Category Archives: Customer Service

It’s OK, Customer Service (even eService) can be Fun!

My sister, a customer service maven in her day, forwarded to me a wonderful little email she received
from the customer service department from Better World Books :

Hey Carole,  <name obscured by me to protect my sister’s privacy!>

We’re just checking in to see if you received your order (The Golden Door Cookbook ) from Better World Books. If your order hasn’t blessed your mailbox just yet, heads are gonna roll in the Mishawaka warehouse! Seriously though, if you haven’t received your order or are less than 108.8% satisfied, please reply to this message.

Let us know what we can do to flabbergast you with service.

Humbly Yours,

Indaba (our super-cool email robot)
email: help@betterworldbooks.com
Order Number: 53090456101

Fund literacy, care for the environment, and get a fair price on the books you want.
BetterWorldbooks.com (http://www.BetterWorldbooks.com/)
2 Million Used Books. Free shipping in the USA, $3.97 worldwide.

Become a fan of Better World Books… on Facebook!
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Better-World-Books/10669898542

OK, so what did these folks do right?  How about everything?

Let’s list some highlights, shall we?

  • prompt confirmation of order
  • confirmation of order was personalized, with customer’s name and name of item ordered
  • then… HUMOR!  Okay, not knee-slapping, milk-through-the-nose funny, but just a little bit of a hah-hah, a few in a rapid-fire row: “heads will roll,” “108.8% satisfied,” and “flabbergast you with service.”  These all caught our attention, and in a good way – with a smile!
  • then… FULL DISCLOSURE!  After sharing a smile with the email, we then learn that it was sent NOT by a witty and clever service rep, but by an automated email responder.  Wow, they used technology to perform a function AND make a funny?  Is that even legal???
  • then… the closing of the email, and all the info YOU need to know (their email address and customer order #), as well as info that THEY want you to know (their excellent mission, their web address, their amount of inventory, their free shipping, and their Facebook page.  None of it obtrusive.  And the reader is happy to read it, because they’ve already been given a smile or two.

See, great customer service is not that difficult.  I like it when businesses get that.

— Chuck Dennis

The Death of Customer Service?

This is sad, it really is.  As one who has dedicated his professional life to providing, teaching, and coaching customer service excellence, I was frustrated, but not surprised, to read that Customer Service is not getting any better.  It seems to be getting worse.  And most customers don't even hope for good service any more.

Forrester Research recently released a report based on a survey of more than 4,200 consumers in 10 different industries, such as apparel, banking, hotel, insurance, credit
card, wireless phone plan, Internet service, and computers.  The crux of this report is that customers have come to expect lousy service as par for the course. Here are some of the highlights (or shall I say lowlights?):

  • Of the industries involved, only in the apparel industry did a majority (a slim majority – 54%) of customers actually expect to receive good service.
  • Only 30% of customers in the health insurance and in the computer industries expected to have a quality experience.
  • Only 23% of seniors expected good service in the computer and Internet areas.

This blows me away, because I know for a fact that it is not that difficult to create a positive customer experience.  If you care about ANYONE in the world besides yourself, then you simply envision the customer as that person that you care about. And then you treat the customer the way you would treat him or her.  Or at very least, provide that level of effort.

When I see that fewer than a third of customers in major areas of business actually have an expectation of being treated well, of getting what they want when they want it, and having any questions answered, I think, what sinister parallel universe have I happened onto? 

It is 2010 – it is no longer open to debate as to whether it is worth the effort to provide good service.  It is the thing that differentiates business.  It is the thing that retains customers.  In this day and age, in an economy that is still sluggish, one would think that making the effort to provide a meaningful customer experience would be a business imperative.

But apparently, one would be wrong.

Businesses!  I know you can hear me!  Make some damn effort!  I don't care what industry you're in.  I don't care how long you've been in business. Make some real effort to provide a quality service experience for every one of your customers and prospects, and your bottom line will skyrocket.  I mean, what the hell else are you doing that's so important?

  — Chuck Dennis

Above & Beyond

I don't say this often, but in this instance, Cox rocks!

I called our cable TV and internet provider, Cox Communications, because I needed to have an additional telephone line installed. They sent Geoff (known to his colleagues as Tech 66458) to my home to do the work.

First off, he arrived well within the designated 2 hour time frame that was promised to me when I made the initial request for service.  So, Geoff gets points there.  That started our relationship off on the right foot.

Before getting down to business, Geoff needed to scope out the situation, so he'd know if he could utilize existing cable installations or have to install new ones.  In the process of his assessment, he found that he could use the existing set.  But he also found some odd connections that were having a negative impact on our service.

  1. He identified a cable from our main cable box that fed our TV and Internet service to the first floor of our house.  A second cable with a splitter allegedly fed the three rooms upstairs.  But the cable TV only worked in one of the rooms, and it was a room where we did not want TV.  In my office, where I did want the TV, no signal came through.
  2. He also realized that having the cable come upstairs, split three ways, and none of them being used, was actually sucking some of the life out of our wireless Internet service.  The unused cables were acting as "antennas" and were pulling in part of the wireless signal.

With a few adjustments, he was able to hook up my telephone service, change the splitter, kill the cable TV in the guest room, and install the cable TV service in my office.  So, in addition to the phone line that I requested in my office, I now also have working TV – just in time for the Red Sox playoff run! – and we have faster, more stable wireless Internet.  Thanks to my man, Geoff, going above and beyond the call of duty.

Moral of the story: great customer service doesn't have to be a big deal.  In fact, simply being friendly and helpful goes a LONG way in the delivery of world class service.  Geoff understands this; I hope Cox realizes the positive impact he made on a customer's experience.

  — Chuck Dennis

Yeah! What She Said!

I was pleased to read BL Ochman's post called "Dear Corporations: Nothing Else Matters if Your Customer Service Sucks." 

Among her salient points is this: "Yet day after day, poorly paid employees, who are not empowered to make
even their own simple decisions, handle the most important thing any
company has – customers. It's really time for that policy to change."

It has always seemed to me that a business would want its most enthusiastic, articulate, and knowledgeable people on the front line with customers. Yes, they would have to pay more in salaries, but I am positive that the increase in revenue and repeat business would more than make up for it, and pay for itself many times over.

As it is, customers seem to have an across-the-board disdain for customer service personnel, and the feeling seems to be mutual.  If you have any doubts, run a search on "customer service" on Twitter and read some of the comments people make about their vendors, and what the service reps say about their customers.

Much of this negativity falls away if businesses decide that quality interactions with customers is worth paying enough to make this kind of job attractive to the best and brightest within a company.  And I think that EVERY business should make it a point to have ALL management do a stint on the phones or on the front lines, as to not lose touch with the customers OR the people they pay to serve them.

  — Chuck Dennis

Service So Good it Changed the Game

Readers of this space know that we are, to say the least, passionate about customer service.  REAL customer service, not the pre-defined, pre-packaged, beware-of-the-fine-print kind of customer service.  For that reason, certain businesses have warm spots in our hearts.  Zappos is one of those businesses. 

I will freely admit that I have never purchased anything from Zappos.  But I have read and heard and seen so much about them.  And I think I love them.  Two things always stand out: outstanding customer service, and a wacky, fun work environment.  I don't think these two things are unrelated.

AdAge recently published an article called Is Customer Service a Media Channel? Ask Zappos.  In the article, author Pete Blackshaw states

"Zappos is a game changer, and it found value — and ferocious
word-of-mouth and brand advocacy — in a place most of us leave for
dead and certainly don't consider even close to being a media channel:
customer service. They took this "cost center" input and turned it into
an unassailable asset, fortified by the founder-CEO's sometimes
"cult-like" (arguably irrational, by the typical marketing book)
obsession with serving the consumer at all costs."

The game-changing aspect that Blackshaw points to is Zappos' challenging the long-standing tradition of viewing "customer service" as a cost center, a necessary evil where calls can be quickly dispatched to barely-trained entry-level employees who would rather be doing anything else in the world.

By providing a fun and engaging work environment, Zappos has attracted a certain level of enthusiastic employees.  Their enthusiasm is barely containable when they interact with customers, and the customers are energized by the experience. 

Zappos is not the most inexpensive shoe seller in the world, not by a long shot.  You don't go there looking for bargains.  And they are an online-only shop.  They sell shoes, for heaven's sake!  Something that my mother used to have me try on dozens of pairs of, in order to fine the one pair that felt right, and didn't look totally dorky.  And Zappos is raking in the bucks.  Why?

Because their service is legendary.  And they are leveraging it, and not by actively marketing it.  They let their customers do that for them. 

Now we see that another pillar of service, Amazon.com, has purchased Zappos for a billion bucks.  This is interesting.  Amazon has been a real pioneer in self-service… their philosophy is that a great customer experience does not require human interaction if the systems are set up correctly and functioning properly.  I find it difficult to challenge their premise, as I have never had a negative experience with Amazon.  Based on past purchases and recent viewing, they helpfully yet unobtrusively suggest other items of interest.  But they just laid out a big chunk of change for a company known for brilliant service on the other side of the dial – the human interactive service.

It is no great shock that Amazon has bought a shoe store; they've dipped into a lot of product lines since their bookstore days.  But could this expenditure portend an evolution in Amazon's automated service delivery?  It's like a team with great pitching just acquired a bunch of the top hitters in the league.  This could get interesting, very quickly.

   — Chuck Dennis

The Tweet is Mightier than the Sword

I’ve been reading a lot about how Twitter_logo_header is really a great tool for business.  It makes it easy for businesses to engage in dialogue with their customers.  It provides real-time market research and competitive intelligence information.  It opens up opportunities for on-the-spot marketing, sales, and service activity.  Monitor the Twittersphere, and respond to every mention of your business or product.  What better time to engage your customer than when he or she is already talking about you?

But on the other hand, if a business has some flaws, made some mistakes, employed some questionable people, provided shoddy product or service, or otherwise failed to live up to a customer’s expectation, it should not be a surprise to find angry, pointed, and downright nasty tweets on the subject speeding around the globe.

This scenario, coupled with the fact that 76% of all consumers do not believe that companies tell the truth in their advertising, but that 78% do trust the recommendations of other people (source: Yankelovich, Inc.), does not paint a rosy picture for businesses that are struggling to provide positive customer experiences.  The offended party tweets, and 22 million monthly Twitter visitors have the opportunity to see how poorly the business has performed.  You get enough of those kinds of tweets, and people are going to stay away in droves!

Thus far, I’ve been speaking about tweets containing legitimate complaints about a company or their policies / procedures / execution.  But what about the lunatic fringe?  This is the Internet we’re talking about here.  What of the fabricated smear campaigns, vengefully created by some scorned employee or rejected suitor?  In the Twittersphere, everything looks like a fact!  Businesses must be vigilant in protecting their reputations, but given the public’s propensity for believing their peers over businesses, this is a tough battle to fight.

In my view, the best defense is a strong offense.  Businesses need to establish themselves on Twitter, and take the initiative to share useful information and address customer concerns – in other words, become an active and positive member of the community.  Once you’ve established a good reputation on Twitter, you will have built some protection against the occasional tweets of anger.

— Chuck Dennis  (follow me on Twitter @AngryCustomer)

All (Good) Business is About Relationships

I've never met the man in person, but I've known him for several years now.  We met on the social media web site, Ryze.com, and have stayed in contact over the years.  I've always liked this guy, and he has always been very generous with his time in answering any web- or SEO-related questions I might have.  So when a client of mine needed a new web host, I was quick to direct him to Reg Charie of 0Grief.com.

We got the client's new site up on Reg's servers, and all worked well.  But then I needed to add some content to the site for the first time, and needed guidance.  Reg was able to instruct me in this endeavor.  But then a strange problem popped up.

I noticed that the web site looked fine in browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and Flock, but in Internet Explorer, the text was all centered, as opposed to justified left.  I contacted the web site designer, but he had no explanation for why or how that could happen.  I mentioned it to Reg  on a Skype chat, and he spent the next 45 minutes of his own time, trying to figure out and correct the problem.  As Reg is much more familiar with HTML code than I, he scoured it, looking for the root cause of this particular problem.  He managed to correct the home page, but then realized the problem carried over to the entire site.  At this point, he advised me that it might be easier just to reload the entire site.  I contacted the web designer and had him do just that, and the problem was resolved.

The point of this post is to show the value of relationships in business.  Your vendors don't all have to be your best friends, but if you have maintained a good relationship with them, you will find they will provide you with the Platinum level of service, even if you're only a Bronze level customer.  On the other side of that coin, if you are providing service, when you give that Platinum level of service to everyone you come in contact with, you will find yourself being referred to friends and colleagues of all your clients, and will build a reputation as a trusted adviser.  There's a reputation that will serve you well.  It's worked for Reg Charie!

  — Chuck Dennis

Customer Retention – What is it, Really?

It wasn't so long ago, when people said "customer service," it meant a group of fairly low-salaried people in cubicles, wearing headsets, struggling to answer questions and complaints from customers.  Then came a period of enlightenment, when someone said "Customer Service is NOT a department!  It is a business philosophy and part of everyone's job!"  This is when businesses started realizing that service wasn't a nice-to-have, but something that customers expected as a baseline for engaging.  Businesses started seeing customer service as a differentiator.  This is not to say that the execution of customer service has gotten much better, but at least there is more of an understanding of its role in the business equation.

So now, in the midst of the Great Recession, the new (and misunderstood) buzzphrase is "customer retention."  And guess what?  History is repeating itself!  Surprise, surprise.  "Customer Retention departments" are popping up everywhere.  But they are often used like relief pitchers in a baseball game, brought in to "save" a situation.  This is NOT what customer retention is all about!

When a customer is irritated, frustrated, unhappy, or downright angry, he or she is now frequently transferred to a "customer retention specialist," whose job it is to placate the angry customer, perhaps throw him or her a bone, and salvage the business relationship.  Technically, I suppose, this does define customer retention in some sense.  But in reality, giving an employee a script on how to try to keep a customer from leaving your business is a far cry from what customer retention is all about.

Like customer service, customer retention is NOT a department, but a philosophy.  It is not about "salvaging" a business relationship.  It is about solidifying one.  It's not about having a closer in your bullpen; it's about having an entire great pitching staff who participate in every game.

Customer retention is the combination of things your business does for customers on a regular basis to make them not want to leave you.  Customer retention makes your business impervious to sales, discounts, deals, introductory offers, and the like from your competitors.  Customer retention is a combination of excellent customer service, regular and valuable customer communication, the anticipation of customer needs, and creating and maintaining an enjoyable customer experience.  Customer retention is something that is done all day, every day.

If you do it right, then your business won't need the "customer retention department," because customers will not be trying to close their accounts.  You may want to pick up a few more service-oriented personnel, however. Your staff will have their hands full, taking care of all the loyal, happy customers you have!

   — Chuck Dennis

“You Can’t Always Git What You Want…

… but if ya try sometime, you just might find, ya git what ya need.”

I doubt that Mick & Keith had customer service in mind when they penned that song.  Nonetheless, it does apply.

I write a lot about customer service issues, and its enormous contribution to an organization’s customer retention.  In this blog, I like to use real life examples to underscore my points.  Like these:

  1. I have a subscription to a music downloading service called eMusic.  I received an email from them, saying they were sorry I had CANCELED my subscription, and that if I would re-activate my account, they would give me 75 FREE downloads.  Wow.  Pretty cool stuff.  But I hadn’t canceled my account.  I realized this about the same time eMusic did, because about six hours later, here comes an email from eMusic instructing me to disregard that last email.Talk about deflated. I had already started plotting out which obscure jazz & blues CDs I would get for FREE.  Now I’m told, ehhhh…you there… not so fast.  As Muddy Waters told us, “ya can’t miss nothin’ ya never had.”  But, with no expectations, I decided to see what, if anything, eMusic would do for me if I acted kind of put out about this.

    My first email (sort of tongue-in-cheek) was strategically turned around on me, and I was cheerfully thanked for my feedback, and assured that it would be passed on to the director of marketing.  But nothing about sorry for getting your hopes up, here have a couple on us.  Nothing like that.

    My second email was met with a sort of shrugging “sorry” response from a different eMusic rep.  Hey it was a technical glitch that resulted in you receiving an errant email, and no freebies for you.  Sorry.

    So, clever man that I am, I responded, asking what if I canceled my account.  And THEN re-activated it, just like the email said?  Would I qualify then?

    One can almost hear the deep sigh and see the rolling eyes of the third member of the eMusic customer service team to have to deal with me.  Lilly told me that she would, “as a one time courtesy” add 10 free downloads to my account, but they were going to expire in 30 days, and only good if I kept my eMusic account activated.

    So, ultimately, after 6 days, they did the right thing.  Kinda.  But look, if they can afford to throw out 75 freebies to every defector in a customer retention campaign, then they can afford to throw out 10 freebies to loyal customers who were sent an offer – an offer that eMusic has no intention of honoring – in error.  Ya know?

    This could have been handled a lot smoother. They could have taken the high road, made some humorous comment about mistakenly delivering bad news, and then thrown in the 10 freebies as a “no harm, no foul” gesture.  THAT’s how you build customer loyalty.  THAT’s how you retain customers.  (Plus, your CSRs wouldn’t have to go back and forth with a nut like me for a week!)

  2. Now, the other side of this coin is a company called Hydropool.  I regularly order the chemicals for our hot tub from them.  They have a regular email campaign, touting their latest specials, and their latest mentioned free shipping for orders over $75.  Well, I placed the order, but neglected to add the special “free shipping” code.  As a result, my invoice had a charge for $8.00 for shipping.Now, this is not the biggest issue in the world, but eight bucks is eight bucks.  So, after placing my order, I get the email confirmation of the order.  Immediately, I respond to that email, saying I messed up and failed to include my free shipping code.

    First thing the following morning, I get an email from Ryan at Hydropool, who assures me that as soon as the order ships, he will credit out the delivery fee.  True to his word, the following day, I received notification that my order had shipped.  The next day, I received an email from Kameel at Hydropool, providing documentation of my $8.00 refund.  SIMPLE.  Beautiful.

    The only thing Hydropool could do to make this better is really embrace this 21st century and the technology it has given us.  What I am referring to is using shopping cart software where rewards for purchase amount-based incentives are applied automatically.  The whole code thing is so 1990’s, ya know?

    — Chuck Dennis

Customer Relationship = Customer Retention

In a good blog post, called It's the Relationship, Stupid, the author (one of the principals from My Creative Team, in Charlotte, NC) talks about the difference one new manager made in turning a local restaurant from good to great.  This manager inherited a restaurant where the author had experienced pretty good food, but pretty spotty service.  The new guy took it upon himself to meet his customers, learn their names, learn what they liked, offered some freebies, and most importantly, REMEMBERED all this stuff the next time the author and his wife returned.  Suffice to say, they return much more frequently now.

This is such a simple concept, and not just for the restaurant or hospitality industry, but for ANY business.  EVERY business.  This is not rocket science.  This is Basic Humanity 101.   If you get to know someone, they will get to know you.  If that someone is a customer who purchases product or service from you, they will purchase more from you the better you get to know them, and they get to know you.

For some reason, this common sense idea is often overlooked in the business world.  Not enough effort is made, because not enough thought is put into it.  Not enough incentive is created for the customer-facing personnel to make this effort – something that they would likely do instinctively in their own home – at their job. 

Management needs to decide how they want their customers treated, right down to the specifics.  Then they need to reward the employees who treat their customers in this way.  And they need to NOT reward any other kind of treatment of their customers.  This is the tricky part: drawing the line in the sand between ideal service behavior and everything else.  Businesses who are serious about retaining customers long term will take this to heart.  Businesses who don't get it will not want to raise the fuss and risk causing resentment between the unrewarded employees and the ones who get rewarded for doing the right thing.  Those businesses will continue to get spotty service delivery from their employees, and will not generate customer loyalty.

  — Chuck Dennis

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