Category Archives: Customer Service Managment

A Waiting Game

queueBusy periods should be great for business. But don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.

With half term next week and the glorious weather of late you may be expecting a busy week ahead, particularly if you’re a visitor attraction or leisure business.

And quite possibly some of your customers will be visiting you for the first time. So naturally you’ll want to give them a great first impression. And keep your regulars happy, too.

So how can you ensure that even when you’re busy your customers get the same warm welcome and attention they do on every other day of the year.

When we’re busy one of the criticisms from customers can be queuing. Let’s face it; none of us like to be kept waiting. We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead.

Here are 10 things to think about so your team can be prepared and your customers get the warm welcome they’re expecting …even if waiting.

1. Prevention is better than cure

Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for your order to arrive, any of these situations can try our patience.

Estimate your busy times. If you know when your peak times are in the first instance warn customers of these times, with alternatives when they can avoid the rush – and potentially even out the pressure for you.

I know this sounds obvious, but adjust your staffing accordingly. This isn’t just a case of more staff when busy; it means more staff who are competent and confident to take on the extra workload, so ensure appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’.

If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.

Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? E.g.  to other tills, entrances or places with shorter queues. Give your team licence to cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.

2. Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere

If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible.

Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing or waiting to be served which will save time once they get served –  such as reading information that speeds up their buying decision, e.g. reading what’s on offer, finding out about specials, understanding what’s included in each price option?  Or learning of anything that isn’t available so they can be thinking of alternatives (and not have their hopes dashed when you tell them they can’t have their No 1 choice).

Can they be getting tickets or vouchers ready, filling out forms or processing payment. Can you take cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up?

Can customers be doing something that saves them time once served, e.g. reading menus or site maps to plan their visit?

3 A team effort

Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills or acting as ‘runners’ for those dealing with customers.

Have empathy for the waiting customers; the waiting may not be your fault, but take some responsibility for action, not blame others for their wait.  If you rely on business partners or outsourced services, your customers don’t care if it’s down to them; as far as they are concerned you all represent your business.

4. Alleviate the pain

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from the wait or maybe even compensate for their wait. Ask them to take a seat, or stand in the warm…

Maybe a little something to compensate for the wait may be appropriate: a drink, map, kids’ colouring in sheet or sticker, as appropriate for your business. Just a small token gift, just to say we appreciate your patience.

(And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; maybe it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. Compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether!)

If people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.

5. Give alternatives

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they opt for something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might of course depend on just how long they have to wait.

When we’re put on hold, if told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th.

So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Disney have mastered this; you always know how long you’ll be waiting in line, so you aren’t agitated whilst you wait.

Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows the customer to make an informed decision. If you need to put someone on hold, ask them first if this is OK; don’t just assume they’re happy to hang on.

If you’ve a backlog of orders and they’ll have to wait 10 minutes for their Panini tell them so (and of course make sure it does only take 10 minutes or less!).

At the very least give notice if you can’t deliver your promise.

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

6. Streamline your operation

Review all the touch points on the customers’ journey – where can time be saved; waiting for web pages or images to load, phones being answered more quickly, keeping on top of orders so purchases can be dispatched/served quickly.

Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, duplicate processes, or re-queue for secondary transactions or information. This not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part, (and potentially disrupts other queuing customers).

Just because this is how it’s always been done, isn’t a good enough reason to do it that way!

Do you give customers accurate information so they can get to speak to the right person first time around? Do you have some generic phone number that takes customers through 5 (or even more) options before they can even get to speak to a human being? Give them a direct number next time so as a valued customer they can jump the ‘queue’ to go directly to the right person.

If you’re not sure if there is any doubling up – ask your customers… And ask your team; I bet they know where things could be streamlined.

7. Save your customers time and effort

In the same way that anything that wastes time for your customers can be an irritation, anything that saves your customer time will add value.

Why not have an express service, line, process, phone number, etc. for your existing loyal customers. Make them feel special and valued. Even for new customers who are time poor, introduce a quick option that saves time – at a premium price if you need to – you may be surprised how many take you up on that.

A minute here, and a minute there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.

8. Keep a balance

However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately.

Never compromise quality for speed or let your team use it as an excuse to cut corners or make mistakes.

It’s a fine balance. Test, review and ask your team for their ideas, then tweak accordingly.

9. Last impressions

You’re only as good as your last encounter with the customer.

What’s the very last thing your customers see, hear, smell, taste or feel as they leave?

Say thank you. A simple verbal thank you and acknowledgement as they leave, even if it’s just a smile and a nod of the head or wave is always appreciated by customers; it’s one of the simplest ways to make them feel appreciated.

Whatever happens in the last few moments of their visit will undoubtedly influence their lasting impression.

What’s the one thing they remember when they get home, or next time they’re thinking of visiting you…?

10. Engage and enthuse your team for the busy time ahead

A happy team equals happy customers. Give your team all the information, support, resources and training they need.

Tap into people’s strengths and give experienced team members specific responsibilities to oversee key points on the customer journey.

Empower everyone to make decisions to do what’s in the customer’s best interest. Having to seek approval or authorisation at the best of times is annoying for the customer and demeaning for team members, but it becomes even more irritating when you’re busy.

Be the prefect role model. Stay enthusiastic and energised; staff and customers will soon pick it up if you’re not.

We talked about acknowledging customers, but at the end of the busy period it’s so important to acknowledge your team; thank you for their hard work over any busy periods. It doesn’t have to be lavish; a simple thank you for all their hard work goes a long way.

So make the most of your busy periods and don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.


No time for customers?

One of the biggest barriers I come across when I’m helping business owners with their customer experience or delivering customer service training is when people believe they don’t have enough time to devote to customers and delivering a memorable customer experience.

In this short video I give some suggestions to help get over this.




Creating Service Superstars

I’m super excited to announce my book ‘Creating Service Superstars’ is now published.

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It is a manager’s guide to building your team’s confidence, initiative and commitment to creating a memorable customer experience.

I’ve kept it nice and short (69 pages) so it’s an easy read and hopefully doesn’t become one of those tomes gathering dust on the book shelf and never gets read.

This is some of the feedback I’ve had to date…

“I love love love your book.  I can hear you in the pages.  Much of what we discussed is echoed here in your book.  This tells me that you have a command of your craft and are a true subject matter expert. 

“I find the book extremely easy to read and easy to follow.  I love how your examples cover various industries. I find the “Actions” section at the end of the chapters very helpful.

“I consider you an authority on the topic and am so humbled you asking me to read your book pre-release.”

“Caroline’s new book is a treasure trove of ideas for any customer service team member – and any manager or leader involved in this critical area of the business. In fact – it should be mandatory reading for anyone who touches a customer – regardless of their job title or function.

“This book is a self-learning tool anyone interested in improving service will benefit from as they apply the ideas, methods and systems.

“ Creating Superstars is an essential guide for the service industry, whichever sector you work in. This book brings to life Caroline’s  extremely effective customer service  workshops. Starting with a  clear vision from the leaders to enthusing the team and generating that essential oxygen of customer loyalty”

“I do not hesitate in recommending this book to anyone who really wants to grow their business.”

“I think it is fabulous, I started off thinking this is exactly how I think and I want to give it to my staff telling them that this is what I am talking about, please read it three times over and start embracing! I think for some people it will be a light on moment.”

It’s available NOW on Amazon. You can get instant access to the Kindle version for just 99p from Amazon UK or $1.22 on Amazon.com. It will only be available at this launch price until next weekend (15th January) so order it now while you can.

And if you like the book and would be happy to write a review for me on Amazon I’d be delighted to send you a complimentary copy as a thank you. (I just ask you pay a contribution to postage if sending to outside the UK). You can always pass it on to a customer or a supplier if you don’t want to read it again!

p.s. here are the links again to grab your copy by Sunday 15th

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creating-Service-Superstars-confidence-initiative-ebook/dp/B01NAL0898/

Rest of world: https://www.amazon.com/Creating-Service-Superstars-confidence-initiative-ebook/dp/B01NAL0898/

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p.p.s. To claim your complimentary copy drop me an email to let me know you’ve written a review and tell me the name you’ve used (as I’d love to find out what you thought!).

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“That’s not my job”

A true service culture is more than just a sheep dip customer service training exercise for your front line team.

Service is everyone’s responsibility

Customer service training

It’s part of your DNA and reflected in everything you do. A bit like a stick of rock – no matter where you break it the core message is still the same.

This means it goes far beyond how your customer facing teams interact with customers.

It isn’t just the responsibility of the sales team, the receptionists or customer service desk.

Everyone in your business contributes in some way to the customer experience either directly or indirectly (or why are they there?).

This includes how your support teams not only interact and serve your external customers, but how they serve the internal customer. How your customer facing teams are supported and treated internally will inevitably have a knock on effect on your customers. So include them too in your customer service training.

The more customers are kept in mind for every decision taken in the business the easier it will be to give a consistent level of service to your customers. This includes the design of your internal as well as customer facing systems. It means recruiting the right people; i.e. not just for their technical skills but those who are aligned with your customer service culture.

Everyone in your business must understand the basics, what good service looks like and recognise the role they play in achieving this. Not by having endless policies, but by having the freedom to use their initiative to do what’s right for the customer; be they internal or external.

Your customer service ethos has to be demonstrated by everyone in your business not just the front line team.


What great looks like

Do your team know what great looks like?dart board

As part of your customer service training by defining what great customer service looks like the better your team understand your end goal and the easier it will be for them to deliver the customer experience you are aiming for.

It’s not just about the behaviours you expect your team to demonstrate in dealing with customers, but it’s thinking about the whole of the customer experience from end to end.

Values

If you don’t already have your service criteria clearly defined you may want to start with a discussion on your company values and expectations towards the customer experience. What is the style and ethos of your business, and how is this reflected in the way you serve your customers?

What do your customers value most?

Understand your customer and who you’re targeting, and reflect on what it is that your customers expect and how they define great service.

If everyone understands what you’re aiming for it makes it so much easier to make decisions based on this outcome. It becomes a part of your culture and way of doing things. And it certainly makes training easier as you know exactly what you’re aiming for.

What’s the experience you’re trying to create?

Over 50% of the customer’s experience is down to emotions. The emotions you create for your customers will define your brand and ultimately build advocates. Focus on – and consistently deliver – the things that matter so your business stands out.

So define those emotions you’re looking to achieve. This then helps get a discussion going on how you might achieve these (which you can incorporate into your training), but this becomes a useful reference point for everyone if they know this is the end goal.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you are a business offering luxury services or products many of your team members may not have experienced these themselves first-hand. So do they really understand what’s expected of them or know when they have delivered it?

Exercise

Here’s a short exercise to see how you fare and where you might need to focus to get the best from your team in delivering a great customer experience.

  1. How would you define your customer service values?
  2. What aspects of service do your customers value most?
  3. How would you define the type of experience you’re trying to create?
  4. How readily could your team relate to this experience?
  5. What else needs to happen and who else do you need to involve in defining your customer service values?

Once you’ve completed it for yourself, ask your management team to answer each of the questions and finally ask your whole team to answer questions 1-3 (not just customer facing). It will be interesting to see if you all agree!



Learn from Mistakes

Here’s part 10 in my 12 blog series onWhy?

how to engage and motivate your team on their return from their Christmas break

10. Learn from Mistakes

In any business there are times when things don’t go according to plan or mishaps happen. Review some of the things that have not gone to plan over the past year.

Rather than dwelling on the negatives, reflect on what you and the team have learnt from these events. And ask how equipped are the team to deal with these situations if they happen again.

The more you can anticipate these and train your team in how to handle such situations the more confident they’ll be, and the more likely they’ll deal smoothly with anything else that gets thrown at them.

Even if you think it was a one off and unlikely to happen again your team might be aware of other ‘near misses’ or situations that are almost an accident waiting to happen!

So listen to your team and flush out any other potential risky situations. Then agree what steps you can take to avoid them or minimise their impact, so they are confident they will be better prepared next time!

Your goal is always to minimise the negative impact on the customer experience.

 

 

7 reasons 3d image clear

Download my Free Guide
“7 Reasons why Customer Service Training Fails”

 

 

 

 


It all stems from the top

staff-trainingI’ve been starkly reminded this month just how important it is to be a role model for your team.

I’ve been in a couple of businesses recently where, although the managers and senior team are completely bought into the importance of delivering memorable customer service, sadly that ethos has not filtered down to the line managers of the customer facing team.

Take for example some training I did last week where I had a line manager defending one of his team for being rude to customers. And another whose body language said it all during the customer service training.

No one can ever really expect their team to deliver first class customer service when they don’t get the motivation, encouragement and support from their line managers. Their behaviour really does breed behaviour, and any apathy or reluctance towards customers and your service ethos will invariably be damaging.

And of course it’s not just how line managers treat customers. How they treat their team sets the whole tone.

Whenever I conduct customer service training in person I know that the training on its own will never be enough to change people’s behaviours. It’s what happens before and afterwards. So without the managers buy-in and support to embed new habits and behaviours it won’t be long until everyone’s back to their old comfortable way of doing things.

So what ever training you are planning in your business, be that customer service skills or otherwise, first check you have the line managers buy in. And if not work on them first!

Lack of buy in from line managers is just one reason why customer service training fails.

Here are 6 more reasons to be aware of


Butts, Brand and Buyers’ Remorse

So what might cigarette butts have to do with your brand and buyers’ remorse?cigarette butt

Well bear with me on that.

Wouldn’t you agree that your brand isn’t what you tell people it is; it’s what the customer perceives it to be?

The other day as I was returning home a liveried delivery van (i.e. the name of the company was blazoned across it) was parked outside my house, making a delivery – sadly not to me – but my neighbour. It preventing me from turning into my drive, but that was fine; it’s a narrow road and we accept it’s difficult to park without blocking the road. So far nothing remarkable.

But as the driver came out from my neighbour’s drive before stepping back into his van he dropped his cigarette on the ground (to the entrance of my drive). I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned a cigarette butt it just another form of litter. He obviously didn’t seem to think so because as I got out of my car and handed him back his still smouldering cigarette butt he seemed somewhat shocked!

So what has this to do with brand and buyers’ remorse? The van was from a well-regarded white goods company who spend a small fortune on advertising and building their brand. But what did this driver’s actions leave me feeling about their brand and their attitude towards customers? Even though I wasn’t the customer the power of referral and recommendation is undeniable.

And as I recounted this tale to my neighbour – and whereas I didn’t intend to leave her with any buyers’ remorse – inevitably she was not impressed (and maybe even a little embarrassed).

As we said earlier, your brand is it what you tell people is, it’s what the customer experiences.

 

But it’s not down to us

One of the ‘excuses’ I often hear from businesses is that it’s down to a third party provider and they have no control over it. But just think about this. These suppliers could be your customers’ very first impression or very last impression. The two most critical points of your customers’ journey, so doesn’t it make sense to get it right.

For example:

  • You outsource your IT or your telephone answering service. How often is your website or call to your office the customer’s very first touch point?
  • You work from serviced offices. How often is the grumpy security guard or miserable disengaged reception desk the first physical point of contact?
  • If you outsource your cleaning, how often do your customers encounter your cleaners? (And bear in mind how often the toilets become the first or last port of call!)
  • If you are a hotel and you outsource your leisure or spa facilities, how influential are these in determining your guests’ overall experience?
  • And if you deliver anything to your customers, be it white goods, printing, or engineering support, how often will this be the very last touch point and lasting memory of your business?

 

So how do you control these?

When appointing your subcontractors choose businesses that are compatible with your customer service values and can demonstrate their ability to meet these.

Find out what they actually do to meet these. What systems do they have in place for when things go wrong?  How good a role model for customer care is the person you deal with one a day to day basis? What do their other customers say about them? Is there any evidence of customer service training?

For example, some of my clients ask me to provide them with information for their sales proposals so they’re able to demonstrate to perspective customers how they take customer service seriously.

Just the other day one of my clients asked for extra copies of some of the training materials I’d produced for them so they could share with some of their customers and prospective customers.

Set criteria and KPIs/SLAs for your subcontractors so they know exactly what’s expected of them, what’s acceptable behaviour and what’s not. Ensure you have ways to measure these, don’t just assume they are living up to them. Ask your customers for feedback or carry out mystery shopping exercises where you can.

And if things are not going according to your standards nip it in the bud, unless they are aware they’re falling short they’re unlikely to change.

(And of course if they need some help on their customer care you know where to send them! J)

By the way… as we’re talking about cigarettes… one last point I’d like to add.

What image do your own team give customers when it comes to their cigarette breaks?

Is your customers’ first sight of your team seeing them puffing away outside your building? Worse still do customers (or the general public) have to fight their way through a haze smoke to get to your front door?!

I’ll leave you to reflect on that one.

We all know it’s a hassle switching suppliers or contractors, but don’t leave your customer’s experience and your brand to chance.

 


More than a Sheep Dip

I occasionally get asked to deliver one off training workshops.staff-training

There’s nothing wrong with a one off workshop providing it’s not just a sheep dip, and everything else is in place to support delegates once they get back to the workplace.

I’m sure you too can think of occasions when you’ve attended some training, or seminar, or a workshop, and returned to work the next day and carried on exactly as you did before. You’ve probably seen this happen with colleagues too.

It’s such a waste!

Not just of precious training budgets, but of people’s time and talents.

If my 33 years’ training experience has taught me anything it’s that training (whether that be customer service orientated or not) seldom – if ever – works in isolation. It’s what happens before and after the training that’s just as important if you want to make a real difference and make lasting change.

Granted, to create magic moments for your customers your team need the knowledge and skills to deliver a 5 Star Service.

But it goes much, much deeper than that.

Customer service values

The first consideration is to identify the type of experience you want your customers to have. I met with a prospective client last week and she was able to define precisely how she wanted her customers to feel as a result of doing business with her. This makes perfect sense; how else can you convey this to your team?

However, this is more the exception than the norm!

Naturally your customer service values must tie in with the whole ethos, culture and brand identity of your business. The clearer these are the easier is going to be to define your customer service values, and the easier it is going to be to define these to your team.

Better still involve them in the whole process; this is by far the best way to get buy-in and clarity.

Of course once you’ve established these you need to ensure you are the perfect role model. Not just with your customers, but your team as well; treat them as you would like them to treat your customers!

Your customers’ journey

Next on the agenda is the customer journey and all the various touch points your customer experiences. I’m often amazed how frequently I come across employees who only know their tiny little bit of the customer journey, having never experienced anything else the customer gets to see or hear.

I strongly encourage all businesses to have every single employee experience every one of their customer touch points. It’s amazing what they pick up and the opportunities they see to improve the whole customer experience. Not forgetting the potential it opens up for spotting opportunities to add value or make recommendations to customers.

Systems and resources

Even your most talented employees will struggle if you don’t have all the right systems and resources in place.

The most obvious shortfall is when you’re short staffed; even your most enthusiastic team members have a limit on how long they can put on a brave face!

But do you have systems in place which avoid people having to reinvent the wheel every time they carry out similar tasks; putting extra pressure on them, particularly those which have a direct impact on the customer, so the customer doesn’t get a consistent level of service.

Or is there so much red tape and to-ing and fro-ing that slows everything down?

Do you have all the right equipment, tools, or even products?

It’s easy for us to become oblivious of how ineffective a system works or poor the equipment when we’re not using it every day. So test it frequently, and ask your team for their observations and any feedback they’ve had from customers.

Leadership

Training is useless unless people are given full authority to make decisions that impact the customer experience without having to come and find you or seek authorisation from a manager or supervisor every five minutes.
Trust your team! People soon pick it up when you fail to trust or allocate any responsibility to them, leaving them doubting their own abilities.

Lack of confidence will only lead to people not getting on with things off their own bat, which can be both frustrating and draining for you and customers alike.

For example, giving your team what I refer to as a ‘wow budget’ gives team members the scope to make decisions that might have cost implications (e.g. giving a refund, upgrades or substitutions). Everyone in the team understands what level or value they can go to (without having to defer up the line) if they need to do something to put things right, go that extra mile or wow the customer.

As long as team members can explain how they’ve spent their wow budget you’ll seldom see it abused. It puts then in control and gives them ownership of the customer experience.

And back to the training…

With the best will in the world training and practice in a classroom environment will never be a substitute for direct interaction with customers. It’s this interaction that gives your team the confidence in their skills. Offer plenty of support and encouragement and plenty of positive feedback and recognition when they’ve done well.

Foster a supportive culture where people can learn from their mistakes, rather than be blamed. Encourage team members to come up with their own areas of improvement and how they will achieve these.
Recognise and reward when these improvements have been made even if things are not yet perfect!

Creating a culture of putting the customer first and providing amazing customer experiences takes more than a sheep dip training exercise. It’s about shaping, creating and embedding a whole way of doing things that’s like a stick of rock and runs through everything you do.


What have you done?

customer service This week is customer service week. So what have you done this week to demonstrate your commitment to delivering great customer service and a great experience for your customers?

Here are some things you might well think about…

  1. Send a thank you card to your most valued customers simply to say thank you to show you appreciate their business
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  2. Tell your suppliers how you appreciate their contribution and thank them for their support in ensuring your customers get a great experience
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  3. Remind your team of your customer service values and ask for their ideas on what else you can be doing to keep those values alive
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  4. Have some fun and celebrate with your team in recognition of delivering great a customer experience
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  5. Review your customer journey with your team and what ideas they have for making improvements
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  6. Picking up the phone to your most recent customers and ask for their feedback and what you can be doing to make your service even better
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  7. Run a fun quiz with your team to see how much they really understand about your business, your customers, your products and what adds value
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  8. Hold a brainstorming session with your team and/or key suppliers to identify ways to add value for your customers
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  9. Invite some of your customers to the above session, a team event or out for lunch
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  10. Enter your organisation for customer service awards relevant to your industry

So, what have sent you done this week to demonstrate your commitment to delivering great customer service?

Of course none of these ideas are limited to customer service week. So, hey, don’t worry if you’ve not done anything this week. Do it next week instead. I’m sure your customers won’t mind.

For more articles and resources go to: www.naturallyloyal.com