Customer Service Is Dying — and I’m Not Feeling So Good Myself!

March 26, 2012

Have you ever called a company and been greeted with the phrase “Hold, please”?

How do they know you can hold? They don’t even know who you are. Maybe you can’t hold; maybe you have 10 seconds of juice left on your cell phone and your hair is on fire! Then you finally get someone on the phone, only to be told, “I can’t actually help you; I’m just paid to apologize, and I’m really sorry about that.”

Being frustrated by a lack of customer service is nothing new. But in recent years, it certainly seems that companies have become more innovative when it comes to not helping you solve your problems. I recently asked a hotel employee to help me with my luggage. He told me to hold on and said he would have someone look into it. I thought, “Hey, you’re someone – why can’t you look into it?”

I realize that we are as busy as we have ever been and that many younger people were not brought up in the traditional culture of customer service. But none of these excuses will protect your business in today’s challenging economy, where customers are questioning value even with companies they have known for years.

Customer ServiceYou might have the best service, product or skills in your area, yet for some reason you still aren’t getting the results you know you deserve. It seems to make no sense! We’ve all been conditioned to believe that if you are the best, you are supposed to eventually win. Let’s address the reality of why your products, services or leadership styles – or those of your competitors – are selected.

Think of the top-selling hamburgers in the world. Are they the best hamburgers? No! And is that special sauce really special? It’s actually pretty gross! I’m not trying to criticize the fast food industry; it has combined two of the most desired things on the planet: Fast and Food. This convenient pairing results in top-selling burgers, but few people would argue that they’re the best. So why are they chosen? Because there is more to success than being the best.

The point is, success is more than being really good at what you do; it’s about being consistently chosen to do it. We like fast food because it meets a specific need. Some people under certain circumstances will trade quality for speed, and if you can put a little special sauce on it – even better!

Here’s an idea I’d like you to consider: There is no such thing as The Best! If the world agreed on what’s best, everybody would choose the best and nothing else would even be considered. Decision-making doesn’t work that way! People don’t necessarily choose what’s best; they choose what they are the most comfortable with, whether it’s the best or not. They don’t choose the best idea, the best strategy, or the best place to live. They choose the experience. That experience usually involves humans (unless your customers are dealing with robots, where being stiff, cold, and uncaring and speaking in a spooky sci-fi voice is pretty much expected).

Maybe it’s time to get back to basics and make service a real priority. Sure, plenty of companies claim to offer great customer care. But raising your service standards requires more than a promise; you need to set concrete goals and establish effective procedures to meet them. Whether you own the company, handle key accounts or just accidentally encounter your customers, you’ll reap huge benefits by applying the following customer service goals:

On the Phone

  • Be friendly! No one wants to send a check to people who seem to be bothered by their call.
  • Ask permission before putting a caller on hold. If a customer is greeted with “Hold, please,” what the customer really hears is “Hang on! Someone much more important than you just called in.”
  • Keep it professional. Smoking cigarettes, slurping a drink, and playing the drums on your desk can make callers feel like they are getting advice from a guy in a bar.
  • Make sure that callers don’t have to repeat themselves. Someone who has explained a problem three times to three different people hangs up angry, whether or not the problem is solved.

All the Time

  • Create a positive image to attract business. Remember that squirrels are just rats with good publicity.
  • Display compassion for people who are upset. People who don’t think you care won’t value your solution.
  • Be very clear when you explain a process. When customers don’t know what you’re talking about, they assume you don’t either.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do. When you don’t follow through, people don’t think you have forgotten. They think you don’t care.
  • Know when to bring in someone else. When it becomes clear that the customer thinks you are the problem, set your ego aside and send in a fresh face.
  • Establish a simple, easy-to-implement customer service plan. When something is really complicated, it’s hard to tell if it’s working.

Well, I think will survive – and I feel better now that I’ve written this article – but it’s important that we help nurse that ailing customer-service approach to a full recovery, ensuring a healthy prognosis for today’s businesses.

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Customer Service Facts

July 8, 2010
Did you know that most customers that don’t get good service, don’t complain and they don’t come back.
  • Only 4% of the customers that leave you will complain
  • 96% will go away without telling you they had a problem
Why customers quit doing business with you
  • 13% get a better price or can invest less time somewhere else
  • 14% dissatisfied with the level of service or quality of your product
  • 72% leave because they feel they receive poor service!
  • 1% Who knows
What do customers really want?
  • Reliability: You do what you say you will do
  • Credibility: Have others had a good experience?
  • Attractiveness: People draw conclusions based on what they see
  • Responsiveness: Reactions match expectations
  • Empathy: You share their emotions

Customer service speaker: Keynotes and breakout sessions for your customer services reps.

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Delivering Bad News Effectively With Three Simple Points

April 21, 2010

Delivering bad news effectively and clearly

When your job requires you to deliver bad news, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The wrong way can make you and your company come off as uncaring, as if you enjoy routinely crushing hopes with a shrug of the shoulders. I call that the torture method, and it goes something like this:

“Hey, how are you? I wanted to let you know that things did not go exactly like we hoped… You know, in this topsy-turvy world we live in, it’s just sometimes a roll of the dice!”

That’s the torture method.

We need to get past the fear of delivering bad news and go with what works! And here it is, in three steps.

Step 1: Connect to how the person may feel. What have you lost that was of great value to you? Get in touch with your compassion. (Everyone has it — even you!)

Step 2: Realize that you have a job to do and, before you make the call, make sure your tone of voice is caring and matches your compassion.

Step 3: Be straightforward and compassionate with the facts. Your delivery might sound something like this: “Unfortunately, your loan was not approved. There were a couple of factors involved…”  (Then state the facts with kindness.)

The job of delivering bad news is very important and can be done with dignity if you keep this crucial formula in mind:

Preparation + compassion = dignity.

Where did customer service go?

March 1, 2010

Remember the good old days, way back when businesses treated you like you were actually important to them? When their employees recognized that you were vital to the company’s well-being and should be treated accordingly? Ah yes, days gone by.

While many companies still provide excellent customer service, more and more treat their customers as account numbers instead of people. Have you encountered employees who treat you like you’ve interfered with their lives because you’re simply looking for an item? They brush you off with “That’s not my department” or, my favorite, “I dunno.” You don’t know? You work here! I don’t know either but I don’t have the snappy embroidered shirt with the cool company logo on it to draw unsuspecting customers into my web of ignorance and frustration. Why wander the store, looking so helpful? Are you shopping too?

And of course, there’s the customer service strategy of having only one employee in the store manning the register. This employee multitasks enough to ring up customers while on the cell phone but can’t understand how a gift certificate works if you don’t use the exact amount on the card.

So where did customer service go and how can we get it back?

  • Customer service entails more than just providing customers with a place to complain. It’s providing support, finding solutions, and showing that the customer’s well-earned money was spent with the right people.
  • Customer service departments need to realize that customers are just as important after the sale as they are before they buy. Whether due to financial constraints, efficiency issues or plain lack of understanding their clients, businesses seem to focus less on serving the customer and more on the profit margin. Now profits are great; I’m all for profits. But many companies forget or ignore the fact that has direct impact on profits — especially future profits. You can’t get return business if no one wants to come again.

What can you do to get customer service back?

The first and most important thing: Be nice.
Remember, if someone is talking to a provider, it usually means something’s wrong. Rarely do people walk up to to hug you and tell you what a great job you’re doing. They have some sort of issue, great or small, and need help. So be nice. Be understanding. If you can see the issue through the customer’s eyes, you can usually understand how to correct the problem.

But how does one handle those loud, obnoxious customers who have “been to hundreds of stores across the country without being so mistreated,” customers who proclaim they will never come back, and so on? Their main goal is to be the squeaky wheel: No matter how small the problem, they carry on as though you have offended their family for generations to come. If at all reasonable, give them some oil and let them squeak somewhere else. But don’t let the occasional jerk of a customer throw you off your game. Try to maintain the “nice.”

Secondly, show some action.
Telling me you understand how upset I am that you overcharged my credit card by several decimal points doesn’t make me feel as appeased as I would if you stopped sympathizing and just reversed the charges. Customers generally calm down when they see you are actually trying to help them, not just talking about it. Make sure it’s an honest attempt; looking like you’re helping is not actually helping. Don’t leave customers on hold for an hour while you research the issue. Come back to the phone frequently, if for no other reason than to see if they’re still breathing. The longer they sit in silence while you try to help them, the more frustrating their experience will be.

 Another thing to keep in mind is to find a solution.
Learn what the customer feels the solution should be and see whether it makes sense or matches a solution you have. The customer is not always right. In fact, customers rarely are. But by understanding the expected results, you can work your way as close to the customer’s expectations as possible. Customers demanding a free meal because the candle on the table was “too flickery” is a little extreme. But removing the candle as quickly as possible, away from the table populated with flick-intolerant crazy people, is not.

Customer service is not dead — at least not yet.
It may need some CPR, a cup of tea and a nap to recuperate, but it’s not dead. Companies just need to take time to show that they care about the customer’s problem and are actively trying to correct it and, if that doesn’t work, to see if an alternate solution can be found. Customers are your greatest asset. Without them, what have you got?


If Your Customer is Treading Water (controlled drowning), Throw Him a Life Preserver.

March 23, 2009

life-preserverWhat’s interesting to me is that when times are tough, when there’s an issue with the economy, some businesses do really well and some do not — and these are businesses in the same industry. For many, the economy is like pizza: When it’s good, it’s really good, and even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

What I see making a big difference are attitude and belief. If you’re walking around thinking things are tough, that’s the mind-set you have. What you focus your attention on is what your life looks like. It’s the vibe people get from you. It’s going to be the way you present things.

Attitude and belief can help you through a tough time, but not by flat-out ignoring difficult circumstances or willing them to magically disappear. You have to first recognize that tough times are temporary and then work quickly to address the needs that arise during difficult conditions. Don’t let the media tell you what your life looks like; remember that good news does not sell newspapers. Have you ever noticed that really depressing news stories are often followed by Prozac commercials?

Most companies — and most people — that succeed when times are tough make sure they get more focused on the needs of the customer in the moment. To succeed, we can’t be stuck in the long-term needs we’ve identified over the years. That’s probably not where the customer’s head is right now. You’ve got to sharpen your focus on what’s really important to customers here and now. If your customer is treading water (which is nothing more than controlled drowning), throw him a life preserver. You can teach him to swim later. Once you’re past the crisis, there’s always time to get customers back on track with what you know will benefit them long-term.

People and companies that are really successful during times of transition often have to work a little harder, investing more thought, more time and even more money to do as well as they did before. But even though they expend more resources to perform as well as last year, they’re not losing ground in a companywide shake-up or industrywide slump. Odds are, they’re still moving forward. When business picks up again, they will have cemented their usefulness to employers and customers and can resume a better version of “business as usual.”

Customer Service: What People Remember

April 28, 2008

You can provide the information customers need and have a great reputation for service and quality, but how a customer feels about the conduct or attitude of the person they deal with when they need service is what they remember and repeat to others.

Studies show 1 person will tell 11 people about rude behavior and that 11 will tell 55, so 67 people hear about the behavior. If that happened 25 times in 5 years, that’s 1,675 people; that’s a small town that doesn’t like you.

Here are some great ways to improve how a customer feels about their experience with a customer service representative:

  • People are much more likely to agree with those who agree with them first! Customers want you to agree with them. The person asking questions is in control of the conversation. Get them talking about the issues, you can let them know you agree and have a recommendation
  • Leaders set the tone for customer service. If you have employees, they need to see you doing the things for customers that you are asking them to do. Leadership by example: You set the culture for your organization.
  • Great customer service reps don’t hold their customers too accountable. A customer may be 100% at fault and now need you to help them out of their problem. You have to make a decision to be responsible and accountable as much as you can be. You keep customers by being accountable. The number one complaint customers have is that the service providers hold them accountable for their problem and they feel like they are paying for it never to be their fault.

I ran across a great example on the “Love Them Up and Keep Them Forever” blog

Who’s to Blame and Does It Even Matter? « Love Them Up and Keep Them Forever™:

What I saw was a customer service person who felt that he was being blamed for the situation and didn’t have the skills to manage his emotions. He didn’t “get” that when a customer is upset, it’s never personal. It’s always about the customer’s relationship with the company, not with you as an individual. As a representative of the print shop, we all would have been much better off had he simply calmed me down with a quick “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m working on this as quickly as I can. Do you need me to hold on to the order for you and you can come back later tonight?”

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Lots of Kinks with FedEx Kinko’s: Workbooks and Customer Service

December 20, 2007

RobotI must say that I would normally never single out an organization for customer service issues, but I can’t contain myself any longer. We have all had problems with getting our stuff printed correctly from time to time, but I think I’ve just had it! I got use to the fact that they can’t find your order when you go in to pick it up and that they don’t particularly want to help you when you stand at the counter. But we recently had a location in Arizona, butcher our workbooks and then blame it on us, after we went through their online system. And this was after we talked to an employee that said she personally supervised the order and agreed on what was supposed to happen. We checked, and double checked and received verification of the specifics of the order. How complex was our request? 70 units at 5 page’s each, the first in color and the rest in black & white, stapled in the left-hand corner.

What did we get? Everything in black & white and unstapled, literally a box of paper.  Now, I understand that people make mistakes (and apparently smoke pot) but the story gets weirder. When we complained, the young lady (who clearly did not care if I lived or died from the minute she picked up the phone) said, “we can only do what the system tells us.” And then she hung up on me. So, the term that comes to mind is evil young cranky robot (not to let any old cranky robots off the hook). But the story then reaches the ultimate level of psychotic service. I called the customer service 800 number and told them my story, they said someone would call me back in 48 hours (now that’s service) and ask a few more questions. About 55 hours later, I picked up a voicemail from a man that said he was the manager of the location (The young woman said she was the only manager over then store.) and said he apologized for the problem and wanted me to call him and he would make it right. I called (ten minutes after the call came in) and asked for the manager by name. The person who answered (who was clearly the man who called) said that there was no male manager. I confronted him and said “Look, it was you. You just left me a message and I’m calling you back.” He was very nervous (like someone had a gun to his head) and denied that he was the manager and that he had called me. OK, we know service is not having a good decade, but this is really nutty. I can only imagine what is going on at that Kinko’s location. I have heard of bad customer service but I think we should send in the police. If you see a news break that says “Kinko’s manager held hostage by bitchy robot employees” remember you saw this blog first.

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