Are Your Customer Service and Customer Experience Falling Apart on the Handoffs?

I know we’ve never met. But I have a pretty good idea of where you’re dropping the ball in your customer service delivery.I’ve seen companies like yours (probably) in my work as a customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, and customer service author.

And, odds are, you’re dropping the customer service ball on your handoffs.

It’s easy for your employee to promise something to a customer– and then send the customer elsewhere within your organization for actual results.

Fair enough: but did the details of the customer’s needs actually get fully conveyed to the person who was handed the ball?

And, did the handoffee follow through on these instructions?  Or did she hand off the responsibility again?  And, if so, was the customer support fumbled on that handoff?

Follow-through and follow up are keys to a successful customer experience.  And often best accomplished by the person who first took the request.

****

Here are my four steps to customer service recovery. And note how follow-up is baked into the sequence.

Customer Service Consultant: 7 Ways To Make (Immediate) Customer Service Improvement

The best way to ensure lasting results from a customer service initiative is with a comprehensive, organized approach, if you have the option. Which is why, in customer service consulting and among customer experience consultants, we always recommend you first work on getting your framework right, before going forward and attacking the details.

But life, and business, don’t always work so tidily: Sometimes as a business leader you just want to get started, and you need to know where to start to get things off the ground yourself—today.

So here are some places to get started on your own customer experience initiative, rather than being paralyzed by the sense of too much to do, in too little time.

1 Phone manners: Do you have customer interaction standards for telephone communications? You don’t? Then that’s where you should start. Great companies have very specific telephone and and customer interaction standards (although they allow great latitude in how they are interpreted). If you’re just winging it on the phone, it’s time to work on that.

2 What does your front entrance look like? This is another high-value place to start. First (and last) impressions, because of the way a customer’s memory works, are disproportionately important. So let me ask you: Do you even come in the front entrance at your business like your customers have to, or do you use a dedicated employee entrance? Do you park where your customers park, fighting for a space the way they have to, or do you use your special/accustomed parking spot every day? If not, you probably don’t notice the cigarette butts outside, the handicapped access that isn’t, actually, accessible, the wilting flowers and so forth. It’s time to notice, and to fix them.

3 What about the customer’s experience before the front entrance? First impressions often happens before what you intend as the first impression: Getting lost en route to your office because the address on your website is out of date, coming too early or too late to be served because your hours are posted incorrectly by Google Places or Yelp?  (The customer will blame you, not Google, not Yelp, for the inconvenience, so get these fixed before a customer shows up at your front door, ticked off for reasons you aren’t even aware of.

4 Figuratively speaking, how’s the experience of “entering” your website? Is log-in easy? (If login is even necessary.) Is your site accessible for customers and prospects with visual and other disabilities? Do your contact forms actually go to someone who reads them — within the hour? (They should.) This is another good place to start: log in as if you’re a customer (don’t use your internal override) and try out your site. I don’t care if you already did this last year. That was a long, long time ago, and entropy is a bitch.

5 What about before a customer even gets to your website? What are people saying about you online that may be incorrect, confusing, off-putting to potential customers? I know a great hotel company that for over a year (over a year!) made a terrible first impression on TripAdvisor because the first thing one saw were reviews of a de-flagged hotel that was no longer in their chain (for reasons that were obvious from those reviews). This was never addressed with or on TripAdvisor because nobody was checking out what the actual first impression of guests and potential guests was online.

5 Listen to (and fix) the stories that managers and employees tell around your company: are they sabotaging your attempts at a customer-centered culture? Are the stories you hear around the office often centered on how customers tried to take advantage, and how you stopped those customers dead in their tracks? They shouldn’t be (unless you’re a security firm, and even then, maybe not). They should be stories that go in the opposite direction: about how you went the extra mile, or susie went the extra mile, to help a customer in a creative way. Otherwise, you can do all the mission-statementizing you want, but employees will know where you really stand: in opposition to the customers.

6 Start having a daily (or at least weekly) standup customer service meeting, 5 or 10 minutes long. Start this tradition today. OK, don’t call it a standup meeting (it’s discriminatory against people with disabilities, illnesses, and injuries, IMO) and don’t start it today, start it as soon as you can get buy-in from the people in your company who will have to support this process over the weeks and years. But it’s a crucial part of getting your team on the same page and keeping them there. Have a different employee each day discuss a different tenet of your customer service philosophy and customer service issues that come up. In the course of a year, the amount of training you’ll get in is extraordinary, as well as greatly enhancing your team spirit. This, by the way, is how the Ritz-Carlton has done it for decades, and it works for them.

7 Overhaul your hiring practices: This is also one you’re not going to overhaul today, literally speaking. But you can push toward overhauling them today. And there’s no other place you can start that will make more of a difference. Do you hire scientifically, or do you hire like you spice your food–a bit of salt, a bit of pepper, a bit of whimsy and gut feeling here and there… if you hire haphazardly, the results you’ll get are haphazard. (Here’s where you can read more on this crucial subject.)

Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience consultant, speaker and the bestselling author most recently of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service

Who should do your customer service? (It’s a trick question.)

Who should do your customer service?

(Of course this is a trick question. The answer is “everyone.”)

…This answer isn’t as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds.  “Everyone” here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’ Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).

 

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon author, keynote speaker, consultant on customer service excellence, sales, branding, and transforming company cultures in our socially connected world.
 
Visit Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, co-written with Leonardo Inghilleri, in which this appeared in a different form.

 


Language Engineering: Finding the right words to use with customers

Language underlies almost all other components of the customer experience.  Yet, your company has probably given more thought to the language it uses in marketing campaigns than to the words employees use when having conversations face-to-face with customers. That’s a mistake, because
customers don’t generally get their make-or-break impressions of your
company from high-minded branding exercises. They get them primarily
from day-to-day conversations with you. And those are the impressions
they spread to others.

If you haven’t given much thought to selecting your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with
customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. Which is why, whether I’m consulting with a law firm on building a client service initiative, speaking to a hospitality audience on building guest loyalty, or assisting a hospital in improving customer service for its patients, one of the first pieces of work I suggest we do together is focus on achieving a consistent style of service speech.

Develop a language lexicon.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve
trained them in a different language style.

Happily, ‘‘engineering’’ a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, it can be a relatively easy sell companywide.

What should be in your language lexicon?

Here, for example, are some good/bad language choices:
Bad: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Good: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’t
need to do jack, buddy—I’m your customer!’’)
Good: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Good: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen
to the caller’s answer)

The specifics of the lexicon you develop will vary depending on industry, clientele, and location. A cheerful ‘‘No worries!’’ sounds fine coming from the clerk at a Bose audio store in Portland (an informal business in an informal town) but bizarre if spoken by the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan.

An alternative approach:

If this ‘‘Say This While Avoiding That’’ approach strikes you as too prescriptive
(or too much work), if you don’t want to develop scripted phrases and specific
word choices for your employees, at least consider developing a brief ‘‘Negative Lexicon.’’ A Negative Lexicon is just a list of crucial language Thou Shalt Nots.

The Negative Lexicon is the Danny Meyer approach, the one used by that great New York restaurateur and master of hospitality. Meyer feels uncomfortable giving his staff a list of what to say, but he doesn’t hesitate to specifically ban phrases that grate on his ears (‘‘Are we still working on the lamb?’’).

A Negative Lexicon can be kept short, sweet, and easy to learn. Of
course, new problematic words and phrases are sure to crop up as time
moves on. Ideally, you’ll update your Negative Lexicon as frequently as
Wired magazine updates its ‘‘Jargon Watch’’ column.

 

P.S.  For more on language engineering, learn about the Five Words You Can Never Say To A Customer.

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon customer service consultant, keynote speaker, customer loyalty speaker,  and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, co-written with Leonardo Inghilleri.

 

Everything I Know About Customer Service, I Learned from Watching The Sopranos.

Artie Bucco, all-too-convivial host, from The Sopranos
Artie Bucco, all-too-convivial host, from The Sopranos

One day I’ll write a book called Everything I Know About Customer Service, I Learned from Watching The Sopranos.

Case in point: The Artie Bucco Syndrome, which I named after the tragicomic character who starts the HBO series as a successful restaurateur. Slowly, though, things begin to fall apart for Artie. Finally, his wife, Charmaine, has the painful job of telling him what’s going so wrong: that his customers come to the restaurant to be with each other, not with him. Their special moments are for them, not for him, and interrupting them with what he thinks is important is
driving them away.

Artie never does get the message when he interacts with customers. If he had learned to listen between the lines, he could have picked it up, as his wife did.
She was listening.

****

One thing I try to accomplish in a customer service initiative is to align your organization to the value of listening. To help your team learn to adjust the
flow of your comments to match each customer’s interests and mood.
And to practice shutting up sometimes.

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon customer service consultant, keynote speaker, customer loyalty speaker,  and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

© 2011

SLAPP-happy: How not to respond to social media Twankers

When someone attacks your business online, you may be tempted to call your lawyer.  My field is customer service, not law–I don’t even play a lawyer on Hulu – so I’m not technically qualified to stop you.  But from what I’ve seen, legally threatening the Twanker who made you feel so bad is going to fail as a strategy for addressing customer complaints, for two reasons.

First,  it’s likely illegal.  A “SLAPP” lawsuit is a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”  Strategic in that you don’t expect to go to court; you intend to silence your critic and discourage other critics.  But this strategy is illegal in various jurisdictions, including 26 states. Now, I know this is frustrating when your business has been unfairly slammed, and I agree that whether these laws are working as intended is an open question. Anti-SLAPP legislation is intended to protect the free speech of “little guys,” but it does nothing to defend the actual little guys in business against what can be the devastating consequences of treatment in the hands of truly big players like Yelp and Google Places.

A SLAPP in the Face(book)

Still, I suggest you hold your fire.  Consider reason number two for not getting SLAPP-happy. Even if threatening your customer doesn’t land you in legal hot water or with daunting bills for court costs, the entire approach is likely to end up SLAPPing you in the face.  The reason?  Your reaction tends to bring excessive publicity to the issue. There’s even a term for this:  The Streisand Effect, after Barbra Streisand sued a photographer in a failed attempt to remove a photo of her mansion from the California Coastal Records Project, which resulted in greater distribution of the photo than would have happened before.

And at the very least, it does nothing to reduce the damage. You don’t have to be Streisand and your SLAPP-ee doesn’t have to be a tenacious photographer for such a lawsuit or threatened laswuit to end up backfiring. Look at the hilariously written, and entirely backhanded, “retraction” by a restaurant guest under legal threat that follows here, and think if getting such a response really serves your business.  (I’ve renamed the restaurant in question. Yelp, however, has given the restaurant no such compassion.) [i]

On March 3, I posted a restaurant review on this website and seven days later I was threatened with a lawsuit by an attorney representing Serenity Seafood Café for two unverified statements that I made…In order to peacefully resolve this matter I am following the course of action the attorney has requested in the letter:
1.) I will retract my posting – Below is my written retraction
2.) I will remove the posting – the posting being replaced by the retraction
3.) I will not make libelous statements about [name of restaurant was listed here.]

Retraction of my July 6th posting pertaining to [name of restaurant]:
I had no malicious intentions when writing this review.  In fact I feel the statements in question are immaterial to the substance of the review.  Nonetheless, in retrospect I really should have said ” To me, the “line-caught rainbow trout” tasted like farmed fish because it was almost flavorless and it looked like farmed fish because it was the wrong color and crumbly.  Perhaps it was indeed wild fish that just spent too long in the freezer…” and I should also have said pertaining to the chicken that…”this chicken seemed to me like frozen tenders because it was the size, shape and texture of large pieces of solid plastic.”

****

It’s hard for me to add much to that review, in words of warning or counsel. The message is clear: SLAPP-er beware.

 

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

© 2011



[i] Yelp.com. Emphases are mine. I have altered details of posting, including name of restaurant and some of the food details to avoid adding fuel to this sordid situation.

So Long, Steve Jobs (and Frank Lloyd Wright)

The tribute to Steve Jobs that’s been floating through my mind can be found nestled in the bridge of a Paul Simon song, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”–his eulogy for an earlier visionary.

Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view.
When I run dry
I stop awhile and think of you

© Paul Simon

Steve Jobs likewise changed our point of view so much it’s hard to even grasp.  Think about that when you’re listening to the Simon & Garfunkel version of this song–or the cover version of your choice– instantly, on iTunes.

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon From Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

© 2011

 

 

A Customer Service Trend To Embrace–Or Be Left Behind.

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon
From Micah Solomon -keynote speaker, customer service speaker.

My battery died briefly on my aging Volvo, and in that gap I lost the stations that had been preset into my car radio.  After driving around a few days manually selecting the stations (more or less just one station) I generally listen to, I found myself irritated to have to dig up the ancient instructions on how to set a station into memory. I found myself thinking, “Doesn’t my car know I want this station as a preset? I mean, I listen to it every day—it should be inviting me to add it to a ‘favorites list’ or some such.”

But my car was manufactured in 2004, and, of course, cars didn’t “think” that way in 2004. And neither did consumers. Believe me, customers think that way now: They expect devices – and companies – to, in effect, say “Mr. Solomon, I note that you have been listening quite a bit to your local NPR station. Care to have me memorize it for you so you’ll not have to fumble for it when you’re negotiating a difficult turn?”

****

Customers expect personalized, aggregated information–instantly.

To illustrate how deeply customer perspectives have changed, just look around: With the advent of mobile computing, a traveler can get all the answers on her iPhoneDroidBerry® that the concierge, or bellman, or neighborhood know-it-all used to parcel out at his own rate and with varying amounts of reliability: Where is there a good Italian restaurant within walking distance? What subway line do I take to get to Dupont Circle, and where do I get off? Do I shake hands with those of the opposite gender in the country where my plane just landed?

While this bears some resemblance to the model in place only a few years ago—settling into a hotel room, pulling out your laptop, fumbling around for an Ethernet cable, trying to figure out how to log on to the hotel’s network—there are key differences. Specifically, the better aggregation of information. Surfing the net—going out on a net-spedition to look for stuff seems like too much work and too big a time investment for today’s customers. Customers today expect technology that brings an experience that is easier, more instantaneous, and more intuitive—they want to type or thumb a few keystrokes into Hipmunk (which lists travel options with warnings about long layovers and other agonies, and shows hotels with precise proximity to your actual destination) or GogoBot (where your own Facebook/Twitter pals have already rated potential trips for you) or of course TripAdvisor, with its user-generated ratings of nearly everything in the world of travel– and have the information they need served up for them concierge style based on their IP address (physical location) and other useful clues.

This is a trend and mindset to embrace when you create customer experiences and provide customer service: Don’t make your customers search for information; bring it to them. It’s what they expect now, and you’d best live up to this—either directly by providing functionality yourself as a business (providing your own app to address the needs of your specific customer base, for example), or as a conduit, by providing connectivity and then getting out of the way.

****

 

From Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://customerserviceguru.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

Self-Service: From Sketchy Backwater to the Mainstream of Customer Service–Or Not?

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon

 From keynote speaker – customer service speaker  Micah Solomon

Richard Carlile, a British publisher, bookseller, and campaigner for press and voting rights, spent 1819 until 1823 in prison for distributing the banned works of radicals and reformists and exposés of officially sanctioned massacres.

As soon as he was sprung from prison, Carlile tried to skirt the law and prevent his re-incarceration by creating the world’s first version of Redbox-for-books: a machine that “dropped a customer’s desired book after money was inserted and a dial positioned to a corresponding number,”[i] thus not technically involving Carlile in the selling.

For nearly two centuries following, as vending machine historian Christopher D. Salyers notes, self-service similarly seemed a bit like getting away with something: Snacks with more salt than the doctor recommended, condoms, hangover remedies, cigarettes for minors with exact change, or in certain machines in Japan even more sketchy products–all dispensed far away from onlookers.

****

It’s tempting to think the secretive era of self-service is emphatically over: Out in the open using airline kiosks or shopping online from their mobile, self-service is right smack in the mainstream of what today’s customers expect from the service experience.  But we should also remember that the impulse to privacy, to isolation really, is alive and well and driving many self-service interactions (or should I call them anti-interactions)?

Some customers are inherently, or temporarily, ill at ease with other human beings. Gun-shy from previous encounters with surly desk clerks. Hung over or, most likely late at night, bombed out of their minds. But they still want to do business with you (and, by and large you still want them to).  Remembering that the trend toward self-service owes some of its momentum to these factors is an important, if odd, reality to keep in mind when designing and refining it.



[i] Christopher D. Salyers  quoted by Radley Balko. Reason June 2010

 

By Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://customerserviceguru.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization

Misguided Customer Service: Beating Little Kids at Chess

Keynote Speaker Customer Service Speaker Micah Solomon

 From keynote speaker – customer service speaker  Micah Solomon

Beating Little Kids at Chess

When I see customer service employees refusing to budge in disputes with customers over small charges, rushing them out the door when it’s closing time, and a thousand other by-the book, stingy behaviors, it’s troubling to me because it speaks of a management that discourages pro-customer autonomy and employees who misperceive their ultimate purpose in the organization.  What’s going on here is that someone has built (or, as likely, allowed to happen by default) a company that functions the way you teach little kids to play chess.

You know how they teach little kids to play chess? They tell them that a pawn is worth $1; a knight, $3; a rook, $5; and a queen, $8. This is, up to a point, smart; it teaches them what I think all adult chess players instinctively know about the value of pieces.

But the flaw in the system becomes quickly obvious: It makes it embarrassingly easy to wallop a kid at chess if this is all they know. Because a kid will gleefully proclaim in temporary triumph, “Heh, heh, heh, I’ve got 25 bucks worth of your pieces,” to which you can then calmly and cold-bloodedly reply, “Well, yeah, that’s true, but… checkmate, buddy.”

It’s hard, when you’re taught to play chess this way, to understand the concept that the king has infinite value—that there is no way to put a value on the king. Similarly, until an employee matures, and understands her relation to her organization’s ultimate goals, the same is true, with the customer standing in for the chess king. If your employees don’t understand their purpose in your organization and have the power and encouragement to act autonomously to support it—sacrificing a few pawns, so to speak, in order to protect the customer—you will lose the game. You will be checkmated by customers who defect.

 

By Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://customerserviceguru.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah Solomon’s #1 customer service bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization