A while back, I wrote an article entitled “Great Service is Great Theater”. Today I want to offer another article about the very same subject, an encore performance so to say. So, here it is:
There are some who say that they, as customer service professionals, have been trained to act the part to be happy to serve. They believe they are acting. They claim they can never “be the part” to be happy to serve. Here is what I say:
Movie actors like Scarlett Johansson, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and Jack Nicholson act to be happy, sad, scared, scary, or angry. Yet, we, as the audience, believe they are genuinely real. The actors may “act their part”, but they are so good that we, as the audience, believe they are real. Whether actors are acting the part or believe they are real is not important. It is never about the actors. It is always about the audience.
The best movie actors have rehearsed before they are watched by their audience. Even theatrical actors rehearse before a live audience. We, as customer service professionals, can train or rehearse before we connect with our customers, our live audience. But, more often, we are interacting as we go. So we need to be better than actors who rehearse. We need to be so good that our customers believe we really are happy to serve. So be GREAT out there.
We, as customer service professionals, act to be happy to serve our customers so much so that they believe we are genuinely happy to serve. It doesn’t matter if we act it or not. What matters is if our customers believe we are genuine. When it comes to customer service, it’s never about us. It’s always about them. So always be GREAT out there.
Too often, businesses focus solely on the negative feedback from their customer surveys in CSI fashion, identifying the pain points and taking the steps to eliminate them. While this reactive analysis is critical, it is just as important to embrace a proactive approach, taking as much time examining the positive comments for clues in the experiences that customers raved about in their surveys. Here are three steps you can take to move from reactive to proactive customer service.
STEP ONE:Thank ALL customers who gave you survey feedback. Businesses do a good job at responding with a “mea culpa” message to customers who were dissatisfied. But in this age of opt-in privacy guidelines, many do not reply to customers who offer complimentary feedback. That is just wrong. If you were my customer, and you say to me, “You were great! Thank you very much” and I don’t respond, you would think I was downright rude. My bad manners would certainly taint your perception of my previous excellent service. And would you say anything to me in the future? So how do you think your customers feel when you don’t send a response to their surveys?
Remember that people buy from people they know, like, trust AND want their business. The best way to show customers you want their business is by saying thank you. Acknowledging a customer’s positive remarks begins to build a relationship. I would send a letter to customers which, in part, said,
I thanked the individual personally, included your comments in our weekly internal newsletter and forwarded it to our corporate team so they could recognize the employee on your behalf. Please let me know when you return so that I might meet you and thank you in person.
Many of them did just that and they have been loyal guests ever since. If you aren’t responding to all feedback, start today.
STEP TWO:Recognize employees who have earned positive comments. If you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver exceptional service, you need to make it a habit to thank them when they do. Thank them in person and publicly. I forwarded to everyone any email I received from a customer who raved about an employee. We posted positive comments in our social media private group, created a slideshow of the positive comments with a photo of those employees and played it on mounted backstage big screen monitors, and included the comments in our weekly e-newsletter. Remember that what gets recognized gets repeated. So acknowledge your people regularly.
STEP THREE:Brainstorm with your employees to define if there are steps everyone can take to have raveable moments happen more often. In most organizations, there are a few superstars that earn more raves from their customers. Get them together and ask them what works for them in creating an emotional connection with their customers. We found out that our superstars would look for cues, such as a familiar city or state, team logos on caps or shirts, or guests celebrating a special occasion. When these employees took the time to move from transaction to interaction, customers were happier and more inclined to let us know that. Generate ideas and educate others to replicate the opportunities to deliver outstanding service.
QUI TAKEAWAY: Spend as much time analyzing the positive customer comments from your surveys as you do the negative ones. Recognize the actions of your employees who have delivered exceptional customer service. And seek to identify the methods they used so that they might be practiced by all employees. Practice these three steps consistently and you will certainly earn more rave reviews.
When first confronted with this pandemic we moved quickly to identify the high risks for our employees and our customers and then worked to define the action steps required to minimize those risks. We got everyone involved at all levels of the organizations, followed local, state, and federal guidelines which changed week-to-week, and innovated, looking at every possible solution to keep us safe. Within the hospitality industry, we considered everything from hand sanitizers to Plexiglas shields, from floor and door decals to HVAC filters, reallocating the funds to cover the costs. We sought recommendations from experts, vendors, and our competitors to see what they were doing in response. We established protocols when someone was sick or had symptoms. What would have taken many months to implement for any other initiative took only a few weeks. Many of us had to make the difficult decisions to reassign, furlough or lay off employees. We had to make many necessary, yet tough decisions, but we did not hesitate because the need for quick action was crucial.
We can learn from the processes we took during this pandemic to establish the same steps to reassess and create our customer experience in what is the new normal. While improving customer experience is not literally life and death, without offering a good experience we stand the chance to lose the customer forever.
With restrictions being lifted and vaccinations for everyone available soon, now is the best time to assert yourself to reinvent your customer experience. As a direct result of the pandemic, customer expectations have changed dramatically. So, the experience before the pandemic is no longer good enough. Take this time now to make a similar determined effort to evaluate what needs to be done to offer an experience that is simply better than before the pandemic.
QUI Customer Experience Strategies from the Pandemic
Define who is the CX Champion and the key players on the CX team. In our case, during the pandemic, the champions were the director of housekeeping and director of loss prevention because they were responsible for guest and employee safety. Pre-COVID, the CX team may have been directed by the marketing leader. Now is the time to ask yourself who should champion customer experience improvement. Who is the leader of the team who has the most face-to-face customer interactions that can create a raveable customer experience? Be sure to include as co-champions and team members the employees who interact daily with your customers. Choose the group’s internal social influencers so that the message can be amplified throughout the organization.
Identify the experts who deliver an exceptional customer experience. Mystery shop your competitors in person and online. Google the Top Ten Best list, not only in your industry but also in the business category where your customers buy products or services. Is there any idea you can CASE and tweak to make it your own? For example, CASEing the practice of complimentary beverages on an airline flight, we began offering bottled water to guests who were checking in AND when they were checking out. With daily housekeeping services being suspended during the pandemic, the bottled water served as our “peak-end” experience enhancement.
Assess every position. Is the job description of each employee pre-COVID the right job now? In hospitality, for example, could a front desk position be changed to be a pre-arrival concierge calling multiple-day stay Guests to offer their assistance in planning sightseeing activities, making restaurant reservations or celebrating a special occasion? Does each role in your business enhance the customer experience or can it be modified to give customers a better one?
Allocate resources. Review each budget line item. Given the new environment, is that the best use of the appropriation? Is it time to consider upgrading to a customer relationship management application instead of using the contact feature in Outlook?
Involve everyone. As you did in announcing the safety protocols, make sure you publicize internally the action steps and outcomes of your focus on customer experience improvement. Create a channel, whether it is via email, a private Facebook or Yammer group, or a “What are you hearing” voice mailbox to constantly solicit for staff feedback. And make sure you share the feedback and let them know what you are doing as a result. Without the involvement of every employee, there is no commitment to maintaining the newly defined customer experience standards.
Continually remind your people. During the pandemic, we plastered doors and floors with social distancing decals, and walls with CDC guidelines posters. At our hotel, we had safety reminders run on the guest in-house TV channel and on the employee backstage TV channel. Safety reminders were part of the daily 15-minute staff huddle and the weekly e-newsletter. Use the same methods to continually remind your team of your foundational values and daily performance standards. Repeat it everywhere and often to make it stick.
QUI TIP: Maintain a sense of urgency. Choose a date like June 1 or July 4 to define the internal reopening of your establishment with the “new normal” customer experience. Back plan action steps using that date.
QUI TAKEAWAY: At the start of this pandemic, we all worked with a real sense of urgency, innovated, spent money, and elevated our safety game. Now is a great time for you and your team to put in as much critical thought and intense energy to revamping your customer experience.
Social media is bad for customer service. Whether ranting or raving, customers are telling stories online about businesses whether those businesses are listening or not. With customers using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to complain loudly and sometimes virally to the world, companies have had to add resources to respond accordingly. But I am not against monitoring social media or using it as a responsive customer service channel. On the contrary, I believe social media has been literally and figuratively priceless for small businesses. Those businesses offering exceptional customer service don’t build their brand through advertising. Their customers build it for them via their raves on social media.
So, it is critical to know how to respond on social media, especially to the rants from dissatisfied customers. If you feel you need to get better at social customer service, don’t look to me for advice. If you want to become a millionaire, don’t ask me. I am not a millionaire. I’d tell you to go to Las Vegas or play the lottery. If you want to become a millionaire, ask people who have worked hard to earn a million dollars.
When I say social media is bad for customer service, it is because, for retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other bricks-and-mortar customer service positions, it has created a pool of candidates who are lacking in the social skills to connect with and please customers. Millennials have already overtaken Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. By 2025, Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce.
While today’s technology can create the opportunities to personalize customer service, it is still up to a person to deliver it. Yet this incoming generation can only deliver to the level of service that they themselves have experienced. And their experience has mainly been without in-person interaction. Text messaging and social media have made their interactions one-way communication. Baby Boomers have cellphones, and the subsequent generations have cell phones. But what is Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials doing on their cell phones? “OMG. LOL.” No real live conversations. I’m so old I remember hearing on my phone someone actually laughing out loud. I contend two text monologues do not make a real dialog. Texting is one-way communication. You don’t hear voice tone or inflection. Even a pause is dubious. Was it because they were thinking about what you said or is it because they got busy with something else for a minute?
Likewise, a post and a reply on Facebook do not make for real dialog. The average Facebook user today has 338 friends. When people post on their page, they have no loss of self-esteem when only eight “like” the post. The other 330 have ignored them – and they are OK with that! Even those that “like” the post rarely leave a comment to begin an interaction. A meager “thumbs up” is all the acknowledgement given to a friend. Really?
Despite all the buzz about how social media keeps people connected, social media is not really social. Look around you. Social media and text messaging have turned people into digital zombies. Walk into your staff break room and see what is going on. Did anyone even look up to acknowledge you? Do you hear any real conversations going on?
At the same time, retail technology in the form of self-service or contactless purchases may have made it more convenient for the customer, but it eliminated the human connection.
As a result, the experiences for many people are not full of good examples of emotional intelligence, body language or verbal communication that only face-to-face interactions can teach. I believe that translates in a real world where it is OK to ignore our co-workers and worse, ignore the customer. Many don’t feel it is important to greet our co-workers every morning or every customer who walks through the door.
People buy from people they know, like and trust. Likeability is perceived by a smile. Trustability is driven by eye contact. Yet, self-service technology and social media have reduced the number of human interactions for potential candidates to not only experience it for themselves but also to understand the value of its importance. Having not experienced good examples of communication, collaboration or relationship-building skills, how will your people whom you entrust to take care of your customers emotionally connect with them? And if you allow yourself to accept that such a level of emotionless transactions is adequate, how will your business build customer loyalty to succeed? Remember that satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal ones.
QUI CUSTOMER SERVICE LEADERSHIP STRATEGY
For you to succeed in this very competitive marketplace, you will need the right people. You will need people who know how to consistently welcome your customers with eye contact and a smile, listen and respond empathetically, and bid them a sincere fond farewell. You should not assume that every candidate who applies for your open positions will do that just because you put it into your job ad. Finding and keeping the right people starts with the selection process to welcoming them at first day orientation and continues every day thereafter for as long as they are with you.
As the manager, always remind yourself that you are only as good as the people who surround you. Your success is dependent on you identifying the right people among all the candidates by asking the proper interview questions with the specific intent of finding out if the candidates have the skills or potential to express sincerity, empathy and trust. The STAR interview process will better be able to identify the right candidate than the standard interview questionnaire.
Take ownership for the education of those you select to deliver the experience your customers are expecting. That education starts on the first day. Of course, you need to introduce the policies and rules required by your legal department or the state. But the first day should be as much, and I contend should be more about your company mission, values and performance standards. And that message should not be delivered by the Human Resources onboarding specialist. It should be delivered by the highest-ranking operations manager to convey the critical role your employees play in driving customer satisfaction. That manager, ideally the CEO, should convey the message that when employees interact with an individual customer, they ARE the company to that customer. As the general manager, I scheduled myself for every orientation to explain that with every single customer interaction, we were expecting them to commit to “Be the Company”. I shared a video of the CEO of the company headquartered in another state reinforcing that commitment to end orientation.
Customer service training cannot be a “Day One and Done” kind of thing. Soft skills reinforcement must be continuous. Define forbidden phrases like “No problem,” or “Sure, you bet,” and offer the proper alternatives. Role-play recent customer situations and the best responses. Explain the service recovery process and empowerment guidelines. Build in frequent opportunities to remind your team what great customer service looks like. Whether it is a daily 15-minute huddle or weekly update e-mail newsletter, be sure to reinforce often your customer service performance standards. Repeat it often to make it stick.
Regularly ask “What are you hearing?” to get feedback from those who are directly interacting with your customers. Listen, act, and let them know what you did.
And if you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver outstanding customer service, you need to make it a habit to thank them when they do. For example, share customer feedback and rave reviews you earn on Yelp or TripAdvisor with everyone.
QUI TAKEAWAY: Select the right people. Educate them on what great customer service looks like in your business. And then continually remind and recognize them when they deliver it. Only then will you strengthen the interpersonal skills of your staff to drive their success and yours.
Ever since the beginning of last year, all of us have had to endure this pandemic. But rather than learn from our own personal leadership experiences on how to survive, I recommend Dr. Michelli’s most recent book, Stronger through Adversity. In it, he provides invaluable wisdom and lessons from senior business executives on how to lead through and beyond COVID-19, including crisis management, keeping employees and customers safe, maintaining a culture of engagement, rapidly innovating, and more. So it is a real privilege for me to feature such a timely post from him. You can find out more about Dr. Michelli and his new book at the end of his post.
Before I begin, I want to thank Bill for his thought leadership in customer experience elevation and his longstanding support of others like me.
Whether you are launching a business, seeking to grow a startup, or stewarding an established company, it’s worthwhile to pause occasionally and answer a fundamental question. What is the purpose of my business? This was especially the case in the context of the pandemic.
If your answer to that question was anything other than “to create a customer,” you may want to read on.
It’s common for entrepreneurs and business leaders to think they are in business to “create profit”; however, I’d argue you are in business to “create a customer” – since there is no profit without them. Ironically, prioritizing profits can actually lead to business decisions that drive customers away.
As a consultant to organizations of all sizes (from startups to global enterprises like Mercedes-Benz or Starbucks), I’ve learned that “customer creation” (attracting and retaining them) is a simple matter of value!
For my book Stronger Through Adversity, I spoke to more than 140 plus CEO’s and C-suite executives to garner insights on how they create value for their team members and customers in the context of the pandemic.
Their insights reinforce six key components of creating and exchanging customer value to drive success in good times and bad:
Explore value: Understand the wants and needs of your consumers.
Create value: Craft solutions to address your consumers’ needs.
Market value: Communicate the benefits of your solutions to your consumers.
Sell value: Help consumers find sufficient value in your offerings so they will provide something of value to you in return (e.g., make a purchase).
Deliver value: Ensure your consumers receive the value you promised.
Prosper through value efficiency: Deliver value economically to sustain and grow your business (or else you have a hobby).
I will concede that my value formula is a lot easier to capture on paper than it is to deliver in day-to-day operation, so let me offer a few questions to help you ensure you are on the right track:
What have you done to uncover your target customer’s stated and unstated wants and needs (market research)?
How do you know your products/services will meet a sizable need (focus groups/beta testing)?
How can you gain access to the customer segments that will find your solutions attractive (targeted marketing strategies)?
What benefits, attributes or experiential elements of your product/service are you emphasizing during your sales process (sales tool development and training)?
How are you ensuring that your customers receive the value every time they interact with you – no excuses (service skill tools and customer experience design)?
Have you tested pricing options to guarantee you are maximizing profitability to fuel your sustainability (pricing optimization)?
Large businesses benefit from individual departments that focus on all elements of value creation and delivery while smaller businesses benefit from being closer to their customers. In all cases, the businesses that faired best throughout the pandemic were those that most nimbly pivoted to address the changing wants, needs, and desires of those they serve.
In keeping with lessons from Stronger Through Adversity, may you continually and adaptively pursue value that results in customers’ creation, profits, and growth!
You can learn more about Stronger Through Adversity and get your copy here.
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant who transfers his knowledge of exceptional business practices in ways that develop joyful and productive workplaces with a focus on the total customer experience. His insights encourage leaders and frontline workers to grow and invest passionately in all aspects of their lives. Find out more about him at josephmichelli.com . Follow him on Twitter @josephmichelli
Facemasks, door signs, floor decals, partitions, and hand sanitizers won’t keep your customers. Such safety protocols in response to the pandemic are expected from your customers. While failing to implement them will cost you customers, maintaining those standards will not guarantee that you keep them. Your competitors are doing the exact same thing which means what you are doing is average, heightened like everyone else, but still average. And … wait for it … nobody raves about average. Customers don’t rave about a business that simply meets their expectations. Nor are they loyally bound to them. With these safeguards, you have simply changed a negative experience to one that is neutral. But what are you doing to move the experience from neutral to memorably positive?
CARE for your Associates first. Hearing about hospitalizations, the struggling economy, and massive layoffs every day, your associates are still anxious and concerned about their jobs. Reassure them by your actions that their leadership team CARES. Communicate. Appreciate. Recognize. Empower. Serve.
Serve your associates by asking at the end of each interaction, “What can I do for you?” And act on their suggestions to make your associates feel as happy working with you as you want your customers to feel about doing business with you.
Re-orient your Associates to the delivery of the customer experience in what is now the “not-so-new-normal”. In the first weeks of the pandemic, you were focused on introducing all the new protocols. Over the last few months, your associates consistently follow the safety guidelines, from temp checks to facemasks. Take time now to remind them of the principles of delivering exceptional customer service. Emphasize that since your customers cannot see their smiles, they need to use other body language, except handshakes and hugs, their words, and tone of voice to convey a warm welcome. Remind them to practice active listening and responding with empathy. Do they remember the forbidden phrases that distract in customer conversations? Make sure they know the difference between taking care of the customer which is a transaction and really caring for the customer, a relationship-building interaction.
Seek feedback and then act. You may know 10-20% of your customer complaints via your customer surveys. Your customers know 100% of what displeases them and your associates do, too, since your customers tell them every day. So ask your team directly, “What are you hearing?” Then act on their feedback to eliminate those pain points. Be sure to involve your associates in defining solutions to remove these dissatisfiers. Without their involvement, you will not earn their commitment to care for your customers.
Become a storyteller. Three things can happen after customers do business with you. They can say nothing because you gave them nothing to talk about. They can rant about you to others because they experienced such poor service that they want to make sure no one else makes the same mistake. Or they can rave about you. And if you want to have your customers tell stories about you, you have to give them a story to tell. Involve your associates to define key points in the customer experience where they are empowered to create memorable small “wows” so the story can end, “And they lived happily ever after.”
QUI TAKEAWAY: Remember nobody cares about how good you used to be before this pandemic. They only care about how good you are now. And now changes every day. You need to do the same.
This week’s post is from Swiftpage CEO John Oechsle. He examines the evolution of how organizations connect with their customers and how smaller and midsized businesses are finding ways to compete for customers with larger players in their space through the 4 C’s of customer information. Swiftpage is the owner of Act!, the first to market customer relationship management software solution that pioneered the space 30 years ago and is still innovating today, so he has a bit of a unique perspective on how customer communication has evolved and where it’s heading. You can learn more about John and his company at the end of his post.
Walkmen were all the rage, cell phones were the size of eggplants, and Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody was the No. 1 hit. The year was 1987, a time when technology was advancing at a tremendous pace. Just imagine—in four more years, some Americans would begin communicating via SMS text.
Enter 2017. Driverless cars are cruising the streets, and high school students are Skyping with astronauts in space. New technologies are shaping the world around us, and small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on these advancements. This is especially true with customer relationship management (CRM), an area that businesses were smart to pay attention to 30 years ago in 1987—and can no longer afford to ignore in today’s competitive environment.
As the technological complexity of customer relationships evolve, so must our approaches to them. The area is best tackled through the four C’s of customer information, which are crucial components of any business plan. Currency, correctness, consistency and completeness are – and, arguably, have always been – the most effective path toward forging intimate, long-term relationships with customers.
Currency and correctness
Currency and correctness go together like the PC and mouse. After all, data only has value when it’s up-to-date and accurate. While the Internet makes it easy to link up with others, it’s important to ensure connections are managed properly. Remember, customer information is constantly changing. People move, switch jobs and update email addresses. Social media accounts might be inaccurate or outdated. This all underscores the importance of maintaining current and correct customer information.
If customer information is kept accurately and up to date, it can prove to be invaluable when used with predictive analytics technology. It can help an organization learn a lot about customer trends and who to reach out to for a sale at what time and via which method of contact to give the company the best chance for a successful interaction—giving the business its best chance to retain existing customers while growing by developing new customer relationships as well.
We’ve come a long way since 1987, when the first version of Microsoft Excel was released for Windows. Excel was preceded by programs such as Lotus and VisiCalc, which were used to store customer data and other important company information. Before then, punched cards were a popular way to save information. Oh, and don’t forget the infamous rolodex, the original CRM. It’s truly incredible to think of the advances information management has made in such a short time period.
Consistency has always been a hallmark of helping businesses grow. After all, success is impossible if a business can’t maintain positive and long-lasting relationships with its customers. We have infinite options for storing detailed customer information. We use mobile apps, cloud servers, customizable CRM software solutions, email, Google docs, Excel spreadsheets and – gasp –pen and paper when we’re in a pinch! If the customer information is not consistent across all of them, currency and correctness go out the door!
It wasn’t always so simple to store all that information on a computer. Apple’s 1986 enhanced Macintosh computer had limited capacity and could store just 4 MB worth of files. To put that in context, the ’86 Mac had enough space to store about one decent quality mp3 song file today.
Completeness is not just about knowing a customer’s address and birthday; it’s an across-the-board collection of customer information aimed at documenting every individual customer interaction. And complete record keeping wasn’t always easy to accomplish through technology. In the late 1980s, computers were only beginning to make their way into mainstream life. By 1989, just 15 percent of U.S. households owned one and customer records were often kept tucked away in filing cabinets.
Today, we’re fortunate to live in an age where we can keep an effortless record of emails, web analytics and online sales with the right technology. We can detail each interaction a customer has with any point of contact at the business, and that information can then be stored and shared so everyone has the same, complete information about the customer’s experience. It’s easy to make notes of face-to-face meetings and phone calls, too, with tools that have been developed for just that purpose—including pioneering software solutions like Act! that were laying the foundation for modern CRM technology all the way back in 1987.
With such effective and reliable technology available at our disposal in 2017, we are wise to take advantage. Bringing the four C’s together gives businesses the ability to mine information, examine trends, and forge lifelong relationships with their customers that enable the business to grow and thrive.
And, at the end of the day, isn’t finding ways to connect and form relationships with our customers what it’s all about—both today and back in 1987?
About the Author
H. John Oechsle joined Swiftpage in July 2012 and currently serves as president and chief executive officer. John came to Swiftpage with a 30-year track record of building highly profitable and sustainable revenue growth for emerging companies and established global leaders. John is an advocate for technology and education in Colorado and has been an active contributor to the Colorado Technology Association (CTA). He has been recognized several times for his involvement in the tech industry. In 2006 and in 2009, John was awarded the Technology Executive of the Year, and the Titan of Technology awards by the CTA. John was also awarded the Bob Newman Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community by the CTA in 2011.
In 2011, an American Express survey found that Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences and 16 people about poor experiences. Today, just five years later, people may still tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, but if they have a bad experience, they can now tell the entire world via social media. We have all seen the word “viral” tagged to a personal story about bad customer service more often than a good one. At the same time, the millennials and Gen Z who interact primarily through digital communication are becoming your customers and will expect you to be available to them via social media. So the question about social customer service to your business is “Are you ready?” This week’s guest post from Heather, Chief Customer Fanatic and Founder of Customer Fanatixhighlights the opportunity for businesses to get it right or be left behind. Learn more about Heather and Customer Fanatix at the end of this post.
I recently read that live chat has the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, with 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone. I am not sure how true and up to date this statistic is, but it sure did speak to me.
Just the other day, I had a terrible experience with a highly acclaimed web hosting company. I was not in the situation to be able to call them to resolve my account. So, I used my fall back of clicking the Live Chat button. I thought that they would perform the function I was trying to accomplish, or at least, help me get it done. I was very wrong. The representative on the other end was completely stumped with my request and had to walk me through some complicated steps to get to a partial resolution. Then, I needed to call back six separate times to finally get my issue resolved. I was frustrated, to say the least. Everything is good now, but the process to get here was full of friction. They really just needed to put processes in place to take care of me the first time.
The only reason I did not pull my account is that I put so much time into making it look the way I wanted. The pain of starting over stopped me in my tracks! While I set out to accomplish a task on my terms and the way I needed to do it, I discovered that some of the best companies just do not have the people or processes in place to adequately service customers in nontraditional ways.
According to J.D. Power, 67% of consumers have used a company’s social media channel for their customer service needs. According to Twitter, 60% of leading B2C companies are responding to about 60% of Tweets directed at their service accounts. Even more compelling is that over 95% of consumers say they are influenced by what other people say about companies on social media.
I have to say that I am very new to social customer service, but then, most of us are. Previous to the bumpy journey described above, I was a big fan of web chat for my service needs. I chose chat, since I often have a crazy schedule that include kids screaming in the background.
This week, Apple launched its first Twitter account for customer service. It will use this account to address common support issues. Although none of us really know why they are deciding to make this move now. I am going to be watching from afar to see how this move bodes for this big brand. Will this move continue to put them at the top of highly regarded brands for service or will it wreck it?
Some brands seem to have mastered the social media customer service puzzle.
This issue is so important and the opportunity for Twitter to capitalize on this movement is so great that they put together a playbook for businesses, regarding social media customer service. It is quite good. I imagine that many businesses looking to use social as another means to meet customers where they are, or at least, where they choose to be will enjoy this tool more than once.
After experiencing the friction that I did with one company’s chat blunder, I have to say that I am leery to go the social route for service requests as even going with the chat option turned out to be disappointing. In the end, if customers cannot get what they want to get done the way they want to get it done, those brands who were unable to deliver offline will fall short in front of the world.
For the brands that have been successful in social customer service, they may inspire reluctant customers to give it a try. The biggest selling point is that the personal interactions inherent in social customer service can continue to drive positive relationships with customers.
Given the speed at which consumers of all ages are taking to social media to get their issues resolved, customer experience and marketing professionals like myself will need to quickly increase our understanding of how this impacts brand loyalty over the long haul.
I would love to hear from anyone brave enough to take the leap and tell their story.
Be Well and Good Luck Tweeting!
Chief Customer Fanatic and Founder, Customer Fanatix Heather, a recovering attorney, is a customer experience consultant, trainer and speaker with proven expertise in building Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee cultures and acting as catalyst for customer-driven cultural & process improvements. Heather is a frequent author on LinkedIn’s Pulse platform, a blog contributor for Huffington Post and a member and Certified Customer Experience Professional with the Customer Experience Professional’s Association. She is also a Net Promoter Certified Professional.
Heather truly believes that the most effective way to transform customer’s experiences is to transform organizational leaders into people who better relate to and empathize with their teams, use their team’s voices to inform customer needs and partner with their teams to drive cultural and customer-focused organizational improvements.
Heather has a bias toward action, and she enjoys consulting leaders, training teams and speaking to audiences on topics of importance to customers and employees alike.
Recently in a LinkedIn group, one of the members asked the following question: “The global economy is slowing down, but you’ve been asked to do the impossible: Control costs AND improve customer service experience. How can you do it?” While I commented within the group, LinkedIn limited the space allowed for the response so I wanted to elaborate here.
Here are three low cost ways that have worked for me in improving customer service.
Create a Customer Satisfaction Investigation (CSI) team. Isn’t it criminal to take a customer’s money and then not deliver to meet his expectations? This team, with at least one representative from every department, should meet at least once a week to review customer feedback. Like a CSI team, the purpose of the team is to review all the details of each negative customer experience to see if they can find out why it happened. If you do not have a survey process, ask your employees to document and forward any complaint to the CSI team. For every customer who complains, 26 others didn’t say anything (Lee Resource, Inc.) and simply walked away. No one can afford that kind of customer churn. Once identified, work fast to eliminate the dissatisfier. You cannot begin to satisfy customers until you remove all the potential dissatisfiers. You have got to remove them from negatively affecting future customer experiences.
Continually remind your team of the importance of customer service. One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Johnson, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Day One and Done customer service training is simply not enough. It’s amazing how much of the first day of new hire orientation is spent on defining the rules and restrictions, usually required by the legal department, that, if not followed, will result in termination. While that information is important, consider the overall message you are giving new employees at the end of their first day. Balance the message by describing the empowerment processes that employees can use to exceed customer expectations and offer specific stories when employees went above and beyond for your customers. After onboarding, continue to reinforce that message with customer service tips and stories via email, screensaver messages, and periodic refresher customer service training. As many of the luxury hotel chains and fine dining restaurants known for delivering consistently exceptional service, conduct a fifteen-minute daily briefing that reinforces your brand’s core values and service standards.
Recognize and celebrate those who deliver great customer service. Too often managers focus on identifying an employee’s service deficiencies. These “areas that need improvement” are usually only conveyed to the employee at the annual performance review. Instead celebrate throughout the year the stories of employees who have created WOW moments for their customers. Create a booklet of customer service stories to be distributed on Day One of your onboarding process. Every new employee is a sponge of company information on the first day. Let them soak in the stellar reputation of your company as built by your customers’ perceptions of your employees’ exceptional service. To reinforce that Day One feeling, frequently post or distribute via email the positive customer comments. Send a handwritten thank you note to the home of the individual employees who created a memorable moment for one of your customers. You can be assured they will share proudly that note with their family. If you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver outstanding customer service, you have to make it a habit to thank them when they do.
QUI TAKEAWAY: When you systematically remove the potential dissatisfiers, continually remind your employees of the importance of customer service, and habitually recognize and celebrate the stories of exceptional service you will increase dramatically the value of service as perceived by your customer.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and marketing speaker, strategist, and author of the book, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. Ever since reading his book, I have been following his customer experience articles on Forbes. So when he recently published an ebook entitled Culture Of Yes: Practices And Principles Of Great Hospitality, I was all over it. While I was quoted in the first chapter, I bought the Kindle version for the invaluable insight shared by some real hospitality heavyweights. And while this ebook is focused on those who are in the hospitality industry, I am sure that customer service professionals in any industry will benefit. Find out more about Micah and his new ebook at the end of this post.
A hotel’s associates have more impact in building the reputation of a hotel than the general manager. In one day, the associates have more direct interaction with the customers than the general manager might in one week. Yet, those associates can only deliver the level of service that they themselves have experienced. Many of them have never stayed at a hotel recognized for its exceptional service. Some of those associates may have graduated from a hospitality school. As a hotelier, I have interviewed my fair share of college graduates. These hospitality students have learned the technical parts of running a hotel – budget preparation and analysis, menu engineering, purchasing and inventory, property management systems, and sales and marketing. But rarely has the curriculum focused on the critical ingredient of a truly successful hotel operation, namely the art of hospitality, taking real care of the guest. So it is up to the manager to educate the associates and their junior managers on the principles of hospitality.
And if you are going to learn the principles of hospitality, shouldn’t you learn it from the best? Ask frequent travelers to name the best hotel chains and they will tell you Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons. Or wouldn’t’ you want to know the secrets of the luxury resort properties that are frequently named in travel magazines as the very best like The Broadmoor or The Inn at Little Washington. Micah has interviewed the key executives from hospitality’s best, including others from Montage, Fairmont, EDITION, and Virgin Hotels and has published in this ebook their insights and, as a seasoned travel and customer service expert himself, those of his own.
Their collective insight focuses on all the key ingredients to deliver an exceptional guest experience – hiring the right people, developing the necessary internal systems and hospitality standards, creating the proper service culture, and defining steps for service recovery. Micah even discusses how technology has and will change the guest experience.
Busy managers may complain that they have no time to read an entire book on hospitality. Micah responds by offering bulletpoints at the end of the chapters, as he calls it, a “cheat sheet” to “begin learning from the best of the best – the greatest leaders and professionals from the very best lodging and foodservice organizations in the world.” That invaluable insight is offered from such hospitality icons as Isadore Sharp, founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Herve Humler, president and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and Danny Meyer, president and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. And if you want to be great at hospitality, then ask someone who has already proven that they are one of the hospitality greats. Micah has done that for you here.
While this ebook is directed to hospitality professionals, there is value for a manager of any business who has customers. Whether it is buying a Big Mac from a McDonald’s, a book from Amazon, or gasoline from your local Chevron station, you exchange money for a tangible product. Unlike retail, the hospitality industry is unique. In exchange for hundreds of dollars for a weekend stay, you check out of a hotel without receiving any physical item. You may have taken extra bottles of shampoo or even the bathrobe, but were they worth the price you paid for your room? Of course not. The only “thing” you take with you is the memory of the experience. That experience has to be so memorable that you are willing to pay to repeat that experience again and again. In retail, almost any product can be replicated by your competitor. What can’t be replicated is the unique experience surrounding the sale of the product. So wouldn’t any retail business gain from the insight from hospitality where the experience is what customers pay for? Of course it could.
You have heard, “Knowledge is power.” That is not true. It is what you do with the knowledge that is the power. So buy this book. Read it. And then do something to start delivering great hospitality for your guests or a great experience for your customers.
Micah Solomon is a keynote speaker, author, customer service speaker, customer experience consultant and company culture consultant. Find out more about Micah, his blog and his recent Forbes articles at http://www.micahsolomon.com . You can find out more about the ebook or purchase it from amazon by clicking on the book cover.