Category Archives: Customer Experience

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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Martin Kramer: The Six Forms of Service

This is a guest post written by Martin Kramer, a fellow hospitality professional. Find out more about Martin and restaurant-academy.com at the end of the post. If you are a restaurant manager or server, I strongly recommend you follow his blogto learn more on how to create the World’s Best dining experience for your customers. You can also follow him on Twitter @R_Academy. For the rest of us, his blog is great insight about dining out from the inside. 

In the past, I have written about using the CASE Method to improve your personal delivery of customer service. What can you CASE from Martin’s insight on the six different forms of service?
 

Recently, I fell over some interesting ideas from the European psychologist, H. G. Haeusel. He explored 6 different forms of service that are appealing to our guests these days. I would like to share them with you, plus some ideas on how you can put them into action in your restaurant. Here we go:

With the “Happy Service” the guests are experiencing a little unexpected surprise, which are triggering happiness and joy within the guest.

  • It doesn’t matter in what kind and style of restaurant you work, arrange very small dishes to be served in between. It can be a soup in an espresso cup before the starter or a small sorbet as a refresher before the main course. Always a nice surprise and also serves as an up selling tool, when your guests are coming back next time. Of course, please confirm that with your manager.
  • Offering an umbrella service on the way to guests’ the car when it is raining, a shawl in case someone (most likely ladies) feels cold in the restaurant, offer reading glasses are just some examples for added surprises.
  • Also, providing attentive and special service to family with kids with little surprises keeps the kids occupied and the parents can enjoy their meal. Makes everyone in the restaurant happy!

“Easy Service” makes life for the guest easier. Things to do and decisions are been taken away from your guests, which might have been difficult or would have caused worries or even troubles:

  • Helping guests with the menu is always a nice touch. Often, they don’t really know about certain dishes, but are afraid to ask. Just explain a bit about the ‘tricky’ and uncommon dishes you have on your menu.
  • Hanging coats, pulling chairs out, escort to (or at least half way) the bathrooms might be common, but hardly carried out. Help your guests!
  • Also, if guests need to leave the restaurant during their meal for whatever reason, ask if you could keep the food warm in the kitchen. Guests usually appreciate that.

“Care Service”, it is important to recognize the guest and to handle the concern or request between human beings friendly and personalized way.

  • Notice your guests and stay focus when you talk to them.
  • Listen to your guests! This sound easy, but it is actually a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Start today!
  • In case someone has a problem, show true empathy and that their concern, issue or problem is important to you.
  • If you can, solve the problem for your guests or pass along the issue to the person who can solve it. Just make sure, you are explaining the situation so the guest doesn’t need to repeat him or herself. At the end, ensure that the issue has been solved.
  • Sometimes guests forget something on the table, bench or bathroom. Make sure, you keep it, when you find it. In case you know the guests phone number, call them. If you have no information at all, keep it safe.

With “Trust Service” you build trust and make sure that this trust is justified constantly. Not only reliability needs to be part of it, trustworthiness and transparency are a must. In addition, in case something goes really wrong, a certain degree of fairness has to be shown.

  • When guests are visiting your restaurant, they trust the company, the kitchen and you that everything will be at least to their satisfaction. Show them that they can trust you.
  • Especially, if you have guests with certain food intolerances or allergies, it is a must to write down the requests, confirm with your kitchen and/ or let the guests know honestly, in case the request can or can’t be fulfilled. That builds trust.
  • In case of a justified complain, everything should be done (involve your superior) to handle the problem with sincerity and fairness, so that everybody is at least ok with the outcome.
  • Back to the topic of forgotten items; especially wallets, credit cards and other valuable items are very delicate to handle. Inform your superior immediately when you find something like that. Remember, building relationships with guests through trust, are usually the ones that lasts the longest.

Implementing “Power Service” means to fulfill guests’ needs, desires and demands as fast and efficient as possible, so nobody needs to wait or has to find solutions by themselves the hard way.

  • Observe the way you work! Is it fast, efficient, organized? Are there procedures, set-ups or changes you would need to be better and faster? Talk with your superior to implement them!
  • Ensure you are staying focused. If you are trying to do everything at the same time, the ‘disaster avalanche’ is rolling.
  • Understand your guest’s desires, needs and wishes. Find them out through observation, listening and asking!
  • Let’s be specific; once you know what the guest wants – go and get it done! Fast, smart and efficient! That’s what makes your guests feel special! Don’t loose time!

Very important is also the “VIP Service”, where not only celebrities and other high profile guests are counted to, rather then giving every one of your guests the feeling and assurance he or she is the most important person. If a guest is getting even just a small fraction of being categorized into the ‘unimportant’ section, all efforts of delivering any kind of service are loosing its sincerity and meaning.

  • One of the most often carried out behaviors showing no interest in guests is to look at the next table, screen the restaurant or just daze away while placing a plate in front of guests or taking the orders. Honestly, this is horrible and unacceptable! Stay with your guests, look at them, give them a smile and maybe even pronounce the dish shortly and friendly. Makes even the food tastes better…seriously!
  • Eye contact and focus is the key again.
  • Mostly guests feel categorized unconsciously, especially when they are seen as ‘not so important’ and you can pull your leg out trying to make them happy again, it won’t work.
  • You want to make your guest feel like a VIP? Remember them when they come back next time and pay full attention to their needs, everytime. It’s not always easy, but a lot of fun!

I am quite sure, you are doing a few of those ‘services’ already anyway, but I think it is interesting to become aware of them and use them more consciously to improve your services and grow yourself.

All forms of service mentioned are holding a huge power in themselves individually, but if you combine all of them into your way of service and find more things you and your colleagues can do in each ‘category’, the results in terms of guest satisfaction will soar!

Even though the examples I pointed out above are for restaurants specifically, however, if you have a very close look at the general descriptions of the forms of service, I bet you get ideas what you could implement in your environment and business almost instantly to greatly increase your customer service.

Also, have a look in which areas you already succeed and where some improvements could be necessary. No matter if you are the boss of the company or an employee; sit down with your colleagues and brainstorm ideas to increase your service within these ‘categories’ to add more value to your customers. That would mean you are adding value to the company and therefore to yourself and your team!

Give it a try and enjoy the ride!

About Martin

My name is Martin Kramer, born in Hannover, Germany. So far, I worked for more then a decade in luxury hotels and resorts in Germany, the USA, Thailand and Indonesia. A Bachelor degree from a well-known hospitality management school in Heidelberg, Germany, majoring marketing, could have led me into several departments of hotels, but I love Food & Beverage and restaurants, so I decided to stick with it and apply as well as increase my knowledge in that area.

Recently, I started my own website www.restaurant-academy.com to provide useful information for waitresses and waiters to become more successful and satisfied with their job – keeping in mind that guest satisfaction and exceeding guest expectations are the key ingredients for any successful restaurant operation. In short; happy staff = happy guests and happy guests are leading to a successful restaurant operation.

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Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service

Don’t settle for the “Customer Service Checklist” – Buy in to the philosophy

This is a guest post written by John-Paul Narowski, founder of karmaCRM. Find out more about John-Paul and his company at the end of the post.

Recently I purchased a book from the local bookstore.

On the way in, I got a friendly “Hi, can I help you find anything?” from a passing employee. I asked where I could find small business books, and she gave me quick directions to the right spot. Perfect. I smiled.

As I approached the checkout counter with the book in one hand and my wallet in the other, the cashier greeted me with a warm smile and a friendly “Hello, I can help you right over here. How are you today?” As I handed over my credit card, the cashier even took note of my name. “Thank you, John. Would you like to sign up for our rewards program?” I smiled again. The service so far was outstanding – it made me feel like my business was truly appreciated.

I normally avoid rewards programs because I don’t like having all of the extra cards in my wallet. But on that day, the service I’d received put me in a great mood. I said yes. Not only did I say yes, but I also imagined returning to the store for my next book and using my loyalty card. After all, this local store was right down the street and everyone was so friendly.

But when I agreed to take the loyalty card, the happy customer service facade came down. It was as if the switch had been flipped off. The cashier (Claire was her name) stopped smiling immediately, and started typing on her computer, presumably bringing up the page where she could enroll me in the rewards program. Then Claire, the very same cashier who smiled, thanked me by name, and asked about my day, scrunched up her eyebrows. She gave me a puzzled look and asked, “what was your name again?”

I’m sure many of you have experienced something similar. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Claire had been trained to follow a standard “customer service checklist” – one of those 3 step magic bullet systems designed to, in this case, get me to sign up for the rewards program. Smile, say thank you, read the name off of the card, and ask to join. I’m not the only customer that can see right through that – especially when it becomes obvious that the employee wasn’t really listening.

Let it be known – customer service is not a checklist. It’s a philosophy. Each customer deserves special treatment. Checklists don’t make anyone feel special. They just reinforce the fact that we are all treated the same. Checklists are what I like to call “doing the minimum.”

To Claire, forgetting my name was no big deal. To me, Claire represented the local bookstore. As Bill is fond of saying, “To the customer, YOU are the company.” When she forgot my name after her canned 3-step loyalty card checklist, it made a big difference. It was as though the bookstore had already forgotten about me, my money, and my choice to support their local business.

As a small business owner myself, customer service is one of my passions. After all, the customers pay for the employees, the store, the product, the lights, the counter, and everything else. But here’s the kicker. The customers aren’t thinking about all of that. They pay for their experience, not yours.

So why shouldn’t we focus on customer experience? I call this business philosophy customer-centricity. I’ve made it the focus of my entire business. Every decision I make, from hiring and training employees to refining my product, is designed to provide the customer with a better experience.

Next time you catch yourself or your employees following a checklist, ask yourself if the customer feels special. Then do something extra and see if it makes a difference. Grow out of relying on the checklist. Put in that extra effort to make the customer feel special. Trust me – the customer does care, and they are paying attention.

John-Paul Narowski is a customer-centric thought leader and founder of the Ann Arbor, MI-based karmaCRM, a small business software solution designed to help manage sales teams and build strong relationships with customers.

John-Paul, or JP as his friends call him, is fanatical about customer service and the customer-centric business model. Improving customer relationships is his passion and his business. Every decision JP makes at his company, from hiring employees to developing new features for his software, is based upon improving the customer experience.

 JP was recently interviewed by fellow customer service expert, Shep Hyken, where he discussed further his customer-centric philosophy. You can read that post hereFind out more about JP and karma at http://www.karmacrm.com. You can also follow karmaCRM on Twitter

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Viral Wisdom by James Lawther

In a minute I will turn over this post to James Lawther, this month’s guest blogger. But first an introduction.

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You’ll be the same in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” And one of my professional development mantras is “Commit to lifelong learning.” The internet and social media gives us all the opportunity continue learning from others, meeting new people on-line to stimulate and continue a discussion about topics that are important to us. I enjoy reading and exchanging views about customer service, leadership and operational excellence. In that pursuit, I connected with James via Twitter and subscribed to his blog immediately after reading his bio:

James Lawther is a middle aged middle manager.

 To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for numerous organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had several operational roles including running the night shift for a frozen pea packing factory and doing operational research for a credit card company.

 As you can see from his CV he has either a wealth of experience, or is incapable of holding down a job. If the latter is true this post isn’t worth a minute of your attention.

 Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to read it and decide for yourself.

You’ve got to agree that someone with that kind of broad professional experience and sense of humor about it is well worth following. Since subscribing, we have exchanged comments on each other’s blogs and via Twitter  and I have really enjoyed the dialog. If you are intent in driving continuous improvement for your business, I’d recommend learning from James by visiting his website.

So, without further ado, James Lawther:

Today I am going to infect you with some viral wisdom.

If you haven’t been struck down yet, viral wisdom is the plague of the 21st century.  Victims suffer with assorted symptoms including lost time, vague fleeting thoughts and exasperated looks from their husbands.  The infection passes from friend to friend via the links they post on facebook, and the e-mails they send.  The wise realise that the most contaminated place in the world is the twitter stream sitting on their very own iphone.

The most contagious strain of viral wisdom cloaks itself cunningly.  It appears to be very sensible, creates a palpable “a-ha” moment in the mind of the reader, is a little bit (but not too) clever and compels you to read on because you never know, it could be really informative (unlikely, but possible).

The first piece of viral wisdom I have for you came from my twitter stream:

Modern Art = I could do that + Yeah but you Didn’t

It is hard to be wise in 140 characters but I’m sure you can take some meaning from that, did you feel the “a-ha”?

The second piece of wisdom came form an e-mail a friend sent me.  It was an interview with Will Smith.

Before I share it, I need to set the record straight, I like Will Smith, I used to watch the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air avidly and Men in Black has to be one of the world’s greatest movies, (well the eight foot tall cockroach was worth seeing) but let’s be honest, Mr. Smith isn’t exactly remarkable is he?

  • He is funny, but he isn’t Rowan Atkinson
  • He is talented, but he isn’t Lawrence Olivier
  • And as for looks, well George Clooney has the edge

Having said that he is an extremely successful man, and by his own admission, he didn’t get there off the back of raw talent.  So how did he do it?  In his own words:

“I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill.  I will not be outworked.  You may be more talented than me.  You might be smarter than me.  And you might be better looking than me.  But if we get on a treadmill together you are going to get off first or I am going to die.  It’s really that simple.  I’m not going to be outworked.”

And there is the second piece of viral wisdom.

If you want to be successful there is no substitute for hard work.

What does that mean for you?  Simply this…

Delivering great customer service isn’t really that difficult, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to:

None of it requires genius, massive insight, immense personal presence or super human strength.  It just requires hard work.

Or to put another way:

Great Service = I could have done that + Yeah but you Didn’t

Now would be a good time to stop stumbling, digging or reading blog posts, and give Bill a phone call so you can make a start.

Alternatively, if you want a little more quasi wisdom, you should read my blog about service operations.  It is quite infectious.

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I Know Ritz-Carlton and You’re No Ritz-Carlton

We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ritz-Carlton Motto

We recently decided to visit a golf resort here in North Michigan. It touted having spent $14 million dollars in renovations. While it is the off-season, as a former resort general manager, I still wanted to check out what was new and different. (Yes, it’s what resort GM’s do on vacation.)

Walking through the brand new lobby, we approached the front desk. The agent asked me for my last name. I said, “It’s KEY-sing. Starts with a Q-U-I”. She looked down at her computer, typed the letters, then looked right up at me, and asked, “How would you pronounce that?” Seriously. Then she asks me for a photo ID. Now I know that the controller wants to catch the one guest out of 10,000 who might scam the resort, but for the other 9,999 of us, you’re basically telling us that you don’t trust us. Not a great first impression. After proving to her that I was actually who I said I was, she gave me the room key. While I may have rolled in my luggage, I could have used bell assistance to tell us how to get to our room. No such luck.

I was struggling in front of the room with four pieces of luggage, having propped the door with one of them, when a room service attendant passed by. She smiled and then practically sprinted by me to catch the elevator before it went back down.

After a three hour drive, we weren’t up for being cloistered in the room ordering room service. So we went back downstairs and found out that the only two outlets open for dinner were the fine dining restaurant and the sports bar. We weren’t dressed for elegant dining, but when we went to the Sports Bar, it was so poorly lit that it looked like a cave lighted only by the big screen TV. The menu was limited to bar food appetizers. So we opted to travel into town.

I’m a souvenir collector when it comes to vacations, so the next morning  I walked to the brochure rack next to the bellstand to pick up a resort brochure. There were three bellpersons talking to each other near the stand. And while I was scrutinizing the rack to find a brochure that wasn’t there, none of them offered assistance. Rather than disturb them, I walked away. Never did get a brochure.

At checkout, the only parting remarks from the front desk agent was, “You’re all set.”

Nobody raves about average, but everybody rants about nothing. While I liked the new Great Room lobby and appreciated the flat screen TVs and free Wi-Fi, I have come to expect that in a first-class resort. So I’m really not inclined to jump over to TripAdvisor to give them a Five Star review. In fact, I’m ranting in this post to say that the resort actually fell short in service. When I pay more for a king bedded room in one resort than the same size bed in another resort in the same area, I know I’m not paying the premium for the product or the setting.  I’m paying more because I think the services offered are going to be better. So I have high expectations of what that service should look and feel like. Unfortunately, my actual experience didn’t meet my expectations. It would have been “nothing” for the front desk agents or bell attendants to personalize my arrival and departure experiences. It would have been “nothing” for the room service attendant to lend a hand in helping me move the luggage into the room. Not exactly Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen. In doing their jobs and nothing more, they were average. And nobody raves about average. Disappointed that my experience did not meet my expectations, I rant about the “nothings.”

People are willing to pay much more of a premium to stay at a Ritz-Carlton. And despite paying that premium, people still rave about the exceptional service delivered by the Ladies and Gentlemen of Ritz-Carlton. So what is their secret? Actually it’s not a secret, at all. Ritz-Carlton gives us the blueprint to their success. Simply Google “Ritz-Carlton service” and you will find any number of articles written about the subject or the Amazon listing for Joseph Michelli’s book about Ritz-Carlton, The New Gold Standard. Better yet, go directly to the Ritz-Carlton page on their website that defines the brand’s Motto, Credo and Gold Standards. You also will find the foundation for their exceptional service in The Three Steps of Service:

A warm and sincere greeting. Practice the 10-5 rule. At 10 feet, acknowledge the customer with eye contact and at 5 feet, greet the customer with “Good morning/afternoon/evening” and a smile. Use the customer’s name after it’s been given whenever the opportunity arises.

Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs. Define customer expectations of the timeline of touchpoints during the customer experience. First remove all the potential dissatisfiers that could displease a customer. Then proactively look for opportunities to create a “small wow” that goes above the customers expectations. It could be something as simple as assisting a customer you may see standing in front of the store directory or looking up at the store directionals.

Fond Farewell. Sincerely thank the customer for choosing you and offer a warm good-bye. Again, use the customer’s name once it’s been given. Better yet, consider an after the sale follow-up phone call or thank you note.

Seems simple enough: Warm welcome, Magic Moment, Fond Farewell. But if it’s that simple, why, then, isn’t customer service everywhere like Ritz-Carlton? The real secret is in the huddles held daily in each department in every Ritz-Carlton and consistent execution of The Three Steps of Service by their Ladies and Gentlemen. So to build your customers’ perception that your service is dependably exceptional, then perform the Three Steps of Service courteously in your personal delivery of service with each customer every day. If you are a customer service leader, remind your Ladies and Gentlemen daily of The Three Steps of Service and recognize and celebrate frequently those you see deliver The Three Steps to your customers.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Make this common sense Three Steps mantra – a warm welcome, anticipation and fulfillment of each customer’s needs and a fond farewell – truly common practice with your customers and you’ll soon be earning a reputation for service like Ritz-Carlton.

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Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.” Erma Bombeck

What do dead plants in the waiting room have to do with the skill of the doctor? Logically nothing, but to the customer, everything.

When we are sick, we go to the doctor because we do not know what is making us sick. The doctor is the expert. Even if he misdiagnoses the illness and prescribes the wrong medicine, we would still take his word for it since we have no experience in medical diagnosis. We assume that the doctor is the trusted authority. In fact, we assume it so much that we don’t ask the doctor to prove it. No one has ever walked into a doctor’s office to ask “Before you examine me, from what medical school did you graduate?” We take his expertise for granted because we have no benchmark.

But we can judge a doctor on what we do know. We know what clean and orderly looks like. We know what friendly looks and sounds like. We know what waiting too long feels like. And we certainly know what dead looks like. And with past experiences we can judge how our doctor visit stacks up to those experiences. And based on the entire experience we will decide whether to come back or not, and depending on the experience, will either refer our friends or tell the world to stay away with an on-line bad review. Is that logical? Of course not, but as management consultant Tom Peters says,

“Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is!”

When there are dead plants in the waiting room, the customer is saying to himself, “If they can’t even take care of the plants, why do I want them taking care of me?”

While a general manager at a resort up north in Michigan, I served as an adjunct instructor for many years teaching customer service at the local community college. To their credit (pardon the pun), the college made my customer service class a prerequisite for the office administration and medical administration paths. They understood that it is not what you know; it is how you say it. At the end of the semester, a survey was given to the students on how I did. Was I on time for class? Did I cover the objectives defined in the syllabus? Was I available after hours? All the survey questions were focused on the instructor. As part of the class session discussing customer feedback, I surveyed the students on their school experience. My question was, “If there was anything you could improve in your education experience, what would that be? Very few answers were specific to what the administration thought was the college experience. Rather the improvements ranged from the parking lot to the restrooms. What does the parking lot have to do with higher education? Logically, nothing. But to the female student who is taking night classes, everything. She perceives a burned out light in the lamp post as an unsafe parking lot. What does the restroom have to do with the education offered? Nothing. But as a female student wrote in her survey, “During the winter, the restrooms are so cold, I can’t even think after going in there.”

Several weeks ago, I needed to see a dentist. When I asked a friend for a referral, she gave me the name of her dentist. I asked why she thought the dentist was so good. She said the waiting room had Wi-Fi, they offered free bottled water and juice and there was a large flat screen TV in the waiting room. And, as an afterthought, she said the dentist was nice, too. The most important aspects of her dental experience were the touchpoints that eliminated the waiting time and angst of the perception of visiting the dentist for the first time.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Don’t be too focused on just your expertise. Your customers have no way to judge you on what you know. But they can grade you on the other touchpoints that they have experienced before. Take the time to look at your entire customer experience. Identify all the potential dissatisfiers and remove them. Then replace them with something positive.

What potential “dead plant” dissatisfiers in your customer experience are you leaving unattended?

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Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone.

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone.”  – G.B.Stern


Since this is the week we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, I want to take this opportunity to wish those who celebrate this holiday a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I also want to express my thanks to all of you everywhere for following me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or right here on WordPress. I certainly have enjoyed and appreciated connecting with hundreds of people throughout the world via these social media platforms, something that wasn’t even possible just a few years ago.  And while I enjoy blogging about my passion for great customer service, I certainly have enjoyed as much the dialog I have had with many of you. So thank you to all.

While the above quote about giving thanks is one of my favorites, here are several more about gratitude that I hope you enjoy as much as I do. And for leaders, while all of these quotes are common sense advice to build employee engagement and customer loyalty, we have to commit to making this common sense advice truly common practice in our day-to-day efforts.

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; To the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.  – E. S. Martin 

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John F. Kennedy

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say “thank you?”  – William Arthur Ward

Appreciation is like an insurance policy. It has to be renewed every now and then. – Dave McIntyre

Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless. – Mother Teresa

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Great Service is Great Theater

Great TheaterIn their book, The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore define that “Work is theater and every business a stage.” If you were an actor delivering a great live theatrical performance, the audience becomes wrapped up in the experience and as they walk out of the theater, they are telling their friends that it was the best thing that they’ve enjoyed in a long time.

It does not matter to the audience that the actors are performing for the 100th time. The audience has paid very good money to see the show and expect that the actors will deliver their performance with the same passion as on opening night. Your customers expect nothing less. As it is in Great Theater, you have to “act it like you mean it”. Do not confuse this with “fake it until you make it”. Your customers, like any audience, can see right through that kind of performance. Do you always feel like working every day, five days a week, 8-10 hours a day, on your birthday, the holidays or even on scheduled days off? Of course not. But do you think the customer really cares how you feel? Of course not! No customer walks into your establishment with an expectation of being dissatisfied. So you have to deliver Great Theater every day whether you feel like it or not.

When you perfect the delivery of the script, you perfect your performance. Break down your customer experience, act it like you mean it and deliver Great Theater. For example:

ACT ONE. Scene One.

 The Customer enters from offstage.

SERVICE PROVIDER: “Good afternoon, how may I help you?”

Motivation: Never say “May I help you?” If the customer is standing in front of you, he obviously needs help or he would have bypassed you completely.

CUSTOMER: “I believe I have a reservation. Last name is Smith.”

SERVICE PROVIDER: “Yes, Mr. Smith, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to The Best.”

Direction: Maintain eye contact for at least seven seconds and smile as you say your lines.

Motivation:

  • As Dale Carnegie says in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” So start with the customer’s name.
  • What do you think is the very first question running through the mind of a customer when coming up to an airline counter, front desk, host stand, or reception desk? That question is, “I wonder if they have my reservation?” So to establish a great first impression, incorporate this statement into your welcome, “We’ve been expecting you.” It immediately removes that mental dissatisfier and puts the customer at ease.
  • Follow that up with the name of your business.

Let it all flow together.

“Mr. Smith” (you’re very important to us). “We’ve been expecting you.” (No need to worry about your reservation. We have it.) “Welcome to . . .” (Where did Mr. Smith feel the most comfortable in interacting with a company? With you, of course. )

QUI TAKEAWAY: Define each scene in the customer experience and practice it often off stage. Never practice on the customer. Then perform your role so well that all your customers say to themselves and others that your service was the best that they have enjoyed in a long time. And when you deliver that kind of Great Theater performance consistently, you will build repeat business and customer loyalty.

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

No Surprises. No Excuses.

Displeased young girl has a serious conversation with the hairdresser

“Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is!”

Tom Peters

When your customers call or walk into your establishment, they already have a perceived expectation of what your customer experience should be. Your advertising, website and salespeople, which serve a promise to your customers, have already shaped that expectation. Deliver on that promise and your customers come to trust you. Fall short and you have broken that promise and trust. For example, a restaurant menu is a promise to your customers that what is printed on the menu is what you have to offer. If you have to tell a customer that he has an old menu, the new menus haven’t been delivered by the printer and the dry-aged steak is not on the new menu, then to the customer, you failed. He doesn’t care about the printer. All he cares about is his steak. And you failed to deliver it. And his perception is all there is.

Customers don’t care that it’s your first day on the job. They don’t care that you are understaffed because someone called in sick. Customers don’t care that the computers were down when they called.  They only care that they are your customers.  They are willing to give you their hard-earned money in exchange for an experience that they feel is more valuable to them than their money.  And when they come to you, they never have an expectation that they will be dissatisfied.

So how do you live up to your customers’ expectations? At the very least the customer experience you deliver should be with no surprises and no excuses. To your customers, any experience less than their expectation is perceived as a dissatisfying surprise. And any reason you offer to explain why you could not deliver is perceived as an excuse. And their perception is all there is.

So do everything you can to make sure there are no negative surprises. Get rid of any potential dissatisfiers.  For example, remove forbidden phrases such as “I’ll be back in a second,” Can you hold for just a minute?” and “I’ll be right with you.” Such phrases only frustrate a customer when more than 60 seconds go by.  Review all the customer touchpoints and take any negative issue and make it a neutral.  Minimize wait times. Clean dirty restrooms. Create “no hassle” return or exchange policies.  Then, as Larry Winget, the Pitbull of Personal Development puts it, “Do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, the way you said you would do it.”  That’s it. It’s that simple.  Just “do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, the way you said you would do it.”

And if the customer is unpleasantly surprised because you could not deliver, then offer no excuses. Simply apologize. Even if the customer asks for a reason, just say, “It doesn’t matter. We failed. It should never have happened and I apologize.” Remove the surprise and offer some form of atonement.

QUI TAKEAWAY: To drive customer loyalty, deliver to each customer an experience that has “No Surprises. No Excuses.”

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