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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.”