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Sunday, August 26, 2012

You've Got (Poor) Mail

Business at The Customer Services Gurus is moving along extremely well this summer season.  It is going so well in fact that it has put a snag into my blog writing schedule, but it is definitely a good snag to have, and I am happy to have it.  As I am sure with all of you,  my first focus is always to give one hundred plus percent to my clients or role.  But if I really look at it a case of lack of self-discipline, which I will go in to more depth in another blog because the whole idea of self-discipline fascinates me as much as customer service.  (But kudos to me for my self-disclosure :)).
For this month I did what any smart professional would do when she finds herself not where she wanted to be with her tasks, she asks for help. I asked my trusted friend, CSG Advisory Board Member, and former colleague Pieter Douw to be our guest writer for this month.  Pieter has a wealth of international customer service leadership experience working in management roles for some of the most recognized organizations of hospitality excellence, such as Holland America Line, Intercontential Hotel Groups, and Walt Disney World Resort, just to name a few.
Pieter is Dutch and currently lives in the Netherlands, even though he has traveled and lived around the globe.  His blog speaks to a challenge that should worry all customer service leaders as we frantically move forward to a more technology oriented customer service experience.  But I will let Pieter tell you the rest. 


London 2012: The Olympics. With great admiration I am watching all these athletes, who have dedicated years and years to practice their sport. Who gave up many of the pleasures life has to offer just for that one perfect performance, to become the successful number 1. Imagine the disappointments many athletes must experience for not winning any medals. But also imagine the euphoric feeling the must get from actually winning a Gold Medal! Realizing that all the effort was really worth something! It must be a magical feeling.

A Disappointing Anniversary Celebration
I am a true fan of amusement parks in general, and of Efteling in particular. Efteling is a unique and very successful park in the Netherlands, which has won numerous international awards for best European/International Amusement Park.  (Editor's note, aka Stacey,  Theme parks are everywhere!)

This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary with a new attraction Aquanura, the largest fountain spectacle in Europe. The company that built the Bellagio-Fountains in Las Vegas and the BurjKhalifa Fountains in Dubai also built Aquarnura. I was completely thrilled with this new attraction, since I loved watching the fountains in Vegas and Dubai. The movement of the water to the music, the sounds of the water, I just cannot stop watching. I LOVE IT!
A week ago I visited Efteling with my family, and there were nine of us in the party. In other words, it was an expensive day. As it was a very crowded vacation day, we stood in a long line just to get our tickets. When we finally entered the park around 11am, we immediately noticed the lake where the fountain show would take place, but with no sign of the show-times only a reference to a website.
I immediately went to my smartphone, and to my great surprise I found out that the show would only take place at 7:30pm and 8:15pm. Unbelievable! Why would a company invest 17 million euro for a 2-times-a-day show? Granted, the show uses many colored lights, but I know it is still as impressive during the day without the lights. Since my 1-year-old nephew was with us, we left the park around 5pm without seeing the show. Those of you with small children know what that is like. Trust me, I was not a happy customer at all.
Since I still felt disappointed the day after our visit, I wrote a comment on the Efteling website to express my feelings. I asked two questions. The first one asked them why they don’t show the fountains during the day, and the second asked why was it so difficult to find out the show times? The computer generated reply I received a few seconds later thanked me for my response, and informed me that Efteling would do its utmost to reply to all questions within 3 weeks! And since I don’t expect to wait so long, and won’t,  I resent my complaint 5 days later. This was a successful approach because the next day I received the following message.
Translated from the original Dutch.
First of all we would like to thank you for your message. We appreciate all responses we get from our guests, as it gives us the opportunity to continuously improve our product and service.
In your message you indicate that you haven’t received a reply yet. As we informed you, we do our utmost to respond within 3 weeks.

Aquanura has daily shows at 7:30pm and 8:15pm, and these show times are indicated at the entrance. We regret to realize that you apparently missed this display.

Hope to have informed you enough.
Efteling – Customer Service
I got even more upset when I received this reply, because it gives me that impression that I am impatient and rude for expecting a quick reply. Further, it doesn’t give me an answer to my questions. And to top it off to me the final sentence just translates into, "Too bad for you!" 
The Guru’s Solution
This one is obvious, reply to complaints in a timely manner! It’s never ever acceptable to, "Strive to reply within 3 weeks." (Editor's note, 3 weeks is not something to strive for. You should be ashamed, and call the Gurus immediately, if that is really the best you can do.)  Show that you really appreciate all comments and complaints by a quick response. Also, give an answer to all questions. No matter how obvious, stupid or strange a questions seems to you, show that you respect the person for putting the effort in to write them down, and try to answer the actual questions asked. If you truly cannot answer it, at least acknowledge that you read them.
Most important, make sure that you come across as sincere. Don’t ever create the impression that you don’t care. This is your opportunity to take away any bad feelings, service recovery, and to avoid people talking bad about your company and causing negative publicity. Think about this, you wouldn’t have read about this in a blog if Efteling had sent a proper, more thoughtful, reply.

Final Thoughts
Providing excellent customer service is like the Olympics. First of all it takes great continuous dedication from your entire team. Everyone should work towards that one goal: satisfied customers. Of course things go wrong in the process, and it’s a bumpy road with hits and misses. Not everyone is an instant gold-medalist.
Sometimes we indeed fail. However, we should acknowledge the mistakes we made, sincerely apologize, refocus, and again aim to be the number 1. All our continuous efforts will definitely be rewarded. If you respond well to complaints, your customers will feel like they won a Gold Medal. It works to your benefit too, seeing your customer change from a grumpy person into a happy and satisfied one will give you the same euphoric feeling an athlete must experience while listening to their national anthem. Just do it; it’s worth it!
Editor's Note
Thank you, Pieter, or Dank u wel, for your column.  I encourage all of you to think how technology is changing your responses to customers.  Please, please, please move away from the copy and pasted paragraphs that were the infancy of this type of communication, and move to do what you do in real-time interactions: make them personal, accurate, and sincere.
If you are looking to expand your international customer service, be sure to get in touch with Pieter.  I know no one better to help guide you in the best methods of global customer service delivery.  He can be reached via Linked In.
I look forward to writing the next blog soon (I swear!). 



Thursday, August 2, 2012

The World Needs The Customer Service Gurus - Part 2

Summer usually seems to be the season of relaxing, enjoying the outdoors, but we have been especially and gratefully busy at The Customer Service Gurus.  There is much to accomplish before we ramp up for the fall. 

But before we get to all of that, there are still service adventures to report from my spring trip to Europe.  As promised, here is part two of The World Needs the Customer Service Gurus.

Come Fly with Me, but Shop with Me not so Much

We island hopped in the Mediterranean during EuroTrip 2012, as I like to call our spring itinerary.  Chania is a city in Crete, the Greek island.  It is a beautiful place, and surprisingly the harbor looks like a smaller version of Venice because of the Venetian occupation at one point in their history.  We had a wonderful time during our week there.

As we waited to fly out, as typical we had time to kill at the airport.  The airport is primarily a military base, but in the tourist season it also services a few daily commercial flights.  Let’s just say it is more functional, than hospitable.  My husband went to browse the various stores, which were only three in the entire airport, to stretch his legs before our flight. 

He ventured to a shop not very far from our gate, maybe less than 100 feet or approximately 30 meters for my non-US readers. It was in the late afternoon, the store seemed to be open, but a sales clerk rudely informed my husband he had to go to another store with the same exact merchandise because he, my husband, was flying out of a different gate. Remember, we are talking less than 100 feet and no more than 7 gates.   It seems the last flight of the day just left the store’s area and clerk did not want to wait on anyone else, but the store was clearly not closed because my husband could easily walk in to the shopping area.

The Guru’s Solution

This one is common sense.  Well, at least I think it is.  If the store is physically open, then it is open and customers should be serviced.  If it is not open, then put up a barrier for customers not to go in the door.

Some of this could be culture related as well.  Not all cultures work on the premise of the customer is always right, so sometimes it is necessary to readjust our norms.  I have worked in retail in the US and remember nights when we left late because of a customer walking in the door three minutes before closing time.  But I have also worked retail in France, and when it was closing time, it was closing time.  It is not good or bad; it is simply a different norm.

My advice to Chania is, especially since they are having a difficult time with public relations due to the overall impression of the Greek financial crisis, it would be worth mentioning to workers that without tourist euros they will have no job at all making things much worse in an already fragile world.  It may be quitting time, but every sale is important. 

Train Station – Who’s on first? 

Here is the last story, even though there are more, but you need to get to work!

Poland and Ukraine hosted this year’s major soccer tournament Euro Cup. This tournament takes place every four years and equates in US terms to the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA finals and Stanley Cup wrapped up into one event.  It takes almost a month for the tournament to complete, from group play to the finals.

Emotionally, this is huge in Europe and it is very prestigious for a country to put on the tournament. Many Europeans believe this tournament is even stronger than the World Cup because it is restricted to the overall stronger European teams.

Breslau is one of the larger cities in Poland and hosted some of the group games.  We arrived in Breslau a week before the games started to visit extended family.  When it was time to leave we found ourselves at the new train station still under construction.  More of it was built than not, but the new signage was not all in place.

We needed to buy an international ticket from Poland to Germany.  The new train station had no window labeled, “International Tickets,” among the 10 or so windows labeled in English, “Domestic Tickets,” but it was unclear if where we could buy our tickets.
We were lucky that our extended father-in-law, who speaks Polish, came with us for our send off.  He first asked other passengers in the train station where to buy international tickets.  Strangely, he received a different answer from every person.  This was absolutely confusing so he and my husband went to the official information desk.  The information agent said it could be bought at the labeled domestic windows. 

They waited in that line for at least 15 minutes, but when they get to window the domestic ticket agent said an international ticket could not be bought at that counter.  My husband was within sight of the information agent that instructed them to the domestic window and said so.  Waving him off with no concern at all, the agent said, “The new train station is not complete so you have to go to the old train station to buy an international ticket.” 
Forty-five minutes later we find the international ticket counter in the old train station and roughly make our way through the transaction.  The agent only spoke Polish, so luckily we had our relative translator.   Very frustrated, but finally with ticket in hand, we said good-bye to our family and head to the train. 

The Guru’s Solution

This would not take much to fix.  First, any agent working an international counter should speak at least one other language or there should be other accommodations to combat language barriers.  I thought a form would help.  The passenger would complete the form in their language and hand it over to the ticket agent.  It would be a small upfront cost, but save a huge amount of aggravation for both passenger and agent.

Secondly, the management could write a simple memo, and then supervisors could conduct quick team meetings to explain where international tickets could be purchased.  We bought the tickets in the old station, but actually caught the train at the new station.  It was confusing even to the most seasoned of travelers.

I think what upsets me the most, from a service perspective, is the information agent not knowing the right place to buy the ticket.   What is the point of an information desk if the information cannot be trusted?

Final Thoughts

That wraps up my look at service abroad.  As I said in the first blog, these were a few incidences in an overall wonderful trip full of many people providing excellent service.  Travel frustrations come with the adventure of being out of one’s comfort zone, and much of it is relative.   For example, my international friends get just as frustrated in the States with our tipping customs and road rules.  So I encourage you to experience the world.  It will certainly provide you with an interesting perspective on the value and importance of delivering excellent customer service.

Now get out there and enjoy this last month of summer!