Tag Archives: Customer Service

Can Technology Be More Human Than an Actual Human Interaction?

I recently had to actually drive to my bank to deposit a check.  Aside from 2 receptionists there wasn’t a single customer service person to be found (you may be familiar with the archaic term, ‘teller’ – – or the archaic term ‘check’).   At any rate, no tellers in this bank.

Video tellers

There was, however, a Las Vegas-style array of video tellers, and my instant reaction was ‘great, this is the bank version of phone customer service hell’.

My actual experience was terrific.

in this case, technology enabled a customer service interaction that was polite, competent, quick and personable.  What everyone wants, but without an actual face-to-face encounter.  Sounds almost blasphemous.

Video teller 2

Of course, this approach started as a way to cut costs, by pooling resources centrally and deploying dynamically based on demand, rather than having to staff a large number of branches.

Bank teller 3

How can what is essentially cost-saving technology surpass the traditional gold standard of a smiling face in front of you?

  • Instant gratification. Because there are a lot of them in one location, a customer service rep was immediately available. No wait = good.
  • Great video quality – – clear enough so that facial expressions were easily visible, in either direction. So a good percentage of the personal interaction was preserved.
  • It happened to be my birthday (yes, and visiting a bank made it even more special) – – and to my surprise my CSR wished me a Happy Birthday.  My account info apparently flagged this on her end, and gave her the opportunity to delight the customer – – which she did, in a very cheerful way.  Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and this one gave my CSR the opportunity to make a personal connection – – which she did.

Compare this with the traditional experience of potentially waiting for a clerk, who then might mechanically take care of your business because he or she does this a thousand times a day.

Bored Teller

Maybe, just maybe, as technology and data use continue to mature, there may actually be hope that we won’t totally have to discard our humanity just to get a little service.

Now let’s see if we can do something about humanizing customer service experience just about everywhere else.

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Is This Any Way to Treat a High Value Customer? Ask My Mother.

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Do You Know Your Most Valuable Customers?  Do they know that you love them?

ecommercecrm

It’s 10 times harder to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.  Loyal customers are more profitable and have the highest Lifetime Customer Value. They love your company already.  They have already been acquired, qualified and taken through the funnel – – you have them where you want them!

So why, with today’s sophisticated customer management systems, are loyal repeat customers too often just an afterthought?  Or missed entirely?

In today’s post we will try to demonstrate that marketers must make extra effort to identify and appreciate these great customers.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data-based systems have given marketers the illusion that they not only know everything about their customers, but that their email outreach perfectly motivates everyone.  This is not always the case.  They don’t always get it right.  Customer targeting algorithms written too narrowly can miss the bigger picture.

Case in point: my very own Mom.

  • Mom’s primary indulgence is periodically taking her 5 kids and their families (20-25 people total) to an all-inclusive resort. Club Med has been the most frequent (but not exclusive) beneficiary. (Yes, I chose my mother extremely well). Her aggregate investment is well into 6 figures over the past 20+ years she’s been doing this.

ClubMed1

In the case of Club Med, the algorithm failed.  They were focused on the last 3 years only.  And they completely missed the fact that she’s a long-time customer who brings a group. Mom turns out to be a mere Turquoise!  A rookie in their eyes!

ClubMed2

ClubMed3

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ClubMed6

  • Mom selects the location, makes the reservations and all expenses go through her. She has 99% of the decision-making power on where we go. She should be a Big Kahuna to Club Med. They should make sure she’s happy, show their appreciation, and make every effort to acknowledge her loyalty.

ClubMed5

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ClubMed4

  • Yet Club Med scores loyalty on a per-person visit basis over the last 3 years. So despite influencing a lot of spending, Mom is classified as entry-level Turquoise, with the same status as a 10-year old who goes along with her parents. There is no acknowledgement at the corporate level, and none at the local Club level – – no one has told them who this is. No bottle of wine or fruit in the room. No upgrade. No ‘thank you for your continued loyalty’. Nothing.

ClubMed7

  • Small victory!  But it took a lot of effort.  Shouldn’t have to.
  • What defines your best customers? Longevity? Frequency? Cumulative $ spent?  Early adopters of new products?  This is really important to figure out.

Club Med of course doesn’t want to ignore their best customers. It’s just that their system isn’t set up to recognize them all the time.  To their credit, they handled my email rant with grace – – and came through in the end.

ClubMed8


ClubMed9

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So figure out who your best customers are and take care of them!

Right after you take care of your mother.

 

Peace of Mind as a HUGE Competitive Advantage

Some of you may know that I recently moved from the Chicago area to Raleigh after some 35 years.

While I have moved away from many close family members and old friends, the person I will probably miss the most is Mr. Lee (who, like my elementary school teachers, has no known first name).

Mr. Lee runs a humble shop called North Town Auto, and took care of our out-of-warranty cars, both domestic and foreign, for many years. It helped that he was only 2 blocks from us in Northbrook (convenient to the Metra Station!). And while there are probably mechanics who could do a certain thing for a slightly lower price. I would use Mr. Lee even if it required a drive to get there.

The reason? Peace of mind. Peace of mind that the car would be fixed correctly, that I would not overpay, that I would not pay for unnecessary repairs, that things would be done on time, that if he said I needed to do something, then I actually needed to do it.  That there was service with respect and a smile.  No worries, as they say.

I had complete loyalty to Mr. Lee.  And when it comes to loyalty, peace of mind turns out to be a huge competitive advantage.

Americans spend a lot on lots of stuff. They generally don’t seem to mind spending a lot.

However, Americans HATE the thought that they might be over-spending. And they don’t want to worry about it.

Think about institutions that offer what Mr. Lee does:

  • fair price (not necessarily the lowest)
  • high quality
  • consistency in delivery – no surprises
  • customer focus – great service, you don’t need to be on guard

Here are a few that come to mind that deliver great peace of mind:

unknowntj

  • COSTCO – – once I pass through those portals with my oversized shopping cart, I’m pretty sure that anything I put in my cart is a great deal and great quality (even if in the back of my rational mind I realize that some things are better value than others)
  • Trader Joe’s – – great value, interesting selection, fun experience – 2-Buck Chuck!
  • Amazon Prime – – I know my selections will be delivered on time and at no cost
  • Tire Rack – – awesome customer service, great pricing, instant shipping – – it’s the only way to go
  • Online window treatments – seriously – – it’s so automated and competitive that you’re not going to make a big mistake
  • Spirit Airlines (just kidding!)

Here are a few organizations that seem to fall down on the peace of mind continuum – – you might be overpaying, you’re not sure of the quality delivered, etc. And that bugs you.

chipotle

  • 1-800-Flowers – – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t
  • Chipotle – – unfortunately moved from the other list – – love their food, but still have a vestige of doubt
  • Car Dealers – – sorry, guys – no change
  • Movers, painters, realtors, various local contractors – – until you build a track record like Mr. Lee, you’re not on my speed dial.

Why is peace of mind so important? Because we’re so stressed with just the basics of surviving from day to day that we need to simplify and eliminate unnecessary decisions.

dog

While Mr. Lee is a small businessman, the Peace of Mind list includes enterprises of all sizes.  We all have our examples of who provides peace of mind and who doesn’t (would love to hear about yours).

In the end, it’s about delivering consistent, dependable value. And that’s good advice for everyone.

Customer satisfaction – the short path often beats the long road

Sometimes we need to be reminded that simple customer satisfaction is almost always the goal of most businesses – and that policies and procedures are merely means to that end.

A recent, hard-to-believe experience brought this to my attention.

Frustrated

While getting my ears lowered at my local chain haircut emporium (whose name still escapes me even after years of visits) a man came in who had apparently booked an appointment online for himself and his son.

The man was called up but asked that his son go first. The employee said that this was not possible; the computer indicated that he, not his son, was in the first position, and that it was corporate policy to do what the computer said.

The man politely but firmly mentioned that the online booking program does not allow one to enter preferences or even names of people; the order of haircut is randomly assigned – – and since it involved two family members (as opposed to two strangers), the order of haircut shouldn’t really matter.

Great Clips

Incredibly, the employee still refused to let the son go first, claiming it was “Corporate policy”.

The man understandably was confused and frustrated, but out of a surplus of good cheer he managed through the situation (after getting a more empathetic but no more satisfying repeat of the message from the store manager – “I’ll be sure to bring this up with Corporate”).

Corporate policy in this case would likely be in place for one of two reasons:

  • to avoid conflicts with two parties who have booked simultaneously
  • to gather information so that strategies and programs can be implemented to enhance the future experience of future customersShortPath

Now, I’m a big believer in insight-driven marketing; as described above it’s what one might call the ‘long road’.

HOWEVER, when the customer is standing right in front of you (or is on the phone, or in an online chat) the opportunity to create satisfaction is immediate – and needs to be taken!

As we enter the high holy season of shopping, this would be good for retailers to remember.

The Secret to Great Customer Service

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A pair of recent customer service experiences (one very good, one not so good) inspired this post.  (If you’re in a hurry, my POV is at the end.)  If you stick around, I’ve included some juicy case studies.

Happy Customer

These experiences made me wonder – what is the essence of good customer service? Do those famous over-the-top examples make good financial sense?

I’m no customer service professor, and this subject has been covered countless times, but I do have my opinion (and this is my blog /bully pulpit) – but customer satisfaction does not seem directly related to dollar value.

Customer Service has always been a point of distinction for those making The Customer Is Always Right truly a focus of their strategy

  • Nordstrom,  LL Bean and others have long been traditional standard-bearers for ‘no questions asked’ service
  • However, abuse has caused even highly-regarded companies to adjust their policies

https://thearmchairmba.com/2013/09/27/but-what-if-the-customer-is-a-big-jerk/

Social Media has amplified the impact of customer service, both good and bad

  • Missteps are more visible and make companies vulnerable to public shaming or boycotts, or minimally distraction, regardless of a complaint’s merits

For a great set of examples of service gone bad, check out this article.   If you want to focus on one, I personally found the Amy’s Bakery example (#2) delicious to read.:

https://blog.kissmetrics.com/customer-service-mistakes/

  • Good deeds are similarly great opportunities for spreading positive stories – circulated via social media, they often create value much greater than paid advertising.
  • Here are a few great examples.   Check out the Netflix live chat example (#3) on the Helpscout link – – very fun.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stanphelps/2014/08/01/heroic-customer-service-by-a-senior-executive-at-warby-parker/

http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-customer-service-crm-2012-1

http://www.helpscout.net/blog/remarkable-customer-service/

Two recent personal experiences shaped my opinions of companies.

Carryon

  • My carry-on bag’s handle failed after hundreds of trips. The brand is High Sierra. I contacted them online and explained my issue, with photos (as they requested). My goal was to find a repair shop. I had mentioned that I ideally would like a fix by the weekend as I was traveling on Monday morning. It was Thursday.


BoxHandle

  • On Saturday morning I received, by FedEx, a large box containing a replacement handle, with a few extra zipper pulls thrown in (which came in handy).   A few minutes and I had the handle replaced and was good to go. At zero cost. Fantastic!
  • The brand is High Sierra. High Sierra.  High Sierra. They are now owned by Samsonite. Kudos to Samsonite for allowing this business unit to take care of customers in a highly personal and attentive way.  High Sierra.
  • I have 2 other bags from High Sierra and you can bet that they get right of first refusal on the fourth.

3.84

  • A recent Avis rental came with no washer fluid, which I bought later for $3.84. In returning the car I requested that this amount be taken off my bill. In similar situations with other companies the response was usually immediately taking one of my rental days off the bill and getting me on my way.
  • In the case of Avis, it eventually required the attention of 4 Avis people.  The agent receiving cars didn’t have authority; the front desk clerk didn’t have authority; the manager had authority but couldn’t make a system input; finally the 4th employee was able to input the solution. Total time for a $4 issue? 20 minutes.
  • And the solution? A $10 voucher, which means they didn’t actually refund anything.
  • Worse, this delay caused me to miss an opportunity for an earlier flight.

So, what is the secret to customer service?

BE CUSTOMER CENTRIC. Simple as that.

  • Let the customer know they have been heard – this alone is more important than any dollar amount of a solution.
  • Treat the customer like a human. Stay off the scripts if possible.  You don’t have to pretend to be Captain Kirk (see Netflix example above) but a personal touch is incredibly effective.
    (By the way, insider tip:  as a customer, treating any customer service person or clerk or waiter or sales person etc like a human being almost always yields positive experiences).
  • Demonstrate that the customer is priority #1, company is priority #2.  Avis was clearly all about Avis.
  • Delays in response exacerbate frustration.  Speedy response shows that you are listening and can nip negative feelings in the bud.
  • Going above and beyond has significant upsides – you want to be on the ‘best customer service’ blog post, not the ‘disaster stories’.  And a few well-placed good deeds can get a ton of mileage (see links above).

HighSierra

I would have been satisfied with a recommendation for a good repair shop for my bag, and High Sierra (High Sierra. High Sierra.) went above and beyond, to my delight.  As a result, they have the opportunity for word-of-mouth recommendations from unexpected places, including people like me. (High Sierra!)

And Avis? They worked to win a little battle, and lost a round in the war.  They will get less consideration from me next time around.  Try Harder?  Good idea.

United Airlines, Mom’s Missing Jewelry, and the Asymmetry of Customer Feedback

Dad used to say “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it”.  Mom prefers the double-positive version.

What if people spent the same energy to praise good deeds as they do publicly complaining?

woman-wagging-finger

Someone rub you the wrong way?  Got your knickers in a knot?  Well, post it somewhere and see if you can get it to go viral.

It’s easy to rage publicly over real or perceived slights.  We can turn millions against a company, deserved or not, while we bloviate in anonymity with no repercussions.  It’s like punching the schoolyard bully in the face remotely from your basement. And generally, it’s how a lot of people tend to roll.

Well, sometimes companies actually do good things due to someone’s actions; unfortunately people seem to be less motivated to share when things turn out well – – isn’t that what we’re entitled to? – – so you’re not likely to hear about it.  And so the story of United Airlines, my mom and the lost jewelry.  But first a quick bit of context.

Remember the ‘United Broke My Guitar’ guy?  Back in 2009 United Airlines broke his guitar and refused to compensate him for it.  In frustration, he posted a song on YouTube (13 million hits), wrote a book, and became something of a travelers’ cause célèbre.  Ultimately, of course, United realized it had screwed up, rightfully made him whole, and learned a painful lesson about ‘an ounce of medicine’ or something like that.

This weekend my 82 year old mother flew into town and discovered she had lost her jewelry bag.  On her return trip, since she of course gets to the airport 4 hours early, she had time to check United lost & found.  Lo and behold, not only did United have it, but the jewelry bag was immediately returned to her, intact and untouched!

Blue Jewelry Bag

It apparently had slipped out of her bag in the overhead compartment on the way over.  This means not only did all the passengers, staff, and cleaning crew ignore a temptation, but somehow THE SYSTEM WORKED:  It found its way to Lost and Found, was properly coded into the system, and a United representative was actually able and willing to locate it and immediately give it back to its owner.  Wow.

I don’t know about you, but I lose more than my fair share of things and I NEVER get anything back.  And this was a jewelry bag within a complex system with thousands of flights and hundreds of thousands of passengers daily.  (Full disclosure:  it was costume jewelry – – Mom’s been to the rodeo a few times – – but they didn’t know that).

This must happen with some regularity.  So why don’t you generally see companies praised publicly for excellent customer service?  Mom has been a professional pianist for over 60 years and is in fair voice, so she could do her version of Guitar Guy on YouTube, but she has a full schedule of 35 students a week and like all of us, is too busy.

I also suspect that praising a big company just isn’t cool; you’re not sticking it to the Man when you say something positive.  This will be just one of many transactions of this United representative, the majority of which likely won’t have as happy an ending.  And that’s too bad.

AirlineAgent2

Maybe the readers of this post could forward it to a few people as a reminder that sometimes good things happen because someone gave extra effort, and that it wouldn’t be so bad to send out an Attaboy once in a while.   See if you can get it picked up.  You might just make someone’s day.  Here’s a little primer on how to get started.