Turning Customer Service Pennies Into Gold

Clueless Customer Service is killing your brand. Let’s see if you’ve ever had this experience before: you’re in line at a big box retailer, or a doctor’s office, or the airport, or…the list goes on. The experience is that you can see employees – plural – of the establishment, and they can see you. And you are standing there. And they are standing there. They might be chatting amongst themselves, or shuffling papers, or doing absolutely nothing. But there is no acknowledgement by the employee(s) that you even exist. Are you even in the right line? Do these people even care? You’re now calculating options: A) wait and maybe they’ll notice you – because you really don’t want to ruffle feathers, B) interrupt and pray for the best, or C) take your business elsewhere. But option “C” has costs, too – the time to find an alternative, travel time, and the fact that you may end up with the same exact experience – only having lost all of that extra time and money. You might find yourself feeling like Kevin from Home Alone! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!

Why would anyone put their customers in such a predicament? They are trying to give you their money, and the exact people that should make that easiest, are making it impossibly difficult.

If we are talking about customer Lifetime Value (click here to learn about LTV) to the business – it’s just been torpedoed!

From the perspective of management at the aforementioned locations, there could be perfectly good explanations for why the customer receives this experience. Managers can’t be with their people 24/7. Maybe the training budget was cut. We could come up with endless justifications, but the fact remains that this dynamic has a negative impact on Customer Service and will reduce sales.

Do Customers Really Hate Waiting?

According to Harvard Business Review (read the article here), customers are willing to wait longer when they can see legitimate reasons why they are waiting. Recently, Publix employees – at Customer Service, the deli, the Publix sub counter…mmmm, Publix subs….sorry, I digress – have begun saying “we will be right with everyone, we are sorry for the delay.” Everyone can see that they are slicing someone else’s cold cuts, or processing a Western Union transaction, but it has the effect of disarming the situation by acknowledging the Customer Experience and extending an olive branch of empathy. The customer, in turn, can see what’s happening and it allows them to get back to daydreaming about their Publix Sub.

While there are times in Customer Service where we have to be reactive to a situation that may be unexpected or that strains resources, what if we could further elevate the customer service experience? What if we could turn pennies into gold coins?

Anticipate Customer Needs – Before they Even Know they Have Them

An easy first step is to map out all of the usual needs that our customers have – even needs that are slightly off the beaten path, but still related. Often, we encounter customers who may not be in a state of mind conducive to getting the most out of the service interaction. There were 3 accidents on I95 and construction lane closures tripling their commute time. The highlight of their son’s report card was an A for effort in gym class – but they still have a D in that class – how do you get a D in gym class?? Again, I digress. This is the opposite of the earlier example of the experience at the big box retailer, airport, etc. If we know what the customer is likely to request, and we are consistently in position to deliver, then once the ice is broken with that customer, we may have the opportunity to surprise and delight them with not only fulfilling their needs at face value, but also guiding them to something they haven’t experienced. If you establish trust, the customer can experience something they hadn’t expected, laying the groundwork for a repeat customer and increasing their Lifetime Value to the business.

Anticipating guest needs is dramatically easier when prior information is compiled and accessible. You don’t have to be the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton or Mandarin Oriental hotels to have guests who appreciate knowing their preferences and acting on them proactively. For example, the business traveler passes by the coffee shop at 8am every morning for that Grande iced coffee with soy milk and 2 raw sugars – by the 3rd day, not only should the drink be ready by 7:57am, but the associates should ensure that they don’t run out in time to make that drink. That might mean brewing more coffee at 7:45am to ensure there is fresh coffee ready and that there is no chance of running out. In this previous example, there was no need to use a customer relationship management (CRM) system (check out a great CRM video here). However, in order to fully leverage this customer preference – and to pass it on throughout the hotel for future stays and other hotel outlets – this info should be recorded in the CRM system. All employees can be empowered to make inputs like this. The cumulative value is priceless – and as far as cost goes, we are truly talking pennies.

Small Investment – Big Return

In this day of viral moments spreading on Social Media, wouldn’t you want to be known for something amazing? These are the types of experiences that garner positive brand impressions worth virtually limitless amounts of money in free exposure. Creating a relationship with your customers where they know they cannot get the same service anywhere else means they will come back again and again, promoting your brand to everyone they know in person and through social media. No matter how busy your business, we all have some quiet moments here and there. Why not use such downtime to prepare some high-impact actions your team can do for certain customers? Granted, you likely won’t be able to treat 100% of your customers like VIPs, but what about strategically selecting 10% as a starting point?

Take the example from the world of Ophthalmology. What does Ophthalmology have to do with anything, you may wonder? Well, in this article published in BSM Connection for Ophthalmology (read it here), borrowing from Hospitality not only has a big impact on Client Satisfaction, but also costs virtually nothing. It is really about our disposition and how we prepare ourselves to anticipate our customers’ needs.

Act or be Acted Upon

In the end, best practices in one industry can often inform how to improve things in another industry. In this case, identifying that you have a lack of consistently outstanding Customer Service and then going after the low-hanging fruit to give you the biggest customer impact with the smallest investment of resources will get your customers to take notice. More and more customers are experiencing high level service in new industries every day. Whether they tell you or not, your customers probably already expect this from you. So why not turn those pennies into gold? I hope this provides you with a starting point to doing just that!

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