9. October 2012
Last week I drove into Sacramento to pick up some printed materials and left the small, independent shop disappointed. The copies I picked up were beautiful but the interaction with the shop owner was cold and impersonal and he barely spoke two sentences while I was in the store.
While this was a personal order of just $100 (memorial folders for my cousin’s funeral) the owner of this business could have easily won my loyalty and much more business with a few simple questions.
1. “I’m so sorry for your loss, is there anything else I can help you with today?”
Simply acknowledging why the copies were needed would have been huge and shown that they actually paid attention to what was coming off the printer. Also I did have more copies of another sheet to run and spare time so I could have done it right there boosting the sale just a bit. Instead I was confused at how cold and aloof the owner seemed, as if I’d interrupted much more important work.
Remember that when the client is in front of you he or she is the most important person in the room. Always offer additional support (without being pushy) to exhibit that you care and have other services available.
2. “How did you hear about us?”
This was my first time in the print shop and I was certain I’d be asked this question. If I’d been asked the owner would learn that the window display (on a busy Sacramento street) with their pricing on color copies caught my attention. I’d additionally asked a client of mine who used them and loved their output and pricing before calling for a quote.
Understanding what marketing tools are working is essential to a small business. If no one, in 5 years, has ever found you through that bench ad, stop running it! More importantly, the answer to this question would have given the owner new insights into me, his new client.
3. “Are you a business owner? Do you often need printing for work related marketing materials?”
Okay so this is two questions, but by describing myself as a business person with clients the owner now has the opportunity to see if I’m open to business related printing in addition to this personal order. In a short period of time he may have learned that I run a business, often print business cards and marketing materials and would be interested in a local supplier if the prices were competitive and turn around time shorter.
While I don’t know why I got the cold shoulder when picking up this order I do know that it effectively squashed any business relationship that could have formed. I understand that sometimes we’re just not in the mood to talk, or having a bad day, even that we think this one off client is no one we need to woo. But just asking a few simple, leading questions may not only lead to more business but give the client a positive impression of your business. These are simple leading questions to find out if the person is an ideal client – don’t assume! Even if they’re not ideal they may be an ambassador for you to your ideal clients.
No one wants to get their bill at a restaurant and hear, “now pay and get out.” We appreciate the smiling hostess who says, “thank you for coming! Hope to see you soon!” with a genuine smile.
Even if you’re a regular grumpy pants, take the time to ask these questions to every client who comes to your business and build a relationship. And you’re not off the hook if you run an online business because these questions can absolutely be translated for you as well.Continue reading...
9. August 2012
Watch this short video about 2 gifts I received in the last week and read below for gift #3!
Surprisingly, the same week that these two gifts arrived I received yet another from EzineArticles.com as a thanks for being an expert author – a package including a new mug, coaster and coffee.
How are you showing your clients that they’re special to you?
6. February 2012
Good customer service has the needs of the business in balance with the expectations of the customer. It’s fairly understood by most rational, reasonable people, that if someone goes wrong then a company with good customer service policies will make things right.
Making things right by punishing people is not the only way to make things right.
This type of punitive damages policy assumes that if something is wrong then someone in the business must be scolded, fired or otherwise punished in order to make things right. Such a way of working does not address the first and most fundamental goal of customer service which is to take care of the customer’s needs and reset expectations.
You have have heard this before, “I can’t do anything unless I know who did (it),” which is a huge cop out. So, let’s get into solutions and how your business can implement the right foundations in your customer service.
Prepare to hear and ask for feedback. I’m not a huge fan of the section of my paper receipts that asks for a 20 minute survey in exchange for a chance to win some prize – but – the attitude is right. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, how big or small time. You must be open to feedback (both positive and negative) and demonstrate it by asking.
When you are approached, seek to hear and understand the concern first. No one likes to be ignored, especially as a paying customer. Expressing your concerns takes a degree of bravery, particularly when it comes to anticipating future service. So ensure that your team is giving their full attention to the situation by listening and really comprehending what concerns are being shared. A complaining client is not great but a complaining client who won’t complain to you is worse.
After hearing the complaint, apologize. And be sincere. This doesn’t mean you have to admit fault but you should certainly find some way to emphasize with the client. You may end up saying “I’m sorry we’ve misunderstood each other,” or “I’m sorry; this situation must be very frustrating for you.”
Make small gestures to ensure the client is comfortable while you work out the situation. Even the smallest acts of goodwill go a long way when it comes to hearing a concern. In person this could be a cup of hot coffee and comfortable seat and if distanced it could be calling at a time convenient to the client and noting their call back number while assuring that, if disconnected, you’ll call them back to continue the discussion.
Find common ground in the conversation, whether that is an outcome that you both want or a change to the relationship. As you might tell, these are very general suggestions which you can tailor to your business. Often times, you’re going to disagree on the course of action or the specific steps but by agreeing on the outcome, both parties will have an incentive to find a path to the right solution.
Solve the complaint and let the client know what to expect. Depending on the size and scope of your business you’ll need specific directives for your team who handle customer complaints in regards to what they are allowed to authorize on behalf of your business.
It’s very important that this is a two way conversation as the team who stands on the front line between you, the policy maker, and the customer, the policy perceiver, is an incredible asset. Listen to what your clients are telling you and how they reach to your customer service and make appropriate changes.
Most customers don’t expect things to go perfectly all the time but the decision point when it comes to alienating or winning over the individual happens at the customer service interaction.
Allow me to illustrate this process with an example from my recent experience.
One of my favorite airlines to fly is JetBlue; their flights are typically on time, affordable, direct without extended layovers, I like Directv in my seat and they have yummy terra chips. However, on a recent flight my luggage was MIA at the return carousal and when I finally made my way to the missing baggage claim my experience went downhill fast. Far from being greeted and welcomed, as is customary at the JetBlue ticket counter and gate, I was ignored (there was no other customer in the office of 4 people) for 5 minutes.
Once someone agreed to hear my request (do you see how this is already violating the first few principles?) I stood in front of a desk, awkwardly, while the agent looked at the computer blankly for awhile. In my less than subtle way I pulled a chair over and sat commenting, “sure, it’s been a long day and I am tired, I will take a seat while you look into this for me.”
Now, I’m not an airline customer service expert nor do I play one on TV but lets re-imagine this scenario: I’m tired and worried that I’ll be in New York without my carefully packed luggage all week. I walk into the lost baggage claim and experienced a warm smile and hello, an agent showing me at seat and asking “How can I assist you this evening?” Once I explained my concern, a sympathetic and genuine response such as, “I’m so sorry that you haven’t received your luggage yet. Let me check into this while you relax for a few minutes.” This could be followed by some information on what would be happening with my request, “Would you like a bottle of water while I check your ticket for notes and contact the ground crew? I’m sure we’ll be able to locate your luggage and if not we’ll take care of you until we can deliver it to your local hotel.”
That would leave me not just feeling understood and supported, but with a clear understanding of what I could expect. These simple changes would re-frame the entire conversation (and this would be a different article and maybe more like this rave of Enterprise Rent a Car) and give me an amazing experience. As the business owner, you have this chance to set my expectation for the rest of the interaction.
Eventually my luggage was located and retrieved but throughout the experience I was frustrated, worried and concerned – all feelings that could have been avoided with proper customer service.
Before your customers are experiencing negative emotions associated with your products or service and are complaining, either publicly or in private company, spend some time ensuring that you have the right foundations for customer service. Because what your clients really want is to be understood, hear empathic responses, be comforted and know what to expect. Simply punishing someone who screwed up is not enough nor should it be the focus of your interaction.
With the right foundation to your customer service experience you may find that complaining customers handled with respect become raving fans!Continue reading...
18. November 2011
Last week I traveled all the way from warm and laid back California to the cold, cold Northeast to spend a day with my mentor and coach Fabienne Fredrickson and visit some friends. In the course of the week I was blown away by the customer service at one business in particular.
But first, who cares? It’s not like this company is paying me to promote them and I certainly don’t have an affiliate relationship with the company. I’ve shared here before about why great customer service matters and even gave you my model for customer service that can be implemented in a mature business.
It doesn’t matter if you have a business and are the only employee, if you’re a million dollar company or even a multi-national corporation with locations in every major city. Customer Service is a critical system that every business needs to be successful.
And great customer service doesn’t happen by accident. It’s measured and researched and designed with you, the customer in mind.
Last week I decided that I’d be flying in and out of Boston’s Logan airport and driving down to the coaching day with Fabienne via rental car.
The experience I had with Enterprise Rent a Car was phenomenal.
I’m not going to bother trying to deny that I often think four steps ahead in any given situation. It’s what I do.
When I landed in Boston I made my way to the luggage carousel, picked up my bag and went out to the curb to catch the bus from the terminal to the rental car lot.
As the bus filled up with Enterprise customers my first thought was “be first off this bus so I’m not waiting in line for ten minutes for my car.”
I should not have worried!
When the bus pulled up I grabbed my things and was out the door before most people stood up. At the door there was an employee to help me with my bag, another who handed me a water bottle and a full counter of five agents ready to serve.
Even though I’d thought ahead to make sure I could get in and out of the office quickly, no one else had to wait as each customer was greeted and handled quickly.
(Trust me, if I’d had to wait behind the woman who didn’t own a car and couldn’t remember if she knew how to drive a stick and needed to be shown how to fuel up the car this would be an entirely different article!)
The agent who helped me, Andrew Piantidosi, was friendly and engaging. He shook my hand, asked how my flight was, offered me a map and reminded me of all the options and offers that did not come standard. He was polite and accepted my “no thank you” without pushing me to upgrade. When we were done with the transaction he walked me out to the lot, carried my bag and let me choose my car.
Did you catch that? I got to choose that cute little death trap Fiat in the picture above! It was much better than the neon green Honda Fit and adorable. Yes, it felt like a death trap because it was so tiny but the extra step of walking me out to the lot, showing me the options and allowing me to make a decision felt luxurious.
And the reason I remember Andrew’s name was that he handed me his card and let me know that if I needed anything, anytime to give him a call. It was sincere and a great touch.
Ironically, the first commercial that came on TV when I settled into my hotel room that night was for Enterprise Rent a Car and I actually paid attention, noting that their customer service promise had been fulfilled in my visit.
The point here is not to rent from Enterprise, although I will again. Nothing that I experienced was an accident, it was researched, designed, measured and executed with precision. I witnessed the other agents shake the customer’s hand, take their bags and yes, explain how to fuel up a motor vehicle.
Knowing that this high level of customer service was standard gave me expectations that at any Enterprise office, with any agent other than Andrew Piantidosi, I would receive the same great experience. And I’ll be a repeat customer.
Don’t you want your clients and customers to say the same thing after they encounter your business? If you want to make an impression that lingers for weeks and months after the interaction then you need solid customer service systems to guarantee that your business is meeting and exceeding expectations.
If you need help discovering what that looks like in your business and how to implement it I’d love to chat in a simple get to know each other call. When you’re ready email my team at firstname.lastname@example.org.Continue reading...
21. October 2011
When you build a business that serves more people you have two choices: continue to serve everyone yourself and burn out or build a team that can support the clients you serve.
The beginner customer service model I shared last week is a critical condition for your success. When you business begins to grow and leads and clients are coming to you daily there is no time to stop and create these systems.
Instead you’ll be able to easily hire and train an assistant to support you by a system that Michael Gerber calls Orchestration. From The E-Myth Revisited:
Orchestration is the elimination of discretion, or choice, at the operating level of your business.
Without Orchestration, nothing could be planned, and nothing anticipated – by you or your customer. If you’re doing everything differently each time you do it, if everyone in your company is doing it by their own discretion, their own choice, rather than creating order, you’re creating chaos.
If you don’t have a basic customer service system, don’t focus on building the complex one yet. Focus on serving 12 clients really well before you try to serve 5,000. If you have a mature business and do not have these systems, here’s a peek at what a mature customer service model can look like. For all those small business owners, see what is possible in the future of your business.
This model takes all of the programs and offers you make to your audience and tags them with a specific email pathway so you spend less time sorting emails. It also accounts for the fact that you will probably have older team members or email accounts that should not be abandoned but redirected to ensure that you do not miss any opportunities.
Remember that if you are new in business you likely have 2 or 3 offers and can create the system as you go. As you grow, you’ll continue to develop and improve your systems based on what works, a process Michael Gerber calls Innovation.
Innovation is the heart of every exceptional business. Innovation continually poses the question: What is standing in the way of my customer getting what he wants from my business?
For the Innovation to be meaningful it must always take the customer’s point of view. At the same time, Innovation simplifies your business to its critical essentials. It should make things easier for you and your people in the operation of your business; otherwise it’s not Innovation but complication.
It seems simple right? Answering the question ‘what does my customer want?’ is an on-going process and at the heart of your business. And it’s often a system that takes the “left brain thinker who can take your vision and put in all the steps, the “how” it will get done and execute the plan and handle all the details.” as I wrote about here.
Instead of investing more time and money in marketing efforts or developing programs, invest in deeply serving your customers. Create the experience that will keep your current clients coming back and attract new leads and customers to your programs. The truth is that most companies will not invest the time or attention to this step so by doing the work you’ll stand out and above the rest.Continue reading...
17. October 2011
Think back over this last weekend, where you went and what you did. Unless you are a virtual hermit (and I have those weekends occasionally!) you probably went into a few businesses, even if it was just the local coffee shop.
If you had a terrible experience were you likely to go back again? Probably not. Which means, at the end of the day, bad customer service is lost business and lost revenue. Let me give you an example of how one business lost thousands of dollars in revenue recently due to poor customer service.
A few weeks back I changed gyms in town and for the most part I enjoy the new facility. As part of the new member benefits I was to receive two free sessions with a personal trainer.
Now think about this for a minute: the entire goal of the complementary training session is to convince me that I can meet my goals quicker with a trainer and thereby agree to spend thousand of dollars on this specialized service.
The first communication was with a trainer via phone who called from the middle of the gym which was both loud and ineffective. It took 10 frustrating minutes to determine a time as the trainer only wanted early morning (before 7am when I can’t even tie my shoelaces) or in the middle of the work day (noon-5pm).
We finally settled on 4:30pm and on the appointed day I stopped working early and went to the gym, ready for the session. I already had the impression that if I wanted to work with this trainer I would have to plan sessions around her schedule, not mine.
I arrived at the gym early and waited near the front desk until 4:30p when another gym employee asked if I was waiting for a training session. Yes, because people dressed to workout don’t typically sit and watch other people workout just for fun. He handed me a pen and form and I had it completed within a minute.
After filling out the intake form I waited for another 15 minutes before I had enough. I returned the pen to the front desk and asked them to inform the trainer that I was cancelling the session.
Why is Customer Service so Important?
When you have a poor customer experience it taints your perception of the company, the owner and it takes a whole lot of effort to rebuild that trust.
After I cancelled my training appointment I grabbed my ipod and hit the treadmill. Not 10 minutes into my workout the trainer came over and asked if I still wanted the session. And honestly, no, I wasn’t willing because I am a professional and I choose to work with other professionals. Apologies and excuses have no use to me because it took just 25 minutes to show me that the training sessions at this gym are not worth my investment, at least not with that particular trainer.
Overall it was a horrible customer service experience and it will only hurt the reputation of the business and professionals in that business.
How do clients feel when they encounter your business?
Is your team warm and engaging, encouraging and supportive? Are questions answered quickly and thoroughly, without the client feeling stupid or bothersome? Do you take constructive criticism or do you have a ‘screw them’ attitude? Do you consistently provide an experience that adds value to your clients or do you fail to fulfill promises?
What do your peers, clients and leads think about your business operations? If you’ve never asked, how will you know how well you’re doing?
Customer Service is a large task that encompasses a lot of different aspects of your business. If you’re up to it, try a survey to your list asking them for feedback on how you can continue to improve as a professional business.
You can sign up for a free plan at Survey Monkey and get 100 free responses per survey and it’s a great way to begin requesting feedback. Responses can be anonymous and, in my experience, it’s the best way to get honest opinions.
I do know the manager at my new gym and will provide feedback on my consultation training session the next time we cross paths. I would hope he would want to correct this customer service problem in his business just as I would in mine.Continue reading...