Ginaherald's Blog

May 22, 2010

When it comes to customer service it’s not that people can’t it’s really more that they won’t

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:43 am

An old customer service story that illustrates a point.

 My first real job out of college was at NIBCO in Elkhart, IN.  A national company headquartered in my hometown.  At the time they manufactured copper piping and fittings and industrial metal and plastic valves in various locations around the country and in Mexico.  I worked in marketing/customer service at the corporate office.  Now I have a degree in fashion merchandising and I knew nothing about industrial valves and fittings. However, I did have background in various retail and restaurant jobs which allowed me to develop plenty of customer service skills. 

 One of my marketing companies called late one afternoon with a plant shutdown. They had a client who needed an emergency shipment of several (3-4) 8” iron butterfly valves to get the plant back on-line.  We didn’t have any available  in any of our warehouses in the system.  Rather than tell them that we didn’t have a solution for them and let them give the business to another manufacturer I shifted in to problem solving mode.  I really do love a challenge and enjoy the process of solving problems.  I asked them to give me some time to see what we could do. 

 Since I was in the corporate office I had access to all the company resources to help me solve my client’s problem.  I had made a point of developing a rapport with all the schedulers for our various plants as well as the engineers who shared our offices.  The primary reason for that was that I always wanted to know as much as possible about how things worked.  I hated to have to rely on someone else for information if I had a situation or problem to solve. I’m a pretty quick decision maker and I like to get things done and cross them off my list.  I’m not really fond of having to let things drag on or revisit them multiple times.  Now don’t get me wrong, I do realize that’s not possible in every situation but I chose to empower myself to handle things for my clients by having all the knowledge and resources available to me.  Was it easy, sure, but it did require going above and beyond the average job description.  I’m not saying this to toot my own horn.  I’m saying it to illustrate that one can empower oneself if they are so inclined. 

 Long story short, since I like to keep these posts short………is that I checked with the scheduler for the Arkansas plant where our butterfly valves were produced to see when the valves the customer needed were coming off the production line.  As it happened there were some coming off that day.  They were allocated to a stock order for another customer.  However, since we had an emergency I was able to work thru the scheduler to get the valves reallocated and shipped via FedEx to the plant where the shutdown had occurred.  They got them the following day and were back up and running in 48 hours.   The scheduler rescheduled/added and additional run for the original stock order and that customer never knew what happened and didn’t miss their reallocated valves. 

 Happy ending.  I got a box of chocolates from my marketing company because we made them look like a hero to the customer.  The point of all this is to say that when most customer service people say they “can’t” do something or take care of something or solve your problem my feeling is that it’s more a matter of they “won’t” because it’s too much work.  What say you?

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May 13, 2010

How would you have handled this customer service situation?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 1:48 am

My husband decides that he wants a burger on Saturday night so we head for one of our favorite local burger joints (emphasis on the word “joint”).  A true hole in the wall and don’t they generally have great food?  Voted best fries in town too (and they pretty much are) and it’s close to home which is perfect.

Now we are not frequent visitors of this establishment, however, we’ve been there on multiple occasions when only a burger will do.  This place is so small – I’m talking ½ a dozen tables maybe – that the bartender also serves the food at all the tables.  We dropped in about 8ish I’d guess with my husband’s daughter and her boyfriend in tow.  There was a small round table available (under the stairs mind you) so we grabbed it just as the band was setting up (they do live music on the weekends). 

The bartender made her way over to greet us wearing her best “tip shirt”.  And it wasn’t even so much that the shirt was just over the top, but she wasn’t even trying to be welcoming or pleasant.  I guess we should have just gotten up and left, but we were there and wanted a burger so we ordered a couple of beers and some waters while we perused the menu.  She came back by, slapped the drinks down, demanded our order and marched back to the bar to put it in.  Her whole demeanor was maybe best described as hostile or confrontational. 

 I have no idea what we may have done to cause her to be so openly uninterested in “serving” us.  My husband’s daughter and I have both had extensive restaurant experience and we tend to go out of our way to be polite and as low maintenance as possible when we go out.  Realizing of course, that many others are not. 

 She brought the food, forgot a couple of condiments and when we politely asked for them she all but snarled at us.  She came back to the table and again, slammed the lemons down and slung the ranch dressing across the table to my husband’s daughter.   Maybe she thought that the “attitude” reflected the fact that we were eating wings and burgers in a “joint” and shouldn’t expect much more than that.  Who knows?

 Regardless, my husband (who is normally an excellent tipper) was insistent that he send her a message and only left her a 10% tip.  Normally he’s a minimum 20%er and is always very respectful and gracious to anyone who is serving him. It’s actually one of the reasons I continued to see him after our first few dates.  I felt bad about the whole thing and I plan to write the owner a letter because we like the place and think he should know about the level of service we received.  I’m curious as to how you’d handle it?

May 7, 2010

If you think it’s customer service but it’s not……..

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:01 am

It may be an experience similar to the one some friends of mine shared with me a while back.

 They were in a restaurant where they have lunch on a fairly frequent basis.  It’s near their office, the food is good, reasonably priced and the menu offers a good variety.   On this particular day, the server dropped butter on Bill’s pants while she was delivering their lunch.  Of course she was appropriately apologetic and offered to remedy the situation.  Naturally he had just picked the pants up from the dry cleaner earlier in the week.  In any event, she disappeared in to the kitchen and shortly thereafter the manager appeared at the table.

 They exchanged the usual “how’s the meal?” banter.  The manger apologized for the mishap, told Bill to take the pants to the cleaners and bring the receipt in to the restaurant at which point he would be reimbursed.  Now my issue is not that the manager didn’t try make it right, fix the problem, deal with the situation (however you want to say it).  The issue is that Bill has already had the inconvenience of his pants having butter all over them for the rest of the work day and now the manager thinks BILL should be the one to take them to the cleaners, bring in the receipt, etc.

 My thought process is that there may have been some easier way to “make it right”, that was more convenient for Bill.  One would be, just comp his lunch and say “that’s probably about the cost of having your pants cleaned.”  Seems like the easiest thing to me.  Not sure why that wouldn’t be standard operating procedure in a situation like this.  Secondly, albeit more costly, would be to offer to come by Bill’s office tomorrow, pick up the pants, run them to be cleaned and deliver them back to his office (maybe I worked for Nordstrom for too long………).  And the other issue for me is why didn’t the server have the “power” via empowerment to just do what she thought was best?  She could have asked her customer “what works best for you?”  Seems like common sense to me.  He probably says, “hey just cover my lunch and we’ll call it even”.  Then nobody has to do any extra work.  Problem remedied. Customer satisfied. 

 I mean, if I’m the manager I want my people handling little problems like this one and not bothering me with it.  Just take care of the customer.  I’m not sure what the company customer service culture is but clearly this young lady didn’t feel comfortable stepping in and solving the problem.  Is it lack of confidence to make the right decision?  Lack of training? Lack of understanding of what customer service means?  Maybe she was new and just unsure of how to deal with the mishap.  I say, set the service expectation, equip your team, empower them and show them how it’s done thru your daily actions.

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.

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?

March 26, 2010

Continuing to chat about customer service

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 12:55 am

I think what’s hard about the whole customer service discussion for business owners, is the inability to actually quantify the impact of “great service” or “not so great”  to the bottom line.  We’re so bottom line driven these days (and with good reason to be sure) that some of the first things we cut are marketing and training.  I see customer service as a function of marketing, and employees not properly trained can create a double whammy to the bottom line.  Word-of-mouth is the most cost-effective form of marketing and when your employees don’t provide service that creates a great experience for your customers they won’t feel compelled to talk about it.  However, if employees exceed the customer’s expectations chances are that your customers will begin telling people about the experience they had with your company.  And if they blow it with a customer we’ve heard how that will be reported on the street. 

I think one question that comes up is, “what are the customer’s expectations?”  And to that I say “if you just plan to exceed them every time it doesn’t matter”.  I also mentioned that my perception is that we have lowered our expectations in recent years and that’s unfortunate in my opinion.  However, the good news for companies is that they may not have far to go to exceed expectations.  There’s a simple formula for success in this endeavor. 

The 4 “E’s” of great customer service are a great training model and application.

1.  Expectation – set the service expectation for your team and confirm that they understand it. 

2.  Equip  – give your people all the tools and information that they need to take care of your customers.

3.  Empower – turn them loose and let them succeed, fail, learn and grow – painful I know, but worth the effort. 

4.  Example – show them what it looks like through your own actions.  The hardest part of the formula. 

Myself, I’m calling for a revival of great customer service so I plan to do my part to contribute.  I can do that by giving feedback to companies that provide products and services to me and so can you.  Give feedback when your service expectation is exceeded and when it’s not. 

If you’re a business owner you can help support the revival by applying the 4 “E’s” into your company customer service philosophy.  Of course change is never easy, especially company culture change.  It can be done though with commitment and reinforcement.  Give it a try and see how it goes.

March 19, 2010

Pondering the impact of customer service

Filed under: Uncategorized — ginaherald @ 2:39 am

The topic of customer service always seems to come up in conversations with other business professionals.  I’m genuinely curious about their thoughts on the subject.  As someone who provides customer service training to my clients I’m constantly mining for new nuggets.  Someone asked me today “How do I know if I’m giving my customers good service?”  “I guess if I’m not they will complain.”  My reply:  “You can only hope they will complain which at least means they care enough to give you feedback and an opportunity to “fix” the problem. ”  Many times they choose to walk away without a word and take their business elsewhere.  And tell 2 friends, who tell 2 friends………………..and so on. 

While it’s true that “there’s nothing new under the sun”, customer service is a concept that generates plenty of discussion.  How do you measure the impact? Do you consider customer service to be a “cost center” for your company.  I challenge all product and service providers to ponder the idea of customer service as a “function of marketing”.  Think about the impact that paradigm shift can make in your business.  To my mind, in tough economic times it’s even more imperative to set your company apart.  Giving great customer service is one sure way to do that. 

As a consumer I must say that often it’s the little things a company does that make the biggest impact on my overall experience.  For instance, Southwest Airlines, when they built their new terminal at BWI airport made the stalls in the restrooms deeper so that travelers could pull a roll aboard  in and close the door without having to wrestle with it.  A small but impactful gesture of customer service.  What about toilet seat covers in restrooms?  Again, from the customer point-of-view, a small but impactful gesture.  For the mom who has to take a child to the restroom it’s a huge thing.  When people come in to your establishment in the mall or shopping center that they frequent, because they like the restrooms, they are in your store/restaurant and you have a captive audience.  The opportunity is to consider every single experience through the eyes of your customer.  And we’re only talking about restrooms at this point.  Think about all the small ways the customer experience can be enhanced. My next post we’ll talk about the people providing the service. 

As consumers, my perception is that we’ve come to tolerate bad service and accept is as “status quo” versus embracing the role we play in the type of service we receive.  I’m curious as to what has caused this acceptance of less than stellar service.  I don’t know if there was any specific catalyst or if  it has just been a gradual decline that and we’re going with the flow.

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