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.

Losing Customers

 

There is a company that makes shaving cream. They use all the typical methods of marketing from television to social media, to print advertising.

They even advertise on NFL games. And, by the way, it’s actually pretty good shaving cream, having taken a different approach to their formula and the way it’s used.

It’s one of those products that you can buy almost everywhere.

 

What About The Blades?

In walking through a very large warehouse store recently, I came across a package with a razor and a number of blades that was displayed at the front of the store. 

It was made, apparently, by the shaving cream company. The blades were promoted as being titanium and made in Germany, so based on my shaving cream experience, I decided to give it a try.  And, by the way, it is a really good product.

In thinking about where I could get more blades, I looked, on the web.

Strangely enough, while I could find the package I had purchased at major facilities like Costco, Target, and Amazon, there were no replacement blades.

Not at any of the major stores, and not even on the website of the company that made the saving cream and supposedly the razor and blades.  Literally, not to be found anywhere on Google.

 

Think Of All The People …

Think of the many people who shop at these stores that sold them the product. 

And think of their feelings when they realize that they can’t continue to use a product that they like.

The Amazon listing for the razor package states that “It’s out of stock; we don’t know when or if it will be back.

The website of the company that supposedly made it doesn’t even acknowledge its existence.

Maybe some part of its customer base needs to find a new shaving cream as well.

 

One Of The Most Successful …

In looking at companies that have lost customers, we should look at a retail giant that was one of the most successful in the world, Sears.  

In fiscal 2006, a year after the merger with Kmart, Sears had revenue of $29.18 billion. 

By 2006, revenue had fallen to $14.96 billion. Operating income in 2006 was $1.32 billion and by 2015 it was a loss of $708 million.  For 2016, Sears holdings had losses of $1.6 billion.

Why did one of the most successful companies in retail history lose its way?  Because as sales declined, it began to focus on financial re-engineering instead of the market and customers. 

Jim Cramer of the CNBC show Mad Money said: “The company is being kept alive by a hedge fund manager. And that could be the core of the problem.

Other retail experts comment that management has lost the passion for products and customers. And it shows, driving away customers.

 

Losing Viewers & Revenue …

We have recently watched, played out on a national scale, where participants in one of the largest entities with a customer base may have begun to impact that base.

In this case, we are talking about the NFL.  In recent years, the NFL has been beset by a number of issues that have impacted those who support what has become America’s game.

Concussions and resulting long term brain injury, players behaving badly both on and off the field, and the rapidly rising price of tickets. 

These events have caused the NFL to lose viewers and those who attend games because they don’t want their children to get hooked on playing football. 

This not only impacts game attendance, but the sale of NFL memorabilia. The rising price of tickets limits those who can attend games.

 

A Single Player Did Not Stand …

Recently, NFL teams potentially created more damage to their future than any of the other events could have possibly done. 

In 2016, a single player elected not to stand for the National Anthem. 

While a few players joined him, it was hardly noticed by NFL fans. He indicated that he was protesting a social injustice and other than that, he had very little to say about the matter.

Certainly, the mainstream media and social media had quite a bit to say about his actions, but by and large it was a minor event.  Recently, one person made several comments regarding this protest on Twitter.

And as a result, the NFL players, coaches and owners felt the need to take sides.  And take sides they did. 

Some protesting, some not, others avoiding the situation all together by staying off the field during the anthem, and almost all of them taking Twitter positions.

 

Reactions Were Fast & Emotional …

And the fan’s, those NFL customers, erupted with either support or displeasure. 

Some felt that it was a matter of free speech, others, especially veterans, felt it was seriously disrespecting something that they had fought and died for.

Even these phenomenally brave fans couldn’t agree, some believing that they had fought to protect free speech, others believing that a disrespect of the anthem disrespected them. 

In any event many of these “customers” were violently angry at everyone connected with the sport and began a discussion of a boycott of the game.

 

The Original Protest Got Lost …

As the issue grew, a new Yahoo Finance poll found 62% of Americans plan on watching fewer NFL games following these anthem protests. 

And 32% say they will not attend a game they were planning on attending!

In the process, the original protest got lost.

Yes, those who participated tried to explain why they were taking the action they were, but once you have to explain your protest, something has gotten lost.

 

One Person With A Twitter Account …

All of this was generated by one person with an active Twitter account. 

And the possible economic cost of not simply ignoring that initial tweet, may be in the millions.

Every day, there are things that companies do to lose customers. 

It’s no accident that banks, airlines and cable providers lead the list of America’s worst companies, hated by their customers.

Oh yes, another company on that list is Facebook.  

Why?   Because, even though it’s free, customers hate being lied to with “fake news”.  

And, thanks to one man with a Twitter account and the fact that members of the NFL and fans felt that they had to weigh in, the NFL may be joining the list one day.

 

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.

Protecting Your Company’s Social Media Profile

 

The social media outrage cycle hit United Airlines this week.

The airline first faced backlash after it barred a 10-year-old pass holder from boarding a flight due to the fact she was wearing leggings.

Pass holders are given to “employees or to travelers using a United Airlines perk – often called a buddy pass” – that allows friends and family of employees to fly for free or at a discount.
After a woman, Shannon Watts, a passenger, and founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control group, live-tweeted the incident, United Airlines first responded by pointing to its rules for general customers, which allows United to refuse transportation “for passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed.”  

But as Twitter users noted, there’s nothing there making clear that leggings – or anything else in particular – are not proper.

 

The Airline Responded …

The airlines then responded by saying that the passengers were “pass riders and that there is a well-known dress code for pass holders because they are representing the airline while using the pass“.

But by that time, the damage had been done.

The Twitter feed was aghast: United Airlines was going to police a child’s clothing?  And was this part of a larger issue of society policing how women dress? 

After a lot of comments on the topic United later released the following statement:

 

We Care About …

“We care about the way we present ourselves to you, our customers, as we believe that is part of the experience on board our flights. 

One of the benefits of working for an airline is that our employees are able to travel the world.

Even better, they can extend this privilege to a select number of what we call ‘pass riders.’

These are relatives or friends who also receive the benefit of free or heavily discounted air travel – on our airline as well as on airlines around the world where we have mutual agreements in place for employees and pass riders”.

 

Representatives Of United …
 
“When taking advantage of this benefit, all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United. And like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow.

The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel.

We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code”.

 
“To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.”


A Long-Term User Said … 

A long-time user of the United Airlines pass program stated: “United has had a dress code for pass riders for as long as I’ve been able to use this fantastic benefit.

We used to be required to wear a coat and tie (dresses for the ladies) for first class and although the dress code has been dramatically loosened, it still is – and should be – there.

If regular passengers want to dress like slobs fine, but United employees and their pass-riding friends need to establish a higher bar when they are hitching a ride.”

A week later, there continue to be comments regarding this comedy of errors that was started by a single passenger using social media to comment on something she knew nothing about.

 

What About Your Company? 

What about your company?  Are you prepared to handle the social media firestorm from someone who makes a widely-spread comment that is only partially true or not true at all? 

Or from the customer who believes they were treated badly by your company and wants the world to know.

In this social media driven world where “alternative facts” and “fake news” substitutes for the real thing, how should a company behave?

1.     Do not react or over-react to the comments being made. In many cases, they are driven by emotion and the last thing you want to do is react emotionally. A public, emotional war of words will only hurt your company. This is the time to take a deep breath or several of them.

2.     Make certain that you have all the facts before responding. You will notice that the initial response from United Airlines fanned the flames and made it look like the airline was attempting to regulate passengers dress; which was not the case.

3.     Once you have gathered all the facts, respond in a calm logical manner. If the company is at fault, admit the problem and outline the steps you are taking to fix the problem. If the comments come from a customer, if possible, go overboard to correct the problem for that customer and make certain the steps you have taken are outlined in your response. Be factual and honest.

4.     Have a single person in your organization designated to respond to social media comments or inquiries. And make certain that you let your employees that any ad hoc comments they may make in defense of your company will only make things worse.

5.     Someone in your company should, have as part of their job responsibility, monitor social media on behalf of your company and keep you informed of what is being said, both good and bad.
Social media is both a marketing tool and a tool for use by those with an agenda. Using it correctly can benefit both you and your company. Remember, what is said on the internet is forever!  So make “forever” work for you.

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.  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.