in light of the recent recession and tough economic times.

But if my recent experience is any indication, the message that customer-facing personnel are there to actually help the customer somehow isn't getting through.

Here are a few actual situations we've come across in the last several weeks:

  • An important medical test was delayed for over a week because the wrong insurance company was contacted by the medical provider for a preauthorization. This was in spite of the fact that I had confirmed the correct insurance information twice on the phone with the provider and our insurance carrier doesn't even require preauthorization for this particular test. The response from the scheduler: "Well, this must have been changed in another part of the record, because it's not in the part of the record I need to access." To compound the problem, the test results were delayed for two weeks while the medical provider put them in the queue to be processed – requiring our physician to make numerous phone calls to resolve the issue.
  • We made a hotel reservation for our 19 year old daughter with a major hotel chain and confirmed that there would be no problem with her checking in without us present – only to have her show up at the hotel 400 miles away from home and be told that they could not accept guests who were under 21. In spite of the fact that the national chain's policy was to accept guests over the age of 18, this particular hotel had its own more stringent policy, which the corporate reservations people appeared to know nothing about. (Eventually they relented and let her check in, after a long, frustrating delay).
  • I decided to upgrade a part of our home media system and had a long online chat with a rep of our service provider who told me I could go into their local location and pick up the equipment myself, rather than sit home and wait hours for it to be delivered. I went to the local store, only to be told that this piece of hardware wasn't available at the store, hadn't been available for awhile, and probably would not be available there for at least another 6 months, if ever. To get this, they suggested, I should go online, order the part and schedule an appointment to have it delivered.

While I have no qualms mentioning the companies in these incidents (Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Hilton Hotels, Comcast), the reality is in any given month, there will be other stories from other similar companies. Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases.

Why in this age of the customer do these terrible customer experiences continue to happen? One likely reason is the disconnect between how companies say they want to treat their customers and how they tell their customer-facing support staff to react in the face of customer issues and concerns.

The problem is that the employees in each of the situations I encountered were doing exactly what they'd been told to do. They were likely following orders to the letter, and in fact their performance and their compensation may be based on whether or not they behave exactly as they were directed.

What's missing is a lack of understanding of how this by-the-book focus impacts the bigger picture for a business. As a consumer, I may be forced by circumstance to continue the relationship with you as my supplier for some period of time ,but sooner or later I will become fed up with the fact that your employees are instructed to treat me as a problem or an interruption from their regularly scheduled day. Then I'll vote with my feet and my wallet by going somewhere else.

Just as importantly, I will tell other people how I've been treated. We've always known that dissatisfied customers tell at least 4 times the number of people about their experiences as satisfied customers do. But in this age of social media and networking, this effect is magnified exponentially by blogs, Twitter posts, Facebook status updates and even newsletters like this one.

That's why it's so important to make sure that your customer-facing staff understands the values you want your brand to embody, and that they are empowered to translate this into actions you're your customers. This means stepping outside the box, or, in this case, the rule manual, and doing the right thing to help a customer in need – not just following procedures to get them out of the way as soon as possible. That's because a customer who has raised a problem and had it appropriately resolved, becomes even more loyal than one who has never had a problem at all.

Ask yourself:

  • What customer-related behaviors are you and your executives modeling for your employees?
  • What are the implications of allowing your customer reps to think outside the box?
  • Are customer-facing employees who go above-and-beyond rewarded – or are they punished?
  • How do you handle non-standard or complicated situations?
  • Do the systems you've put in place support or hinder your ability to really serve your customers?
  • How easy would your customers say it is to work with you, and how easy would your customer service employees say it is to work for you?
  • Do you look for opportunities to turn customer problems into loyal customers?

Customer support can be difficult. It's tempting to imagine how easy your life would be without those pesky customers. Unfortunately, without a new approach to helping customers, you may actually have the opportunity to find out.

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