Customers are paying for their experience, not your service.

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. Customers are paying for their experience. It’s ALL about them, NEVER about us. To them, perception is reality. Image is everything. Feelings are facts. And they buy with emotion and justify that decision with reason. 

Some customer service people will believe that customers will understand and be empathetic to the new employee. I get it. Customers will get it, too, but many are not going to like it. Customers are paying for THEIR experience. And they seek the best value in their experience, so, someone saying, “I’m in training” is, bluntly, a poor one. When someone new doesn’t say anything, the customer feels that the person must be knowledgeable and the problem is difficult. But that’s OK because the problem is the problem. But when someone says, “I’m new here,” that’s not OK, in fact, dissatisfying because the problem is not the problem. The problem is the person. They will leave and rant to others via social media. Customers thinking about coming to your company will decide otherwise because of his rants. It doesn’t have to be a customer they know. If you say you’re great, that’s advertising, but on social media, if they say you’re poor, that’s the truth. People are talking about you, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not. You can give them a story that “We’re new here,” or be new here but not tell them. You decide.

The customer is paying for his experience, not your company’s service. Customers don’t care how many new people you have hired. They don’t care if self-service works for you or not. And customers don’t care if you think scripting will or will not work. What they care about is how big you care about them. New employees or not, self-service or not, scripting or not. To a complaining customer, you are not a representative of the company. You ARE the company. So own it. Be the CEO of the moment. DO take it personally. DO take it professionally. Just DON’T take it home. Simply apologize. DON’T offer an explanation. Customers feel that your explanation is an excuse. Customers want action, not excuses. Just do whatever it takes to fix it fast.

And when all alternatives don’t work, DON’T fire the customer. Simply ask him to resign. “I’m sorry but we aren’t able to resolve your problem. Could I recommend Brand X for your solution? I could contact them if you like.” Both are happy. And both will remember. The customer is happy because he has a  fix. He has an emotional connection with you. The more emotional the connection, the more memorable the experience, the more loyal the customer. And loyal customers will return.  Ideally, he will come back to you. The competitor is happy because you recommended them. Later when one of them cannot resolve the problem for the customer, they will recommend you. A Mutual Admiration Society of Sorts.

So you decide. Are you telling customers you are or have people who are in training? Or do you simply not say anything and do whatever it takes to fix the problem, even if it means going to a competitor? Whatever you decide, customers will decide, too.

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Annette Franz: Values Create Value.

In the past, businesses served to sell products or services to customers. Recently businesses served to satisfy customers. No more. Satisfied customers feel service is good, not better, just average. Nobody raves about average. And satisfied customers will leave when they find something better or less expensive. Today’s customers are paying for their experience, not a business’ service or product. And they have high expectations. Customers want the best value for their experience, not the best price for your service or product. So what are you supposed to do? Annette Franz, CCXP, founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. has the answer. Read on to find out how you can be “Built to Win” customers. And be sure to read her book, Built to Win. Details of the book are linked at the end of this post.

As I was writing my latest book, Built to Win, I wanted to be sure to incorporate the notion that it’s important to design a customer-centric culture because there are clear outcomes to doing so. Culture (and certainly not one that puts the customer at the center of the business) isn’t just fluff. It’s tangible. It’s measurable. It’s critical. It’s the foundation of the business and of business success.

Because culture is defined as core values plus behaviors, I needed a statement that nicely summarized the fact that the culture drives value – for employees, for customers, and for the business. After all, the sub-title of the book is: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business. When I saw Marc Lore’s (founder of Jet.com) quote that “the values create the value,” I said, “Yes, that’s what I’m looking for.” Short and sweet – and right to the point.

Culture is a driving force in creating value for customers and for the business. Yes, values do create value. First, when your values drive a customer-centric culture, you’re putting customers at the center of all you do – again, no discussions, decisions, or designs without thinking about the customer. Solving problems for customers creates value for them – and ultimately creates value for the business. (That assumes you’ve done the work to understand your customers and focus on those customers that will create the greatest value for the business, too.) Second, when customers’ values align with the brand’s values, when customers are aligned with a brand’s purpose, they are more likely to prefer, purchase from, and recommend the brand to others than those who are not.

How do we know? Well, as with any other work you do within your organization, shining the spotlight on culture is also all about the outcomes! Not all outcomes are financial, but what I’ll call “intermediary outcomes” that ultimately lead to the business outcomes you desire. Let’s move to drawing a very clear line from culture to business outcomes, starting with this graphic below.

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While the graphic may be self-explanatory, let’s walk through it briefly.

The foundation of a winning organization is leadership and culture. Leaders must deliberately design the culture they desire, or else allow the culture they get. Rather the former than the latter! To do so, leaders must care about their people, create a culture that puts people first, and ensure that employees have a great experience. As a result, employees are enabled to do good work, and they feel a sense of purpose and belonging; they’ll feel appreciated and valued; and they’ll feel energy and enthusiasm about their work and the workplace. All of that leads to employee happiness and engagement; a more creative, innovative, and productive workforce that puts out quality work; and employee loyalty.

With that as their foundation, employees can deliver an experience for customers that leaves customers feeling valued; helps them to achieve value; solves their problems and helps them do some job: and culminates in engagement, happiness, and loyalty.

When all of that is aligned, the business benefits include both strong employer and talent branding, shorter and less costly recruiting cycles, increased customer lifetime value, revenue growth, profitability, and a host of competitive advantages that perpetuate all of these outcomes.

Let’s get to some real hard data about the connection between your culture and the bottom line. In the past, executives have used the excuse that there’s no data on this connection, but it exists. 

McKinsey’s conducted some research that points to culture correlating with performance. They looked at more than 1,000 companies, and those with cultures in the top quartile of McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index had shareholder returns that were not only 60 percent higher than median companies but also 200 percent higher than companies landing in the bottom quartile.

John Kotter and James Heskett conducted research years ago, culminating in a 1992 book titled Corporate Culture and Performance, and they have continued to build on that research over the years. They discovered that leaders who use culture as a strategic tool (versus those who don’t) do so quite successfully; these leaders saw, over an extended period of time…

  • Revenue growth: 4x
  • Job creation/workforce growth: 8x
  • Stock price growth: 12x
  • Profits: 750 percent higher
  • Net income growth: 700 percent
  • Customer satisfaction: doubled

In 2019, Grant Thornton LLC and Oxford Economics published a report titled Return on Culture. In it, they highlighted several statistics about culture, performance, employee engagement, loyalty, and more. A few noteworthy findings with regards to culture and performance include:

  • “Public companies with extremely healthy cultures are 2.5 times more likely to report significant stock price increases over the past year.
  • Companies with extremely healthy cultures are 1.5 times more likely to report average revenue growth over 15 percent for the past three years.
  • The average S&P 500 company would see savings of $156M in turnover costs annually if employees were to describe its culture as healthy.”

Culture and the impact of having a healthy culture is powerful. There’s a lot of other research out there about that. For example, I’ve seen research from Gallup and from Aon Hewitt that extolled the virtues of an engaged culture. Culture is the foundation. Design and nurture a great culture and watch employees thrive.

You know the old adage that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Well, there’s an updated – and probably equally, if not more, accurate – version of that, that people don’t leave companies, they leave cultures

In their research, Grant Thornton LLC also found that respondents with extremely healthy cultures are more likely (45 percent) to retain employees for more than six years versus respondents overall (29 percent). But here’s the real proof for the updated adage: half (49 percent) of employees would leave their jobs for a lower-paying job in exchange for a better organizational culture. (We may even be witnessing this with the Great Resignation.)

The importance of culture is real. It makes a huge difference all around!

I’ll wrap up with this quote from Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group: “It’s the job of any business owner to be clear about the company’s non-negotiable core values. They’re the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly-flowing stream.”

Annette Franz, CCXP, founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., has spent the last 30 years in the customer experience profession. She’s an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker, as well as the author of two books: Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of the Business) and Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks).

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Service with a smile. Theirs.

Good customer service means you answered all your customers’ questions. It means you resolved your service problems. Good customer service means you efficiently processed your customers’ waiting lines. It’s all about you. 

Great customer service means that one of your customers felt you had all his questions answered. It means that a customer felt you had all his problems resolved. Great customer service means your customer felt they did not have to go through a long waiting line. It means that each customer was happy that you cared about their situation and did just a bit more than they expected. It’s all about them.

Great customer service is never about what you think you did. It’s about your customers feeling happy because of what you did. It’s never about you. It’s always about them.

QUI QUOTE: Good customer service means putting a smile on your face. Great customer service is about putting a smile on your customers’ faces.

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This is our time for a Customer CARE revolution!

For many years, there has been a stranglehold of the “Profits over People” mentality for business leaders. These “Profits over People” traditionalists care about revenue dollars, market share, the stock price, bottom-line profits, even their competitors, more than their people. Listening to the sweet cha-ching sound of profits, these traditionalists do not hear their grumbling employees and complaining customers many hierarchical rungs below. Even if the traditionalists could hear, they would wear noise-canceling headphones, oblivious to the employees’ concerns and customer complaints. These traditionalists cared more about profits and didn’t care much about employees or customers. 

To paraphrase John DiJulius’ battle cry, it’s time for a Customer CARE Revolution! Let’s be revolutionary to improve the customer experience. This revolution “is a radical overthrow of conventional business mentality, designed to transform what customers and employees experience. This shift produces a culture that permeates into people’s personal lives, at home, and in the community, which provides the business with higher sales, morale, and brand loyalty, thus making price irrelevant.” John DiJulius.

 We will CARE for each customer.

  • COMMUNICATE with each customer with a smile, eye contact, and polite interaction. We inform each customer transparently and interactively of the product’s or service’s function, liabilities, and advantages to them.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE each customer’s presence and value to us.
  • RESPOND empathetically and compassionately to each customer’s questions, concerns, and complaints.
  • ENRICH the experiences of every customer.

And when we CARE, each customer is wowed and happy, intent on returning again and again, raving to others along the way.

So let’s be revolutionary to improve the customer experience and CARE. When our people are energized and engaged to enthuse our customers, everyone’s lives will be enriched.

This is our time. Let’s be loud and proud. Let’s be revolutionary! And let’s Be GREAT out there!

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Don’t offer customer service training. Develop your people with customer CARE education.

Don’t offer customer service training. Training is finite, usually only one to several days. Training is top-down, one-way “I know everything, you know nothing” instruction. Training is the how and what of service. Training is to develop THE BUSINESS. In the end, training is for a job. And the job of employees is to serve to satisfy the customer. The mission is to TAKE CARE of the customer.

Instead, have customer CARE education. Don’t have trainers or instructors. Have mentors and coaches. Your education is interactive and frequent. Your education is the how, what, and, why of service excellence. As mentors, educate your students with role-playing customer CARE (Communicate, Acknowledge, Respond, Enrich) actions to practice their soft skills. Your students will learn and appreciate the value of appearance standards, telephone etiquette, service recovery, and customer care. After “graduation”, as coaches, remind the people interactively, frequently, and continuously of your customer CARE excellence strategies. With suggestions, recommendations, and encouragement, empower your people to develop THEMSELVES. Your people will be enthused and energized to engage customers. They will create an emotional connection with your customers. The more emotional the connection, the more memorable the experience, the more loyal the customer. And everyone’s lives will be enriched. Your passion is to CARE for everyone, your people and customers alike.

And, yes, educate everyone. If you’re not caring for the customer, you darn well better be caring for the person who is.

When you create a great experience for people as much as you do for customers, you will earn the loyalty of both. And soon, without your focus on profits, profits will grow.

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Don’t serve to satisfy customers. Serve to WOW them.

Don’t serve to satisfy customers. Serve to WOW them.

We don’t have a “Peak-End Rule”. Customers don’t “journey” sequentially over time, from start to finish. They journey emotionally with “ow” and “WOW moments”. The more ow or WOW, the more emotional the moment, the more memorable the experience. The more ow, the more disgustingly memorable the experience, the more disloyal the customer. The more WOW, the more delightfully memorable the experience, the more loyal the customer.

So when we analyze the journey, we first ask, “What are the customers’ expectations? Then we ask, “What are the potential dissatisfiers and how can we remove them?” And when we ask and take action, a negative customer experience has turned into a neutral one. But that’s not good enough. Satisfied customers feel service is good, not better, just average. Nobody raves about average. And satisfied customers will leave when they find something better or less expensive.

So don’t serve to satisfy customers. Don’t treat customers as they would have expected. And don’t treat them as they want to be treated. Instead, treat them a little better than they want to be treated. Serve to WOW them.

Customer loyalty is not one BIG WOW to a customer. It’s one little wow delivered consistently to every customer. And when you consistently deliver a little wow, you transform a neutral customer experience into a positive one. 

So Be Magnificently Boring! Consistently deliver a low-cost, no-cost “a little better than the average experience that customers expect” product or service so tediously repetitive that you feel it is boring, but to the customer, at that moment, you are Magnificent! For retailers, start opening 10 minutes earlier and closing 10 minutes later. For hotels, offer bottled water at arrival or departure. For auto service repair businesses, wash the car before returning the vehicle. For fine dining restaurants, personalize the menu with the customers’ names. Customers have an emotional connection with you. The more emotional the connection, the more memorable the experience, the more loyal the customer. And loyal customers will return again and again, raving about you to others along the way. Consistency builds trust. Trust builds loyalty. Loyalty builds your business. Deliver consistency Magnificently!

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When It All Comes Down to Business, It’s “People First”

For many years, there has been a stranglehold of the “Profits over People” mentality in business. Senior executives care about top-line revenue, product and labor costs, market share, the stock price, bottom-line profits, and even their competitors, more than their people. Listening to the sweet cha-ching sound of profits, these bad bosses do not hear their grumbling employees and complaining customers many hierarchical rungs below. Even if bosses could hear, they would wear noise-canceling headphones, oblivious to the employees’ concerns and customer complaints. And “Profits over People” bad bosses would demand “My way or the highway” to the employees. Bad bosses didn’t care much about employees and employees could care less about their bosses or customers. 

Today, instead of focusing on “Profits over People”, envision “People First” as the solid foundation for everlasting business success. One caveat is “Employees First”. Managers will always see people as “employees”. Despite preaching “Employees First”, senior leaders would always have the rank and file employees “first”, on the bottom of the ladder, well below the leaders.

Recognizing “People First”, leaders will CARE for their people.

  • COMMUNICATE openly, transparently, interactively, and frequently any information that their people need and want to know. Listen empathetically to the people’s suggestions, concerns, and complaints. Express compassion with their recommendations and encouragement.
  • APPRECIATE the important roles, responsibilities, and efforts of their people.
  • RECOGNIZE, honor, and offer accolades for individual and team achievements, accomplishments, and acts of service to colleagues or customers.
  • EMPOWER people to make the right decisions for themselves, their colleagues, customers, and their business.

Whether it’s the turmoil of the pandemic, Skimpflation, or The Great Resignation, businesses will invigorate the New Normal with the “People First” culture. No longer are people taking second or third seats to customers or profits.

This cultural transformation of “People First” and the leadership commitment to CARE will enthuse and energize people to be engaged with their colleagues, customers, and the business.

When we create a great experience for people as much as we do for customers, we will earn the loyalty of both. And soon, without our focus on profits, profits will grow.

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It’s time for a Customer Service Culture Transformation to Customer CARE

Is customer service the frontline? Really? Are we called to duty on the frontline battling customers? Doctors and nurses don’t serve their ailing patients. They care. So shouldn’t customer service be customer care? Or even better …

We are the Customer CARE team.

We CARE for each member of our team:

  • COMMUNICATE openly, transparently, interactively, and frequently any information that our people need and want to know. Listen empathetically to the people’s suggestions, concerns, and complaints. Express compassion with our recommendations and encouragement.
  • APPRECIATE the important roles, responsibilities, and efforts of our people.
  • RECOGNIZE, honor, and offer accolades for individual and team achievements, accomplishments, and acts of service to colleagues or customers.
  • EMPOWER our people to make the right decisions for themselves, their colleagues, customers, and their business.

We CARE for each customer:

  • COMMUNICATE with each customer with a smile, eye contact, and polite interaction. We inform each customer transparently and interactively of the product’s or service’s function, liabilities, and advantages to them.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE each customer’s presence and value to us.
  • RESPOND empathetically and compassionately to each customer’s questions, concerns, and complaints.
  • ENRICH the experiences of every customer.

And when we CARE, each customer is wowed and happy, intent on returning again and again, raving to others along the way.

Customer service is for a job. If all a person did was for a job, then it would be to satisfy a customer. Satisfied customers feel that customer service is good, but not more than was expected, just average. Nobody raves about average. And satisfied customers may leave when they find something better or less expensive. So don’t have a job that satisfies customers.

Instead, invest in Customer CARE to develop your people to wow your customers. And when your people are energized and engaged to enthuse your customers, everyone’s lives will be enriched.

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Karen Hertzberg: Improving Customer Retention Through Great Customer Service

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?

Not sure where to start to improve your customer service quality? Try some of these strategies below to guide your business. 

Write a Mission Statement

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.

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Wow Your New Employees

It is really disappointing to new employees that the first day of orientation is spent on defining the rules and restrictions, usually required by the legal department, that, if not followed, will result in termination. At the end of the day, someone is asking, “How was your first day at work?” You don’t want their answer to be, “Well, all I learned was what will get me fired.”

While that information is important, consider the overall message you are giving new employees at the end of their first day. Highlight your culture by introducing your core values, describing the empowerment processes that employees can use to exceed customer expectations, and offering specific stories when employees went above and beyond for your customers.

Don’t bore your employees with rote customer service training. Instead, inspire them with a customer service education. Give your employees customer service tips and the reasons or explanations why it was important for customers. For example, tell your employees to respond with a customer’s “Thank you,“ with ”You’re welcome,“ or “My pleasure”. Then ask them if they know why “No problem” is a bad response. One or several may say that “No problem” means, in short, it’s no problem to them. Agree but say that the customer believes the employee said, at length, “Of the two of us around here, I’m the star of the show. Whatever you ask is not important to me, so it’s no problem.” Then let them know that you want to emphasize customer-centricity – always revolve around the customer. To customers, it’s all about them, not the employees. Then let them know that you want your employees, not to take care of customers, but to care for customers. Then encourage them to come up with ideas for customer care.  

Be sure to prioritize during orientation the customer-centricity culture. Prior to orientation, collect outstanding customer service stories, bind them into a booklet, and give to all new employees.

One day of new hire orientation is never enough. If you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver outstanding service, you have to make it a habit to recognize them when they do. As employees care for their customers, habitually CARE for them: Communicate. Appreciate. Recognize. Empower.

  • Distribute positive customer comments via your company email.
  • Mount posters of customer testimonials.
  • Create a weekly PowerPoint video of customer survey compliments along with the employees’ headshots to be run in the employee cafeteria.
  • Each time an employee is mentioned by a customer, give them a raffle ticket. At the end of the month, hold a raffle of prizes.
  • Write personal thank you notes to employees who deliver outstanding service. Send the notes to their home directly.

When you emphasize during orientation recommendations for exceptional customer service over rules for poor employee behavior, and follow up regularly with recognizing staff, your new employees will be motivated to live up to your business culture.

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