Ginaherald's Blog

October 29, 2010

Can great customer service providers be made or are they born?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:02 am

I’m thinking that this discussion is as old as the “are leaders born or made” question.  I’m curious as to how you answer the question.  Myself I tend to think, as with leadership, that some people just have certain characteristics and strengths that make them more prone to certain behaviors.  And my feeling is, that a company which has a culture of service that is lived and breathed from the top leadership down, has a better chance of not only attracting these types of people but “making” the rest of the team embrace the culture or philosophy in order to succeed. They model the service behavior they expect and it catches on down the line. 

To be sure, as with anything, some people will “get it” and others won’t and those who do have a great chance to be given more opportunity for leadership and success.  Those who don’t will weed themselves out.  So I think for me, I feel that service can be “caught”,”taught”, however you want to say it. 

Setting clear expectations is the first step to allowing others to learn what the culture is.  From there if they are properly equipped to solve problems and make decisions they move further toward serving the customer.  Empowerment is the best way to see how someone is going to lead on an opportunity and if they are properly equipped, empowerment is the next step (albeit the hardest).  And of course the example of those in leadership is what will ultimately be followed so if we’re not getting what we expect we may need to check ourselves as leaders.

So what do you say?  Great service providers, born?  Or made?

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October 1, 2010

Has technology improved customer service?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:17 am

I’ve been pondering this question for a while and I wonder what you think?  This morning (during our morning walk) I had a conversation with my friend who is also my neighbor and workout partner.  She’s in sales and was lamenting that she’s having some problems with her Blackberry and it’s prohibiting her ability to get work done and serve her clients. 

It got me thinking about this subject of technology again, and the impact it has on customer service.  In some cases it’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned; such as when I want to check my flight status and all I have to do is log in to the airline website and plug in the flight number to get an update.  Simple enough and I quickly get the info I need.  However, when I have some questions about travel planning and I can’t reach a customer service agent after I press 1 for English, enter my frequent flyer number for faster service and hold for 10 minutes, technology is not serving me.

I guess it’s a classic case of the pros and cons of most any kind of product or service.  There are “bugs”.    We love it and we hate it depending on the current situation as defined by our own needs. 

 I’m curious about your thoughts and experiences on the subject of technology as it relates to service.

August 20, 2010

You can cut the ad budget if you invest in customer service training

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:34 am

This economy, along with the competitive nature of the marketplace, you’d think would make companies get laser focused on things that are going to enhance their brand.  And maybe they are or they think they are.  Instead we find that marketing and training budgets are the first to get cut.  There’s little to no investment being made (by a lot of companies anyway), in strengthening their brand with existing customers or consistently putting it in front of potentially new customers.  And at a time when business is not as brisk is we’d like it to be, employees may have some time (unless of course they are doing the job of 3 people because of cut backs) to invest in professional development.

 This is a great time for companies to consider how they can invest in those employees who have “made the cut” and are still making a solid contribution to the company’s success.  Current leaders can use these slower times to do some focused work with up and comers who will be the next group of leaders.  It’s a perfect time to rededicate the team to exceptional customer experience.  If your company doesn’t have a clear service culture you’re missing out on a major opportunity to own your client’s loyalty over their lifetime as a customer.  Your customers have a lot of options these days and unless you set yourself apart in a meaningful way they’ll simply go elsewhere to spend what few dollars they are parting with right now.

Do you have a clear expectation set for your employees when it comes to customer experience?  Are they meeting the expectation?  Are they equipped and empowered to make decisions that serve your clients?  Do you set the example for them in everything you do as the owner, boss, manager, or leader?  Do you have a measurement in place?  How do you respond when the expectation is not met? 

It’s true that some people just think service, or the problem needs a solution by default and they make the job of customer service managers and leaders really easy.  For the rest they need someone to paint the picture for them and then provide an environment in which they can succeed.  Are you providing that at your company?  You won’t need as big of an ad budget if everyone is running around talking about how great it is to do business with your company, shop in your store, eat in your restaurant, stay in your hotel, be a member of your club, etc.  You can’t pay for that kind of advertising.  Got any thoughts on that?

August 14, 2010

Characteristics of a customer service encounter

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 12:27 pm

Think about your favorite retail store, restaurant, car dealer, etc.   What is it about that company or establishment that makes it your favorite?  Great food?  Great service?  Great employees?  Great location? Great pricing?  A combination of the aforementioned qualities? When it comes to what we love about the companies we regularly do business with, most of them have some similarities based on customer surveys.

Among them are:  Fun/easy to do business with.  I know I love “easy to do business with” kind of companies.  Quick response/problem resolution (empowerment of front line employees).  Rather than anticipating a confrontation if we have a problem or concern (and we often go into them that way) these companies allow us to have a sense of relief that we’re going to get a quick and easy to accept resolution.  Follow up.  They do what they say they are going to do and check back in if necessary to confirm satisfaction.  Innovative.  We love innovation and creativity these days and appreciate those companies and organizations that demonstrate the ability to be innovators. They listen.  Wow.  Seems simple right?  Listening is a critical component of successful communication and one that few of us do often enough. Most folks when they have a problem are just glad that someone will actually show an interest in hearing them out and taking on the problem to get it solved. 

Our not so favorite companies have a few things in common too of course. They tend to be:  Indifferent and we can usually tell when someone has an attitude of indifference by body language as much as words.  They are difficult to do business with.  Could be due to location, business hours, return policy, service policy or any number of other things.  Management is out of touch with the customer and those who provide front line service to the customer.  Happens particularly when managers take an attitude of superiority to team members rather than the attitude of a servant.  Unresponsive.  They won’t return your call, expedite your shipment, refill your drinks.  They pass the buck.  It wasn’t my fault, my responsibility, someone else is to blame.  Many of us have heard that before. 

What astounds me is that struggling companies don’t see the error of their ways when they question why the competition is doing so much better.  Most of what we love are the kind of things that are very simple to implement. They take a commitment but it’s worth it in the long run to serve clients. 

What is it that you love about your favorite restaurant, retail store or service provider?

August 6, 2010

The simple truth about customer service

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 12:57 am

I know I’m a little crazy when it comes to this subject. I just continue to be amazed at the number of stories I hear on a daily basis about customer service when I engage people in conversations about the topic.  The good news is that I’ll probably never run out of things to chat about in this little blog post.  I hope along the way we’ll shift some paradigms and solve some problems while we’re chatting. 

 I hear a lot of recurring themes as I “span the globe” (and my little world here in Charlotte) chatting about my favorite subject.  Several things that most distressing customer service situations seem to have in common are:  A general expression of apathy on the part of the employee, no sense of urgency to correct a problem/deal with a situation, lack of knowledge and lack of empowerment. 

All of these things can be overcome pretty simply.  One of my favorite speakers/authors is Larry Winget, because I love people who tell the truth.  Larry says that “customer service doesn’t get better until people get better”.  He is correct on that statement of fact.  The great thing about that is that most people have the potential to get better.  (Those that don’t need to be gone from your organization, if I may be so bold as to tell the truth). 

The implication for leaders is your people don’t get better until you get better.  Until you set and manage clear service expectations.  Until you totally equip them with all the knowledge and tools they need to do the job you expect them to do.  Until you empower them to solve problems and then trust them to do just that and finally, until you live by example, what you expect. 

It’s a full circle of “E’s”.  The one “e” that’s missing is probably “easy”, because while it is indeed simple, it is by no means easy.  Don’t confuse the two.  You’re dealing with people and when we deal with people there are frequent possibilities for misunderstanding, miscommunication and mischief. 

 They way I see it though; it’s worth it to work with your team to overcome the customer service challenges you are facing.  It’s one sure way to increase customer loyalty, satisfaction, referrals and sales.  All those add up to increased profits for your company. 

 What new customer service tool have you implemented recently and what was the outcome?  I’d love to hear what’s happening out there.

July 23, 2010

Can someone please explain it to me?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 7:45 pm

Why some people and/or companies “get” customer service and others don’t?  I was facilitating a discussion on my favorite topic (customer service) the other day and there were so many “heroic” stories shared about things people had done to serve their customers.  It seemed to me that most of this crowd “got it” when it came to the philosophy of customer service.  It’s really about meeting needs and solving problems for others.  So the question for me is, for those who don’t “get it” why don’t they?

Do they honestly just not think the way others think when it comes to how to serve a customer?  Are they not good “problem solvers”?  Can this be taught? Learned?  Do they not realize that great service is a truly low cost way to increase business?  Maybe because I don’t recall working for any company in my career (or even during my high school and college days) that did not have a least a grasp on the need to make a solid commitment to service I struggle with this.  However, as a consumer I experience it way more than I’d like to.  And darn it let’s face it……….I’m just utterly passionate about the subject for some crazy reason.  I love to hear stories about it and I love to share them (both the good and bad and sometimes ugly). 

 And speaking of that, we also talked about our role as consumers in the customer service process. I’ve touched on that a bit in past postings on this blog.  We need to give feedback to our vendors, suppliers, service providers, etc. so that they can continually improve their service.  Unless of course it’s already perfect, which I doubt, because it’s generally delivered by people and as wonderful as they can be, they are indeed human and therefore flawed at times. 

 Even when I was on vacation a few weeks ago we got in to a discussion about customer service.  I’m not sure how it started but the story telling began and it was amazing how everyone at the table got in on it.  Clearly we have a desire to be honored as consumers thru good service.  I’m not even talking exceptional here, just “good” would probably be acknowledged. Great certainly should be since it appears to be more rare these days. And exceptional warrants a note to the manager in my opinion. 

 Who’s got a great story out there about a recent service experience good or bad?  I want to hear it.

June 18, 2010

So customer service is not “sexy enough” huh?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:21 am

Earlier this week I ran across some great customer service articles by Dan Elder, published on ezines.com.  They were a 5 part series on “The No Cost Secret to Increasing Sales and Profitability.”  They came across my wire via a LinkedIn group that I’m part of, and naturally the customer service topic intrigued me, so I popped in to ezines to check out what Mr. Elder had to say. 

After reading the articles I commented on some of the observations that he made (mainly because I totally agree with him about the complete lack of attention to customer service in many arenas these days) and he was kind enough to begin a dialogue on the subject.  He mentioned that he writes articles on multiple subjects and that interestingly enough, the customer service topic is the least read/followed of the subjects that he presents.  He said “I think it’s not ‘sexy enough’ for the audience to really find interest.  And I confess that I can relate, because I’ve been writing on this topic for about 3-4 months now and I’m still waiting for someone who is passionate enough about it to get a dialogue going with me on this forum.  I’m also hoping of course, that business owners, leaders and managers will take notice and say “Hum? I wonder how my customer service is really being delivered how it is impacting my business?”

I truly love the subject, and love to have conversations with people about it because it really is and can be for a company, a “No Cost Secret to Increasing Sales and Profitability”.  I mean who wouldn’t want to embrace a “no cost” solution?  Simply makes no sense to me.  I would think most business owners find increased sales and profitability pretty “sexy”.  I guarantee their shareholders do, if they are publically traded, and employees of private companies most assuredly appreciate sales and profits because that’s what keeps them employed. 

The purpose for being in business is to bring products and/or services to the marketplace (the customer). Without the customer we don’t exist.  Without demand we don’t need supply.  Why in the world wouldn’t companies embrace every possible concept, method, tactic and strategy to provide great customer service?  It’s one of those things I like to refer to as “simple but not easy”. It’s simple to provide great service (in my mind) but apparently not so easy or more companies would be doing it right? Or am I just way off base here?

June 11, 2010

Are we sacrificing service in the name of efficiency?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:28 am

Earlier this week I was chatting with a gal who told me that she lost her job in customer service/sales support after 28 years.  She told me that the job had been transferred to a call center in another state; a growing trend in a lot of industries these days. 

In my mind those in sales support and customer service (a job I did a time or 2 in my past) are more than just nameless, faceless reps answering phones – or at least they used to be.  In my previous roles in support/customer service I not only took sales/service calls, I got to know our customers, built a rapport/relationship and enhanced the brand of the company by adding value to the customer experience.  I don’t know about you but I appreciate the opportunity to chat with someone I know when I call a company.  Of course I realize that some companies, by the sheer number of customers they serve, cannot possibly operate in such a way, however I wonder if some smaller companies are sacrificing real service (which to me is relational) in the name of efficiency. 

I know we need to be as efficient as possible with the resources that we have and that our goal in business is to make a profit (hopefully while providing exceptional service to our clients).  I also know that my belief is that customer service is a function of marketing and not a cost center.  Look at companies like Zappos.com who have made service the cornerstone of their business.  Do they sell more? Hence creating more revenue?  I would say undoubtedly yes.  What about Amazon with all that free shipping? Think they sell more?  That’s a great service is it not? 

Maybe six-sigma didn’t necessarily get efficiency right when it comes to service? To me it’s all about relationships. People do business with people they know, like and trust.  And when I call a company for service, I want to talk to a person who appears warm and genuine and not someone who just seems to want to resolve my issue (if they are empowered to do so) and move on.  Know what I mean?  Had that experience?  Tell me about it……………

June 2, 2010

How do you view your role as a consumer when it comes to customer service?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 11:14 pm

I had a couple of comments on my LinkedIn update about my last blog post on customer service. Pretty much just that good service is indeed important and that it has continued on the down hill slide over the last few years.  So it seems that we agree:  Customer service is important, sets you apart from your competitors and helps you retain clients.  In that case I ponder why companies have allowed it to decline steadily over the last several years.  Why have we, as consumers, allowed it to happen around us?  To us?  What role do we play in reviving it?  Where do we start?

Do you tend to go with the flow of whatever level of service you receive or do you give feedback?  And I’m talking about feedback on both exceptional and not so good service experiences.   Does it make a difference where you are whether or not you choose to give feedback? 

If you’ve never read it the MSN Money/Zogby poll that reports on the “Customer Service Hall of Shame” and the “Customer Service Hall of Fame” each year it is worth checking out.  What stood out to me this year (it just came out a couple of weeks ago) was that 9 of 10 companies on the “shame” list were repeat offenders, meaning they made the list last year too.  In my mind, not exactly a list I’d want to be named to more than once.  So why don’t they do something about it?   Because they can’t? Won’t?  Don’t know what to do?  Don’t know what their customers want?  Because we let them get away with it? 

The hall of fame list has airlines, retailers/grocers, insurance companies……on the hall of shame list it’s pretty much financial services, and telecom/cable/phone/internet.  Interesting that similar industries seem to have a tough time figuring it out.  Maybe all those regulations make it harder for them?  Who knows.  Maybe we can help them with some good advice here?

Thoughts?

May 28, 2010

Customer service is great

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:51 am

When it comes to efforts like the ones I referred to in my last post, I’ve had people say to me “well sure, that’s fine for you; it’s just how you are when it comes to customer service.” “My people aren’t like that; don’t have that attitude toward service.”  To that I say:  “Why not?”  “Why do you let them think that it’s OK not to have an all out service attitude when it comes to taking care of your customers?”  Sure, I’m probably a bit over the top in my expectations but in my own experience many more things are possible than we are sometimes led to believe.  I’m not sure if it’s just my natural inclination to take on a problem and solve it because I love a challenge.  That may play in to it.  I’ve never been one to be able to wait on someone else to take care of something or make something happen.  Therefore I chose to equip and empower myself to take care of my clients versus waiting for someone to give me permission.  Of course it was the culture at Nordstrom which is probably why I enjoyed working there so much.  It is a culture that can be created in any company that wants to commit to doing some work to create it. 

 If we examine a couple of the 4 “E’s” of great customer service (mentioned in my first few postings) they are things that are pretty easy to do.  First is set the Expectation.  It’s communication that calls for clarity around what customer interactions should look like. Second is Equipping.  What equipping takes is teaching, on the part of those in management/leadership, about the resources and information that are available to team members when it comes to solving problems. I think sometimes those on the front lines simply don’t know what kind of latitude they may have on behalf of the customer and they are too cautious to just make a decision.  Understandable for sure.  It requires a time investment in training and communicating with front liners on a regular basis.  Using teaching opportunities as they arise in daily interactions. And that requires leaders that are on the front lines with their people.  Are you there?  If not it may be affecting your service levels.

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