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Friday, December 9, 2011

What's Better than Cheap? Free!

If I could offer one  free piece of customer service golden advice, then it would be make sure you close the loop in all your business transactions and discussions.  Even when there is not a conflict, best practices of customer service would have you say before moving forward with action, “We/I took care of X for you.  You can expect X to occur this day; I will follow-up to make sure it happened.”  I encourage you to broaden this to your personal life as well, but for the sake of my blog I will keep it to business.  

What made me think of this is I’ve recently been frustrated with the lack of follow-up, and then ultimately lack of closure when dealing with companies as a customer.  One example deals again with my friends at Foot Locker.  After multiple emails, they finally bring closure to my website transaction and correctly settle a mailed in merchandise return.  They offered to email me an e-gift card for my refund.  Perfect, I think, because it will be quick and I can go back to doing what they want me to do, give them money.

Yesterday, I attempted to order more merchandise on Foot Locker’s website, but when I opened the email that was the confirmation they were giving me the e-certificate I realized they did not actually issue the certificate, but issued only a statement to tell me they were issuing me a gift card in another week.  One half, yes my error for not noticing this earlier, but really this should not be this hard.   So now I emailed them again and wait for a gift card.

This is just one example, and I am sure you have others that are similar.  Funny, I don’t know of one person who enjoys working with customer service to get something resolved, even if they are a service professional. One reason is because of this needless convoluted lack of closure to transactions, of going nowhere fast and just waiting for a fight.

The Customer Service Gurus Tips for Success

Make sure when you close a transaction, of any type, that it is really closed.  Do not operate in the “I think it happened” realm.  Follow-up, show you care about your customers, and make it easy for your employees to do so.  Ensure the customer or client has everything they need to move forward with the positive growth business you want them to engage in.

Direct Customer Employee Impact

Practically speaking, as a leader this means simplifying processes so not a gazillion hands need to touch something to have it resolved.   In the Foot Locker example, it is hard for me to grasp that the person I spoke with could not immediately issue the gift certificate.  That it took another department to issue a $26 refund. The less hands involved, the faster and more accurate the resolution.  If you do not trust your employee’s accuracy, then you may have a lack of skill training issue.  

Practically speaking as well, I know the idea of employees holding on to an issue to absolute resolution is daunting from a labor perspective because you need them to move forward with the next issue.  But I respectively argue if they do not wait until the final resolution, more times than not that issue will come back again, therefore any gain in labor is lost.   Think of how many people at Foot Locker have touched my relatively simple transaction.  In a traditional brick and mortar store, the whole thing would have been wrapped up in 10 minutes.

Professional Employee Impact

Delivering superior customer service is something for all employees, even those in more traditional white-collar roles such as managers, lawyers, accountants, and engineers.  In all these roles the goal is to provide a service and/or a tangible product to the client.  I have seen multiple times where the lack of delivering basic quality customer service skills has cost a project thousands of dollars in resources due to missing that final clarification ‘close the loop’ statement.

If you are in such a role, always ask that final question, “This is what we are doing based on the parameters you have given us.  Is there anything else you would like to see, have us do?   Do we agree this is the course moving forward? I will follow-up with you when we reach the next milestone,” and then actually follow-up.   Do not wait for the client to call you because I can almost guarantee that will mean a change in scope, a mistake, a difficult situation, i.e. a problem you probably do not want to have. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

It is not all doom and gloom in the service world.  Most people providing service do so because they enjoy working with people or they are proud of what they can deliver to their clients.   By using a few statements to close the loop of the transaction you will work more accurately and waste less time and money, the clients and yours.   

Post script to my Foot Locker story:  Using the Live Chat function on their website, the effective pleasant representative quickly discovered when issuing my original e-certificate a typo in my email address caused a missed delivery.  Now why something was not done with the bounced back email I do not know, but it proves again my point about closing the loop.

So as we close 2011 commit to bringing all your customer and employee interactions to successful closure.  Make that phone call that you have been delaying or avoiding; follow-up with customers to ensure you have done what they need you to do.  Building that strong sense of integrity to your work builds strong client referrals, and creates a smoother work life.   Work is not perfect, but you can do much to help yourself and your employees avoid mistakes and create loyal satisfied customers.  It’s as simple as asking, “What else can I do for you?”  Do not stop until that answer is, “Nothing, thanks. You've been great.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Time Keeps on Slipping into the Future

If you’ve seen me on Linked In, then you know I love this book, Mike Veeck’s “Fun Is Good: How to Create Joy & Passion in Your Workplace & Career.”  It came to my mind as we near the end of 2011.

In the book, he suggests this exercise.  Put pebbles or some small marker, I use blue glass beads, to represent one week in a container.  Each week remove one pebble from the jar and challenge yourself to think of what you did that week to change a life.  Did you make a difference for your stockholders, customers, leaders, or employees?  Did you do something meaningful for someone else, personally or professionally, to make someone’s life better?  Did you reach a goal or objective to help your business grow? 

Veeck includes in the jar all the remaining weeks of a life, based on the average life span. His main theme is we do not have forever, so make everyday, every moment, count.  That is too fatalistic and depressing for me. Instead I used the 52 weeks of the year.

Since I read the book this last May, I started with approximately 30 or so glass beads in my martini glass.   Like many things we begin, I started like gangbusters the first two months, but slacked off and skipped many weeks.  Today, I caught myself up to November 16. 

I started with 30+ beads.  In a flash, I am down to six.  Wow. 

It is a cliché that “Time flies by.”  It is a cliché because it is true, and when something visual represents that passing, it smacks you in the face!  Professionally, personally, it astounds me to think how the year has progressed in many prosperous ways. The events I have had the privilege to attend; the people I have been fortunate to meet. But also there have been a few devastating events, which I would never believe could have occurred.   How about you?

It also made reflect how cyclical we think in the world.  We mentally follow the seasons, but we do so only because of our human constructs.  Seasonal time is a concept we build into our lives to cope with all the tasks we need to do to succeed, and we accept periods of productivity and lax, as laws of nature.

Business Impacts

I started consulting for large corporation in the spring, but I had been their customer for years. It wasn’t until I became a part of the organization, that I realized how much we think we are moving, but we recycle much of the past.    What I was asked to do as a consultant I remembered I experienced many of the same things as a customer.  The more I thought about it, I realized most places I worked were like this.  Maybe some details change, but one year could remarkable begin to look like another. I believe it is because we do not challenge ourselves to do much different.  Trust me, I include myself in this thought.   

So we accept periods of not as much productivity as Just-The-Way-Things-Are.  We are full of gusto in January creating strategic plans.  In the spring, strategy seems to give way to the practicality of what can we realistically accomplish.  Summer everyone mentally takes a vacation, as the weather improves.  For Americans, August we get back on track when the kids return to school, whether we have them or not.  Fall we enjoy the cooler weather, but we are really marking time until the holidays.  Once the holidays start, we rush to complete our performance reviews (which I know few people who find this a valuable exercise, but this is for another blog), and start the stressful obligations at work and home to end the year.   Then we find ourselves at January again.

My Point

You are in control of this cycle.  You are also in control of your direct reports cyclic behavior.  My constant mantra is your employees model your behavior.  Actually, everyone you connect with will follow your example, even if they do it subconsciously.   How to help manage this is setting performance expectations and keep them a part of your ongoing conversations with employees. 

One idea, at the beginning of the year create one of these “ Year in a Glass” containers for each of your direct reports.  Every week they give you the pebble, or whatever, and tell you what they did to make a difference the prior week.  It should only take a minute or two, unless a bigger performance conversation needs to occur.  It keeps everyone focused on the progressive big picture, not only the tactical everyday routine of work.

Also boost team morale and increase your standing as a leader by doing the same, being accountable to them.   For all, some weeks it could be something small, “Bob needed a ride home, so I was able and happy to give him one.”  It could be significant; “We delivered our project, on time and slightly under budget.”  It’s a part of the environment of success you create. 

Your Six Weeks

So what will do you to powerfully impact these last six weeks of 2011?  Make it count.

If I can help in anyway, please let me know.

Veeck, Mike and Pete Williams.  Fun Is Good: How to Create Joy & Passion in Your Workplace & Career.  Rodale Books, 2005.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Do That Thing You Do!

For a change of pace, today’s focus is more organizational development in nature, than my usual no-nonsense customer service wisdom. 
Recently, I read a friend’s blog on why he is a writer.  In the twenty years (yikes!) I have known Bart he has been a writer.  Granted, we were front office employees at the time, but his true aspiration was always clear.  The blog is a moving piece on why he pursues the vocation of writing, with hit or miss results professionally and financially.  

“Stacey, why do you do what you do?” 

Consultant businesses are not the Shangri-Las of the professional world.  In many ways, I work harder now than I did in the corporate environment, because so much of it is new to me from the administration side of a business. And of course there are certainly many more unknowns about my financial future.

But why do I do what I do? I always knew I wanted to teach.  In high school, my scope was limited to the traditional K-12 experience and I loved history, so it seemed a high school history teacher would be my future.  When I started working, I naturally leaned towards individual training roles.  I was always creating PowerPoints and scripts to teach someone something, even if they didn’t want to know!

After a lay-off I returned to USF as a nontraditional sophomore at 29,  and finally took my first K-12 education class, which quickly zapped the high school history teacher dream.  Simply, it wasn’t my bag.   But a few years later, I took my first Adult Education course in grad school, which focused on adults and workplace education. I instantly felt the fit.  I found my tribe, my calling, whatever word you want to use. 

The second piece why I do what I do is I have a natural service attitude.  I want to help people, in big and small ways, to make their lives better.  Professionally, this meant as a teenager completing fast food transactions accurately, as a young adult quickly checking in guest at Disney so they could start enjoying vacation.   It translates in my personal life volunteering with the Adult Literacy League, or just taking care of a friend’s pets while on vacation.  (Side note:  I will never tire of Chick-fil-a, and the almost year I worked there I ate it practically everyday.  Those darn waffle fries!). 

When I reached the point in my career that teaching adults coupled with my service aptitude, I instinctually knew I was in the right spot.  Yes, I work to sustain my life financially, but what I do, I do because it’s who I am.  It is a vocation, not a job, and I feel lucky to realize that.

Because I have a talent for educating others and a service mindset, my goal for my business is to help as many organizations as possible teach their employees how to be better service stewards of the world.  In my definition of employees I include executives, management, front line employees, pretty much everyone in the company.  Being better service stewards of your work community and customers directly relates to your organization's health.  It’s not about saying “Please” or the customer’s name three times in a conversation, it is about serving the individual to the best of your ability because it is the right and humanitarian thing to do.   That translates to a healthy sustainable financial bottom line.

But This is Not About Me

I pushed the question further in my mind why does everyone do specifically what they do?  There are a gazillion jobs available. You have the power to change careers, do anything that you wish.  If you do not feel you have this power, then that is a blog for another day. 

But continuing today’s theme, are you doing what you saw yourself doing as young professional?  Even if you are not, do you have a sense of why what you do is important to someone else?  Is there some link to your inner self that connects to your current position?

In other words, are you serving others as the best version of yourself, or simply taking up space?  Does that answer make you feel like there is a solid reason for you to be occupying your place at the table?   Could you articulate this to your direct manager or leader?   I think this is a much more effective conversation than the 2 minute elevator speech. 

So, “Why do you do what you do?”  

It would be important to answer the question philosophically, and not blow it off.  Why? Because, it affects your everyday behavior.  My theory is someone who works for financial reasons only, is probably not connected to their space and time in their current organization.  They are making short-term decisions, based mostly on ego, and not a sense of their greater purpose or the reprecussions of their decisions.  Even if you are not working your dream job, is what you are doing on most days reinforcing why you are the best person for that job at this time?  

As with organizations, when an individual articulates and act on this, they are the ones who reach career Nirvana (Nice tie in to The Customer Service Gurus, yes? :)) because they are sure of why they are there, and what they consciously do makes a difference.

I am not sure if my blog has any greater ideas to offer today, oh except this.  Definitely ask candidates during the interview process, “Why do you want this particular job?”   As with you, candidates have many choices of careers, companies, so why you, why now?   That answer alone could save you a costly bad hire.

I encourage you to read Bart's blog.   He is eloquent, insightful, and just an all around interesting read.  Click here for his blog. Good stuff!

Live Long, and May Your Work Prosper!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

TERMINATOR 6 – Revenge of the Computers

Sometimes I feel I live in a customer service version of The Terminator movie series.  If I hear one more time from a service professional that they cannot process my request because, “My Computer Won’t Let Me Do It,” I think I am going to go all Sarah Connor on them! 

Two Incidents

Last month I observed a transaction at a Dollar Rental car location.  I was renting a car, but this was the customer in front of me.   The dispute occurred because the agent swiped the customer’s credit card for the customary rental deposit, but the credit card could not hold the multiple hundreds of dollars. The customer’s card declined the hold, which meant she would be refused the car rental.  According to the customer, the card could hold the rental rate itself, but not the large required deposit.

The customer got very upset, saying she has rented multiple times from Dollar, even being a member of their loyalty program, and that this has never occurred in the past.  She continued that the agent should have told her before she swiped, i.e. took the deposit on the credit card, and now what was she suppose to do?  She had no car, and at this point a declined credit card. 

This immediately escalated to an ugly level, as the agent said repeatedly to the customer, “My computer won’t let me move forward with the transaction or remove the hold.”  The customer was obviously distressed and elevated quickly to foul language and calling the agent a liar.  A second agent tried to diffuse the situation, while still maintaining the company policy, but telling the customer he would not help her until she stopped cursing.  The customer continued her line of fire, and the first agent eventually called security.   I am unsure how the situation ended because in the meantime, I was waited on and within 5 minutes had my car.

Second incident:  I called Rebounderz.  This new franchise to Central Florida is a recreation activity involving a room of trampolines.  The customers put on safety equipment and then spend an hour bouncing around the room, flipping, jumping off the walls, having a great time.  I can’t think of a better way to release the stress of any given day.  My family was excited to use the coupon we purchased months ago through an Internet local business deal coupon website.  The coupon was two-for-one. 

Admittedly, the coupon expired a few weeks ago, so I called to see if they would still honor it.  We are not talking huge sums of money, $13 per person, so I thought it was a strong possibility.  As a small business owner, I would eat the short-term $13 bucks to develop a long-term relationship with a customer.  Well apparently, that’s just me.  The person answering the phone said they would not honor the coupon because, “My computer will no longer honor the code.”   As a customer, what do I care about the code?  Nothing.  As a former manager what do I know?  That any code or transaction can be overridden.   What did this do for Rebounderz?  They lost a potential customer for life.

The Customer Service Guru Solution

This is something I hear quite frequently.  I heard it in places I have worked, and experienced it multiple times as a customer.

The “Be Nice” piece of my Customer Service Excellence Equation

Why is this so darn irritating to the customer?  It is irritating as it is a cop out on the part of the service provider and is meant to end the discussion.  It is no better than, “My manager won’t let me do it,”  “The policy says I can’t do it,” or similar phrases.  It is hiding behind something, instead of sounding like an empowered individual who knows their business.  It starts a feeling of distrust in the customer towards the employee.  The next thing out of 80% of your customers will be, “Let me talk to someone who can override the computer.”  And we all hate escalations.  They are unnecessary the majority of the time, and waste dollars in reduce efficiencies.

The “Be Right” piece of the Equation

Simply explain to your service team the role computers play in their jobs.  IT literally stands for Information Technology, which means it helps a business manage the policies and information needed to run an operation, BUT THOSE POLICES AND PROCEDURES ARE WRITTEN BY PEOPLE, and usually for good reasons.  They could be legal, or other behind the scenes reasons, things must operate the way they do.

Computers are one mechanism to help manage an operation, but ultimately people run an operation. Computers are not an end unto themselves.  Educate your team that it is unacceptable to hide behind the limitations of the computer they use.   The limitations, as it may be seen, are not truly limitations, but mechanisms to help them enforce the rules and policies of the organization.

I can’t imagine the Dollar transaction was an isolated incident, so train your employees what to say when someone’s credit card is declined for the rental deposit.  Try to develop a contingency policy, if possible.  If an alternate is not possible, as I can see where Dollar would not want to take the risk of renting a car to a person who could not financially be liable if the worst occurred, then have your employees practice what to say, firmly, clearly, and kindly, to the customer.   Empower your employees with knowledge! They will feel much more confidant to handle future similar events. 

How this applies to you is train for the common difficult situations.   It does not need to be a formal event, but even a simple team meeting, or huddle, addressing the issues they face and solutions how to handle them, could save your organization expotential dollars.

With the Rebounderz situation, I would have been fine if the person had said, “We no longer honor the coupon because it expired.  Even though it's expired, I hope you still come visit us. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  That was in their right, and it was my fault that I did not use the coupon when valid.   What bothered me was the attitude, “Well, I would do it, but my computer will not.”  Sometimes keeping the explanation short and sweet is all that is needed.  How can you apply this to your business?

Post Script

When I returned my car to Dollar a week later I saw the same agent experiencing another contentious situation with a customer.  I clearly heard her say, “My computer won’t let me do it.”  

Where is Sarah Connor when we need her?  J

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Illusionist: The Customer Service Survey

How many times are you confronted by a desperate employee asking you to go online, or through a telephone prompt, and complete a short survey to rate their service?  This happens to me quite a bit, and it makes me ponder the real return on investment of such endeavors for an organization.

The purpose of any survey is to retrieve information.  Most of us have experience seeking information from people that are important to us.  For example informally, you might survey your family what they would like for dinner tonight.  Why do you do this?  You want to make what they want (customer satisfaction), and that you are not wasting your resources (food, time) to provide for their needs.  

Take this to a macro level, and this is the strategic reason for a customer service survey.  To ensure you satisfy the needs of your customers, so they buy or engage with you at a higher level, and that your organization is using its resources as effectively as possible to make this happen.

Where does this go wrong?

When you survey your family for dinner you are working directly with the customer population effected by the direct actions you take.   There is no middleman, and you do not need to work with a sampling.   The people surveyed will experience the results of the survey.

Once you start working in an organization where thousands, to tens of thousands, customers will be affected, of course you cannot speak to every customer.  It is not cost effective, nor logistically possible.  To combat this, an organization starts to make decisions who they survey. 

BUT once you start making choices who you survey, you can no longer take the results as gospel!  

My experience is this aspect of the survey is glossed over when discussing the results with either decision makers or with the front line employees who provide the service. 

Think about your own experiences.  When are you more inclined to complete a survey?  My guess is either when you are extraordinarily thrilled with the service, product provided, or when you are extraordinarily upset, ticked off with the service or product.  If this thought is extended to the results you receive, then the results are unintentionally skewed by what is known as the “halo effect.”  Whatever their general impression of the company is how they will skew to the overall survey, positively or negatively.

My point: you are only hearing the voice of people with strong opinions, and I am not sure they are the folks who can help you make better decisions how to run your operation.  Extremes of any kind rarely give you the most bang for your buck.

The information is helpful, but should you make large strategic decisions or terminate an employee based on these results?  I would be extremely cautious.  Leaders like metrics, of course, and a survey is easily quantifiable, so it removes the need to dig in to the business, which is time consuming.  Everyone is so busy it is quicker to review survey results, make a decision based on those numbers, and move on to the next crisis. 

Now you might be thinking, but we don’t use just these metrics.  Well if you don’t weigh only these metrics, what are you using to make these decisions?   How much can you trust any information you receive?  It is all skewed, to a degree.

The Customer Service Guru Solution

Your customers’ perception of your service is an extremely important metric to running your business. I am not anti-survey in the least.  What I am watchful about is when the results are used as the end of the discussion, and not as a motivator to move the discussion forward at a strategic level. 

Surveys are also very expensive to administrate, and I am concerned those dollars and resources are used in place of diving deeper into your business to know what are your true issues versus perceived issues from a small customer population, and in place of investing in infrastructure or human resources that are kind of “Duh, we should fix this.”   Not everything needs a gazillion pieces of ‘scientific’ evidence to change.  Especially for those leaders who grew up in the organization, or are customers of your product, they should be aware of at least some of these “Duh” fixes.

Surveys are part art, part science.  What you do with the results is also part art, part science.  Keep this in mind as you develop, distribute, and analyze the results of any, internal or external, survey your company participates in.

Next time I address customer service surveys, I will get to the actual questions.  Oh my! 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Do People Like to Work?

Do people like to work? Hmmm, the first response is, “Of course, people don’t like to work.” Then why do people work? It is to receive compensation that further advances other aspects of their lives. Well, at least that is why I believe most people work, especially front line employees.

So if people work to receive compensation, and know that is why employers are paying them, then why do I observe more and more people actually working less while on the job? Somewhere along the way the unwritten contract between employer and employee seems to have diluted to employee’s feeling work is simply showing up, that talking to coworkers, ignoring the customer, or using technology to do personal things on the job is something the employer should still consider work.

Here are three examples of the phenomena. Recently, I had jury duty at the Orange County courthouse in central Florida. While waiting to be screened at security I saw the sheriff, who should have been observing the security process, texting during my wait. 

Second example, when I worked at a call center I noticed many front line agents using the texting capabilities of their phones between calls, and there was no business reason to even have their phones out while waiting for the next call. 

Final example, my husband called three separate Footlocker stores to inquire about a soccer shoe he saw online. Every call ended abruptly with the store employee rudely answering the phone, assuming they knew what he wanted, and the employee ended the call within one minute. The employees reacted as if my husband was bothering them. 

Why does that happen? Primarily it is boredom, the repetition of the job. 

Busy people have no time to do anything but be engaged at work. But not all jobs require the employee to be ‘on’ from start to finish of the shift. By the nature of many front line positions there is downtime between customer interactions, so without direction employees find other ways to pass the time. Second, it is a lack of supervision. No one would dream of doing anything but work, or the appearance of work, while a supervisor is nearby. But it is not realistic to think a supervisor has the capacity to observe employees every moment of the shift, nor is it efficient.

Finally, it is the unwritten contract between employee and employer. 

Everyone knows that they should be only doing work at work, but it seeps into the culture of what one can get away with, and what the employee feels they “deserve” in relation to compensation or benefits. For example, the employee in their minds are not compensated fairly, so they will make up the compensation in form of not giving 100% on the job effort. No matter what you tell an employee in training, if they see it is not the reality in the environment, the environment will win.

I will also add that this is a behavior I see salaried folks demonstrate as well. 

This baffles me to no end. I have seen several intelligent employees practice this behavior, and I have observed many employees not seem to give a care about customers when they are in their very presence. Put aside me being a customer, but at least acknowledge me as a human being! The main question is how do you change your culture so this is not the accepted norm, when this is the accepted practice in society?

The Customer Service Guru Solution

My main thought to combat this is to always have a set of expectations for employees during customer interactions, face to face and on the phone. In my examples, the sheriff should know that it was completely unacceptable to be doing anything but observing the population being screened. I know it is boring, but anyone wishing to do harm is betting on that boredom. With the Footlocker example, the employees should have set expectations how to properly answer and personalize a phone call. In the call center example there is always something to do that would add value to the business. Finally, have supervisors spot check employees during these interactions.

I also believe employers will get nowhere if this is pursued with a punitive mindset. That only creates a culture of distrust and negativity, which employees will devise even more sophisticated methods not to work. Create a culture that shows employees are appreciated, and compensate accordingly, for giving 100% effort every minute of the working day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Customer Service Theorem #1

Customer Service Theorem #1

The less complex the customer transaction, then the easier it is to provide excellent customer service.

My blog leans towards poor service scenarios that I experience as I navigate daily through the world. But these are not isolated incidents. I receive service multiple times a day, from multiple channels, and most of it ranges in the middle. I am not “Wow”ed, what most service providers are aiming for, but much of it is not drastically poor either.

There seems to be commonalities in service experiences, and I will make a very non-scientific foray into the world of theorems to isolate my ideas why.

Theorem #1

I noticed the simpler the customer contact and/or transaction, the easier it is for the service provider to provide better customer service. Maybe more importantly to your bottom-line, the simpler the transaction the easier it is to effectively execute service recovery.

For example on the simple end of the scale, I am at my local McDonald’s quite often. My hubby and I can’t seem to refuse the $1 menu! (Brilliant, Marketing Team!) One evening we arrived around 8pm, and I ordered a cup of decaf coffee. It's risky to order coffee so late in the day, but I took my chances. The manager on duty proactively told me she would brew me a fresh pot and bring it to me. Did she have to do this? Absolutely not. It was a nice touch, and unexpected.  Cost to McDonald's in labor and time was minimal.

At the same McDonald’s but separate visit, I was incorrectly charged. I spoke a short word to the front line employee to state the problem, who then quickly grab the manager. Within two minutes my money was refunded. There was no argument or even an investigation if I was actually charged incorrectly, the refund was just done. Even if I had been in error, that $2 they refunded continues to make me a loyal customer. Cost again to McDonald's in labor and time was minimal. 

On the other end of the spectrum, in a Delta airline ticket transaction to do something simple seems to be almost too much for any of the front line employees to deliver quickly, and forget about the ‘wow’. Once it took me at least four phone calls to make an emergency plane reservation, and yet another trail of emails weeks after the travel date to rectify the error in the booking.  Cost in labor and resources to Delta, since I spent over 10 minutes on each phone call, I guess would run into hundreds of dollars.

I have seen or experienced similar situations in real estate, timeshare, cruises, cable companies, etc.

So what is the difference?

Well, there is not a lot of risk in dollars or efficiency loss to an organization like McDonald’s to go out of their way for each contact and to immediately correct customer errors. My price point per transaction is approximately $5 and my time of contact with each worker is no more than 5 minutes, and that is even long.

Once the transaction becomes complex, the risk to the organization is much larger. There are rules and legalities to govern the transaction. But I also see less empowerment of the front line employee to simply fix common sense errors. I also find that most call center employees are not very sure of what their companies provide, their rules, or the leeway they have to correct them.  Employees are just scared.

What I find with call centers is they hide quite a bit behind the “That’s our policy,” even when the policy does not apply to my situation. They just don’t know what the policies are.

Why This Happens
Once the job becomes more complex, to learn the job requires a great investment in technology training during the onboarding experience. The need for the employee to learn the technology quickly supersedes the soft skill need to teach them how to think, or truly understand the polices that govern the technology. Everyday an employee is in training is a day that employee is a cost to the operations. But is this short-term benefit for long-term risk?

One way to combat this need to get them on the floor versus knowing what they are doing, is arm them with the basis to get them up and running, but have a continuous education plan in place for the more complex nuances of their business. In a perfect world training is continuous, but in reality we all know training is seen as an investment, not a revenue generator.

I would argue if you make the proper, realistic timeline, for how much an employee can comprehend and effectively plan their training, you are generating revenue by decreasing customer complaints, decreasing handle times, and decreasing turnover of your employees.

What organization, and by extension stockholders, wouldn't want that?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Customer Service Guru Returns from Hiatus

Hello All! 

How was your spring?  My spring took unexpected twists and turns, which imposed a hiatus of sorts.  But I am back, and I am full of stories in my quest for Adventures in Customer Service.

This round has the Guru bragging about great customer service. 

The Scenario:  Wayyyyy back in March, I dropped off a few items of clothing at a new dry cleaner, Dry Cleaning for Less.   I went to the new place, as most customer do, because of an advertisement in the mail promoting a decrease of cost from the other dry cleaners I have tried near my house.  I am by no means loyal; I am ready to jump the boat for a better value or perceived better experience.  I believe most customers are like me in this regard.

I was told the three items would be ready in three days.  No problem, as I was leaving the city for an extended time in one week.   I returned in three days, and none of my items were ready.  I was told to return the next day.  So I did, and two of the three items were ready.  The owner realized my last item had been misplaced in the traffic of the store.   He knew what happened, what the piece was, but he did not have the shirt.  He greatly apologized and asked me to return the next day.

What is poor in this situation were not the individuals that was I was dealing with, they were all pleasant and genuinely sorry, but they were not getting it right.  They did not have my shirt, the only reason I am transacting with them in the first place.

When they did not have my shirt when I returned the final day, I explained that I was leaving for over a month and did not need the shirt, but I did not want it given away either per the typical dry cleaner’s policy of purging unclaimed items in 30 days.  They assured me this would not happen.

I leave and return over a month later.  I deal with another employee, tell her my long story, and within ten minutes she has found my shirt, apologized once again, and gave me two free cleanings for my inconvenience without any prompting from me.  I love this place!

The Solution:

This illustrates why it is paramount not to be just empathetic, caring, and pleasant with your customers.  You also need to deliver whatever your business is promising, be it a service or a product, the Be Right of the CSG phrase.

What the last employee did was right on target with service recovery.  She felt empowered to do something extra to make me a loyal customer.  She did not ask anyone if she could do it, she just did.  That is something to cherish in an employee.

Tips to apply this in your organization:

1.   Ensure your employees have the tools they need to Be Right.  Are your policies and procedures written to help or hinder their efforts to deliver your business’ promise?

2.   Empower employees to go beyond the extra, “I do apologize,” (Major pet peeve of mine, but that is for another blog. J) and DO SOMETHING to make it better.  It can be big or small, but do something.  Loyalty is a precious thing from a customer.  It guarantees future revenue and growth.

Until next time, be good to yourselves and your customers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Can an Unhappy employee provide Happy service?

In the corporate world the word Happy makes people uncomfortable.  Executives and managers are more comfortable with terms like employee satisfaction, or employee engagement.  It seems to defluffy the experienced emotion, but it really boils down to the Happiness factor of your employees.  Are they Happy enough to provide your customers or clients outstanding service no matter what?  Do they have the ‘engagement level’, or as I like to say enough Internal Happiness, let go of their personal and professional challenges, for even a few hours, and focus only on the immediate customer?

THE SITUATION:  The Customer Guru has been out of circulation as I was traveling.  I travel quite a bit, so I engage frequently with all sorts of hospitality service providers.

I rented a car from Hertz at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Saturday, February 5th.  We had been in Phoenix a few days, but reserved a car for the final portion of our trip.   Purposely, we went late in the evening, after 9pm, for pick-up to avoid a long line.  That was a missed strategy, as when we arrived there was a long line of at least 20 customers and at first only 2 agents to assist this large group.   From the looks on the employee faces, they did not look like engaged, or happy employees.  That is understandable as there were many people, and it was late at night.  Everyone was tired.

At first ten, and then 20 minutes, of the wait more agents came on line.  This is a good thing.  The line is moving faster, customers seem to be moving quickly through the car rental transaction.  If memory serves me four or five agents ended up on the line.

It is our turn.  Our agent was one of the unhappiest employees I have ever encountered in the service industry.  His face displayed no sign of welcome, hospitality, or even ambivalence.  It was a face of “This place sucks, and I don’t want to be here.”  Renting a car is not a painful transaction, but this employee’s attitude seemed like every transaction or question we asked was a bother to him.  We had difficulty understanding him, as he was mumbling his words and speaking quickly. 

Funny enough, I was very happy with the car, but I cannot shake the feeling this employee left me about the Hertz organization.  As a leader that is something you should really lose sleep over.  If I doubt your service, then I don’t need much of a push to go to your competitor.

THE CUSTOMER SERVICE GURU SOLUTION:  There could be many solutions.

1.  My favorite is a Proactive Solution.  My guess is my agent felt like no one cared what he was doing or about him as a individual.

Your managers on duty should not allow the environment on the line degrade to this level.  They should know every employee’s general demeanor, i.e. happiness level, at the beginning of their shift.  Throughout the shift they should be encouraging employees, offering praise, and if it is a rush, be out there working the line.   DO NOT HIDE IN YOUR OFFICE OR CUBICLE!

Reactive Solutions involve the shift manager or supervisor.

2. Immediately, pull the employee aside and simple ask if they are OK.  If the employee says yes, then be clear his behavior is unacceptable, but be kind.  For example, “The way you worked with that customer everything does not seem OK.  It’s not like you.  I know you are usually much more outgoing and caring than that.”

3. If this is a chronic problem with this employee, then you have made a bad hire and need to respectfully and legally find a way to remove this person from a frontline position.  You are literally losing revenue due to this person’s unconscious actions.

4.  If it is an isolated incident, and they are having a bad day or a temporary personal issue, there are choices to make.   Choices include sending them home for the day so they can work through their issue, taking them off line for a short break so they can gather themselves, or other creative solutions. 

As a leader, you must evaluate each choice's risks and balance having a fair policy to all your employees.  If you let someone go home, you better have an answer when someone asks, “John got to go home, but not me.  That is not fair.”   This goes to having trust between you and your staff.  But that is an article for another day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ICSA - Join the Club! (Organization)

This morning, I attended the International Customer Service Association's (ICSA) local Central Florida chapter's 2011 Kick Off meeting.  It is a great organization to network and learn from your customer service peers.  I met some wonderful people working across a wide spectrum of industries.  

Bill Gessert, the national president of ICSA, gave the Customer Service troops a pep talk about the organization.  Bill, I am sold!   I look forward to the next event on February 19th. 

Check it out at and link to your local chapter.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Cold Wind Blows Up Customer Service

Why is it when a weather event occurs customer service seems to head right out the door of common sense into the realm of insanity?

THE SCENARIO: Like many of you, during the last Blizzard of 2010, I had family traveling by air. My extended European family was flying home after their unusually chilly Florida holiday, which already put them in a ‘mood’. Days prior to their departure we anxiously monitored the weather for airport closings, as Europe also had a White Out (I believe it’s called this. I am a lifelong resident of Central Florida, so this is as foreign to me as knowing the names of different sushis.)

My husband attempted to call British Airways all weekend; British Airways reservation call center dropped calls due to the overwhelming volume. He also consulted British Airways website numerous times, which also went down due to the overwhelming volume of concerned passengers. With no information, but not for lack of trying, we arrived to the airport four hours prior to their departure time. We have now joined his parents in being in a ‘mood’.

We wait in line to check in for the flight. This wait was relatively short, 15 minutes or so. We arrive at the counter and the nice agent let us know my in-laws were not booked on the flight, however she did not offer any explanation why. What?! They clearly had a confirmation with their return flight information. She kindly pointed us to another line, the line of no return, The Ticketing Agent.

Although I am frustrated as a Customer Service professional because I see holes in processes that needlessly lead us to this point, I am still reasonably understandable. I know it’s busy due to the holidays, and the blizzard is an exceptional situation. But this is where it starts to go south.

We wait in the Ticketing Agent line for 90 minutes before being served!!!! There is one ticket agent on duty and one manager has come to the desk to assist. My in-laws are precariously close to missing their flight, the one that British Airways does not have them on in the first place. Other waiting passengers ask the supervisor, who is out to work the lines, what is taking so long. Her words, “They only gave me one ticket agent today. Please email the CEO of British Airways and ask if I can have more agents. But for today, this is all we have.” I’m not sure who “They” are, but I know she was in front of me and should have been in a position to offer help, not excuses.

Long story short, we were lucky enough to be waited on by the calm and professional manager, Mary. She explained what happened. Since my in-laws were rescheduled by British Airways on their original flight, it tagged them as No Shows on their first flight to the States, and this automatically cancelled their flight home. This is SOOOOOOOOOOO wrong on so many levels. Mary fixed the situation by getting them on a Luthsana flight home with a different connection on the Continent, and they had a few hours to spare before that flight boarded in Florida.

THE CUSTOMER SERVICE GURU SOLUTION: Wow, this one has many “Opportunities,” as we like to say in corporate speak.

1. All industries that are affected by weather should have a severe weather policy in place that knows exactly what to do when a weather event like this occurs.

It isn’t a surprise that ever year airports shut down, the surprise is when it happens. Airlines should walk through the different scenarios and define the solution: “What if the passengers final destination is fine, but the connection is questionable?”, “How do we notify people to not come to the airport?”, “What do we do if passengers are stuck in the airport? Where is our responsibility?”

2. Proactively communicate with your customers, in this case passengers.

The technology for robocalling is there, use it! Make a decision and stick to it about your go or no go flying policy. If you want them to show up for their flight, as there is a chance it will go, tell them. If you are sure the flight will be cancelled, tell them. Bottom line to delivering customer service excellence: TELL THEM.

3. Adequate Staff on Duty

It was ridiculous we had to wait 90 minutes for the Ticketing Agent. She was roughly serving one party of passengers every 20 minutes! This boggles my mind that there were not more staff prepared or trained for Ticketing. This was Christmas week! It is not a surprise passenger traffic would be extremely high and there would be a possibility of a weather event to make it worse. Prepare and cross train your staffs.

Tangentially, it is more difficult to deliver excellent customer service when your staff is overworked and unduly stressed. One of my favorite SNL skits has a great mantra for policy making in Customer Service: FIX IT!

4. Blaming the “They” that is not there.

The supervisor’s comment about emailing the CEO is unacceptable. You are in front of me, you help me. They may be the problem (see note above), but it is your responsibility as the face of your organization to help me now.

5. Educate your customers so they have proper expectations.

Customers should have a reasonable expectation if they are shut in at the airport that you will do your best to accommodate them. This is an unusual event for all involved. However, proactively define as an organization what those accommodations look like. Will you provide food, drink, and blankets? How often will you update them?

Also stay in constant communication with your customers. It goes back to Tell Them.

There is more, but I think you get the idea. This happens ever year, and every year the news fills with passengers disgruntled about their treatment. This should be a surprise to no one. Understand your passengers are traveling for important reasons that mean a lot to them. Respect that and respect your staff working hard on your behalf. Develop policies that are fair, fiscally sound, and easy to put into action.

This is what solidifies your reputation, fortifies your brand, and increases your bottom line even during difficult unforeseeable events.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Why Customer Service is important?

Full disclosure first, I am a customer.  There is a good chance I've been a customer of yours in some fashion.  I've either contacted your call center to speak to a phone employee about a problem or to order a service, or I've had face-to-face contact with an employee when purchasing a product or service.  Out of all the gazillions of interactions I've had over a lifetime of being a consumer,  there are only a handful that made me remember the employee and left me with a positive impression of the organization they represented.  Most of my interactions leave me puzzled, disappointed, and most important for your bottom line, still in search of a business that will treat me and my consumer dollars with respect.

Providing excellent customer service is THE strategic, easy to understand and implement, behavior that can cost or generate exponential revenue for your organization.  This blog will highlight the customer interactions I encounter, good and bad, and how I would, as a customer service training professional, improve the situation.