Eyes on the prize

Perhaps the main reason exemplary customer service is good for the bottom line is that it builds loyalty.

In the new George Clooney film, Up in the Air, Clooney’s character flies on one airline exclusively, with the goal of reaching the most elite frequent flier status. Very few people get there, and there are fabulous rewards to be had.  The movie shows the process of building this type of intense customer loyalty. The airline rewards the frequent flier with perks, trips, special check-ins,  being greeted by name, and in turn, the flier chooses to fly that airline exclusively. It’s a win-win situation.

Strong, attentive customer service begets customer loyalty. It is that simple. Loyalty is the ultimate prize companies are seeking.

In 2010, ARMA will continue to keep our eyes on the prize: your loyalty, and the loyalty of our customers. We know it doesn’t come easy. We work hard to get it and to keep it.

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ARMA wishes our readers a very Happy New Year 2010!

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Goals for 2010

As 2009 winds to a close, and we say good-bye to the first decade of the 21st Century, we should engage in some analysis of what worked and what didn’t.

The past decade saw lots of ups and downs when it came to customer service. Some firms outsourced their customer service centers to save money,  but created a backlash from customers who had a hard time communicating with people half a world away. The last part of the decade saw a massive economic recession and customers looking for ways to save money. The recession also forced businesses to reconsider how to spend their money: cut back on marketing? beef up customer service?

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One of the largest changes for customer service has been the rise in social media. Now, most people with a computer can broadcast their unhappiness (or their satisfaction) to thousands of people in mere seconds. The viral nature of social media makes a complaint go far and wide. Big companies have taken notice, dedicating employees to social media monitoring and response.

Michelle Rodger, writing in the Scotsman predicts a rise in “nowism:”

In short, it means that your customer will want everything immediately, if not sooner. And woe betide your business if he doesn’t get it; his review of your poor service will be Tweeted, Facebooked, and a video of his rage against your machine will be posted on YouTube.

Other experts predict that companies will beef up their customer service capabilities.  Read what some experts are predicting for CRM in 2010 here.

We think the new year brings with it the opportunity to improve customer service, and by extension, the bottom line. What will be your customer service goals for 2010? Improved response times? Increased customer loyalty? This is the time to think about it, and put it into action.

The spirit of Christmas

The spirit of Christmas is one of cheer, one of helping out those in need, of forgiveness. Customer service can be the spirit of Christmas all year long.

In today’s Washington Post, there is a story of a city worker who went above and beyond to help someone have a merrier Christmas.  After a neighborhood was snowed in, Toran Felder from the DC Department of Public Works was helping the plows do their job. He heard a neighbor saying she was going to have a hard time getting a Christmas tress because of the snow, and he went to get it for her himself.  Mr. Felder says he is prone to random acts of charity.  Here’s a cheer for you Mr. Felder!

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In the spirit of the season, ARMA wishes you a very Merry Christmas!

Trendy customer service

If 2009 is to be remembered for its own customer service trend its got to be social media/Twitter. Going on to social networks to complain and/or engage with companies became very popular this year, and some companies responded. Comcast, Sprint, Dominos, United and various others opened up Twitter accounts and carefully monitored what was being said, and tried to respond appropriately. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, was at the helm of this trend.

Econsultancy commissioned a study, the 4th Annual Online Customer Engagement report. It found among other things:

  • the presence of companies on social networks has almost doubled from 23% to 44% since last year, and how the use of Twitter to boost customer engagement has gone up five-fold from 7% to 35%.
  • The louder voice of the customer can be problematic for businesses, especially when they have problems with products or services which they want to hide. Well over half of responding companies (61%) say they expect people to become less tolerant of poor service and this percentage has – tellingly – almost doubled since last year.

(From the recap article on econsultancy.com, by Leonidas Gregoriadis.)

Over on Small Business Trends, Barry Moltz writes about the 10 Customer Service Trends for 2010. He looks ahead to discuss the continuing impact of social media, but also finds a trend for customer service reps to try harder to please and for companies to further personalize their services.

If your product is excellent, shouldn’t your service be too?

Some stores are known for their exceptional customer service. These stores are generally higher-end, where people are spending more money, and therefore expect the utmost in service. One such store is Neiman-Marcus, which has developed a reputation for having outstanding customer service.  The website Luxist, has nominated the chain for a Reader’s Choice Award for Best Department Store.

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The truth is that if your offering is in the luxury category you cannot afford to have penny customer service. When people pay for a luxury offering, they are also paying for an experience. Can you imagine having a gold-standard product, and then not providing any type of customer service and/or experience?

A good example of this may be hotels. When you check into a Mandarin Oriental or a Ritz-Carlton, the service expectation is high. You expect a perfect room, with a wide range of amenities. You expect respectful, quick check-in, and you expect to be shown to your room. If you have any problem, hotel related or not, you expect that there is someone who will help you (concierge to book dinner reservations, for instance). On the other hand, when you check into a Motel6, you expect a clean room.  Period.  You know you won’t be getting much in the way of service.

This is not to say that if your product is not a luxury offering that you should feel free to provide lousy customer service. What we are saying is that you cannot afford to have a luxury offering without luxury service.

Your thoughts? Have you ever paid a luxury price to receive bad service?

Going above and beyond

One of the biggest frustrations that customers face happens when a customer service person says that he or she can’t do anything about the situation. Many times, customers ask someone for help and they get this answer:  “That is not my job,” or “I don’t work in that department.”  This does not help customers, and it hurts the bottom line.

Certainly, many  employees are constrained by the parameters of their jobs. Some are not allowed to deviate from a script. Others simply don’t want to go above and beyond what is required. But good customer service sometimes means going the extra mile, doing something that may not be part of the job description.

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USA Today reports that some United States airports are training personnel to better assist travelers.  The training is aimed at making the customer service employees more resourceful. An airport manager at Miami International Airport (MIA) capsulizes why this is important:

“Regardless of where they work, (airport workers) shouldn’t say, ‘I don’t work in that area,’ ” says Dickie Davis of Miami International, which is rolling out a revised training program. “It may not be our fault, but it’s our problem. If customers didn’t like hot dogs at MIA, they don’t say, ‘I didn’t like hot dogs at MIA.’ They say, ‘I don’t like MIA.’ “

Travelers, according to the article,  may already be frustrated and irate. An unhelpful airport employee tends to make things worse. Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport aims to make sure their employees are helpful, that they go above and beyond:

Last year, Phoenix Sky Harbor produced a training video that is mandatory viewing for its own employees. Its main lessons: Smile; stop what you’re doing to pay attention to customers; maintain a positive attitude; be proactive; and escort customers, rather than simply giving directions, whenever possible.

The bottom line is that employees that are trained to be problem-solvers, that go above and beyond what is required of them help to reduce customer frustration.

What are you doing to train your customer service to go above and beyond? Are you taking any specific steps in that direction?

Customer service must be defined by service

Often, people think about customer service as what you get when you have an issue to be resolved. Say you bought a product that is defective and you need a replacement or you were overcharged and so forth.

But, the truth is, customer service is about attending to the customer. This means checking in with the customer: does he or she need something, have a questions, need special assistance? Or even, just greeting a customer.

An article entitled Customer Service Stinks, Survey Finds, in the Chicago Sun-Times, says that customer service was defined by lack thereof. The survey was conducted by the SALT and Pepper Group. Here’s what the analyst had to say:

“The biggest sins were sins of omission. Often, we would enter a store, or a specific department in a store, and the associate working there would not acknowledge us,” said Rick Miller, consulting analyst at the SALT & Pepper Group. The higher performers did a better job training and motivating their staffs, Miller said.

It seems fairly obvious that the first step in achieving excellent customer service is to acknowledge our customer. Greet him/her.  Simple, but effective.

Your thoughts?