Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fast But Not Too Fast

One of the hallmarks of good customer service is to be able to handle a problem quickly and efficiently. No customer wants to be on hold forever or have to make several calls to get their issues handled. However, they don’t want to be rushed off the phone or brushed off either. There is a fine line between fast and efficient and rude and brusque.

Organization goes a long way in making calls go faster and more smoothly. Most of the time, you are dealing with different people who have the same questions and concerns. Develop a cheat sheet with answers to the most common questions or instructions on the processes you use to find those answers. Of course, there are exceptions, but the majority of people are calling with the same concerns so be prepared with the answers to those questions.

A little courtesy will make the caller feel acknowledged and respected. You don’t have to have long drawn-out conversations or make endless small talk, but being polite and even pleasant can make the caller feel valued. Those little things really do mean a lot.

Take time to listen. True, you might know exactly what they are going to say or ask for but still give them the time to ask it. No one likes to be cut off mid-sentence or to feel as if they aren’t being heard. While they are talking, you could start finding the answer to their question or getting the information they need but never be short with people.

Fast, courteous service is the key to a satisfied customer!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Internet: Customer Service Friend AND Foe

It used to be that customers relied on word-of-mouth to share their customer service experiences (good and bad). If it was really good or bad, a small segment of the population would sit down and write a letter. Nowadays it’s easy for customers to share their experiences and they are sharing!

From choosing an apartment to finding a washing machine repair to investigating my mortgage company, there are a number of sites, message boards and forums, devoted to chronicling the customer experience. 

Human nature says that people will share a bad experience much more often than they will a good one and that fact is backed up when I look at many customer-fueled sites. However, when reviewing customer responses, I keep a few things in mind.

Many negative reviewers are unnecessarily harsh. They blow one aspect of an overall good experience way out of proportion. I’ve read 2-star restaurant reviews that complain about slow service even though later in the review they reveal that food was good and the meal was comped. The anger comes from the fact that the whole bill wasn’t comped!

I’m also looking for a little balance. I’m concerned when there are no good reviews or experiences at all. I’m also weary when out of a litany of bad reviews, there are sparkling five-star reviews that acknowledge no imperfections or even hint at the slightest problem. Those are usually written by staff!

I also look for balance within a review. When a bad review acknowledges that at least the staff was friendly or the room was clean, is more likely to be accurate. Normally, there is a little good with the bad.

Details help as well. I had a horrible experience attempting to refinance my mortgage. When I went on line, I was shocked at what I found. There were several sites devoted to the horror this company had caused others. What was shocking was their level of detail … and the fact that the details of their experience mirrored mine!

Blogs, message boards, Facebook fan pages, Twitter, bad service gets out now faster than ever … and it isn’t always fair or accurate but it’s out there. Every customer contact has the ability to live in perpetuity in the Internet. Keep that in mind as you engage your customer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Customer Experience

I use a Blackberry, work on PCs both at home and at work, and use an off-brand MP3 player (I got it from Target). Needless to say, I am not an Apple girl. Yet, I don't have to be to respect Steve Jobs and recognize the passing of a titan. As a businessman and product developer, Jobs always kept the customer and the customer experience front and center. He was known to occasionally pick up the phone and call a disgruntled customer. When the iPhone went down in price by $200 several months after debuting, Jobs offered an explanation, an apology and a $100 credit in Apple products to those original customers who'd paid full price.

In meetings for new products, while understanding the complex technology behind his products, he championed ease of use and what the product needs to work like from the customer's point of view. He always placed the customer experience before everything else.

Here are some quotes from Steve Jobs:

On Quality: "When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

On the Simplicity of Design: “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

On What Customers Want: "This is what customers pay us for–to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers."

On the Difficulty of Simple Solutions: "Look at the design of a lot of consumer products — they’re really complicated surfaces. We tried to make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart, and want objects which are well thought through.”

And finally ... “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

It's sad but when I receive great customer service, I really am surprised. The latest incident was at Banfield, the Pet Hospital of all places.

My 12-year old toy poodle, Marty, suffers from a chronic condition called Cushing's disease. He was diagnosed several years ago and has had to take some expensive medicine for the past few years (and for the rest of his life). He's also had to be subjected to some all day testing (that isn't cheap either).

We've had several vets since his diagnosis. The first one was great and we've suffered through everything from pretty good to downright dreadful since then. Anyway, I took him in for some standard vaccines. Because I had to work, I dropped him off in the morning and planned to pick him up that evening.

I got nervous around 10:30 when I got a call from the pet hospital. I was immediately nervous - what was wrong with Marty? I mean, why would they call unless there was a problem, right? Wrong.

It was a new vet and she was calling to introduce herself to me. Over the next 10 minutes, we reviewed Marty's diagnosis and she gave me some information I'd never known about Cushings. She told me when his next test would be scheduled and even how I could save some money on the expensive blood work.

She was pleasant and personable and clearly knowledgeable. I feel completely comfortable knowing that this doctor is in charge of my dog's care.

A lot of times, we focus on customer service being the responsiblity of the front line personnel ... customer service representatives, receptionists and sales clerks. Yet, this experience proves that good customer service isn't restricted to hourly employees who have a first contact with the customers. Professionals ... vets, doctors, lawyers, even teachers, have an important role to play when it comes to customer service and how well they meet that responsibilty can be the difference between a repeat customer and one who takes their business elsewhere!