Archive for the ‘Employee Engagement’ Category

Balancing service quality and volume

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Customer Service - Modern copyThis is the fifth post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: How do you balance providing “above and beyond” customer service with being efficient with the volume of inquiries you receive? In some cases the extra effort will simultaneously take additional time, so how do you know when the cost is outweighing the benefit?

An effective employee uses her judgment and discernment to regulate the time spent on customer inquiries. When volume is up, she spends less time on each individual query. When volume is down, she’s free to add that “little extra” to the customer service she provides. Regardless of volume, she recognizes that it often takes no more time to provide exceptional customer service than not. For instance, it takes no more time to convey authentic enthusiasm for serving customers by adding energy to one’s voice or to express genuine interest in customers by “smiling into the phone.” These behaviors enhance the quality of one’s customer service without added cost or time.

Recall that exceptional customer service is often unexpected by customers. In a contact center environment, customers expect for their inquiry to be addressed, but may not expect “above and beyond” customer service. When it does occur (or, more accurately, when circumstances enable it to occur), because it was unexpected, customers may be pleasantly surprised and form a lasting positive impression of the service experience.

In response to the cost outweighing the benefit, this occurs any time the servicing of one customer displaces the satisfaction of another. If you’ve ever stood in a line of customers while the service provider carried on a personal conversation with the customer being served, then you know what I’m talking about. The customer being served might be “delighted” that the employee expressed genuine interest in his latest vacation and the well-being of his grandchildren but if this comes at the expense of the satisfaction of the five customers standing in line, the cost may have outweighed the benefit.

This doesn’t mean that the immediate transaction needs to be rushed and the customer be made to feel like an interruption. It simply requires the employee to understand the tactical nuance of regulating her customer service in a way that best serves all customers. And if this cannot be done without making customers feel rushed, then the service model must be revisited. Perhaps more staff is required to field inquiries or improved self-service options are needed to better accommodate demand?

How do you balance customer service quality and volume?

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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Can exceptional customer service be automated?

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Assembly Line Color copyThis is the fourth post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: What is your opinion on automating responses to email inquiries based on content included in the inquiry to improve response times? Is it actually helpful or does it cause more trouble than benefit?

I have a bias against automation because it’s often impersonal, and exceptional customer service cannot be impersonal. That being said, I recognize that there’s a tradeoff between personalization and response time. Each company has to decide for itself its own performance standards. Many companies opt for the efficiency that comes with automated responses. Other companies may choose to sacrifice response time for a more personalized response. I’m not here to judge. Each company must simply honor its own service standards.

And it’s possible to do both: incorporate personality into automated responses. A great way to do this is by infusing appropriate humor into “standardized” responses. I recall a bank’s voicemail system that concludes a long menu of options by saying, “If you’d like to hear a duck quack, press 7.” The auto attendant is predictable, but the “duck quack” option is unexpected and refreshing.

Hilton’s theWit Hotel Chicago bucks convention by offering guests a wake-up call featuring the voice of the city’s most notorious mobster: “Hey you dirty rat. This is Al Capone reminding you to get your rotten bones outta that sack. Now get it moving. I’ve got an overdue Valentine’s Day gift for Elliot Ness I gotta deliver. Heheheheh!” The call is automated, but the message leaves a lasting positive impression.

In the same way, automated email responses (especially when tailored to content included in the original query) can share unique knowledge (troubleshooting resources), use appropriate humor (“It’s Valentine’s Day. I’ll follow up with you more completely after I dislodge Cupid’s arrow from my keyboard!”), provide a pleasant surprise (promo code), or in some other way mitigate the impersonal effect of an automated response.

Automation is often necessary to service the volume that results from consumer demand. Most reasonable customers understand this and make allowances accordingly. The key for customer experience professionals is to be intentional about designing automated communications that will meet customers’ needs and leave lasting positive impressions.

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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When essence is imbedded in the process, it occurs reliably

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

snappleThis is the third post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: How can you incent or encourage voluntary behaviors that get to customer delight if it’s not part of the expected job function?

If done properly, job essence and job function can be one in the same. Let me explain… Job function consists of the duties and tasks associated with one’s job role. Job essence is an employee’s highest priority at work. For most service industry employees, their highest priority at work is to create promoters – delighted customers who are less price sensitive, have higher repurchase rates, and are responsible for 80-90 percent of the positive word-of-mouth about a company or brand.

While employees consistently execute the mandatory job functions (duties/tasks) for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate the voluntary job essence (service behaviors) for which there is little or no additional cost to the employer. Why do you suppose that is? Possibly it’s because their duties and tasks are clearly outlined in their job description. Job function is what they were hired to do. It’s what they’re paid to do. And there are often quotas and other metrics associated with job function. When employees do receive feedback at work from their immediate supervisor, it likely pertains to job function. It’s no wonder employees consistently execute these mandatory job functions.

Job essence, on the other hand, is not generally recorded in one’s job description. While job essence may have come up during the onboarding process, during an orientation video, or in a speech by a company executive, that’s often where it stops. During the examination of daily operating reports, gross revenue reports, and period end or quarterly results, attention predictably shifts to the metrics aligned with job function.

It is possible to incorporate job essence into job function so that it occurs reliably, over time, by design rather than inconsistently, here and there, by chance. Here are two examples, one product and one service: Snapple, the beverage company, famously includes a “Real Fact” on the underside of its bottle caps. Real Fact #719 states: “A strawberry is not an actual berry but a banana is.” Did you know that? I didn’t – until now. By including these Real Facts, Snapple incorporates essence (sharing unique knowledge) into a function (the bottling process) and, I suspect, has sold a lot more ice tea and lemonade as a result.

And here’s a service example: Our family just celebrated my oldest son’s 13th birthday at a Japanese steakhouse. In addition to preparing the meal, the teppanyaki chef entertained his guests by flipping an egg into his hat and inviting diners to catch small pieces of broccoli tossed from his spatula. By entertaining his guests, this chef successfully incorporates essence (using appropriate humor) into a function (the cooking process). As a result, Mt. Fuji earns a higher average check than most of its local competition.

How can you incorporate job essence into job function?

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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Purpose, not policies, determines service quality

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Bell1 copyThis is the second post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: In many CS organizations, agents are bound by policies, procedures, and access restrictions. This limits an agent’s ability to “wow” someone when they are afraid to stick their neck out for violating policy. How do you recommend companies empower employees to “wow” the customer?

I have a couple of reactions to this question. First, I don’t believe it’s necessary to “wow” customers. My definition of customer service is: A voluntary act that demonstrates a genuine desire to satisfy, if not delight, a customer. Notice how it doesn’t read “…genuine desire to delight a customer”? There’s a popular perception that breathless, over-the-top customer service is required in order to achieve the same status or reputation as Zappos or Nordstrom. The reality is that this type of service model leads to employee (and, quite possibly, customer) fatigue and is, over time, unsustainable.

Customers do not expect you and I to go out of our way during every interaction. Most customers simply want to receive the product or service in question at the time and price expected. If this happens, it’s all good. As an example, consider Amazon. I just received a book order from Amazon yesterday. It was perhaps the third such delivery from them this year. I’m a loyal Amazon customer – although I wouldn’t say that anyone from Amazon has “gone out of their way” for me. They simply do an exceptional job of providing the products I order at the time and price expected. For me (and millions of other Amazon customers), that’s enough.

Second, the best way to avoid having to stick your neck out for violating policy is to create customer-centric policies that don’t require employees to stick their necks out! A great illustration of this is the Nordstrom “policy” that governs employee behavior with this solitary guideline: “Use your best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” Based on my latest experience at Nordstrom, this seems to be working.

Zappos is another company that is renowned for its customer service quality. At Zappos, employee behavior is guided by the purpose statement: “To provide the best customer service possible.” As long as employees’ decisions are aligned with this purpose (the “why” behind the “what” of employees’ job functions), then their decisions are supported. And if their decisions undermine this purpose statement, then it becomes a performance management issue requiring intervention (E.g., feedback, coaching, counseling – even discipline).

I’m not sure they call it “empowerment” but Nordstrom and Zappos, by limiting restrictions and conveying job purpose, have successfully created work environments that encourage employees to provide exceptional customer service without undo reliance on policies or fear of reprisal.

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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The key to change lies in questions, not demands

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

genuine-interest-copyThis is the first post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: Given the behaviors you advocate are voluntary and genuine, how can you ask someone on your team to change – doesn’t that take away from it being genuine?

I certainly don’t advocate trying to forcibly change employees or “make” them be more genuine as an effective way to improve customer service. Like you, I recognize the futility of trying to change others. Changing ourselves is difficult enough… The most effective managers I’ve encountered have had a knack for bringing subordinates to the same conclusions that they’ve formed (based on their unique experience, analysis, and insights) by engaging them with questions. The most effective question I’m aware of to improve the quality of customer service that employees provide is this: “Would you describe for me, from your perspective, what you do – what your job entails?”

It’s likely that most of what you’ll hear in response to this question will pertain to job function: the duties/tasks associated with one’s job role. Little if anything will be said about job essence: an employee’s highest priority at work, which, for most service industry employees, is to create a delighted customer – or promoter. This creates an opportunity for the manager to enlighten the employee about the two halves of his job role: job function AND job essence. Honestly, the awareness created as a result of the ensuing conversation may be sufficient to raise the quality of the employee’s personal customer service without any additional training.

I believe that the great majority of employees want to do a good job at work and be recognized for their effort. Employees don’t willfully ignore customers. They unwittingly treat them indifferently. By having the above conversation with their employees, managers can create the awareness necessary for employees to choose their own behaviors in support of the organization’s customer service mission.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above question?

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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When customer service is exceptional, price is irrelevant.

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

PINKLast month while working in Las Vegas, a funny thing happened. I was in my hotel room preparing to speak to a group at The Venetian hotel. I checked the clock and realized I was on in 90 minutes and so, put my laptop in my bag, slipped on my dress shoes, and located a mirror to aid in fastening my tie—the final step before heading down to meet my contact at the meeting room.

Everything was going as planned until I attempted to fasten the collar button on my dress shirt. I tried again and again, but there simply was not enough slack to button the collar. I checked my watch and realized that I had an hour and 25 minutes to sort this out. Knowing that The Venetian and its adjoining sister property, The Palazzo hotel, had numerous men’s clothing stores on premises, I fastened my tie loosely and left my hotel room in search of a collar extender.

My first stop was at HUGO BOSS. There, after I explained to the salesman that I was in need of a collar extender because my collar had shrunk, he said he did not stock them but recommended Andrew’s Ties located near The Palazzo hotel, about a 10-minute walk. Briefcase in hand, I ventured toward The Palazzo shops.

As I approached Andrew’s Ties after many twists and turns through the facility, I thought to myself, “Certainly a tie shop will stock collar extenders.” As I entered the store, I was greeted by a smiling employee standing behind the counter.

“Pardon me,” I asked, “The collar on my dress shirt seems to have shrunk. Would you happen to carry collar extenders?” To my surprise, she said that she did not stock them but I could check with Thomas Pink, a dress shirt retailer located just around the corner. By now it was approaching noon and I was due to speak at The Venetian in about an hour.

I hurried to Thomas Pink, hoping there would be a salesperson available to assist with my dilemma. As I entered the store, I noticed two employees and no other customers. Since this was really my last chance and failure was not an option, I felt confident that between the three of us we could figure something out.

Making eye contact with the first employee, Sheri, I repeated that my collar had shrunk and I needed a collar extender to secure my collar in order to fasten my tie before my speaking engagement. She shook her head, saying, “I’m sorry but we don’t carry collar extenders.”

Seeing the disappointment on my face, Sheri suggested I consider purchasing a new dress shirt that would allow me to fasten my tie.

“First,” she said, “what is your neck size?”

“Sixteen and a half,” I replied.

Skeptical, Sheri produced her tape measure, suggesting innocently, “Here, let me confirm your neck size—just to be sure.”

She then measured the circumference of my neck, reporting, “Seventeen inches.”

“So my collar didn’t shrink after all?” I questioned as I reflected on my last couple of meals in Las Vegas…

Smiling, Sheri brought me over to the selection of dress shirts with 17-inch collars and chose a lovely blue shirt and pair of fabric cufflinks that complimented my suit and tie. After quickly trying it on, Sheri rung up my purchase while a second employee, Wijdan, collected my shirt and removed the wrinkles using a steam wand.

It was after noon when I emerged from the dressing room in my new shirt with my tie fastened. Sheri quickly secured my cufflinks, complimented me on my appearance, and wished me luck on my presentation.

I arrived at the venue with time to spare, delivered my talk and afterwards, met up with my clients to socialize. After sharing the above story, one of my clients asked, “So, how much was the dress shirt?”

Just then, it occurred to me that I had jammed the receipt into my pocket without bothering to look at it. And this epiphany is at the heart of this blog post.

When customer service is exceptional, price is irrelevant. Sure, I didn’t really have the luxury of time to comparison shop or hunt for the best deal due to my impending speaking engagement. Even so, regardless of my circumstances during my next visit to Las Vegas, I plan to revisit my “friends” Sheri and Wijdan at Thomas Pink and will most certainly purchase another dress shirt.

Customers don’t buy from companies or brands. They buy from the people behind those companies or brands—people like Sheri and Wijdan who recognize that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is that little “extra.”

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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A CUT above…

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

CUTsteakhouseLast week, my work brought me to Las Vegas. My first night in town, Sunday, I was on my own for dinner and decided to try CUT steakhouse along Restaurant Row between the The Venetian and The Palazzo hotels.

Since I was dining alone, I sat at the bar where I was served by a bartender named Brendan. From the moment he took my drink order, I knew it was going to be memorable. And from there, it only got better.

As he accepted my drink order, a Manhattan, Brendan asked, “Would you prefer that up or on the rocks?” I hesitated before requesting the drink ‘up’ because I preferred the drink be served in a rocks glass but didn’t want a glass full of ice. He sensed my hesitation, even detecting the source of it, offering, “Here, we use large ice chips (to chill the drink without diluting it so quickly). Would you like to try one in your Manhattan?”

When it arrived, it was perfect. And the hunk of ice was well suited to a steakhouse named CUT. It just worked. A minute later, Brendan approached me to ask about my drink. It was then that he described the six-and-a-half-foot block of ice that was delivered to the restaurant daily in order to be carved into ice chips for the evening’s libations. He even presented me with one of the actual 3-prong ice picks used to do the job.

After I had ordered a dry-aged New York strip steak from Nebraska, Brendan presented me with a tray containing three sauces and a dipping salt, saying, “These are compliments of the chef,” before describing each. A few minutes later, he delivered an amuse-bouche (a complimentary bite-size hors d’oeuvre intended to amuse the mouth and invigorate the palate) of cheese gougères.

Now, I’m sure I was not the only guest that evening who received the dipping sauces and cheese puff appetizers “compliments of the chef.” Even so, the effect that these overtures had on me, together with Brendan’s perceptiveness relating to my drink order and willingness to share a peek behind the curtain at the restaurant, was to elevate the experience to a magical place where price is irrelevant and promoters like me are born.

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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Service so sweet…

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Cake before photoMy daughter turned nine over the weekend. To celebrate, I ordered an ice cream cake from Cold Stone Creamery. Although I had requested the cake be decorated with “assorted flowers in her favorite colors of purple, blue, and turquoise,” when I stopped by to pick up the cake on Sunday afternoon, I was presented with the underwhelming cake pictured above.

Disappointed, I asked the counter employee if she could enliven the cake by accenting it with more color and, perhaps, flowers as originally requested. She responded that she was incapable of decorating cakes but that, if I could return later, someone qualified to add decorations would arrive in one hour.

For any parent who has picked up a child’s birthday cake on the day of their party, it’s understood that waiting an hour usually is not an option. So I took the cake instead to my local King Soopers supermarket. Being that it has a full-service bakery, I hoped that a decorator would be willing to add a little pizzazz to an otherwise nondescript cake—even though it had been purchased elsewhere.Cake after photo

In the bakery, I encountered a decorator named Jenny. After explaining my dilemma, she dropped what she was doing and spent the next five minutes transforming my daughter’s cake from boring to spectacular! In the process, she reinforced my loyalty to the King Soopers brand while proving once again that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is that little “extra.”

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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The voice of the customer

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Southlands3Over the weekend, my wife and I drove to Southlands mall in Aurora, Colorado to do a little shopping. Southlands is an outdoor mall with a four-block Main Street that is flanked on both sides by an array of retail stores and restaurants.

We expected the mall to be bustling as it was the weekend before Black Friday and the official start of the holiday shopping season. Since it was 32 degrees outside, I was secretly hoping to get a parking spot on Main Street directly in front of the stores rather than having to park in one of the back lots located on the opposite side of the storefronts.

As we pulled onto south end of Main Street at 11:30am, you can imagine our surprise to see a four-block stretch of vacant parking spaces lining both sides of the street. It became immediately clear as to why there were no parking spaces occupied: the entire four blocks of prime storefront parking had been cordoned off with rope and stanchions!

Perplexed, I drove to one of the outer lots before calling the mall’s management office to inquire about the parking situation. I reached a mall security officer who informed me that, “We blocked off the parking spaces along Main Street in preparation for tonight’s Holiday Hometown Parade at 6 o’clock.”

It’s widely known that the holiday shopping season accounts for up to 40 percent of retailers’ annual revenues. And this year in particular, retailers are devising creative ways to drive traffic early because there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas—and one less weekend!

Knowing this, why wouldn’t Southlands management schedule the parade in the morning, drawing spectators out early, and then end by noon—just in time for the mall restaurants to open for lunch? That way, parking is restricted to accommodate the parade for only two business hours rather than all day long. Morning holiday parades seem to work in New York City and Pasadena. Why not here in Aurora?

When my wife stopped into Chico’s to buy a gift certificate, the salesperson expressed frustration at the decision to cordon off storefront parking during mall hours on the Saturday before the official start of the holiday shopping season.

So, my wife and I were perplexed and the Chico’s salesperson felt frustrated. It makes me curious to know whose perspectives were being considered during the planning meetings leading up to the parade?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos periodically leaves one seat open at a conference table and informs meeting attendees that the open seat serves as a physical reminder to take into account the perspective or “voice” of the customer. I wonder how this tactic might have influenced Southlands management’s decisions pertaining to parade logistics by considering the perspectives of their customers, whether retailers or mall guests?

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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Take charge of customer perception

Monday, November 18th, 2013

White-crowned PigeonI was recently trawling TripAdvisor reviews for a client in the Caribbean when I came across a 3-star (out of a possible 5 stars) review titled, “Best location, wish they maintained it well.” The reviewer went on to criticize the hotel’s “un-manicured” and “poorly maintained” grounds, implying that management was apathetic and neglectful.

Increasingly, travelers are reading hotel reviews before deciding where to spend their travel dollars. Thirty-three percent of travelers reported changing their hotel booking plans after reading online reviews (PhoCusWright’s Social Media in Travel, 2012). And hotel operators cannot dismiss the potential impact these reviews can have on financial performance. According to the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University, “For every 1% of increase in a hotel’s online reputation score, a hotel enjoys a .54% increase in occupancy, which can lead to a 1.42% increase in revenue per available room.”

It’s worth noting that in the property manager’s response to the above review, he shared, “The area is protected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department and the hotel is under tight control over its appearance. At this time of year, while trees and bushes may appear to be ‘un-manicured,’ we currently have migratory White-crowned Pigeons on the island and are prohibited from trimming the foliage until the migration period is complete later this summer as to prevent disturbing them.”

I wondered what the impact would have been on the guest’s perception had she, while staying at the hotel, been made aware of the White-crowned Pigeon’s migration and its effect on the hotel’s landscaping? Would that knowledge have influenced the title of the review? The critical tone of the review? The number of stars awarded?

Your business may never be affected by the migration patterns of a protected species, but there may be another dynamic contributing to customers’ negative perceptions. Offering customers “a peek behind the curtain” may reveal a valid explanation for situations that, on the surface, appear to be product or service quality oversights.

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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