Ginaherald's Blog

April 30, 2010

Some random thoughts on customer service

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:43 am

I was having a conversation today with a gal who does training for various groups.  We got into the discussion of “what is service”?  How does one define it?  Well, Websters.com defines it as a noun:  an act of helpful activity, an adjective:  of service; useful, and a verb:  to supply with aid, information or incidental services.  And I think how others define it depends on the needs of those they serve.  The other day I was talking to the owner of several salon/day spa locations, who was asking a similar question.  I pretty much told him, “You have to define service thru the eyes of your clients based on their needs”.  If you don’t know what your clients highest need is, that’s the first place to start.  You can’t develop expectations for your team or properly equip them until you answer the question of:  What is the highest level of service we could provide to our clients?  And not just the function of the service itself but the entire experience your client has from start to finish.  That’s where I think a lot of companies miss the opportunity.  In the small things; the details. 

 Your website might be beautiful but if it’s not easy to navigate then it’s not providing great service to your customer/potential customer.  You might have a great “uptown” location for your business but if parking is a challenge then it’s not really all that great for your customers.  Maybe you think that having an automated phone system is more efficient (saves you time and money) but if your customer wants to talk to someone right now about a problem or with an urgent question the system is not helping them.  In some cases automation is a huge time saver and an easy way to get information quickly, however, it may not be the best practice in every situation. 

 Providing someone with information may be the highest level of service you could give them if that’s what they need.  Allowing someone in a wheelchair to safely and easily navigate your store, restaurant, business establishment could, quite possibly be the most important thing to them.  Are we able to put ourselves on the other side of the transaction and ask “what would I want, need or expect if I were the client”?  Clean restrooms are a huge deal to moms with small children.  Well lit, cleanly merchandised stores are a breeze for shopping.  Helpful front desk and bell staff is an informational gem for hotel guests.  It may seem intuitive to owners and managers that a smile, an enthusiastic spirit and a genuine desire to WOW the customer are just inherent in all who “serve” clients and customers, however I fear that may not be the case.  In a culture that has been built around those very basic expectations that is generally the case but if the culture has not been established now is the time to start.  Commit to beginning.  Let me know how it goes.

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April 23, 2010

Another observation from last weeks customer service “rant”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:13 am

Another observation that I make based on Patty’s customer service rant, posted last week, is her comment about the fact that it seems that the person taking the call, standing behind the counter, etc. takes a more short term view of the transaction.  Patty mentioned that she doesn’t “get” why the person would take a stand against helping a long term, paying customer (and risk losing that business, and the negative PR that accompanies that).  Instead of offering a small monetary concession or some other form of olive branch to redeem the situation, just allow them to “close the account, discontinue the service, return the item…….and I admit that I am equally perplexed by those kinds of situations.  Maybe it’s my rabid need for a positive outcome, a win/win, a real solution to the problem. 

To me, here’s the thing, wouldn’t you rather consider the value of that client, guest, customer, over their lifetime as a consumer of your product or service?  What’s that worth to you?  What is the word-of-mouth that satisfied customers put out on the street about your product or service worth?  How much damage control will you have to do to redeem your brand when you have enough “bad press”, so to speak?  I just don’t think it’s worth it to take a stand that’s going to result in a good, long time, on time paying customer walking away wondering why they did business with you in the first place.  Or why a company they’ve been quite happy with (up until now) would have people working there who don’t value the customer to the extent that they should.  

It generally takes a small gesture on the part of the company to demonstrate to the customer that you are sincere about making them happy, meeting their needs, solving their problem, whatever the case may be.  I’m not sure whether it’s lack of training, lack of understanding, lack of caring on the part of the employee or what.  Maybe it’s flat out company policy that “we can’t do this or that” or “we don’t do this or that”.  If that’s the case, I challenge companies to rethink that policy.  I’ve worked in manufacturing, restaurants, distribution and retail and I can honestly say that I rarely found a customer situation or problem that did not have a solution. Now granted, it may have taken some serious gyrations to make things happen, to get the desired outcome, but if a person is dedicated to “giving the customer what they want/need” they will move mountains to make that happen.  I speak here from personal experience. I’ll get in to that story in another post. 

 For now I say, as I have in the past, educate your team about your customer service expectations, equip them to provide exceptional service, empower them to do what it takes to care for your customers and provide the example they need to learn from thru your own actions.

April 16, 2010

A customer service “rant” to share

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 12:38 am

A couple of weeks ago I got reconnected, through LinkedIn, to a business partner that I worked with in my former days as a Lingerie Merchandiser at Nordstrom.   It’s always fun to reconnect with people that I worked with “back in the day” because we have some great history.  I thought that I had encountered every possible customer service scenario (both positive and negative), as I worked my way through college in various restaurants.  Then came Nordstrom.  What a fantastic opportunity to learn how to truly serve customers.  A philosophy that I wholeheartedly embrace as part of my DNA apparently ( or so they tell me anyway). That’s the great thing about the topic of customer service.  There is absolutely no shortage of conversations we can have on the subject.  That being said, here is what Patty had to say after we got “LinkedIn”:

 “I read your blogs – totally agree that good customer service provides a marketing tool through word of mouth! When I’m on the phone forever with a company trying to rectify a problem and the person I’m talking to is not empowered to do anything to help me it is frustrating! How can companies not realize that it’s better to offer a bit of something to a long term customer that pays their bills on time ($25 off my bill for the inconvenience or whatever) than to lose my $150 a month x 12 months x 10 years? Plus you can bet I’m going to complain to friends. I rant….lol.”

 First let me say that I was flattered that she took the time to read my blogs.  Secondly, I suspect many have encountered a situation similar to the one she recently experienced and refers to here.  And yes, I feel the frustration, when I’m dealing with someone at a company who has absolutely no authority to “truly help me” if I have a problem, and yet they are working in a customer service role.  I think empowerment (which I briefly addressed in a previous post), is so difficult for managers, owners and other leaders maybe because they are afraid, that if they actually allow someone to “make a decision” or “use their best judgment” to help a customer they’ll “give away the farm” or on the other side “tell them where to get off”. 

 I actually wonder though, if they’ve ever just tried it, experimented with it, and opened up to trusting their team to make decisions that impact customers positively and solve problems without taking things to another level (i.e. the manager).  As a manager, I didn’t want my team coming to me asking how to handle situations.  I wanted them to just take care of customers.  Amazing how well they did that when I let go and trusted them to solve problems and look for positive outcomes.  I think it was just instinct for them.  How about stepping out (of your comfort zone) and empowering your customer service team toady?  Let me know how it goes.

April 9, 2010

An interesting comment on customer service…….it shocked me

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:21 am

Yesterday a guy said to me “I don’t really think that most business owners or managers would pay to put their front line hourly employees through customer service training.  I mean hostesses, wait staff, front desk and concierge people for example.  Those people don’t really care and they don’t make enough money to care all that much.”  I was pretty shocked to say the least.  I mean, in all seriousness, these are the very people who are the “directors of first impressions” whether companies want to believe it or not.  Why in the world would a company hire someone that they thought might not represent their company well?  And once they had been hired why would poor customer service be tolerated?  I can’t possibly imagine that it would but I know from experience that it certainly is, though most likely not by design of course. 

Here’s the thing about that, employees who have not been properly trained cannot necessarily be expected to deliver great customer service if they have not been “shown” what that looks like at the company.  Sure it’s true that some will figure it out and some instinctively “get it”. However, many do not and that does not mean they don’t care.  It simply means they have not been taught what the company expectation is for great service and how do deliver it.  Expectations are one of the key “E’s” of providing great customer service.  If expectations have not been clearly communicated to employees, one can hardly blame them when those unspoken expectations are not met.  To be sure, again, some will “get it” and those will be the exceptional few.  The customer service expectation and culture of a company is something that should never be taken for granted and must be clearly laid out for, and communicated to, all employees in an organization who interact with customers at every level. Of course when one runs across someone in their employ who simply does not “get it” and shows no signs of wanting to “get it” action must be taken to remove the individual, lest a company reputation suffer damage that is irreparable.  It is my belief though, that most people in the workforce do want to do well and succeed at their chosen position and that when properly educated and equipped will accomplish all that is required of them and do so quite well most of the time.   I’m just wondering though, how many other people out there have the same thought process as the guy who made those comments to me about not training certain people within a company on the topic of customer service. Thoughts?  Do share, please……..

April 2, 2010

The emotional factor of customer service

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:26 am

 Customer service is such a diverse subject (and a truly subjective concept) that we’ll be able to discuss it endlessly.  What I’ve been pondering lately, is the emotional factor of customer service, as if there is only one.  Whenever you are dealing with people emotions come in to play.  I believe that every conflict can be traced back to miscommunication/misunderstanding in some form or fashion.  Many times what happens when one deals with customers is miscommunication or misunderstanding that results in conflict.  It’s not so much the fact that we have a problem.   It’s really more a matter of, now that we do have a problem how will we deal with it?    

 Enter the human factor and hence the emotions.  I think what happens, is that once a person feels challenged, questioned or confronted the emotions kick in and pride and/or the need to be right cause us to shut down the ability to listen.  I mean we may “hear” the other person; however, we are not “listening” to what they are saying.  And so often we are not aware of the unspoken signals we are sending while we are “not listening”.  At that point it becomes a battle of the wills which will generally result in, “somebody is going to lose/be wrong” and it’s not going to be me.  Hence the great tug-of-war between an employee and a customer/client. 

 I think that well equipped employees stop emotions from taking control of the situation, listen to the customer and look for a win/win solution to the problem.  In the last post we mentioned equipping as a key component of the ability of employees to give great service.  Unless employees are well equipped they may tend toward a win/lose scenario.  I think most people who choose a service roll really do want to succeed in giving great service but when things go haywire emotions kick in and people lose their heads at times.  

 There’s always a chance for a better outcome if people have all the skills and resources they need to solve problems and take care of customers.  Communication is key in equipping employees to provide great service.  Let them know what’s available to them if a problem/situation arises.  Sometimes just out of sheer frustration and lack of knowledge or information an employee will respond negatively to a customer who confronts them. Whereas if they are aware of what is immediately available to them to resolve a problem for a customer they can quickly and easily handle it and create the win/win.  Of course the win/win mindset generally has to be part of the company culture in order for them to think in those terms.  Have you created that culture in your company and set the expectation of exceptional service for your employees?  

 What possible conflicts arise in your company/business and have you properly equipped your team to address them and create successful outcomes?

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