Category Archives: Customer Experience

Social Media is Bad for Customer Service

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.

If you want to get better at social customer service, I would recommend the experts who have “been there, done that” like Marsha Collier, Jay Baer and Dan Gingiss. Or be sure to read “Delivering Effective Social Customer Service” by Carolyn Blunt and Martin Hill-Wilson.

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.

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Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Hospitality, Training

Joseph Michelli: What’s the Purpose of Your Business?

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Charlie “Tremendous” Jones.

Believing in this mantra for years, as an avid reader of the books by Dr. Joseph Michelli, I have learned so much about delivering the World’s Best Customer Experience through his insight starting with his book, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary. Having had a long career in hospitality, I especially learned from Dr. Michelli’s The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton. I was fortunate to have Dr. Michelli write a blog post about his book, Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.

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:

  1. Explore value: Understand the wants and needs of your consumers.
  2. Create value: Craft solutions to address your consumers’ needs.
  3. Market value: Communicate the benefits of your solutions to your consumers. 
  4. 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).
  5. Deliver value: Ensure your consumers receive the value you promised.
  6. 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

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Facemasks, safety signs, and hand sanitizers won’t keep your customers

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.



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Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Loyalty, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service

John Oechsle: How Do You Spell CRM Evolution? With 4 C’s

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

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

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.

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Use of Live Chat or Social Media for Customer Service: One More Way to Make or Break Your Brand!

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 Fanatix highlights 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. 

social media

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.

Positive relationships drive excellent customer service.

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!

 

Heather

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.

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Three Low Cost Ways to Improve Customer Service

Thank them jpeg

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.

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Review: Micah Solomon’s new ebook: Culture Of Yes: Practices And Principles Of Great Hospitality

MicahSolomonMicah 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.

Culture of YesMicah 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.

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Rhonda Basler: From Adequate to Outstanding: 5 Ways to Inspire Customer Advocacy Through Customer Care

This week’s guest post is from Rhonda Basler, director of Customer Engagement at Hallmark Business Connections. I have been a longtime fan of her blog so I’m honored that she is sharing her customer experience insight here. I am convinced that if you commit to following consistently these five essentials, you will Deliver the World’s Best Customer Experience. 

What does it take for your business to create remarkable experiences for your customers?

Think about that for a second.

Today’s customers don’t just want more from companies – they expect more from companies.  Research shows 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they are being treated, which means it’s up to companies to deliver the kind of experience customers are looking to have.

At Hallmark Business Connections, we believe in the power of the human connection.  By providing customer care that supports your brand’s vision, mission and values, you inspire customer advocates to truly believe in your company’s products, services, and brand, and to share their positive feelings with others (friends, family, acquaintances, social media networks, etc.).

Here’s a closer look at 5 ways to earn customer advocacy through inspired customer service:

1. Commit Random Acts of Kindness

Independent consumer trends firm trendwatching.com has identified unexpected, meaningful actions as a major customer trend in business and I think we all know why: It’s the right thing to do.5 Essentials of a Differentiated Customer Experience

Creating meaningful experiences for your customers doesn’t have to be flashy or expensive.  Sometimes, it’s the smallest gestures – taking the time to listen and encourage someone in need or sharing a story or joke – that can have the biggest impact.

Committing these random acts of kindness can go a long way toward fostering customer loyalty, so it’s important for your company to consider what it can do to make the experience truly special to the individual.  Only then can you provide the types of experiences that touch customers on an emotional level and create greater engagement with your company.

2. Be Proactive

Creating meaningful experiences for customers doesn’t just build customer advocacy: It also makes good business sense.  After all, Bain & Company research shows it costs six to seven times more to acquire new customers than it does to retain existing customers.

To inspire true customer advocacy, you need to find ways of going above and beyond to show customers you’re committed to providing an exceptional customer experience.  Examples of this type of proactivity involve checking in with customers to uncover the root causes of problems and fix issues before customers have the opportunity to get in touch with your company themselves.

This investment in improving customer retention is well worth going the extra mile.  Try thinking about it this way: Instead of investing money to replace customers that have been lost, you’re focusing instead on building such solid relationships with customers that they refer you to new customers.

3. Offer a Plus One

According to McKinsey research, word of mouth is a primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions.  People trust friends and family more than virtually any other information source; in fact, they’ll pay two times more attention to recommendations from friends than other sources.

Given the importance of word of mouth referrals, make sure you’re giving your customers something to talk about!  In every customer experience interaction, associates should surprise and delight customers with an unexpected, extra benefit that’s unique, thoughtful, and relevant to the individual.

These sorts of “plus one” benefits can make all the difference when it comes to not only the individual customer’s experience, but also the anecdotal stories that get shared with others.

4. Show Your Gratitude

The key to providing a positive customer experience is to make the experience meaningful and memorable enough for customers to still be sharing it with friends and family days, weeks, or even months later.  There are many ways to do this, but sometimes the most effective is communicating two simple little words: Thank you.

Displaying heartfelt, sincere gratitude to customers is memorable – and it opens the door to doing business again.  Acknowledging and expressing that you know the business would not exist without your customers can have a huge impact on how they feel about your company.

5. Put Yourself in the Customers’ Shoes

The business implications of the customer experience are huge: 55% of customers would pay more for a better customer experience and 89% of customers would quit doing business with a company following a poor customer experience.

What does this mean?  For starters, it reinforces the pivotal role customer service plays in the way your customers feel about your company, which translates directly into how much they trust your company.  But, to go a level or two deeper, it also suggests the importance of empathy as it pertains to the customer experience.

Hearing – and, more importantly, understanding – the emotions of customers can augment a positive experience or turn around a negative one.  To truly understand what matters to customers (and provide the best possible experience for the individual), you need to be able to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.  Research, in fact, shows conveying this type of empathy can make or break a business.

Final Thoughts

Let’s go back to our question at the very beginning of this post: What can your company do to create remarkable experiences for your customers?

Keeping the above tactics in mind, try thinking about the various ways you can transform a customer experience from adequate to outstanding.  By providing top-notch customer service at every step of the way, you can create the type of customer advocates who will share their positive experiences and inspire those around them to do the same.

To learn more about Hallmark Business Connections’ approach to creating a differentiated customer experience, watch our “5 Essentials For Creating a Differentiated Customer Experience” video: 

Rhonda BaslerRhonda Basler is the Director of Customer Engagement at Hallmark Business Connections.  An avid business trend watcher and strategic thinker, Rhonda’s customer advocacy expertise stems from more than 29 years of experience in data-driven and brand marketing for major corporations as well as small companies.

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Ben Puzzuoli: Improving Front Line Customer Service

This week’s guest post is written by Ben Puzzuoli, Chairman of the Board at Cayzu Help Desk (www.cayzu.com).  The real benefit of social media is in meeting people who share like interests. My very first management position was with Marriott Hotels. Back then, there were less than 35 hotels worldwide. Recently Marriott opened the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C., its 4000th.  I believe the growth and strength of Marriott’s success was based on J.W. Marriott’s leadership mantra, ““Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your customers.”  You can find out more about Ben and Cayzu at the end of his post. And when you read his bio you will see that Ben and I both share a commitment to engaging associates to help build an exceptional customer experience. 

 

Each company faces the task of managing their overall customer service experience so that it’s the most positive that it can be. Regardless of what industry an organization is part of, customer service remains a central part of a company’s operations and improvement should always be strived for. This improvement should begin with a thorough look at the different facets of the customer service experience.

Service From the Customer’s Perspective

Most customers are concerned with making their purchasing decision, finalizing the transaction, and then moving on. They do not wish to experience a drawn-out service experience, especially if that experience is not getting them to a successful conclusion. Ambiguity, conflicting information, and redundancy will quickly put a customer into an unfavorable mood.

Customers are also very concerned with value, both the value of their money and the value of their time. Coming to a company with support-related concerns is an investment of time; customers want to see a return of value and they want to see it quickly.

Service From the Employee’s Perspective

Generally speaking, employees want a successful conclusion to a transaction as much as customers do. Even if an employee’s only job is providing customer support, there are many customers to attend to and many other tasks that need to be done in order for a company’s operations to run smoothly. A transaction that is unsuccessful in any way interrupts work flow and demands prioritization.

Keeping employees motivated to provide a higher level of customer service is one of the toughest challenges in management. Paying employees competitively is a good start; implementing a system of accountability is another. Managers have to work closely with each employee to figure out what motivates his or her individual spirit of excellence. This requires strong interpersonal skills and a knack for working with people.

Service From the Vendor’s Perspective

Every organization has to take the time to train employees in customer service so they feel empowered (http://www.cayzu.com/blog/4-effective-ways-empower-customer-service-employees/ ) to do the best job possible. This training has to be implemented from the very beginning of employee orientation since each and every team member represents a face of the organization. Vendors have to develop an integrated approach to customer service training.

There are other ways of promoting a culture of customer service, such as:

  • Establishing standards of service
  • Helping employees develop a poised and confident attitude
  • Identifying and applying best practices for phone and email communication
  • Practicing active listening skills to make customers feel valued and heard
  • Creating a respectful work environment

Can a Help Desk Solution Help with Front Line Customer Service?

A help desk solution can help front line customer service by capturing customer complaints posted via the store’s email, web site and even social media channels.  This feedback can help the front line staff in refining their strategy to best suit their customer’s needs.

A helpdesk is a site for customer interaction that encompasses more than the acceptance of comments and complaints. Whether real or virtual, this site is where some of the most complex of all customer interactions will take place. Customer support operations can be augmented through the implementation of software that helps track, manage, and record these interactions. Many such interactions will come from social media networks. The comments that come from these platforms have to be taken as seriously as those that come from more traditional avenues. Support software can connect with these networks for a broader and more effective approach to customer interaction which will ultimately give your business a more productive and efficient front line staff.

 

About Ben Puzzuoli

Ben PuzzuoliWith over a decade of experience in managerial positions, Ben has proven himself as a strategic and logical minded executive that produces exceptional results in demanding environments.

Having co-founded and sold his first business before the age of 30, Ben is a well-spoken, disciplined individual that has demonstrated the ability to lead teams. Coupled with a strong business acumen and a deep understanding of technology, Ben thinks strategically and tactically to fuel growth and the bottom line.

Ben leads by example and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. This mentality stems from his FIRM belief that a healthy and fun culture within an organization will lead to a more dedicated and productive employee. Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Successful Business.

Ben is the Chairman of the Board at Cayzu Help Desk (www.cayzu.com)

 

 Cayzu logoCayzu is a cloud-based helpdesk software solution that allows any business to easily manage all their customer service needs through email, phone, website, Facebook, Twitter and even mobile. Coupled with powerful features, a beautiful and easy to use interface and real-time reporting, Cayzu is perfect for any small to medium sized business.  And best of all, Cayzu is completely FREE for up to 3 agents!  Cayzu was founded in 2013 and is quickly gaining traction in the helpdesk software industry as a simple and affordable alternative to more expensive and complicated solutions.  For more information, please visit http://www.cayzu.com or find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cayzu or on Twitter: @Cayzu.

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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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