Sinful Service

Customers are the lifeblood of an entrepreneurship. And yet, many entrepreneurs have or condone a rather cavalier attitude about their customers. I’ve written before about the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is one of the best measures of customer satisfaction. A poor NPS is a pretty good indication that something has gone awry with how customers are being treated. Comcast has a -5 NPS. Bank of America and Honda USA have an NPS of zero. By contrast the NPS for Amazon is +62 and for Apple it’s +72. For more information on the NPS, link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_Promoter.

There are several surefire ways to drive down a Net Promoter Score. Explained another way – there are a number of errors that are made that drive away customers. Let’s look at a few sinful service flubs that are all too common.

  • It’s not my job. I’m sure we’ve all encountered someone who tells us this. The implication is that this person really could care less about me as a customer. It’s more important to him or her to color inside the lines and take no responsibility for helping me with the bigger picture. By contrast, I’m pleased to report that I recently visited a Bed Bath & Beyond store and asked a salesperson where to find a certain obscure product. Not only did she tell me exactly where it was, but she escorted me across the store and helped me find the right item. Maybe that’s why Bed Bath has a +44 NPS!
  • I’m going to give you the royal runaround. The “it’s not my job” approach leads to a far worse malady called, “the royal runaround.” This happens to me frequently when I’m calling a customer help line. First, I have to spend several minutes punching my way through the automated attendant to eventually get to the right person. I don’t know about you, but when I call for service, I don’t want to listen to a recording. I want to talk with a live person. Sometimes when I finally succeed in this quest, the person is friendly and solves my problem immediately. But in other instances the person may tell me that he or she can’t help me and I need to be transferred to another department thereby increasing the chances of being disconnected, or finding out that the next person is also going to shuffle me to still someone else.
  • I’m just following policy. This one is just lovely. We try to understand why the defective item we purchased at a particular store cannot be returned to that store, but instead must be sent directly to the manufacturer. “I didn’t buy the item directly from the manufacturer; I bought it from your store,” I explain. “That’s just our policy and there’s nothing I can do about it” I’m told by the customer “service” representative at the store. Makes me wonder why I need to pay a mark-up to the middleman if I’m going to have to deal with the manufacturer when the product fails.
  • My job sucks and I’m going to treat you like dirt (or worse). It’s easy to tell when someone who interacts with the public hates their job. I once had an encounter with a person who worked for a large company. I went to the office of this company and was ushered into an inner waiting area. The person I was to meet was sitting at a desk across the waiting room. She had a permanent scowl on her face and refused to acknowledge me. She fiddled around with a variety of menial tasks and finally at ten minutes after my appointment time she motioned me over. Not once did she make eye contact. She asked a couple of perfunctory questions; stamped a piece of paper, and shoved it back across the desk without saying a word. Her loathing of her job was palpable.
  • I may be smiling, but I’m still lying to you. This is pure poison. When a customer can no longer trust the company with whom he or she is dealing, then all is lost. Here’s the scenario. We are talking with a customer service representative for a consumer products company. We’ve had an issue with one of their products. The representative is most pleasant and assures us that the issue will be resolved immediately. Days pass with no resolution. We speak with the representative again and are told that the problem is being resolved. More time passes – still no resolution. Finally we speak with a different representative and learn that there is no resolution and never was to have been. We were fed a pack of lies from the very beginning.

As we grow our entrepreneurial endeavors, we must be ever vigilant to ensure that our customers are completely satisfied and we avoid the pitfalls of sinful service.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link –

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Disaster to Brilliance

In the old days if a product was lousy it was hard to get the word out to the general public. Short of taking out a full-page ad in the newspaper or standing in front of a store handing out flyers, there really wasn’t an effective way to inform unsuspecting customers about a flawed product or terrible service. Social media has changed all of that in a good way for the most part.

Do you ever read online product reviews? Smart companies give customers the chance to rate a product or service and write a short statement about their experience. And smart companies constantly monitor the ratings and reviews and take immediate action to resolve issues as they arise. I don’t know about you, but I have been paying more attention to ratings and reviews when I make purchases on Amazon and in other internet stores. Social media provides entrepreneurs with a terrific opportunity to “up their game” so to speak. Failure to deliver top quality or resolve customer problems can have severe consequences. In an instant the whole world can learn about a bad experience. And when too many bad experiences are chronicled online, an entrepreneur can lose business in a big way.

I purchased a battery-operated handheld drink mixer for use in mixing a supplement I take daily. The device worked quite well for a few weeks. And then it became temperamental and would only work intermittently. Eventually it stopped working altogether. I had tossed the packaging, so I wasn’t sure how to contact the manufacturer. The easiest thing was to simply post a review on the website from which I had purchased the item. I stated that the product was flawed and presented the facts about my experience.

Within 20 minutes of the posting I received an e-mail from the owner of the manufacturer. He expressed genuine concern that I wasn’t satisfied and said he would send me a full refund, send a replacement product or provide tips on how I could get the unit to work properly. Apparently my issue was fairly common and the fix was relatively simple. I liked the mixer and told him I’d take him up on his tips which he quickly sent to me. He also reminded me that his product had a lifetime warranty. I was able to use his tips to get the mixer working properly and have been able to keep it running ever since. I quickly wrote an updated review congratulating this gentleman on his customer focus and endorsed his product.

This entrepreneur did it right. He smartly monitored his reviews. When he saw a negative one he quickly reached out to his customer with the singular objective of doing whatever it took to make the customer (me) happy. There was never any hint of defensiveness in his responses. His lifetime guarantee is impressive. What he did was turn a potential disaster (bad review) into a stroke of brilliance by getting a positive re-write of my review – by the way, he never suggested that I do this. Better yet, the way I re-wrote the review recounted my initial dissatisfaction and all that the owner did to resolve my issue. Potential customers reading my review should take comfort in knowing that this entrepreneur stands behind his product and only wants his customers to be totally satisfied.

No matter how hard we try, things can go wrong. Stuff breaks. Customers can be cranky. Social media has created an environment where we are very vulnerable as entrepreneurs. Committing to move with lightning speed and doing whatever it takes to ensure total customer satisfaction will help keep us out of the ditch. The Pony Express days of customer service are over. This is as it should be.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 33 – Swivel Head.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

drink-mixer

Go Away – We’re Closed

Once upon a time there were entrepreneurs who cared about their customers. They understood what it took to make their customers happy and keep them coming back. Then their businesses grew and grew until one day they weren’t small anymore. Instead they became large behemoths that cared less about the customers and more about bureaucracy, CYA, policy and how to squeeze more dollars out of their customers. In the process, a number of their customers had experiences that were unacceptable and downright maddening. In this blog, I would like to relate several stories about encounters I’ve had as a customer of several larger companies. The names of the companies are irrelevant. What is instructive are the lessons we can learn as entrepreneurs and especially what we don’t want to emulate.

Let’s start with the airlines. The large domestic carriers are consistently stepping in it with their customers. One summer we made flight reservations on a major airline and then a few weeks later needed to change one leg of the flight. The airline’s website was impossible to negotiate to figure out how to make such a change. So I called the customer service line and got into the queue. Thirty minutes later they called back and were ready to assist me. I was informed that because I had a “special” fare, I would have to pay the difference of $173 plus a $200 change fee. I protested and pointed out that the special fare was still being advertised on the flight to which I was changing. And I also said that I found it unreasonable to charge a $200 change fee for a couple of minutes of re-booking. The representative wouldn’t budge. I said that I would leave the original reservation in place and in the future, find another airline to fly with friendlier policies. The “haughty” young man representing the airline said, “All of the legacy carriers are charging the $200 change fee.” Wow! Of course we know this is true, but a statement like this sounds like blatant collusion. The message to me, the customer was, “We’re going to screw you and so are the other major airlines.” Lesson #1: Never use the “everyone else is doing it” explanation when interacting with a customer.

My wife and I were in Washington, DC and made reservations for dinner at a major national steakhouse chain. It was a Tuesday evening and when we placed our order we naturally wanted – you got it – steak. Well, steak wasn’t an option at this restaurant. They were out of every cut of beef with the exception of a low-end sirloin. When I spoke to the assistant manager she said that there had been a delivery issue. Seriously? They do have grocery stores and meat markets in Washington, DC. My entrepreneurial instincts caused me to wonder why someone hadn’t simply gone to the store and purchased enough steaks to cover until the delivery arrived. I’ve been to other restaurants where the server or the manager has literally made a mad dash to the store and purchased something I wanted and they didn’t have. Lesson #2: Never tell a customer “we’re out of that.” Do whatever it takes to ensure that the customer gets what he or she wants.

Here’s a classic. A national chain store closes at 8:00 PM. I arrive at exactly 8:00 PM. What do you suppose happens next? The store manager won’t allow me to enter and says, “Sorry, we’re closed.” So here I am, a ready, willing and able customer and the store representative doesn’t want to serve me. Adding insult to injury, I’m told to come back the next day when they reopen at 9:00 AM. But what if that’s not convenient for me? In this case it’s apparently more important to avoid inconveniencing the store employees than the customers. Lesson #3: Always remain open for business until the last customer leaves. And if someone else wants to enter and it’s after hours, by all means accommodate him or her.

Finally, here’s another one that I’m sure will sound familiar. I made an appointment for an MRI at a large chain of imaging centers. I arrived 15 minutes early to make sure that all the paperwork was completed prior to my appointment time. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. About 20 minutes after my appointed time I asked once how long it would be and was told, “We should get to you soon.” After another 15 minutes I inquired again and the receptionist said in exasperation, “Sir, I have no idea how long it will be before we will get to you.” I left. Lesson #4: Never tell a customer that you have no idea when he or she will receive service.

As our businesses grow it’s critical that we make amplify our efforts to maintain customer focus even if it costs extra to do so. The additional investment will more than payoff when our happy customers continue to return and refer other customers to us as well.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 9 – Mistake Prone

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Closed sign

A Warm Blanket

I was waiting for a flight and a lady came to the ticket counter from an adjoining gate and asked the attendant if an announcement could be made about the status of the flight from that gate. Apparently it was past the departure time; the monitor revealed nothing, and there was no airline person at the gate. A few minutes later an announcement about the delay was made, but not after several moments of irritation on the part of the passengers waiting for that flight.

Why is it that so many companies communicate so poorly with their customers – especially when things aren’t going quite right? Common sense tells us that communications should be amplified in such instances. And yet it seems that there is a bit of a “run and hide” mentality when the train runs off the tracks. Airlines may be the worst where this is concerned – we all have more airline stories than we can remember. But this malady is shared across the business spectrum. While visiting a resort community in California, I walked past a grocery store that had a sign on the door at midday saying, “Closed – Computers Down.” Customers were trying to open the locked door and shook their heads after reading the sign. What a missed opportunity!

There are a couple of reasons why this happens, neither of which are good. The first is a cultural issue. If a company adopts the philosophy that the customer comes first, then its response to anything going awry impacting the customer will be immediate, complete and ongoing communications. Anything less is contrary to a customer-first culture. We entrepreneurs must decide if we are going to embrace such a culture and if so, determine the steps that we are going to take to ensure that come hell or high water the customer will always be wrapped in a warm blanket. Which brings us to the second reason why many companies fail at communicating effectively when things go wrong.

A company may have every intention of effectively communicating with its customers through thick and thin. But unless there is a clearly defined strategy that translates into actionable steps for every member of the team, there’s no way that successful implementation can happen. Take the airlines for instance. I have trouble believing that they don’t have great customer service as an intention. However, there’s no other explanation than there’s a disconnect somewhere between their strategy and putting it into practice.

In our respective organizations, we can make certain that our strategy and implementation are seamless through simulation. This involves identifying every possible mishap that could occur, causing issues for our customers. Next we can create a step-by-step process for dealing with these problems while maintaining a constant focus on how we smooth the way for our customers. It will require a combination of urgency, honesty, straightforwardness, empathy, clarity and frequency. In other words, we’re going to quickly tell our customers what has happened in clear and concise terms. We aren’t going to lie – if the airplane is broken, we’ll tell them that the airplane is broken and not make up some other excuse. We will apologize for any inconvenience and take the necessary steps to make things as painless for the customer as possible – even if it costs us some money. And we will continue to communicate early and often until the situation is resolved. Every member of our team will know exactly how they are supposed to make this happen and we will practice, practice and practice some more.

If we truly care about our customers, our bottom line will be the better for it. Thus, we should do everything in our power to make sure that the customer has a positive experience even when we have trouble delivering our products or services.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

electric blanket

The Kelly Factor

My wife and I ate dinner at an old 1960s vintage diner while on vacation recently. Our server was Kelly and she was absolutely terrific. In fact I told her she should come and work with me. Why was I so impressed with Kelly? She was genuine and authentic. This translated into her being very personable. Not only was she friendly but she clearly was very interested in providing us with the best dining experience possible. Kelly checked on us regularly, was witty and her countenance literally beamed.

It was obvious from the minute we sat down that Kelly was fully invested in her job. She had “skin in the game” so to speak. She greeted every customer that walked in the door, even if she wasn’t their server. And when a customer departed she acknowledged them similarly. There is a great lesson here for us entrepreneurs. When someone throws themself into their job like Kelly did, it not only is obvious but it is infectious. My wife and I both left the diner feeling more upbeat than we did when we walked in.

While sitting in the booth listening to some great old rock and roll tunes (from the 60s of course) I got to thinking about what makes Kelly tick. As Simon Sinek would say, what is her WHY? It was pretty apparent from what she said and her demeanor that Kelly is all about building trust and lasting relationships. Thus, everything she does for her customers is foundational in this respect. At one point she stopped by to see if some barbecue sauce had been delivered – it had not. She ran off to the kitchen and got it. When she returned, she explained that someone else was bringing it and then there was a minor disaster in the kitchen that caused the sauce to get waylaid. The fact that she felt a need to explain what had happened told me that she really wanted to earn our trust.

As entrepreneurs we need to have “skin in the game” as do all of the people we work with. It’s pretty evident when someone is simply going through the motions. While on the same vacation, we ate at another restaurant where our server was nice, but it was obvious she was just doing her job. She made no effort to engage us in conversation and build a relationship of any sort. Our experience in this restaurant and with this server was fine. But it serves in stark contrast with our Kelly experience.

Skin in the game means doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy. Skin in the game means going the extra mile for everyone involved – customer, company and other team members. Skin in the game means taking the wins and losses personally. Skin in the game means sometimes doing something that is less advantageous for us and more advantageous for someone else.

We know when we’ve become fully invested in whatever we’re doing. The results will be evident when we see that everyone involved had the kind of WOW experience that we did with Kelly.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

waitress

The Royal Treatment

I’ll bet there are a million books that have been written about customer service. I even wrote one that was published in 1991 called The Customer Is King! How has customer service been for you lately? Have all of the books that have been written over the last 20-some odd years done any good? Is customer service any better today than in the past?

There is a way to ensure that we receive top-quality service with each and every encounter (well almost). It’s been working for me flawlessly for many years and I can assure you that it will work for you as well. Yes, we’re the customer and we should be treated like royalty – right? Well, what if we treat the service provider like royalty too? I have made true friends with many individuals who provide service to me. And the word “friends” is important here. I treat them like I would treat a friend.

I always try and know the name of the person serving me. That’s the best way to start a friendship. And I use their name throughout the service experience – not in a patronizing or schmaltzy way, but in a natural conversational manner. I look them in the eye and smile. At some point in the encounter I may ask them something about themselves. Why? Because I really want to know more about them. I’ll joke and tease with them because that’s my personality. If someone provides excellent service, I make sure and tell him or her what a terrific job he/she did. And I also make sure and tell the manager the same thing. I may also shake hands with the service provider, especially if he’s a man. If the circumstances are appropriate I make certain that I tip generously, rounding up to the nearest dollar. At Christmas, I give $100 in cash to a couple of servers who regularly serve me at my favorite restaurants. In one case I know that my gift made a significant difference in what he was able to do for his family during the holidays.

We eat regularly at a local restaurant and have often been served by a 50-something woman. She wasn’t easy to warm-up, but when she did crack a smile it was radiant. At one point I told her how beautiful her smile was and I thought she was going to cry. I talked to her about her daughter and her mother and learned more about her life experiences. Today she is extraordinarily warm and outgoing with us. She goes to great lengths to make sure our service is outstanding. The effort I expend is nominal and I’m completely genuine about my interest in those providing service to me.

If something about the product or service isn’t quite right I don’t hesitate to talk to the service provider or the manager about it. I always do so in a friendly and respectful way. Throwing a tantrum and acting like a jerk doesn’t do anything to build friendships or treat everyone like royalty. More often than not the situation is corrected and though I never expect or request it, my bill is reduced or I receive a gift coupon.

Treating service providers like royalty is rare these days. Usually they simply blend into the background. When I interview someone for a job, I like to do so over a meal so I can see how well the person treats the wait staff. If her or she is gracious and acknowledges the server there’s a reasonable chance that the interviewee has a good customer service perspective. Numerous prospective team members have not been hired because they didn’t even show common courtesy to the server.

We have every right to expect excellent customer service. And we’ll receive it if we treat our service provider like a king or queen. It’s human nature to return kindness with kindness.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

royalty

It Only Cost a Buck

Question: Recently I read an online customer review about my business and it was pretty mediocre. We delivered the service we were supposed to. Why would someone give us such average marks?

Answer: Maybe the service was mediocre. It’s my theory that people generally expect average which is a pretty low bar. That’s also why it’s so easy to wow customers with a little bit extra. There just aren’t a lot of companies that consistently deliver the wow factor.

While vacationing recently I had the opportunity to eat in the same restaurant while driving to our destination and again when driving back. Apparently the general policy at this restaurant is for the server to leave the ticket at the end of the meal and the customer pays at the cash register. During my first visit, our server saw me take out my credit card and asked me if she could take the ticket and my credit card and handle the payment without my having to go to the register. This was a small but friendly touch that resulted in my rounding up the bill to the nearest five-dollar amount and calculating her tip on that basis. My visit on the return trip was, well . . . average. Our server was friendly enough but when the time came to settle up, I put my credit card on the table with the ticket and it sat there. She came back twice to clear dishes but never made a move to pick up the credit card. I finally paid at the register and guess what I did? I rounded down to the nearest five-dollar amount to calculate her tip. It only cost her a buck, but imagine what that could add up to over the course of a year.

In my second encounter the server didn’t do anything wrong. In fact she was undoubtedly following restaurant policy. Thus she met my expectations. But it wouldn’t have taken much for her to exceed my expectations as her colleague had done a couple of weeks earlier. This minor incident highlights the fact that it doesn’t take much in this average society of ours to really stand out. As entrepreneurs we’re always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves and our businesses. We don’t need to get fancy about it. Just understand what average is and find simple and friendly ways to beat average.

The same lesson applies to life in general. Do we want to have average relationships? In my book, life to a great extent is about the people that pass through it. I’d like to think that the people in my life get more than “average” from me. Having the mindset of always giving a little extra effort will make this so.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

dollar bill