Customer Retention at Its Best

Customer Retention at Its BestLast weekend my wife and I had tickets to Cabaret, starring Alan Cummings, most recently popular in The Good Wife, and Michelle Williams, another well- known motion picture actor.  We both were eagerly looking forward to the performance, humming the tunes in our heads all week.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see that show, but instead watched a perfect performance on how to get repeat business.

Per our usual MO, we arrived early.  Not really planning to have lunch but because we had time on our hands, we decided to get a bite to eat before the show and noticed a pub across from the theater called Characters.  Opening the door to Characters, we knew we were in for a treat.  The bartender, whose smile was as big as the circular bar itself, greeted us with a big hello even though he was serving other customers.  We knew immediately that here was a happy person and eager to engage with people in the restaurant.  Liam introduced himself and told us that Shavaughn would show us to a table.

Shavaughn was a lovely young woman with a pleasant Irish accent who asked where we would like to sit.  She was so attentive, polite, and smiling that, without even a conversation, made us feel so welcomed.  It was obvious that our business was appreciated.

Characters is a small place so it was easy to see and hear the other customers.  A couple walked in and Liam said, “welcome back.”  They were spending the weekend in New York City, from New Jersey, and it was their first time seeing a Broadway show.  Liam asked if they enjoyed Jersey Boys.  There are hundreds of restaurants in New York but the couple from New Jersey returned to Characters because Liam was there and they felt welcomed.

Shevaun reviewed the specials of the day for us and catered to our every request; water with no ice, lemons on the side.  She asked us in a caring and not meddlesome way if we were going to see Cabaret and replied, “ that’s great!”  We shared that my wife loved Alan Cummings and couldn’t wait to see the show.  Shavaughn informed us that she had heard one of the main actors was so sick on Friday evening that the show had been cancelled. She wasn’t sure who was ill, but asked Liam, who said it was Alan.  We were upset because he was sick and wouldn’t be starring in Cabaret that day.  Armed with this information, my wife went across the street to inquire about the actor’s health.  Sad but true; the understudy would be performing.  Because it was early, we were able to exchange our tickets for another day.  Without Shavaughn’s interest, it would have been too late to change our plans.

Disappointed that we couldn’t see the performance, we decided that being at Characters made the day ok.  While the staff at Characters were not professional actors, they were Welcomers and played their parts to perfection.  Liam and Shavaughn were friendly, engaging and personal and treated us as if were long time friends.

We missed seeing the play that Sunday, but found a new place to eat where we knew our business would always be appreciated.  Too many establishments don’t understand that repeat business can be easily obtained. It takes hiring the right people and training them to be engaging and interested. Customers are people first. Keeping good staff on the payroll provides continuity so customers will want to return.

Our tickets for Cabaret are in three weeks.  We will definitely return to see Liam and Shevaun. I guarantee  they will recognize us as soon as we enter the restaurant and  give us those big smiles and welcoming looks. We’re returning for a repeat performance.  We already saw the previews: Customer Retention at Its Best.

The Motion Picture Industry Doesn’t Understand Customer Experience

The Motion PIcture Industry Doesn't Understand Customer  ExperienceOn the front page of the Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal just a few days ago was an article titled: Fewer Americans Go to the Movies.  The primary focus of the piece was that although revenues reported by the Motion Picture Industry were up, attendance was down.  The reason quoted was the continual rising price of a ticket. The Association is lobbying for lower ticket prices.  Hollywood wants people to go to the movies, see newly released films on the big screen, and not wait until they can be streamed to their laptop or television.  Theaters want those same people to come and buy popcorn and enjoy the entire experience.

I think the article has missed an important piece of the puzzle.  It ignores a major reason why attendance is down; the lack of the customer experience. While I have not conducted a formal survey of former or current moviegoers, I hear many stories of why people prefer to watch a movie on the small screen instead of going to a theatre. All of these have nothing to do with the ticket price but with the lack of service and quality and the ideal customer experience.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Ticket sellers and ushers who are not welcoming, act robotically and don’t understand that going to a movie should be like attending a Broadway play. Theater agents should be taught to engage patrons and get them excited about the entertainment they are about to see
  • Dirty seats and some that are even covered with plastic bags because they are broken.  When I see that, I just want to cringe
  • Bathrooms that are messy, look like they have not been remodeled in more than 30 years and don’t have enough toilet tissue or paper towels.  Add the broken mechanical hand dryers and overflowing garbage cans to make everything even more unpleasant
  • Little or no staff to answer a question. My wife and I went to a movie a few weeks ago and all of the previews were in black and white.  Locating someone in the lobby to voice our concerns was like finding a needle in a haystack

The Motion Picture Industry and the theaters they represent should develop more quality standards. In New York City, every restaurant is rated with a code of A, B or C. Believe me, nobody wants to eat at a restaurant with a B or C sign in the window.  There should be ratings for theaters, as well.  Even Trip Advisor and Yelp have very few comments on the quality of the theater itself, but there should be.

The price of a ticket is important to the consumer but just as decisive is the environment and service in the theater.  When these are absent, the enjoyment of watching a movie is taken away.  Instead of, “ I can’t wait to return, the thought is, next time I’ll wait until the film is released online.”

Going to the movies used to be the great American pastime.  The theaters were magnificent, finely appointed with chandeliers, staff dressed in freshly pressed uniforms who ushered you in for an experience.  I remember getting dressed up to go see a film at the theater.  Those days are gone, but I wish certain parts of that by-gone era would be a pathway for the future.  As with any industry, the customer experience is key.  Certainly an industry whose mission is to entertain should realize that part of the editing should include the customer experience.

How to Turn Complaints into Opportunities

How to Turn Complaints into OpportunitiesIn days, gone-by, your refrigerator was an old friend for at least twenty years, furniture withstood decades becoming valuable antiques and people talked on a phone and didn’t use it to play games and it was indestructible.  Yes, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that products do become obsolete.  But, that is no excuse for a product to fall apart just when the warranty is going to expire.  Or, what’s even worse, that the product doesn’t work when you unpack it from the box.

Everyday we hear horror stories about short-lived products.  A mirrored chest of drawers cracks two months after delivery and a pricey set of bathroom faucets tarnish within one month. The manufacturer actually told our neighbor that the product is not supposed to get wet.  Odd because they were obviously going to be used in the sink and shower!  Another friend installed a fan and one of the blades came apart, creating a dangerous situation.  A colleague bought a new smart phone that continually turned off in the middle of conversations with important clients.

The bottom line is that in general products are not made to last as long as they did in the past. Unfortunate but true, so what do we do about it?

Create an opportunity; turn the proverbial lemons into lemonade.  The opportunity becomes fixing the problem or issue with almost seamless effort and personalized service.  Companies must have policies, training, and procedures in place to rectify problems.  Customers will leave brands, shop elsewhere, and certainly buy a different fan or faucet if the agent in customer service cannot overcome the obstacle of a faulty product.

I am happy to report that most of the stories have a happy ending.

When Janelle Barlow first wrote the book, A Complaint is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong, I’m sure she never imagined that companies would have so many “gifts” handed to them.

Quality control and the brand reputation start with the product design. Ensure your merchandise has all of the right components to reduce defects. But, also insist that built into the product design is a service-strategy that will make the customer say and think, “this is a company I like and trust and who appreciates our loyalty and doesn’t take our business for granted.”

Each product complaint is an opening to build a relationship; don’t ruin it.

Why is there no “Customer” in CRM?

CRM and personalized serviceExecutives think that because CRM means Customer Relationship Management that it was created to help the customer get more personalized service; quite the contrary.  CRM is a system used primarily for managing a company’s interactions with current and future patrons. Wikipedia defines CRM as technology that organizes, automates, and synchronizes sales, marketing, customer service and technical support.

CRM and the impact on personalized service

Our friend, Bonnie, was complaining that her corporation recently installed a CRM system and to her disappointment instead of improving the business model it was a detractor.  She quickly realized that the CRM system was designed to allow management to keep track of her contacts and actually removed the option for her to provide personalized service to her customers. Bonnie sells a line of accessories, replicating the Tupperware concept.  Prospective buyers come to her home or other designated locations because she sent them an invitation in the mail, by email or making the old-fashioned phone call.  Her prospects are people she knows well, or friends of friends who recommend her line.  There is rarely the need to advertise and people are always attracted in large numbers to her events.

One of the ways that she continues to build relationships and generate repeat business is to send each person who attended one of her “parties” a personalized email.  She not only details what was purchased and that she hopes they enjoy whatever was bought, but to have a great time on the trip that’s in the offing or good luck with that college application.  Bonnie can mention these things and deliver personalized service because she has had a conversation with the individual and a relationship was created. The follow-up communication further builds upon an already established foundation.

Unfortunately, the new CRM system generates an automated email thanking the people for attending, signed with Bonnie’s name and itemizing all of the items that were purchased. In effect, her company has removed the word customer and taken it out of the equation. They have replaced personalized service with automation. That doesn’t make sense.

Bonnie is one of the most successful sales associates in the history of the company. She is now afraid that her customers and prospects will slowly diminish over time because what was once “up close and personal” has become another run of the mill communication that makes her no different than anyone else.

Yes, it is true that the CRM allows Bonnie and other reps to have a clear and accurate record of each customer and their purchasing history.  However, technology has its limitations.  Repeat business does not happen automatically but is created over time.  Treating the customer as a person first and customer second with the primary motivation being the person’s state of mind rather than their method of payment will clearly differentiate your organization from your competitor.  Relationship is person to person.  Don’t allow technology to steal your thunder and replace personalized service with robotic.

‘What’re You Gonna Do With All That Data?’ – Effectively Using Data To Improve Customer Experience

Effectively Using Data To Improve Customer ExperienceToday I am excited to share with you a guest post by Adele Halsall.

Data is your company’s best friend. The information you gather regarding the demographics, locations and spending habits of your customers will no doubt already be playing a huge role in your ecommerce strategy. And one only has to Google the term ‘Big Data’ to know that this is one particular business tool that isn’t going away anytime soon.

You will probably already be familiar with the various ways in which businesses and call centres can discover more about their customers; from asking the right questions in customer surveys, to storing purchase records and grabbing demographic data left by website traffic.

But how can this data be actively utilised to improve your call centre and, in turn, your customer experience? You need to be looking for ways to implement new data that is being gathered all of the time into your current customer experience strategy. In other words, you should be looking at how to turn static data into action.

1.    Post-Call Questions

Surveys presented to customers soon after they have made a call to your contact centre can give you great insight about its current performance, as can the information recorded by your reps immediately after they finish a call. Ideally you want the two to correlate so you can be content that your customers and reps are residing on the same page. If not however, see the two types of data as a useful way of monitoring the performance of your reps and seeing how this is reflected in the eyes of the customers.

Record and monitor information like:

  • The time of call. This will help you to recognise the times of day your centre receives most calls, and add more staff at these peak times if necessary.
  • The customer’s reason for the call. This will indicate the most common types of queries or issues that encourage customers to call your contact centre.
  • How long the customer had to wait before speaking to a call centre rep.
  • How long the call lasted. How fast are your reps at solving customers’ problems?
  • Whether the query was answered. When combined with the customer’s reason for calling, this could shed light on which types of issues are the most tricky to resolve. It can also be nice to offer some sort of compensation for product malfunctions, or problems that were not able to be fixed, such as a replacement, discount, or refund of the
  • Whether the rep has promised a follow-up call or a follow-up is required. This should be tracked to ensure that reps are following up their calls within the specified time frame. Alternatively you could have a separate team of customer service gurus who work solely on follow-up cases.
  • Open questions that allow the customer to give his/her point of view (such as what could be improved about the service).

2.    Brand Questions

Of course you don’t just want to know about your customers’ recent experience with your company, but their previous experience up until this point. This helps you to determine the state of your current relationship with that customer and what you can do to strengthen this. Consider coaxing the following information from customers throughout your surveys and call centre interactions:

  • How long has the customer been using your brand? Are they a first-timer, or a frequent purchaser? How frequent? If your company does not already have a customer loyalty scheme in place, it can be a great idea to offer ‘thank you’ perks to customers who have been giving you their custom for one year; three years; five years, etc…Or that have made a certain number of purchases. This could be a free gift or product discount, which could increase in value the longer your customer has been coming back.
  • Has the customer contacted your company before? This may be the first time your customer has ever had reason to get in touch, or it could be that they have been involved in several conversations regarding one issue, or indeed several issues. The frequency of calls per customer can certainly highlight long-term problems within your product structure or customer experience strategy, and correlations should be tracked and monitored accordingly to determine where the system is failing.

3.    Customer Questions

And of course, those little details about your customers can by no means be overestimated. These include their date of birth, location, whether they use your services online or in-store (or both), and perhaps even their occupation.

Knowing more about your customer allows you to get an idea of your key demographics and in return, offer customers little additional benefits that may have absolutely nothing to do with your own products or services. This will impress customers and go a long way to showing them that you care.

The offer of a free gift or product discount on their birthday, for example, is sure to go down a treat, and you may even choose to share exclusive deals run by partners, which could be relevant to some customers based on their careers or interests. Updating customers on upcoming offers or events in their area makes use of their location information, and this can also be useful when governing traffic in call centres that may be location-specific.

About the author:

Adele HalsallAdele Halsall is a writer and researcher for Customer Service Guru. She is passionate about retail and consumer trends, and how this is shaped and governed by advertising and social marketing.

She is particularly experienced in marketing and customer engagement, and enjoys contributing to ongoing debates related to best business practices, start-up culture, and the culture of customer relations. Email her at or @gurucustomers.

Hire the Right People For the Right Jobs

Hire the right people for the right jobsEspecially in this era of ever-changing and advancing technology, first impressions are still important. Repeat business cannot be generated without initially creating a personal relationship or connection. Whether it’s ecommerce where it begins with the first click, a brick and mortar store when you encounter the person who says or does not say hello, or the automated voice messaging system or tone of the agent as you wait on the phone.

I don’t understand or fathom why any business would ever have people working who don’t automatically have the capacity,  personality or training to welcome the customer, give them hope that they will be doing business with a company who wants to create an exceptional experience and appreciates their patronage.

Here are some examples:  What are these owners or managers thinking?

  • I went into a restaurant on a very cold day, where the coat-check lady was nasty, didn’t say hello, and was obviously annoyed. Yes, the first and last person who I encountered left me with a bad taste; no pun intended
  • One of the largest museums in New York City offering computer generated electronic passes, requires visitors to pick up their printed tickets at the Will-Call window. The person behind the desk was so offensive that everyone on line, including children, were stressed out just thinking about communicating with the woman who acted like she was protecting Fort Knox (not that I’m familiar that place)
  • Our friends were visiting a bridal shop to find a gown for their daughter and arrived with a group of excited onlookers including the groom’s mom, the bride’s two sisters and her favorite niece.  The party was greeted, if you could call it a “greeting” with “who is the bride?” Not a friendly hello and congratulations for the upcoming nuptials, which would have been appreciated.
  • My wife and I went to the children’s department of a well-known and prestigious department store to purchase a gift for a new baby.  After telling the sales person what we were looking for, her response was not “oh that’s so exciting or even, how nice,” but I’m busy right now, why don’t you look through the merchandise yourselves
  • I met a friend at a café for breakfast at the time the shop first opened.   You would think we would be greeted with, “good morning,” Instead, it was, “ we are not ready yet, just wait.”  This coupled with loud music, that was probably great to get the restaurant going,  but certainly not good for customers who were trying to start their day with a quiet conversation over a cup of coffee and a croissant.

Successful and profitable businesses that receive valuable and rave reviews on social media, are aware of how critical it is to always welcome customers.  Whether it’s ecommerce, phone or face-to-face, the crucial initial step for any business is to ensure that  the right people are hired who can make the best first impression. Generating repeat business is not difficult; it’s mostly common sense.




The PPAC and its Affect on the Consumer

The PPAC and its Affect on the ConsumerCall it the PPAC, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, the impact on consumers has yet to be seen.  That being said, it is obvious that the new healthcare mandate will change how patients relate to their doctors, hospitals, drug companies and other providers in the industry.

One of the primary goals of the PPAC is for consumers to take greater responsibility for their own well-being, especially with preventative medicine, good nutrition and regular exercise.  The Act provides rewards for doctors to keep their patients healthy and delay complications from chronic diseases.  There are no copays for preventative care and wellness.  In essence, the law is allowing for both patients and providers to be proactive and emphasize health over disease.

In the past, people relied on their doctor to diagnose and prescribe.  Now, consumers are doing their own research on the Internet and calling pharmaceutical companies in greater numbers to ask questions about medications and possible side effects.  Patients and caregivers are arriving at the doctor’s office more prepared and able to have a higher quality dialog about their physical condition.

How will the new law affect us?  Remains to be seen but the hope is that the consumer will step up to the plate and take charge.   Just as we would investigate buying a new car or computer, we will do the same with our health care.  The expectation with PPAC is that doctors and pharmaceutical companies will encourage patients to be better educated and take positive steps to feel good and maintain that status quo.

5 Tips For Building Trust

5 tips for building trust in customer serviceTrust is the most important ingredient for building customer loyalty. Without it, any relationship, whether personal or business, will not flourish. When trust is broken, customer loyalty is lost and rarely can be reincarnated.

Here are 5 tips for building trust in customer service:

  • Active listening  – When interacting with a customer, listening for and acknowledging their underlying emotion is a critical step in building trust. Listening communicates to the person that you are interested in learning why, for example, they are frustrated, excited, disappointed, concerned, etc.  Hearing a customer’s words, translating them into an emotion, and then responding provides a strong foundation for building a long-lasting relationship.
  • Sharing personal feelings – Let customers know your personal opinion if they ask. If an outfit doesn’t look good, a dish isn’t the best on the menu or you know the quality of an electronic gadget is suspect, communicate your thoughts. These are stepping stones for continual trust.
  • Recommending competitors – Just as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street recommended that a customer go to competitor’s store to find the perfect gift, make sure your representatives learn about similar products that might be a better fit for your customers.  This ties in with the two tips above; your associate is listening and demonstrating compassion.
  • Standing behind your products – When something goes wrong with one of your products do whatever necessary to quantify that your organization is quality driven and customer focused. “When the rubber hits the road,” make sure your company rises to the occasion.
  • Following-through – Over the long run, following- through, following-up and keeping customers informed is the link in the chain of trust that can never be broken. When someone is told you will get back to them with a resolution or that you will let them know about an upcoming sale, or if the shirt they are looking for can be found in another location, promise a date and communicate before then, never after.

Aristotle said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I’m not sure that his words of wisdom apply to building trust; each ingredient must be present and reinforced with every customer encounter.  Break one, trust is gone and creating long-term loyalty will certainly fail to ever develop.

Let me know if you have other tips for building trust that work. I trust there are many good ideas that can help us all.

When are surveys a total waste of time?

surveys are a waste of timeLast Tuesday, when the big snowstorm hit the northeast, I had to travel to a conference in Philadelphia.  Coming from New York City, I would usually drive but because of the weather opted for the train so I could relax and enjoy the ride in addition to answering emails along the way.  I must have been so comfortable that upon arrival, forgot to check the seat pocket and left my Verizon mobile Air-card on the train.  Of course, I could hear my wife,  “I told you to be careful about putting things in those places, hidden from sight.”

When I arrived at the hotel and realized my mistake, I called Verizon for advice, assuming it would be difficult to find my lost Air-card because I couldn’t tell Amtrak which seat or car I had traveled in.   The representative at Verizon was pleasant enough, and told me that my all my devices were covered by insurance, but I needed to contact their insurance provider, Asurion. She gave me their telephone and website. She also told me she didn’t see my device listed, but would let me know what my deductible might be.

Just seconds after I hung up and started to unpack and before I had an opportunity to contact Asurion, the phone rang. Who called?  An automated voice asking me to participate in a survey about my recent experience with Verizon. Now, what’s the point? That’s a total waste of my time and their resources because how could I possibly rate my customer experience without the experience being finalized.

I don’t know:

  • How easy it will be to reach Asurion by phone or navigate their site
  • If my device is actually covered or not
  • What the deductible is and if it’s a fair and reasonable amount
  • How long it will take for my new device to arrive

Companies that want to measure the customer’s experience must reasonably estimate when the completion of that experience will be to obtain an accurate gage of loyalty towards the brand and their service delivery. A better timeframe would have been at least a week following the incident. After dealing with all the variables, I could then clearly articulate my total experience.

When I arrived home, I told my wife I needed to confess, both that I lost my Air-card and that she was right. Never again will I use the seat pocket to store my stuff. She gave me a pass.





8 Simple Suggestions to Make Emails More Customer Service Friendly

Improve your customer service emailsMany customer service managers think an email doesn’t have the potential to create or build positive relationships. Our research has proven otherwise.  Implement the following suggestions and customers will feel more welcomed, important and appreciated. The email can go a long way to help create an exceptional customer experience.

  1. Always start the email with the person’s name. We recommend using the first name, unless of course they only refer to themselves as, “Mr. or Mrs. Smith.”
  2. Try to start and end the email with a sentence not directly related to the issue, like, “ I hope you had a nice weekend” at the beginning and conclude with “ Have a wonderful day.”
  3. “Listen” for the underlying emotion of the question or complaint. Writing, “I hear you’re frustrated, disappointed, or concerned, but we are here to listen to you,”, will help to create a personal connection. If the customer sounds excited or happy, reference those emotions too.
  4. Read the email carefully for anything mentioned that might be personal. For example, a customer might write, “I just had a baby and wasn’t sure if your brand of shampoo would be safe.” Instead of just answering the question, connect and say, “Congratulations on your new baby.”
  5. Use the word help. Write, “I would like to help, I want to help you, I would be happy to help.” Employing the word help conveys a feeling of being “helpful.”  You may have to refer them to another source or even tell them that a product might be discontinued, but people still like to feel the agent is trying their best.
  6. Provide a telephone number and your hours of operation in case the email does not fully answer the question. Research has shown that customers generally prefer the company respond using the same communication channel as they initiated, but sometimes it’s more appropriate to have a conversation.
  7. If you know you are answering a question from a loyal customer, thank them for their loyalty. If the customer is new, thank them for selecting your company.
  8. Always sign the email with a person’s name, never with just the department. It could be fictitious, but that isn’t the point; it’s the personalization that creates the connection.

Implementing these suggestions won’t increase costs, but can help create exceptional customer experiences that increase sales and profitability.