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customer service and sales tips



Tips and techniques to help people no matter who they sell to or what they sell.



Updated: 2018-01-15T11:24:11.763-05:00

 



Unhappy Customers are a Golden Opportunity

2011-12-13T16:12:41.365-05:00

In a response to an article I wrote for Gitomer's Sales Caffeine, about how to greet an unhappy customer, I received this great letter from Bill Pennola. It really shows how important having the right attitude is in serving your customers.  "A number of years ago I was a manager for a major electronics retailer in the New York City area when a customer stormed into the store with a portable radio that supposedly did not work.He demanded at once to speak to a manager and insisted at the top of his lungs someone was going to "take care of him immediately." I walked up to this irate customer and extended my hand to greet him while saying, Hi ! My name is Bill and I am the store manager, I don't believe we have met.  How can I help you today?This time the customer slammed the radio on the glass counter and insisted it was a piece of, (well you know what) and wanted his money back. I might want to add here, the store's policy is to refund up to 30 days and the manager can make a decision to extend that if need be. I mentioned to the customer, I would be more that happy to refund his money but did he really want his money or did he want a radio that worked.  I asked if he purchased this radio for a reason and would it be better if the item he purchased performed to his expectations?  He relentlessly agreed. I asked him what exactly was it that did not work on the unit?  He replied. "It won't even turn on."  I opened the radio battery compartment and found that the batteries were installed incorrectly.  After installing new batteries into the unit and demonstrating the radios' key features, the customer started to get a grin on his face. I then apologized to the customer once again and provided yet another set of batteries gratis.  He was so happy the radio worked he actually purchased two more with enough batteries to last a lifetime. He thanked me on the way out and mentioned he would tell his friends about the great customer service and would buy all his electronics from me in the future. A few months went buy when this same customer once again stormed into the store.  This time a younger fellow by his side.  They came right up to me and he introduced me to his son and said to him , John your in good hands, Bill will take great care of you. John then proceeded to spend over $ 10,000.00 on a new Home Entertainment system complete with flat panel TV and all of the works. Since that time, over 10 years ago, I have looked at all unhappy customers, as Golden Opportunities and cannot wait to "take care of them immediately."How are YOU handling these "Golden Opportunities?" [...]



Rules Are Rules, But Where is the Humanity?

2011-11-06T18:15:36.535-05:00

Terri Wessinger wanted a new life in Idaho but a run in with U.S.Air turned that dream into a nightmare.

"She had nothing but an airline ticket and $30 in her pocket," reported Michael Finney of ABC news affiliate KGO. Since she had not flown in awhile she was shocked to find that there was a $60 fee for her baggage. She offered to pay for her bag upon landing, but her offer was declined. She was also told she couldn't leave her bag, so she ended up stranded at the airport for eight days. Finally she was rescued by the Airport Church of Christ who raised money to help her get to Idaho.

Yes, it is the passengers responsibility to pay for her luggage. Those are the rules. But, I am horrified that not a single person at US Air could be human enough to make an exception. It is not that Ms. Wessinger wanted a free ride. She wanted to pay once she got to her location. It would have been easy enough to hold her luggage in Idaho until she paid its ransom, er baggage fees.

When a company stops thinking creatively to help solve a customer's problem you have to wonder if that is an airline you want to do business with. Even if a company has no heart they should at least consider the REALLY REALLY bad publicity that happens when the press gets wind of your inflexible policies. Yes, they got the bag fees plus the $150 in change fees, but what did that cost them in public opinion?

All in all not a smart move any way you look at it.



Ask the Question

2011-10-11T10:15:08.659-04:00

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Netflix messed up again. No, I am not talking about their huge price increase, although that was pretty jarring. And I am not talking about their plan to split their once beloved company in two. I am talking about a letter I just received from them.

Along with millions of other users I recently quit Netflix. Basically, I didn’t love them, I didn’t hate them, Netflix was just a monthly expense I was willing to pay. Even though I had underutilized their service for the last year, I hadn’t planned on quitting until they started all this alienating, customer-unfocused nonsense.

But, this last letter made me realize they really need help.

Dear Laurie,
We know you recently canceled your Netflix membership, but we want to share this news with you.
It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.
This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.
While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.
We're constantly improving our streaming selection. We've recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we've added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.
We are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows.
Respectfully,
The Netflix Team


So, what is missing? They never asked the question. “Will you give us a second chance?” Or, “Will you renew your membership?” Or, “With these changes, will you come back?”

To be honest, I am not sure I would have rejoined in any case. But, I certainly would have clicked a link that said, “Click here for more great reasons to be a member.” Or, “We want you back, and we mean it — click here to renew.”

It is easy to see that Netflix messed up by not asking the question, but the real question is “Do YOU ask the question? In the twenty some years I have been coaching sales people, I have found that one common reason they don’t close more sales is that they forget to ask the question. Or, they think that the question is implied. Or, they think that asking is presumptuous.

SERIOUSLY! You are in the sales business, ask the sales question, ask your customer if they want to buy.



Five Quick and Easy Ways To...Lose Your Customer by Sunny Brady

2011-05-19T09:10:33.748-04:00

Your business spends a lot of money trying to attract new customers. But after you attract them,how hard do you work to keep them attracted?Many business owners mistakenly think that when they lose a customer, it is due to reasons beyond the business owner's control. In other words, customers leave only when their needs change and they no longer need the product or service that the business provides. But in actuality, this reason accounts for relatively few customer bounces. In fact, statistics show that it is responsible for fewer than 10 percent of them. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the fault for customer loss rests squarely on the shoulders of the business. Some of the reasons cited include things like disappointment with the quality of product or service, unfair pricing, and equipment that doesn't work. But even these things aren't the major culprits. The real eye-opening statistic is this one: about three out of every four customers leave due to what they perceive as poor customer service.Any business owner who minimizes the importance of customer service needs to read the above paragraph over and over again. Attracting customers is a waste of money if those same customers end up leaving you. And if they leave you because they feel you are servicing them poorly, then there is surely something you can do to prevent it. But on the other hand, if you are content to see them walking away, then maybe you should just continue to make the same customer service mistakes that I see so many businesses routinely make. What are they? Well here are some of them:Laziness: I'm constantly surprised at how many employees don't do their homework. How can you tell your customers which of your products will best solve their problems if you haven't bothered to learn the strengths and weaknesses of all of those products? How can you communicate your company's policies and procedures to your customers if you haven't taken the time to learn them thoroughly yourself? How can you know whom in your company to contact if your customer has a question outside your area unless you are completely familiar with your corporate structure and co-worker responsibilities? Nothing impresses customers more than a company rep who knows his or her facts and follows up to find the best solution for them in a timely manner.Over-persistence: The most common cover-up for an employee who has a limited amount of knowledge about his company's products is to talk up the one or two products he does know well and drill home their selling points ad nauseum. And the most common cover-up for an employee who hasn't bothered to learn his customers well enough to understand what they really need is to try to sell them something they don't want - and then to make up for their ignorance by over-selling it. Marketing to your customers is one thing. But doing so to the point of annoyance can be a real turn-off.Surly, disagreeable, or uncommunicative attitude: An agreeable and empathetic demeanor is a great first step in gaining the customer's trust. A smile or a nod of the head can go a long way. So can calmness, especially when you are faced with an agitated client. It's all part of communication - probably the single most important ingredient in good customer relations.Failure to listen: Another huge element of communication is the ability to listen. This is truly the only way you learn about your customer. Yet you'd be surprised at how often I see company reps, intentionally or not, dominate conversations with their customers. Being a good listener is a skill, but it is a skill worth knowing when you deal with customers. You not only learn about them but you also show them your concern.Early surrender: Very often customers present problems that are not easily solved. Maybe they are being blockaded by your company's restrictive policies or red tape. When this happens, the last thing customers want to hear is ìSorry but that's the way we do it.î When presented with tough problems or [...]



Groupon gets “IT,” The Whitney Doesn’t

2011-03-25T11:35:27.104-04:00

I am a huge fan of Groupon. I often use their offers and I am always excited when I get a chance to try out new places and services.When The Whitney, an elegant fine dining restaurant in Detroit, had a Groupon offer I snapped it up. I was once a loyal customer of The Whitney but it had been some time since I dined there. I was thrilled to get a chance to go back to one of my favorite places.Well, my schedule became insane and I found myself approaching the expiration date of the offer. About a week before, I called and asked for an extension. I was turned down. Although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use the offer, I gave it to some good friends of mine. When they tried to use it on the final weekend, they were told that there were no reservations available. Their request for an extension was also turned down.As a result of this, The Whitney now has two very disappointed couples. I wrote The Whitney to tell them how unhappy we all were but I got no response. About a month later I saw that they had a new offer up on Groupon. I called the Whitney again. This time I spoke with Matt, the manager. Matt couldn’t have cared less that I was unhappy or that my friends were unhappy. He even told me I should have contacted him sooner. When I told him that I had called, that my friends had called and that I sent an email, he was unfazed and unconcerned. He told me that it was the Whitney’s policy that they do not offer any extensions. When I asked, was it his policy, Matt said no, it was the owner’s policy. When I asked to speak to the owner, I was told that the owner does not speak to customers. WOW. This would have been the right time to apologize profusely and offer something, however small, to win me back. But NO. Confronted with his attitude and rigidity, it was clear that being “right”, at least in his mind, was of the utmost importance. He simply didn’t care if I was his customer. In my mind, the ENTIRE purpose of a Groupon is to create an opportunity to get new loyal customers. Businesses never make money on the Groupon, rather it’s a good-will gesture to introduce or reintroduce your product or service. Wouldn’t it make sense to do everything you could to keep your potential customers happy? Why would you solicit customers and then, not only deny them the chance to experience your food and service, but anger them in the process?So now I have a personal grudge against The Whitney, and I will be happy to give a reverse endorsement if asked, “Go anywhere BUT The Whitney.” At this point I can only expect that the service at the restaurant would match the service I got from the manager — arrogant, cold and indifferent — not what you want from an upscale dining establishment.Now to be fair, he did say, “If you have a problem, contact Groupon.” So I did.I visited Groupon’s website planning to send an email with the hope that I would get a response. Boy, was I surprised. Yes, there was a place and an email address to send a message, but there was also a phone number. I called and spoke to Cameron. I told him my tale of woe about The Whitney. He immediately gave me a refund. He was warm, friendly and concerned.Now that was great customer service. In fact he exceeded my expectations in every way.So, what is the “It” I mentioned in the headline? Well, “It” could translate as “giving exceptional service”. With that definition in mind, Groupon certainly gets what giving exceptional service is all about — and The Whitney certainly does not.But more importantly, is what the “It” is to me. The “It” is my loyalty. Groupon has won my loyalty and The Whitney has lost it.[...]



United Gate Agent WOWS With a Simple Act of Kindness

2011-03-20T12:29:14.316-04:00

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I fly a lot. When I say a lot, I mean a LOT. This is not a plea for sympathy or an act of bragging. It’s just to give context to what happened to me — a simple act of kindness that I have never experienced in all the times I have flown.

I was sitting at a United Airlines gate waiting for my plane from Chicago to Detroit, when the gate agent called my name. This alone surprised me. Although I am an “elite” flyer on many airlines I am “nothing” to United Airlines. Usually you’re only called to the gate if you are going to be upgraded, which I knew was impossible.

I walked up to the gate agent, Liz Williams, who said to me, “I noticed that you were sitting at the back of the plane and I wondered if you wanted to move closer to the front? I have a window seat that you might find more comfortable.”

WOW! I was totally taken aback.

No one in all the miles I have flown has ever asked if I wanted to move my seat for my own comfort. There have been hundreds of times when I have begged a gate agent for a more comfortable seat. Mostly, I am treated as a bother. “Sigh” they usually respond, “Let me see what I can do.”

Sometimes I am upgraded when the computer spits out my name. And as much as I appreciate being upgraded, I appreciated this event even more.

I realized that it meant that I was no longer only a “filled seat”, no longer a bother. Ms. Williams thought of me as a human being with needs, wants and desires.

This act of one person helping out another person wowed me.

Wowing the customer didn’t cost Ms. Williams or the airlines a single cent. But it had a huge effect. It made me think, “Wow, maybe I should fly United more often?”

I translated her one act of kindness as an example of how United will treat me in the future.

What simple act of thoughtfulness can you do to wow your customer?



Concierge Shuttle Service

2010-08-17T17:45:47.798-04:00

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“Now, don’t worry. Every afternoon, sometime between two and seven, we will have a thunderstorm. If you are in one of the parks, just find shelter, but don’t leave. It will pass over quickly. Most people don’t know this and they will leave.” That is what Todd Affricano, our shuttle driver, told us, his passengers, on a recent trip from Orlando International Airport to our hotels.

He proceeded to give each of us tips for where we were staying or for what we were planning on doing. “Here is the map for Universal Studio” he told three passengers. “Get there early. And start out at the back of the park. People are like sheep. They start to their right and go to each attraction in order. You will save hours by starting at the back.”

He told a young couple with a child “If you need anything from the drugstore, it is right across the street from your hotel.”

Every guest in his shuttle was given an “inside tip” that was personalized, relevant and interesting. Throughout the drive, Todd filled us with valuable information that all of us on the shuttle bus could use. As a result, a few things happened. First, the ride from the airport just flew by. Secondly, everybody on the shuttle felt special. Thirdly, Todd distinguished himself. In all the times I have taken that shuttle, NOBODY ever did what he did.

I know that sometimes, when it is time to tip, I feel resentful. Often the driver will go round and round the airport making sure he gets every last customer (this can add an hour onto our trip) or the driving is so erratic everyone is scared for their lives. But, on this trip, we all couldn’t wait to tip Todd. I saw every passenger pull out more money to compensate him than usual. Todd was the world’s best concierge and he had “earned” every cent (and more).

How do you give “concierge service” to your customers? Do you provide your customers with “inside information” that they cannot get anywhere else? Do you personalize their experience?

If not, you need to start today.



"Do I look like someone who is here to help you?" United O’Hare counter staff disappoints

2010-03-27T10:56:58.283-04:00

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Mike was waiting for his flight from Chicago to Detroit. It had been a long day for him. He had been working in Minneapolis earlier in the day and this was his last leg home.

He noticed on the board that his gate had been changed from 30 to 28. Knowing that there are sometimes mistakes he walked up to a uniformed United gate person who was standing at the counter. “Hi, is the flight to Detroit now leaving from 28?” “Do I look like someone who is here to help you?” she barked. “Er, well, yes, you are at the counter in uniform.” he replied. “This counter is closed.” was the last thing she said to him.

Mike walked over to another uniformed gate person to ask the same question. Her reply was “Just look at the board.” and she was done talking to him, too.

Mike was astounded that he would be treated so badly. He vowed to never fly United again. I can’t blame him. There is no excuse for the treatment he received. “Do I look like someone who is here to help you?” May be one of the most outrageous statements I have ever heard from a customer service person.

I know that the gate personnel are not richly compensated, but with attitudes like the ones Mike encountered, I think that they need to find new work — somewhere far away from customers.



Guest Post from The Amazing Service Guy Kevin Stirtz

2010-03-24T09:13:46.624-04:00

Six Steps to More Loyal CustomersWe all know it’s important to have loyal customers. But do you know how important it is? A study by Bain & Company suggests that a 5% increase in customer loyalty can improve profitability by anywhere from 25% to 95%. It shows us there are big opportunities available for owners and managers who are willing to do what it takes to increase customer loyalty.The good news is, it’s not hard. And you can do it with the people and resources you have right now. It takes time, effort and patience to make it successful. But you can make a huge impact on your business.Here’s what you need to do:1. Ask your customers what they want.This is different than what they expect. What customers expect is usually less (often a lot less) than what they want. But you need to know what they want.What do they want in general? What are they trying to accomplish (or avoid)? Why did they choose you instead of your competition? What are their priorities and preferences?Keep in mind different customers focus on different aspects of what your business does and how you do it. But if you speak with enough, you should see patterns and trends. You should develop some profiles of what various customers want.Also look for how your customers want to be served. This will vary a lot and is harder to discover. Most people focus on what they want because it’s easier to talk about. But people like to be treated well. We all have different definitions of what being treated well means. You need to learn what it means to your customers.2. Tell your customers what to expect.Some companies try to be all things to all customers. They do too much and none of it well. Every company has a unique set of resources that gives it a competitive advantage. these are your company’s strengths. Learn what they are. Use them to determine what your company can do better than anyone else in your market.Once you know what your company does best, compare that list with what your customers want. These two lists should overlap. (If they don’t, you have a problem!) Where they overlap is what your company should focus on. These are the things you need to do for your customers: the combination of what they want most and what you do best.From this list you need to develop your message. You might call it a brand promise. You might call it your Customer Service Standards. What you call it is not as important as what you do with it. Use it to tell your story. It tells people why they should do business with you. and it helps them know what to expect when they do business with you.Then make sure your customers, employees and management all understand your message. Do everything you can to share your message with these three groups. Post it in your store, on your web site, on your business cards, in your ads and anywhere else your employees, management and customers will see it. Get it noticed!3. Create easy ways for your customers to offer feedback.This is where many companies stumble. They focus so much on getting new orders and delivering the product or service, they forget what happens afterward. The only way you can consistently get better at what you do is with a steady flow of honest and direct feedback.Find many ways for your customers to let you know what they think. Brainstorm with your employees. Make it a contest. Copy other businesses. Ask your customers. Do a Google search! Try different communication channels and keep trying until you find a bunch that deliver the amount of feedback you need (which is a lot).Make sure this step is done by your employees. Don’t rely on outsiders (consultants, survey companies, etc.) to do this for you. They are your customers and you need to communicate with them directly. You’ll learn more from them this way and you’ll develop closer ties with your customers. You’ll also get a[...]



Taking responsibility for a problem— Rehearsal the app

2010-03-21T09:33:55.598-04:00

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I recently read about a new iphone app that sounded interesting, Rehearsal the app This is what I saw at the top of their home page, even positioned before an explanation of their product:

The email issues we had Tuesday (3/2/2010) (Apple featured us on the front page of the App Store and we were overwhelmed) have now been fixed. Notifications are now flowing smoothly once again. Thank you for your patience – if you gave us a 1 star rating, we don’t blame you – it’s pretty frustrating to not have an app work the way you expect it. We hope you’ll work with Rehearsal, and reconsider your rating in the App Store. Thanks!
A special thanks to the server team at GoDaddy.com – they came to our rescue, and we so appreciate that.


I was so impressed by this message because it was the perfect way to address the issue. (My guess is that it would have been impossible to contact every user that encountered a problem.)

Let’s look at the elements that made this effort so effective:

Acknowledge the problem (with date included) The email issues we had Tuesday. 3/2/10
Fix the problem Have now been fixed. Notifications are now flowing smoothly once again
Be grateful thank you for your patience
Express empathy If you gave us a 1 star rating we don’t blame you-it is pretty frustrating to not have an app work in the way you expect it
Request future business We hope you’ll work with Rehearsal and reconsider your rating in the App Store.
Be grateful Thanks
Acknowledge those that helped
a very classy shout out to the folks at go daddy with another note of appreciation
A special thanks to the server team at GoDaddy.com – they came to our rescue, and we so appreciate that.


All in all, a really great way to take responsibility for a problem. It gives me confidence in the company and their product.

Do you handle your problems as proactively?




Nordstrom is listening — and that is a good thing

2010-03-14T13:16:18.786-04:00

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I recently wrote an “open letter to Nordstrom” and then tweeted the url for everyone to read. People commented on my post that I should send this letter to Nordstrom. I didn’t even have a chance to think about it because not more than 5 hours after I had posted my article I got a letter of apology from the corporate office. It seemed sincere and asked for details about the event that I blogged about.

Now THIS is how a company should be using Twitter. Many of us use Twitter to “talk” or maybe worse, “sell”, but he companies that are really ahead of the curve are using Twitter to listen. Between Google alerts and Twitter, a company can keep updated on what their customers are thinking and talking about.

Before the electronic information revolution, a company would have to read letters, maybe do surveys, and walk the floor to get a better understanding of what their customers really felt about them. But, all too often, customers never complain (or compliment) a company directly. Instead, they would sit over a cup of tea or a beer and tell their friends and family. If the story was really juicy, whoever heard the story might then tell their friends and family. 

It’s great that companies now can get real-time, unfiltered comments from their happy and unhappy customers. The trick, of course, is to do something with all of this input, and do it right away. Contact the author if you can, and if not, post an open apology. Internally, address the problem through training.

Start listening to your customer. You might not always like what you hear, but at least you will learn some things and be in a position to do something about the problem.

There’s a reason that Nordstom is a leader in customer service—it’s because they are extremely responsive to their customers. See what you can do to emulate them.

By the way, Nordstrom if you are listening, all is forgiven.



An open letter of apology to Nordstrom counter staff

2010-03-10T07:41:46.268-05:00

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Hi,
I am writing to you to apologize for my rude behavior yesterday. My girlfriend and I were looking for makeup, came up to your counter and interrupted the conversation that the three of you were having with one another. Yes, my mother raised me better than that. She did tell me it was disrespectful to interrupt a conversation. But, you know me, I just had to find out about the eye shadow your company sells.

Now, I am sure your conversation must have been important because you were so engrossed that you never even saw us standing there. Maybe you were talking about how Michigan, our state, has been so badly hurt by the recession—perhaps more than any other state in the nation. Or, maybe you were commenting on how Nordstrom, usually very busy, was essentially empty of customers that day. Maybe you were chatting about how if business didn’t pick up, you might all lose your jobs. Whatever it was, we could clearly see your conversation was way more important than us.


The nice thing is, that although we interrupted you, once one of you pointed to the makeup we asked about, you went right back to your conversation.

Here is my promise to you: I will never, ever, ever, bother you again. You can count on it.

Best wishes
Laurie



I Am NOT a Table: aTale of Medical Customer Service

2010-03-09T07:24:22.022-05:00

This morning I went in for a medical procedure, and left with some pretty strong opinions on how medical personnel can improve their customer service.The first nurse I encountered was perfect. She walked in, greeted me immediately, introduced herself, and then, told me step-by-step what she was going to do. So that there were no surprises, she explained that she was inserting an IV in my hand, commenting that this would be the last pain I would feel for the rest of the procedure. It went down hill from there."I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #1The anesthesiologist was the next person in the room. He walked in, placed my medical records on my legs (No! I am not a table) and then proceeded to review it without either greeting me or introducing himself. A few minutes later he finally decided that I could know who he was and introduced himself.Customer service tips: Do not use the patient as a surface to place your records, there are tables in the room. It is disrespectful to use the patient as a table.When you walk in the room, introduce yourself to the patient immediately. The patient shouldn’t have to guess who you are and why you are there. It is stressful enough without the added mystery. What may seem like seconds to you can feel like an eternity to your patient."I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #2I was then wheeled into the procedure room. The anesthesiologist nurse complained to me that she was starting to get sick and her throat was hurting her.Customer service tip: If you are sick, you have no business working with patients. And even if you feel that you have taken every precaution to not spread your illness, there is no need to discuss it with your patient."I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #3As I was waiting, other medical personnel were in the room. They all started chatting with one another as if I was not in the room, or, to continue my metaphor, like I was merely a table.Customer service tip: The procedure room is not a place to chat with one another. If you want to chat you can talk to the patient, unless they prefer quiet, in which case you should be quiet. Not including the patient in your conversation is disrespectful and unprofessional."I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #4As I was lying on the gurney I started to feel woozy. I had no idea why. I asked the nurse why I was feeling that way. She responded that she had started to giving me a sedative.Customer service tip: Do not start giving medication without informing the patient what you are doing and explaining how she might feel from it. Feeling woozy shouldn’t be a surprise. Once again I felt like a …yes you guessed it “a table.”So medical personnel, whether you are a Doctor, nurse, or whatever, remember that the person lying on the gurney is your customer. Treat this person with respect. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. If your customer/patient doesn’t like how you treated her she might never come back, or she may tell all her friends not to go to you, or even worse—she might write an article about you.[...]



Do You REALLY want Kevin Smith to be Your Spokesperson?

2010-02-16T10:24:29.581-05:00

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My guess is the answer is a resounding "NO!" especially if you are Southwest Airlines.

Recently Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight because he was too fat. He started tweeting about it, and I mean tweeting non-stop.

When Kevin Smith tweets, people listen. People like CNN, TMZ, People Magazine and Larry King. People who are more than happy to share Smith's story of bad customer service.

All of a sudden, Southwest had to start handling a public relationship nightmare. They now are in the position of having to try to overcome tons of bad publicity.

The whole notion of bigger customer's having to buy two seats has been in the news recently. But this is different. This is a man who fit in his seat without having to have the buckle extender.

It of course makes you wonder how many other people have had to deal with this embarrassing situation. Smith was mortified to have to take the walk of shame off the plane. Yes he is a celebrity, but NO ONE should have to be taken off a plane in this way.

In his smodcast Smith says...
"There is no customer service whatsoever left, I am not going to say in this whole country...
But how do you show that little interest in somebody who like holds sway over your ...job?"

He has a great point. All of us, not just celebrities, holds sway over the jobs of the people who serve us.

Now I am not saying that anyone should lose their job over this incident. Just that if you are in the customer service business you really should provide exceptional customer care.



Erhard BMW provides exceptional customer service

2010-02-04T09:56:07.385-05:00

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It was 4:01 PM this last Saturday. I pulled my car, with the horrible clanging shocks, up to the service entrance. I knew Erhard's BMW service department closed at 4, but I was hopeful that someone could at least tell me if it was dangerous to drive the car.

Now, most businesses that close at a certain time don't let any new customers in after that time.The workers have put in a full day and they lock the doors right at closing time. But not Erhard, they are in the customer service business and nothing was more important to them than me. Or at least that is how they made me feel.

I not only had my car taken on a test drive and put on a hoist (thank you Sam) but they arranged for me to take a loaner car. Late on a weekend day it would seem impossible to offer me a loaner car. But they found one. By the way the new BMW was awesome!

What this meant was that everybody had to stay late on a weekend night.
And to a person they never made me feel like they were doing me a favor. You may know what I mean by that. The service provider says "Well, (sigh) I guess I can help you, (sigh) but only this once. You know you are here after closing time."

Erhard's team treated me like a valued guest. In fact they acted as if I showed up first thing in the morning. I was never made to feel guilty for making them stay late.

I love this dealership. They continually exceed my expectations.

What are you doing to exceed YOUR customer's expectations? Take a tip from the Erhard team and go the extra mile.



ARE YOU READY FOR THE HYPERSENSITIVE CUSTOMER?

2009-09-15T14:48:31.083-04:00

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ARE YOU READY FOR THE HYPERSENSITIVE CUSTOMER?

As if businesses weren’t struggling enough these days, a recent study out of the U.K. has revealed the emergence of the “hypersensitive customer,” a consumer that has less cash, more information and less tolerance for poor customer service than ever before. The study, conducted by UK accounting and business consulting firm BDO Stoy Hayward, found that in the last 18 months, customers have become less loyal, as they realize how privileged retailers are to have their business. In fact, 48% of consumers admitted increasing their expectations over the past two years.

Customers are plugged in, with easy access to consumer reviews, detailed technical information and competitive product information. They have tighter budgets, so they’ve become more discerning in both the products they buy and the service they expect. 74% of respondents in the study said they wouldn’t purchase products and would leave the store if they encountered what they deemed to be poor service.

Are you and your business ready for the arrival of the hypersensitive customer? If not, now is the time to examine your customer service practices and get them in line with the needs of today’s consumer.

There’s a new customer service book on stores shelves and online resellers that can help you manage this new breed of consumer. When you order “Who’s Your Gladys?” today, you get a special package of 40+ electronic bonus gifts in customer service, sales, marketing and professional development. Buy your copy today at www.whosyourgladys.com Watch the WYG book trailer here: www.youtube.com/whosyourgladys



What is adequate compensation for being stuck for hours on the tarmac?

2009-09-11T09:22:55.569-04:00

It seems that more and more passengers on planes are being stuck for hours on the tarmac without, food, water or working bathrooms. I asked Linked In members to answer the question: “What is adequate compensation for being stuck for hours on the tarmac?” The following are some of the answers: “Honestly I don't think there can be any perfect compensation. You can't replace time.... and time is essentially what all of the passengers lost. Time spent with children, parents, grandparents, clients, bosses... take your pick. None of which can be gotten back. What is more bothersome is that lack of true compensation is only intensified by an airline, regulating authority, and any other number of persons who weren't willing to go beyond "the book" and come up with a solution to the problem. How do you compensate for 5 hours? Starting with an apology and responsibility would be a good start.....” B. Smith“I would want 2 complimentary First Class tickets with open ended dates to whatever location I choose. And free drinks whilst on the tarmac.” S. Andrade“Free travel for life on that airline, should I ever wish to use it again (highly unlikely). At least $1,000 per hour for each and every passenger, plus extra compensation for any business lost as a result, plus a harassment fee of $10,000 per person.” F. Feather“The thing to realize about compensation (or free blankets or free scotch or anything else) is this: There isn't some great pot of money lying around at an airline that they can use for stuff like this. If an airline had to compensate passengers there would be only one way they could fund it: By raising fares - And that would impact you and me. What I would much prefer would be a clear mechanism whereby passengers could buy insurance options which are presented 'in their face' at the time of ticket purchase that would cover them for the duration of their itinerary. The insurance would provide compensation due to delay or would get you on another carrier (if available) if you're delayed more than X hours or whatever.” G. Glave“At a minimum: a free round-trip ticket and a handwritten letter of apology from the CEO.” J. Chernin"Ultimately the people need to be shown that the problem is being fixed so it does not happen so often. I read the blog of the leadership of FAA, DOT. There were tons of people complaining about similar incidents that did not make it into the news media. The airline industry is entirely too cavalier about the inconveniences for their customers. I accept that when there is a snow storm, or earthquake, or other severe emergency, it is not unreasonable that people might be stuck in a transportation facility for many hours without access to working toilets, food, medical services etc. and some people die in such conditions. Children are much more vulnerable to this semi-torture than adults. The transportation service should pick up their medical support for several years, in case of complications. However, there have been several recent incidents where a plane was diverted from primary city due to thunderstorm, landed at an airport where the weather was fine, the toilets were fine, the security was fine, there was no logical reason why the passengers could not have had access to food, comfort, toilets, phones, etc. except that the personnel running the facility were brain dead on what could be done outside their normal routine, overworked, did not want to phone their supervisors at 3 am for guidance. Then next morning, when higher authority showed up for all relevant agencies ... airlines, airport, security ... it was a massive buck passing operation, no [...]



Are you wasting your time waiting?

2009-08-26T19:15:24.051-04:00

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It is not that you don’t have a busy enough life. You work, you have family and friends that need attention. However busy you may be, at some point everything comes to a screeching halt — your cable has stopped working. You now find yourself at the mercy of the cable company.

“We can have a repair person to your home between 8-12 tomorrow.” You have no choice but to stay put. You think to yourself, “Well maybe I can just run to the store to grab some milk”, but then you remember the last time you did that the repair person came and went and you had to start all over again. To make matters worse, the cable repair person ends up running late. At 12:15 you call the cable company and learn that they will be there within an hour. You have now wasted more than half a day.

You have most likely experienced a similar scenario. Why can’t there be a simple way to solve this problem and set us free?

As it turns out, there is a solution. Yuval Brisker, co-founder of TOA Technologies, experienced the same problem, but luckily for us, he figured out how to solve it. Brisker — a true renaissance man — designed a predictive web-based system, ETAdirect solution, that benefits both the customer and the company that uses it
As a customer, you will no longer be tied to your home waiting. Through text messages, automated voice call, email and/or online tracking, you will be informed when the repair person will arrive.

Generally, you the customer, will be “on call” for a two hour window. You let the company know your preferred mode of contact, and will be told when to expect the repai person within a one hour window.

For the company, TOA’s ETAdirect system helps manage a mobile workforce with planning and routing and dispatch and scheduling. Furthermore, it can help retain customers through better customer service.

One of my favorite features of the system is that it will offer to reschedule an appointment if the customer is not able to keep it. Too many companies neglect to reschedule their customer’s appointments. This simple step is good for the company and the customer.

I don’t know about you, but I sure want my cable company, phone company, plumber, etc to get this! (You know who you are!)



Customers like to be remembered

2009-08-20T10:45:29.521-04:00

Last week I was working in Orlando. I was staying at the Disney Contemporary Resort. Of course I am aware that Disney prides itself on superior customer service, so my expectations were pretty high. Even with those high expectations I still found myself amazed by a specific event. After my class was finished I walked up to the reservation counter for the California Grill. Apparently it is a very popular restaurant so reservations are not easy to get. I was dining by myself so I thought I would check to see if I could eat later. A lovely woman behind the desk greeted me and told me that there should be no problem. It was a short unremarkable encounter and I walked away. Later that night, after changing into more comfortable clothes, I decided to try and eat at the California Grill. I had no problem getting in (even though the place was packed.) I was enjoying my meal at the sushi bar (the food was amazing,) when the woman who greeted me walked up to me and said “Wow, I am so glad you decided to come back.” This blew me away. As I said, we had an unremarkable conversation, it lasted only seconds and I wasn’t even wearing the same clothes. But Ashley Call, the restaurants Guest Service Manager remembered me. And by the simple act of remembering me and telling me she was glad I came back she transformed my evening. I felt important. I felt valued. I felt appreciated. She took a good evening and made it great. I eat at a lot of good restaurants, but I would go out of my way to go back to this one because of Call and her staff. Call told me her goal was to make sure every guest leaves happy. What do you do to make sure every customer leaves happy? How do you make your customer feel important, valued and appreciated? Try doing something today to transform your customer’s experience. [...]



Customer Service Tips from a Suburban Detroit Restaurant

2009-07-07T14:05:28.810-04:00

In a recent post, I wrote about my friend’s experience at Beau Jacks, a suburban Detroit restaurant. Their experience was exceptional; so, I decided to interview the owner, Gary Cochran. I wanted to learn what he does to keep his customers coming back 3 or 4 nights a week. His restaurant is so successful that patrons are willing to endure long waits, because it’s worth it, even in Detroit’s depressed times. Beau Jack’s is also one of Jay Leno’s favorite Detroit restaurants.Here are Cochran’s tips for a successful business:Don’t do traditional advertising.Cochran doesn’t buy traditional advertising. He puts his money into supporting his loyal customers’ causes. When his customers ask him to buy ads in yearbooks, pay for sponsorships, or supports charitable golf outings, he does it. “I do my advertising with the people who eat with me.”Keep your staff pumped up.Cochran creates a weekly newsletter for his employees. The bottom of the newsletter has a motivational quote intended to keep his people thinking positively. He tells them, “ We don’t have to take part in this recession if the food and service is great.”Have high standards.“In this economy we have to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.” Cochran makes sure that his parking lot is repaved and painted every year whether it needs it or not. He has an iron and ironing board outside of the staff’s dressing room so that everyone looks impeccable. He believes that good is not good enough. “I don’t want you to pay for good, you pay for great.”Treat your customers like members of a private club.Cochran encourages his staff to learn customers’ names and preferences. “I always tell my staff that if they worked in a country club they would remember their names and that they like five olives in their martinis.”He also provides his staff with business cards that they give out when they hand the customer the bill. He encourages the staff to tell the customers, “Ask for me next time you come in.”Treat special needs customers differently.Even though his customers may have to wait up to 45 minutes to be seated, he understands that it can be a hardship. When a customer is using a walker, he tries to seat them sooner. If customers have small children with them, the wait staff may place an order for chicken strips (on the house) so that the minute the family sits down there is food for the kids.Don’t ask your employees to do anything you wouldn’t do.Cochran hasn’t had a day off in the last 18 months. He can often be found with a coffee pot in his hand, bussing tables or picking up a dropped napkin. The treatment of his staff is so good that he has kept his employees for decades. His newest employee has been with him for six years.Empower your employees.His servers know that if they are overwhelmed with customers and are not providing great service, they can buy the customer a dessert with apologies. If there is a problem with food, they know that they can go to the chef or a manager and get the issue resolved.If you take Cochran’s tips and translate them for your business, you too can do what Cochran does and “not take part in this recession.” [...]



You Lost My Sale Today

2009-06-08T19:41:07.809-04:00

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Yes you did. You probably don't care. At least that is how it appeared to me. I came into your store. Oh, I bet you don't think of it as YOUR store. I imagine you just think of it as the place you work. Which is probably part of the problem. But, I think of it as your store. And you ignored me. I walked in looking confused but interested. You were talking to your friend. I know you saw me. You just thought your friend and your friend's boyfriend were more interesting. You looked at me without acknowledging me or greeting me. You never stopped talking to your friend for a minute.

So, I walked out. The fact that I walked out without buying anything didn't seem to bother you one bit. Well, why should it? It's not YOUR store after all is it?

But wait, you get a paycheck right? Who do you think funds that check? Yes, it is me. And all the other people who buy things from your store. If you keep ignoring customers, the "owners" of the store won't be able to afford you. And in these tough economic times, that time may be sooner than you imagine.
So, please, the next time a customer enters your store greet them. Ask how you can be of assistance. Treat that customer as if your job depended on it...because it does.



Using Tweets to Provide Exceptional Government Service

2009-06-05T10:02:16.363-04:00

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The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, was looking for creative ways to provide customer service to his citizens without costing the city a lot of money. In a press conference, that was replayed on Youtube, he announced a new and innovative way for his citizens to communicate with the city's government agencies through Twitter.

A few years ago the city took 2300 phone numbers and a very difficult to navigate phone tree and merged them into a 311 call center. This call center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is also available in 179 languages.

The Mayor said that they were looking into a text-messaging component to this call center but the price was prohibitive. He found that integrating Twitter into the system was the perfect answer. Twitter and the city's Dept of Technology worked together on this project.

Citizens can now press d sf311 on their Blackberry, I phone or non-smart phone as well as through their computer in order to send a question or complaint to the 311 call center. Once the tweet has been sent, the call center routes it to the correct department. Citizens can send photos (graffiti tags, abandoned mattresses or potholes) along with their tweet.

Bix Stone, co-founder of Twitter, said " People are moving their communication to a more open medium using tools like Twitter and Social Networking and Youtube." Clearly Mayor Newsom understands this better than anyone. His speeches are broadcast on Youtube and he is the first Mayor to integrate Twitter into his 311 call center.

Newsom said that he wanted to empower his citizens. He wants "800,000 eyes and ears on our streets."

Whether or not your local government can use technology as creatively as San Francisco, you do need to make exceptional customer service a priority.

Find ways to make it easy for your citizens to talk to you. If nothing else make sure you have a simple phone system that has no more than a few prompts. Respond to emails and letters quickly. Return your phone calls promptly. Follow the spirit of Mayor Newsom's goals.




Seriously, you don't want my business?

2009-05-04T15:00:29.862-04:00

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I need your help. I want to hear your stories. Tell me about the many ways that businesses tell you that they don't want your business. Please post your stories here or email them to me at lauriebrown@thedifference dot net.

Here is a favorite of mine:

My sister-in-law was recently visiting NYC and wanted to buy a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Her husband googled "Comfort shoes New York." He found a number of shoes stores, one of which was Treadeasy shoes.

She called the number and this is the conversation:

Treadeasy shoes (TS): Hello

Sister-in-law (SIL): Hello, is this comfort shoes?

TS: (Deep sigh) NO! This is TREADEASY comfort shoes.

SIL: Well I am looking for comfort shoes and my husband looked on the internet and your number came up.

TS: (Sigh) This happens ALL the time. You need to return some shoes? They are on the internet and we are not. We are referral only. DId someone refer you?

SIL: No, I am just looking for comfortable shoes.

TS: Well our shoes start at $250 dollars and I am not sure THAT is what you are looking for.

SIL: Well, you are a shoe store, right? And I am looking to BUY some shoes.

TS: (Laugh) Well, OK.

SIL: Where are you located?

TS: Well, we can meet you on 42nd st.

By this time my sister-in-law was tired of trying to give this business her money. She thanked the woman and ended the conversation.

Now to be fair, maybe there is a great deal of confusion about the differences in the stores. But imagine if the conversation went this way instead.

TS: Hello. Treadeasy shoes. My name is______________. How may I help you?

SIL: I am looking for comfortable shoes.

TS: Well, that is great. We specialize in high end comfort shoes through referrals. May I inquire who referred you?

SIL: Actually we found you on the internet. Is there anyway that I can still buy from you?

TS: Of course. Let me tell you a little about our business and how we can show you our shoes.

Now, I don't know their business model. But, I truly believe that a warm greeting and not showing frustration is a good start no matter what your business model is.

I would like you to think about the way that you make it difficult for people to give you their money. Try instead to be warm, helpful and gracious. I can't imagine ANY business in this economy that doesn't need each and every one of their customers.




Customer Service Lesson from Salvation Army

2009-04-03T14:22:06.543-04:00

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So, I got a call today. It was from Jason at the Salvation Army. I knew what he wanted. It is what EVERY charity I give to wants. I was sure he was going to ask me for more money. They all do.
But, boy was I wrong. He didn’t want money. He only wanted to thank me.

Jason told me how grateful he was that I had donated to their Bed and Breakfast Club, a fundraiser that Dick Purtan puts on every year. And you know, I believed Jason. I think he really was grateful to me, and the others who helped Salvation Army meet their goals.

He told me that he always thanks his donors with a call or a written note of thanks. He told me about all the wonderful things Salvation Army does with our money. I was touched by his enthusiasm and his sincerity.

You can bet the NEXT time Jason contacts me I will be happy to talk to him again and to give to the Salvation Army. Why? Because, he took the time to begin building a relationship with me. He called simply to say thanks.

So, what can we learn from this charity and more importantly from Jason? Gratitude goes a long way to making your customer feel valued and important. I continually harp on the fact that your customers have an almost unlimited amount of choices on whom to give their money. The same is true for charities, especially in these tough times, charities have to compete for your money. Saying thanks, being truly grateful, goes a long way to creating the kind of relationship that makes your customer happy to do business with you.

Today, call your customer to just say thanks. Write them a personal note. Stop by their home and drop off a small token of your gratitude. Then let me know their reaction.

Also, if you can, give some money to the Salvation Army or the charity of your choice. The world will be a better place for it.



Stop lowering your price, raise your customer service

2009-03-30T14:52:33.025-04:00

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Prakash Sadagopan, Director of Product Strategy at Converges recently spoke at the OSS/BSS Asia Pacific Summit. His report was ground breaking. Through research he found that the customer’s experience was as important as the product being sold, and more important than brand or price.

So, what does that mean to you? If you are trying to compete as the lowest price competitor you may very well may be missing the mark. So many businesses try to compete with lower prices. If you are one of those lowest price competitors, my guess is that you have to trim expenses. Often, when trimming expenses the first thing that goes is trained , engaged employees. After all if you think that your customer just wants the lowest price why would you bother with having a full service staff. Instead you should consider ways to simplify services and processes.

Customers who are always looking for the lowest price are not loyal. They skip from one company to the next looking for the next best deal. To really build a business you need and want a customer base who is loyal to you. Those loyal customers form the backbone of a successful business, because they not only come back time and again, they tell their friends and family about you.

What do these potentially loyal customers want from you? According to Sadagopan, 64% of the customers want knowledgeable employees, who address their needs on the first contact and treats them like a valued customer.

He ends his presentation with four steps that you need to take to start building your loyal customer base.
1. Proactive Care actively seek out opportunities to help your customers
2. Lifetime value Use every contact to increase the value of your relationships
3. Agent efficiency Help your agents resolve customer issues quickly
4. Automation effectiveness Improve automation to the point where customers prefer it.

In future columns we will explore each of these steps. For now, look for ways to make your customers feel valued and respected by greeting them warmly the minute they walk in your door.