Does Automation Help or Hurt Your Business?

 
 
 

Both large businesses and small are moving toward increased automation. After all, automation can solve numerous problems for business. 

It can make the business more efficient and can cut costs for employees.

But in the process, a business that does not manage the automation process runs the risk of alienating its employees and most importantly, it’s customers.

 

AUTOMATION CAN BE HELL …

Members of Revitalization Partners recently ran into the “hell” of automation in both a very large company and a very small one.

The first issue relates to something that most of us use: Fed Ex.  We were at an offsite location and had to get a couple of packages in Fed Ex.  We located the Fed Ex packages, addressed them, put a credit card on the package and put them in a Fed Ex box at the airport.

The next day, we received a call from Fed Ex indicating that they could no longer accept credit cards for packages dropped off at Fed Ex boxes.  When asked: “What should we do?’ the answer was to go online and set up a Fed Ex account using the credit card we used to ship the packages.  Seemed easy, right?

 

WE TRIED 3 TIMES !!!

After trying three times to set up the account and having the attempt rejected by Fed Ex, we finally called the company.  We got a very helpful agent that was able to set up the account using the same credit card we had been using. 

When we asked him why there was a problem with the online system, he indicated that it had been having trouble accepting credit cards.  When asked how long this had been a problem, he indicated that it had been five or six months!

Obviously, the people responsible for the online system don’t seem to know that it is failing customers.  And more importantly, some employees don’t know either; witness the person who suggested we set up the account online.

 

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY STILL NEEDED …

This is a good example of while an automated system can help connect with more customers than physical representatives, it should not relieve the employees responsible of personal responsibility.

In order to be effective, in terms of increasing business, automation should help employees while reducing human error and risk. Personal responsibility is essential to establishing trust with customers.

Performed properly, automation should act and feel the same as if employees were doing the task manually.  The Fed Ex online system is failing in that goal.

 

NEED RX FOR NEW PHONE SYSTEM …

On a smaller scale, one of the members at Revitalization Partners often submits prescriptions to a local pharmacy.  These for years have been able to be submitted to a phone-based system and have them approved by the physician and filled. They can then be picked up the next day without waiting.

The pharmacy recently installed a new phone system that does not have this feature.  Now a prescription must be either called in to a live person or taken to the pharmacy and picked up when it is ready. 

Since there are a number of online pharmacy’s that will accept a prescription at any hour of the day or night and arrange delivery, either the next day or day after, the reduction in local service may have a negative impact on those customers that used the former service.

 

CREATING COMMUNICATION BARRIERS …

One of the top reasons why automation isn’t beneficial for most businesses is that it impinges communication between employees, customers and suppliers.

Automated systems are helpful when navigating through a general task or problem, but the fact of the matter is that automation generally treats every unit as the same despite how personalized a problem or project may be.

In order for customers to feel their concerns are genuinely being heard, automated systems need to provide personalization, or they will instantly create a communication wall between stakeholders.

 

HAVE YOU EVER?

For example, have you ever called your cable provider to get help with your internet or cable service and the automated attendant picks up and you get 15 minutes into the call and you cough accidentally and the attendant says, “So you want to hang up and quit this call?”

You then quickly say “No,” but you still have something caught in your throat and the attendant then says, “You have confirmed that you would like to end this call…goodbye.”

You’re screaming at the stupid phone and yelling expletives because you said “No” but the “automated” system thought you said “Yes.”

 

 

EFFICIENCY & CUSTOMER SERVICE MUST …

From Fed Ex to the local pharmacy to cable companies, these companies believe that automation helps their cost structure and efficiency.

But over time, as they watch their customer base decline, they may begin the realize that efficiency and customer service need to go hand in hand.

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

The Importance of Customer Service – Part 2

 

In our last blog, we talked about the importance of customer service and the impact it can have on your business.

Businesses are focusing on customer service as they examine increasing other costs in other areas of the business and look for ways to reduce customer service costs.

We’ve elected to discuss some key customer service skills that businesses have forgotten, are underestimating, or never learned.

 

4 CRITICAL SKILLS …

Here are four customer service skills that can be the difference in success or failure to a business.

 

1. PATIENCE

If there’s one thing that has come to define the digital age, it’s speed. High-speed internet, instant video streaming, Wikipedia-style informational databases, online shopping with next-day delivery-all seem to promise customers everything, all without having to wait for it.

Businesses believe that by rushing potential customers through the sales process, they’ll have more time to devote to acquiring new leads. However, there’s something to be said for taking a more leisurely approach.

When companies and clients are able to move slowly through the sales funnel, the extra time allows for better mutual understanding. Of course, many customers may still insist on a quick resolution.

It’s the responsibility of the business to ensure the customer fully understands what he or she is committing to.

When necessary, explain to hurried customers that in order to provide the best customer service, there are important steps that can’t be rushed.

Most customers would rather invest the time to ensure competent service, than be quickly rushed into something they may end up regretting.

 

2. KNOWLEDGE

Few things are more frustrating for a customer than having to deal with unknowledgeable company representatives.

A nightmare situation many consumers have experienced happens when a customer is transferred from department to department, having to re-explain their situation again and again to representatives who either don’t have the authority or understanding to make things right.

The majority of employees who work directly with customers are often situated at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.  

It’s become even more prevalent as many businesses are now choosing to outsource customer service departments in answer to their growing customer base.  

But while it may make sense financially to spend less on customer-service specialists, it makes absolutely no sense at all when you consider the customer service implications.

Your customers are your company’s most important resource, and without them your business ceases to exist.

So, spend necessary time, effort, and money to ensure that those within your organization who work directly with your customers have the training and authority necessary to give them a positive experience.

Think of these added expenses as investments: 55% of customers would be willing to pay more for a better customer experience, so go ahead and charge a little bit more to make up for the added training.

 

3. UNDERSTANDING

When you have the opportunity to meet your customers directly and communicate with them face-to-face, it’s generally less difficult to understand them.

But as more and more customer interactions are taking place on the virtual stage, the ability to accurately ‘read’ customers is diminishing. This is because there are many more layers to conversation than can be conveyed through words.

Body language, voice inflection, and a thousand other details that are vital to communication are garbled when businesses and customers attempt to communicate through text, telephone, or video conferencing.

These limitations can be circumvented, however.   A 2013 Business Insider article provides a number of useful tips on how to read people, and many of those tips can be easily adapted for use in long-distance communication.

That having been said, when it comes to accurately conveying intentions, feelings, and ideas, there is no substitute for honesty.   If customers and representatives can communicate openly, they’ll be more likely to reach a favorable outcome.

 

4. APPROACHABILITY

Customers don’t simply want the best products or the best prices; they want the best people.

Personality has always been an important aspect of the customer-business dichotomy.

But with the necessary automation of sales processes, it’s becoming more difficult for customers to connect with businesses. 

As a result, businesses become faceless, uncaring entities in the eyes of the consumer. 

The remedy: A simple name tag. 

A name tag shows your customers that you welcome their questions, concerns and anything else.

Of course, when operating over a digital medium, a physical name tag becomes somewhat ineffective.  You can make up for that via social media pages that are well-maintained and give your customers a place to connect with your organization.

The benefits of this kind of connection have been well documented: 77% of buyers are more likely to buy from a company if its CEO is active in social media, and 46% of web users visit a company’s social media pages before committing to a purchase.  

Also, organizations that deliver customer support through social media achieve gains of 7.5%, in comparison to the 2.9% gains seen by those organizations that do not.

The digital age has opened up an entirely new universe in which businesses are able to generate new leads and establish customer relationships.  

Unfortunately, it has also played a part in driving a wedge between consumers and organizations.

However, by identifying the aspects of customer service that are routinely being neglected and training employees to focus their attention on repairing these breaches, your organization can take advantage of the increased speed and reach of the 21st century digital landscape.

Don’t let customer neglect separate your business from the people on whom it depends. Recommit to customer retention and satisfaction through building customer service skills, and you’ll find that as you make their happiness your priority, your customers will respond accordingly.

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

What Does Customer Service Mean?

 

It all started when I set out to buy a drone.

The drone market has been growing rapidly and includes such companies as GoPro that started the “action video” market.

In order to understand this market, lets look at a few numbers.

According to research from Gartner, the drone market grew to $4.5 billion, a growth rate of 36%.  The market this year is projected to grow to $6 billion according to the latest Gartner forecast.

Personal drones as opposed to commercial drones represent 94% of the total market.   By 2020, Gartner projects that the market will surpass $11 billion per year.

 

Why Is This Important?

Why is this important?  Because this large market is dominated by a single Chinese company, DJI.  

DJI represents 66% of the market measured by units sold in North America for serious drones costing between $1,000 and $2,000. 

In a testament to DJI’s market dominance, the second-place company with 19% of the market recently exited the market. The next largest market player has approximately 7%.

DJI has major manufacturing facilities in Shenzhen and over 1500 engineers and technicians working on their products.

The best-known US player, GoPro recently launched a new drone product but had to recall it following reports of malfunctions that caused it to lose power and fall out of the sky.

That product is now back on sale, but the specifications and feature set fall significantly short of the latest DJI drone.

 

Like Many People…

What does this have to do with anything?  Let’s go back to the very beginning. Like many people who are planning on making a significant purchase, ($1,000 – $2,000 is significant to me) I turned to the internet. 

What I found was a lot of data that indicated that DJI drones were having significant technical problems with their cameras.  And it had been going on since early 2016.

One site even claimed to have spoken with DJI and they admitted having a “bad batch of cameras” and were requesting that the drones be sent back for repair.

However, numerous customers also claimed to have done that, some three times, and the returned drones had the same problems.  Nowhere could I find any indication that the product had been fixed.

 

Out Of Frustration …

Out of frustration, I asked the company. Their response is below:

Hi,

Thank you for contacting DJI Online Support.  We understand that you don’t want to purchase the Mavic Pro for now because of the issue regarding the camera glare of Mavic Pro.   As of the moment, there is no complaint coming from the consumer of our drone saying that there is a problem issue with the camera glare of the Mavic Pro.

If you have any other questions, please let us know.

Regards,
Gil, DJI Customer Support

 

 

Until I Get The Truth …

By not clearly addressing an issue that is all over the internet, this dominant company is risking the very foundation of its success. 

Until I can resolve the truth, I am not a customer.  And I suspect there are thousands of people like me.

 

Despite 3 Calls …

Customer service issues appear everywhere.  Revitalization Partners has worked with a law firm on a receivership. It was long and arduous requiring a lot of complex legal work which they handled with consummate skill.  

And, with a small amount of work to finally be resolved and despite agreement between RP and the law firm on what was left to do, the work remains undone.

But the biggest problem is that despite three calls and messages, there was no response from the firm.  When, on the fourth try, I finally reached them, there was an apology and the excuse that the attorney was in a complex trial.

Rather than ignoring my messages, anyone could have returned my call and explained the situation.  Another situation where a great product (the legal services) was colored by poor customer service.

As one example of great customer support, I recently bought a product from Amazon. It turned out to be the wrong size, entirely my error. I filled out the return form, packed up the product and took it to UPS. When I got back, the money had been credited to my account. While the package was still at UPS!  That’s customer service.

 

Ask This 1 Question …

Many of you, our readers, are professionals providing a service.  And most of you work hard to provide the best service possible to your clients.

One of the questions you should also be asking is: What constitutes the best customer service and am I providing it?  

If you can deliver a high level of customer service appropriate to your business, you won’t have to worry about what your clients/customers are saying on the internet. And your clients/customers might be thrilled to be working with you.

As in past years, this will be our last blog until September.  We hope that you have a great summer vacation and we look forward to picking up our blogs next month.

 

Revitalization Partners is a Northwest business advisory and restructuring management firm with a demonstrated track record of achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients. And now, we’ve written a book to help our readers understand the issues facing their businesses. You can find this compilation of our business thoughts at: 

https://revitalizationpartners.com/we-could-write-a-book/  or on Amazon. 

We specialize in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every Circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations.

Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return

Who’s Accountable?

 

Recently we once again saw a problem with United Airlines.

While the problem has been widely covered on social media, a few of the details have been glossed over.

One is that when the customer complained to a flight attendant about what was clearly an error by the airline, reportedly, she “just shrugged and walked away after commenting that the plane was full”.

The other, and perhaps more important issue, is that the customer was intimidated against standing up for her rights by the coverage of a Doctor being pulled off of a United flight by law enforcement in the past.

 

Customer Service Not A Priority …

United’s CEO has apologized and has refunded the ticket cost and provided other compensation.   But it appears that management has not yet succeeded in making customer service a high priority among United employees.

And why should they?

United’s CEO earned $18.7 million in compensation last year, including stock awards, according to United’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Just under $1.2 million of it was salary, with most of the rest coming from incentives, and a bonus tied to his 2015 hiring.

 

Metrics Changed In 2017 …

For 2016, the board determined United hit its marks in on-time arrival performance and pre-tax income.  The CEO also reached long-term goals related to the airline’s return on invested capital and its pre-tax margin.

Management’s targets will change in 2017, with the board recently announcing executive compensation will be more closely tied to United’s customer service metrics.

Flight Attendants in the United States can expect to earn an average of $39K per year.  Overall cash earnings for Flight Attendants stretch from $23K on the lower end to $81K near the top, and the heftiest packages can encompass around $5K from bonuses and $9K from profit sharing.

 

CEO Pay Tied To What?

Given that the CEO of United was the highest paid of all airline CEO’s in 2016 and none of that pay was related to customers, is it any wonder that the flight attendant “shrugged and walked away”?

In addition to United Airlines, coverage by social media has flagged significant issues with accountability in many large companies. Last week an article on social media discussed a woman who made plans for a vacation and booked a hotel for her family with Expedia.

On arriving at the hotel, they informed her that the hotel was “overbooked” and they could not provide the rooms.  When she spoke with Expedia, she was informed that Expedia would not provide a refund as their terms state that they are not responsible for things “out of their control” such as overbooking.

 

 

It’s No Ones Fault …

In this case, neither the hotel nor Expedia was willing to either accept responsibility or accountability for ruining this family’s vacation.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review: “Accountability is not simply taking the blame when something goes wrong.  It’s not a confession. 

Accountability is about delivering on a commitment.  It’s a responsibility for an outcome, not just a set of tasks, it’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”

And it’s necessary at all levels of the hierarchy. Executives at the top can’t really be accountable unless the people who report to them and the people who report to those people also follow through on their commitments.

 

5 Steps To Drive Change …

So, what are some ways to make this work?

1. Clear Expectations – The first thing is to be crystal clear about expectations. This means being clear about the outcome you expect, how you’ll measure success and how people can go about achieving the objective.


2. Clear capability – What skills are needed to meet the expectation? What resources are needed? Are the resources available or can they be acquired?


3. Clear Measurement – Nothing frustrates management more than being surprised by failure. Sometimes it’s a failure to ask for help; sometimes it’s premature optimism on all sides. But it is completely avoidable by having clear measurements and milestones.


4. Clear Feedback – Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People should know where they stand. If you have clear expectations, capability and measurement, feedback can be fact-based and easy to deliver.


5. Clear Consequences – This is where the system normally breaks down. There are really only three consequences; repeat, reward or release. If there is a lack of clarity in the system, adjust and repeat the process. If people are succeeding, find a clear and visible way to reward them. If some of the organization cannot or will not accept accountability then they are not a good fit for the role they are in and need to be released from that role.

 

 

The Right Mindset …

Lastly, it is important to note that what determines the ability to succeed at taking accountability is individual mindset. 

Mindset is the trigger for choices, actions and results.  Not dealing with individual mindset means missing the root cause of lack of performance.

Accountability is not something an executive or manager explains. It is taking accountability for your individual mindset first, before you get into problem solving.

 

 

Revitalization Partners is a Northwest business advisory and restructuring management firm with a demonstrated track record of achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients. And now, we’ve written a book to help our readers understand the issues facing their businesses. You can find this compilation of our business thoughts at:
https://revitalizationpartners.com/we-could-write-a-book/ or on Amazon.

We specialize in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations.

Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

Customer Service Stories from Both Sides

 

Over the last several weeks, we’ve written about problems with customer service.   And, no matter how bazaar the stories get, there is shortly a new one.

The latest, the week after Delta made its headlines by removing a customer who had to go to the bathroom while the plane was on the tarmac, United topped that by making a customer pee in a cup at her seat because the seat belt light was on in mid-flight.

 

The # 1 Internet Provider …

But enough about the airlines. Let’s look at another group of necessary suppliers; internet providers.

The number one provider in the US is Comcast. And despite being rated the worst in customer service over many years, and promising to reform their service, the horrible stories continue.  For example:

Conal O’Rourke claims his bill was never correct during the year in which he was a customer. When he tried to fix the problem, Comcast shipped him nearly $2,000 worth of equipment that he never requested or needed – and then billed him for it.

After filing a complaint with Comcast’s chief accounting officer, O’Rourke was fired from his job. He then sued Comcast, alleging that they contacted his employer, PwC, who holds Comcast as a major client, and told his supervisor that O’Rourke attempted to use his position at PwC as a negotiating tactic to get a better cable deal.

 

House For Sale !

In March 2015, Consumerist reported on a Comcast customer, Seth, who ultimately had to sell a house he just bought because he couldn’t get internet access, which he needed for his job.

Like most Comcast horror stories, Seth’s saga spans months of useless calls, appointments, and general mayhem.

This story also points to the larger problem of cable providers falsely claiming service is available in certain locations. BroadbandMap.gov showed several internet options available at his address, but just to make sure, Seth asked Comcast before purchasing his house if the address was serviceable.

He was misled. In the end, after Comcast vaguely quoted him a $50,000 to $60,000 charge to bring service to his location, and having no luck with alternate providers, Seth saw no other option but to sell his new home.

 

No Need For Profanity !

When Lisa Brown called to cancel the cable TV portion of her service, she was, of course, transferred to a retention specialist specifically trained to talk her out of it. 

She didn’t back down, though.  Much to her surprise and agitation, the next service bill she received was addressed not to her husband, Ricardo Brown, but to “Asshole Brown.”

“I was never rude,” Brown told consumer advocate Chris Elliott. “It could have been that person was upset because I didn’t take the offer.”

Just days after Brown’s story went viral, three more Comcast customers came forward reporting their names had been changed to derogatory words.

 

Why Do Customers Stay? 

Why do customers after having experienced or reading about the poor customer service continue to do business with these organizations?  Mostly price.

The airlines and Internet providers market price on a continuous basis, and the buying public assumes that these companies have some sort of a secret sauce to quality customer service at the lowest price.

The other issue is that some part of the public is either not very bright or feels very entitled.

How about a few examples:

This worker used to work in a small supermarket and had a lady return a disposable barbecue because ‘it’s just got lumps of black stuff in it.’ She had seen the picture on the front of the box that showed burgers and sausages on it and assumed they came with the barbecue.”

A server at one place had a customer complain that their ice water was too cold and asked for it to be microwaved. She was very upset when the server returned with a cup of just water.”

This person used to work in the home section of a high-end department store in New York. A woman comes in to return her Keurig saying that it won’t make coffee, won’t turn on: nothing. The company happily exchanges it for a new one. Two weeks later she’s back. Same problem, it won’t turn on and it’s totally dead. So they give her a new one. A week later she comes back AGAIN with the same problem. This time, she’s LIVID and yelling at one of the associates. ‘I can’t believe you sell such a terrible product! No one here has any idea what they are doing! God, it’s like every time I put it in the dishwasher it breaks! She had been putting her entire coffee machine into the dishwasher and didn’t understand why it kept breaking.”

And then the person who was working in a health food store when a woman came in asking for local organic oranges, swearing she had bought local oranges from our store in the past. It was February…and they were in Canada.

 

In Every Case … 

In every case cited here, either the employee or the customer insisted that they were right. As a result, they either end up exposing their employer to potential lawsuits, as in the case of the airlines and Comcast, or simply to ridicule.

If you are a customer, make sure you are not the problem before you post on social media.

And if a company provides bad customer service, don’t just complain, don’t continue to patronize them, even if they are the lowest cost.

If you are the employee, make sure that you are treating your employer’s customers the way that will keep them as customers. 

And if you are an employer, make certain that you have a customer service culture and that you hire employees that value that culture.

If not, we’d be happy to talk with you about the alternatives.

 

Revitalization Partners is a Northwest business advisory and restructuring management firm with a demonstrated track record of achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients. And now, we’ve written a book to help our readers understand the issues facing their businesses. You can find this compilation of our business thoughts at:
https://revitalizationpartners.com/we-could-write-a-book/ or on Amazon.

We specialize in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations.

Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.