Saying it nicely

Given a choice in customer service help, would people choose someone that is pleasant or someone that is not pleasant, all other issues being equal? The answer is a no-brainer. Most people choose to do business with people who are pleasant. Of course, if someone is pleasant but inefficient or incompetent, we’d rather put up with an attitude as long as it resolves issues.

Having said this, it seems that many times people in customer service are trained in how to resolve issues but not trained in how to deal with people.  Recently, we tried to get some information about a meeting space. The woman who “helped” us  was clearly unhappy with our questions. She mentioned a policy, and told us that as organizers we would have to tell everyone about it or else. Truthfully, we understood the policy, but we did not appreciate her attitude, her dismissive way of speaking to us. We decided not to use her establishment for our meeting.

People who excel at customer service are attentive, efficient and have good communication skills. They enjoy helping people and treat people nicely.  Even if you are delivering bad news, or cannot help someone,  saying it nicely helps relieve anger and frustration. It is that simple.

What are your thoughts?

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Does cost correlate to service?

If you are paying more, do you get better service? Some would expect so, and that is what is worth underlining.  Higher cost or price point may translate into a higher expectation of service. Conversely, a lower cost or price point may create a lowered expectation of service.

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Let’s look at the airlines. When you fly (and pay for) first class, you are assuming that a good portion of the additional cost will cover better service and amenities. Indeed, that is what you are paying for.  If you fly on a discount airline, you expect very little in the way of amenities.  Ryanair, a European value airline, is considering charging for the use of the lavatories, so that they can remain as low cost as possible. In the airline world,  cost definitely correlates to service (although we all have experienced inflated pricing at certain times of the year, but this has more to do with supply and demand).

An area that is still not resolved when it comes to cost is the baggage surcharge most airlines charge. Does this mean that you will get better service (i.e. your bag will arrive with you at your destination)?  USA Today explores this in the article “As bag fees rise, are airlines improving baggage handling?”  The answer seems to be maybe. Unfortunately, the fee is not being applied toward service but rather to offset other costs.

Again, this brings us to the main point, which is can we relate better service to higher cost. In many cases we can, and when higher costs do not associate with better service, we will have expectations shattered.

What are your thoughts?

Three steps to correcting poor customer service

Every company, even those with a strong customer service avocation, has had a situation where a customer was unhappy or displeased with a situation. Can a company company correct this situation, after the fact? Emphatically, the answer is yes. Companies can always improve a bad customer service interaction.

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Here are three crucial  steps to resolving a customer service situation:

  1. Apologize to the customer and accept responsibility for the situation. Don’t try to shift blame or give excuses. That can serve to aggravate the situation.
  2. Work to resolve the situation, as soon as possible.
  3. Follow up with the customer to make sure the situation is resolved satisfactorily.

The sooner a company corrects a customer service complaint the sooner the negativity will be over. Some companies have mandates to resolve complaints within a set amount of time. This is good business. The longer a situation is unresolved, or unsatisfactorily resolved, the longer the customer has to become sour on the company and to spread the word about his/her unhappiness.

How do you correct customer service issues? How important is it for your company to resolve disputes quickly?

Customer service helps the bottom line

Customer service can really help any business with its bottom line. Customer service keeps customers happy or at least not unhappy. Resolving problems instead of ignoring them does pay.

On the blog Small Business CEO, Dov Gordon writes a post entitled “How Your Small Business Can Easily Stand Out.” What do you think a business needs to do to stand out? Customer service of course! According to Gordon:

To stand out, dedicate yourself to your customers. Care more about helping them than you do about making money. The company that cares more will understand more. And the company that understands the customer’s world will think up ideas that will impact their world. In other words, they will stand out.

Dedicating time to understanding customers, helping customers and dealing with any problems and complaints pays off, not only for small businesses but also for large enterprises. Delta Airlines recently announced that it will be investing $1 billion to improve customer service, remodel aircraft and improve fuel efficiency. Delta is the biggest airline in the world. Although we don’t know the breakdown of how the money will be spent, the fact that Delta acknowledges it needs to invest in customer service proves the importance of keeping customers satisfied.

It is a simple fact that if a customer is happy/satisfied, he or she will stay with your business and if he/she is not happy he/she will seek the same service/product elsewhere.  Therefore, to retain customers you must make sure they are happy.

You can stand out in a recession

We have discussed this before, but now we have a study out of Arizona State University to back it up:  customer service is the key to making it in the recession.

The study, Research Priorities for the Science of Service, from the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University (ASU), will appear in the Journal of Service Research. A press release on the ASU website describes the content:

Among the premises of the report is that “all businesses are service businesses” and that services dominate the economies of advanced countries. As a result, governments, academic institutions and businesses are calling for an increased focus on the science of service to direct and support emerging business models.

The press release also quotes one of the study’s contributors, Joe Shaheen, director for the Defense and Government Services division at Boeing:

The combination of the strained market and economic conditions has provided companies with the unique opportunity to engage and adjust, leveraging their current capabilities and focusing on the design of customer-centric service solutions for existing and new customers.

The bottom line seems to be that when the economy is not doing well, customers are looking for better service. Service adds to the value of what is being offered.

The White House and Customer Service

Surely the first thing you think about when you think about the White House is NOT  customer service. You may think about its historical significance, its political power or about the current residents of the house.  However,  the White House IS thinking about customer service, specifically, improving their customer service.

First, it begs the question, who is a customer of the White  House? The vendors that provide support? Or the American people as a whole?

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It turns out the White House is talking about making the U.S. government more customer friendly.  In order to do this, the government folks interviewed the airline folks, twelve in all, including Southwest Airlines. Are the airlines good at customer service? They certainly deal with many millions of passengers yearly.

The Dallas Morning News provides a recap, saying that Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly gave the following advice:

…find ways to constantly get tips from customers and employees, and avoid single-shot surveys that allow companies to “check the box.”

Some of the best ways to communicate with customers don’t cost much, he said, citing comments on the airline’s blog as valuable feedback that many companies might pay a research firm to generate.

What would you counsel the White House to do to improve its customer service to the American people?

Customers do notice and reward service

American Express and the National Retail Federation (NRF) conduct a Customers’ Choice survey to determine the top ten retailers for service.  The survey’s purpose is to recognize excellent customer service and to promote best customer service practices for retail operations.

The ten finalists were:

  • Amazon.com
  • Coldwater Creek
  • HSN
  • JC Penney
  • Kohl’s
  • Land’s End
  • LL Bean
  • Nordstrom
  • Overstock.com
  • QVC
  • Zappos

The number one retailer was determined to be LL Bean,  an award the company has received for the past three years.  Among the many customer service qualities that LL Bean has is its commitment to make it 100% right. You can return any merchandise that you are not 100% satisfied with.

Awards like this one are helpful because they shine the spotlight on the need for best practices in customer service and they highlight the companies that are doing it right.

Do you agree with this survey? Have you had good experiences with these retailers?