For Guaranteed Customer Service Wins everytime, focus on the Fundamentals

one way of keeping the sheep  The Kissing Gate by G Thorsby 2003, Devon, England

This picture was taken exploring English countryside while on holiday as the Brits would say.  They are called kissing gates because up to two people can fit tightly into the crook and go through the gate and into the pasture.  It allows travel without letting animals out.  It is a centuries old technique but is so exquisitely functional.  It uses a very fundamental concept to allow simplicity, safety, and at low cost.  No barbed wire, no electric fence, no special gate opening technology.  When delivering #customerservice, #customerexperience, businesses large to small should focus first on basics, get them into high performance before moving into advanced methods of customer quality delivery.

What are some of the fundamentals? Here are four:

  1. Listen to the needs and wants during a complaint situation or during a transaction.  Yes, customer service is going on during the sale as well as when things go bad. The issue at hand may not be what is spoken especially at first but by listening and eliciting basic questions, the customer will usually explain the want and need.  Sometimes, some extra interpretation is needed because they may not be totally outspoken but you may have enough to best understand.  If you fail at this aspect to identify a proper solution or need, expect to be doing a post mortem on why the customer or the sale was lost.
  2.  Seek feedback.  Customer contact during and after the completion of the sale should be a requirement.  Like to say “do you have any questions, is there something that I can explain better and thank you.”  Customers can and will become the greatest ad campaign, the greatest product/service champions, and the greatest defenders.
  3. Under-promise, Over-deliver.  Live by this and customer expectations have high percentage of accomplishment.  There is always the tendency to express expectations for great results when we all have expertise and passions.  The reality is that things happen, and not everything we do is in our control.  We also want the business and want so much to convince customers of our advantages.  Remember we are customers.  We do want performance but we also want an expectation that what is described to us will happen.  That is where trust comes in.
  4. Develop the employees to be the masters of the customer experience mechanism.  @annettefranz is the ruler of this idea and it is a good one.  Hire and train people who will practice and execute the fundamentals.  Encourage team development because invariably, different members interact with different customers.  The better the teams, customer experience and service will exponentially perform.  #annettefranz consistently tweets and blogs about both aspects and while companies are using teams for better productivity, they deliver more effective customer results.

The concept is really not much different than…hate to use the overused analogy, #football.   When the big teams get upset and this happens regularly, what does the honest losing coach usually say, “they were better today than us at blocking and tackling.”  A team like Alabama, who has pro style players, plays, defenses but then they got beat in the last minute by Auburn. They didn’t lose because of one play.  Auburn was just that much better in that game in the fundamentals.

When the basic concepts are mastered, companies expand into dynamic customer service programs with budgets, experts, programs, and campaigns.  When and it will be when after the efforts being taken are getting diminishing results or even negative feedback increases, look immediately to the basics as the issues.

The Best Customer Experience Tools That Every Individual Possesses

imagery_27_11_08_000632Photo courtesy of digitalphotos.net

From CEO to the maintenance person, every industry, and every culture has had a fundamental couple of #custexperience tools for centuries to build trust with customers; the smile and the handshake.  It even has been the seal of any agreement or contract until maybe just over a century ago.  The concepts are so simple and that virtually every individual has in their “skill toolbox” … if they use it.  For that matter, I see young people going into the professional world lacking the consciousness or possess too much suspicions of others to say a happy “hello” on the telephone or provide a firm handshake.

Companies are spending vast amounts of capital, massive training programs, coming up with complicated metrics yet are not looking at the obvious strengths that they already have. For instance, with the holiday shopping season approaching, how might a consumer feel if a retail salesperson were to approach them and instead of asking if they would like help?  Usually, they raise their virtual shields and state the obligatory “just looking”.  Instead maybe they try ” hello, my name is John or Jessica”, with a pleasant smile, and reach out to shake the person’s hand?  The salesperson has presented them a hand of trust and friendship.  Now you might respond by sayingthat some people might be shocked or scared off, a handshake may not be returned, etc. However, what would happen if they smiled back and returned the handshake?  Simply, a ground level employee has provided a customer a fantastic experience, guaranteed trust, friendliness that separates your business from everyone and increased the value of the products, the company the #brand, and every other individual.

 Today, in business and gee, even in person we are begging for a greater trust and cooperation.  #custservice is so much more more effective when punctuated at the beginning and the end with a smile and a handshake.  Years ago when pay phones were prevalent, a study was reported on television by a young @JohnStossel.  Here is how it went:

A.  An extremely attractive blonde approached a number of random men and would ask if she could borrow a quarter to make an important telephone call.  Note: There was no physical contact made by the woman to the prospective lender.  The result was that of the ten people, one provided a quarter.

B.  A second group was then done in the study, the same situation, a quarter needed for an important phone call but the difference was a light  touch to the right forearm with a hand.  The result was dramatic, 80% provided the money wanted.

This story is not to help street beggars.  John Stossel’s interpretation was that touch had an impact with the way we communicate.  I wish to add one more interpretation; that the people lending the money were providing that quarter not because of the communication but also because they perceived a value of that simple touch being worth 25 cents and they were glad to assist in her fictional need.  This value could potentially extend to products and services.

This stream of thinking relayed, I ask in this very busy time of year that we head into that we lend our trust and friendship to business acquaintances, long lost associates, strangers suspicious of our integrity, and even our tough competitors.  We should not expect that every person/company will grasp the “extended hand” in trust.  Then again, what’s the harm.  Here is what you will gain, more business allies, rediscovered friendships and associations, and increased self-value.

Delivering Greater Value to Customers Using I.T. and Customer Experience

com 5

In delivering customer service to customers, many departments are now involved including Marketing, C-level Management, Manufacturing, Human Resources, Advertising and even Finance.  Somehow, it seems IT has very little role and that is direction of this article and that by including them more, companies can improve value and get to the customer first.

At the @Crain’s CIO Awards in Livonia, MI on October 2, 2013, CEO’s, CIO’s, and #IT professionals met to discuss the changing landscape of I.T. for Michigan Business.  In the heart of this came the conclusion that for companies to compete in the global economy, they must bring as many tools to bear to provide the competitive advantage.  #DavidBehen, CIO for the @State of Michigan said, “IT Departments are critical for improving and providing better customer satisfaction and a better #customerexperience now and in the future.  IT people need to be more customer service oriented.”

In the speech, he was stating that these CIO’s and the people in them need to leave the rooms of only making systems work smoothly to “drive increased profits.”  Privately held companies small to large are working ever harder to be competitive but the IT department has been left in the “hall” at a time when they could propel many businesses into a new level of growth and prosperity.  Because I write heavily about it, one aspect is the higher quality of customer satisfaction.  Companies have added personnel and systems from different departments in the improvement of #customer experience.  In these departments, nobody is including IT departments for customer service delivery.  Behen went on to say that the U.S. should “expect that business will take another paradigm shift in the next five years”…again.  While many CEO’s are just beginning to settle in, they need to plan again or else there will be another industry “housecleaning” for any that do not prepare.  The CIO’s and the IT people have not been tapped in general to execute business more efficiently in the future.

IT departments at the same time need to take some steps to help CEO’s include them in the “go to market implementation:

  1.  Help improve relationships between the supplier and the client. While IT departments work with computers, improved customer delight occurs when experiences are between people.  When IT departments improve the relationship for companies, IT becomes more important than cyber mechanics. 
  2. Develop methods that can skip steps or merge steps to deliver improved customer services more efficiently.  The merger through unified communications is one such example of efficiency.
  3. Quit speaking geek speak.  Speak in terms of benefits of #customersatisfaction, better products, better services.  If IT people can speak simply, they will get through to the CEO’s of the company and be a part of the team.
  4. Improve the value of the company by increasing improvements in all aspects of the company. Be inclusive of IT in grand strategy and it will improve the value of the company and its customers.  Join and contribute to the team.
  5. Drive new IT technologies and it will provide new customers.

If your IT department or provider is not delivering a decent relationship in customer service, demand it.  If they still do not, then consider alternatives.  The IT world is challenged in that almost 60% of CIO’s are overwhelmed.  They cannot keep up with changing technology and a general labor market shortage of qualified personnel.  CEO’s and CIO’s should consider that instead of working with one method of IT, internal, contract or managed, that solutions may come from a mix that deliver results.

Is Customer Service Ready for the Affordable Care Act?

confused personWe hear that Cleveland Clinic is going to lay off as many as 6% of its work force as the ACA approaches.  We also hear that businesses small and large are altering the workforce because of rules in the Act.  Insurance agents going through the #Affordable Care Act (ACA) are struggling with certification issues and getting ready to properly sign up people that begins in 10 days.  Let’s set aside reality for a minute and picture  what a company might be doing to make sure the launch of any important strategy is successful.

The Vice-President for Marketing of The Bats Co (purely fictional) is holding an important launch strategy meeting.  “I am glad you all could make it.  I am hearing issues out there that I do not like.  It seems there are bumps.  To me, this is unacceptable and when I go to the CEO who is going to stockholders later next week, I want answers that will be announced.  So what do you have?”

Marketing:  Up until now, we have been promoting the new service to the consumer and there is a diverse mix of acceptance.  It has mixed results.  Some do not want our #healthcare, others do.  The insurance carriers like it but they are adjusting their programs in a way that we did not want which may be affecting acceptance.  So what we intend to do is to shift focus from marketing to consumer to the carriers and broker/agents.  Consumers must buy it so it is not the best use of money, but we need those selling the programs to provide best recommendations to their customers and deliver a positive message.  While there may be something not great about the product, that is something the designers will need to work on.  In other words, we intend to put lipstick on a less than perfect product.  As for timing, change occurs starting next week with expected changes beginning to be seen in 14-21 days.   The other departments now will describe what we do.”

On line advertising:  “Where there are issues, we will have addressed within 72 hours as we have hired an additional set of contracted people.  We believe that advertising and promoting is needed for everyone, not just a few.  They need to know how the program will affect them both good and bad.  What they know that is bad is not good news.  What they do not know but suspect will be worse.  Health care for most of America has been great.  We need to assure that this should continue.”

Customer Service:  “We are getting many questions from the carriers now.  Come October, it will be the consumers of the healthcare.  Come December and beyond, it will become providers.  While we have the IRS to enforce the program, we do not have enough people to help them through the program and ask for assistance.  Either more effort is expended on #custservice and the upcoming #custexperience, or the service provided may “crash and burn.”  We recommend different service groups to assist carriers, consumers, and providers and that group sizes adjust as the demand requires.  As demand subsides, so do the customer service groups to control costs.  As was laid out to us, greater care and lower cost.  If administration is poor handled, costs will skyrocket and therefore the @custexperience is paramount.”

As you notice, the company is adapting immediately.  It is trying to recognize the issue as it arises and respond.  If they do not, people will lose their jobs and the company could lose money.  Does government have the same set of obligations?  While government has customers in its constituents, only 50% or fewer participate.  The press reports when companies market defective product.  Have we heard the best from the them?

Discussions like these should be going on regarding implementation of #ACA, #Obamacare.  Because we have seen little to no adjustment as implementation approaches, and because government adjusts to be most efficient, their is considerable doubt as to whether any effort to make the program work successfully is being made.  Because it is the law and some powerful people in Washington want it, it is seemingly forgone conclusion.  If it was a company, knowing that launch was in bad need of fixing, they would delay implementation until everything is ready.  We wish everyone luck because we as the customer need it.  If it does not work, the only one hurt by this is the customer.

Why Government Is a Large Customer Service Department

confused personImage courtesy of fotosearch.com

Abe Lincoln, 1863, “of the people, for the people, by people,” right?  To anyone in #custserv customerservice, that looks like a mission statement for government.  It seems to me that if the job of the government is to serve the people as just like Abe said, and then what happens if they fail to deliver this efficiently or effectively?  It is hard to just their purpose when their reason for existence is serving the people and they potentially fail.  Please read on for a better understanding.

I just heard reported that the #Socialsecurity wasted $1.1 billion in 2012 in payments to people for disability who should not have received it.  The year before they wasted $1.5 billion on the same thing.  The report said they were getting better and gee, it is less than 1%.  However, isn’t this money that could go to good uses?  If in a customer service department at large bank, if the VP of the department were to have lost this kind of money, would that individual still have a job?  NO!  They would probably be in jail too.  We know there would be a government investigation.  Business does not and cannot survive on ineffectiveness and the reason we are here today is because of our drive to be the best.  So why isn’t this the case with government?

The following is the point of this blog.  There is inefficiency, waste, bad attitudes in government and we ACCEPT it.  We accept it because:

  1. It is something that we see everyday.  We are numb to it.
  2. If one is in need of the handout or something, one has no choice but to smile and tolerate it (where else are you going to get your Social Security Card?)  All those free phones even though everyone is paying for it in the cell phone bills.
  3. We have become oblivious to the crushing waste.
  4. The only person they report to are elected people to voters and even then change is slower than snails.
  5. It is so big, that if we complain, we could be audited by the IRS, and we are so small and can’t affect change.  Government has become too big for government to change.

I took a tour of the Ford Piquette Plant in Detroit yesterday where the Model T was made.  In one building, came the legacy that a car was for everyone, that there was no such thing as “no”, that people when they saw a better way to do something got together and did it.  Within six blocks of this building 17 auto companies were born, #GM, #Oldsmobile, #Dodge, the idea that America had to and could produce much of the materiel to win WWII.  I have to believe that there are few people that believe we have the best in the federal government serving America from  a #custserv customer service standpoint.  There are states that are going to work.  The results are encouraging.

I say shame on both major national political parties for the poor job being done and it is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to.  Later this week, I will discuss what a private enterprise would do if a challenge like implementation of Affordable Care Act was to occur for a business.  That is, how might a private enterprise implement such a program.

In Live Performances, Performers Provide Unique Customer Service for Greater Popularity

rhonda vincentFrom  Rhonda Vincent FB

When we attend a play, a concert, a sporting event or other live performances, there is an exchange of communications going on between performer and person watching.  It is essentially the #custexperience that we as viewers have as a result of the totality of the performance whether music, acting, dance, or the sounds and emotions of the great running play.  This experience that we encounter is partially based on the talent on the stage, etc but is also greatly impacted by the passion that the artist brings to their show.

Today, people will pay sometimes thousands of dollars for one of these live entertainments like the @SuperBowl.  However more and more, people realize that they would prefer to sacrifice live event and view from the easy chair with refreshments and restrooms close by.  Why is there a decrease in live performance attendance?  Simple cost of the ticket, effort, etc for the value received of entertainment. I know, there are those that will say, the money spend continues to increase.  That is because the plays cost more, singers charge more.   Salaries for instrumentalists, stage hands, actors and the support staff have skyrocketed.  In the current economy, these are luxuries for many event goers,  From Broadway to symphony hall, most agree that to fill the theaters for symphonies and plays are becoming difficult.

I believe that the solutions to these problems can be found in customer service, #custservice, and developing experiences for people to remember the performance.  How does a performer who thinks they are the best at what they do deliver better customer service?

  • In some way thank the audience for attending.  In other words, Give Back. There are many ways to do this.  Of course saying thank can easily done by the singer.  In sports, plays, performances, maybe not so simple.  Hat Days at baseball games are a form, autograph times by players.  For performances say a play, pick out some some people in the audience and give them some of the flowers received at the end of the play.
  • Bring passion to your performance.  This is often easy for sports teams.  That is unless you lose all of your games.  To us watching, we experience 10 times more of your performance when we know that you are having fun.  I have seen John Mellencamp deliver good sound but seemed body language was that he did not want to be there.  I will never go to another of his concerts.  @Taylor Swift seems to always have fun and exudes it.  Maybe that is why she rides a tidal wave of popularity.
  • Stand apart from the rest.   I know…you will say Lady Gaga, right?  I am not necessarily referring to weird costumes or outlandish behavior.  Sometimes that can actually detract from the talent.  That is the talent may be circumspect.  No, I refer to standing apart from the other performers.  Go to your high school reunion.  Sit in the crowd at a hockey game. No, this doesn’t mean getting political either.  Let people know you are human.

reggie bush by Associated Press 2013

You need not be the greatest band, the greatest team, or the most popular event to see.  If you deliver on these things, you bring to us the watchers something that we sacrificed to come see and you can guarantee that we will go back again and again.  After all, why do people continue to go see #Detroit Lions games?  Because they go with the intent and the desire to win each and every game even if they have never had a top team since the 1950′s.

Using Our Five Senses for the Best Experiences

dining_eagle courtesy of Greenfield Village

Think of a time where you did something, you were at some event, maybe a good movie, a great meal at a restaurant or just a favorite dish cooked, caught a big fish, skiing  down some big hill.  Got it experience?  Now what was it that made that experience so memorable?   We remember the event verbally but what almost always the memory is a result of the use of one or more of our senses.

It is my opinion from a non-behavioralist standpoint that as more senses are employed the greater the degree the memory becomes and the more unforgettable.  Let’s remember that we are discussing sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  Allow me to describe some examples.

1.  Sound Predominant- Listening to music on the #ipod of the #New York Philharmonic.  How much better is the experience when you see the Philharmonic live?  The question becomes is the cost to get the experience worth it.

2.  Taste Predominant.  I took my daughter to the Eagle Tavern at @Greenfield Village.  The mere idea of eating like settler days was a wonderful experience for her.  Straws were macaroni, turkey and stuffing (nothing special on face), dried apples for dessert but the flavors were wonderful. The #custexperience was fantastic.  Was it the taste or was it because we rode there in a wagon touch, we sat in a log cabin sight, listened to someone play the fiddle sound.  Four senses and very memorable.

3.  Sight Predominant.  The @Grand Canyon speaks volumes of course.  You can stare at this forever.  The added experience of hiking down to the floor multiplies the intensity of this visit.

4.  Touch Predominant.  Experiences need not always be a big thrill ride.  The sense of touch may be in the selection of a suit, the mere touch of the fabric.  When the salesman has you try it on and he always will insist, he wants you to feel the new texture.  Having bought a suit recently, do not leave out the additional senses of sight because I needed to like the pattern and the new material smell that permeates clothing stores.

5.  Smell Predominant- Bakeries do it, many restaurants do it though coincidentally.  Being near them victimizes you to a wonderful aroma that can cause you to actually be hungry and stop in to purchase.  This example has the sense almost standing alone.  If considered more, additional senses are probably experienced.

From a business standpoint, what can businesses do to utilize the senses to create positive memories and build customer loyalty?  Correct, it is easier for some than others. A grocery store is easier than others, would agree?  However, when a business like Costco, which is a big grocery warehouse hands out tasting samples throughout the store, my kids which normally would have to dragged to a grocery store, beat us to the car.

A little creativity may be required.  It could be as simple as a handshake.  One salesperson identified savings that he could provide was $1000 to a women but she didn’t commit.  When he said that if she buys, that she could get a designer shoes, dress, and purse with savings, she signed instantly.  “Luke, use your senses.