Archive for category Customer service

More than ever, good customer service stands out

I’ve received some great customer service this year (and some mediocre, but let’s not dwell on those).

They’re a good reminder that taking care of your customers pays dividends in the long run. That’s particularly critical in this challenging economy, as this great service 1) brings me back; and 2) has me telling my friends.

What makes me — a customer — happy with service? Here’s a quick list:

Honesty
Some time ago, I was looking for a watch to wear when swimming laps. I picked one that seemed perfect. The salesperson offered an alternative that was considerably cheaper. I’ve always remembered and appreciated his honesty. And I still have the watch.

Appreciation
A simple “thank you” goes a long way. Enough said. By the way, thanks for reading.

Responsiveness
The customer service team at my bank is incredible. If I call with a rare question they can’t immediately answer, I know that they’ll check and call me back promptly. And they always apologize for the delay. It makes me feel like I’m the only customer they have.

Listening
I’ve done a fair amount of business  this year with a local nursery. Prices are great (value), plants are healthy (quality), and the owner listens and remember our conversations from week-to-week. She asks questions to understand what I want, and can really hone in on the right plants for my yard.

Customer-first philosphy
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, good people and organizations put the customer at the center of their work. They have a very “can-do” attitude and make the experience almost fun.

Your turn. What do you think makes good customer service?

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Times change, but skills remain key

Think about the changes an 80-year-old has seen. Growing up, the family’s primary sources of news and events were likely the daily newspaper and word-of-mouth from family and friends. Then came the telephone, radio, and television. That generation witnessed a shift in the methods and speed of communication greater than any group prior.

Now we have the internet, email, social media, smart phones, tablets, and apps that will do everything from paying bills to creating a talking Santa cartoon.

Staying in touch has never been easier — while being an effective communicator has become increasingly difficult.

The following tips will help increase the odds your audience will pay attention to your message:

Be clear and concise
Regardless of your field or message, your writing (or speaking) should be direct and to-the-point. If your readers have to look for key message, you’ve likely lost them. Make your point without lengthy introductions, then follow-up with details.

This is particularly critical when targeting younger generations that are accustomed to more direct communication.

Consider your audience
A NASA engineer speaking to her peers would likely use very different language than when addressing a group of high school students on the same topic. Ask yourself what you audience knows about the topic, how much detail is appropriate, and if they’ll understand terminology associated with the subject. If’ I’m chatting with another photographer, I might mention shooting an image with my 135mm at f2. However, if speaking my aunt, I’d simply say I adjusted the camera to blur the background out of focus.

Be objective
Passion is a double-edge sword. It’s what makes you good at your job, but also makes effectively communicating about it much more challenging.

I’ll explain. You want to tell people about a project, and assume they’ll share your excitement. You begin to tell them the specifics of your work, and before you can know it, they’ve lost interest, either because they can’t follow the details or the story ran too long.

A programmer friend once told me a story about a project she was working on. As much as I tried to follow along, I was lost within 3 minutes. The story continued, with me struggling to keep up. It’s became jokingly known as the “Flat File Story.”

Be timely and time sensitive
Readers are incredibly busy, so you have to reach them where they want to hear the news, and then present it in a way that they’ll want to read/hear.

In my early years, we often drafted newsletter articles or messages from executives that were fairly long, and people seemed to read them. Now there’s great competition for readers’ attention, and you run the risk of losing them with a message that’s too jam-packed. And given the speed at which news travels, by the time you craft your detailed message, it might be old or outdated.

Follow Twitter’s lead
Twitter, with its 140 character limit, provides a great exercise in good writing. It forces you to be direct, clear, and concise. Give it a try.

Your turn. How do you reach your audience?

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South earns its reputation for hospitality

I recently spent a week in the Deep South, exposed to a culture and lifestyle that differs greatly from that of my home state of Maine.

While the food was heavier (think deep fried pickles) and the pace a bit slower than what we’re use to in the Northeast, the courtesy of the people lived up to its reputation.

People at nearly every turn and every venue, from Atlanta Braves staff to passengers on public transportation, were exceedingly polite to this visitor, with extra helpings of Sir and Thank you. After a few days, I began to think my humble Thank You was insufficient, and started adding a Ma’am or Sir.

The South certainly doesn’t have an exclusive on courtesy — I’ve seen shop owners in New York City go far out of their way to help a tourist — but in terms of consistency, the South gets my vote.

I wonder if the common denominator is that Southerners see people as fellow human beings, while those in the fast-pace, always-on-the-go Northeast see coworkers, vendors, and customers. Either way, it speaks to the power of culture, and its impact on the smallest of interactions.

Your turn. What differences have you seen among cultures or regions?

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A lesson in customer service from Frank Burns

In one of the early episodes of the popular television show M*A*S*H, bumbling Frank Burns tries to impress a shapely 20-something who was visiting the camp. When she commented how nice everyone was, his pithy reply was, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”

Oddly, old ferret face is right. I’ll explain.

Saturday was errand day for me: supermarket, gas station, department store, office supply store, etc. Between stops I made a couple of phone calls to stores and customer service numbers. Clearly, a very exciting day.

What really struck me was how terrific (and nice) everyone was. For example, I called Staples a couple of times, and both employees I spoke with were helpful and incredibly polite. While neither was able to completely grant my request, their attitude left me feeling okay about that.

Later, I visited our local Staples, and came across one of the employees I’d spoken with earlier. Despite being interrupted by me several times, he remained pleasant and very helpful. When I reached the cash register, the young woman there was also very friendly.

While this might sound like an ad for Staples, it’s simply the story about the impact of good service, which begins with being nice to customers.

On the other hand, I recently heard a story about a customer who called a tire company about a quality issue. He was unhappy with their resolution, and shocked to hear the representative tell him, “Take it or leave it.” Clearly, the customer has taken his business elsewhere, and I’ve made a mental note to steer clear of that brand, too.

Your turn. Do you make purchase decisions based on how you’re treated?

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The cream rises to the top during the holidays

Ah, the holiday season, a time that people frantically search for the perfect gift at the right price, while retailers hope a solid season puts them into the black for the year.

Although retailers may describe the shopping blitz as hectic, overwhelming, and stressful, it’s also a time to shine and earn customer loyalty. Just as the best athletes respond to pressure situations, leading companies excel during the holiday season.

My shopping is almost done and most presents have been shipped or delivered. These are unchartered waters for me, and that’s due largely to the outstanding service provided by several retail and mail order companies.

On the other hand, not all the companies I purchased from were as responsive, and that’s the nature of business. But going forward, I’ll simply shift my business from the underachievers to those that set the bar high.

Those outstanding organizations know several important things about shoppers:
Time is precious
People want an efficient shopping experience, whether it’s picking up a few things at the store or navigating a website for gifts.

Speed matters
Most of my online delivers came within a few days — and with free shipping. The stores I’ve visited in person have enough employees to provide quick checkouts.

Be clear
One email confirmation I received included only item numbers, with no names. When part of the shipment was cancelled, I had to dig to find out which item.

Ask what the customer wants 
I receive daily emails from two companies, and the information seems pretty much the same from day-to-day. As a result, I delete most of them. A couple a week would be fine and more likely to be read.

Be on Santa’s Nice List
I’ve encountered some of the nicest, most patient customer service people this year.  Good organizations undertand their value on the bottom line.

Look for Big George
Former heavyweight champ George Forman served as spokesperson for Meineke mufflers, ending each commercial with the phrase “I guarantee it.”  Standing behind your products goes a long way. Are you more likely to shop at a store that cheerfully refunds your money, or one that tells you, “Sorry, this has been opened …”?

Your turn. What have you observed during this holiday season?

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In search of quality

Last week, I decided to repaint the inside of my home. Walls, trim, doors — the whole shebang. The original paint job was very poorly done (by a “professional” painter), and 3 years of looking at all the blemishes finally took its toll.

As I was applying a coat of semi-gloss to my dining room window trim this morning, the topic of quality kept popping into my head. Is good quality work harder to find because people don’t have the skills or commitment of generations past, or have we lowered our standards to accept mediocrity in exchange for discount pricing?

Quality still matters
The answer is probably a little of both. Still, boosting the quality of your product or service can give you a valuable edge and help you stand out from the crowd.

The U.S. government recognized this when it established The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the 1980s. Its goal, to promote the importance of excellence in an ever-competitive global marketplace, stresses that quality is a necessity, not an option.

Past recipients of the Baldrige Award include Boeing, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Cadillac, IBM, Federal Express, Motorola, and the City of Irving, Texas. Pretty good company.

Personal Quality
Producing good quality benefits individuals, too, both on the job and in our personal lives. Your boss will quickly learn to rely on you to produce quality work, while family and friends certainly notice a well-kept lawn, clean car, and home-made meals.

Easier said than done? Maybe. But start with making a commitment to quality and see where that leads. I suspect you’ll catch yourself paying more attention to your work and taking a bit more time to get something just right. People will notice, and you’ll feel a sense of pride.

As for my painting, I have a second coat waiting to be done.

Your thoughts on the topic?

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9 things L.L. Bean taught me

I spent nearly 15 years of my career at L.L. Bean, and consider myself fortunate to have worked a good chunk of my career at such a terrific organization. I began to reminisce on a recent visit to its Freeport, Me., campus, and decided to pen the top lessons I learned during my days as a “Beaner.”

Customer Focus
The company has many stakeholder groups, from employees to vendors, but the customer comes first. Leon Leonwood Bean’s customer service philosophy begins, “A customer is the most important person ever in this company – in person or by mail.”

Stand behind your products
L.L.’s guarantee, established in 1912, remains the gold standard today. Few companies support their products or services so strongly. Customers notice.

Do the right thing
I can’t count the number of times I heard a leader say “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Integrity was part of the Bean way well before it became vogue. And when leaders model the behavior, employees notice. Soon it becomes part of the culture.

Offer quality and value
You can buy lesser quality merchandise for the lowest price — and that works for many people. While L.L. Bean products may cost more than others, customers know they’ll last longer. L.L.’s Golden Rule: “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings and they will always come back for more.”

Be humble
Despite its long history of success, the company culture remained humble. Boasting was frowned upon, and success was shared. Good work was recognized by others, and teamwork was a way of doing business.

Embrace change, but be thoughtful about it
The company was very thoughtful about course changes, whether that meant a new product line or store expansion. Leaders understood the importance of prioritization and tackling the most important items first.

Everyone chips in
During a long-ago visit to the Flagship Store, I spotted the store’s director on the floor, sorting hats into the correct size bin. A busy customer day had left the display a bit messy, and he wanted it right.

Treat employees well
Happy employees tend to be better employees. It seems obvious, but I think a lot of companies miss this one. As an employee, I enjoyed good benefits and a generous discount. Plus, treating people well is the right thing to do (see number 3).

Be a good neighbor
Bean gives back to its community in many ways, ranging from free summer concerts and fireworks on Independence Day, to a Road Race and countless sponsorship, particularly when it comes to the environment.

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