Kirt Manecke: Four Customer Service Tips to Make Your Customers Smile

ManeckeKirtToday’s guest post is written by Kirt Manecke, author of the book: Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service – The Essential 60-Minute Crash Course.  I firmly believe that the service basics to Deliver the World’s Best Customer Experience are common sense. But for most businesses, it just isn’t common practice. That’s because many owners and managers see customer service training as a “Day One and Done” kind of thing. But businesses that have built a reputation for stellar service continuously train their people. They keep the service lesson simple, repeat it often, and ultimately make it stick. If you don’t know where to start and need a primer on customer service basics, as well as a single resource for periodic training reminders for your team, Kirt’s book will definitely keep you on track to Deliver the World’s Best Customer Experience. You can learn more about Kirt and his book, which I highly recommend, at the end of the post.

 

Customer service is important to your business because first impressions matter…a lot! Here are four quick and easy critical customer service techniques you and your staff can implement today to sell more and delight your customers.

1. SMILE
When a customer enters your business or office, greet them promptly and politely – just as you would greet a guest in your home.

Here’s How
1.  Smile.
Make it a warm, genuine, heartfelt smile.

2.  Look your customer in the eye and say “Hello!” Speak in a warm, upbeat, and friendly manner.

This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many businesses fail to greet their customers properly.

2. MAKE A FRIEND
People buy from people they like and trust – from friends – so it’s important to remember the golden rule: Treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Be nice, be polite, and don’t be afraid to approach a customer to initiate an exchange. Make a friend!

Here’s How
1. Greet your customer properly (with a genuine smile and a warm “Hello!”).

2. Engage them in an initial short and friendly conversation. Find out how they’re doing: “It’s nice to see you. How’s your day going?” When appropriate, give a genuine compliment: “I really like your sweater.”

3. Then find out how you can help them: “What exactly brings you in today?” or “How can I help you?”

3. ANSWER THE PHONE WITH A SMILE
When you answer the phone at your place of business, you’re the first point of contact with your prospects and customers. It’s critical that you make a great first impression.

How do you find the right tone? It’s simple — smile as you answer the phone.

Here’s How
1.
Smile and say: “Good morning (or afternoon or evening)!” Be sure to speak clearly.

  1. State the complete name of your business, or say:  “Welcome to [your complete business  name].”
  2. Say: “This is [your name]. How may I help you?”

Be upbeat, warm, inviting, and genuine — greet customers just as you would greet a guest in your home.

4. FOLLOW UP
Follow-up is key to providing amazing customer service and making sales. Always follow up promptly with customers and provide timely updates and communications.

Phone
Return phone calls right away – at least by the end of the business day, at worst within 24 hours.

Email
The rule for email is exactly the same: return all email inquiries from customers as soon as possible – at least by the end of the business day, at worst within 24 hours.

Service Situations
If you’re an automotive or other service business with a waiting room, keep your customers informed on the status of their repair on a consistent basis, perhaps hourly. Don’t leave them wondering or feeling disrespected or ignored.

TIP: In all situations, a good rule of thumb is to always do what you say you’re going to do. If you promise someone you’ll “call them right back” or “get right back to them,” then do it! Many businesses neglect this simple rule and lose many customers as a result.

 

 

Smile_CoverParts excerpted from Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service, Copyright © 2013 by Kirt Manecke. Kirt Manecke is the author of the award-winning book Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service – The Essential 60-Minute Crash Course. He is the founder and former owner of an award-winning specialty retail business in Michigan. Learn more about Kirt at www.SmiletheBook.com.

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5 Tips on Building Customer Relationships

Nunzia_deskeroThis week’s guest post is written by Nunzia Falco Simeone. Nunzia is Marketing Manager at Deskero and editor-in-chief of Deskero corporate blog about customer service and social media. She can be reached at nunzia@deskero.com. You can find out more about Deskero at the end of her post. One of my favorite customer service mantras is “Think Relationships or Go Broke.” Nunzia offers advice not only to “Think Relationships”, but “Build Relationships.”

 

Modern customer care can’t be achieved by simply answering requests. You have to reach out, engage with people, get in touch with them. Customers won’t be content with a nice service: they want a great experience.

In order to realize that, you need to build a proper customer relationship. How? Here are a few tips:

Listen to your customers

Transforming customers into advocates and influencers is perhaps your most important task. And the first step is listening to them.

Do you know who your most important customers are? And why they buy your product or service? Do you know what they think about you? These are important questions that need to be answered.

…and talk to them

The relationship between customers and company should be two-way: it is important to listen to your customers and it is even more important that you talk to them!

Monthly newsletters, blogs, social networks are great channels to keep relationships strong on a shoestring budget.

What should you talk about? New features, achieved goals, special offers, testimonials, events. Also build your reputation as an expert by giving away some free insight. Have interesting things to say!

Engage

The best way to engage with people is to act like a person and not a brand. So, be personal by keeping track of conversations, getting your customers involved and following up. Build trust by engaging conversations both online and in-store and making them feel special.

Be more responsive and proactive, delivering on your promises and listening and observing to gain insights and then acting on them.  When companies learn how  to deliver personalized customer service, they build strong, lasting customer relationships and trust.

Reward loyal customers

If you reward your customers, they’ll reward you with their loyalty. Ask yourself: I am doing enough to encourage my customers to buy again?

If the answer is no, you should increase involvement and give them something of value in exchange for their attention, like a coupon, a special event, helpful insights and advices. You further involve your customers with your business with special events, gatherings, contests. And remember that if you don’t keep in touch with your customers, especially the most loyal ones,  your competitors will.

Ask for customer feedback

Seek suggestions on new features as well as critiques of current products and features. Gather candid customer feedback through emails, contact forms and surveys. Also listening through social media can be useful for gathering feedback from customers; you should pay attention not only to direct comments or mentions, but to all the social experience: people can talk about your brand and you might not know that!

 

Deskero-logo-01

Deskero is a simple yet effective way to offer great customer service, and to take it to its next level through seamless integration with social networks. Follow us at @deskerocare.

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Leadership Mantra for New Managers: Connect. Inspire. Empower.

I originally wrote this post for Sold MagazineI’ve made some revisions to the published version.

Key to Leadership 2“How long employees stay at a company, and how productive they are there, is determined by the relationship they have with their immediate supervisor.” Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge

I have had the opportunity to promote many front-line employees to their first management position. My commitment to them did not end at giving them a new title. That’s the easy part. More importantly, I needed to make sure they succeeded in their first leadership role. According to Kouzes and Posner, these managers supervising the staff who were directly interacting with our customers had as much, if not more, impact than I did on employee engagement and subsequent customer satisfaction. And while each new manager displayed strong interpersonal skills that served them well to earn the promotion, managing people requires a different set of skills. We all know of an all-star employee who failed as a manager. So my advice to any first-time manager is to live this leadership mantra: Connect. Inspire. Empower.

Connect

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” John C. Maxwell

Before making any major changes as a new manager, take the time to get to know your direct reports. Find out their personal and career aspirations. Then work hard to help them achieve their goals.  Talk to each member every day. Visit the break area regularly just to chat. Get to know what they like to do outside of work. Given the opportunity, meet their significant others and family. Celebrate your employees’ birthdays and anniversaries. They know when they are scheduled on their birthdays and the date they started working at your business. You should, too. Remember that without involvement there is no commitment. If you are not involved with them, then they simply won’t be committed to you.

Inspire

“Yesterday’s idea of the boss, who became the boss because he or she knew more than the person working for them, is yesterday’s manager. Tomorrow’s person leads through a vision, a shared set of values, a shared objective.” Jack Welch

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather give them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Communicate everything you can to your associates. The more they know, the more they care. Once they care, there is no stopping them.” Sam Walton

Your business has a mission statement. As a leader, you should have a passion statement. The best managers are passionate about what they do. Frankly, if you are not passionate about what you do, you have no right to manage others. That said, be sure to express your passion to your people. What do you envision for the business? The owner or senior manager has a vision for the business. What is yours? Let your people know. Once they see and share your “big picture”, then every step your people take will be in that direction.

Keep your passion statement short. Say it often. Make it stick. Your message cannot be mentioned only at new hire orientation. You must continually and consistently express your vision.

Empower

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”  Theodore Roosevelt

Create a work environment where everyone has the necessary tools and are encouraged to take care of the customer. Ritz-Carlton permits every employee to spend up to $2000 making any single guest satisfied. It is no wonder that the brand is perceived by its guests as simply one of the best. For your team to embrace the idea that you are empowering them to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer, you must establish and explain any guidelines. It could be as simple as the Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Most likely your guidelines will be a little more conditional, but whatever you decide, make sure you define and cite examples for your team. And continue to monitor, recognize and reward those employees who do take action.

Connect with your people. Inspire them. Then empower them.  This is not a one-time thing. It is an everyday thing. And when you live this mantra, you will be an involved leader with an engaged team, all intent on delivering the very best experience for your customer.

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Holly Regan: Richard Branson-Style Tips to Empower Your Customer Service Team

A while ago I had blogged about using the CASE Method to improve your company’s customer experience.  CASE stands for “Copy and Steal Everything”. If you feel uncomfortable with “Steal”, then “Copy and Save Everything”.  I said you should be more intent on observing within and outside of your industry for ideas that you can CASE. Then tweak the idea to make it your own.

I recently read an article in Software Advice’s Customer Service Investigator, which featured a discussion with Communications Coach and Author Carmine Gallo on some strategies for mimicking the customer service efforts of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. While the tactics discussed are agreeably good ideas for promoting a strong customer experience, I wanted to further explore how other organizations could CASE Virgin’s best practices with the article’s author, Software Advice Managing Editor Holly Regan. You can learn more about Software Advice at the end of the post.

What is the risk involved with allowing customer service reps to operate within the “judgment playing field” (make their own decisions within boundaries)? How can other organizations comfortably adopt this tactic?

When you allow employees the freedom to make their own decisions, you open yourself up to the possibility that, occasionally, they will make the wrong ones. However, if you delineate clear boundaries for your judgment playing field ahead of time as to what employees are and aren’t allowed to do, you can ensure that even the occasional wrong decision won’t significantly harm your business. Defining these limits for acceptable behavior and communicating them to all staff members is one way organizations can feel comfortable about adopting this tactic. The other piece of the puzzle is smart hiring. If you have a strict screening process that ensures you only have people on staff who fit with your company culture and values, you can feel comfortable trusting them to make the right decisions.

Are there other benefits associated with instilling the company mission in all staff besides an improved experience for the customer – that is, do you find that employees also have a greater sense of purpose with knowledge of company goals and are willing to work harder?

Yes–instilling your company mission in all members of your staff not only allows them to deliver that mission to customers, it also gives them a higher-level view of what the company is trying to achieve through every customer service interaction. Employees who know what they’re working towards and why tend to work harder and are better able to internalize the mission and become passionate about it. They are empowered to deliver great service, regardless of their level of authority within the company.

Virgin’s employees are proof of this: customers of Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic laud the consistency of their service experience from boarding to baggage claim. The staff member checking them in for their flight portrays the same passion and enthusiasm as the flight attendant serving them in the air, because they’re both working towards the same mission. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is another great example: everyone who goes through training at one of their hotels is immersed in the company mission, from basic etiquette to service psychology, and employees of every department are empowered to do whatever it takes to deliver on that mission. As a result, they are praised as some of the most passionate customer service reps in the world.

Which members of the customer service team should have an open door policy, and how does such a policy satisfy employees?

Anyone in a management position should have an open-door policy, from the shift supervisor to the CEO. Having a forum in which employees can provide feedback – and encouraging them to do so frequently and honestly – is crucial for any service-oriented organization. Management needs to have an accurate picture of what’s working and what’s not on the ground, and who better to provide that than the employees who are directly interacting with customers day-to-day? Your service reps are the best source of feedback on what customers like about your company, and what they need that they aren’t getting.

Having an open-door policy is not only helpful for management – it also shows employees that they have a voice and that their managers genuinely care about their needs, concerns and suggestions. Employees must feel truly valued in order to feel passionate about the company they work for. Managers must also make sure to communicate with employees about how their suggestions for improvement are being implemented or why they decided not to act on them. When employees know they aren’t just giving feedback in a vacuum, they’re more likely to keep providing it. And seeing their ideas put into practice is empowering and inspires them to always be looking for new ways to innovate in customer service interactions.

Customer service reps might find it difficult to “bring their personality” to work, as many are instructed to go off scripts. Should scripting not be so heavily practiced, or should managers encourage employees to simply integrate their own “personal touch?”

As mentioned in the article, customers don’t want to interact with a robot. Service is much more effective when it’s perceived as genuine, and scripting definitely discourages this. Instead of giving reps specific instructions for what to say and how to act, managers should focus on hiring quality employees who exude the company’s culture, mission and values – and who can be trusted to use their own judgment to deliver on that. By clearly defining the judgment playing field, you can ensure your employees don’t get too far off-track while also allowing them to interact naturally with customers, as they would with a friend or colleague. This not only gives reps the freedom to be themselves, it gives customers the benefit of a unique, memorable and genuine interaction that will keep them coming back.
software_advice_logo_v2Software Advice is a free online resource that reviews CRM, marketing automation and sales force automation software. Follow them at @CRMAdvice.

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Shep Hyken: Trust Enhances Employee and Customer Experience

 

Shep HykenWhether you are talking about a customer relationship or employee relations, there is an essential element that must be part of your customer service culture, and that is trust. For a business to be successful, management must trust employees, employees must trust management, and customers must trust the company. The “Three Legged Stool” theory can be applied to this situation. Essentially, if you have a stool with three legs and one of the legs is removed, the stool will fall over. Similarly, if one of these three groups mistrusts another, the chance for true customer loyalty is destined to fail.

So, what could cause mistrust among the three groups? An outright lie, of course, but there are other ways to erode confidence as well. People in one group must believe that they can count on the others. Also, does the system always work? If not, doubt can creep in – that nagging thought that something will go wrong.

Can the customers be confident in the company? Will they always receive good service or information – in other words, do they trust the company will do a good job? Also, do they believe in the value and integrity of the company?

From the managers’ point of view, can they be confident that the employees will do a good job?

From the employees’ viewpoint, do they believe that management trusts them?

Years ago, I worked at an auto parts store. I came to the job not knowing much about auto parts, but shortly after I started, the owner put me in charge when he went away for a weekend. I made mistakes, but that didn’t diminish the experience for me. The owner trusted me to use my best judgment – it was a great learning experience as well as a real confidence booster. As for my mistakes, he helped me to learn from them and continued to entrust me with the care of his business when he was away.

Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen put it like this: “Every time a customer walks through our doors, that customer is trusting our associates (employees) to help them to solve a problem, and to buy the right product. Possibly, that solution we come up with involves the home where their kids sleep every night. Now, whenever you accept advice from someone about what you’re supposed to do in order to protect and take care of your home, that’s a significant leap of faith. That means the level of trust and emotional connection that associate needs to be able to build up with the customer is huge. By the same token, the trust and emotional connection the store owner builds up with the associates has to be pretty huge too. So, we know that in order to win that high level of trust with the consumer, we have to establish a trusting relationship with the employee first.”

Trust is an essential element in business relationships. It must exist between the customer and the company, as well as between management and employees. Without trust, the customer experience and employee experience lack confidence. In business, trust is a must!

Amaze Every Customer_book coverShep Hyken, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and hall-of-fame speaker is the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service expert, he helps companies build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more information about his upcoming book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet, go to www.AmazeEveryCustomer.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

 

Copyright © MMXIII Shep Hyken. Used with permission.

 

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Kattia Bolanos: How to Treat the Angriest Customer Like a VIP

Kattia BolanosThis is a guest post written by Kattia Bolanos, internet marketer for ARC Pointe Call Center Solutions.  While I give advice on how to deliver service via face to face customer interactions and ARC Pointe offers business call center solutions, Kattia’s advice can serve all customer service professionals intent on delivering the World’s Best Customer Experience whether in person or through other channels. Find out more about Kattia and ARC Pointe at the end of the post.

Customer loyalty is the key to running a successful business. If you can’t keep your customers coming back, you can’t hope to keep your doors open. If you have outsourced your customer service to a call center, it’s imperative that each agent is properly trained in the handling irate customers. That means that even the angriest customer should be treated like a VIP. Here are the steps for agents to take to ensure that irritated, frustrated, and angry customers are retained by your company:

1. Listen
There is a fine line to be balanced when listening to an angry customer. Whether your agents are providing customer service support in New York or Los Angeles, irate customers want to know that they are being heard. Agents who are too quiet make your caller feel as though he is being ignored. Agents who are too talkative make your customer feel as though he is being interrupted. Agents must utilize active listening skills. Using brief murmurs or words and phrases like “okay,” “I see,” and “mm-hmm” let your customer know that he is being heard.

2. Empathize
Agents who deliver customer support for your company must be skilled in the art of empathy. A potentially explosive situation can be diffused quickly when your agent puts himself in the shoes of the customer. An agent with thin skin may argue with your customer, making a bad situation worse. An agent who understands how to empathize will tell your customer, “I can understand how that would be frustrating.” A phrase like this creates rapport and immediately changes the customer’s state of mind.

3. Offer an Apology

An irate customer doesn’t care who works in what department. Even though agents offering customer service support in New York may be thousands of miles away from your base of operations, your customers don’t realize this, nor do they care. Agents must have a “we” attitude. Every angry customer needs to be offered an apology from the agent they speak with. The apology should be phrased in such a way that the words “our” or “we” are utilized.

4. Make Them Happy
Once your agent has listened, empathized and apologized, it’s time to fix the problem. Each agent should be empowered by you to ask the customer what it will take to remedy the situation. While one customer may want a discount off of the next purchase, another customer may want a refund for their recent order. No two customers will be pleased by the same resolution. Your agents must have the knowledge and power to fix the problem without having to transfer the customer to a supervisor.

When you agents are trained on the correct handling of an angry customer, even the most irate customer hangs up the phone feeling like a VIP. Take the time to instruct your agents how to handle dissatisfied customers. When dealt with correctly, an angry customer will turn into a happy customer and, in turn, a repeat customer.

Kattia Bolanos is the ARC Pointe Internet Marketer. She is also an article contributor focusing on call center, customer support, customer service and help desk support articles. You can contact her at kattia@apcallcenters.com

ArcPointeARC Pointe Call Center Solutions is a leader in global business process outsourcing (BPO). They offers their expertise in managing diverse inbound call center and outbound call center programs as a solution to your customer care needs. www.apcallcenters.com

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Stefanie Amini: What can we learn from American Express about Customer Care

Stefanie AminiThis is a guest post written by Stefanie Amini, a fellow customer service blogger.  As she describes it, her blog “is focused on Customer Service for the Instant Gratification era.  The ‘I want it now’ mentality. The faster the results, the better for everyone.” Find out more about Stefanie and her blog, I Want it NOW at the end of the post. 

 
Technology is rapidly evolving, and along with it marketing and the means of getting in touch with customers are evolving too. Nowadays, a successful selling strategy is no longer enough to attract customers’ interest on the long run, since more and more companies are resorting to it. By comparison, few businesses have witnessed the true power of customer care, and how a strong support team can make the difference between winning a customer and losing him. One of these businesses is American Express, a company which is constantly pursuing to find new means of enhancing its relationships with the customers. Next, we’ll describe you a few ways in which American Express has revolutionized the marketing game through customer support:

The net-promoter concept

Before 2005, the customer service at American Express (AmEx) wasn’t very different from what others had to offer. However, in that particular year Jim Bush was invested as the company’s marketing president, and he was the one to break the regular orthodox means of conversation into some more dynamic and flexible human engagements. Thus, instead of judging the quality of service reps by how quickly they managed to answer customers’ queries over the phone, he switched the style to the net-promoter score concept developed by Bain Fred Reichfeld. Basically, it all resumes down to a single question for the customer: “Would you recommend our company to a friend?”. By adopting this strategy, customers’ retention quickly went up, while the “bounce rate” went down.

New analytic software, no scripts

Thanks to the software implemented by Bush, every time a customer calls the service department, the service rep gets to see a list filled with all the information related to him/her, such as name, address, age, buying tendencies, and payment patterns. By taking advantage of these info, the employee has to guide on the conversation without being restricted to a script. Thus, if he discovers the opportunity to tell the customer about a new AmEx service or product which he isn’t aware of, it is possible for the customer rep to uncover the benefits of this service/product in a friendly and personal manner, one which is more likely to sell than a traditional-based script.

Additionally, the AmEx analytic software is capable to calculate and indicate on screen the likelihood for a customer to end the phone call, plus any other early warning signals which tell if he isn’t interested in the conversation anymore. When such case occurs, the employee has to dig for the customer’s underlying problem and try new ways of solving, as it has been previously instructed at training. AmEx aims to reduce customer’s phone stress this way, and their strategy seems to rejoice from an overwhelming success.

New employee training strategy

Since the way service reps interact with customers has been changed, they needed to be taught differently how to approach a phone call. Thus, Bush has brought a whole new meaning to employee training by basically reducing the technicality means to a human, friendly conversation which customers benefit from the most.

Bush said that he was inspired to approach this strategy as he witnessed how warm and interactive people at the hotels’ front desks were. He quickly adopted the same friendly means, only that in a virtual environment, leading to customers being treated in a more personal manner.

American Express’ strategy in terms of customer care quickly paid off, since lots of people are actually recommending the credit card company to friends and relatives from social networks, workplaces, neighborhoods and not only.

 

iwantlogoStefanie Amini is the Marketing Director and Specialist in Customer Success at WalkMe, the world’s first interactive online guidance system.  She is chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe

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Andrew Konoff: Customer Experience Can Learn Lots From Design

Andrew KonoffThis is a guest post written by Andrew Konoff, Community and Marketing Manager at GoInstant. Find out more about Andrew and his blog at the end of the post.

 

For whatever reason, my family has always cared a lot about design. I grew up surrounded by people who were obsessed with making something work best for the people who would use it. It took probably twenty revisions for my parents to settle on what the stairs should look like in our house, but when they were built, there was no question: it was worth it.

You should spend the time on good design.

Now that I work in customer experience management, I’m often reminded of the complex world that designers have learned to navigate. I think that designers might have something to share with us, because ultimately, we’re all tasked with building experiences that delight people. The quotes that follow offer a taste of the way that talented designers bring beautiful solutions to the world.

“There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.” – Massimo Vignelli

Here’s a fun hypothetical: you’re the CEO of a 10,000 person company that serves millions of customers. You have to improve the customer experience to staunch the flow of dissatisfied customers to competitors, or you risk irrelevancy and then bankrupcy.

By now, you probably have a couple questions: where do we start? How much will it cost? What counts as a better experience? When do we know we’ve done enough? What are the complaints people currently have?

You can’t answer these questions without data – without intelligence. And without constantly consulting the right metrics, you’ll be undisciplined in your changes. Your customer experience improvements will be haphazard, temporary, and doomed to fail. There is no hope for customer experiences without discipline.

“People ignore design that ignores people.” – Frank Chimero

Let’s not forget who we’re building our companies for: the people we serve.

Well, that might be presumptuous – you might think your company is just meant to make a quick buck. And that’s fine. But there’s a boatload of evidence that better customer experiences drive far more revenue. It’s what can differentiate a business in a competitive space, and lock in customers once they’ve tried you once. If you want your business to last, you can’t ignore the people you serve.

“Design is about making things good (and then better) and right (and then fantastic) for the people who use and encounter them.” – Matt Beale

Good, better. Right, fantastic. These are normative terms, because design asks you to make decisions based on certain values. If you’re a moral, competent designer, you do what makes life good for people.

Are you a moral company? If you have any customers at all, it’s probably because you fill a need in your customers’ lives. They depend on you for something. It would be profoundly bad if you made your customers lives suck just because they thought they could rely on you.

Enough businesses make things good and right these days – they’re reliable, they’re safe. If you’re committed to customer experience management, then that’s not enough. It wouldn’t be enough for your customers, and you wouldn’t feel like it’s enough for you. You should want, within the confines of your budget and mandate, to do as good by your customers as you can.

They’ll remember, and they’ll even pay for the privilege. That’s because people really do value the things and the companies that even small parts of their life fantastic.

Design and customer experience are about people

Just as a chef has to spend a large amount of time with a kitchen knife, everyone spends a big chunk of time interacting with corporations. If a knife dulls too soon, or is uncomfortable to hold, you’d want a better knife, right? Same thing for companies: bad experiences send a huge percentage of people to find a better alternative.

So treat customers like people. Understand them, care for their needs, and deliver things they didn’t even ask for. That’s what the best designers do, and it’s what customer experience professionals need to understand to make truly wonderful experiences.

goinstant-logoAndrew writes about customer experiences for GoInstant, makers of co-browse technology. He’s interested in the intersection of design, tech, and good old-fashioned customer service. You can find him on Twitter as @andrewkonoff

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Stefanie Amini: How to Sell to Customers the Way They Want to Buy

This is a guest post written by Stefanie Amini, a fellow customer service blogger.  As she describes it, her blog “is focused on Customer Service for the Instant Gratification era.  The ‘I want it now’ mentality. The faster the results, the better for everyone.” Find out more about Stefanie and her blog, I Want it NOW at the end of the post. 

My blog has been aimed at an audience of customer service professionals intent on delivering the World’s Best Customer Experience in person.  Stefanie’s blog offers insight for e-commerce retailers and service providers. As you read her post, you will see that whether you are selling face-to-face or on-line, her customer service advice would work well in either the bricks and mortar or virtual retail environment. 

Time is money. Time is short. Customers don’t have the time or inclination to mess around on a web site when they are intent on buying something. Purchasing patterns, needs, desires, and behavior are changing rapidly and getting customers while they are “hot to trot” is the trick.

There are a number of triggers which get customers to walk into a brick and mortar store. They are:

  • Curious about the store and its merchandise
  • Attracted by what they see in the window
  • Enticed through promotion
  • Acting on a recommendation by others who had a good experience  – service, price, quality

Store assistants – if they are doing their jobs properly – are attentive, helpful, polite, knowledgeable, and efficient. All this leads to a satisfying customer experience, the developing of customer relationships and of course, ultimately profits for the store concerned.

Exactly the same principles apply to customers entering a virtual store on the Internet. But people who shop on the internet have less time to wander around, have less inclination to wait at the checkout, become very irritable very quickly if things are not clear and easy to understand and activate…and will very soon “walk out” of your web store, by clicking on someone else’s. Result? Lost sales.

How do we ensure that customers get what they want? How do we even know what customers want? Let’s crawl inside a typical customer’s head and take a look around. We’ll soon find the most important things for customers when they fire up their computers intent on spending money in cyber-space – hopefully in YOUR cyber-space store. Here are a few keys to good customer service. If the service is good, the customer experience will be good:

  • Customers want to feel that you care about them: that you care about their needs and requirements, that you’re concerned about their problems. Gratification of expectations – the quicker and more efficiently the better – will see an immediate spike in the “like” index for your on-line store….and that means more sales and a better reputation
  • Faster delivery is vital: the faster you deliver, the happier your customer. That means he or she will come back for more.
  • Courtesy and friendliness are vital elements: customers expect to be treated well, they expect courtesy, they expect politeness and while they don’t necessarily want to be your “friend” (unless it’s on Facebook), they will NOT come back if the treatment – virtually or otherwise – is offhand and dismissive.
  • Deliver on your promise: and the promise starts the minute the customer walks in the virtual door. Fulfilled promises are key to customer satisfaction.
  • When people go shopping, they don’t just want to clutter up their homes or lives with “stuff” – they need something to solve a problem. Whether it’s a professional service or booking a holiday flight, they have needs that must be fulfilled.
  • Product knowledge is probably one of the most important elements in developing good service and good customer experiences. Ignorant sales people – or “ignorant” web sites, that don’t help users get the information they need, will not succeed. Users need to feel that they are talking to people or using sites that are experts in their field. A site that promotes and sells green widgets had better be an expert in green widgets. It’s what customers pay for. It’s what implied and expected when you promote your cyber store.
  • Go a step beyond voicemail and automated responses. Customers want to believe that a live person is behind the site – but they don’t necessarily want to do their sale with a live person…as long as support and more in-depth information is just a click away. Live chat caters for this and gives the customer assurance that their queries will be answered (although it can sometimes take time to get a rep online). But there are other “assistants” – such as WalkMe – to hold the customer’s hand and lead them to the checkout.  Taking this all into consideration may seem a daunting task: it may even appear to be overwhelming.  But WalkMe’s “live” ever-present “assistant”, in the form of little pop-up bubbles over various points, solves the ever-present fear of wandering through a web site alone. Users and customers can be easily led through an often complex and confusing interaction, be it a bank website or a complex social tool.

The fact is that you just need to be able to understand your customer and who they are.  Then only can you truly sell to them the way they want to be sold.

Stefanie Amini is the Marketing Director and Specialist in Customer Success at WalkMe, the world’s first interactive online guidance system.  She is chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her on Twitter @StefWalkMe

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Ashley Furness: The Secret to Ritz-Carlton’s Customer Service Mojo

Prior to my present position as resort manager for Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, I served as the charter general manager for The Henry – Autograph Collection (Autograph Collection is Marriott International’s exclusive portfolio of independent hotels) when it was reflagged after 21 years as the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn, MI (Ritz-Carlton is  a wholly owned subsidiary of Marriott International). Almost all the associates were former Ritz-Carlton “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Last year The Henry was recognized as one of Marriott International’s Hotels of the Year. I am convinced that while they are now The Henry associates they still would bleed Ritz-Carlton blue.  And if you’ve every stayed in a Ritz-Carlton hotel you know there is something extraordinary about the refined delivery of customer service by its associates. So when fellow customer service blogger Ashley Furness offered to share an interview she conducted with Diana Oreck, vice president of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Training Center, I quickly accepted. You can find out more about Ms. Oreck and Ashley at the end of the post. But for now, here is Ashley’s inside look at how Ritz-Carlton educates its associates to deliver its world-class brand of exceptional customer service.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is known worldwide for it’s “legendary service.” So much so, Apple uses the luxury hospitality brand as a model for its owner customer support traditions. For both, it’s all about anticipating the customers’s expressed and unexpressed needs.

These practices have not only increased word of mouth and brand loyalty. Ritz-Carlton also boasts among the best employee retention rates around. To create raving fans, they start with inciting brand enthusiasm from their team.

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Ritz-Carlton leadership training center Vice President Diana Oreck. I asked her about customer service training, retention, performance measurement and more. Here’s what she had to share about Ritz’ super service sauce:

What sort of questions can you ask someone to find out if they’re caring and can anticipate customer wants and needs?
Well what you want to make sure you do is not ask yes or no questions. You’re not going to say, “OK Ashley, are you a caring person?” Because obviously, you’re just going to say yes, right? So what we do is we ask you in the interview, “Ashley give us a specific example of how you’ve cared for someone in the last month.” “Give me a specific example of anticipatory service that you have extended.”

Ritz-Carlton puts a lot of emphasis on successful new hire orientation. Why is this important for customer service training?  

A lot of companies have a notion that employee orientation really needs to be a data dump of the company, and statistics and who’s doing what. It really isn’t. What we are looking for at orientation is passion. We want to make sure that that new person gets the feeling they made the right decision in joining us.

It’s all about them and it’s all about culture. We feel that orientation needs to be significant emotional experience. Because think about it – you are making  a very big decision in your life to either start a job or change a job. So our two days of orientation, they are solely revolving around our culture, which we call the gold standards. And the reason we do that is we know that the culture creates passion advocates of our employees. Raving advocates of our brand and we don’t think that it’s realistic to ask that your customer be passionate, raving fans if your employees aren’t first.

Is this also something that helps with customer service employee satisfaction and retention?

Yes, it’s about engagement. I will give you an example. The lodging industry as a whole tends to run a 60-70 percent turnover in a year. Here at Ritz Carlton we run in the low 20s. It’s a huge difference.

What else do you do to promote retention?

We’ve got a vast list. Rewards and recognition is huge. Ranging from first class card, which is the most popular form of recognition at Ritz Carlton. Talk about less is more, it’s just a card that says “first class” and we give it to each other to thank each other. It can be peer to peer, peer to manager, employee to president, president to employee. And then we have things like birthdays, we give gift certificates. You can become five-star of the quarter. We don’t do employee of the month, because we find it’s much for meaningful if it’s the quarter. We are also one of the only hotel companies that still provide meals for their staff. We have gorgeous picnics in the summer and the holiday party and it goes on and on.

What metrics or qualitative data does Ritz-Carlton use to measure customer service training success (How do you know it’s working)? How do you collect this data?

Oh yes, we poll our guests once a month. The Gallup organization sends out 38 percent of guests that stayed the month before. It’s done randomly with the hope we will get 8-10 percent return. We live and die by that guest engagement number. This is the sum of responses to about 30 questions, including How likely is that guest to recommend Ritz Carlton? Were they delighted and satisfied with their stay? If there was a problem, did we take care of their problem? We know that if that guest engagement number goes up, we know that our training programs have been successful.

What are the biggest mistakes companies make when training customer service staff?

There not being specific enough. They’ll say things like “Give great service.” Well that’s nice, but people need a road map. Never assume anything, make sure you have your service standards written down and allow people to observe you in action. Don’t assume that their mother or father, or previous employer taught them what really great service looks like. Have a written service strategy.

What other successful customer service strategies have companies adopted by studying Ritz-Carlton?

It’s all about empowerment. The thing that our guests are most wowed about is that every single employee has $2,000 a day per guest to delight, or make it right. But we never use the money because that money is just symbolic. We are saying to our employees we trust you. We select the best talent. Just help the guest. We do a lot of training around empowerment. So I would say this – you need to empower employees. You also need to make sure that you are inspiring employees to bring their passion to work everyday and to volunteer their best. And you do that by reinforcing their purpose, not their function. Not the how to do your work, but the why of the work you do.

About Diana Oreck
Diana Oreck is Vice President, Leadership Center and leads The Ritz-Carlton’s two-time Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-winning corporate university.  She brings more than 30 years of experience in hospitality to her role and was named as a 2011/2012 Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Under her leadership The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company was named the best global Training Company in the world in 2007 as ranked by Training Magazine.

About the Author

Ashley Furness is a CRM analyst for Software Advice. has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc.Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyFurness.

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Filed under Customer Loyalty, Customer Service, Training