A Business Technology Place

Learning from customer service experiences

I’m documenting some customer service experiences from the last two weeks. They had an impact on my actions and they serve as a good reminder of reflection for customer service actions that we provide to others. People do notice words, attitudes, and body language.

While on vacation at a location where the number one industry is tourism:

Trolley Driver

My wife and I rode a trolley as a means of public transportation. By chance, we were the only passengers. We used the time to talk to the trolley driver and he provided some valuable information to us. As we were leaving he mentioned that he would like to discuss more with us and to look for him on the return trip. We did find him for the return trip and we were able to ask a few more questions.

The result? We felt appreciated as tourists spending time and money in his area. We left very pleased with our experience and left him a nice tip.

Restaurant Hostess

We entered a restaurant at dinner time near a popular pier. It was the beginning of the dinner rush about 5:30 in the evening. As we entered, another two parties entered just behind us. The hostess on her way to pick up menus mumbled softly (but loud enough to hear), “Oh, here they come, it’s starting.” I can’t portray how it was said audibly, but it was unpleasant enough that my wife and I looked at each other with the same look of astonishment. We were a disruption and inconvenience to her quiet-time.

The result? We walked out. We didn’t want to be in a place that wasn’t happy to receive our business.

Restaurant Waitress

At a different restaurant, our assigned waitress approached our table with smile and friendly greeting. After taking our drink orders she proceeded to answer our questions about their menu including information about serving size and what other guests typically do with the meal. She refilled our drinks without us having to ask and even provided to-go cups for our drinks as we left.

The result? A nice experience. We felt like appreciated customers. A favorable review for the restaurant and a nice tip for the waitress.

Hair Stylist

It’s not normal for me to get haircut while on vacation, but I had other travel planned for the week after and didn’t have time to visit my normal hair cutter back home. I showed up as a walk-in at a local place. There were two stylists on duty. They had a queueing system there and it showed two people waiting as “online check-in”. About the time the two stylists finished with their existing customers, both parties in front of me arrived. The first was a single man. The second party was a mom with three children. So I was actually 5th in line.

That’s when it got weird. The two stylists disappeared for about 3-4 minutes without a word to the five of us in the waiting area. Maybe it was a bathroom break, but I wasn’t sure. Then one of them appeared and started with the gentleman who was first. The second stylist was not visible and the first stylist made no mention of his whereabouts. Realizing I had a lengthy wait in front of me, I left to get dinner. As I walked to my car, I spotted the second stylist smoking a cigarette behind the store. It just seemed odd he would take a smoke break with four customers waiting and not even mention that he was stepping out for a quick break.

The result? I left and didn’t return. Neither stylist cared enough to communicate with customers what was happening. The atmosphere was yucky.

While on business travel:

Hotel Cleaning Staff

While traveling on business I returned to my hotel room one evening to find a note from the cleaning staff. The note was cheerful and upbeat and made me smile. Here was someone who enjoyed their job. I realized their motive may have been to receive a tip for their services, but I didn’t take their actions for granted because all the other service providers in my example work from tips. From some research, I found there isn’t consensus with the public about tipping hotel cleaning staff members. I found passionate arguments for and against it. But regardless of the tip, it was nice to feel appreciated as a guest at the hotel. The manager had also written me a welcome letter thanking me for staying at her property.

The result? A great experience. I was told more than once my stay at the property was appreciated. I gave them a good review and would stay there again if I am in the area.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary via creative commons: https://flic.kr/p/4qyEp4

Can you feel the business?

Can you feel it?

One of the aspects of my job that I love to describe and that motivates me is that I “feel the business”. I feel the impact of administrative dollars to the financial income statement. I feel the impact of delivered services by talking to sales executives and customer service management. I read customer requirements and customer complaints. I look for opportunities to talk to positive minded employees that are making an impact in the organization and to our customers.Just Feel It

Feeling the business means understanding how customer requests are turned into finished product. It means understanding how my specific job impacts the bottom line. It means understanding how a colleague’s job impacts the bottom line.

I use the imagery of ‘feeling’ with employees during coaching sessions and reviews. Feeling the business transforms a job to a new level. It involves the employee, creates commitment, and influences better performance. I used to think of it as a featured aspect for select jobs. But now, I see that it’s much larger. We all have an opportunity to feel the business. I believe, that it is an unstated factor that distinguishes the high performers from the average employee.

Serving notice to technology professionals.

I don’t advocate a culture where technology professionals are hidden from the business. IT shouldn’t be just a cost center on the income statement with team members that do their job in a bubble. Technology professionals need to step-up and understand how their work impacts the success of the company and the customers who buy the products and services.

But listen. This isn’t any easy thing. IT professionals are put into cultures where the goal is to follow a process. The goal is to check-off all the boxes and the procedures list. When this happens, it’s easy to lose site of the reasons the processes exist. It’s easy to lose site of the customer. It’s easy to not feel the business because IT is feeling the task and the process.

Create the culture to feel the business.

If we want everyone to feel the business then we have to create a culture that encourages others to see it, accept it, and value it. Here’s some specific examples how I encourage others to get a feel:

  • Get out of email and pick up the phone – Email has a place in our communications. But an effective way to feel the business is to hear a customer speak about a need or complaint. We had a service incident this past week that affected the ERP for a division of our organization. After the dust settled, I called the organizational leader. I wanted her to hear my voice when I spoke about the problem rather than me writing an email response. I wanted to hear her response rather than read it.
  • Share the financial results of the company – Help employees feel the business by sharing financial results with them. I pass down financial metrics like company revenue, profit, and expenses to employees. It sends the message that they are participants in the financial results of the company. Employees are concerned about the health of an organization, and they should be encouraged to exhibit behaviors that influence positive results.
  • Tour operations and understand the flow of work – Operations is where customer requests turn into products and services. If employees want to feel the business they need to understand this. Last year, I contacted a plant operations manager and arranged a plant tour for our entire IT group. The results were spectacular. IT employees were making comments to me like, “I had no idea this is what was happening” and “this really helps me understand a few things.”
  • Measure results after a project completes – A few months ago, we completed a project that automated a manual purchase order process to an electronic workflow. After the project completion, I asked the manager of the group that was processing the purchase orders to list all of the tasks that were eliminated. We put an approximate time by each task as well. It was a powerful statement. We had used a similar list as part of the ROI for the project. But reading through it post-production release allowed us to truly understand the impact the programming had to the business. We certainly could feel it.

Using social media for customer service. Facebook and Google+ open the doors.

Facebook rolled-out a feature for Asia based admins of business pages to allow them to send private messages with fans writes Jon Russell of cmo.com.  The communication must be initiated by the customer. So it’s an opening for a customer service touch-point first rather than private marketing blasts.

With this move, Facebook is giving companies another email like inbox for conversations with customers. It’s a bit more feature rich than just an ordinary email inbox though because it’s integrated with a fan page. The Fan page can enable messages, discussions, video, applications, etc.

Most companies already list email addresses under the “contact us” section of their internet or eCommerce sites. Will they adopt and allow Facebook as a touch-point for customer service as well? One advantage email has is the ability to use list management tools for sorting, screening, auto-replying, filing, etc. That’s there from years of growth and maturity as a messaging platform. Companies with high volumes of customer interaction may find managing messages within Facebook difficult.

What about other platforms for customer service and interaction such as twitter or Google+? Twitter is already used by many organizations to interact with customers and Google recently announced they were adding features to Google+ Pages as well.

One thing is for sure. Customer service is becoming a puzzle with more pieces. If companies want to meet customers where they are and provide convenient service options then they’ll need to consider more than a phone number and email inbox. Customers have choices about how they communicate and where they see brand information. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and mobile applications are all viable and now very real platforms where customers spend time.

Over the past several years we’ve a large amount of information was published about how marketers and PR groups can use digital media to reach customers. 2012 may be the year where the media and industry thinkers start to publish thoughts on using digital media more for customer service.

Top drivers of small business satisfaction

A couple of business colleagues recently attended the Enterprise Council on Small Business Annual Summit. They shared their conference notes and summary with me and others when they returned. Information and knowledge share of meeting events is a great way to create conversation within your team and possibly create positive change in your organization.

One of the lists they shared with me was full of good principals that I thought was worthy to share and document on MerchantStand.com. It lists the top drivers for satisfaction when selling products and services to small business owners.

Top drivers of small business satisfaction in order of importance:

1. Make the message simple

Owners want a hassle free experience from suppliers. The same applies for individual consumers also. People like simple. People get simple. People use simple. So keep your message simple and on point.

2. Talk Straight

Talk about the problem you are solving for your customer, not your products. When you do discuss a price, show the price up front and give a dollar amount rather than a percentage off amount. Doing this will show that you are honest and credible.

3. Serve on their terms

Give small business owners control in service interaction. Owners are “take control” individuals, allow them to select the method in which they interact with your organization. This means traditional channels will blur. Some customers may choose to transact business with you on the phone, some on your internet site, others in person, and some via social media.

4. Commit Early
The first supplier of a product or service is most likely the one the small business will stick with for the foreseeable future. If part of your business plan is to become the first provider to new small businesses, then get in and commit your solutions early. This means becoming a recognized leader in your industry by participating in the conversations that are out there. It could be social groups, networking events, social media, blogs, etc.

Where do you find world class customer focus?

Last Sunday I took my son to see an Atlanta Braves baseball game at Turner Field in Atlanta. The customer focus, attitude and reception of the staff was excellent. This was not the first time I have received this exemplary service at the ball park. That tells me that this level of service is both taught and expected from the staff. Everyone we came in contact with, which included a parking lot attendant, turn-style attendant, program greeter, concessions worker and seat usher, greeted us with a smile and made sure that we knew they were thankful we had come to enjoy an afternoon of baseball.

I make note of organizations that deliver superb service. Two others that come to mind are Disney World and Chik-fil-A. The actors at Disney World, whether on stage or on the street, are always playing their part to make every kid feel like they are special. The parks are clean and attention to detail is second to no one. My experience at the Disney parks has been consistent through many visits spanning multiple years.

The employees at the two Chik-fil-A locations closest to my home always greet me with a smile, welcome, and a thank-you for coming. It’s not uncommon for me to hear “It’s a great day at Chik-fil-A, how may I help you today?”. After I receive my food and say “thank-you”, they always respond with “my pleasure”. Now how cool is that?? It’s even more amazing to me when I consider that the vast majority of the workers at the two Chik-fil-A locations are teenagers.

My point, is that organizations that ingrain customer focus into their culture make their customers glad they came. That’s good business sense and leads to repeated business. I’m sure there are exceptions to my experiences with these well known organizations, but it’s obvious to me that the leaders within the organizations aim to keep those to minimum while establishing top tier service.

From a business perspective, organizations that deliver world class customer service can charge a premium for their products. Think about it, Major League Baseball, Disney World, and Chik-fil-A are not the low cost leaders in their respective industries. But they are all well respected and customers are willing to pay extra for the service.

What about your list of world class customer focus organizations? Do you agree with my list? Do you have others to add?