Customer Service

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How (NOT) to Gather Customer Feedback that Instigates Positive Change

Sometimes, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking, you just have to ask. I launched an experiment earlier this Spring meant to help three retail businesses garner these kind of insights. We set up physical comment boxes in all of their stores, and posted signs inviting them to “text the manager” (I was simultaneously testing a customer feedback service for a software buyers’ guide I write).

My overall goal was to see if the stores could receive enough feedback to instigate the following changes:

  • Workers would improve their behavior because customer feedback was more transparent and immediate.
  • Managers could use the feedback to create incentives (e.g. the store with the best, or most positive feedback would be rewarded).
  • The feedback would provide insights that could be used to make changes that would improve the customer experience.

I left the signs and comment boxes out for a total of four weeks. Between four bicycle shops, one ice cream store, and three burger joints we only received five comments. This wasn’t enough to affect anything. This bad news was worse when I started to read the comments.

“We love your store!” Nice to hear, but not really useful for any of the goals I wanted to achieve. After the experiment was over, I took a step back to try and find out what went wrong. I called customer feedback experts and asked for their ideas on how I could have garnered more actionable feedback. Here’s what they had to say.

Enforce a Customer-Feedback Centric Culture
One of the biggest reasons the experts thought my experiment failed was that I didn’t properly prepare staff. I interviewed several employees and managers for each store after the month was over. A few reported customers asking about the signs, but it was clear they did not have a process in place influencing these interactions. They were not invested in getting or using the data.

If the culture isn’t built in such a way that people know they are the first line of defense for customer feedback, just making the service available isn’t going to change anything. Management needs to enforce rules and expectations. This could be something as simple as verbally explaining the service to customers as they check out, or are walking around the store. And of course, responding to feedback when it is received.

Creating the appropriate procedures and culture for leveraging customer feedback isn’t exclusive to the in-store experience. Companies should make sure it is obvious for customers where on their website they can submit customer feedback, be that from a form, surveys or another request. Creating context is the most important factor. The customer needs to feel like there’s benefit to them in providing the feedback, as in you will take their feedback and implement real changes.

Correct Bad Experiences in Real Time to Increase Customer Loyalty
Customer feedback shouldn’t just be used as a data set. It can also uncover bad experiences in the moment, and provide an opportunity to correct them.

Think, for example, when you’re eating at a restaurant. A good waiter will ask a few minutes after receiving your meal whether everything arrived okay, and if there’s anything else they can do to improve the experience. If your order was wrong or cold, you could let them know at that moment and the waiter could correct the issue. This would not be the experience if the restaurant asked as you while walking out the door, or emailed you a week later. Sure, you could still let them know about the cold food, but they can’t actually do anything about it.

This same concept extends beyond the dining experience. In my experiment, for example, one comment we did receive in a text message said, “no one talked to me the whole time I was in the store.” The manager could have responded at that moment apologizing and emphasizing that that’s not how they want their customers to be treated. Then, he could have provided a coupon, or other incentive to come back and allow them to correct that experience.

Look for Opportunities Beyond Just Measuring Customer Satisfaction
When I started the experiment, I assumed that companies used customer feedback primarily to measure and benchmark satisfaction. While many companies do use survey and feedback technologies exclusively for this purpose, I learned that this kind of goal really limits the value of generating the customer feedback in the first place. After all, what do you actually gain from learning whether satisfaction is improving or declining if you don’t know what you can do about it?

To gain insights other than overall customer satisfaction, you have to ask more specific questions. In my experiment, the ice cream store could have asked “What kind of flavors would you like to see this summer?” Or the bike store could say, “What clothing brands would you like to see in our stores?”

Answers to these questions can provide more specific points of feedback the business owners could have used to change what they are doing. But you would also need to know if these suggestions actually improve the customer experience. Would more flavors or brands actually influence more customers to buy from you?

Instead, companies should work to determine the causal relationships and key drivers that lead customers to buy from you. Once those are determined, you can ask for feedback around those specific drivers in the right context, and to the right customers.

How does your company generate actionable customer feedback? Join the conversation with a comment here.

6 Keys to Drive Revenue and Increase Loyalty

Increase Your Customer LoyaltyWhen you find yourself in a tough economy and your market share is under attack, what is the one thing you are hyper-focused on? Customer loyalty.

World-class companies are fanatics about loyalty, regardless of the economic cycle or their own market dynamics. But what is the definition of loyalty? More importantly, how do you measure loyalty?

When asked, most of us might say things like customer retention, stickiness, or even customer satisfaction. But what does this really mean? At the end of the day, what we are talking about is revenue per customer. That is the real measure of loyalty, isn’t it? Will they spend their hard-earned money with me again and again?

In a market with many choices and fewer dollars to go around, standing out in your customers’ minds often boils down to a lot of intangible nuances. In other words, your customers must not only like you they must love you!

It seems to me the manufacturers are really struggling with this, and it becomes even more complex when selling non-inventory items like services – especially through an independent reseller channel. Some have even suggested that their MPS programs are simply ‘straw men’ thrown out to keep some level of mindshare. My take is that they are just like the rest of us trying to figure it all out; they are happy to provide programs that incent growth and traction for channel providers, but dealers and resellers are hitting the same wall: That is, the customers are more informed, have more choices and are hanging on to their money more now than ever.

So do we just suck it up and say the economy is what it is? Do we simply adjust our expectations to our current climate? Maybe, but those that are thriving have become experts in what I’m about to tell you. These best-in-class companies understand there are six key ways to generate revenue:

  1. More Leads (Pipeline): Did you know that it typically takes between 7-12 “touches” to convert a suspect into a qualified prospect? Best-in-class organizations are experts at driving more leads to the front door. They may have been good at sales, but they are great at marketing to new and existing customers to increase overall opportunity.
  2. Higher Conversion (Relevant Messaging): What are you doing to ensure messaging is truly relevant to your audience? Being on target with your prospects and current customers is one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn, right after generating more leads.
  3. Raise Prices (Increased Value): At first, this seems like an absolute “NO”, but by raising prices you don’t have to convert as many leads and also get to spend more time with the customers you love. You’ll generally expend the same effort in the sales process, so consider how you like to present yourself.
  4. Higher Frequency of Sales per Lead: This really goes well with the “blue ocean” strategy. The more lines of business you have, the more opportunities you have to generate additional revenues with the same customer.
  5. Increased Frequency of Sales: This method is the one most of us gravitates towards. But we are often faced with the real world issues surrounding the actual execution. Finding a way to shorten your sales cycle or increase actual sales is generally accomplished in one of two ways: Increasing the number of sales staff or dramatically improving your ability to touch customers’ pain point. My experience has taught me either method can be rather expensive.
  6. Selling Partner Products: One key area most of us miss is the ability to gain affiliate fees from partners. You may not have a core expertise yourself, but if you hold a trusted advisors role with your customers they’ll look to you to refer key goods and services. A great partnering strategy is often a great reinforcement to overall loyalty.

What’s critical to understand is that world-class companies have installed processes to effectively target each one of these key six drivers. They are relentless in their pursuit of customers, but also in their ability to generate additional revenues across their entire portfolio.

Your customers have problems just like you and I do, but we can become so focused on our own day-to-day issues that we may actually miss helping them solve them. Increased loyalty really comes at the cost of listening well, and delivering what solves our customers’ problems. In other words, if you show your customers how to put money back in their own pockets they’ll be forever grateful. This tends to translate into the best revenue generator of all, and results in extremely loyal customers.

Did You Get the Email?

Did you ever get one of those emails?

Maybe it started with something like, “To Whom This May Concern” or “Dear Management”, but it always ends with that deflating sense of  WTF (and don’t make me spell that out for you).

The worst of it is that you worked your tail off on a product, a service, or simply putting on your smile while you went about your business; for what, so this one person can take such delight in raining on little ‘ole you?

What was your reaction — your instinct upon reading it?

I start to feel  it in my ears — the tips start burning. Then I get tunnel-visioned and want to pick up a hammer and smash the monitor in. Hmmm, I wonder where the phrase, “don’t kill the messenger,” came from?

I’ve found myself feverishly writing a hasty response back, and have found so many times it only served one purpose — to make me feel better, vindicated even.

But what is this person really trying to tell you? Is it really a personal attack?

In my 15 years of using email as a vital ‘productivity tool’, I’ve never seen one issue solved by writing back to such an email. Instead, stop and read between the proverbial lines, then engage with them, in person.

After splashing some cool water on your face and taking a brief pause (maybe a few days even), ask yourself, “What is this person really trying to say?”

Once you unlock that critical piece of the puzzle , you’d be amazed at how cooperative a person becomes. As the proverb goes,

“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads…” Proverbs 25:21-22

Hiring Half-Baked Robots

When hiring people to serve and interact with other people, don’t hire half-baked robots.

As I’m standing in line to board the airplane, a fellow traveller leaned over and mumbled out of the side of his mouth, “They are just one step away from being a robot, aren’t they?”

It didn’t take a genius to see each of the airline agents were obviously performing a routine — much like a robot. There was not a sense of urgency. Their attitudes weren’t necessarily bad, but they certainly had the appearance of not enjoying their work. Having to deal with a constant barrage of negative energy is tough; I know and I get it. But isn’t it that exact reason it’s important to make a choice? We all make choices in our life and just getting by seems to leave so much opportunity on the table.

I’m sure each person in line with me could offer some quick stories to their own week-in-the-life-of-John or -Jane Doe story. It probably generates a lot of interpersonal friction — and in this case, it’s in high volume as well! Speaking personally, It’s easy to let the stress of a long week of hectic schedules, travel and diet get me out of balance. I’m not perfect, but there is a choice about how I handle the stress caused by the imbalance.

I’d like you to meet, Ida. After a rush by all passengers to get boarded in literally 15 minutes, Ida spoke up for two passengers who had been directed to get on the wrong connection. She even got the entire cabin laughing about it, and made the entirely necessary 22 mble!

Take note:

Owners and managers, if you want to enforce a process that strips emotion from the interaction and promotes automation, buy robots and quit insulting both the employee and the customer with half-assed mission statements about service and little delivery. Otherwise, hire and fight for your team to be fully-baked human beings who actually enjoy — no relish — spending time in service of others.

Employees, make a choice to live your life in the “I’m Alive!” lane. If you don’t, you’ll end up looking at a world of disgruntled customers through glazed eyes to the soundtrack of bleeping barcode scanners while you sing, “Next, next, next…” Hold your employer accountable to this standard you want to execute, or hold yourself accountable to develop other opportunities of employment that will.

Walking Past Your Customers

Walking Past Your CustomersI was walking along yesterday, focused on the mission: Picking my daughter up from class. I happened to look down and see a piece of trash on the ground. I decided to stop, take a knee and pick it up.

Why did I do this? You might instantly think that I had a momentary pang of eco-consciousness. No, instead I felt like it was my job to clean up the trash at that moment because it was ‘my’ building and why should I leave the chore too someone else?

As business owners, managers and marketing experts isn’t this the ultimate sign of loyalty? Isn’t this what you pay salaries for, offer bonuses to get, create elaborate vision statements to achieve? At the root of it all, you want your employee to be proactive, to pick up that little piece of metaphorical trash, right?

If you care about making your customers raving fans, and you say you care about empowering your team members to take care of your customers — why aren’t they?

Quit looking to see how many cars are in the parking lot before and after work, quit trying to see who’s sending e-mails at 11:00 pm and quit saying one thing but doing something different.

We all know we have to ship product to make the rent, but is that the only reason you are in business? Isn’t it to make a difference in some small way, to offer a service that the world would’ve been worse off without?

You might say no to most of those questions, but worse yet is saying you are and not following through. I’ve been guilty of this, of getting sidetracked with making the numbers, getting the sale or completing the project. Every time I did that — instead of focusing on making a difference — I always found that I delivered less than my best.

There’s a saying I used to hear, “We believe in taking care of our employees so that they can take care of our customers; the rest will take care of itself.”

When you are honest with yourself are you really, or did you just walk by that piece of trash and think that it was someone else’s job? If so, don’t be surprised when your team is doing the same thing to your customer — and doing the same thing to you.

Do You Know the Ultimate Question?

How did you answer questions before Google or Wikipedia?

For me, there was Encyclopedia Britannica, the local library and my Dad. If one of those three sources didn’t have an answer, there was little hope of ever finding an answer.

So the change was good right?

For you and me, absolutely! For the folks at Encyclopedia Britannica? Not so good.

My point is that the world around us changes and innovations are coming in exponential waves instead of every so often. We are dizzied and enthralled by the sheer amount of information being thrown at us.

So context is what’s important — importance as defined by you, dear reader, is what is most important. In other words, you are now the ultimate customer!

But if that means you are the ultimate customer, what does that make me? An ultimate customer as well! We all win, right?

Not so fast there, tiger… At the end of that question mark is a loaded weapon; if you are out there running a company focused on, selling something to or servicing that ‘ultimate customer’ you know how demanding it can be.

So how do you avoid EB’s fate? You need to be more like Google and Wikipedia, because it’s not about what you are selling — it’s about listening to what question your new customer is really asking.

FREE Download: 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions!Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships. As the owner of ChangeForge, Ken Stewart is passionate about helping you solve business problems by helping to craft solutions which achieve business objectives through applying technology smartly, change management considerately, and motivational techniques genuinely.

Download his new free ebook, 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions: A Field Guide to Staying Focused Today!

Getting Choked on the Bone

Years ago, I had this dog named Winston. Winston was a mutt and looked like a mix between a Yellow Labrador and an oversized Spitz (it was that unique curl in his tail that gave him away). Winston used to do some really odd things, but one of the things that I won’t soon forget is how he loved to chew on things. I mean bones, shoes and he even ate an entire CD one time.

One time, Winston had a great big bone he was just going to town on. Every time I tried to get close he would stop and let out a low, rumbling growl to let you know this was HIS bone. Now, Winston was a pretty smart dog, but he didn’t really have a lot of common sense. Have you ever watched a dog get a bone it was eating caught in its throat?

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The Money Back Guarantee

When’s the last time you heard a pitchman offering a money back guarantee, a simple promise to refund you your money if you were not satisfied? Chances are, you’ve heard it a dozen times, or more, in the last week – so much so it may now be associated with low quality. But think about the fact that, regardless of what you call it, you are standing behind the product or service you sell. Are you this confident in your customer promise?

Heavily tied to early, U.S. mail order campaigns of entrepreneurs such as Richard Sears and Powel Crosley, Jr., the money back guarantee aided in removing the risk patrons perceived in transactions which were traditionally conducted face-to-face. Perhaps most notable of guarantees in recent years is that of Hyundai and their Hyundai Assurance program. Self proclaimed as “America’s Best Warranty”, Hyundai very intentionally has built their campaign around removing the risk from your purchase, and thereby ensuring you believe them focused on quality and value. Take this excerpt as an example,

For more than a decade, America’s Best Warranty hasn’t just changed how our customers feel about their cars, it’s changed how we build vehicles. To make sure we deliver automobiles worthy of a 10-year warranty, Hyundai initiated the Drive Defects to Zero plan. This program has a dedicated team of Hyundai engineers that are charged with catching, learning about and fixing any issue, no matter how small, before it gets to the customer.

America’s Best Warranty does more than give you peace of mind, it’s a commitment from Hyundai to maintain a high degree of quality, dependability and reliability.

Words like “quality”, “dependability” and “reliability” strongly resonates with the customer, communicating Hyundai is confident in their offering. With what equates to a large transaction for most automobile-buyers, removing more risk by offering this type of guarantee would only make sense to a company interested in longer term relationships – and customers can see this in writing. But is this simply effective marketing? What do you think?

What is your customer’s perception of your promise?

Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions, and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships.

As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, Ken Stewart comes from, and works directly with, channel providers in the managed services space, developing educational tools and resources to promote lasting business transformation. You can receive the latest industry news by following ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook, as well as his weekly column on MPS Insights, every Tuesday.

More or Less: Soft Skills Versus Software Skills

I hear it all of the time: “I need someone with technical chops that can talk to people.” However, when reading between the lines you will also hear, “… but I don’t want to pay that much for him or her.” The question, then, becomes, “Do you need someone with more soft skills or more software skills?”

As many industries trend towards hiring those with more experience within the prospective employer’s industry, IT positions have become exceedingly niche. In other words, it’s not enough to know something about networks. One has to know how to run Juniper core switches for a consumer financial firm or have experience designing Crystal Reports to pull data from a hospital’s Oracle database – in a virtualized environment.

Finding that blend of IT and auditor or sales and IT with specific industry knowledge for a bargain basement price (that isn’t a retread) is next to impossible. But let me ask, if they were willing to work for peanuts would you really expect them to be able to fuel your high-octane, services-led initiatives?

Know what you are looking for, but be open to possibility.

Most of the time, hiring managers really aren’t being honest with themselves about the type of personality they need – or worse, they don’t know what they need. Instead, hiring managers often have some preconceived notions about what the position should or shouldn’t be. They can’t stretch their imagination far enough out to see how interpersonal dynamics will take a mediocre team and supercharge it, or take a superstar team and wreck it!

The good news is there are some great resources out there, such as PathShare HR Services offered by GreatAmerica Leasing Corporation, which allow you to benchmark personality profiles to maximize success potential. However, they only work if you know what you are looking for, and those resources have been incorporated into an overarching strategy for success. (More on this: Success by Selection: Building a Winning Team).

More or less and what to do about it?

Generally speaking, the more technically oriented a personality the less inclined the individual is to possess interpersonal skills. Likewise, the more socially focused an individual, the less their personality type tends to gravitate towards long hours pouring over code or customizing settings. Of course this is a generality, but for those who have this magical mixture they are often well aware of their market viability.

A keen hiring manager learns to recruit talent early, focusing on a candidate who demonstrates knowledge in one area with aptitude towards the other. For instance, a technical person who shows solid social skills, or a social butterfly that always seems to have the latest gadgets. This means you must always be on the look out and have an eye on what the future may hold.

My experience has taught me that it is often easier to find someone with the ‘soft touch’ who has an aptitude for technology-centric support roles and teach them, but I would be interested in your experiences.

  • What recruiting sources do you find most successful to yield high capacity results?
  • What personalities do you find most successful?

Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Get the latest industry news, and follow ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. You might also be interested in reading more from Ken in his weekly column on MPS Insights every Tuesday.

Four Reasons Why Poor Service Wins

2808153695_a91b8c9e37 I love a great sub. Whether it be meatball, turkey or just about any other kind, there is just something about a sub sandwich with toasted bread. Where I live, there are all kinds of choices of where to get one. But there are only a few select joints that will dish up the best grub.

There is one such restaurant I frequent. The food is great, but every time I order my food, it’s almost like they are doing me a favor. Being on the front lines of a customer service industry, I would usually get really irritated at that obvious apathy, but …

… the food is too good. So I go back and I selectively ignore the monotone, “May I take your order?”

Did you just roll your eyes at me? Nevermind …

With everyone scrapping like dogs in commodity markets, how in the world can anyone not offer a great product and outstanding customer service? Well, as I can confess, if your product is good enough who cares about the service?

There are a few ways you can escape having a great customer experience:

  1. Natural monopoly: If you have a lock on a particular market because you are the best at what you do or no one else wants to compete, you can do just about anything you want.
  2. Acquired Monopoly: When competitors start to show up, buy them.
  3. You’re just that good: Like my sub shop, your product is just that good. People will ignore poor service for great product.
  4. I’ll pay for the abuse: There are a rare few who actually make poor service part of their experience. This is for all of the masochists in the world. Nonetheless, some find it novel to be abused.

The problem is that most products out there aren’t any better than another, so my suggestion is don’t try it unless you are pretty sure of yourself and your product. Off course, it goes without saying that somehow abusive companies seem to not only survive, but often thrive. While this really undermines my greater hope in karma, I am reminded of the saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

As for my excuse? I just eat there for the food…

Image courtesy of Nick Saltmarsh

Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting; To discover the many ways you may connect with him, visit him at DandyID.