Archives for customer service

Have YOU had Your Customers for a Sleepover Yet?

But, it’s good customer service!

Getting and keeping customers today is harder than ever. When opportunities arise to WOW! the customer, you need to jump on it immediately.
Take a look at this story of an opportunity that presented itself in what could have been a dire situation for both the customers and the employees. But the lead manager of the John Lewis department store in London made lemonade.
This inspiring story is delivered in this fun Prezi as you follow the adventure of an open-minded, risk-taking manager (Deborah), who did what was right for the customers, all 100+ of them.
Ask yourself, would you stick your neck out to do this? The last few slides say it the best: “It shows that great service isn’t a set of rules, it’s a mindset.”

Use right and left arrows at the bottom to view presentation at your pace. Some slides have sound, not all.

Listen carefully to Deborah as she describes the experience. Find the key culture characteristics that drive this behavior and how as a manager, she was totally comfortable in doing this at a cost. How does that culture become not only unquestioned, but supported by senior managers? And note the enabling, not constraining nature of the effort.

“Sharing your customers’ problem and doing all you can to help solve them.”

Share your customer service hero experience here.                          

Small Business vs. Unlimited Guarantees

“Is the customer is always right”?

In reality, is the customer always right? No, not really. Many customers have taken advantage of that adage and have started using it to get something for nothing.

This mindset has occurred as corporations  have extended warrantees for longer terms and in some instances for a lifetime. The wording of such warrantees varies as to what constitutes a guarantee-able cause. Some are unconditional.

Why have companies made these promises to repair or replace their goods with such risk? Well, they either believe their products will last that long, they are desperate to compete on something other than price or they are playing the odds that most people will not return their purchases. All of these have associated costs that you pay for upon purchase.

What has gotten customers (a minority that is growing) to this point? Why are customers willing to lie to get “free stuff”? Retail clerks tell stories of products returned way past their guarantee expiration and with elevated tones decry the failure of the products until they have talked to higher ups and gotten what they want. Are their claims legit? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. They just know that if they scream loud enough they’ll get what they want.

With online and telephone (mail order) purchasing, it gets even worse. Without face to face contact on a return, theReturns line elevation of tone, the assertiveness of conversation and the “I won’t take no for an answer” speech can become
belligerent and often does. Lacking eye contact and the emotional connection of a personal conversation, the clerk on the other end of the line seems less human. Getting your way results in a freebie. The caller goes away swinging high fives while the clerk on the other end feels diminished, defeated and demoralized. After all, this is the company he works for, the products he believes in resulting in a desire for combat pay.

Big business created this practice

Companies have that right to offer any extended warrantees they wish. The do need to live up to them. They also need to spell them out completely. If a $10 billion company makes $800 million in profits, they can afford to risk a 7-9% return rate without affecting the bottom line much. They may get added business because of their warranty which will more than make up for the return rate. Returns may be resold at discounted prices if not damaged.

How can I as a small business compete?

Small businesses that resell products can live by their product manufacturers’ warrantees. If they provide an installation of the products, they should warranty the installation as well or declare in the terms that installation is not included. Some manufacturers offer some compensation for re-installation of their products at a pre-negotiated discounted rate if failure occurs. For large failures, say an entire commercial HVAC system, a negotiation with the manufacturer should be executed in order to not put a small business under financial duress.

Are customers ‘entitled’ to warranty freebies?

  • Customers returning products claiming failure, defective performance or damaged items are entitled to a replacement or repair per the warranty terms. If cash refunds are available, they should be spelled out in the terms. Many products are replacement or repair only.
  • Returns PolicyCustomer honesty is important. If the customer is lying about the performance of the product, they damaged the product themselves or misrepresented how they received the product, the conversations become ugly. Situations such as these need to be protected under the warranty terms and conditions.
  • Don’t offer cash back unless there is proof of purchase/receipt and the time elapsed is limited.  Most people don’t read warrantees until they need to use them, so make sure you’ve covered your company.
  • Do the math. What exactly is it costing to accept, say 8%, of sold products back? In your calculations, figure the labor, postage/trucking etc. as well. What handling will be needed afterwards to re-sell, re-condition, liquidate or dispose of the item? Whatever the average cost is, include it in the sale of the product after deducting the re-sale. If the cost is high, manage your warranty terms carefully.
  • In the case of service-only businesses, call-backs are costly. Sending a technician, installer, service person back to a customer has hidden costs. Not only is the employee time lost, the transportation costs (mileage, time), that tech’s billable time is lost, parts replacements and the lost confidence in your business’ ability to do the job right the first time is now questioned. Remember that customers talk and one bad experience gets shared many times over.

Returned sales cost small businesses thousands of dollars each year. If they aren’t accounted for ahead of time, they come off the bottom line. It is possible to protect yourself by planning ahead. Do the math and protect your profits.

5 Must-have Strategies to Crush Your Competition

Tired of clichés?

“It’s a win-win deal”; “To be honest with you…”; “Put lipstick on a pig”. Why not teach your employees to talk effectively instead?

You can always tell when you are having a conversation with someone trying to sell you something. The clichés come at you like the tapping of a dot matrix printer printing the bible. Why not remove the clichés from the conversation and deliver a direct hit story that applies to your customer.

Use fewer words that have more meaning. Overused clichés tend to get customers indiscriminately nodding their heads in approval but don’t mean anything. Anyone can use those clichés and deliver nothing. As a customer, don’t nod your head in approval. Instead, just keep asking “What does that mean?” until you get an answer that you can actually understand and they can put in writing. If you still don’t understand after that, walk away.

When you train your sales folks (you do train, right?), do you include communication style? What they say and how they say it is critical to the end result of a sale. Let’s look at a few different scenarios of who and how:Haystack of sewing needles.

  1. Retail store clerks – the interaction here is between a clerk (at the register or on the sales floor) and the customer. The conversation is usually short and can be initiated by either party. The clerk’s ability to answer a question without having to check with someone else is important. Add to that, the clerk’s ability to offer a solution to an out-of-stock product, direct the customer to the right location of a product or wisely give a non-cliché answer will please the customer. Stay away from acronyms, corporate jargon and answers not pertaining to the question. It’s not important to show how smart you are, it’s important to answer their question.
  2. Service Technicians – that’s right. Your technicians that service customers’ equipment are part of your sales team. They have face-to-face contact with customers and their performance is key to returning customers. They must be quick on their feet and have the freedom to go above and beyond to exceed the customers’ expectations. The same parameters that apply to the retail clerks apply to technicians.
  3. Delivery drivers – another often overlooked segment of your sales team. Again, they have contact with customers and their attitude can tumble your customer satisfaction rating into single digits. Include them in your customer communications and sales trainings. Something as simple as bringing in the empty garbage cans on trash day go a long way for a special touch.
  4. Inside and Outside sales people – obviously, these are the ones we always include in sales training. They have the most customer contact, should have the highest quality contact and the most enduring relationships. Their conversations must be team oriented supporting the people that will follow them in servicing the customer. Coach them on what and how to talk with customers. The use of product and manufacturer acronyms is strictly forbidden with retail customers (applies to many industry customers as well). They mean nothing to them.
  5. Others – receptionists, custodians, back-office people, fork-lift drivers and anyone that touches the product or meets the customers. They all need to care. Their involvement in communication may not be with the customer, but the conversations with each other affect the customer indirectly. The way they treat each other carries through to the customers and the products.

In each of these cases, training on speech and communication is imperative. Role playing is despised by most but really puts them in a responsible light to perform. Coach them on direct communication that does not sound hurtful, commanding or misleading. Speech should be in a moderate tone, confidently delivered without using “like” or “you know”. Smiles should accompany the speech and eye contact delivers authenticity.

Yes, this does mean training all your employees. The investment will turn into gains in customers who return to buy more from you.

What are your favorite clichés? Share them here and replace them with a proper statement. Best one wins a free one-page business plan.

5 Strategies to Structure an Empowered Business – Part IV

This is the 4th of a 5 Part series on getting and keeping your business organized

See also: Part I, Part II, Part III

Technology

Do you know of any business today that doesn’t use technology in one form or another? I hope you can say no. Unfortunately, I do.

As much as we like to complain about technology, it IS here and it IS here to stay and continually change. If you can accept this, you’ll have a much better attitude about it and be able to use it to your advantage.

The one company I know that avoids using it in a retail setting doesn’t understand what it does to their customers. Let me paint the picture for you. This is a service business where customers come to a clinic by appointment. There are multiple rooms for the clients to be seen in, so patients are scheduled minutes apart to see the practitioner. Appointments are scheduled in pencil in an appointment book. Insurances are not handled by this clinic but are the responsibility of the clients. All invoices are generated by hand with record keeping done in files (as in cabinets). They are able to dispense prescriptions, again all done manually. Yes, this clinic is less expensive and their service is outstanding, but your time better be worth little.

Inventory

Customer inconvenience

Can’t remember your appointment date and time? Try calling to verify. The administrator will have to go through micro-handwritten pages of appointments trying to find yours. Don’t expect a text message reminder. Phone call reminders are in place (when they’re not too busy).

Need to file for insurance coverage? The simplified invoice turns out to be too oversimplified; expect to have denials and have to answer questions and do resubmittals to get reimbursed.

Should you need a referral to a specialist, don’t expect email communication. No such thing here. X-Rays are mailed, yes, as in snail mail.

I could go on and on, but rather, let’s talk about other technology that works. 

I’m not that bad! Technophobia or e- frugal?

For wholesale product businesses, the savings come in ordering right, turning the products on the shelves as quickly as possible to minimize storage costs or through just-in-time ordering.

Ordering right translates into aggressive negotiations with vendors, buying to get quantity discounts and extending payments to after product sale. Managing the inventory is made most efficient with bar-coding or RFID (radio-frequency identification).  Manual tracking requires extensive man-hours and reduces accuracy. A live inventory gives you real-time access to the how much, where and what inventory turns you need for re-ordering.

Monitor your deliveries through tracking software, GPS if possible and keep track of your delivery costs, especially if you offer free delivery. Stay current on truck costs and which ones are the most cost-effective. Should you lease or buy? Tracking will tell you. Tracking vehicle expenses becomes very easy this way.

For retail products, technology tracks your inventory as well, secures the pricing and minimizes theft or discounting through the sale. It again allows for minimum quantity re-ordering, pricing controls and speed of service at check-out.

For service businesses, say a commercial cleaning company, the need for tracking employee time, performance and other metrics is key to competing on cost. While competing on quality is more important, the performance and efficiency of staff in the execution of their duties is where profits are calculated. Track all metrics to see where savings may be realized.

I can’t say this enough, technology automates and makes things efficient. Invest in it rather than people whenever possible. It’ll save you money in the long run. If you don’t know where to turn to start automating, consult with an experienced technology business consultant to assess your needs and make a plan.

What is your biggest technology fear?

Next time we’ll be looking at structuring your Financials.

5 Strategies on Structuring an Empowered Business – Part III

This is the 3rd of a 5 Part series on getting and keeping your business organized

See also: Part I;  Part II

Allied Partners

5 Lessons Capture

 

Every business has to depend on outside sources for products, services and support. The relationship you establish with them will help you serve your customers to the highest level of satisfaction. Vendors and suppliers should become business partners with your business to the point that when a problem arises, they are there to help and support you through it.

Recently, an order came through for my retail client ordering custom tables for his restaurant customer. The paint color on the furniture came in a shade different than intended. After further research, it was determined that the sample that had originally been presented by the vendor was furnished while the customer intended on a slightly lighter shade from a color swatch. When the order was placed, the customer did not notice that the color description on the purchase order was not what he chose.

Colors are typical issues when ordering of products. But the question always arises, who is responsible for the error? It could be said that either party was wrong. The end user, the customer, rarely wants to acknowledge the mistake. They remember what they said and it doesn’t matter what the purchase order had written on it. Customers also do not want to pay twice for a product they are buying (nor does the retailer or vendor).

Here is how this was resolved. The vendor offered to replace the tables at no extra cost OR give the retailer a credit that could be extended to the customer. The restaurateur chose to wait for the right color and was allowed to use the delivered tables until the new ones arrived. This is a vendor who cares about his customer’s customers. He avoided a hardship for his retailer and satisfied the customer. Allowing the customer to use the delivered tables while the new tables were being manufactured is an expensive task. He will never be able to resell those as new. But the correction is a long term investment in his retailer. The retailer gets to salvage his customer who can now tell a good story to his friends.

warehouse.distribution

With vendors and suppliers, always work to establish solid partnerships. Spell out the details of how business will be handled when things go right and when they go wrong. Don’t wait for something to happen to find out. Ask them how they have handled those things in the past. Make them a part of your business and expect the same from them. Don’t do business with suppliers you don’t trust. You have to be able to trust that they are looking out for you. They will want to trust that you will help them when they need it too. That’s a partnership. When you open the lines of communication, trust ensues.

As a customer, how do you want to be treated when an order doesn’t work out? After you’ve answered that question, ask yourself, “Are you treating your customers that way?”

Tell us what you look for as a customer.

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