Tangibles and Customer Loyalty

How does your shop or service area look? Are your sales people appropriately dressed and welcoming? If you deal with customers over the phone, is your manner warm and attentive? Do you connect with the customer?

Let’s look at a real example or, as I experienced recently, a tale of two bank branches. The bank I use has four branches that are roughly the same distance from me in different directions.

In three branches, I am routinely greeted when I walk in the door and asked if I can be helped.

In one, the greeting begins when I either head for the teller windows or go into the office area for more personal service.

In the fourth branch I’m ignored until THEY are ready to help me. Imagine the reaction I would have if I were shopping for a new bank. Recently, as I stood where directed for several minutes, I could see they knew I was there, but there was NO recognition of my presence, NO greeting and NO apology for making me wait until I made a move to walk out. At that point, one teller TOLD me she “could help (me) now” with NO apology for the wait I had to endure! The poor treatment continued during my transaction as this teller REPEATEDLY chirped, “And how is your day, Sir?” It quickly became clear she would NOT stop asking until I said, “fine”. Meanwhile, another customer had come in was also subjected to the same wait and cold shoulder treatment I endured while awaiting service.

What is the message this bank is giving to its customers? If I had not already experienced such good service at the other branches of this same bank, I would have seriously looked at changing banks.

In this branch, one tangible stands out in stark contrast to neighboring branches. While everyone was dressed appropriately and the service area was the same as the other branches, in this branch, I did NOT feel welcome. I was more of an intrusion than a valued customer. There was a minimal, pro forma attempt to connect with me AFTER I was ignored for several minutes.

Did they REALLY want my business? If my only experience was with this one branch, I would have taken my business elsewhere.

Tangibles count if you want loyal customers.

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Revisiting some previous Posts

Throughout this blog, I have tried to look at the effects Customer Service has in various situations one would not think of as needing a Customer Service approach. I also like to see examples of where Customer Service is helps an organization thrive as well as the lack of Customer Service in contributing to a decline in business.

In the political world, what has happened since this blog took a peek at various situations? Here in the United States, a couple significant events occurred:

1. Wisconsin went through its recall election to try and oust the 16 Republican State Senators who backed up the Governor’s cost cutting proposals and removed some collective bargaining and other, related benefits from State employees. 14 of the 16 Senators kept their seats. With that failure, opponents of the cost cutting have now set their sights on recalling the Governor. Stay tuned…

2. While not directly addressed in this blog, the President’s popularity has taken a nosedive and his political opponents are expanding, along with the criticism by many of his early backers. While I do not believe everything is the President’s fault, he has not done much to help himself. The new creation of a website (www.AttachWatch.com) aimed at targeting “unfair” attacks on the President is already drawing ridicule.

What about overseas?

1. Most of the European Community is facing some severe economic strain caused by the inability of several member nations to pay for benefits promised in the past and pay off loans floated to fulfill those promises (sound familiar?). Rioting has already broken out in one country and more countries may see similar upheavals in the near future.

2. In the Arab world, Egypt has managed to weather its recent political upheaval but change is not coming as quickly as its citizens want. However, compare Egypt with the situation in Libya and Syria, where upheaval and a desire for change has been met with resistance from those in charge. So far, Libya’s upheaval seems to be coming to a close, while Syria’s leaders are resorting to force to stay in power.

In the business world, the Federal Government has stepped in a put the brakes on the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. If you recall, this proposed merger raised a lot of questions and concerns. This merger may not be a done deal anytime soon.

And finally, remember references to various Virginia wineries that were losing business because of poor customer service? One of them recently went on the block following a bank foreclosure.

Who says Customer Service doesn’t pay for itself?

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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“I’m NOT happy!”

How do you respond when you hear this from a customer? Your response could mean the difference between staying – and even growing your business – or losing customers.

As a professional, I have to deal with unhappy customers like we all do. But I have learned that an unhappy customer can be my greatest opportunity to not only keep that customer but make him/her so happy that others will come because of the way I handled the initial complaint.

As a customer, I’m quick to express my dissatisfaction (yes, I can be “high maintenance” on occasion) when my expectations are not met. Let me give you two examples:

1. My wife and I hit a McDonalds’ drive-thru and placed an order over the outdoor speaker system. I even confirmed my order, not only at the speaker, but also with the lady who handed me my order, even though the amount I expected to pay did not add up right. My suspicions were confirmed when my wife began doling out our meals and I was shorted a cheeseburger. Because I was so hungry, I turned around, drove back to the McDonalds and stormed in to get my order straightened out. After (rather angrily) complaining about the missing cheeseburger, the manager quickly hustled one up for me and refused to allow me to pay for it, over my protestations.

2. It was 4 PM on Christmas Eve at WalMart. A popular camera advertised on sale was not on the shelves and I joined several other people who had made the trip in to purchase the camera. When the clerk could not contain our mounting frustration over not being able to find the advertised camera, she had a supervisor come to help her. Between the clerk and her supervisor, they asked us for some patience and then ran to the loading dock to see if the latest truck had our cameras. It did and everyone who stopped in to pick up the camera, walked away happy. The amazing part was that all this was done with a smile on the faces of the clerk and supervisor, who both made sure to smile to us and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

What are my reactions as a customer in both cases? I have made sure that I go back to each of those establishments and even told others about the great service I received.

What I ALWAYS preach to other business owners is to look at themselves the same way a customer would. If you were a customer walking into your establishment for the first time, is it someplace you would want to spend your time and money or would you run away?

Do you treat an unhappy customer as something to tolerate and get rid of or an opportunity to increase your bottom line? Your answer to that question could literally be the difference between prosperity or the unemployment line.

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Economics and Customer Service

Have you tried to get a mower, chain saw, garden tractor or similar outdoor lawn equipment fixed lately? If the piece of equipment is old enough, you’re told to dump it and purchase a replacement. If a part is broken, you will probably have to wait until the manufacturer decides to make new parts on their schedule, not yours. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated instance with one company. The entire industry seems to have decided to adopt this model for “cost” reasons.

One dealer has gone so far as to put the manufacturer’s rep on a speaker phone in the shop to allow the customer to hear that explanation directly. Obviously, the customer was upset, as well as the dealer. When this dissatisfaction was voiced to the manufacturer, the response was a verbal shrug of the shoulders accompanied by a tepid apology.

As noted in a previous posting, this is another example of cost being used as an excuse to make a customer less than satisfied. When this policy is adopted industry wide, the initial apparent cost savings can be justified because “everybody is doing it.” Customer satisfaction and loyalty is taking a back seat because there will be similar policies in place and the risk of losing an unhappy customer is lessened.

Does this sound familiar?

The airline industry has been on a similar path for years, gradually cutting amenities and making the flying experience more uncomfortable as time goes on. Because of security issues and horrendous costs for fuel, airline trips are now something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Recently, the result of this cost cutting and mistreatment of passengers made the news when a fight between passengers on an international flight out of Washington, DC forced the pilot to turn the plane around, dump thousands of pounds of fuel and be escorted back to the airport by Air Force fighter planes. What caused the fight? It turns out that a passenger reclined his seat so far back the passenger behind him slapped him in the head, leading to the scuffle that forced the plane to turn around. Neither passenger was charged with a crime and the flight left again following a police investigation.

News accounts of the story revealed that this incident was but the latest of its type and was described as being the result of rising passenger dissatisfaction and anger. The industry was then mildly taken to task for its declining standards in the treatment of passengers, or as one wag noted, “One no longer sees the motto, ‘Fly the FRIENDLY skies.'”

Is this a model other industries REALLY want to follow?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Customer Service vs. Customer Loyalty

At the request of another business consultant, I am reviewing some materials he is hoping to use in upcoming training/facilitation sessions for clients interested in improving their customer service efforts. The materials are eye-opening, to say the least. And the reaction I’m receiving from others when I discuss this topic is also a revelation.

When I ask business owners about customer satisfaction, I tend to get stock, canned replies citing statistics or surveys that make them feel good. When I run across their customers, the answer to this same question may not be very favorable. When pressed further about the gap between the two answers, it’s not uncommon to hear excuses citing “policies” and “costs” for the differing perceptions.

In one case, a local auto dealership proudly advertises its superior customer service department as one of the reasons people should purchase vehicles from them. However, the other evening I stumbled across one of this dealer’s customers who gave me a scathing review of the service he has received from this same department. This customer cited repeat trips to fix the same problem with his vehicle and is knowledgeable enough to know what the fix should be that is not being performed for cost reasons, even though the dealer repeatedly insists on charging him for the faulty “fix”. This same customer also disputed a diagnosis blaming a “broken wire in the wiring harness.” The dealer wanted to charge this customer 30 hours of labor for removing and reinstalling the wiring harness. This does not even include finding the “broken wire”. In response, this customer spent an hour removing the wiring harness himself, stripping off most of the insulation, then took the harness to the dealer, dumped in on the service manager’s desk with the challenge to show which wire was broken. I’m waiting to hear what the answer was.

Is this customer’s experience an isolated instance? Sadly, the answer is probably not. But is it more cost effective to make the customer happy or have him go away and bad mouth this business?

Isn’t that the true price of customer loyalty?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Measuring Customer Service

I was reading a bit of fiction on the internet recently and came across a passage where the protagonist was interacting with a waiter trying to take care of 30 different tables at once. While the waiter was doing his best to try and be sociable and answer all the customer’s questions, the interaction had to be cut short to allow the waiter to attend to all his other customers. This left the protagonist wondering if the waiter expected a larger tip for taking the few extra moments he spent answering questions. In addition, the protagonist also wondered if the waiter still expected tips automatically for just doing his job instead of as a reflection of the quality of service he provided.

Are tips a true measure of the quality of customer service?

If so, what would happen to your business model if the amount you received from the customer relied on tips provided for good customer service?

In a retail model, tipping could be a true indicator of the customer’s satisfaction with the help received by the sales staff. An acquaintance of mine was fuming the other day about her experience in a high end shop, where she received little or no notice from the staff on the sales floor until she found someone at the cash register and complained. After some questions and answers back and forth, a sales person was found who, grudgingly, provided some assistance but had to be pushed to do so. Afterward, my acquaintance wrote a letter complaining of her poor experience and received a letter of apology from the manager, along with a small gift certificate. My acquaintance returned, but grudgingly. The poor initial experience was reinforced by her return visit.

Would tips have resulted in better service? Putting such a plan in place would be difficult, but the possibilities are interesting.

Likewise, customer attentiveness can be overdone. A recent review I read online about another retail outlet skewered an attempt to be playful, interesting and informative by the sales person as being smarmy and coming on too strong. In this case, tips are accepted and encouraged. Some of the skewered behavior has resulted in bigger tips in the past, but is obviously not always welcomed by the customer.

Customer service is not easy but it can be well worth the effort. The key is to pay attention to the customer’s wants and needs.

Could you and your business survive if tipping for service were part of your compensation?

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Giving and Taking

The business networking group, BNI, has a mantra that is constantly repeated, which is, “Givers Gain.” This mantra was recently made clear by a friend of mine who attends several other networking sessions and commented about feeling the fatigue many business people experience when he stated that he does not always see easy results from his many networking encounters with others. While relating the story, my friend went on to note that he realized he was approaching these networking sessions with the wrong attitude. He was going to these meetings with the attitude of taking something away after it was over, when he should have been attending with the attitude of giving something to others.

When you meet with other people, what is your attitude? Are you meeting with the other person with an eye toward taking something from that other person, or are you meeting with the other person with an eye toward giving something away to that other person?

When you’re meeting with customers, what is the approach you take? Are you trying to sell your product/service/self regardless of whether it meets the customers’ needs? Or are you trying to sell your product/service/self to meet the customers’ needs?

My wife’s brother, who had a successful career selling cars, understood this concept and thrived by taking the time to sell the customer what he/she NEEDED rather than what the dealership was pushing at the time. Personally, I have used this approach when I sell wines to people visiting the wineries I work at. I will take the time to understand the customer’s individual preferences and needs as I try to pair them up with particular wines. The result has been spectacular, as I see repeat customers who come back time and again for tastings and bring their friends.

This was a BIG lesson I had to learn through trial and error. But as the BNI saying goes, “Givers Gain”.

What is your sales style?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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