Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Last week i was in Chicago’s O’Hare International and ventured into the baggage office, where disgruntled passengers end up without anything to wear tomorrow – literally.  Likely the worst place to work in the entire airport.  You never have a happy customer enter your office.

I watched two different representatives say almost identical words and phrases to the dozens of passengers, but with very different results.  The most effective went something like this:

CustomerA :  “how could you lose my bag!”   I have a meeting in the morning and NEED it!” 

RepA:  “I am very sorry.  (sincere empathy)  The bag did not make the flight (reality).  There is a flight at X:XX time tonight, i will have it to your hotel by 7am.   Here is an overnight kit, discount on future flights, etc…”

The customer did not or could not complain any more.  THe rep did all he could to solve the issue, had explained the reality of the situation and apologized.  The customer left satisfied with the outcome, not happy but satisfied.

A few minutes later i watched nearly the same customer interaction with another individual:

CustomerB:  “how could you lose my bag!”   I have a meeting in the morning and NEED it!” 

RepB:  “Sorry.   There is a flight at X:XX time tonight, i will have it to your hotel by 7am.   Here is an overnight kit, discount on future flights, etc…”

This customer’s response “THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE”   and proceeded to scream and yell about all things wrong with the world.

Two things i noted. 

1.  The words between Rep A and Rep B were almost identical.  But Rep A was much more effective and seemed to genuinely care.   Rep B used the script, but did not connect with the customer as an individual. 

2. Each customer a choice in how they would deal with the interaction and the reality of the situation at hand.  While i think the airline rep played a HUGE role in the outcome of the nearly identical situations, Customer B obviously accepted the invitation to have their day ruined by the event.


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We recently exhibited and presented a workshop at the CFO Rising West conference in Las Vegas. The conference was held at a J.W. Marriott. We stayed nearby at a typical Las Vegas Casino/Hotel.

It was interesting to compare the two hotels that we were in and out of throughout the week. Because of this isolated experience, I came to some untested conclusions:

Chain hotels don’t do casinos. This may be because it would be counter to their philosophy and mission. Most chains are concerned with customer service. They want to ensure that the customer is comfortable, happy and taken care of. This is how it felt at the Marriott. It was simple to get from the parking area to the reservation desk to the guest rooms/pools/restaurants, etc. The casino that was on site was not “in the way” of the traditional needs of a hotel.

This was a stark difference in comparison to our hotel. In order to do anything, one had to go through the casino. If you’ve ever been to Vegas, you know that this is on purpose. There’s not much in the terms of traditional customer service at a casino. Everything funnels through the casino. Get from parking to the room: casino. Front desk to room: casino. Enter a restaurant: casino. Once your spending in the casino, then their customer service becomes apparent.

Hopefully, our customers, clients and others view us along the lines of J.W. Marriott instead of a traditional Vegas casino in regards to customer service. What kind of customer service do you provide?

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Most companies will testify that first and foremost that their employees are their greatest asset.  Read most mission statements and they will say some version of “our customers are our number one priority”.  Neither statement could be truer, or more crucial, yet many companies have an alignment problem between the two.

Consider the typical employment model: 

                A talented sales professional who seeks to further their career is promoted to sales manager

                A skilled and customer-focused Starbucks barista is promoted to Starbucks store manager

                The best call-center employee is promoted to train future call center employees.

Is this the best model?  At issue is the assumption that the best seller can be a sales manager, or has the abilities to lead others.  If our customers were always the “Number one priority” it would be of maximum importance to have our best employees working directly with them, not struggling to manage those who are.

In college I managed a retail store for Kinko’s.  (at the time) A great company, but in many cases we fell into this model.  Typically a new employee started on the front counter – consulting with the customer, yet not fully trained in our capabilities.  How can one consultatively sell if they don’t know the capabilities?  Once a person mastered the order-taking and selling process we would “promote” them to run the copy machines – (a job that truly anyone can be trained to do).  The best machine operator later would become Assistant Store Manager, and if they could handle that they would become Store Manager.  What a backwards model.  I would argue that it should not be a promotion to no longer interact with  customers, instead I think you ‘protect’ your customers from the ‘rookie’ and only allow employees who are well-versed in your culture, capabilities and values to interact with your “number-one priority”.

Taking care of your team, empowering them with the tools and skills to meet your customer needs will ensure that customer needs are met – meaning they continue to buy from you.  When they buy more often, and more volume financial results will inevitably improve.

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A while back, I was out and about and saw this image in the window of a Supercuts.

July is customer appreciation month at super cuts

While I have no bone to pick with Supercuts, and I understand the basis of this promotion, it illustrates a bigger point. Why would a company appreciate their customers only one month out of the year? Shouldn’t we appreciate our customers, clients and pretty much everybody all of the time?

Everyone wants to feel appreciated, that is one of the key aspects of good customer service and employee retention. I think this is something we can all work on.

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If you know me (and much of the rest of us here in the office) we are a tad bit biased in our preference for Apple computers. A friend of mine just got a new MacBook Pro. It has been years and years since she got a new computer. She was pleased and excited to find that when she started up her computer the first time, it played a little welcome/intro video.

Apple is renowned for their customer service and attention to detail. This intro video is no exception. They don’t have to have the video, but have gone out of their way to welcome potentially a new lifelong customer to their brand experience. It is these small things that can really add up to customer satisfaction, customer engagement and customer loyalty. Good on ya, Apple.

Here is the video for the previous OS version for Mac: Leopard.

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GuitarsEver wonder the effect your customer’s experience has on your brand identity and the public opinion?

In March 2008 musician Dave Carroll flew from Halifax to Omaha, transferring planes in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Apparently baggage handlers in Chicago caused damage to Carroll’s guitar http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-biz-united-breaks-guitars-video-ual-july8,0,4414385.story and after a year of trying to negotiate and work with United’s customer service department to no avail, Carroll decided to take things into his own hands, and has created a very popular YouTUBE music video / anti-United campaign calling the airline out for their failure to take care of his perceived customer service issue. His music video has had over 3 million views on YOUTUBE.

Imagine United’s annual budget for advertising and marketing. They spend millions to create their brand identity and position it strategically within the marketplace. Simultaneously they spend millions of dollars on direct labor, millions on training and development of new and existing employees. As a result of this issue, I am thinking today about the effectiveness of both.

A customer service decision, caused by an apparent operations problem in one facility is creating a media stir at a fraction of United’s budget and achieving a much less than desirable result for the company. Independent of whether or not the baggage handlers actually were negligent in their behavior, due of the increasing popularity and power of social media, United will certainly experience a negative consequence as a result of whatever happened on the ground in Chicago. The company had an opportunity to address the musician’s concern when he originally made his claim, but did not so we have to consider the actions of the customer service team responsible for addressing damaged baggage claims. Are these teams trained to empathetically address customer concerns? Are they calloused by the myriad of complaints they deal with every day and each new case becomes just another in the long list of problems they address? Do these service representatives have the Emotional Intelligence Skills necessary to perform their job functions? Is the culture at this customer service center one with an emphasis on delivering a positive customer experience?

I don’t know the answers to those questions about United’s culture and policy but am truly amazed at the implications and consequences of United’s handling of this customer’s issue, and the power of the media for one person to stand up, and tell their service story to over 3 million (and counting as you read this…) United spends millions of dollars each year to create their brand, but the real brand – the brand that people buy, trust and are loyal to is not created by the marketing department, but by the way the company treats every customer and responds to customer issues.

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We have been talking a lot this week about employee engagement and the effects on business. As a business owner, you know that it is critical to have repeat customers. Repeat customers only come from satisfied customers. Dissatisfied customers spend their money with your competition – if this is not the case, you are quite lucky and have a product the consumer cannot live without or is addicted to…

I have been working with a design firm on a new website. When I went to their office for the first time I was amazed by the culture. My meeting was scheduled at 10am, I arrived 5 minutes early and was promptly seated in a very comfortable lobby. As I sat on the couch employees would walk by to and from other offices, breakroom etc and not one walked by without asking if I had been helped or if I needed anything. I was thoroughly amazed that this group of computer programmers, web designers and geeks were so in tune with the customer. Certainly this will be a positive experience. I was meeting that day with the CEO/ Founder of the company who was consulting on our design project. Now that is dedication, he has 50 employees and he is personally taking care of us. That day I waited 45 minutes for the CEO to become available for our scheduled 10am meeting. I made excuses for him because of what I saw with the employees – surely this isn’t typical because look how great the employees are! That first meeting was in April, it is now July and we are still working on a very basic website. Why? All the happy and engaged employees are at each step waiting for approval from the boss to take care of the customer, because the CEO has not fully empowered his people to perform their job functions. Because the CEO is slow to return calls, he is disengaged with his customers. I wonder what his relationship and communication with his employees is like! The first meeting should have been the sign – I waited 45 minutes for him that day, and have waited days on end for return calls since. And I am the paying customer.

Creating a quality product or quality service takes time and effort. You have to have the right resources – technical, mechanical and human; you need to constantly examine your resources and systems for opportunities to improve and every person in the organization needs to be united behind  common values of which constant improvement should be one. My advice to this CEO:  it is time to look critically at the roles each person is playing in your business. When you were growing you probably were the best consultant for customers and should have been involved in each contract. Today you don’t have the time and as such you are telling your customers (those who pay you) that they don’t matter to your organization, independent of what great things your employees do. This type of introspection into yourself and company you built is never easy, but if you are to survive it must happen. I assure you that based on my experience I will not recommend this firm to anyone, nor will I use them in the future. Sad, the story started so well. If everyone in the organization is dedicated to delivering a high quality product or service, the customer comes back. When the customer comes back, they pay you again and again…

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