Tag Archives: customer care

You’re only as good as your weakest link

You are only as good as your weakest link. That means if you have just one person failing to deliver good customer service or giving a poor customer experience this will impact your customers perception of your business as a whole.

And that person might not even be one of your own team. Any one of your suppliers or third party providers who can impact your customer experience could be leaving your customers wanting to go elsewhere.

 

So who are the weak links in your business?



Is your customers’ experience in for a dive?

dive into the water

It’s that time of year again when instead of looking forward to their annual holiday so many managers and business owners dread the prospect of being away from their business.

And of course if you can’t trust your team to do a good job when you’re not there is little doubt you’ll have concerns about your customers’ experience while you’re away too.

So here are my top 7 tips to ensure your customer service and customers’ experience doesn’t take a nose dive whilst you’re diving into the hotel pool.

1. Set expectations

If everyone in your business understands your customer service ethos and is engaged in what your business is all about, then it’s a lot easier for them to cope when you’re not there.

Even if they don’t know the exact way you’d deal with a customer, if they know your intent they’ll normally work out the best way to get there.

2. Prepare for the unexpected

As well as giving the obvious skills, product knowledge and customer service training, equip your team to anticipate and deal with the unexpected.

There will always be things that don’t go according to plan, and the last thing you want when you’re not there is to your team to panic! So train your team how to handle such situations so that they’ll be confident to deal with them smoothly, and leave your customers confident to deal directly with your team rather than waiting for your return.

3. Systems

Establish systems and your way of doing things, so there’s consistency irrespective of who carries out that task.

This doesn’t mean you don’t allow some creativity and flexibility amongst the team, but just having simple checklists can make the world of difference so nothing gets missed or forgotten that can impact your customers’ experience.

4. Practice makes perfect

Build your team’s confidence gradually; you can’t expect them to be introduced to something on Friday afternoon and perform it perfectly for the first time on Monday morning, when you’re not even there to offer support.

Introduce new areas of responsibility gradually so people have an opportunity to refine and perfect as they go as well as building confidence (theirs and yours) in their ability.

5. Ownership

The sooner you can give individual team members ownership over particular tasks the quicker they’ll develop a sense of pride and ownership.

Trust your team to make decisions to do what’s best in a given situation; if they truly understand your customer service values and what’s most important it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to work out the best way to achieve it.

6. What’s going on

Brief your team thoroughly in all the expected activity. What are all the things going on in your business while you’re away that could impact the day-to-day operation.

Which regular customers are you expecting, who is expecting anything from you while you’re away, what’s outstanding for any particular customer?

What else is happening in your industry currently or in the media that could raise questions from your customers? What is unavailable currently, where might there be delays that could have a knock-on effect on your customers?

Update your team with anything, however insignificant it might seem, that could have an impact on your business or on your customers’ experience whilst you are away.

7. When you return

Give credit where it’s due for a job well done and reward your team for holding the fort without you.

And if things have been less than perfect, rather than apportioning blame, think of it as an opportunity to learn for next time, in the spirit of continuous improvement.

Of course there’s always the possibility that things have run more smoothly without you them when you’re there!

 

If all this seems like too little too late, then isn’t it about time to start thinking longer term to get your team up to speed so at least you can go wait next year confident that everything is running smoothly? To get the ball rolling here are 28 Activities to Engage, Energise and Excite Your Team in Customer Service.


Last impressions

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me…thanks for visiting hanging sign

Top Tip #6

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?

What will your customers remember most about doing business with you?

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

What’s the one thing they remember when they get home, or next time they’re thinking of doing business with you….


Say thank you

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to meenvelope and note

Tip #5

Say thank you

In the same way you’d thank a friend or relative for their Christmas gift, a simple verbal thank you or even better a thank you note is always appreciated by your customers. And an added bonus, it helps you to stay on their radar.

It’s one of the simplest ways to get your customers’ attention and to make them feel special.

It not only shows your appreciation, but it will give them something to remember you by.


Give customers a warm welcome to the New Year

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to memake training memorable

Tip #4

Give customers a warm welcome to the New Year

It’s all too easy after the holidays to feel a bit sluggish and slow to get back into the swing of things. But, behaviour breeds behaviour and so any lack of enthusiasm on your part rubs off on to your customers (and your team).

Look forward to the start of the New Year and welcome your customers with open arms…


Closed for lunch

closed for lunch When we were in Italy last month I was surprised at just how many shops still close for lunch; even in tourist towns. But, the as the saying goes: “when in Rome….”

But back here in the UK I am still surprised – even shocked – at just how many businesses are either not open at a time suit their customers, or simply don’t gear themselves up sufficiently for their busy periods.

Of course not many places close for lunch these days. But are there times when you’re not as readily available as your customers might wish. Walk into many a high street bank at lunchtime and you’ll know what I mean. You certainly wouldn’t expect a restaurant to let staff go for lunch at lunchtime!

So here are my top 10 questions to review for your business:

  1. When are your busiest periods? It could be a specific time of day, a certain day of the week, or time of year. How well do you cope during these busy periods, and do your customers experience even the slightest drop in care and attention at these times.
  2. Review your call volumes; are there certain times of the day or week when they peak. Become a mystery caller (or ask someone else to do this for you) to see how well your team keep up with the call volume at peak times. If you say your office hours are 8.30 – 5.30 if you call at 8.31 or at 5.29 do you still get the same welcoming and helpful response?
  3. Do your staffing levels enable your team to meet customer expectations? Adjust your staffing levels according to your peak periods. If this means restructuring or recruiting people specifically for peak times then do so.
  4. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and determine when are the periods people are most likely to want to speak to you or need your help. For example if your business is a hotel who offers wedding packages your customers are far more likely to want to discuss their arrangements during the weekend or in the evenings than during normal office hours. If you are a sports physiotherapist does the phone not stop ringing first thing on Monday morning from all the aches and pains sustained over the weekend? So ask yourself (or better still, ask your customers) is someone always available when your customers most need them?
  5. If your business involves a delivery or callouts are these available at a time to suit your customers? No one wants to be hanging around all day waiting for a delivery or an engineer to call. So why not make your point of differentiation a guaranteed timeslot or out of hours when people know they’ll be home. The bar has been set by the supermarket delivery companies. Just because this is not the norm in your industry doesn’t mean to say you can’t break the mould.
  6. Obviously not every business can be manned 24/7. But do customers know when you are available? Make it easy for them by being specific about when you are available. There’s nothing more frustrating than phoning a number to be told the office is now closed, but no mention of when it will be open next! Better still, let your customers know before they phone when you’re available when you’re not, and how to contact you out of normal opening hours if they need to.
  7. What happens when you or key people are off for the day or on holiday? Forewarn regular customers when their key point of contact won’t be available; no one wants to hear when they call at 4 PM on Friday afternoon that the only person who can deal with their query has just left and is now on holiday for 2 weeks.
  8. Do your team have the skills to cover for one another? Upskill and empower your team so there is flexibility and they can cover for one another during days off or holiday periods. Establish systems so that customer information is readily available to anyone who needs it so customers don’t have to wait until that person returns from holiday.
  9. What’s happening in the wider world that could prompt a peak in customer queries. For example, if you’re in financial services something mentioned in the budget could prompt calls from existing and new customers. If you’re involved in travel something in the media may suggest a problem with a popular tourist resort, potentially leading to customers concerned about their travel plans or safety.
  10. If you’re running a promotion or advertising presumably you’re hoping for a good response, so will customers be able to get all the information they need straight away? Make sure that first impression is a good one. Give your team all the details and ensure customers can contact you at the point the promotion goes live. Here’s a classic example of getting this wrong. Twice recently I’ve seen an advert in the Sunday papers. On both occasions I phoned the number given (on the Sunday while I’m in buying mode) and both occasions discovered the office is closed. I daresay neither of those adverts came cheap; so what a massive wasted opportunity. By Monday morning the moment has gone; people are back at work and on to the next thing.

Great customer service involves being open and available when your customers need you.

Not just when it’s convenient for you!

If you’d like help reviewing your customers’ experience and looking for simple cost effective ways to improve it, please give me a call on 07887 540914

For more articles and resources www.naturallyloyal.com


Enhance your customers experience – save them time

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Some spare time!clock

Anything that saves your customer time will add value.

If people have to queue, make this as painless as possible. Can they be doing other things whilst queuing which will save time once they get served – filling out forms, reading information that might help with their buying decision? At the very least being kept informed of progress and seeing the queue moving.

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 quickly.

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

Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, or duplicate processes, which not only waste their valuable time, but take more effort on their part. Even if these are industry norms can you be the first to break the mould and do things differently?

But…

Bear in mind, if your business is for entertainment or recreation, you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately;

Never compromise quality for speed.

And never use it as an excuse for staff members to cut corners or make mistakes. It’s a fine balance. Test and review and tweak accordingly.

Save


How to engage with customers before they arrive to give a better customer experience

 

Making the effort to connect and engage with your customers before they even arrive can lead to an all-round better experience, not just for your customer, but for you too.

 

First impressions are formed way before your customers walk into your business or even pick up the phone. From the moment they find out about you, be that through word-of-mouth, a Google search, or walking past your front door, your customers will start to form their own impression.

 

And the more we are able to engage with our customer the more likely that is to be a positive first impression (which might even sway the decision to come and talk to you, arrange a meeting or buy from you in the first place), and leads to a sense of positive anticipation.

 

Engaging with the customer before they arrive means we’re better able to anticipate their expectations, start to build a relationship and earn their trust, and the better we are able to pave the way for a happy customer. Who of course is then inclined to spend more, and return more often and recommend you to others.

 

The converse is when your customer experiences a total lack of communication, leaving them uncertain, leading to ‘buyer’s remorse’ and questioning their decision to come to you. And as most of us know from bitter experience, if a customer comes with a preconceived idea that they’re going to be disappointed and they’ll look for every opportunity to find fault to back up their perception, so it generally becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

The way in which you engage needs to be right for your target market. You know how sometimes you read something and you just sense that person is talking directly to you, and speaking your language? This is what we’re aiming for at each and every touch point on your customer’s journey: be that your website, in your marketing messages and throughout the sales process.

 

Five ways to engage with customers to give a better customer experience

1.   Show your personality

Start to engage by showing your personality in your initial communications. What does your website say about you? Stuffy, formal and corporate; or relaxed, welcoming and friendly?  Tell (and show) your story via your website, emails, blog and social media, and help people determine what makes you different, interesting or exciting, not just another vanilla business.

Get involved in conversations about your business on appropriate social networks to help build a relationship early on, and show you’re listening. Nothing gets a prospective customer’s attention more than a speedy and friendly response to their mention of you on Facebook or Twitter, or a response to a discussion on LinkedIn.

What do your online reviews – and more importantly your responses – say about you? Customer focused and service orientated, or disinterested, defensive or even aggressive!

 

2.   Switch off the auto pilot

Booking engines, automated confirmations, and auto responders are a godsend. But does this come at a price? Rather than relying solely on automated e-mails, personalise confirmation of bookings or orders so they know there’s a real person involved, with something that’s personal and relevant to the nature of their enquiry or purchase, and your existing relationship with that customer, not just an automatic email.

Add a bit of humour if you can. Speak in your customer’s voice, use their language and terminology, and use these to build rapport not alienate.

Add some variety e.g. if you have regular callers change the answer phone message from time to time,  use as a way to promote your business and explain why you’re not there that shows you and your business in good light. Make light of your automated queue systems (but demonstrating empathy of course).

Use some positive language in your messages such as promise, grateful, personally, appreciate, you, please.

And finally make it really simple for a customer to have a real conversion with a real person if they want to – no hiding behind web forms or recorded messages.

 

3.   Ask questions

Show your customers you care about them by talking about them, not you. No one cares how much you know until you show how much you care. Get to know what’s important to them. Listen and show your interest.

Ask questions, (in a conversational way, not an interrogation), confirm requirements, let them know what do to next, offer helpful suggestions and information. Train your team too to ask questions with the aim of finding out more about their needs and expectations so you have a greater our chance of fulfilling and exceeding these.

The more you get to know your customers the easier it is to anticipate their needs, and deliver what they want on a consistent basis to keep them satisfied.

The more you know about their priorities, the easier it will be for you to give them what they want and home in on the things that will add value. Keep up-to-date with what your customers want from you by listening to them.

People like people like themselves. Find things you have in common with them and relate to these. If nothing else use their terminology, their phrases and words, not yours, that then relate to your customers and keeps them engaged.

 

4.   Add value

What else can we be doing to help customers get the best from their purchase or initial visit or meeting? What do they need to bring, prepare or think about to speed up the process, help with their decision or get the best from their purchase? What information might be useful for them (and help build your credibility and create trust at the same time)?

Simply things like helping them have a smoother journey by advising of best routes, roadworks to avoid, parking, etc. all add up to building the relationship.

Be proactive and be one step ahead of your customers by offering them things they want. This involves listening and responding, but also imaging what else either complements what you offer, or what’s the next logical step – even if they don’t know they want this yet!

 

5.   Build anticipation

Once people have planned to visit or do business with you get the dialogue going to build anticipation. This will be easier in some industries than others, but if their purchase is for pleasure start to build on the emotions as early as possible. If their purchase is a needs purchase then help to take the sting, pain or mundaneness out of it by continuing to build your credibility so reassuring them, but if appropriate add more to demonstrate your personality and your USP.

Not just through direct e-mail or phone, but if relevant to your business watch what’s being said on social media. If someone is mentioning you on twitter tweet back – not just how you’re looking forward to seeing them, but giving little teasers on the experience they can expect. If someone posts a comment on Facebook, keep the conversation going to build that sense of anticipation. This then starts to engage with their friends too, so starts the cycle for the next generation of customers……

 

In summary

Don’t throw away all that early goodwill. Get to know your customers by being visible in your business, making personal contact with your customers to build rapport and trust. They are then far more likely to tell you what they want and what would encourage them to return.

 

 


Why are we waiting?

Let’s face it; none of us like to be kept waiting.queue

We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for a meeting or delivery, any of these situations can try our patience.

So why do businesses think it’s acceptable to keep their customers waiting?

We’ve all experienced being put on hold and told how “your call is important to us”. Unfortunately it doesn’t make us feel any better! Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. But do what you can to minimise the impact.

 

Give customers a choice

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 are put on hold if we’re 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? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows to 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.

How many times have you waited in for a service engineer or delivery that then doesn’t materialise? If you say a parcel will be delivered or the engineer will call between 12 and 3 make darn sure they do!  Better still, narrow that window down to an hour, 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…

 

Prevention is better than cure

Start by monitoring your busy times. If you know when your peak times are adjust your staffing accordingly (ensuring appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’).  I’m still amazed when I go into places that are inevitably busy at lunchtime only to see staff going for lunch at their peak times. Crazy! You wouldn’t expect restaurant staff to have their break at lunch time so why would any other business dependent on lunch time trade do so?

If you know you experience peaks and troughs of activity triggered by events such as the weather, road conditions, publicity, news coverage – whatever it might be – monitor it and prepare for it.  Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, but 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.

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.

Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, or duplicate processes, which not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part?

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? Or 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.

And it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway…) stick to agreed times for meetings. Whether this is a one to one meeting or an event involving many people, if you’ve agreed a meeting time or kick off time, stick to it.

 

Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere

If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible. Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? Cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.

Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing which will save time once they get served – filling out forms, reading information that might help with their buying decision, processing payment? At the very least being kept informed of progress and seeing the queue moving.

I’ve just heard about our local county show. It’s a highlight for our local town and as the weather was good families turned out for a fun day out. And although this should have been a bonus for the organisers it backfired. Why? Because of the way they failed to manage the queues.

A ‘jobsworth’ security guard with no empathy for the waiting visitors. Who took no responsibility for action, just blaming the organisers (indirectly his employer). No suggestion of diverting to another entrance with shorter queues. No one taking cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up. No coordination, so visitors had to join another queue to pay their admission.

Net result? Visitors giving up and going home. Or at best fed up and disgruntled once inside. Hmm, and I can bet those people would have spent a whole lot less once inside, will be reluctant to go next year, and have probably told all their friends and family. (How do you think I got to hear about it?)

Such as shame as I know how much heard work went on behind the scenes to make this event a success.

 

Alleviate the pain

You can even use the time to entertain, so customers don’t feel put out at all. I’m not suggesting anything like the awful music we often get subjected to when we are put on hold, TV screens in every corner or worse still the sales pitch we get. No, I’m talking about genuine entertainment! Something that appeals to your customers’ tastes, even if this isn’t your first choice!

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from and compensate for their wait. The least you can do is offer refreshments.

For example, my husband was kept waiting over 20 minutes the other evening when he checked into his hotel room. All this time he stood at the reception desk, while they sorted out their system (a system incidentally that wasn’t very efficient as they’d already lost his booking, despite having an emailed confirmation…. But that’s another story!) Couldn’t they have offered him a seat as a minimum whilst they sorted it out? Better still a drink after his 4 hour drive to get there. Not a good start to the customer relationship.

If refreshments aren’t a practical option, what can you do to that is relevant to your business? 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; it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. (And compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether.)

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

 

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

Even if the way you do things in your business are “industry norms” can you be the first to break the mould and do things differently. Look at what Metro Bank are doing to change the norms in banking, for example.

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

Never compromise quality for speed.

And don’t use it as an excuse for staff members to cut corners or make mistakes.

It’s a fine balance. Test and review and tweak accordingly.