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Interesting Customer Service Trends – Good or Bad?

Over the weekend I began to think about the trends in Customer Service and I started to feel a little uneasy about some of my realizations. So today I felt the need to write about Customer Service and I would really like to see your thoughts on these trends. So be sure to leave me a comment below after you read this Trend Update.

Okay, first let me say that in my opinion Customer Service is a Critical Business Function. An excellent customer service mindset can create a company – Zappo’s; it differentiate one company from another – Apple vs Microsoft after the first Apple Stores were opened; and finally, you can create Customer Loyalty due to the way situations are handled – Nordstroms who is very proud of their level of customer service and only have One Rule for New Employees…

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

Now Nordstrom has a brilliant idea – simple the rules, trust their people, train their people in customer service and make use of Good Judgment – which I assume contains a heavy dose of “common sense.”

While these companies are doing well (with the possible exception of the current APPLE) there are some trends growing in the “me -too” world of corporate business. These trends are…

Customer Satisfaction and the 3 R’s Story

Our March newsletter has a lead article about Customer Satisfaction Starts with Respect, Responsiveness and Reliability. This article hits on several key points that shows many organizations today are not paying enough attention to details to get any respect.

One of my readers immediately responded to the article with his true life story illustrating the pitfalls of surface or even shallow thinking on the part of real organizations.

Here is his story (name is changed to protect the innocence)…

Why Are Smart Companies Getting Stupid?

Yes, I know this title is an “in your face” title, yet, it seems to be true more often than I care to see. The primary focus of this statement is geared to how they are interacting with their customers ( actually a lack of interaction is more accurate.)
To show what I mean here are two examples using well known companies. One is a retail service provider and the other is a technology company.

First, the retail service company is Comcast. This is a company that spends millions of dollars to attach new customers into their world, yet, seems to be the cheapest company in the world relative to after the sell – customer service or support.

Customer Service or Experience – What does it matter?

For a few years now people have been talking about the Starbucks domination of the coffee market. And, the CEO and other Guru’s of the Business World have stated the difference is in the Starbucks Experience. And, while I personally prefer my select coffee beans, I can not argue with the success this company has had over the years.

You will very seldom find an empty Starbucks outlet (Okay, smarter I heard that and I know no one is there when the store is closed. 🙂 ) so they must be doing something right. And, that is the truth. Like Apple Inc , Starbucks have loyal customers who keep coming back everyday of the week.

So, what does it mean to have loyal customers?

Seems to mean a lot, that is if you like making money consistently.

So to support his emotional claim, I looked for some research into the numbers and data showing if there was a difference between ordinary customer service (reactive) and developing Loyalty from your customers. And, the research data does show it is very important to your bottom line to get this customer loyalty stuff right.

What has happened to Customer Service?

It’s time for another of Voss Graham’s Rants or as I like to think about them – Doing Things Right Rants. This time it is focused upon Customer Service or the lack of it from people and companies. While over the past couple of weeks since my last rant, I have witnessed several customer service or just customer related neglect that I want to use to as examples of customer abuse.

Use Common Sense and Improve Customer Service

Wow! Just when you began to think that common sense was making a come back – the Airline Industry screws up big time – again! While I was going to write about change management this week, the news of 57 passengers being abused by the airline industry hit a new low in the ranks of stupid.

If you missed it yesterday, an evening flight from Houston to Minneapolis was detoured to another airport due to bad weather. The stupid started at this new stop – officials and managers would not let the passengers out of the plane. So, since the plane was grounded by someone – in charge? – the passengers got to sleep in the plane. Now, we are not talking about some luxury liner made for international flights with leg room and large rest rooms. No, we are talking about a small regional jet with no leg room and tiny restrooms that a grown man cannot stand up within its walls.

Seems the airport officials could not make a decision to benefit the passengers, the two airlines involved decided to be stupid and hide behind some FAA rule or something along those lines. So the passengers and crew were locked in the plane overnight – no food, no room, no service, crying kids and no justice!

First, it should be a crime for the airlines to use these tiny jets for any flight over one hour. Personally, I cannot fly in one of these sardine cans with jet engines tied to the side and walk straight when I arrive at my destination. But this is a personal opinion, which seems to be seconded by the business travelers that I speak to on a regular basis. But to force over 50 people to stay in the plane over night is worst than being in jail. At least in jail, you can walk around in a straight up posture. What did these passengers do to merit such abuse – they paid for a ticket – they paid to be abused is the mentality of the airlines I guess. NOT!

Second, someone has to take a leadership role in situations that impact customers. That’s right – passengers are customers not freight. I really got a laugh when I noticed one of the big airlines had promoted their VP of freight to include passengers. What a message that speaks about the airline industry and why they are in trouble today. They would not know a customer – because they hide behind a wall of telemarketers and gatekeepers that have no authority to do anything – to keep them safe. I suggest the decision makers in this case, be placed in a small crowded regional jet fly for three or four hours, land at a strange airport and remain in the plane for the evening. I wonder how that experience would change their personal decision process.

Third, rules are made for the general situations. Aberrations or special events – like a plane arriving at your airport due to special circumstances – must be dealt with by people capable of thinking and making a decision in the interest of their customers. The airlines have gotten very comfortable about hiding behind rules – their rules (which are really guidelines) and FAA rules which seem to written by GOD and anyone who breaks the FAA rules will be doomed for the rest of eternity.

Finally, if the airlines ever want to regain their reputation and dominate the airway in a positive way – the customer (passenger) has to be the center of attention. It’s not the airplanes or the Internet reservation system – it’s all about people treating people with respect and dignity. It is a simple process. If the airlines want this to happen, first allow your workers to make decisions based upon common sense in the workplace. Treat your workers with dignity and respect and the customers will benefit and then you – the airlines – will benefit in a huge way.

My sense of fair play and treating people with respect and dignity was blindsided by this national story. Unfortunately, the person(s) in charge will probably get a bonus at the end of the year – even with their stupid and inhuman thinking abilities. I can only assume that an alien has moved into the ranks of management in the airline industry.

Do the Right Thing. and Stop Being so Stupid.

Increase Customer Service Ranking Overnight

While having a discussion with a manager of a restaurant, our discussion gravitated to customer service. He asked how he could improve customer service quickly since he had inherited a location with poor customer service.

As we talked about the current situation, one thing became quite obvious – the previous manager had verbally abused the staff on a regular basis. That’s when the problem was solved.

What is Good Enough?

I am sure that you have heard this expression – what is good enough? It is one of those questions that can create both tension and excitement within the same level of execution. So why do we have the dynamics regarding this question?

Well, the answer lies in the emotional level of the answer. Often emotions and in some cases – no emotion – is added either directly or indirectly to the results. Okay, I know I’m beginning to sound like a economist or worst a political person. So, let me explain my answer.

First, on a direct and unemotional example the following can happen. A job or customer action is performed without any emotion and then “technically” the job is completed as originally quoted. There are results, yet, the degree of positive response from the customer is based upon their perception of the quality of the work. Here’s the rub.

When work is only performed to the minimum standard, as a customer there are doubts as to the overall quality and since I’m not excited about the results – I may leave and do business with someone else. You see – doubt and a lack of emotional satisfaction – has opened the door to other options in the future.

Second, this one is easy. Lack of results and poor emotional or quality productivity leads to finding another source almost immediately. Here is where a possible debate over payment comes into play, since the customer feels that something is missing there is a desire to withhold payment. And, if the provider got the money up front – well, now the customer feels cheated – no repeat business here!

Third, the provider misses a few of the agreed upon items, yet, happily does several other things that were not part of the agreement. The customer feels good because several other things were done and collectively adds value to the deal. Happy customer, yet, not locked in for life because a few things were missing in the results. Still, due to the deliver of the little extras the customer feels good about the experience and will do more business with the provider. It is now time for the provider to step up and deliver in full the next time and lock the customer up as a loyal fan.

Finally, the provider hits the mark on all the deliverables AND goes the extra mile with several additional things – mostly small details and happiness factors that lead to total emotional satisfaction for the customer. The customer feels like  a winner due to both the effort and results by the provider. This customer is so excited to get this level of results that they cannot hold back their excitement. Yes, they begin to tell others about this great provider and the service they received.

The provider knows that they did something really well, because their new business leads increase due to the happy and satisfied customer. This is the bonus. The little extra created more opportunities for the provider to grow their business.

So use this format to identify areas that you are using service to grow your business by identifying what is good enough and increasing your effort and results. The solution is simple, the discipline to do it is hard.

Customer Service is More than an Internet AutoResponder

Friday is my day to rant. It seems I have had several run-ins with Auto-Responders posing as customer service departments. What a bone head move on some company’s decision making process.

A few companies hid their phone numbers – so you can not call them. One of these is the great Google, an Internet icon if there ever was – and yet, no posted phone number!

Now I understand the need for large and small companies to hold down their costs and the principle of using technology to do the routine tasks is a standard. However, there has to be some type of check system to stop the stupidity of continuous emails that do nothing but aggravate the customer.

In my case I have filled out forms and reply forms on an website page and hoped someone not a something would get back with me. But it seems Mr Cron (You techies out there know what I’m talking about here.) is operating the return email system along with Mr. Auto Responder! God help us if they turn into Terminators. They know where we live!

It would not hurt to have a customer service person, particularly for a new customer who needs their assistance. Here’s my Google example: Been using all the services except Google AdWords for years. I decided it was time to finally launch into the 21st century and do some Pay Per Click ads and drive some traffic to several of our sister sites. Like which is a site we use to promote one of our best workshops. Now the problem is the length of the URL – it’s 36 characters without the www. That is one character more than the allowed space on the Google Ad URL Display line!

Therefore, after hours of research and writing ads, I placed the ads and was very proud of my work – until – the dreaded auto-responder attack from Google! They disapproved my ads because the Display URL was not a functional address like the Destination URL!!! AAAGGGGHHHH! Several attempts to fix it and then the revelation that it was not fixable unless I get a new URL and move the website – which I am not.

Then, I thought, no problem I’ll just call Google and ask a customer service person, how to handle this issue and another issue that came up during the set up phase. Surprise, no phone number, and when you hit the contact us button – we get a pop-up window with an index of what you need to do on everything but my problem.

You see, my problem is an exception to the general rule. Google and others have set up systems that do not handle the exceptions. No system, process or method to get your problem resolved without major hassle. This is a customer downer.

If they want me to spend more money, then make it easy for me to get it right and spend my money on marketing. Some smart person in my opinion is really dumb. And, the really sad thing is, the person who made the decision is hidden behind a huge wall of gatekeepers so they never and I mean never have to answer to anyone – especially their customers.

Well, enought ranting, have a great weekend and Memorial Day holiday on Monday. Our veterans deserve our respect – so honor them on their day. You don’t have to like the act of war, yet, these people felt the need to support our country for freedom and democracy and we should support them.