Saturday, April 19, 2014

"That's OK. I Don't Need Customers"

Each year, my best friend and I spend a couple of days together. We catch up on what's new, remember what's old, and usually do something golf related. This year, we decided to try  golf simulation place located at a country club not too far from where we were staying. We drove to the club. arriving a little after noon.

We were welcomed and offered food, since it was their open house weekend. We asked where the simulator was, and were directed to a building next door to the club's restaurant.

I had brought my clubs along for the occasion, expecting to spend an hour or two hitting balls onto virtual fairways and greens. We could hear golf balls being hit.  A gentleman appeared behind the counter, and we asked for some time on the simulator.

"No, I'm closing up as soon as these people are done."
"Really? We drove here just to use the simulator. It's $32 an hour, right?"
"Yes, but I'm done for today."

So the man who runs this operation wouldn't stay open for an hour to make two customers he did not know (perhaps we'd be future regulars) happy. In fact he accomplished the opposite, making me feel rather odd as I trundled my clubs back out across the parking lot.

Do you think this operation will be in business next year? I don't.

Give it some thought.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Customer Disservice Playbook

Many of us in the customer service community write--again and again--about the things that help customers and make them feel great about their interactions with your business. If we compiled all these things, they'd be in a "Customer Service Playbook." This morning, I read an account on Facebook (i.e., from someone I know personally) that tells me there also seems to be a playbook of all the opposite behaviors, and some businesses seem determined to follow it. The account follows, stripped of personal information and the name of the institution. (Why? Because this type of behavior is not limited to them, and also because I don't want to give them the publicity.)

Here's the story:
_

I needed to order new checks. Normally, it takes 1 minute. Go to the check company website. Enter routing number, account number, next check number. Click. Done.
Today, the website gave me a the message, "We can not help you. Contact your financial institution. Same with [the check company when I called] the phone number. 


So, I call [my bank].
 

First, all I can get is automated info about my account balance, etc. Finally, desperate to talk to a human (pressing 0 didn't work), I claimed to have lost a card. That person told me I had the wrong department (I know!) but connected me to the right one. Finally, after a cumulative half hour on the phone, I got to the right person.

Was it as simple as giving him my account number and next check number? No, no, no. He asked for: 

  • My name
  • My Social Security number
  • My wife's name
  • Her Social Security number
  • Our address
  • Who I received direct deposits from
  • The amount. Same for [my wife]
  • The expiration date of my ATM card
  • My driver's license number(!)
 
All to ensure security so they can send one stinking box of checks to the address on record.
 

In the end, I learned that they changed check companies. He gave me the website. 

Why he didn't just do this at the START of our long, intimate conversation, I can only guess.
_
Now, as many of my readers know, I am very concerned with security, and so I see the value in properly identifying customers before making any changes or exchanging personal financial information. This, however is an exercise in stupidity. 

Here are some of the elements in the "Customer Disservice Playbook" illustrated in the story:

  • Poor communication - My friend wasn't aware that he needed to contact a new company, and there was nothing on the old check company site saying, "If you're a [financial institution] customer, please see this page on their site." On that page would be a link to the new company. (You can't, after all, expect the check company to advertise their competition.)
  • Bad phone tree - Give people a real option to speak with a human if they wish. My friend had to lie (lost card) to get attention. 
  • Inappropriate security practice - Good grief! My friend wasn't trying to empty the account and have the balance sent to the Cayman Islands! What should have happened was quick identification by the calling number, or a good identifier like the usual mother's maiden name or secret question, then the news that the check company had changed, and not only speaking the link to their site, but an offer to get the check company on the phone or at least get a helpful customer service number to call as an option.
  • Bad guidance or scripting for the customer service reps - few simple questions would have uncovered the reason for the call, and sent my friend on his way to the check company website where he would have to properly identify the accounts and address anyway.
Making it difficult for your customers means that they will jump to another institution as soon as they can. 


Give it some thought.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Making Customers Wait May Drive Them to Your Competition


While today's customers demand a choice of contact channels, studies have shown that self-service is very effective for the simplest of customer issues or requests, but that complexity drives channel choice.* Customers want to speak with a human about more complex questions or problems.

But what happens when customers do call about a complex issue may not be helping your brand's perception with your customers. In fact, it may be damaging your credibility and possibly even driving your customers to the competition.

Why?

Two things happen:
  1. Customers have to wait in lengthy customer service queues
  2. Customers have to repeat information they've already given
Imagine calling your friend Pat to ask a question about this week's PTA meeting, and being told to hold on for a few minutes while Pat's phone repeats how important your call is... then when Pat gets back on the line, you have to identify yourself and your reason for calling all over again. Annoying? You bet. And yet so many brands do this to customers all the time.

According to a study conducted in September, 2013 by Virtual Hold Technology, 64% of customers will hang up after waiting on hold for 5 minutes, and a whopping 91% will hang up after 10.  So, why do companies make us wait and then (96% of survey respondents said) have to repeat information? [Infographic]

The alternative would seem to be to increase staffing to a level they cannot afford, they say. Well, that probably isn't true. Information capture technologies exist that can integrate with self-service (and other channels) to provide call-backs in the place of long hold times, and will capture the relevant information so that customers do not have to repeat it.

If you can stop needless hold time, bring together information from multiple channels, and end the annoyance of repetition for your customers, why wouldn't you? After all, 90% of the consumers in the VHT study said that a positive customer experience will increase their loyalty.

What do you think? Would getting a call back instead of waiting in a queue make you feel better about your own customer interactions with a particular brand?

Give it some thought.

*See the American Express 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer (PDF)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Does Fake Sign Language Have to Do with Customer Service?

By now, It's more than likely that you've heard the news stories about the reportedly bogus sign language interpretation at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. A man somehow got to the podium* and proceeded to make believe he was signing along to what the world's leaders were saying, when all he was doing was making random motions.

As I thought about this episode more, I realized that there's a widespread parallel in the world of customer service and customer experience: Brands that look like they are doing something to connect with customers, but which are only going through motions that bear a slight resemblance to getting it right.

We've all had the annoying experience of sitting on hold and waiting to speak with someone who can help us while hearing endless repetitions of the refrain, "Your call is important to us." I will wager that you either said out loud or thought, "If my call was important to you, I wouldn't be sitting on hold for 10 minutes, now would I?" I, for one, would rather hear where I am in the queue (third, fifth, tenth, etc.) and/or how long I'm going to have to wait. Better yet, I'd like the option to get a call back, but I digress.

Brands that are for real about their customer service have some common characteristics:
  • A culture of customer service
  • Employees who are empowered to make things right
  • Clear feedback channels - and the willingness to act on feedback
 (You can read more about these characteristics in my earlier post.) 

Brands know that customer service and a focus on positive customer experience is a 21st century differentiator, and may think that the appearance of good service is enough to get them more business. News flash: It isn't. 

If you are contemplating making customer service part of your brand promise, you must do it right. Be in it for real, or don't bother. Don't be known as a fake that just goes through some motions you made up.

Give it some thought.

*How this person got on the podium so close to so many leaders is a very scary thought; it was a very serious failure of security.






Saturday, June 22, 2013

"I'm sure glad I didn't give them good service..."

Some years ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine who was co-owner of a popular dining and brew spot. As we talked, one of the wait staff came by and said to him, "See those guys leaving right now? I'm sure glad I didn't give them good service, 'cause they left me a lousy tip." After a few seconds and a swallow of his coffee, my friend turned to me in sheer disbelief at what he'd just heard. Suffice it to say that there was an opening on the wait staff very shortly thereafter.

Clearly, that waitperson had a complete misunderstanding of the whole relationship of service quality and tips, and did not understand much about cause and effect, either.
Poor service quality should not bear a direct relationship to dollars collected. I'm sure that you can think of an instance when you received good, personable service in a deep discount store, or from someone who was giving something away for free.

"I can't afford to give good service here" is a very lame excuse. Attitude and focus do not cost money. 

As a business person, you are responsible for the results of your business. (Duh.) If you are not conveying the proper sense of cause and effect, you need to rethink your focus.

Money follows service.

Are you getting "lousy" tips?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Communication, Please?

On a recent trip, I found myself without dinner because of delayed flights. I wanted a snack--not much, just a snack--and something to drink. There was a small concession near my gate, so I went over and picked up an oatmeal cookie and a bottle of water. I thought that would do nicely.

I handed my credit card to the cashier as she hit the total button: $8.79!
Me: How much is the water?
Cashier: $2.29
Me: So the cookie is $6.50????
Cashier: (no response)
Me: Is the cookie six-and-a-half-dollars??
The cashier turned away and asked a question of one of the other workers, who came over to the register. Both stood looking at the machine and poking at buttons.
Me: Is the cookie $6.50?
Employees: (nothing)
Me: Excuse me, where is my credit card right now?
Cashier: What?
Me: May I have my credit card back please?
The cashier handed it to me and went back to poking buttons. (I would have walked away at this point, but I wasn't sure whether my card had been entered or not.) The second employee now went in search of the manager on duty. I still had not received an answer about the price of the cookie. The "manager" appeared and voided the incorrect entry without speaking to me or even looking at me The cookie was $3.00--outrageously priced, but not $6.50.

At no time during this transaction was I treated as if I were another human standing at the counter.

Now, I understand that working midnights at an airport concession stand is not the most desirable job in the world. And I know that because I had similar jobs along the way: Dairy store night clerk; night  gas station attendant (New Jersey still has those, and that's where I grew up)--at what was the busiest gas station in the world at the time; hotel front desk, and so on. I know the pay is absurdly low and doesn't help your kids' college fund. I know that the benefits (if there are any) are crummy. I know that finding people to do this work is not easy.

So what?

Find the right people, not just the people who show up to your application desk when you post a "Help Wanted" sign.  

Who said your work as a customer service hiring manager was going to be easy?  

I am 100% sure that this cashier displayed no more personality or communication skill at her interview than she did during our two minutes of "contact." And yet, there she was, being the face of the company.

The fact that I've determined never to buy anything ever again from this particular airport concession company will not destroy their bottom line, and I know that.  It's a personal decision. I buy from companies that show me good service, and I never return to do business when I'm treated as if I am not even in the same room.

What would you do?

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Spanish Olive Paradox

When I was very young, I heard Joe, a friend of my older brother, talking about his job at the local grocery store. Joe had opened a case of Spanish olives, checked the price list, set his price marker (called ‘rotators’ back then), and marked each jar $.95. They sold out in a couple of days. The next case came in, and my brother’s friend checked the price again, and realized his mistake. The olives should have been marked $.59. He put the lower price on the jars of olives, and they sat on the shelves. Feeling experimental, he marked them back up to $.95 each, and they again sold out. Even at the age of 17, Joe was able to extract a business lesson from this incident: People will pay according to their perception of value. Spanish olives must be worth more than just plain olives, and if they cost the same as—or less than—other olives, they must not be anything special.
We see this every day in the marketplace: Brands with some cachet are priced higher. Value is subjective. Price is set by what the market will bear.
This is very basic, but sometimes we lose perspective when we start valuing our own products or services. We know what raw materials went into the product and exactly what it cost to produce. We incorrectly assume that some standard markup percentage will suffice to price the item. If we sell services, we might think it’s better to bid low rather than risk losing the work. If we look deeper, however, what we find is that a premium product or service often attracts more business. This is the basis of the concepts of differentiation and value-added.

Here are some steps to take to make sure you are not undervaluing your product or service:

  • Know your market – If you have a basic understanding of what your customers consider a fair price, you are halfway home
  • Differentiate your product or service – You should be able to clearly articulate why your customers should choose you as opposed to your competition, even if you cost more
  • Brand yourself appropriately – If you are a Spanish (i.e., special) olive, make sure your customers can clearly see that, and will know they are getting a premium product or service
The next time you are pricing your products or services, remember the Spanish Olive Paradox, and price accordingly.

This post originally appeared on The Management Experts


Photo Credit: Graham Colm