Automation Competition Customer service Entrepreneurs Management Marketing The Slight Edge

I’m not the one who needs the reminder…

Yesterday, we talked about appointment books and how they get used, misused and underutilized. I’d like to follow up on a related topic: reminders.

Reminder postcards from a business are a pretty common thing these days. Some businesses hand write them – after all, your receptionist isn’t exactly swamped with work since your book isn’t full.

In some cases, the business actually uploads a list of “people due for appointments” to a service, and that service prints and mails the cards to the customer who is due for an appointment.

While this is better than nothing, almost no one gets this right – and you’re leaving hard dollars on the table.

Automation Corporate America Customer service Entrepreneurs Marketing

What would You Airlines look like?

It’s easy to blame Al Queda on the invasive, uncomfortable cattle car feeling you get when traveling by air these days.

But the fault really lies with the airlines. Not to let Osama off the hook by any means, but airline travel was lousy BEFORE 9/11. It’s like being on a 300 passenger bus from Mexico City to Tijuana.

Think about it as if you owned the airline you commonly fly on. Even if you always fly First Class, would any aspect of the experience be different?

Corporate America Customer service Good Examples Management

Someone in Wyoming

Someone in Wyoming showed up on my caller ID this afternoon. Normally, I would have let it go to voice mail, but there are a few people down there whose numbers I don’t have memorized, so I picked it up and got a pleasant surprise.

It was Jennifer from Bresnan, the manager of their customer service quality management team for this area. Apparently Bresnan has someone (probably something, but that’s cool with me) scanning blogs for their various business/brand names.


Competition Customer service

“Problem customers”, Gold, and Fools

There are as many ways to handle “problem customers” as you can think of.

Every single business out there has to do it at some time or another and sure, sometimes the complaint isn’t justified but that is typically irrelevant.

What you have to keep in mind is this: Feedback is GOLDEN and how you handle it makes all the difference in the world to your business over the long term.

You’ll hear various studies stating that a happy customer tells 1, 2, or 3 other people and that an UNhappy customer tells 7 or 10, 11, etc. The exact numbers don’t really matter much. The bottom line is that 1 unhappy customer can undo anywhere from 2 to 11 times the good that 1 happy customer does for you .

Will you ever completely avoid unhappy customers? Not hardly, so let’s talk about how to work with them.

A few things to do with the upset client:

  • Make sure they know that you understand that they’re mad, and that you’d probably be mad as well, if you were in their situation. Don’t just think it…TELL THEM SO.
  • Tell them that you are going to get to the bottom of the issue and do something about it. People are so used to being ignored and told that “call volumes are unexpectedly high and your call is important to us” that they simply assume that they are going to get yanked around these days. One of the easiest and best ways to differentiate yourself is to avoid treating your clients like total crap. I know it seems obvious, but sit and think about the experiences you’ve had as a customer in the last week. Enough said. So few are doing this right that you can easily stand out from the crowd.
  • Tell them you are sorry they had the problem and thank them for bringing it to your attention. Remind them that most people just go somewhere else and never report a problem, and that you appreciate that they cared enough to let you know about it and give you a 2nd chance to fix it. As I mentioned earlier, this is GOLDEN. What you do with them next determines who gets the gold.
  • Ask them what they are expecting from you. Don’t get wordy or pull out the thesaurus and throw $50 words at them. Just ask, plain and simple: What can I do to make you happy? It might not be as much as you expect. How you handle this part of the situation often has long term rewards. Do more than what they expected, do what you’d hope that someone else would do for you, and it’ll turn that client from ticked off to loyal in a heartbeat.
  • Next, DO IT. Implement a solution. Do it quickly, preferably before they leave your store or office.
  • Follow up. Call them a few days later and make sure the solution worked out for them. Send them a card a couple weeks later thanking them for the opportunity to resolve the issue, and note that their feedback is one of the things that makes your company better. Follow up.

Jeffrey Gitomer says this about satisfied customers:

Ask yourself: “Would you rather have a satisfied customer, or a loyal customer?”

If you aren’t sure of the difference, ask yourself this question: “Would you rather that your spouse was satisfied, or loyal?”

Suddenly, there’s quite a difference between those 2 words, isn’t there? 🙂

Don’t you want customers who wouldn’t think of going somewhere else? Loyal customers.

Bear with me, I have a story about one of these complainer -> loyal customer transformations.

Years ago, I had a new client in PA who was kind of a grumpy guy. More often than not, when we talked on the phone, he seemed angry about something. For a bit, I just assumed that he was one of those people who is always mad.

I turned out that part of his frustration was that he was still annoyed with the vendor we bought out, then upgraded to software we offered that solved the same problem. As is natural, he always compared the new one to the old one. He liked the new one, but still, it was different (completely different, in fact).

Not long after his first big upgrade, his first big explosion came. Naturally, it came while I was on the phone with him. He was used to being ignored (perhaps because of his mood) by tech support at other companies, but I took care of him every time he called. This turned him from constantly annoyed at us (just because) to a true ally. He’d bring friends to us and suggest to them that they buy our software, telling them that no one else took care of him and his business like we did.

Later, I met him at a trade show, shared a cold one (or 3) with him and got to know him a little better. The reality was that he, like many in his line of work, was very, very passionate about what he does. He took his work very personally (note the name of this blog<g>).

And the next week when he’d call, he’d often be grumpy.

For the next several years, he was still mildly annoyed when we’d talk to him on the phone, but we had figured out by then that it wasn’t at US. One day, my tech support manager was on the phone with him and he was getting madder and madder. Before long, he had worked himself into a frenzy. Not because of us, just because that was just him and his passion. Sometimes another vendor was the issue and he’d complain to us because we didn’t offer a solution that replaced that company’s product. This time, he was so loud that I could hear this conversation from the adjacent office. I overhead my tech support manager say “Bill, is there something I’ve done to make you angry?” (Of course, Bill isnt his real name). A great question.

He says “No”, immediately goes back to room temperature and resumes the conversation. Passionate people exude their passion in different ways.

The point of my rambling? The worst, biggest pain in the backside of a client is the one that can be the most valuable IF you take the proper steps to cool them off, address their problem (making it YOURS) and assure them that you’re on their side (assuming that you are). I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen, or made, this happen. Every time, it turns the person from what can seem like a mortal enemy into one of the most vocal, loyal clients around.

So the next time that problem client calls,  think about how you can blow them away when solving their problem. Make THAT guy happy and he’ll never stop talking positively about you. You can be sure that lots of people know he tests the businesses he works with. Those same people will hear about the fact that you make him happy in a world where few seem to.

The fools?  The business owner that just hates dealing with this guy because he’s “such a pain”. They don’t know what a diamond in the rough he really is, nor how valuable he can be.

Customer service

Remember me? I’m the customer standing here in front of you.

Been a busy week, made busier by a series of salespeople and front desk folks who for some reason are under the impression that a customer on the phone is more important than the customer who is standing right in front of them in mid-conversation with them.

Look, there’s no question that almost no business has enough people on staff to answer the phones and work with customers during the busiest times, BUT your #1 priority should be the client in front of you. You know, the one who has an appointment with you and traveled across town to give you money.

I’m not saying don’t answer the phone. You have to do that. Letting it go to voice mail is as good as giving them your competitor’s phone number – unless you’ve positioned yourself very well. Don’t answer the phone and spend 10 minutes helping that person, then get back to the person in front of you, only to have the phone ring again.

At least once this week, I considered stepping out front of the building and calling the business in question in order to tie up the phone.
So what do you do?

Say excuse me to the customer in front of you. Take the call, and tell the caller that you are in the middle of helping a client who is standing here with you. Get their name and number, ask what the call is about, write all of this down, repeat it back to them to make sure you have it right, THEN ask them if they’d prefer to hold for a few minutes or get a return call when you finish with the customer in front of you. Obviously your “call back or hold” comments have to be dependent on what you’re doing with the customer you’re already working with, but get them off the phone so you can attend to the person you’re with.

The reason you ask what the call is about is so that someone else can call them back as appropriate AND that decision can occur before calling them, or before the call is taken off of hold.

All of this will take just a moment and not only shows the client in front of you that they are the #1 concern in your mind right now. Meanwhile, it lets the caller know that you are aware of what they need, and will help them soon, rather than giving them the “call volumes are unusually high and your call is important to us, blah, blah, blah” treatment, or the “” treatment.

Customer service Management Marketing Positioning Small Business Uncategorized

Do it FOR me.

I wonder how many of you have the proper tools and expertise to install a free-standing wood or gas stove, or a gas range/oven for the kitchen?

Despite the ever-increasing demands on people’s time, I STILL come across vendors who just don’t get the full-service concept and why it makes them more money than the lazy “Ill carry it out to your car….IF you ask me.” model.

Example: One of the local home stores, who of course doesn’t have a web site (DUH) has this completely wrong. They have a great selection of wood stoves, pellet stoves and gas/propane stoves (in this case, I mean freestanding fireplace types, not kitchen stoves).
If you go into this store and attempt to purchase a stove (and we’re talking about a $1000-2500 purchase), they will help you…. carry it to your vehicle. That’s it. They don’t install. They don’t remove the old one. Put yourself in the place of any one of the following people: busy executive, 2 job couple who value their limited weekend time, single mom, young married couple, tool-challenged guy, older couple, and similar.

We’re talking about people who don’t have some combination of the time, the vehicle, the expertise and the strength to load the new stove, carry it home, put it in the home, remove the old stove, install the new stove, hook up the gas (if necessary), cut an exhaust hole and install the chimney/stove pipe/exhaust, carry the old stove out to the vehicle (if necessary), and take the old stove to the dump (if necessary).

What in the world is going through your mind when you sell $1000-2500 items like a 6 pack of beer? Here’s why this is such a big mistake: If you DONT do these things, and someone else does, that someone else is going to get a lot of people’s business because there is a substantial number of folks out there who simply dont have the time, vehicle, strength, expertise or DESIRE to do all those install tasks.

Back to the example store…the in-store people are very experienced. They are experts in their topic, yet they are hamstrung by inane management policy.

Down the street from this store, there’s a full service store (more than 1, in fact). For an extra hundred bucks, they’ll bring the stove to your home, remove the old stove and take it to the dump (if necessary), install the new stove and, if needed, hook up the gas, install an exhaust port, stove pipe and/or chimney as necessary. Note that if a gas fireplace or free standing stove is involved, a certified plumber has to hook up the gas in many states.

Naturally, the full service stores also provide warranty and repair service for the stoves. Now, if you do this right, its an income stream, but unfortunately, no one does.

When I say right, I mean the stove store creates a subscription program. WHAT??? You cant do that, only magazines and newspapers have subscriptions!!! (sorry, that was your brother in law telling you that you cant do that, lets move on). How does the subscription program work?

How about this: During the winter (stove use) months, you offer to check on the stove at least once in the middle of the season, plus a beginning of season and end of season check. 3 visits, say $99 per year (you figure out what price makes sense for you). Remember, the best time to sell is when you’ve just sold someone something.
For that $99, you stop in 3 times. You check the function of the stove, spend $15 worth of time cleaning the stove pipe (more if its a chimney, since you have to climb up on the roof – but this is far less common in free-standing stoves), vacuum out the junk in the stove, make sure everything is safe, and make an appointment for the next visit (which is already paid for via the $99 annual fee). Before you leave, you give them a little gift, a refrigerator magnet with your smiling face (no one does this) and your phone # for service emergencies, or a little cheapo mini-broom, or a bottle of juice to clean the glass on the stove, just dont be boring about it.
You sell this as an upsell during the purchase. Some folks will bite, some wont – but if you are a full service store, you already have the staff so you may as well accept the cash flow. Here’s the secret that many people miss: Because you are there 3 times a year (or whatever) to check, adjust, clean and do any quick repairs – you are their “official stove repair shop”. Who do you think will be called when they need repairs, build a new home and need help with a stove, have a friend who needs a referral for a stove, and so on? YOU, because you are the one visiting their home 3 times a year to take care of their stove and keep it functional and safe.

We recently had the SAME type of experience when replacing a gas kitchen stove/oven. One store (Sears, you know that place “where America shops”) was the put-it-in-your-car-and-wave store. No install service, no nothing. Nowadays, most gas stoves are dual-fuel, meaning the range is gas and the oven is electric. So not only do you need plumbing skills to hook up natural gas or propane (and know the difference at install time – there’s a very important difference you MUST know) AND you must have electrician skills because of the dual fuel aspect. You may even have to install a new plug for higher voltage.

The other store, Burton’s Brand Source (a local retailer,, offers full service and even managed to let us talk them down over $400 on the stove + included installation and removal of the old stove. At no extra charge (yeah, its in the profit).

Which is more attractive? The curb drop off, or the full service install? Which store got my business? The latter, of course.

Which store are you? The latter or lamer?

UPDATE (March 4, 2008): Remember that store that doesn’t offer installation? They’ve now gone out of business. They’ll blame Home Depot, or the economy (oh my, it’s a recession!!), or anyone but themselves, but you know the real reason.