Adding value to gathering feedback

Being obsessive about the customer-facing activity of your business requires some discussion about the company’s process for gathering feedback.

Ironically, these systems and processes for gathering feedback tend to be at their worst when the customer would benefit most from being heard. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that the process for responding to feedback typically trails a company’s collection of feedback.

Why is feedback broken?

Because feedback is a multi-faceted beast, it tends to be broken in any number of three ways, including these:

  • No one is collecting it.
  • Someone or something has made it incredibly difficult to share.
  • When it’s collected, it goes nowhere.
  • When it’s collected, it isn’t tracked (no source, no situation, no financial impact etc).
  • When action is taken on it, there’s no effort to follow up.
  • When action is taken on it, there’s no communication to the rest of your customers.
  • It isn’t used to improve the rest of the company.

Feedback has four parts

Feedback is a four part activity, so be sure that none of the pieces are broken.

The pieces are: Collection, Valuation, Action and Communication.

Collection is a matter of letting your customers be heard. Many times, simply giving them an outlet for their feedback will satisfy them. In some cases, people simply want to vent and may not care if you respond (you should). Finally, feedback often comes in the form of a suggestion, and in many of those cases, people don’t expect a response.

Collection is more than simply saying “Thanks, we got your comment”, but that should be the absolute minimum if that’s all you can manage. There’s always time to improve, since every day is a good time to improve something.

Valuation is an often ignored part of the collection process. It’s easy to take a complaint, tell someone you’re sorry and give them a coupon for next time (or some such), and then move on. Unfortunately, that wastes the value and opportunity that hides deep inside the feedback.

Valuation

Valuation assesses the feedback and its impact on your clients, and your company. For example, you may get feedback about certain things which only come from the customers who buy your most expensive products, but only during third shift on the weekends. The when and where both matter since many businesses function a bit differently during “off-hours” or non-prime shifts.

Sometimes feedback points out “reaching demand”, a client behavior (doing something, hiring someone and/or spending on something) that identifies a need that should become a part of your offering. Other times, feedback points out a failure point in a product or service that needs attention. It could be about quality and workmanship, or a lack of clarity in marketing materials or sales processes that creates a disconnect between expectations and reality.

Valuation helps you assess what parts of the company can be improved by the feedback, beyond the context of the complaint.

Taking action

If your company’s feedback loop ends at “Sorry, here’s a coupon for next time“, who misses out the most? Your management team.

That eliminates an opportunity to take a high-level view of the problem for further action. Nordstrom is famous for its empowerment of employees to make things right in these situation, and their feedback loop doesn’t stop at the employee.

While these complaints might seem to be “employee failure alerts” that a line employee might want to hide from their manager, they often point out where management needs to provide better support and/or infrastructure to their staff.

Without complaint awareness, it can be difficult for managers to see trends that (going back to valuation) can be incredibly wasteful and expensive. This is particularly true when there are lots of part-time people involved across changing shifts – negating the ability to see such trends.

Communication

Many times when you file a complaint, you get a response indicating that the company isn’t staffed to respond personally to each complaint. If you can respond to each one, I suggest doing so. If you have thousands of clients and get a lot of feedback, it can be overwhelming to respond individually.

However, individual responses can often be avoided if you respond in a way that serves many. Use your website, email list or text subscriber list to discuss complaint resolution, including the actions taken. Share internally with your team as well.

How Shiny Is Your Robot?

Le Grand Eléphant // The Great Elephant
Creative Commons License photo credit: Stéfan

Have you ever noticed how careful we are as business owners to take good care for our expensive business equipment?

Like…robots.

Robots get their hydraulic fluid changed, hydraulic lines pressure checked, wear points examined, worn parts replaced, firmware updated, tolerances tested, configurations checked and their overall performance checked.

When a robot doesn’t measure up, it isn’t thrown away. It’s repaired and retrofitted, upgraded, updated and/or refurbished until it performs at the level of the other robots.

Fleet

Our company vehicles get similarly detailed maintenance and regular upkeep.

When I get my oil changed, I see the oil change shop’s company account list on the wall next to the register. You’ll see every sizable business in town that has a fleet of vehicles. All of them get regular fluid checks and other services. Business owners want their vehicle investments not only to last, but to serve them well every day.

Airliners get even more stringent maintenance. Safety is critical, but so is fuel efficiency, so we check everything and update anything we can on those planes to provide better safety and better “mileage”. Wiring, hydraulics, metal stress, backup systems. Backup systems for the backup systems.

Restful

You’ve seen the form on the back of the restroom door with times and initials. Someone’s “real job” is interrupted every few minutes or hours because some business owners/managers have learned over time that the state of customer restrooms is important.

When it comes to regular attention and upkeep, many businesses check the cleanliness of their customer restrooms several times per day. Some check them as often as every 30 minutes – even in businesses that don’t seem to offer the kind of service that would make you think they’d care about their restrooms.

Even in some of the dirtiest businesses, I’ve found a checklist on the back of the restroom door. That form must be initialed and marked with the date and time so that someone in management knows that the restroom got a once-over few hours throughout the day. Fail to initial the box within a few minutes of the right time and what happens?

Usually discipline.

People?

It makes perfect sense to every business owner to provide this level of care for expensive robots, vehicles and airliners a business invests in. It even makes sense for restrooms.

It either saves us money, keeps our customers safe, makes our business run more smoothly, produces our products faster and with better quality and even smells better.

Yet we see employees every day in customer-facing jobs that need to be trained. They start a new job and are shoved in front of a business’ customers with little more than a uniform shirt and a name tag. Why in the world would you hire someone, even for the summer, and then put them on the job untrained?

Do you care that little about the service your customers receive?

People are often the most expensive asset you have – and the one with the most potential to become your advantage. If you look around, you’ll find situations where the most rudimentary front line staff positions have hard-working people failing in the obvious public-facing ways simply because they haven’t been trained to do things “our way”.

Invest

Meanwhile, we try all sorts of things to manage our staff’s time. We hound them to get them to initial that restroom clipboard every 30 minutes because it proves to someone that “we keep our restrooms clean”. We value the speed and the interval that they show up in that restroom more than we value the job they actually did while there. Our controls over showing up demonstrate that.

The clipboard’s initials don’t say “I left this bathroom so clean my mom would approve.”  They say “I walked in and at the least, initialed the form” because that’s what we measure.

Yet you do it for robots

We check restrooms every 30 minutes. We retrofit, upgrade and reprogram robots. Yet some of us don’t work at all to invest time (much less money) in the improvement and training of our staff.

It’s time to focus as hard on them as we do the condition of the restrooms.

Imagine if both were highly polished.

The two most valuable parts of a conversation

Every single day, I see problems that would be solved with better (or any) understanding, speed and an order of magnitude improvement in quality if people would just pick up the phone.

I know, especially the more technical folks out there, you want that cocoon. You want to hide and just create. Some of you might even want to focus rather than hop back and forth between your IDE, Skype, Facebook and so on.

When you’re in that mode, the phone is the last thing you want interrupting you (the interruptions are not necessary but I’ve said plenty about that in the past).

Thing is, if you don’t talk to the customer, don’t watch them use what you create, you’re missing a massive piece of the equation.

They’ll never tell you everything in a tweet, email or wall post. Never, ever. They might be meaner because of the nature of the media, but you’ll never get the whole story. You’ll never see the gleam in their eye or the song (or despair) in their voice in an email or other online message.

Don’t get me wrong – those media are important, but they aren’t as rich as you need at certain times.

Are you “Unknown” or “Blocked”?

Yesterday, I had some work done on the Mrs’ chariot and they called me to tell me it was ready.

Thing is, they called me from a number that shows up on caller id as “Unknown”.

Business owners and those-in-charge-of-telecom – NO ONE wants to talk to whoever is calling when the phone says “Unknown” or “Blocked”, particularly in an election year.

I see this regularly on customer service feedback loops, customer “your (whatever) is ready” and even SALES calls.

If the relationship you have with people requires “Unknown” or “Blocked”, I wonder why you bother to call. You have work to do on your customer relationships.

Want them to answer

Unless I’m missing out on a management secret that involves making phone calls that you don’t want answered (maybe a push poll would count there, but this isn’t a politics blog), your goal should be to get the phone answered by your customer – NOT to have it ignored.

You want to talk to them. Make it easy. Create a relationship that makes them glad to see your name on the caller id.

The ROI of Social Media is…

Two minutes and change that hit some of “the what and the why” discussed during my Social Media – A Roadmap for Small Businesses talk this week.

The ROI of social media is that your business is still here in five years.

Feedback and the Great Client

Feedback-wise…

  • A great client is one who asks tough questions incessantly, almost always in a polite manner.
  • A good client is one who asks tough questions regularly, sometimes politely.
  • A bad customer is one who asks poor questions, regardless of how they ask them.

Tough questions are your friend. Theyâ??re like competitors because they make you better. Or at least, they should.

As for those that aren’t yet great? Your job is to help them achieve it.

Did You Know…That You Should Follow Up?

misty
Creative Commons License photo credit: antaean

If you look at the path a prospect follows on the way to becoming a customer and then, at their path as a new customer; youâ??ll see plenty of places where it would be valuable for them to receive an occasional tap on the shoulder.

With that tap comes just a little bit of info, but it won’t/shouldn’t always be a sales message, at least not explicitly.

Consider these 3 little words: â??Did you know?â?

They start sentences like these:

  • Did you knowâ?¦ that if you get stuck, we have 24 x 7 customer support lines?
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that 90% of businesses fail after a fire destroys their business – and much of that is because they are underinsured. Those who might have made it often donâ??t because they donâ??t have their current customer/order data backed up, which means that on fire day + 1, they have no idea who needs a follow up, who placed an order yesterday, etc. Using the automated backup feature in our software can save your business. Weâ??ll be happy to show you how it works.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that many of our customers find our software’s dashboard feature motivational to them and their staff? Here’s a link to a video showing you how to turn it on.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that we offer a 180 day money back guarantee? Thereâ??s simply no risk to putting our product/service to work for you.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that we offer free online training videos that are broken down by function and only last 2-3 minutes? You can take a brief break, learn what you need to know right now and get back to work.

You get the idea.

Look at the typical timeline for a prospect.

Where do YOUR prospects need a little bit of assistance, a hand on the shoulder or a Did You Know?

After theyâ??ve bought, when do they need a little help? For customers youâ??ve had for months or years, are there new features or new things you do for your customers? Put each of these items in your follow up system and let them know when it is appropriate for each customer.

They can be emailed and blogged, but they should also go out in your printed newsletter.

You *do* have a printed monthly customers-only newsletter, right? 4 pages is enough. Seems like a little thing but itâ??ll never get ignored if itâ??s good.

All of these things put together will start to build a follow up system that no competitor will duplicate. And thatâ??s exactly what we want.

Billboards and plumber’s pants

Drive around long enough and you’ll see a billboard that says “If you’re looking, it’s working”.

I see the same slogan on electronic advertising displays, which can be found everywhere from restaurant restrooms and gyms to billboards.

Is it “working” when you accidentally glance at the back of a plumber’s pants when he’s on his knees with his head buried under your sink? Or when you stare at an auto accident?

A definition

“My ad is working” means “people take action as a result of the ad”. It does not mean “someone with a heartbeat saw the ad”.

“Working” doesn’t always equal spending money, but it does always mean taking action.

After you glance over at that auto accident, if you put on your seat belt…. that’s action. Cause and effect. Taking action.

That’s what “working” means when it comes to an ad.

“But, you can’t track billboard response”

Yes, you can.

I’ve yet to see a media whose usage cannot be tracked.

To be sure, you can’t track how many people read your ad on a billboard or in the newspaper, though you can estimate numbers based on drive-by traffic statistics published by governmental agencies (for billboards) and subscription + newsstand buys + online page views (for newspapers).

The number *reading* your ad isn’t the important number. Sure, if you have a general consumer product, you want to tell as many people as you can, but you don’t go to the bank with “eyeballs”, page views, newsstand copies or cars-per-day.

You go with sales revenue.

What you really want to be paying attention to is how many people took action as a result of your ad, no matter where it is.

You can absolutely track what happens if readers take action, but many businesses don’t. As a result, they’re operating on gut feel, guesswork or a seat of the pants idea of what their ads are doing.

Look at the advertising you’re doing. Are you tracking any of it? If not, how do you know which ads work and which don’t? How do you know which media work (for you) and which don’t? (or don’t work as well)

Just because an ad or media is “free” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be tracking results.

Start tracking and you’ll start knowing what’s working and what isn’t.

The Last Five Minutes of the Day

Te atreves...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Fenanov

Once again, Peter Bregman has a story about how to turn around a day, a career, or maybe even a life.

In five minutes.

Check out today’s guest post from Harvard Business Review.

Notify, notify, notify

One of the reasons that smart phones are so popular is that they provide a much better means of getting notified about any number of events, appointments and so on.

Your customers’ desire – if not need – to be notified is a critical aspect of your customer service planning.

In fact, these communications can be an essential difference between lousy or non-existent customer service, and good or even great customer service.

Working in the dark

For example, earlier this week I ordered some large format printing from a local vendor.

I spoke with them on the phone and because their website allows uploading documents,  I was able to upload the zipped graphics rather than make a 40 minute round trip drive to deliver the files and return to my office.

The vendor’s website said the file was accepted. About 30 minutes later, I hadn’t heard anything from the vendor, so I called them.

They hadn’t received the file and said that it must be “stuck” on the franchise system’s server and that they would surely find it.

At this point, they had my name and number and knew I wanted to get some work done. 3-4 years ago, I would have expected to babysit the job from start to finish because any business could stay open.

Despite having a confirmation from the web server, the file never appeared on their system… or they never looked for it.

Regardless, failure #1 was not following up with me to confirm that they had found it, or that they hadn’t and needed me to re-send it.

Tick, tick, tick

Two days go by. The promised completion date and time arrives without a message, so the natural thing for me to figure is that the job is complete.

45 minutes before closing time on the promised completion date, I call them. No answer.

Historically, they’re on the phone a good bit, so I don’t think much of it. I hop in the car and continue to call every few minutes during the 20 minute drive.

I arrive 10 minutes before the closing time listed on their website – the same closing time painted on the office door.

They’re closed up tight. With that 20 minutes wasted, I drive 20 more minutes home, having wasted 40 minutes and accomplished nothing.

I call and leave a message asking what happened, mostly resisting the urge to vent and ask them to call me to make sure my job is done and let me know what times they’ll be open the next day so I can pick up the job materials.

Silence

By mid-morning of the next day I’ve heard nothing.

I call. They know nothing about the job or the upload. Turns out some health issues caused early closure the day before, so I can’t really be upset about that…BUT here’s that notify thing.

They could have left a note on the door about the early closure.

They could have left a comment on their phone system about the early closing.

They didn’t.

Notification.

Stepping up

At this point, the notification failures have added up, but the person in charge steps up a notch.

I get the file to them using another means and we make arrangements for pickup. One of their guys is coming to my area later in the day, so we arrange to meet. He will call when he’s close.

He calls, we meet, I get my stuff. All good. Today’s interaction has gone much better because the communication and notification was active and frequent.

What should happen

A few weeks ago, I uploaded a job to Staples’ web print center, which routes print jobs to a store about 20 minutes away.

I received a confirmation email shortly after the upload.

I received another email telling me the job was complete.

That’s how it works every time. And that software is available to any print shop. It isn’t something special that Staples developed.

Notification.

Remember, customer service is marketing.

Romeo Oscar Kilo Uniform Hotel Echo Lima Papa

Overweb :: Midori cluster
Creative Commons License photo credit: br1dotcom

That’s military phonetics for “Roku Help”.

Last month, I bought a Roku XD-S so we could watch Netflix on our TV rather than on a laptop.

It’s a fine unit for streaming Netflix and (probably) Amazon Video-on-Demand, Major League Baseball on demand and so on.

The interface was a little disappointing because I hoped to be able to queue Netflix DVDs from it, but the primary function was streaming and at that it performs quite well.

Trouble is, the Wii that we never use (it was a gift) now plays Netflix as well, so we no longer need the Roku. The last thing we need is another box and more wires under the TV.

Beam me up

So I use the Roku support form on their website to ask for a RMA. I would have called them, but nowhere on their site does it say “DO THIS TO RETURN YOUR UNIT”, despite the lovely graphics saying “30 day unconditional return policy”.

The next day, I get an email saying “We don’t do RMAs by email, please call 888-600-7658.”

That’s fine, so I call.

I get transferred overseas, judging from the accent of the very nice man who answers the phone.

While his command of English is an order of magnitude (or several) better than my command of his native tongue, we have accents to deal with. Both of us.

We end up using military phonetics for TWENTY-THREE minutes because we can’t communicate very well, primarily due to our accents.

Throw in 5s, 9s, Cs, Ss and Fs and we had a jolly time.

Focus: Customer Experience

Shipping your tech support overseas doesn’t bother me, as long as the internal feedback chain remains in place and the customers are served well.

Putting people on the phone who require Hotel Echo Lima Papa (“H E L P”) to be understood (and to understand the caller) does your company a disservice and alienates customers – regardless of what their native tongue might be.

The guy did an admirable job and given our communication issues, showed great patience. Neither of us got angry. I got what I needed.

But 23 minutes to get a RMA because names, email addresses, street addresses and so on have to be communicated in military phonetic alphabet creates a horrid customer experience.

As a small business owner, you probably aren’t even considering moving your customer support overseas. But are you doing something else that creates a customer experience that is this slow and unproductive?

As I said last Friday, “follow the paper”.

PS: Shortly after the call, I received an email with the details of the RMA, shipment and packing info, etc. We got it right, but the email was a ton faster and crystal clear. The SAME rep could have serviced that request perfectly via email in 2 minutes, rather than spending 23 minutes on the phone.