A passing meteor

2009 Leonid Meteor
Creative Commons License photo credit: Navicore

The wrong email at the wrong time, no matter how well intended, can be like a meteor strike.

It can weaken, dismantle or even ruin the relationship you’ve built with a customer.

A friend recently relayed a story about a summer stay at a hotel in South Texas.

Shortly after his stay, he got an email from the hotel chain’s corporate HQ asking how he enjoyed his stay. It was automatically generated, no doubt – but that’s OK when done right.

As it happened, he had just checked his bank statement and saw that they had overcharged him almost $100 more than what his final invoice indicated. After responding to the email, he followed up with a call to the front desk of the hotel.

The problem was taken care of right away by the person who answered the phone.

As time passed, he forgot all about the email, which was sent by and returned to the hotel’s corporate parent.

Time heals (almost) all wounds

Fast forward 4 months.

My friend gets an email from the hotel parent company’s “Email Resolution Desk”. The agent notes that “she appreciated my email, but she couldn’t do anything about my issue, so I need to contact the hotel directly.”

His comment: “Wow, they’d have been better off just not replying at this point.”

Exactly.

The extra email, like the meteor, left a crater in that customer’s experience.

This sort of disconnected communication is common to franchises whose corporate parent thinks it’s doing the right thing by monitoring customer “satisfaction”. The problem is, the disconnection and the lack of follow up.

The unfortunate part

What’s unfortunate about the situation is that a 2 min phone call could have turned that into a follow up email just to make sure he was happy with the resolution. Even if corporate had merely taken the trouble to email the hotel and ask how the situation was resolved (if reported at all), it would have given them far more insight into the situation and (hopefully) resulted in a far more intelligent email to my friend.

Instead of ticking him off by making it obvious that corporate was detached from the situation and not in touch with their franchisee, it would have conveyed (albeit 90 days late IMO) that they were making sure things were properly handled by their franchisee.

Rather than creating a negative vibe for an event that turned out positive, it would have reminded him that the situation was handled promptly and properly – and holy cow, someone at corporate was so on top of things that they were checking up on franchisee conflicts to make sure they were handled properly.

Which of these impressions are your automated emails leaving? Disconnected, or on top of  things?

Just because they’re automated doesn’t mean they have to be clueless.

And the data…

Finally, consider what you’re doing with the info you collect from these “How did we do?” emails, postcards and phone calls.

  • Are you leveraging valuable customer feedback to improve internal processes or eliminate unnecessary ones?
  • Are you using them to motivate staff, create new services, eliminate outdated products, and spruce up what needs a dust and a polish?
  • Are you using them to recognize and reward those who go over the top to please a customer?
  • Are you using them to find places where your training has gaps?

If you aren’t doing some of those things…why are you collecting that info? Why waste the time? Just to make a customer think they have a voice?

In a lot of cases, customers assume those postcards, emails and web forms go into never-never land. Maybe it’s because they don’t see tangible changes as a result of their feedback. Or maybe it’s because businesses seldom (if ever?) follow up on the feedback they get.

I suggest your share these things with your customers. Reward those with great ideas you’ve implemented. Let them know – without a puddle of corporate speak – that you’ve handled the situation they spoke of and put in motion a plan to prevent future occurrences.

Not only will your customers’ experience improve, but their feedback will as well.

Every job is a sales job

One of the unsung business assets of the area where I live is a customer service training program called “Montana Superhost”.

In the old country, er I mean a few years ago, the program cost $15-25 per trainee. The last time I saw a course offered , it was *free*.

Why every session of this course isn’t overflowing with people is a mystery to me. People should be lined up out the door as if someone is giving away iPads or fresh crispy bacon or something.

Even if they do start charging a fee, you’d be nuts not to send your entire staff – and *especially* the newbies and temporary summer employees.

It only takes one

Yes, even your temporary summer employees. In fact, ESPECIALLY those folks.

It might seem like a waste to pay them for their time at Superhost training (yes, you should) and the course fee (if any)- but I suggest that it isn’t waste at all.

No matter what every tourist season customer spends at your business, all it takes is one untrained, unfriendly (and/or surly, uncaring etc) employee to prevent that customer and their family from returning.

But that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is that they’ll tell 10 of their friends about the experience (market research has shown that bad experiences are related to 10 people, good experiences are related to 3).

It doesn’t take much study to see the value of this investment, especially for those businesses with a lot of first-time public-facing employees.

Old man take a look at me now

About six years ago, I sorta dragged my then-15 year old son to Superhost training one summer morning. My interest was in seeing what was being taught so I’d know whether to advise customers to send their people to take the course.

He came away with a few lessons that have repeatedly paid off in every job he’s held.

I think Superhost should be taught a few evenings a year at every high school.

While the course varies a little from year to year, I’ve found that the training is definitely worth the investment of time and money for every staffer you have.

With money tight this summer and your employees perhaps being a little older than normal due to employment levels, you might be tempted not to provide customer service training for your staff.

Don’t make that mistake. Your employees might be under a little more pressure than normal due to their employment situation. A spouse might be out of work. It’s easy to get distracted when things at home are tense.

Training of this nature goes a long way to assuring the kind of consistent customer experience that brings people back again and again, plus it makes your employees (permanent or not) more valuable to your business.

That’s a critical concept, because the impact of their job reaches far beyond what they might think.

A few years earlier…

Many years ago, I was sitting in a course when the group was asked about the impact of attitude on a customer’s experience.

Specifically, the question was about why it mattered what attitude someone uses when working with customers.

In an almost mockingly depressing Droopy Dog kind of tone, I said “Because every job is a sales job”.

The instructor detected the point of my tone and asked me to repeat myself.

This time, I said “Because every job is a sales job” in a freakishly effervescent, pleasant tone of voice – again with the intention of making the opposite end of same point.

Big

From the occasionally snarky customer service person having a bad day to the kindest delivery person, from the nicest hotel concierge to the annoying little computer tech support person with no patience for anyone who calls to report a bug, the interactions of any and all of these people has a substantial impact on your sales.

Bigger than you might realize. Big enough to run off every customer they work with, if left unchecked.

It’s not at all uncommon for staffers who don’t typically interact with the public, or don’t *want* to because they have work duties that require no customer interaction mixed with duties that do require regular customer interaction (bad combination for what should be obvious reasons).

Some of them don’t recognize that fact, because they haven’t been trained to recognize the value of their behavior to every customer whose paths they cross.

It’s your job to make sure they HAVE been trained…because their job IS a sales job, no matter what they do.

What would Eleanor bring to your business?

Why would you bother to stand out in a market? How about BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE WILL?

Today’s guest post comes from the most unusual of places. It’s a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt about a stay in Billings hotel on October 1, 1954.

Note how she speaks about hotels and what they do and don’t do. If you’re in a hurry, be sure to read the paragraph that starts off “I wonder what constitutes for most people a really comfortable hotel?”

If you run a hotel, it speaks volumes, even from half a century ago.

What would she bring from home to make her more comfortable in your place of business?

And why isn’t it already provided by you?

Chipping away at your clients – Bad idea

During our stay in Missoula for the granddaughter’s arrival, we had the pleasure of spending the night at the Missoula Comfort Inn.

When I arrived at the front desk to get a receipt for the visit, the bill came with the now-obligatory $1.75 charge for using the safe in the room.

The buck seventy five isn’t the point.

It’s the annoyance of constantly having to be vigilant so that you aren’t the one getting taken by the corporate hotel chain management group who thinks that slipping this little charge (or some other little fee) by the majority of their clients is going to  make their profit numbers.

And maybe it will, but it’s a bad idea.

Yes, I’m well aware that you know that most people are too timid to say anything about it. Heaven forbid that we get pissy about a 1.75 fee on the bill. It might make us look cheap or chintzy to the desk clerk.

It’s not just the timid.

It’s the busy or inattentive clients who don’t notice it.

It’s the express checkout clients who never see the receipt.

Your defense is limp. It really makes no difference that you notify us at the front desk (via a sign) that you will charge $1.75 per night and that it can be removed by asking at the front desk. This is particularly so since it is automated and can only be removed at checkout, NOT at check in time.

The point is that chipping away at your clientele with sneaky little charges like this – particularly for services that they rarely use – is a bad idea and leaves your clients with a bad taste in their mouths about your business.

Is that what you really want?

If that extra $1.75 is necessary for your business to reach the necessary profit margin to pay the front desk staff minimum wage, then just do it. Add it to the room fee. These days you could call it a fuel charge. At least that is believable, when it floats with the cost of fuel.

Do you really think your guests are going to choose another motel because you charge $125.75 instead of $124?

Answer: Only if you do it by Post-It noting it onto the bill at the end.

Not only do you waste your guests’ time by forcing this little “please remove it from the bill” exercise, but you also slow down the checkout process and waste your employees time.

You aren’t tricking anyone. You’re just ticking them off.

Your little $1.75 fee – and really not even the fee, but the act of how you tried to get it, regardless of how common this technique may be – is the one tiny little negative aspect of a trip to Missoula to meet my first grandchild.

Just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.