Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snippy Service in Saskatoon

Last night city councillors in Saskatoon sought to strike down taxi stand leases despite the loss of revenue that this would represent. Why? Because when the taxi drivers fight over fares, they are so rude that they give the city a bad name. (For the story, please see:

Last week a family vowed never to eat again at their local hamburger joint because the counter staff always bickered in front of their children.

Earlier this month three teenage girls sat in Starbucks complaining about how the [attached] Chapters bookstore staff kept “dropping the F-bomb”.

Before that one of my colleagues switched dentists because of strained way in which the hygienist and dentist interacted.

And those were just a few of the things that I’ve encountered so far this month. I can only imagine what else is happening in retail and service establishments across the globe... and can only shudder at the hard-won clients being lost because of bad behaviour and/or bad morale.

Just a reminder: It’s not just how your employees treat customers that counts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Well this is not exactly about good customer service – it’s more about having fun through self service. When my mom sent it to me, I found it a welcome break in the middle of a busy day. Enjoy!

Happy Hour In Africa

This is a real video from a French documentary about Africa. Even if you don’t speak French the video is funny. In any event, there is little voice over; most of the soundtrack is simply a musical accompaniment to what you see on screen.

The Marula tree, from which Amarula liqueur is made (Marula fruit and cream), grows in Africa. There it is also known as the "Elephant Tree," because elephants have a fondness for its fruit.

The fruit of the Marula tree is very juicy... and it contains a high percentage of alcohol. Or at least that’s what it produces in the belly.

To compensate for the lack of water in Africa, animals munch on the fruit while using the shade of the tree to help protect themselves from the heat.

As for what happens next, you can watch for yourselves... and it’s not hard to spot the over-indulgers!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

35% of Employers Admit to Using Facebook to Check Out Candidates

Today I read an article on (and passed the link on via Twitter) about candidates being blackballed by some employers because of what they write on their Facebook pages and on other social medium sites. This prompted me to go back and check out what the 1,500 employers in our on-going research study had to say on the subject.

Over 35% admit to using Facebook and other sites to see what the candidate “is really like”. Said one employer, “If they are rude to their friends, it’s likely they’ll be rude to our customers. I won’t take a chance that they won’t deliver excellent customer service and I don’t hire them.”

Same thing in terms of exercising bad judgement about the images they choose to post or tag themselves in.

So be forewarned: Manage your online profile, watch what you have to say and make sure to set your privacy setting appropriately!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wealthy People More at Risk of Getting Ripped Off?

Earlier today I read an article on that describes how wealthy customers are more likely to be charged higher rates than customers who seem to be in the same income bracket as the people performing the service.

This is not something we have ever researched, but my own experiences support the findings in Kimberly Weisul’s article, “This is Broken Customer Service”.

Recently, the exhaust system on my car started to make worrisome noises so I took it to the dealership – a dealership I had been loyal to since 1994. Through multiple vehicles, I had remained true to the marque... and to the dealer. Even when we moved, I continued to make the 1 hour drive to have my car serviced at the place I trusted. Note the past tense.

Their verdict: The entire exhaust system needed to be replaced. The part alone was $1500. I explained that I did not want to put that kind of money into a car I was planning to replace in the spring and asked if they could do a simple repair.

The answer: NO – there was no way to repair the problem. The fee to render this verdict was discounted to $50 because I was a long-time customer.

Although warned that the car was unsafe to drive and that the entire exhaust could go any minute, I decided to postpone the repair in favour of a new car search. Well they were right; six weeks later the “worrisome” noise progressed to “horrible” and the smell of exhaust filled my car.

This time I went to a local garage that had been recommended by a neighbour. The first person told me that it would likely cost about $400 to repair, but that he would have the owner call me with a final estimate.

When the mechanic drove me home, I had him pull up in front of the triplex up the street, rather than dropping me off in front of my home. On the way home, I also “let drop” that I was in the process of looking for a job. The result of my “experiment”: A $175 repair.

A couple of months ago, I had another experience of being quoted a lower amount than a friend for the same service. The only difference was not deliberate on this occasion: I had gone in wearing old sweats and an even older ski jacket.

These two anecdotes are by no means conclusive, but they tend to make me agree with Ms. Weisul’s assertion that these types of actions represent customer service that’s indeed in need of repair!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The customer is NOT always right

Actual Customer-Change Room Staff exchange… as recorded 12 months ago

 A customer had 16 items she wanted to try on; the change room limit was six. The sales clerk politely told the young woman that she could take six items into the change room and offered to hand in new garments as they were needed.
Customer (C) – in a belligerent tone: “No – I’ll take in what I want, when I want.”
Staff (S) – politely: “I actually need to ask that you choose six items to start… and then I’ll pass you in whatever you’d like when you’re ready to trade me things.”
C (said somewhat menacingly): “Back off B----. I’m taking these in now. Want to make something of it?”
S (in a cowed, frustrated voice): “Fine. Go ahead.”
Imagine working in a place where that kind of scene was repeated multiple times in a shift. No wonder the staff member left the area to complain to a co-worker (giving the teen in the change room an opportunity to 5-finger a few items)… and not surprising that the 17-year old clerk ended her shift in tears.

 Yes – this tale does have a happy ending.

One of the clients I work with is a mid-size retailer with 12 stores. They cater to a slightly upscale teen audience. The chain had been experiencing increasing employee turnover and diminishing sales. The impact on the bottom line was not pretty.

Ethnographic research (the kind where you watch happens in the stores, listen surreptitiously to conversations, etc.) revealed a couple of interesting things:
  • Over 25% of potential customers entering the stores were rude to the sales staff… not simply discourteous but highly disrespectful (okay, “downright rude”) and dismissive of all people working there.
  • Only 1 in 25 people who tried on clothes bought anything – a figure below industry average and far below the stores’ historical performance figures.
  • Only 1 in 52 people who entered the stores actually bought anything. Again, this figure was below the Canadian average, even allowing for the fact that most retailers seriously over-estimate their “browsers-to-buyers ratio” *. 
  •  +50% of browsers who left the stores without buying anything did so because of the negative store atmosphere.
  • Sales team members were reluctant to engage customers in conversation and, although they would ask adults if they could be of assistance, rarely offered to help teen shoppers. No great shock given the way that the sales staff was often treated. 

 Our approach

 Employees were encouraged to stick up for themselves. The staff training including sessions where clerks were taught to gently and graciously deliver phrases such as…

 “We really appreciate your business and value you as a customer, so out of respect for you and the others in the store, I’d like to suggest that you and I change the dynamics of this conversation. Now, how may I help you?”

 “Is everything okay? You seem to be having a bad day. Would you prefer to try this on at another time?”

If that didn’t diffuse the situation (though it often did), then employees were given permission to respond using the following types of remarks:

“I found what you said [or did] to be disrespectful. To be fair to me, the other employees and your fellow shoppers, I would ask that you speak to me politely.”

“I really don’t feel comfortable with the way you are treating me. Would you please show me more respect?”

“I’m sorry this is not going well. I’d like to invite you to leave the store now and to return when things are better for you.”

 All 50 phrases, with suggestions of what to say when, were printed on pocket-size card stock and given to each employee.

Managers were urged to acknowledge employees who had handled a difficult customer well – or had legitimately refused service to a customer who was behaving badly. Special reward cards were issued that could be exchanged for cash or merchandise.

Being given permission to deviate from the normal “the customer is always right” not only empowered employees, it made them feel valued. Morale soon started to climb.

That was a year ago. We just got the new stats back:

  •  Less than 10% of potential customers entering the stores are rude to the sales staff.
  • 7 out of 25 people who try on clothes buy something. Yes, there is still plenty of room for improvement, but that’s a 7-fold increase in 1 year!
  • On average, 5 out of 50 people who enter the store buy something. 

By making it okay to say ‘no’ to ‘bad’ customers, employees were able to create a better store atmosphere and a better shopping experience for everyone... and that is reflected in a better bottom line, too.

If you’d like to learn about other times when “just say no” has helped a business, please feel free to call me, or to drop me a note:

Until next time. JMC

*Note: The browsers-to-buyers ratio (i.e. conversion rate) is one of the metrics used around the world to assess retail performance. The most accurate way to measure this is by using video of the store’s entrance and comparing the number of people entering the store with the number of sales tickets on any given day. The challenge: The ratios fluctuate by store location, season (weather and holidays).


Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Stop Your Service Reps from Messing up Your Marketing Efforts

What do you do when you run a business where the customer’s only contact with you is through a phone rep and/or in-field rep... and they don’t care about their job?

It won’t matter how much time and effort you put into finding a way to differentiate your products and/or service (which is becoming increasingly difficult these days), or much you invest in marketing campaigns and loyalty programs, you will lose customers if your CSRs don’t measure up.

I just had one like that leave my home... and I may be switching providers as a result. He started off acting like a total jerk. He was rude and didn’t really care too much about what he was there to do.

Not wanting my problem to go unresolved, or for it to be fixed in a so-so fashion, I decided to take the “let’s make friends” approach, and said, “It sounds like you must have had a long day in some very cold weather.”

“Huh?” he grunted in response.

As kindly as I could, despite not feeling very charitable inside, I said, “I know haven’t done anything to upset you, but from the sounds of it, someone has. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

With that the service rep turned and looked me in the eye for the first time. “Yeah, that would be great.”

Over the next 30 minutes or so, I learned that...

  •  The company hires part-time union members to handle the weekend and after hours calls (which is when most homeowners are home!).
  • These part-timers get no training and there is no incentive for them to be nice to customers.
  • The emphasis is on getting as many calls completed in as short a time as possible and they are told to avoid going the extra yard. The direction these reps are given, paraphrased of course: “Get it working by doing the minimum work you can. Don’t do anything extra if you can help it.”
  • If he gets reported for being rude, there are no real repercussions as long as the job got done. “John” told me, “Yeah, I’ve been written up before, but it doesn’t mean anything and the sheets are thrown out at the end of the month, anyway. Besides, it’s a union job and the rules don’t say anything about customer service, and I can get another one if I have to.”

Is this any way to run a business? No – not unless you only care about profits and are almost the only game in town. Not too smart, if you ask me.
We’ve worked with clients that depend on infield service people to represent their company and this is what we always tell them to do the following things:

  •  Hire well and pay even better.
  • Be fair, supportive and create an environment better than anything else available in the market and you will likely get great cooperation from your staff because they want to keep working for you.
  • Same idea expressed a different way: Let your employees know that they matter and that the job they do is important... and do so on a regular basis.
  • Let your employees know – specifically – what you expect in terms of customer service and make sure that this service is delivered consistently (mystery calls, follow-up with regular calls, etc.).
  • Encourage employees to go the extra yard to help your customers (remember the power of Word of Mouth, especially given how easy it is to share using Facebook, twitter and other social media vehicles).
  • Provide training: Technical and customer-service-related.
  • Provide regular feedback and performance reviews; reward excellent performance.
  • Facilitate the sharing of knowledge and insights among employees.
  • Communicate regularly with your employees letting them know about changes, things that are happening in the company, etc.

 “Doesn’t this add to the overhead?”, you might ask.
The answer: “YES it does... but not as much as it adds to the bottom line!”




Thursday, January 6, 2011

Great Service at Taco Bell

We went into a Taco Bell over the holidays (there’s only so much turkey you can stuff in... so to speak) and, to my surprise, encountered excellent customer service. Truly.

When I asked the woman behind the counter how long the apple empanadas had been sitting there, she told me that they had been there about 30 minutes. Then she told that although they were probably still fine that she would make me new ones if I wanted to wait 4 minutes. I did.

Then she said she would wait to serve my fries until the pies were ready so that everything would be hot.

On top of everything else, she actually smiled a genuine smile when she handed over our food order when it was ready. Wow.

Why tell this story?

To show that it doesn’t matter where you work, or what your position... you can still make someone happy by offering courteous, customer service.