Can Poor Customer Service Cause a Heart Attack?

Can Poor Customer Service Cause a Heart Attack?Angela Hawkins, a Virginia grandmother, is suing Verizon for $2.35 million, claiming the company was responsible for both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ms. Hawkins says she got so upset after being threatened by a supervisor that she ended up in the hospital where an EKG confirmed she had experienced heart failure.

It will be up to the courts to decide the case, but from my own personal experience, I know that poor customer service can raise my blood pressure. All of us in the field of customer experience understand the lifetime value of purchases and past loyalty and don’t understand why others just don’t get it. I had my own situation with Verizon. I have been a Verizon Wireless customer for over 25 years. I upgraded my phone and the representative recommended I change my plan based on past usage. The following month my bill almost doubled. I went to the store to resolve the issue and the manager was more than unreasonable. I wanted to go back to my old plan and receive a credit. I felt the rep had made a mistake in reviewing the plan already in place. I received a flat out “NO.”  Really, after being a customer for the last twenty-five years?  You can bet my blood pressure was soaring.

The word “no” gets people frustrated and upset.  All my loyalty to Verizon was tossed out the window.  The company was missing the forest for the trees by not considering my years as a customer and potential future revenue. I was furious and can still remember getting more and more angry and feeling my entire body was in a free for all. It wasn’t even about receiving the refund, it was about the way I was treated with total disrespect. My business was unimportant and under appreciated.

Back to Ms. Hawkins. In her case, the supervisor said he was going to send the police since she had threatened to kill everyone in the call center. She waited for two hours in her house, scared that the police were going to show up at her door. How many grandmothers do you know who would be so frightened if this happened to them that it would make them sick? A legitimate question. This was all over a $60 credit. The supervisor called back two hours later after listening to the recording between Ms. Hawkins and the agent to apologize.  He said she never threatened anyone. It was just a miscommunication.

My wife and I decided that I get too aggravated when I hear “no”.  No also takes the form of “I can’t, I won’t, it’s our policy, etc.” Getting so frustrated isn’t good for anyone’s health. Now, I just walk away or hang up the phone. If it involves money, I forget about it. No amount is worth the chance of getting sick.  I have actually put aside dollars into an account for stupid companies. I will give-in easily, just say fine, but never step back into the store or do business with them again.

I love being in the field of customer service, but it’s like being a doctor who gets sick. They know what needs to be done to get them better. Whenever I experience poor customer service, I know better.

Have you ever gotten so upset that it made your blood boil?

Zappos – Is It Not the Perfect World?

Zappos – Is It Not the Perfect World?In an article in The Wall Street Journal, 14 percent of Zappos’ employees have resigned after the company implemented a new management structure called Holacracy. This is an interesting statistic.

Everyone knows Zappos pays new hires to leave. They only want people to stay and provide service to their customers if they really believe in their culture. Zappos has an outstanding service reputation so it must be working.

What is Holacracy? According to, the concept is a distributed authority system – a set of “rules of the game” that bake empowerment into the core of the organization. Unlike conventional top-down or progressive bottom-up approaches, it integrates the benefits of both without relying on parental heroic leaders. Everyone becomes a leader of their roles and a follower of others’, processing tensions with real authority and real responsibility, through dynamic governance and transparent operations.

When the change to Holacracy was announced, Tony Hsieh promised employees at least three-month severance if they decided that the newly implemented structure was not right for them. The offer was open to all employees including senior management. Zappos did not disclose the percentages of staff leaving by position or title in the article.

The Wall Street article reported that the “transition to self-management has been difficult.”  Mr. Hsieh is impatient with his staff and wrote a memo to that effect, stating that, “it’s taking too long to implement the new management structure.”

I think Holacracy is an interesting and workable business model, not only an unusual one.  The idea of “no bosses” creates opportunities for employees as well as responsibilities.  Obviously it is an environment where everyone has to work well with each other.

When there is a change in a business structure, especially a major shift like the one at Zappos, perhaps the problem is that there wasn’t enough lead time for the employees to embrace the new paradigm or concrete information about Holacracy rules.  Whatever the reason, bottom line is that change can be difficult and it’s important in any organization that employees and staff are successfully brought into the loop to encourage each other.

Zappos is projecting a big increase in profits for 2015 of $97 million this year, a 77.9 percent jump from $54.5 million in profits in 2014. Their customers love them. So, as I said before, they must be doing something or everything right. And as we all know, Zappos’ employees make it work.

Holacracy is a new concept to me.  Of course, I always like to learn.  I welcome feedback and want to further the conversation.

What’s your opinion?

Return Policies – Make it Visible

return-policiesHow many times have you been dissatisfied with a product or it was the wrong size or color but didn’t return it.  From my own experience, I just might not make the time or effort or I forget. Frequently, I’m not sure of what the store’s return policy is and in our digital world of commerce, I throw away the paper receipt that often contains this information. So what is the outcome?  Especially if I felt the store sold shoddy merchandise, that company lost me as a customer for a potential lifetime of purchases.

A few weeks ago, my wife had some minor surgery and the staff at my office wanted to send her flowers. My company is located in New Jersey and we live in Manhattan, so they asked me for a recommendation.

I immediately suggested Ariston Florist, who I use when I have a special occasion or event. The flowers arrived and they were beautiful.  My wife was happy. However, within a day, the roses started to wilt and within 48 hours the petals were dropping. I had two choices; one not to say anything and never shop or recommend Ariston again. No need to tell my staff of course. My second choice was to contact the florist and tell them what happened.

The choice was easy because of the card enclosed with the arrangement. It read, “We have built up an excellent reputation on beautiful flowers and prompt service. If we ever fail to meet your expectations, please let us know. It was a pleasure of give your order our personal attention.”

Seeing that message, I did not hesitate to pick up the phone. The woman who answered was friendly and upbeat. When I told her about the flowers she said she was sorry and asked if I could hold while she checked the order. She was surprised, but immediately told us she would send a replacement. An hour later, a new arrangement arrived and we enjoyed it for a week.

Ariston made my day and my wife was so happy to get another bouquet. My staff never knew of the issue.  The florist will continue to get all of my business and referrals to neighbors and friends.

People are too busy to read all your posted return policy signs and most likely don’t keep the paper receipts.  I think all businesses should include a nice note that specifies their product guarantee. Return policies should be used as an opportunity to continue the customer journey, not act as a detour. They should not trigger an abrupt end to the relationship and the loss of future dollars.

What is your company’s return policies and how do you tell your customers about them?

How Much is a Roach Worth?

how-much-is-a-roach-worthIn my case, twenty-five percent of the check.

The other day my wife and I went to one of our favorite restaurants. We dine there often; great food, good value and service, a few blocks from our apartment. Whenever friends come in from out of town, this is our go-to-place.

We were having dinner with another couple, when it appeared.  We were savoring our last bite of dessert and had already asked the waiter to bring the check, when our friends pointed out a roach crawling on the wall about 6 inches from where my wife was seated.

Embarrassed, remember the part about our “chosen” place where we bring friends, and a fighter, my wife took her cloth napkin and squashed the bug.  At the same time, our waiter brought us the check. We all chimed, “found a bug and here it is.”  You could tell from the waiter’s face, who knows us well as good customers, that he was not a happy camper.

He immediately took away the napkin and our check as we wondered what would happen next.

Our waiter brought back the bill with a recalculated amount.  There was the original total and the restaurant gave us a twenty-five percent deduction, which had a mysterious code next to it.

We weren’t sure whether the code was to specifically indicate if it was a roach or just generally a bug. We quickly computed that the roach discount was equal to $11 a person. The incident and the resolution happened so quickly that we really didn’t have time to think about fairness or anything else.  Our tip was based on the original amount since the roach was in no way the fault of our server.

Was our customer experience affected?  Of course, and not just for that meal but for the future too.  How could our favorite restaurant still be favorite if we had to be on guard for critters crawling on the wall?  What could have been a possible better outcome? Yes, our bill was reduced, but the management remained silent even if they didn’t want to call attention to our situation to other patrons. However, if they had contacted us the following day, apologized and reassured us that this was an isolated incident and would be further addressed, we might have felt more comfortable about returning.

What would you expect or want the restaurant to do?

Ten Tips to Create and Build Customer Relationships

Ten Tips to Create and Build Customer RelationshipsThere is a distinction between customer satisfaction and customer retention.  Many companies don’t understand the concept.  Someone might be happy with your product or service, basic satisfaction, but never purchase again.  Why?  The gap between satisfaction and repeat business is the relationship between the customer and the sales associate at the company.  Creating and building relationships is the link and differentiator.  Strong relationships definitely increase the probability that your customer remains yours and not your competitors.

Ten ways to create and build relationships:

  1. Have a few friends or colleagues call your company to ask a question about your services, hours or directions and see how quickly the phone is answered, how friendly the conversation is and if additional information is provided beyond just responding directly to the inquiry.
  2. In general, new customers need to know more about your services and products then repeat patrons. Create a list of items that would help first time accounts learn more about your business. It will be appreciated.
  3. Loyalty begins with a person, not necessarily the company itself. People go to the same coffee shop every day because “Mary” knows their name and how to prepare their latte without asking. Make sure you retain your associates who naturally know how to build relationships. Don’t let them go to your competitor for a $1 more an hour. Your customers will follow and you will have lost more than an employee.
  4. Review your emails, letters and posted signs to make sure that are customer friendly and welcoming. Instead of “no returns after 10 days,” write, “we will gladly accept returns within 10 days.”
  5. Train your staff to use the customer’s name. Most people pay with a credit card. When you return the card, say, “Mr. Smith, have a wonderful day.”
  6. Empower your staff to make decisions about policies and procedures without having to go to management. Give a dollar amount as a guide. For example, if the item costs less than a $100, and there is an issue, staff should have the flexibility to make the customer happy on the spot rather than having to get back to them.
  7. Instruct your staff to be observant. If someone is wearing a sport’s jersey, comment on it. If a woman has on a beautiful scarf or earrings, make a remark. People love compliments.
  8. If you own a store, and people are leaving without purchasing anything, try to find out why they came in the first place.  Engage your customers. You might learn something new that could help with future sales.
  9. Reinforce the concept about first impressions. Make sure your staff and higher management know that there is only one opportunity to make a good first impression.
  10. Welcome everyone into your business as you would welcome a guest into your home. It makes people comfortable. Give them your full attention. Put away cell phones. People feel disrespected if the text from your friend is more important than they are.

Creating and building relationships takes time, effort, and care. But, it’s more than worth it.  Relationship is the key. Learn something about your customer that can be shared on their next visit or phone call. It’s those little things that can make a big difference.

Should Service Delivery for Millennials Be Different?

Service-delivery-to-millenialsMany marketers spend too much time trying to figure out the nuances of how to sell or service various age groups, the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, etc.  I think it’s a waste of time.  The newest generation, defined as anyone born after 2004, is even yet to be named. However, scholars say that this group has experienced a lifetime of connected communication; text messaging, instant messaging, mobile phones and tablets. I guess we can now add the smart watches too. Perhaps a good name would be the “Digital” generation but is yet to be determined.

Whatever the name, I don’t understand the fuss.  Yes, it’s important to be cognizant of who and what you are selling, but I think no matter the age, people appreciate the human touch and connection.  Who doesn’t like to get attention?  I am blessed with an eight –month-old granddaughter who loves getting attention from her parents as well as anyone else in the room.  My wife is happy when I give my undivided attention too.

There is no doubt that technology is being developed at lightning speed and except for a few futurists no one can really predict what gadget will be invented next and how it will impact our lives. But, whatever may arrive, I am assured that while younger people might be able to figure out how to use the new device quickly, with short tutorials everyone else will be using it too.

I’m a Baby Boomer, but I text my friends all the time. I also pick up the telephone but less than I used to.  My 88-year mother-in-law books all her airline travel online and is an avid Facebook user. My son, 33, a Millennial, has a wife, baby, a responsible job and his own home. I’m not sure if he views the exciting new world of products and services any different than his mom or dad.

Recently, I saw research that Millennials were the most likely group to pay for better service. I studied the data and actually the numbers were relatively close among all generational groups. From my own experience, I have found that people of all ages value and appreciate superior service delivery. They are happy to pay more for faster and better service or give a higher tip to a cab driver or waiter who delivers that ideal customer experience.

Even a 10-year boy, who walks into a store with his parents and is in the midst of texting his friends, might stop if the salesperson notices he is wearing his favorite sports’ hero’s shirt and comments on last night’s game.  Maybe that boy is hoping to find those new sneakers that he recently saw one of his friends wear and the salesperson can deliver that hope by both listening and being knowledgeable about what is in stock.

Service is service, in my opinion.  Just keep to the basics; give customers hope that they have come to the right place; listen to not only what they are saying, but the underlying emotion and make them feel special long after the sale has taken place. People of all ages may not think they crave the human touch, but when they get it, they appreciate it.

What’s your opinion of segmenting service delivery by generational type?  

Delivering Service with An Artificial Intelligence Touch

Delivering Service with An Artificial Intelligence Touch In 2004, futurist Erwin Van Lun, CEO and founder of, predicted that all Fortune 1000 Business-2-Consumer companies would employ speaking artificial characters in 2015, in order to automate their conversations with consumers in an interactive spoken dialogue.

Across its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2015, Gartner identified the advent of intelligence everywhere as a key theme and said, “the smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”

It is 2015, and I agree, there is no doubt that there will be an enormous increase in the use of artificial intelligence employed in all areas of service. Speech recognition technology will become even more sophisticated and be able to understand conversations from smart phone users calling from noisy environments and with various distinct language dialects.

I have always believed and still do that the human element in customer service will never disappear. But, I feel that AI, coupled with data and tailored messages based on specific customer information, can change even my views.  It also depends on the industry and the type of information requested or issue that needs resolution.

I have no problem talking to a machine that sounds like a human, understands me without having to repeat myself and uses predictive data (another major trend) to handle my interaction in an efficient manner.  The other day I listened to a demonstration of a new software company that incorporates AI with a human analyst to provide a higher degree of accuracy and therefore a less frustrating customer service experience. I was impressed. The call’s focus was making a hotel reservation for a major chain.

The interaction was interesting and compelling.  In the sample recording a customer was reconfirming his stay at a hotel property where he had never been before.  If the AI had that customer’s history and could tailor the conversation, it would have been perfect.  If the automated voice had added, “I know this is the first time you are staying at our hotel and I hope you enjoy this location,” then the conversation would have been more personal.  That would make the customer feel welcomed and their business appreciated.

I can understand that customers might not necessarily want to talk to a machine.  But, if the transaction is smooth and thorough, the interaction can leave a positive impression.

I’m not a futurist, but with my experience in the customer service world I know that with so many communication channel options available, the result will be increased transactions. Just try to hook up your new smart TV with three remotes, 10 wires and multiple applications. Frustration is almost a given. You need help. With newer versions of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo, help will be a shout away. Just think of a scenario where if the AI doesn’t have an answer, it will automatically find a live agent to assist.

New technology should always be tested and retested. Using AI to serve your most valuable asset, your customers, must be examined piece by piece. Get your customers feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Fine-tune the experience using predictive responses to ensure a smoother and more customized interaction. But please don’t eliminate your call center filled with people who still have the greatest capability of listening to the customers’ underlying emotions and responding with a true human touch.

What’s your opinion of the impact of Artificial Intelligence to deliver the ideal customer experience?

How Long Should CRM Systems Keep Customer History?

How long should CRM systems keep customer historyWhile I’m not an expert in CRM Systems, I am a customer. I know that technology helps keep track of my previous purchases and contact information. So, when the sales associate informs me my history is gone I always feel irrelevant.  That message communicates that I am not considered a customer by the company. Additionally, it is frustrating to recreate my data.  Not the experience that any company wants to promote.

My wife and I had bought some pillows from Macy’s about three years ago.  We decided we wanted to buy two more. Easy. We called Rochelle, our salesperson (I have written about her in a previous blog). Not only did she have all our information regarding shipping but also had a record of the specific styles and colors we had purchased.  She had immediate access to the inventory and current prices.  Rochelle told us that our particular pillow was being discontinued but there were four left in stock that could be shipped the following day.  Maybe we wanted them all because we liked the pillows so much.  A great idea.  Macy’s doubled the sale and we were happy.

People move, change emails and cell numbers, perhaps even their buying preferences and it is necessary to update the CRM system.  That should automatically be part of the sales process.  Updating is easier than re-entering all the data. It is a demonstration to the person they are still a customer and important.

How long should a company maintain account data and detailed buying history?  This is a crucial question.  Retail is amorphous; a shopper may not return to a store or website for a long period.  Maybe it is a jewelry establishment where a person only shops for special occasions or a boutique ladies or men’s shop that you think of after opening the invitation to a wedding.  You’ve shopped there before and consider yourself a customer, but if the business no longer has you in their system, you might think twice about purchasing again.

My wife bought an evening gown from a small store and the dress had to be re-altered after she wore it to the party.  We were going away on vacation and she didn’t need the outfit immediately.  When she did go to pick it up, her salesperson greeted her with, “I’m glad you came today.  I was just ready to delete your name from my records.”  Although it was a good experience initially, that comment was an automatic turnoff.  She would never shop there again.  The potential for future business was tossed out the window with the delete button. Why wouldn’t there be the thought that there might be another party, wedding, or other occasion where former customers would return.

Information is golden and needs to be treated with respect.  There are confidentiality and privacy concerns.  Keeping data longer may be another budget item but purging customer history puts your business in jeopardy.  It is an integral part of lifetime loyalty.

How do you feel when a business tells you your purchases were made too long ago for them to have a record?

Seven Ways to Leave a Better Voicemail

Seven Ways to Leave a Better VoicemailEven in our text, email, and chat world, there is still voicemail.  The furniture store is calling to set up a delivery date, the restaurant is confirming your reservation or a company is trying to sell you a new service.

It is so frustrating when the message isn’t clear and the voice sounds more like a machine than a person.

It’s an easy fix.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Say, and speak slowly, “Hi, Mr. Smith.  My name is William.”  Always use the name of the person you are calling along with stating your own name.
  2. “I hope your day is going well.”  Nice to say something nice and welcoming.
  3.  “I’m happy to let you know your furniture has arrived in our warehouse and we’re ready to schedule a convenient delivery date.”  The message is clear, concise and informative.
  4. “Please call me at 800-222-9876.  Once again, that’s, 800-222-9876 and ask for William.”  It’s important to state the number twice.
  5. “If I’m not available, you can also speak to Tim or Mary.  They have your file.  They can help you, too.”  This is useful, additional information.
  6. “Our hours are Monday through Friday, 8am until 5pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 6pm.”  By providing hours of operation, the customer callback process is less frustrating.
  7. “Mr. Smith, we appreciate your business.  We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.”  Thanking the customer in the message is thoughtful and appreciated.  

Leaving a voice message should not be a motionless chore but considered another opportunity to show customers they are important, valued and their business is appreciated.  It can be a critical component of the customer journey.  It’s not just a message and if not done correctly, can definitely send the wrong one.

Hire People who are Passionate about Customer Service

Hire People who are Passionate about Customer ServiceIf I go into a pet store, I expect the people working there to love animals.  That makes sense to me.  Taking care of dogs, cats, birds, and fish can be fun but there are chores involved.  Cleaning out a cage or bathing a dirty dog requires passion.  When a pet storeowner creates a profile for the perfect employee, loving animals and being passionate about pets is a prerequisite.

Similar thoughts go through my mind when I walk into a bookstore. I expect that a principal hiring practice for a sales associate would be a love of reading.  I always ask the person behind the desk at Barnes & Noble what they have read recently and would recommend.  How disappointing if their response was, “Sorry, haven’t read anything in the past year.”  Not the right fit for a bookseller.

Every frontline associate should be passionate about customer service no matter what the industry. It must be part of their DNA.  Without passion, the experience is emotionless.  Only front line associates who care and are caring should be hired.  Customers crave a human connection.  When they find it, they appreciate it.  Relationships are created and loyalty sustained.

The customer experience is a journey.  Going on that journey with a welcoming and helpful person makes the ride much more enjoyable.  When I was researching my first book, The Welcomer Edge, Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business, I discovered the number one trait of a Welcomer was they had a history of helping.  Either they volunteered at the local library or did homework with a younger sibling.  They babysat, worked in a soup kitchen, and didn’t hesitate being there for a friend in need.

I always love to share my best customer experience stories.  Just the other day, my wife and I were meeting friends for brunch at the Brownstone Pancake Factory in Edgewater, New Jersey.  The restaurant was busy and we arrived early and were seated at a booth for four.  Where were our friends?  Oops!  Miscommunication; we thought we were meeting on Saturday and they thought Sunday.  We felt bad in the big booth while large parties were waiting in line to be seated.  Our waitress, Ashley, said, “ No worries.  Instead of four, there will be three of us for breakfast.”  It wasn’t that Ashley was going to physically join us, but mentally. She was actively engaged and we felt special, not just another customer to be served.  Ashley naturally knew what to say.

What should the number one line item in the hiring manual be for any company?  Passion for customer service.  Customer service is about fulfilling hope, being a good listener, and making people feel important.  Otherwise, the point is missed.

What are your company’s hiring policies?