No, You Have a Nice Day, Buddy.

November 27, 2007 at 9:44 pm | Posted in Customer Service, small business | 4 Comments

The other day, a human being pretending to be “working” in a customer service capacity told me to have a nice day. Well, actually, it was more of a grunt. And because he didn’t bother looking at me when he grunted it, and was in fact walking away as he finished the grunt, I’m kind of connecting the dots here. But I am pretty confident that on some guttural, primordial level, I was told by this individual to have a nice day.

So. Do you think he really meant it?!

Let’s understand each other. It’s not that I really need customer service people to tell me to “have a nice day.” I’m as aware as anyone else that this is a cliché and, just like the “how are you,” is not really full of deep, rich, interpersonal meaning anymore.

BUT.

When even the basic *building blocks* of communication aren’t in place, I get irritated. And then I think: this company sucks.

Is that harsh? I don’t think so. This particular company actually has many layers of customer service; they even have a dedicated toll-free customer service line that, to my knowledge, is staffed by people and not voicemail. And this company also spends a great deal of money and time to promote its customer service systems and policies. I even think they have one of those c-level “Customer Experience Officer” positions.

Yet despite all of this, they can’t seem to “get it” at the most basic level. And if you can’t get it at the basic level, you can’t get it at any other level, since basic is basic.

Here’s what I’d like you to think about, please. As my little experience (hey, no height jokes!) illustrates, customer service really isn’t some giant “conceptual thing” that is about how many reps you have or how much money you spend on promoting customer service commitments.

It’s about the basics. It’s the little things. It’s about telling people to “have a nice day,” and actually meaning it; or at the very least, looking at them in the eye and smiling (or, at least not frowning).

It’s time for customer service to learn a very valuable lesson from quality assurance; notably, the Japanese concept of incremental quality improvements (“kaizen”). Don’t wait for some big booming voice from the sky to tell you that you’ve “achieved customer service” — and don’t be lulled into thinking that just because you talk about it, and have posters that promote it, and include it in your training, that it’s actually HAPPENING.

Build and integrate customer service in very small, ordinary ways.

Including when your reps tell people to “have a nice day.” If they can’t do something that simple, that ordinary, and that ACCESSIBLE, then all of the planning and training and Customer Experience Officers in the world aren’t going to do much.

Have a nice day 🙂

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Facebook for Me

November 26, 2007 at 7:49 am | Posted in holiday, technology | Leave a comment

I’m probably addressing this topic a bit late but I’ve started to play around with Facebook and am finding it great fun. I’ve been able to reconnect with some work friends from my past and even see a potential gig or two lurking in the connections. The site offers some cool things to play with and despite the protests that Facebook is “just for kids” I dare say it holds out lots of potential for business users as well. If you’re not a member take a look and start a page. Ask your friends to join and in no time you’ll be a “regular” on the site like me.

And how was Thanksgiving? I counted 6 Thanksgiving holiday cards that came to me unsigned and without any personalization at all. Bah humbug. This is when the holidays really start to piss me off. Empty sentiments and just a whole bunch of phoniness. If you can’t sign the card, DON”T SEND IT!

Do You Hear What I Hear?

November 20, 2007 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Customer Service, sales, Sales Training, small business | Leave a comment

Not to be…snide or anything, but among many pleasant things this time of year, it’s also the season for holiday shopping mall music. And if you’ve spent even a fraction of your life in a mall since the beginning of November, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard the refrain “do you hear what I hear….”. It’s from The Little Drummer Boy.

Good song. Catchy. Who doesn’t want to drum every now and then?

But: this post isn’t about the song, it’s about that particular set of words: do you hear what I hear?

For many consultants, the answer is: uhhh…can you repeat the question?

“Hearing” is becoming a lost art. Very often, I see accomplished professionals fail to HEAR what the other person is saying. They don’t merely “misunderstand” — they just don’t hear.

Why not?!

Because they’re so wrapped-up in what THEY want/need to say, that they’re not engaging the other person at all. They’re merely waiting…waiting…waiting…for their chance to speak. They aren’t hearing at all — they’re distracted, and waiting, and circling for a chance to “take back the mic.”

The underlying mechanism here, of course, is fear: some people believe that if they don’t get “all of their points out” they won’t succeed in doing what they wanted to do (e.g. sell something). Or, they’re afraid they don’t aggressively push through their points, that they’ll be perceived as ignorant or uninterested.

These are possible, yes. But they’re very, very unlikely. Think of all of the truly intelligent people that you know — I don’t just mean smart or clever, but really wise. Notice how they speak in a relaxed manner; they aren’t “afraid” — they just speak. And when you’re talking, they hear. They don’t bite their tongue waiting for the next opportunity to dominate the conversation. They simply hear. And then they respond to what they hear. They respond to you. And you feel good. And so do they.

See? Simple. Try it — see how much value there is in HEARING. It’s more than you might expect.

parum pum pum pummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Is Your Customer Service Remedial?

November 18, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Posted in Customer Service | 2 Comments

Too often, “customer service” is incorrectly viewed as two things:

1. a necessary evil
2. remedial

As a ‘necessary evil’, customer service is often viewed as that annoying relative that you HAVE to invite over, just because…well, like Mount Everest: that relative is THERE. That’s why — even today — customer service can be relegated very low on the priority scale, barely getting the attention, budgets, training and support that it deserves. Viewing something as a necessary evil will do this.

As a ‘remedial’ thing, customer service is often viewed as corrective mechanism: something to do in order to get back to the beginning. This is tricky to describe in a blog, but easy to understand from your own personal experience. Ever bought a TV, a vacuum cleaner, a blender, a car, or anything else that didn’t work the way you expected it to? What do you do? If possible, you take it back to the seller and get it fixed (or you get another one). Technically, your problem is solved: your thing (blender/car/whatever) is working. But what about all the crap in between!? What about your stress, your hassle, your inconvenience, and possibly, your expense? All of this is utterly ignored when customer service policies are remedial.

Now, here’s the thing to remember: while companies (unfortunately) may view customer service as a necessary evil and remedial, customers DON’T! Customers have VERY different scales that they use to measure customer service — and they aren’t neat, tidy, logical scales, either. They’re subjective scales — and they *punish* companies who view customer service as a necessary evil, and as remedial.

How do they punish them? Easy: they understandably start to dislike the company itself. And that dislike grows, naturally, into resistance…which grows into doing business with someone else. You will lose.

It sounds too simple to be true, but remember: the truth is ALWAYS simple. And this is no exception.

Stop viewing customer service as a necessary evil, or as remedial. Your hyper-rational bean counting executives may see that doing things this way “makes perfect business sense”, but your human being, subjective, emotional customers could not care LESS about what YOU think; what they FEEL is what determines whether customer service is good or not.

So what can you do? View customer service as a positive opportunity to improve the customer experience. Don’t just “go back to even” — go BEYOND it. If your customer expected 10, and your product/service delivered 7, then don’t just add 3 and cross them off some list. Add 4 or more. Give them MORE than they initially expected — because they deserve it, and because this gives you a ridiculously good opportunity to convert them into long-term customers who sing your praises for years and years.

You cannot ‘wow’ a customer simply by meeting their expectations; only exceeding them does this. And customer service is THE NUMBER ONE WAY to exceed expectations. It’s where the opportunities open up. If normal selling is an overcast sky, then customer service ‘issues’ are the little rays of light that break through. Instead of viewing them as necessary evils or remedial, view them as they actually are: opportunities to deliver customer service.

Quick example that inspired this post: I needed a new tire. Went on a Saturday to get it, and found out they ordered the wrong one. Irritating? Yes — not just for me, but for them, too. It was just an inconvenient human error. These happen.

Now, this company could have viewed this as a necessary evil/remedial, and simply said: we’re sorry, we ordered the wrong tire. Can you come back later?

They COULD have said that — but they didn’t. They didn’t view customer service in a negative light; they obviously saw it as an opportunity to achieve customer loyalty and wow me. And they accomplished this when they gave me a loaner (really fancy, too) and CAME TO MY HOUSE later on, with my car (and its proper new tire), and then just trade cars.

*WOW*

This company turned a potential customer service problem into something amazing — and that’s why they have my future business.

Are You Excellent?

November 8, 2007 at 7:57 am | Posted in Customer Service | Leave a comment

We’ve heard the phrase “go to the next level” many times. Millions of times. But what does it really mean!?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and thanks to an early morning, remarkably BAD customer service experience at a very well-known fast food chain (I won’t mention their name, but will say that I wasn’t Lovin’ anything), here’s my current understanding: it means going beyond the average limits of your current activity.

First let me tell you about my customer service experience, and then I’ll try and explain what I mean. Just bear with me a few moments longer…

Let’s start at the basics and work our way deeper. Walking into a fast food restaurant (for lack of a better term) and ordering a coffee should be one of life’s easiest accomplishments for everyone involved. I go: can I please have a medium black coffee. The employee listening to me says: yes. Then he or she gets me a coffee, takes my money, gives me my change, and that’s pretty much it. Along the way, a smile or a friendly tone are appreciated, but not mandatory. I know I’m not at the Four Seasons.

I did my part. I asked for a coffee (and I even said “may I” and “please” which, too, are both optional). The employee on the receiving end of this stunningly simple request had problems. Not comprehension problems, but attitude problems. Evidently, taking food orders and seeing them through to completion was just not part of her world view; it was beneath her, as was the person behind all of this: me. That’s why she didn’t stop blabbering to her colleague about her Christmas plans as she wandered over and half-filled my cup, why she stuck her hand open and waited for me to give her money, and why she tossed (i’m not kidding) my change on the counter and said, as I stared confusedly at her, “that’s it.”

“It” was, apparently, the point of me being there. And along with the “That”, it meant that I should get the hell out of the way and let her have at the next contestant on “Let’s Not Make a Deal.”

All of this took about a minute, but it was such CONCENTRATED CONTEMPT that it really made me think; it kind of shocked me, in a way. I’m not fragile and bad customer service doesn’t phase me (it disappoints me, yes, but doesn’t rock me) — but I guess because I have this blog in my mind, and I’m always looking for things to share, this particular experience hit me deeper than it usually would.

And then it clicked. The whole concept of “getting to the next level” clicked.

Here’s what I discovered: your job is made up of activities. If you fly a plane or serve coffee beneath the golden arches (*cough*), your “job” is the totality of a variety of activities. Naturally, those activities range in complexity and importance. But the lowest common denominator in all jobs is that they are made up of activities.

Each one of those activities can be done with care and attention, or it can be done with indifference and — as was my experience — contempt. Or, we could simply say that those activities can be done in one of three ways:

1. Excellently

2. Average

3. Not at all

Now, let’s get rid of #3 right away. If you do your job “not at all” you’ll lose it. So that leaves: Excellently, and Average.

It’s important to note the difference between these two terms. “Excellently” is a value judgement; it’s not something that is completely objective. There may be “standards of excellence” for your job, but realistically, it’s up to YOU to decide what is excellent and what isn’t. “Average” is NOT a value judgement; it’s simply, well, average. It’s “doing what everyone else is doing” or, more often, “doing what you can get away with and still, technically, be doing the job.”

Here’s the moral to this story: people who succeed take the activities in their job, and perform them at the excellent level; they actively go above the average level.

The girl (and she was a girl — in her teens, so she has time to hopefully learn this) had discovered, probably through trial and error or just instinct, that she could perform the activities in her job at an average level. The job activity said: take money from customer, and she took it. The job activity said: make change, and she made change. She did these at average — or mediocre levels — even, but she’s still employed and probably will be next month, which means that she’s doing things on the ‘average’ level. That whole restaurant may have lousy customer service. That’s the average. She’s at the average.

And she’ll always BE at the average unless she ACTIVELY rises above it and reaches for excellence. Not in the “totality” of her job, because there really is no such thing. Only in the small, ordinary, regular activities of her job — taking money, getting coffee, making change — can she actually ACHIEVE excellence.

When you add up all of those excellent activities, you get to the next level. You can’t wait for the next level to “show up” and to start performing at it. YOU are the level in which you perform.

Are you excellent?

You Can’t Stop Breathing

November 5, 2007 at 12:36 pm | Posted in Branding, sales, technology | Leave a comment

The latest word in marketing and branding is Scent Marketing and the company to watch and learn from is Scentandrea (http://www.scentandrea.com). The trendsetter behind this company is my friend Carmine Santandrea, well known for his creative thinking and marketing breakthroughs over the last 40+ years.

Carmine is right on target. Smell is the last frontier in terms of customer…well, is it really, interaction. You can turn off the TV, shut-down your cell phone and close your eyes…but you can’t stop breathing.

Powerful connections, memories and visions are evoked by scent and companies are quickly hopping onto this brand awareness tool.

Check it out.

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