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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.

How May I Help You?

In the drunken greed of the 1990s and 2000s, it looked as if customer service and servant leadership might take a nosedive and stay down in popularity. Most political and business pundits are now saying that we will not – any time soon- return to the spending and thinking habits of the last few decades. The economy has taken a severe beating and will likely require a long recovery. Many economists are saying the economy may never recover to the levels we have known in the past.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
–Max De Pree

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.

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.

It’s Time for Reason AND Fairness

Yes, it is time for reason and fairness in our world of business. No, I’m not a socialist as I have owned my own business since 1983 and profits are a good thing. However, as a business person, I am getting tired of all the unnecessary fees and add-ons that come my way. I really call this being tricky or just plain old greedy. Others call it creative revenue streams! Well, unless there is a value added reason – I still call it greed.

As our leaders begin to think of ways to stimulate the economy, I believe that one of the fastest ways to get us back on track is for revenues generated equal effort placed in getting this revenue. The more effort (and that includes thinking and creativity) the more one can rightfully charge.

This is just one man’s personal opinion about correcting the unnecessary greed that has taking place in the USA. I recently spent some time in Tokyo, Japan and learned a few things about the 2nd largest economy in the world.

First, there is no tipping in Japan. The price is the price. In the US, after you get your food bill – you are “expected” to add another 20% after tax! Interesting. No matter what the level of service was during your visit. The other thing that I was amazed to find – the Japanese retail environment was noteworthy. When you entered the store, you were greeted by smartly dressed men and women – who were smiling and excited you chose their store. Service was off the charts, as clerks were available to answer your questions, guide you to the right locations, as well as show you how things worked. Again, with real smiles! And, they were not pushy, they truly understood what service was all about – helping the customer.

We need to take inventory of current practices and determine if they are fair to the customer. All to often we can say this is true. Put the customer back at the top of the pyramid and the economy will again click into gear – big time. Take a moment and assess your companies pricing and customer practices. Are they fair and benefit the customer’s experience? Be honest to yourself and make a difference.

Sales Tip of the Year

Okay, today I want to share the number one sales tip for the coming year. It is very simple and straight-forward.

Ask the Customer what they want and then Listen intently to their answer!

I am still amazed by sales people and customer service personnel who fail to get clarity regarding what is most important to the customer. The best salespeople and customer service people take the time to learn about what is important to the customer and then deliver it, if they can.

The reason this simple tip is not followed by sales people or customer service personnel is twofold. One, the agenda of the sales person or customer service is to do what they want rather than what the customer wants. This the root cause for all the hostility or confrontation in selling circles. It is also why customers get frustrated and stop doing business with a company or individual.

The second issue is a systematic issue – Rules or policies set up by a faceless non-customer oriented individual. Again, the root cause for the system to break down is they are set as an internal rule with NO consideration for the customer impact – usually negative. Bureaucratic rules and policies should be dealt with regarding the impact upon the customer. If the rules are stupid or restrictive to customer satisfaction – then they will fail in the long run. Common sense needs to gain some ground regarding these decisions.

I recently experienced this type of injustice in customer service where I was basically told I was totally out of luck regarding this issue because their records did not reflect my explanation. DUH! That was the issue, their person made an honest mistake in trying to assist me – but the impact was very negative to me! I was told over and over that their system could not correct “after the fact” mistakes! Again, DUH! When do you believe most mistakes are found? Right – “After the Fact.” I feel sorry for this organization for they will always have to compete on price rather than service levels due to their rules and policies. What a JOKE.

Remember this as you are called upon to set up rules or policies for your organization. Make rules and policies accountable to customers and customer satisfaction. Value-added is a real issue and needs to be at the top of sales, customer service and managerial groups.