Customer loyalty is not by offering discounts, upgrades, or subscriptions to repeat customers. Real customer loyalty is built on service so great that customers return again and again, raving to others along the way. This week guest blogger Karen Hertzberg offers three QUI strategies to improve your service to keep customers coming back. You can read more about Karen at the end of her post.
What’s better than gaining a new customer? Keeping an existing one.
That’s why a high customer retention rate is an important goal for many businesses. Excellent customer service is one of the best ways to achieve this goal.
Customer retention supports long-term growth because it creates a loyal customer base. When these loyal customers are supported through great customer service, then they don’t have a reason to seek out other businesses.
Why Does Customer Service Impact Retention?
The quality of your service or product helps determine your company’s success, but a positive customer experience truly solidifies a strong relationship with your customers.
When a customer encounters great customer service, they trust that your company will treat them right no matter what issue pops up. This, in turn, makes them more likely to stick with your company the next time they need your products or services. You’re a safer bet than another company whose customer service quality is unknown.
Many business owners focus on building their customer base over delivering excellent customer service. But customer service shouldn’t be an afterthought. Your business is going to make mistakes sometimes, and solid customer service is the only way to make sure those mistakes don’t come back to haunt you.
How Do I Know if My Customer Service is Hurting Customer Retention?
Asking customers to complete a survey after a customer service experience will show you where your weaknesses are. Many times, businesses think they’re doing the right thing but they don’t have a solid understanding of what their customers actually want.
Let your customers tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are. For the best results, make your survey quick, easy to understand, and offer a reward, such as a discount on their next purchase, for completing the survey.
What Are Some Customer Service Strategies I Can Implement Today?
If you’re ready to rebuild your customer service strategy for the better, start with writing a mission statement. You should always strategize with your long-term goals in mind and a mission statement helps keep you focused.
Set Reasonable Expectations
While it’s tempting to brag about your excellent customer service, it’s far better to pleasantly surprise your customers than to disappoint them. That doesn’t mean you should set low expectations for your customer service. Just be mindful about making claims that your customer service team might not be able to live up to.
Be Honest About Mistakes
Don’t try to cover up any mistakes when you’re dealing with a customer service complaint. If something went wrong, your customer knows it. They won’t appreciate your dishonesty.
If you acknowledge your mistakes and do something to make it up to your customer (a future discount, refund, etc.), this shows your commitment to improving the customer experience.
I hope these tips help your business prioritize the customer experience to build up your customer retention. If you’re looking for more information about customer retention, the visual below debunks some customer service myths to set you on the right path for long-term growth.
Karen Hertzberg is a writer and digital content marketer from the Seattle metro area. Along with consulting on content strategy, she creates effective how-to and thought leadership content for several B2B and B2C companies. Empathy is her superpower, and she’s obsessed with clear, thoughtful written communication.
Social media is bad for customer service. Whether ranting or raving, customers are telling stories online about businesses whether those businesses are listening or not. With customers using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to complain loudly and sometimes virally to the world, companies have had to add resources to respond accordingly. But I am not against monitoring social media or using it as a responsive customer service channel. On the contrary, I believe social media has been literally and figuratively priceless for small businesses. Those businesses offering exceptional customer service don’t build their brand through advertising. Their customers build it for them via their raves on social media.
So, it is critical to know how to respond on social media, especially to the rants from dissatisfied customers. If you feel you need to get better at social customer service, don’t look to me for advice. If you want to become a millionaire, don’t ask me. I am not a millionaire. I’d tell you to go to Las Vegas or play the lottery. If you want to become a millionaire, ask people who have worked hard to earn a million dollars.
When I say social media is bad for customer service, it is because, for retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other bricks-and-mortar customer service positions, it has created a pool of candidates who are lacking in the social skills to connect with and please customers. Millennials have already overtaken Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. By 2025, Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce.
While today’s technology can create the opportunities to personalize customer service, it is still up to a person to deliver it. Yet this incoming generation can only deliver to the level of service that they themselves have experienced. And their experience has mainly been without in-person interaction. Text messaging and social media have made their interactions one-way communication. Baby Boomers have cellphones, and the subsequent generations have cell phones. But what is Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials doing on their cell phones? “OMG. LOL.” No real live conversations. I’m so old I remember hearing on my phone someone actually laughing out loud. I contend two text monologues do not make a real dialog. Texting is one-way communication. You don’t hear voice tone or inflection. Even a pause is dubious. Was it because they were thinking about what you said or is it because they got busy with something else for a minute?
Likewise, a post and a reply on Facebook do not make for real dialog. The average Facebook user today has 338 friends. When people post on their page, they have no loss of self-esteem when only eight “like” the post. The other 330 have ignored them – and they are OK with that! Even those that “like” the post rarely leave a comment to begin an interaction. A meager “thumbs up” is all the acknowledgement given to a friend. Really?
Despite all the buzz about how social media keeps people connected, social media is not really social. Look around you. Social media and text messaging have turned people into digital zombies. Walk into your staff break room and see what is going on. Did anyone even look up to acknowledge you? Do you hear any real conversations going on?
At the same time, retail technology in the form of self-service or contactless purchases may have made it more convenient for the customer, but it eliminated the human connection.
As a result, the experiences for many people are not full of good examples of emotional intelligence, body language or verbal communication that only face-to-face interactions can teach. I believe that translates in a real world where it is OK to ignore our co-workers and worse, ignore the customer. Many don’t feel it is important to greet our co-workers every morning or every customer who walks through the door.
People buy from people they know, like and trust. Likeability is perceived by a smile. Trustability is driven by eye contact. Yet, self-service technology and social media have reduced the number of human interactions for potential candidates to not only experience it for themselves but also to understand the value of its importance. Having not experienced good examples of communication, collaboration or relationship-building skills, how will your people whom you entrust to take care of your customers emotionally connect with them? And if you allow yourself to accept that such a level of emotionless transactions is adequate, how will your business build customer loyalty to succeed? Remember that satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal ones.
QUI CUSTOMER SERVICE LEADERSHIP STRATEGY
For you to succeed in this very competitive marketplace, you will need the right people. You will need people who know how to consistently welcome your customers with eye contact and a smile, listen and respond empathetically, and bid them a sincere fond farewell. You should not assume that every candidate who applies for your open positions will do that just because you put it into your job ad. Finding and keeping the right people starts with the selection process to welcoming them at first day orientation and continues every day thereafter for as long as they are with you.
As the manager, always remind yourself that you are only as good as the people who surround you. Your success is dependent on you identifying the right people among all the candidates by asking the proper interview questions with the specific intent of finding out if the candidates have the skills or potential to express sincerity, empathy and trust. The STAR interview process will better be able to identify the right candidate than the standard interview questionnaire.
Take ownership for the education of those you select to deliver the experience your customers are expecting. That education starts on the first day. Of course, you need to introduce the policies and rules required by your legal department or the state. But the first day should be as much, and I contend should be more about your company mission, values and performance standards. And that message should not be delivered by the Human Resources onboarding specialist. It should be delivered by the highest-ranking operations manager to convey the critical role your employees play in driving customer satisfaction. That manager, ideally the CEO, should convey the message that when employees interact with an individual customer, they ARE the company to that customer. As the general manager, I scheduled myself for every orientation to explain that with every single customer interaction, we were expecting them to commit to “Be the Company”. I shared a video of the CEO of the company headquartered in another state reinforcing that commitment to end orientation.
Customer service training cannot be a “Day One and Done” kind of thing. Soft skills reinforcement must be continuous. Define forbidden phrases like “No problem,” or “Sure, you bet,” and offer the proper alternatives. Role-play recent customer situations and the best responses. Explain the service recovery process and empowerment guidelines. Build in frequent opportunities to remind your team what great customer service looks like. Whether it is a daily 15-minute huddle or weekly update e-mail newsletter, be sure to reinforce often your customer service performance standards. Repeat it often to make it stick.
Regularly ask “What are you hearing?” to get feedback from those who are directly interacting with your customers. Listen, act, and let them know what you did.
And if you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver outstanding customer service, you need to make it a habit to thank them when they do. For example, share customer feedback and rave reviews you earn on Yelp or TripAdvisor with everyone.
QUI TAKEAWAY: Select the right people. Educate them on what great customer service looks like in your business. And then continually remind and recognize them when they deliver it. Only then will you strengthen the interpersonal skills of your staff to drive their success and yours.
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.
In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”
Customer service is all about building relationships – relationships with superiors, direct reports, vendors and customers. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, claims that success in any job is 20% knowledge and 80% interpersonal skills. Ultimately success in customer service is all about interpersonal skills.
Unfortunately, while there are people who want to work in customer service, many lack the necessary interpersonal skills because they have grown up or interacted with others in a generation far different from our own.
I am convinced that people can only deliver an experience that they themselves have experienced. In order to succeed in customer service, they would have had to personally experience and learn from great examples of others exhibiting stellar interpersonal skills in their day-to-day interactions.
But those opportunities to learn firsthand from face-to-face interactions have all changed in less than a generation. Like many of you, when I earned my first paycheck there was no direct deposit or internet banking. We would have to go weekly to the bank to deposit our paycheck. After a while, the teller got to know who we were, where we worked, what we did there, and regularly asked how work and our company was doing. We learned how to communicate personally as a result of those interactions. But with on-line banking and ATM’s, when was the last time you had to actually go into a bank? We have lost that opportunity for regular personal interactions.
I was a member of after school clubs in school and in that process I collaborated with others in person. Now many young people are more apt to spend as much time with an on-line team of avatars of people they have never met playing Call of Duty or Warcraft. All those hours on-line, but what interpersonal skills are they learning from that experience?
Remember when gas stations used to have the attendant check your oil and tire pressure, clean your windshield and ask us if there was anything else they could do for us ? How bad has customer service gotten when we never see an attendant and actually pump our own gas? Where is the interpersonal skills reinforcement in that experience?
This will date me, but I remember when the baggers at the grocery store would actually take the bags in a shopping cart and help me load them into my car. Not only are the baggers gone, but so are many of the cashiers, replaced by self-serve checkout lines. And even the cashiers who are on duty certainly have no time to strike up a social conversation.
The average Facebook user today has 200 friends. When people posts on their page, they don’t have a loss of self-esteem when only three “like” the post. The other 197 have ignored them – and they are OK with that! Even those that “like” the post rarely leave a comment to begin an interaction. Social media, then, is rarely social.
I have a cell phone and young people have cell phones. But what are they doing with their cell phones? OMG. LOL. I’m so old I remember someone actually laughing out loud on my phone. Texting is really one-way communication. You don’t hear voice tone or inflection or a pause. Two text monologues on do not make a real dialog.
So the experiences for many people are not full of the 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 that is OK to ignore the customer and our co-workers. We don’t have to greet our co-workers every morning or every customer who walks through the door. Having not experienced good examples of communication, collaboration or relationship-building skills, how will those people we entrust to take care of our customers be successful? And if we allow ourselves to accept that level of performance as adequate, how will our businesses succeed?
The answer is that we, as managers, are responsible for the education of those who do not have those skills. For us to succeed in this very competitive customer service marketplace, we will need the right people. We will need people who know how to consistently welcome our customers with eye contact and a smile, listen and respond empathetically, and bid them a sincere fond farewell. So we will need to ask the proper interview questions with the specific intent on finding out if the candidates have the necessary skills of expressing sincerity, empathy and trust. And we will be the ones who will have to educate the people we select to deliver the experience our customers are expecting from us. Customer service cannot be “Day One and Done” training. Soft skills reinforcement must be continuous. Only then will we build the interpersonal skills of our staff to drive their success and ours.
A while ago I had blogged about using the CASE Method to improve your company’s customer experience. CASE stands for “Copy and Steal Everything”. If you feel uncomfortable with “Steal”, then “Copy and Save Everything”. I said you should be more intent on observing within and outside of your industry for ideas that you can CASE. Then tweak the idea to make it your own.
I recently read an article in Software Advice’s Customer Service Investigator, which featured a discussion with Communications Coach and Author Carmine Gallo on some strategies for mimicking the customer service efforts of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. While the tactics discussed are agreeably good ideas for promoting a strong customer experience, I wanted to further explore how other organizations could CASE Virgin’s best practices with the article’s author, Software Advice Managing Editor Holly Regan. You can learn more about Software Advice at the end of the post.
What is the risk involved with allowing customer service reps to operate within the “judgment playing field” (make their own decisions within boundaries)? How can other organizations comfortably adopt this tactic?
When you allow employees the freedom to make their own decisions, you open yourself up to the possibility that, occasionally, they will make the wrong ones. However, if you delineate clear boundaries for your judgment playing field ahead of time as to what employees are and aren’t allowed to do, you can ensure that even the occasional wrong decision won’t significantly harm your business. Defining these limits for acceptable behavior and communicating them to all staff members is one way organizations can feel comfortable about adopting this tactic. The other piece of the puzzle is smart hiring. If you have a strict screening process that ensures you only have people on staff who fit with your company culture and values, you can feel comfortable trusting them to make the right decisions.
Are there other benefits associated with instilling the company mission in all staff besides an improved experience for the customer – that is, do you find that employees also have a greater sense of purpose with knowledge of company goals and are willing to work harder?
Yes–instilling your company mission in all members of your staff not only allows them to deliver that mission to customers, it also gives them a higher-level view of what the company is trying to achieve through every customer service interaction. Employees who know what they’re working towards and why tend to work harder and are better able to internalize the mission and become passionate about it. They are empowered to deliver great service, regardless of their level of authority within the company.
Virgin’s employees are proof of this: customers of Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic laud the consistency of their service experience from boarding to baggage claim. The staff member checking them in for their flight portrays the same passion and enthusiasm as the flight attendant serving them in the air, because they’re both working towards the same mission. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is another great example: everyone who goes through training at one of their hotels is immersed in the company mission, from basic etiquette to service psychology, and employees of every department are empowered to do whatever it takes to deliver on that mission. As a result, they are praised as some of the most passionate customer service reps in the world.
Which members of the customer service team should have an open door policy, and how does such a policy satisfy employees?
Anyone in a management position should have an open-door policy, from the shift supervisor to the CEO. Having a forum in which employees can provide feedback – and encouraging them to do so frequently and honestly – is crucial for any service-oriented organization. Management needs to have an accurate picture of what’s working and what’s not on the ground, and who better to provide that than the employees who are directly interacting with customers day-to-day? Your service reps are the best source of feedback on what customers like about your company, and what they need that they aren’t getting.
Having an open-door policy is not only helpful for management – it also shows employees that they have a voice and that their managers genuinely care about their needs, concerns and suggestions. Employees must feel truly valued in order to feel passionate about the company they work for. Managers must also make sure to communicate with employees about how their suggestions for improvement are being implemented or why they decided not to act on them. When employees know they aren’t just giving feedback in a vacuum, they’re more likely to keep providing it. And seeing their ideas put into practice is empowering and inspires them to always be looking for new ways to innovate in customer service interactions.
Customer service reps might find it difficult to “bring their personality” to work, as many are instructed to go off scripts. Should scripting not be so heavily practiced, or should managers encourage employees to simply integrate their own “personal touch?”
As mentioned in the article, customers don’t want to interact with a robot. Service is much more effective when it’s perceived as genuine, and scripting definitely discourages this. Instead of giving reps specific instructions for what to say and how to act, managers should focus on hiring quality employees who exude the company’s culture, mission and values – and who can be trusted to use their own judgment to deliver on that. By clearly defining the judgment playing field, you can ensure your employees don’t get too far off-track while also allowing them to interact naturally with customers, as they would with a friend or colleague. This not only gives reps the freedom to be themselves, it gives customers the benefit of a unique, memorable and genuine interaction that will keep them coming back.
Software Advice is a free online resource that reviews CRM, marketing automation and sales force automation software. Follow them at @CRMAdvice.
Prior to my present position as resort manager for Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, I served as the charter general manager for The Henry – Autograph Collection (Autograph Collection is Marriott International’s exclusive portfolio of independent hotels) when it was reflagged after 21 years as the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn, MI (Ritz-Carlton is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marriott International). Almost all the associates were former Ritz-Carlton “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Last year The Henry was recognized as one of Marriott International’s Hotels of the Year. I am convinced that while they are now The Henry associates they still would bleed Ritz-Carlton blue. And if you’ve every stayed in a Ritz-Carlton hotel you know there is something extraordinary about the refined delivery of customer service by its associates. So when fellow customer service blogger Ashley Furness offered to share an interview she conducted with Diana Oreck, vice president of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Training Center, I quickly accepted. You can find out more about Ms. Oreck and Ashley at the end of the post. But for now, here is Ashley’s inside look at how Ritz-Carlton educates its associates to deliver its world-class brand of exceptional customer service.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is known worldwide for it’s “legendary service.” So much so, Apple uses the luxury hospitality brand as a model for its owner customer support traditions. For both, it’s all about anticipating the customers’s expressed and unexpressed needs.
These practices have not only increased word of mouth and brand loyalty. Ritz-Carlton also boasts among the best employee retention rates around. To create raving fans, they start with inciting brand enthusiasm from their team.
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Ritz-Carlton leadership training center Vice President Diana Oreck. I asked her about customer service training, retention, performance measurement and more. Here’s what she had to share about Ritz’ super service sauce:
What sort of questions can you ask someone to find out if they’re caring and can anticipate customer wants and needs?
Well what you want to make sure you do is not ask yes or no questions. You’re not going to say, “OK Ashley, are you a caring person?” Because obviously, you’re just going to say yes, right? So what we do is we ask you in the interview, “Ashley give us a specific example of how you’ve cared for someone in the last month.” “Give me a specific example of anticipatory service that you have extended.”
Ritz-Carlton puts a lot of emphasis on successful new hire orientation. Why is this important for customer service training?
A lot of companies have a notion that employee orientation really needs to be a data dump of the company, and statistics and who’s doing what. It really isn’t. What we are looking for at orientation is passion. We want to make sure that that new person gets the feeling they made the right decision in joining us.
It’s all about them and it’s all about culture. We feel that orientation needs to be significant emotional experience. Because think about it – you are making a very big decision in your life to either start a job or change a job. So our two days of orientation, they are solely revolving around our culture, which we call the gold standards. And the reason we do that is we know that the culture creates passion advocates of our employees. Raving advocates of our brand and we don’t think that it’s realistic to ask that your customer be passionate, raving fans if your employees aren’t first.
Is this also something that helps with customer service employee satisfaction and retention?
Yes, it’s about engagement. I will give you an example. The lodging industry as a whole tends to run a 60-70 percent turnover in a year. Here at Ritz Carlton we run in the low 20s. It’s a huge difference.
What else do you do to promote retention?
We’ve got a vast list. Rewards and recognition is huge. Ranging from first class card, which is the most popular form of recognition at Ritz Carlton. Talk about less is more, it’s just a card that says “first class” and we give it to each other to thank each other. It can be peer to peer, peer to manager, employee to president, president to employee. And then we have things like birthdays, we give gift certificates. You can become five-star of the quarter. We don’t do employee of the month, because we find it’s much for meaningful if it’s the quarter. We are also one of the only hotel companies that still provide meals for their staff. We have gorgeous picnics in the summer and the holiday party and it goes on and on.
What metrics or qualitative data does Ritz-Carlton use to measure customer service training success (How do you know it’s working)? How do you collect this data?
Oh yes, we poll our guests once a month. The Gallup organization sends out 38 percent of guests that stayed the month before. It’s done randomly with the hope we will get 8-10 percent return. We live and die by that guest engagement number. This is the sum of responses to about 30 questions, including How likely is that guest to recommend Ritz Carlton? Were they delighted and satisfied with their stay? If there was a problem, did we take care of their problem? We know that if that guest engagement number goes up, we know that our training programs have been successful.
What are the biggest mistakes companies make when training customer service staff?
There not being specific enough. They’ll say things like “Give great service.” Well that’s nice, but people need a road map. Never assume anything, make sure you have your service standards written down and allow people to observe you in action. Don’t assume that their mother or father, or previous employer taught them what really great service looks like. Have a written service strategy.
What other successful customer service strategies have companies adopted by studying Ritz-Carlton?
It’s all about empowerment. The thing that our guests are most wowed about is that every single employee has $2,000 a day per guest to delight, or make it right. But we never use the money because that money is just symbolic. We are saying to our employees we trust you. We select the best talent. Just help the guest. We do a lot of training around empowerment. So I would say this – you need to empower employees. You also need to make sure that you are inspiring employees to bring their passion to work everyday and to volunteer their best. And you do that by reinforcing their purpose, not their function. Not the how to do your work, but the why of the work you do.
About Diana Oreck Diana Oreck is Vice President, Leadership Center and leads The Ritz-Carlton’s two-time Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-winning corporate university. She brings more than 30 years of experience in hospitality to her role and was named as a 2011/2012 Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Under her leadership The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company was named the best global Training Company in the world in 2007 as ranked by Training Magazine.
About the Author
Ashley Furness is a CRM analyst for Software Advice. has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyFurness.
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 here. Find out more about JP and karma at http://www.karmacrm.com. You can also follow karmaCRM on Twitter.
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:
We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.
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.
Imagine if you could get each person on your team focused on the same vision and commitment to the delivery of the World’s Best experience for each customer. Your company’s service reputation would be broadcast so loudly by all of your customer loyalists that you easily would dominate your competition. So how do you do it? How do you get everyone on your team reading from the same book? Simple. Put it in writing. Literally let them read from the same book.
Create your customer service manifesto. Your manifesto is a declaration of your company’s customer service creed, principles and intentions. Do not confuse this booklet with the employee handbook. The latter defines the legal responsibilities of the company and the employee. Your manifesto defines your company’s service culture. The employee handbook defines the limitations of personal performance. Your customer service manifesto defines the principles that each team member should aspire to perform. Big difference.
Why is writing your customer service manifesto so important? Review your company’s first day orientation agenda for a new employee. I am sure you will find that, while benefits are reviewed, much more time is spent on company policy – email and social media guidelines, conduct on and off duty, house rules, safety, sexual harassment, and on and on. It’s like saying to a new employee, “Welcome to the company. Now here is how you can get fired.” On the first day, you spend more time explaining the obstacles more than you do how to go above and beyond to wow your customer. What’s wrong with that picture?
Your manifesto will let your employees know that you are committed to service that is not hindered by rules. Discussed separately from the rules and regulations, you initiate new employees to fully grasp the value and importance of customer service. The principles within the manifesto define the level of service to which you wish each employee to aspire. So what are the components for a customer service manifesto? Here you go:
Mission Statement – Your mission statement should answer three simple questions: What do you do? How do you do it? Who is your customer? Keep it short. Your mission statement should be memorable and easily recitable. Disney offers one of the best examples of a mission statement: (What do you do?) We create happiness (How do you do it?) by offering the finest in entertainment (Who is your customer?) for people of all ages, everywhere. It is simple, yet aspirational. What is your mission? Is it memorable? Can your employees get passionate about it?
Your Company Heritage – Most businesses give a new employee a historical timeline of major events. But a heritage is something more. A heritage incorporates the “why” behind the “who, what and when”. A heritage is the storytelling of the rich tradition of your company. Marriott employees all know the story of newly wed J.W. and Alice Marriott’s trek from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C., the nine stool Hot Shoppe where J.W sold 5 cent A&W root beer, and the sticky nickels hand carried to the bank by Alice Marriott. What is your company’s story?
Core Values – The core values for Baptist Health Care are Integrity, Vision, Innovation, Superior Service, Stewardship and Teamwork. Yum! Brands employees focus on CHAMPS: Cleanliness, Hospitality, Accuracy, Maintenance, Product Quality, Speed of Service. What are the pillars on which your company is built?
Appearance Standards – To the customer, the employee is the company and first impressions do matter. Your message here should convey that an employee’s appearance should be a reflection of your company’s professionalism and not an employee’s personal style.
Performance Tips – Define the specific behaviors that can guide employees to act courteously with customers in person, on the phone and on-line. Include in this section the forbidden phrases like “Honey, Sweetheart.” “I don’t know.” “You should have . . .” and “To be honest with you . . .” while offering performance expectations such as answering any ringing phone within three rings or an email within 8 hours, as well as using the person’s name at every opportunity. You know how to properly interact with customers. How do you want your employees to act? Tell them by writing it down.
Service Recovery – Marriott Hotels uses the service recovery acronym LEARN: Listen, Empathize, Apologize, Respond, Notify (your supervisor and co-workers so that it does not happen again to future customers). Other businesses use the acronym LAST: Listen. Apologize. Solve. Thank (the customer for bringing the issue to your attention). What are the service recovery steps that you expect every employee to take when confronted with a dissatisfied customer?
Experience Flow Chart – Jan Carlzon, then CEO of SAS Airlines, defined a Moment of Truth as “anytime a customer comes into contact with any aspect of a business, however remote . . . to form an impression.” Whether you call it an experience flow chart or experience journey map, plot all the emotional touchpoints of the customer’s experience. The employee can then be more aware of the key opportunities to wow your customers.
Aspiration page – This last page could be customer testimonials, motivational or customer service quotes or a parable like The Starfish Finder. (Google “Starfish Finder” if you haven’t heard of this story). This last page should serve as aspiration that one person truly can make a difference in the experience of a customer.
But merely writing and distributing the customer service manifesto at orientation is not enough. Spend time with the new employee to give your personal interpretation of the meaning and importance of the key components.
QUI TAKEAWAY: Samuel Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” Ritz-Carlton established itself as one of the finest luxury hotel brands by mandating a daily line-up where that day’s Ritz Carton Credo card’s performance tip is reviewed. So refer to your manifesto often and ideally discuss daily one item within it to instill in each employee your company’s mission, values, and performance expectations. And when you do, you will see that each employee will deliver consistently the World’s Best Experience to every one of your customers.