What kind of marketer are you?

July 29th, 2014

SpyingMarketers have increasingly been using acquired intelligence about their customers to tailor pitches to match customers’ unique buying patterns and preferences and to attract their future spending. And while marketers hope for consumers to respond favorably to their tactics, that’s not always the case.

My local supermarket asks for my “loyalty” card (it’s really a “customer acquisition” card, but that’s a topic for another post…) before applying discounts on select purchases. It then uses that information to tailor monthly coupons that are mailed to my home. Whenever I review the set of coupons, nearly all of them apply directly to personal preferences that I have willingly shared. And because the coupons reflect those preferences, I have a powerful incentive to return.

But when a retailer abuses personal information that it has speciously obtained, this may produce a very different response.

Lately, a variety of retailers have requested my email address – ostensibly to forward an electronic copy of my receipt rather than print a hard copy at the register – only to begin spamming me with unwanted marketing messages after auto-consenting my email address into their marketing databases.

Marketers that use acquired intelligence about their customers in consensual ways that are mutually beneficial draw customers in, whereas marketers that abuse such information drive them away.

What kind of marketer are you?

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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How apologies influence consumer behavior

July 21st, 2014

Annoyed customer copyEarlier this month, I read a Wall Street Journal article titled The Art of the Airline Apology. The article features a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Nottingham’s School of Economics in the United Kingdom that found apologies can be more valued by customers than compensation.

In the study, more than 600 customers of the German eBay site who posted neutral or negative reviews of a transaction were sent an apology or compensation of under $7 to withdraw their online evaluation. Nearly 45% of customers who received the apology withdrew the evaluation, compared with about 21% of those who got compensation.

The study concluded that firms apologize so much because apologies do indeed influence customers’ behavior.

Although the article doesn’t reveal the content of the apologies, we can assume (being that customers accepted them) that they were effectively written. So what distinguishes an effectively written apology from the alternative?

  • Avoid corporate-speak in favor of empathy
  • Avoid boilerplate responses in favor of conversational language and tone
  • Avoid excuses in favor of sincere apologies
  • Avoid being coy in favor of being direct
  • Avoid managing the situation in favor of resolving it

Except for a very small percentage of customers who are trawling for perks or discounts, customers who complain genuinely feel wronged. And since most customers who feel wronged do not complain, when the (relatively) few choose to air a grievance, embrace it.

Use the critique to get better and, assuming the feedback produced a concrete action such as a policy revision or process change, convey this outcome within the apology to the source of the complaint. This will validate her feedback and, unlike a dismissive check, is likely to cement the relationship.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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Frontier Airlines’ service heroics

July 13th, 2014

FrontierPizzaMartin Luther King, Jr., said, “Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.”

To deliver service heroics is to go the extra mile, to go above and beyond what a customer might expect given the employee’s job role. In short, it’s to deliver greatness.

Delivering greatness doesn’t always come easy (or cheap), and it doesn’t happen every day. Fortunately, it’s also rarely required of an employee. It’s the exception, not the rule. But when the situation calls for it and an employee goes out of his way to serve a customer, it makes a lasting positive impression that reaffirms the customer’s importance and reinforces the relationship.

Just last week, a Frontier Airlines pilot was in the news for delivering service heroics to 160 hungry and agitated passengers. After a multi-hour delay due to severe weather in Denver, Frontier Airlines Flight 719 from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was diverted to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it landed around 9:45pm local time.

While the plane was being refueled, the pilot made an announcement over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, Frontier Airlines is known for being one of the cheapest airlines in the U.S., but your captain is not cheap. I just ordered pizza for the entire plane.” And within 30 minutes, 35 Domino’s pizzas were delivered to the plane and served to delighted passengers.

Delivering service heroics doesn’t have to be as dramatic (or expensive) as this illustration. Oftentimes, it simply requires being attuned to customers’ needs and preferences and then taking the initiative to fulfill them.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Photo credit: Logan Marie Torres

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You don’t really know unless you ask

July 6th, 2014

unique-knowledge-copy1My wife and I recently hosted friends who were in town from Sonoma County in California’s wine country. One evening, the four of us dined at a trendy, upscale restaurant in Denver’s LoHi district. Being that our friends work in the wine industry and have uniquely informed opinions about pairing food and wine, I passed the wine list to Christopher.

Chris has held executive-level positions with Cakebread Cellars, Foley Family Wines, and Hanzell Vineyards. He has traveled the world to learn first-hand about nuances such as terroir – loosely defined as the physical environment in which the grape vine grows – and assemblage – the French term for the art of blending wine from different varietals. And his wine knowledge has been confirmed, having received certification from the Master Court of Sommeliers.

We were in very capable hands.

After several minutes discussing the entrees we planned to order, he identified a 2011 Château Musar ‘Jeune’ which, he explained, was from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and was a blend of a unique set of grapes: Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

About that time, we were approached by the restaurant’s wine steward who, noticing Chris with the wine menu, quickly introduced herself and immediately began spewing information about wine varietals, food and wine pairing, and her personal recommendations.

When she paused, Chris indicated that he would like to order the 2011 Château Musar ‘Jeune’ to which she responded, “That’s a good choice. It’s from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and is a blend of a unique set of grapes: Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

After she left our table, I asked Chris how he felt about their exchange. As I presumed, he felt patronized by the wine steward who failed to qualify her customer’s wine knowledge and made assumptions about his experience and background.

He said to me: “Steve, if she had just asked two questions: ‘What do you like?’ and ‘Why do you like it?’, it would have been a completely different experience for me.”

What I appreciate about Chris’s recommended questions is that they are specific enough to invite an expert to share his knowledge and experience, but vague enough to not expose a guest who has little familiarity with wine. Either way, the server will have qualified her guest.

Additionally, these questions invite guests to become active participants in an exchange that will result in a richer, more memorable dining experience for them and increased wine sales for the server/restaurant. Everybody wins!

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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Delivering the sunrise

July 1st, 2014

Wet WSJLast weekend I emailed the following complaint to the customer service department at The Wall Street Journal:

Our Wall Street Journal delivery person has a gutter mind. Let me explain.

Ever since we moved to our new address in January, with annoying frequency our morning paper is tossed in the gutter rather than our driveway. As you can see in the attached photo, the gutter fills with water in the early morning hours as homeowners water their lawns. The driveway, however, unless it rains, is bone dry.

My wife and I have been subscribers since 1996 in New York City when we had the Journal delivered to our apartment building on the Upper East Side. We used to divvy up sections of the paper to read during our morning subway commutes. We’ve always looked forward to waking up to the Journal – especially the weekend WSJ Magazine insert – and reading its many insightful articles.

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning in Denver. It would have been a delicious morning to sit with the paper and a cup of steaming coffee on the deck while the sun rose. But, alas, our delivery person (for perhaps the third time this week) had not thought to expend the discretionary effort required to toss the paper beyond the gutter and onto our driveway.

Please instruct this individual to pull his mind out of the gutter and focus instead on the pleasure his customers will experience by reading a dry morning newspaper with a cup of steaming hot coffee as the sun rises to the east.

Okay, so I had a little fun with this complaint. I’m not bitter, just disappointed. I know the delivery person could do better than to apathetically toss the paper into the wet gutter and drive on to complete his route. Beyond his daily mechanical job function, he must recognize the essence of his job – his highest priority at work.

His supervisor must convince him that, from his customer’s perspective, he’s not just delivering a bound clump of paper. He’s delivering the sunrise.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

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Valuing customers is a choice

June 18th, 2014

TextingEmployeecolorDo you recall the last time you waited in a long line at the supermarket to buy a handful of items with no express lane or alternate cashier in sight? Chances are you scanned the visible personnel to see whether or not an employee might step forward and say, “I can help you at register five.”

When that does happen, how does it make you feel? Pleased? Relieved? Valued? But what about when it doesn’t happen? How do you feel then? Annoyed? Frustrated? Devalued?

Yesterday, I was that customer. I approached the checkout lanes with two gallons of milk and noticed that one lane had a line of customers four deep, each with a shopping cart. A second cashier had placed a CLOSED sign on her conveyer belt in front of the last few items she needed to ring up for her current customer.

My options were to join the long line at the lone OPEN register or see if the gal at the CLOSED register would make an exception for me. I chose the latter presuming the cashier would decide in favor of the customer and quickly ring up my two gallons of milk.

Having placed the milk on the conveyer belt, I waited for the cashier to make eye contact with me so that I could smile and say something clever to address the situation, but she never looked at me. A minute later, as she completed the transaction ahead of me, I said, “Do you mind taking one more?”

She had the expression of a teenager who was mortified by something her father said in the presence of her peer group. I expected her to say, “What-ever…” but instead she said, “Oh-kayyy…” (drawing out the last syllable for effect) as though I’d just told her that I hoped to be president one day. No smile. No eye contact. Clearly I was the difficult customer who had ignored her CLOSED sign by asking her to ring up two gallons of milk.

Detecting her irritation, I said, “At the other register, I would have been the fifth customer in line.”

Nodding in the direction of a woman sacking groceries at the other register, she replied, “She is open.”

I said, “She’s sacking groceries.” Then I called over to the woman, “Are you open?”

She shook her head “no.”

Begrudgingly, the cashier rang up my two gallons of milk.

This experience illustrates a fundamental choice employees have during their interactions with customers: They can choose to view customers as adversaries – questioning their motives and treating them with contempt – or they can choose to see customers as valued partners in the success of the enterprise. This requires that employees reserve judgment and, when the opportunity presents itself, decide in favor of the customer.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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Why settle for processing guests when you can choose to serve them instead?

June 11th, 2014

behind register_00086[1]When is the last time you experienced exceptional customer service at an arena or stadium? In my experience, employees at these venues regularly treat event guests like nondescript masses of humanity: processing them, each one like the last one, at various entrances before ushering them past overpriced concessions en route to their designated seating areas.

Over the weekend, I attended a Rockies game at Coors Field in Denver, CO. During the second inning, I stopped by the on-site SandLot Brewery. There, I stood in front of an empty section of a sparsely occupied bar to place my order. Directly in front of me on the other side of the counter, were four employees: three bartenders and, judging by his attire, a manager. I waited a full minute without being acknowledged and then, looking to my right, made eye contact with another bartender who was about 20 feet away tending a busy section of the bar.

Her facial expression seemed to ask, “Are you being helped? Can I get something for you?” I smiled and waved my hand to convey that it was okay. I was certain that one of the four employees directly in front of me would acknowledge me at any time. Remarkably, I was wrong. After another full minute passed, I proceeded to the busy section of the bar where I placed my order with “Red,” the redheaded bartender with whom I’d made eye contact.

As she served my IPA, she said, “This one’s on me. I’m sorry you had to wait.” What a breath of fresh air during an otherwise stagnant service experience. I thanked her before moving on to another part of the brewery, beer in hand, to order a BBQ brisket sandwich. A few minutes later, I was back at the bar in Red’s section enjoying my brisket sandwich and beer. As often happens with brisket sandwiches, I soon realized that I needed a fork. Red noticed too and promptly left her station to retrieve a fork and knife for me from another part of the restaurant.

When she returned, we had a nice chat while I finished my meal during which I commented on how refreshing her customer service was in an environment typically known for processing guests rather than serving them.

Quiz:

  • How likely is it that I would order a to-go beer from my new friend, Red, versus an unfamiliar beer vendor in another part of the stadium?
  • How likely is it that I would offer Red a generous tip to recognize her exceptional customer service?
  • How likely is it that I would choose to feature Red in a blog post recognizing her exceptional customer service?
  • When returning to the SandLot Brewery at Coors Field, how likely is it that I will look for Red and be intentional about occupying her section of the bar?

This quiz is not hard to ace, just as exceptional customer service is not difficult to provide. It simply requires a choice. Red chose to exercise initiative in the moment of choice and to expend discretionary effort in favor of her guests – even as four of her coworkers chose to focus elsewhere.

It occurred to me later that, even at a sparsely occupied bar with three separate teams of bartenders serving three different sections of the bar, Red’s section was the busiest. Are you surprised? I’m not. And if I had to bet on which bartender earned the most tips, established the most relationships with guests, and enjoyed the highest job satisfaction, Red would be the clear favorite.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer by Maha Mohtaseb.

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Xvxryonx makxs a diffxrxncx

May 31st, 2014

TeamworkIn some organizations, there is an appearance that certain job roles matter more than other job roles. Employees in these work environments may feel judged based on their department, job title, tenure, shift, uniform/attire, or other differentiating factors. In such work cultures, it’s not uncommon for cliques to form that undermine camaraderie, productivity, and product/service quality.

Exceptional customer service, whether provided to coworkers or paying customers, cannot thrive in workplaces that assess a single job role as inconsequential – as though the unique contribution made by the employee(s) occupying the role doesn’t matter. Employees, especially those who work in less visible positions, will appreciate hearing (maybe for the first time) the connection between their job roles and the finished product or service.

Make this connection as concrete as possible. Use a whiteboard or flipchart paper during a pre-shift or department meeting to illustrate the connection. Remind every employee that the quality of her work influences the overall product or service quality enjoyed by the customer. Maya Angelou got it right when she said, “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere.”

Here’s another creative way, from the book Inside the Magic Kingdom by Tom Connellan, to drive this point home:

Hand employees a two-sided card, instructing them to only look at the sentence on the front side of the card that reads:

Xvxryonx makxs a diffxrxncx.

You can expect to see some puzzled looks and furrowed brows. And you can also expect to have everyone’s undivided attention as you instruct them to flip the card over to reveal the following paragraph:

Somxtimxs I gxt to thinking that what I do doxsn’t mattxr. But whxn I start thinking that way, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr. Most of thx kxys workxd finx most of thx timx. But onx day, onx of thx kxys stoppxd working altogxthxr. And that rxally mxssxd xvxrything up. So whxn I’m txmptxd to say, I’m only onx pxrson, it won’t makx much diffxrxncx if I don’t do this quitx right, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr. And I say to mysxlf: “I am a kxy pxrson and nxxdxd vxry much.”

It’s a great illustration that reinforces the importance of every employee’s unique contribution to the success of the entire team.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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Finding the flaws in flawless

May 27th, 2014

Nugget2As I type this, my Goldendoodle, Nugget, is recovering from shoulder surgery at a nearby animal hospital. His procedure was complex and required him to be left at the clinic all day.

While Nugget was in surgery, I went to my local Chuck & Don’s Pet Food store to pick up his favorite treats: Old Mother Hubbard Bac’N’Cheez dog biscuits.

During checkout, the cashier dutifully asked whether or not I was a “Friend of Chuck” (that is, a member of the store’s rewards program). After she found me in the database and before she totaled the sale, she asked, “Would you like to buy some ice cream for your dog?”

I smiled at the thought and replied, “I better just stick with the dog biscuits because I’m going to have a pretty big vet bill later today.”

Instead of inquiring about the welfare of my dog, the cashier simply executed the remainder of the transaction, handed me a receipt, and asked whether or not I wanted a bag for my dog biscuits.

I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but I did think she missed an opportunity to express genuine interest in my pet by asking a follow-up question like: “Why is your dog at the vet?” After learning more about Nugget’s condition, she could have shared some unique “insider” knowledge about how to keep him from biting at his stitches. (I’ve since learned that putting an old, snug-fitting t-shirt on your dog that covers the stitches may do the trick.)

She could have also provided a pleasant surprise, like a simple dog treat, saying, “Here’s a little something to cheer Nugget up!” In fact, considering Chuck & Don’s clientele, there’s a good chance that I’m not the only customer with a pet at the vet. Why not anticipate this by having dog biscuits and cat toys on hand that are imprinted with “Get well soon!”? Another missed opportunity.

My experience illustrates how a cashier can execute a flawless transaction and still disappoint. Customers may appreciate employees who complete transactions accurately and efficiently, but they remember employees who demonstrate empathy, share unique knowledge, and provide pleasant surprises.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

NuggetGiftJune 11 update: Last week, I received a phone call from Christine at Chuck & Don’s pertaining to this blog post. She was very interested in the details of my in-store experience and followed up with a bundle of Chuck & Don’s goodies for Nugget. For that, I say thank you, Christine – and Nugget says “WOOF!”

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May I have your attention, please?

May 21st, 2014

Maitre d'As a paying customer, how do you feel when details are overlooked or ignored? I once ordered a milkshake for my young son that was delivered to our table without a straw. After placing the milkshake (in a Styrofoam container with a lid) on the table in front of my son, the server asked, “Can I get you anything else?”

More recently, I experienced a couple of different situations where service providers failed to pay attention to detail:

The dealership where I have my car serviced strives for a rating of “completely satisfied” on its customer satisfaction survey. And they’re pretty assertive about asking customers to give them the highest rating on the survey when it arrives in the mail. During my latest service appointment, I spent $253 on a new car battery. It wasn’t until I pulled out of the parking lot that I realized the mechanic neglected to reset my clock and programmable radio stations – which had been cleared during the battery installation.

It’s a little thing, but little things mean everything. Although the mechanic performed the new battery installation flawlessly, because he overlooked the details of reprogramming my clock and radio stations, I was unable to rate my satisfaction with the service appointment as “completely satisfied.”

In a second incident, I hired a handyman service to perform a series of minor repairs in our new home. One of those repairs was to reinforce a loose towel rack in my son’s bathroom. About a week after the repairs were completed, I was in Cooper’s bathroom and noticed that the towel rack was loose. Upon further inspection, I realized that all the handyman did was tighten the existing screws into the drywall – without using drywall anchors. He must have known that it was only a matter of time before the towel rack came loose.

The difference between ordinary (tightening the existing screws) and extraordinary (taking the initiative to install a set of drywall anchors to reinforce the screws) is that little “extra.” Although I was satisfied with every other repair on the handyman’s punch list, because of his shoddy work on the towel rack, my impression of the company has been tainted – along with my enthusiasm to repurchase or recommend.

When you pay attention to detail, you pay attention to customers. And when you pay attention to customers, they will reward you with higher customer satisfaction ratings, repeat business, and referrals.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

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