Do You Invite Your Customers to Return?

Invite A Customer to Return = Repeat BusinessIt’s human nature to be wanted.  You meet someone for the first time and have a great conversation at lunch, dinner or over coffee, the ultimate compliment is when either party says to the other, “Let’s do this again.  And let’s do it soon.” An invitation is motivating. We are hot-wired with mirror neurons to respond positively to positive, friendly requests.  Think about dating, most of us have, and we all know how important and special it feels, especially at the end of the first date to hear that it would be nice to see you next week. When you are invited to return, it makes you feel wanted and accepted. Customers who purchase goods and services are people. Those businesses that understand the value of inviting customers to return will reap the advantage of a repeat customer.

I live in New York City. There does not seem to be an official count of restaurants in Manhattan, but unofficially there are over 10,000. Even if people living in the city eat locally, there are probably at least 200 choices just in their neighborhood within a short walk or a few stops on the subway.  Eighty percent of restaurants that open during any year will close within the next 5 years. Good food is important, dollar value is vital and delivering an exceptional customer experience is critical to fight these statistics. But, those three ingredients will not always guarantee success.

City Crab and Seafood is a restaurant in my neighborhood.  My first visit was more than memorable.  The food was delicious and my waiter, Iron, was incredible. He was welcoming, engaging, and knew the menu by heart.  But what made the experience really special was that Iron invited me to return.  How?  He told me he enjoyed serving me and wanted to see me again.  Iron gave me his cell number, the days he worked and his shifts.  He suggested I text or call him directly whenever I wanted to dine and he would be my “waiter for life.”  The result?  City Crab is our “go to” place to eat and we see Iron often.  Every time we’re with him, we’re with family.

It doesn’t matter if you own a gas station, manage a customer service department or a run a medical office. If your staff communicates the message that they are eager to see a customer another time, it can work wonders. Not only does the person feel good for the moment, it’s the gift that keeps on giving and makes the customer feel good.

You might say to yourself, do I really care if I see the same person at the grocery store, mall or restaurant?  As Steve Jobs once stated, “sometimes people don’t really know what they want until they get it.”  I know that most customers go back to the same coffee shop because the people behind the counter know their name, give them that welcoming smile and say, “I will see you tomorrow.” In any enterprise, knowing that someone wants to see you again makes a person feel good. Any company with employees who are able to create and nurture a relationship and invite the customer to return, has the formula for generating repeat business

“NO” Damages the Customer Experience

No customer experienceEvery major company is trying to discover how to provide a customer experience that will generate repeat business. Many are successful at delivering moments of WOW that get their customers’ attention. But all that time and effort go right out the window with the word “no.” There are many variations: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Won’t.” All of them can destroy the ideal customer experience.

When I conduct a workshop, one of the graphics I use is a row of dominos in a perfect lineup, standing up straight and tall.  The question to my audience is: “What does this game have to do with the customer journey?”  Those tiles are positioned just right but are vulnerable to the slightest touch.   All your meticulous work will come to an end if a tile is placed in a precarious position or tapped the wrong way. Saying “NO” to a customer creates that risk.

A person hears a “no” and their brain automatically registers a negative emotion.

Even when a customer doesn’t get the answer they were hoping for, there is a sense of drawing back. The point is to tell the customer what can be done, instead of what can’t. Never saying no is about going to the next level while offering your full attention and knowing your stuff.

Last August I wanted to purchase a pair of gloves.  I’m a “boy scout” and like to be prepared – waiting until winter might mean a scarcity of cold weather gear. I asked the salesperson, “Do you have gloves in stock?”  He answered “NO.”  Nothing else.  No relayed indifference and goodbye, not interested in my business or seeing me again.

What would have been a better answer?  “I can help you even though we don’t have any gloves now.  I’ll speak to my manager and perhaps we can special order them.  Or, she can contact the manufacturer and find out when we expect delivery.  I’ll email or call you – what would you prefer?”  The result of that interaction is that a relationship has been created, even when the transaction resulted in no sale.  A great deal of information was gathered as well:  the customer’s name, how to reach them, and what they were looking for.

NO is not necessary.  There are so many alternatives, including checking with a competitor.  Use your imagination.  And, check and double-check to make certain that NO isn’t just the lazy way out.

There are many situations were no could be the first response; a company rule which can’t be bent, an item is out of stock, or a restaurant will not allow substitutions.  That’s life and business, too.  There will always be mishaps. What is important is how customer stress and disappointment is handled in order to preserve the relationship.  In fact, many times it’s an opportunity for a company to shine.

A prestigious cosmetics firm used to ship discontinued products to outlet stores.  Disappointed customers would call wanting that particular favorite shade of lipstick that was no longer available.  Our firm conducted a comprehensive satisfaction study, analyzed the root cause of the dissatisfaction.  It was discovered that customers were not only upset that the lipstick color was obsolete, but that there was no notice. It was abrupt.  The company was telling their most loyal consumers, some of whom had been purchasing specific products for over 10 years “NO”.

The leadership team went into action.  The fix was easy.  Some of the discontinued products were held back to be distributed by consumer affairs upon request. That simple change gave customer service reps a way to say “YES!” instead of no.  The conversation continued that a new color was very similar to the one they had been using.  Most importantly, the consumer knew the company understood and heard their frustration and offered a positive solution. Transitioning in that manner allowed loyal customers to remain loyal.

Before you say no, won’t or can’t, think about an alternative reply.  Let me check on that and get back to you by a specific time and day, let me ask my manager or fellow associates, let me do some research on the Internet, maybe there is another business that carries what you want are all good responses.   “NO” communicates that the customer’s loyalty journey is about end and usually in a very abrupt and disruptive manner.

Customer Experience without Competence is Doomed!

Customer experience without competence is doomedThe challenge of competence is one that every company must address. Knowledgeable and discerning customer service is more important today than ever.  Consumers can get rudimentary questions answered online.  Shoppers are so proficient in gathering information on their own that many don’t need much guidance until they’re just about ready to make critical buying decisions.

There are no simple answers anymore. The Internet can only go so far; a human is needed to size up the customer’s needs and match those needs with appropriate services or product offerings.  Sales representatives of all kinds must be patient and understanding listeners, first and foremost, but also must be solution-oriented problem-solvers who know their stuff.

When customers get their complex questions answered and intricate problems resolved, they remember. Some will take time to post positive comments on social media sites and become your most loyal brand advocates. When I contemplate the meaning of loyalty, I think about people — not places, not stores, not even brands.  I think of people who know their merchandise and also know me well enough to suggest what’s best for me.

When the phone rings, an email is sent, or a customer walks into a place of business, that consumer is on a mission. Whatever the reason, it will be one that impacts whether the relationship with the particular brand is renewed or diminished. Across the board there is turnover: call centers, retail, banking, and hospitality all report high rates of attrition. Every industry depends on frontline associates to help build loyalty with their customers.

I believe the greatest cost of employee turnover is one that is rarely quantified or even discussed.  Diminished staff capacity reduces the ability to build customer relationships and expand upon the knowledge base.  Customers might very well have a good purchasing experience if their sales associate was welcoming and engaging.  But, those same customers may not return if they feel what they really need is someone with an in-depth grasp of the store’s merchandise.

While the true cost of turnover may be difficult or even impossible to calculate, companies must be aware of the relationship between employees and generating revenue. There should be an appreciation that the bottom line is affected when there is high turnover and your business has a reputation for employing inexperienced staff.

It takes time and practice for associates to learn about your company’s specific policies, procedures and technical nuances. If your staff is not product savvy it will make it more difficult to deliver a perfect customer experience.  In order to truly estimate the impact of high turnover in your employee ranks, the cost of losing customers because of employee churn must be included in your ROI formula.

What have we learned from Henry Ford and other successful entrepreneurs in the last one hundred years? Keeping valuable employees on your company’s payroll makes good business sense. It’s really one of your best investments. Treat your employees as you would your finest customers and make their value known. Compensate them fairly. Show them the utmost respect. When your customer-friendly, knowledgeable and reliable associates leave your organization and go to your competitor, it’s a double-whammy.

Act Like a Tour Guide to Create Customer Relationships

Act Like a Tour Guide to Create Customer RelationshipsAsk questions and an opportunity is created to build a relationship.  You become the customers’ guide, a directional source that will help them solve a problem or fulfill their wish that brought them to your business in the first place.

On the flip side, answer more than the customers question and you offer a valuable resource unique to you that the customer can’t get anywhere else.  A conversation can create a customized experience that is distinct and special.  But, customers may not ask questions unless they feel engaged. The sales associate must give the customer their full attention, respect and be willing to listen. Anyone can tell if a person is interested or not.  My wife and I love to meet and get to know new people. But, we automatically fall back into non-engagement mode if we feel the person doesn’t want to connect.  A missed opportunity!

Let’s look at the theme park industry.  Families taking a vacation are frequently escorted from place to place on a small bus.  What will a good tour guide do?  Immediately engage the passengers:  ask them where they are from, have they been here before, what do they want to do at the park?  Each guest is exclusive and important and made to feel special.  Every customer could experience a similar feeling, no matter the venue.

Frontline associates should be trained to act more like tour guides at a theme park.  Customer service is a process and should be an experience, not just separated interactions in a silo.  The true experience begins with building a connection.  The best way to create that connection is with a meaningful two-way dialog.  Any conversation is initiated with thoughtful and relevant questions.  These connections lead to customer loyalty.

I asked my dermatologist, Dr. Campbell, the quintessential welcomer, why she asks me and other patients such interesting questions.  Her answer was that she likes not only to provide her patients with good medical advice but also other information that is helpful.  It could be about a new restaurant, a movie she just saw or a great place to take their grandchildren.  Dr. Campbell said her patients always talk about their grandchildren and she is so happy when they share their appreciation for her non-medical advice.  A visit to Dr. Campbell is much more than just a procedure and her patients look forward to coming back.

Customer service is about helping a customer determine what products or services are best.  You can’t do that for any retail channel without asking the customer the right questions.  Create a relationship and establish that human connection to provide a customized service experience.  That experience is the differentiator between you and your competitor.

Listening: Giving the Customer Control

Listening:  Giving the Customer ControlListening patiently to a customer gives them a feeling of control. Customers want to know they are uniquely important and their specific needs are being attended to. They don’t want to feel trapped because you are trying to sell them something. After all, selling is not about offering customers a long list of inventory, but discovering what the customer wants.  How to achieve that goal?  By engaging the customer in a meaningful and personal dialog. If you spend the time to listen, you will give the customer that special feeling they come first.

Listening Pays Big Rewards

Joe Girard is the world record-holder for selling cars. He began in 1963 at a Chevrolet dealership in Detroit and retired in 1977. While the average salesperson sold seven cars a month, nationwide, Joe sold six automobiles or trucks a day. He bested himself with a whopping eighteen cars sold in just one day! Joe gave such special attention to each customer that soon there was a line outside his office with people waiting to see him. He finally started making appointments to ensure each customer would get his undivided attention.  Obviously, Mr. Girard’s attention was worth the wait.  Joe said, “people may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.”

E-mails: Listening In-between the Lines

Our firm conducts various types of best-in-class research projects for our clients. One company wanted to know how their service and support for email responses compared to those of twenty other companies, each customer service leaders in their respective fields.  Ten different email inquiries were developed to send to the target companies and the speed and specific responses were measured.

In one scenario, the test email began, “I just had a baby and have a question about your product.” Only one of companies said “Congratulations on the birth of your child!” Obviously the underlying emotion was ignored.  It is even easier to pay attention to an email than a conversation. You have an opportunity to re-read the email. It’s less awkward than asking the customer to repeat what they just said. Another test email asked, “My dog accidentally chewed and digested part of your packaging.  Do I need to worry?” Several of the companies answered almost instantly with a reply, “please take your dog to a veterinarian.”  Good reply.  Two of the companies responded with that same message, but not until two weeks later.  Listening is not just listening. Listening is acting upon what you have heard.  In this case, offering such a slow response to a potential emergency might actually communicate less caring on the company’s part than if there had been no response at all.

What Listening Signals are You Missing?

Anyone remember the great Groucho Marx show, ”You Bet Your Life?”  Any contestant who mentioned the magic word of the day would be rewarded with a prize and a rubber duck falling from the ceiling celebrating the moment.  When I was doing research for my first book, I would frequently make a statement, a “magic phrase” to determine if a sales associate was a good listener.  It’s an opening to engage the customer.

  • This is my first time in your store
  • I just moved into the neighborhood
  • My friend suggested I might like your merchandise
  • I’ve never used your website before
  • This is the first time I have called your contact center
  • I have been buying this since I was a teenager

A representative who answers with just an okay, that’s nice, or says nothing at all, has missed a golden opportunity to start a dialog critical to securing repeat business.  You never know where the conversation may lead.  Maybe the person just moved from your hometown.  My son, Mike, is in the restaurant business and likes to engage his guests. A customer came into his brasserie and after being greeted by my son, both realized they remembered each other.  The gentleman was the little-league coach from our hometown.  They had a great time catching up the last twenty years.  If Mike had not bothered to say hello, they would have missed the chance for a special encounter.

Listen with your ears and your heart.  Then respond.  Make the customer feel respected and important.  When you pay attention you can hear the underlying emotion and then establish a human-to-human connection that has the potential to last a long time.

What are some ways you show your customers that you’re listening?

The Smart Phone: A Blessing or a Curse for Customer Service?

Get off of the phone, you're in customer serviceBrands have capitalized the smart phone and can provide customers with more personalized and real time service.  Customers receive alerts on their phones about an upcoming promotion, an actual coupon or that a store just got in that must have new item.  So what’s the downside?  Has the mobile device contributed to the ruination of customer service?  It seems that too many front line associates are more concerned with their own social media world than listening and communicating with a customer.

When was the last time you walked into a restaurant, bank, or store and didn’t see a person on their phone who should have been paying attention to you? Even at check out counters, a clerk, while busy scanning your items, is even busier on their phone making plans for the evening.

Customers are actually guilty too; paying for items or following a hostess in a restaurant chatting away with their friends, kids, or making a dental appointment.  The phone is mobile, that is the point.  However, I cannot imagine my father who had a retail clothing store when I was growing up, on the phone while he was selling one of his customers a new sweater.

The problem is evident and obvious.  When a frontline associate is looking at or talking on a mobile device, it is impossible to provide full attention to anything else, including a customer.  How can anyone answer a question or ask how they can help if they are doing something else?  It is a scientific fact that the brain can only focus on one thing at a time.  Therefore, multitasking is actually impossible.  When a customer is not being given complete attention from an employee it is an automatic signal of disrespect.

So, how do we solve this problem?  Everything comes from the top so the resolution starts with management.  They, too, cannot be on their phones.  Additionally, policy protocols must be put into effect.  Maybe there needs to be more timeouts/coffee breaks so everyone can text, search the internet, or post the latest photo.  There must be a paradigm shift; first priority has to be customer service.  We all understand that frontline associates need to communicate with the outside world but there is a time and place for everything.  It’s not a punishment, but a good way to bring back neighborly customer service.

I’m searching for recommendations to share with business owners and executives.  What have you implemented that works?

Welcome Customers As Guests in Your Home

Welcomer customers as guests into your homeWelcoming a customer is first and foremost. When a customer communicates with your contact center, visits your website, or walks into a store, it’s as if that person were coming into your home. The contact center, website and physical store are, in fact, the home of the company.  Welcoming a customer on the phone or in person is really no different than if you were inviting a friend or neighbor into your own home, especially if it’s the first time.

When I lead customer service workshops and introduce the concept of welcoming, I have the participants break off into small groups and role-play. The scene is a block party and each individual takes a turn as the host. The goal is to share ideas of what they would say or do to make new guests feel welcome in his or her home.

Some suggestions from the groups have been:

  • Smile and say hello
  • Offer to hang up their coat
  • Bring their guest a drink
  • Give a tour
  • Show family photos
  • Ask questions about their guest – where did they grow up?  How long have they lived in the neighborhood?

These are all ways of showing a person you want them to feel welcomed.  Jeff Bezos of Amazon said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”  This way of thinking just makes sense.

So why do some companies create an environment where customers dread calling them? Even with a simple question, customers fear the automated voice message with ten menu options or a surly associate who may have no idea how to help.  Doesn’t it make sense to realize that if a customer is calling, they have an interest in your company?  If the customer feels welcomed during the conversation, there is a better chance of them doing business with your organization and buying your products.

The other day, I overheard two women talking with each other.  One of them had just called a doctor’s office recommended by her neighbor.  She was telling her friend that the receptionist was so friendly and nice and that in her experience, it meant that the doctor would also be sympathetic and caring.  How important was that first interaction?  It made all the difference in securing her business.

Everything about the first impression should give the customer hope. Making people feel comfortable is the first step in establishing an emotional connection, which helps create a relationship for continued business.  If you establish that first impression by making the customer feel welcomed into your home, you are sure to foster a lasting relationship.

What are some ways your company welcomes your customers?

My 2015 Customer Service Wish List

2015 Customer Service Wish ListA new year brings resolutions and wish lists and here are my wishes for customer service in 2015:

  1. When someone answers the phone or greets me in a store, they welcome me, just like they would welcome me into their home.
  2. If I call Customer Service and am put on hold, I am given the estimated wait time with an additional option of calling me back.
  3. Whenever I have a question, don’t tell me “no” or  “can’t.” Rather, let me know how you can help.
  4. When I go into a store or restaurant, every employee gives me his/her full attention. That means not being on a cell phone or talking with a co-worker.
  5. Check-out counters are sufficiently staffed so the wait is no longer than five minutes. If I have to wait, an associate will make eye contact, say hello and tell me that he/she will be with me soon.
  6. I will never receive another email that says, “Do not reply.”
  7. When I give a company my email address, I will not receive emails every day or even every week.
  8. Customer service representatives will not only be friendly, but able to educate me about products and services.
  9. I will be noticed and acknowledged either as a regular or first time customer.
  10. Companies will do something to show that my business still matters days or weeks after I purchase something.

What wishes do you have for better customer service in 2015?

Should E-Commerce Sites Open Physical Stores?

Should E-Commerce Sites Open Physical StoresThe answer is yes, if you are Warby Parker and have a developed a successful online business model.

I read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Business Section everyday; both papers have excellent articles.  Front page of the Journal a few weeks ago was a story by Douglas MacMillan focused on Warby Parker, the popular fashion eyewear manufacturer.  The company was a startup in 2010 and only an ecommerce site until 2013 when their first store was opened in New York City.

Warby Parker was new to me.  Our friends told us about their website when we complimented their new glasses one night at dinner.  They were excited about Warby’s business/service model and explained about the home “try-on” program allowing customers to select five favorite pairs and wear them for five days.  Then one or more frames can be selected and ordered with a customized prescription.  Our friends were impressed with Warby’s donation of one frame to charity for every pair they sell.  We discussed their mission to be socially conscious and creation of good will.

Reading The Wall Street Journal article further piqued my interest.  My focus is customer service so several things stood out and got my attention:

  • By having physical stores, Warby Parker is able to significantly reduce costs for shipping and handling.  The retail store locations have been selected in cities that match their target market. That makes sense.
  • Brick and mortar stores have the potential for more personalized service. Retail consultant, Bruce Cohen, from Kurt Salmon, says “Consumers want to be talked to in a personal way – Once you get a good retail Sherpa – your curator of good taste and fashion that knows you- you become incredibly loyal.”
  • Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, the original Warby Parker founders, learned early on that customers wanted to try on frames before they bought them. When the company first started, the two invited customers into Mr. Blumenthal’s apartment, where they laid out glasses on the dining room table. “They loved being able to touch and feel the product” providing the foundation for online choices and brick and mortar store locations.”
  • Their newest store in San Francisco will have sales people, called “advisors” who will roam the showroom “in designer jackets and fine-tuned spectacles.”  I’m confident these sales associates will not only look good, but know their merchandise and customers too.

Amazon plans to open its first physical store in New York any day now. I know they will learn from their successful online retailer counterpart.  Warby has focused on personalizing service and giving the customer what they want, no matter the channel.  Warby Parker is in the eyewear business and has its eyes focused on creating the best customer experience.

What the Coffee Shop can Teach Us

What the Coffee Shop can Teach Us  I love to go into a neighborhood coffee shop, stand back and observe.  Watching the interactions between regular customers and the staff behind the counter tells a wonderful story.  There are big smiles in every direction and the associates know each customer’s preferences: how the coffee should be prepared, really strong or not, little milk, half and half, natural or artificial sweeteners. The best and most important thing is that everyone knows each other’s names.  Most towns have more than one coffee house; Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Mary’s Bakery, Harry’s Deli but more often than not, customers will drive that extra mile to get their cup of joe and make sure that their own special person behind the counter will be there to start their day. The coffee shop has created a customized customer experience.

There is more to generating customer loyalty than customer satisfaction.  A critical component of loyalty is creating a human connection. The more automated our society becomes, the greater the need to determine how, where and when that human connection can be made. Technology has made our lives easier, more productive and yes, more fun, but we miss out if we don’t take time to smell the roses. What’s the point, if we don’t take a moment and reach out, literally, to touch someone?

How does this translate to customer service?  I think that our human spirit cannot be removed and customers are not happy with endless robotic encounters.  In my first book, The Welcomer Edge:  Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business, I tell the story about working in my dad’s clothing store when I was young.  It’s where I learned my passion for customer service.  My father saw all customers as people first, customers second.  He would never ask first, “ How can I help you?”  He would find out about their weekend or recent vacation, if their son is doing well in college.  My dad was much more interested in the customer’s state of mind than their method of payment.  If my father was alive today and still had his store, I know he would be successful even with the competition of large retail malls, cool websites and the technology revolution.

Create your own learning experience.  Stop by a local coffee shop and survey the landscape.  Watch what’s going on.  You can learn a lot about the customer experience, perhaps even more than reading the newest best seller on the subject.