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.

Customer service resources:  Customer service speaker


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?


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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Customer service is dying and I’m not feeling so good myself
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The Key to Listening to Boring People

November 29, 2007

I know that listening is important but it can be very difficult when you don’t care about what the other person is talking about. We want to care; we have compassion for people and their problems (OK, some of us do practice pathological leadership) but something about what they are saying is losing us at about 5 seconds in. Sometimes it’s the topic: when my wife talks about Yoga I just stop caring. I saw her in front of the TV doing a headstand while wearing a neck brace. Could Yoga be the problem and not the solution? Sometimes we don’t have the time for a low priority issue right before that important conference call. But every now and then it’s the person who is talking. Some people are just boring! Its not their fault I guess; maybe the were raised by boring parents in a boring environment. Our research at Wynn Solutions shows that making sure people feel heard is the foundation of trust. But what I have noticed over the years and what we now teach our clients, is that if you focus on how someone feels (happy, mad, glad, sad or freaked out) while you are listening to them (not just what they say) you are able to hang in their with the people that would normally send you to snoozeville. Also, you retain much more information (regardless of your poor listening skills) and believe it or not, you start to care more about what they are saying. It’s amazing and I highly recommend you try it.

In-house communication skills training programs :: Keynote – The Truth about Communication Success

The Truth: Nobody Wants Customer Service!!

November 6, 2007

Customers don’t want service! Customers want things that don’t need any service. They want maintenance-free, self-contained solutions, whenever possible. On average, how do you think most people would rate service after the sale over the course of their lives? Do you really think they are looking for more of that? They want cars that don’t break down, systems that need no tweaking; and they may resent the time required to service their product, preferring instead to spend time making money, forwarding their cause or living life.

We tend to believe our customers want great service because we have solutions that require maintenance. In other words, we put customers in a position to need service. To be motivated, we need to believe that we have exactly what the customer wants. The truth is that the customer wants a permanent solution, and either we don’t want to provide it (for various reasons) or no permanent solution exists. If we have to provide service to customers who are not terribly thrilled about needing it, that service had better be fantastic. It’s like insisting that someone who doesn’t particularly care for hot dogs must eat one. You’d better serve one damn good hot dog or you’re in big trouble.

Mediocre service can be worse than no service in some cases. If we can solve customers’ problems before they know they have any, they will feel much better about their purchase but we will lose the opportunity to generate additional revenue and good will through all that customer service. We have to decide which has more value to the customer and to us.

Strategies to consider

  1. Offering training, spare parts or an organized, pre-set service program as part of the purchase price (or as a higher-priced add-on) may give you greater customer satisfaction and allow you to offer less service after the sale but give better results to the customer
  2. Get more deeply involved with customers at the point of sale and uncover more opportunities to help them succeed at a faster rate; and
  3. Help customers in a way that allows them to learn how to help themselves, proving that your solutions have more long-term value than those of your competitors and are worth the higher price tag.

I realize that this view may not be for everyone; after all, one man’s business-growing customer service is another man’s expensive pain in the butt. But it’s important to find ways to help the customer while at the same time making sure we can stay in business long enough to actually provide that help. Organizations that are not profitable usually give poor service whether the customer wants it or not. So, the question is, what do your customers really want from you?

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