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Customer Service – Unintended Consequences Part Deux

25 Jul

My wife loves to shop….  However, she does not like ‘returns’.  That’s my job.  It works quite well, actually.  When the clerk at the service counter asks what the reason was for the return, I just shrug my shoulders and say “I’m just doing what I’m told”…

Before my wife left to spend some time with her sisters, she left me with three returns, Target, Payless Shoes and some little boutique place called “White House/Black Market”.

In all three cases, these were recent purchases and I had the receipt….

Here were my experiences:

 

White House/Black Market :

WH/BM:  “Do you have the credit card that was used for this purchase”

RTR: “I’m sorry, no.  It was my wife’s card”

WH/BM: “Well, we can’t do a refund without that exact card.”

RTR: “What are my choices?”

WH/BM: “We can give you store credit, or you can come back with the card”

Not knowing whether or not my wife wanted store credit, I left.

 

Payless Shoes:

PS:  “Do you have the credit card that was used for this purchase”

RTR: “I’m sorry, no.  It was my wife’s card”

PS: “Well, do you have another card that you and your wife both use?”

RTR: “Yes” (handed her the card)

Not ‘optimal’, but the clerk was thinking on her feet and I was able to complete the return.

 

Target:

T:  “Thank you, sir.  The refund was processed to your wife’s card”

Done and done.  Took maybe 5 seconds.

 

Question for you, loyal readers.  Which store will I continue to frequent, and to which store will I NEVER RETURN!

 

Final note.  Adjacent to the Service Counter at Target, there are trash cans, and a recycling bin for the shopping bag that I used to bring in the return.

It’s the little things that make or break customer service…

 

-RTR

 

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It’s The Product, Stupid – Unintended Consequences

4 Mar

So I’m in the shower at the Rec Center this morning, using yet another brand of body wash.  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s not that I don’t have a favorite; I do.  I am a fan of Axe, even though their ad campaigns and product graphics are, well, juvenile.  I think they have a great body wash and I would use it every day, but I don’t.

Why not?  No, it’s not because young women were starting to pester me, it’s much more mundane than that.

It has to do with the bottle design.  The bottle ‘opens’ by pushing down on the back of the lid, which works like a rocker switch to open the front of the lid.  Clever design until the day when, jostled around in my travel bag, the lid opens, spilling Axe all over the inside of the bag.  It only had to happen a couple of times to make me realize that Axe was not for travel, only for home.   So now, I switch from brand to brand looking for an alternative.  The initial criteria is, the bottle can’t be opened accidentally, after that, I consider the actual contents of the bottle.

The moral of the story?  the ‘product’ is not just what’s inside the container, it is the entire experience.  Axe failed to provide the ‘product’ that I could safely bring to the rec center every morning, and now they are relegated to twice a week use.

Do you know if this is happening with your product?  Are there ‘un-intended consequences’ to your design?  You better find out!

– RTR

The Customer Is What?

15 Aug

Just don’t have ANY TIME for blogging lately.  Too busy, too busy, TOO BUSY!!

So, by way of apology, this blog is commenting on a two-week old blog from Harvard Business Review, with the grabber title “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble”.  Being in the Client Support Biz, I had to check it out, because, well, my customers ARE always right, aren’t they?

Turns out, the blog is not about customer service at all, it is about “the death of Solution Selling”.  Well, having spent the better part of 20 years selling (if you can call that better) I not only have had Solution Selling training, but also smatterings of Gitomer, Sandler, and, of course, both learning and teaching Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage.  NOW you’ve got my attention, HBR!

So what is this “death of Solution Selling” all about?  This blog describes, in gory detail, how the tenets of Solution Selling just don’t apply anymore:

“Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this [solution selling] approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out…

… For most companies, the biggest competitor today isn’t the competition, it’s customers’ ability to learn on their own.”

So, what is the answer?

According to HBR, there are two questions that most suppliers overlook:

“First, where do your customers learn? Is it on the Internet? In online communities? From third parties (and if so, where do those third parties themselves learn)?

Second, do you teach customers something new and important about their business that they cannot learn on their own? Because if your biggest competitor is the customer’s ability to learn, then that’s what you’ll need to do to win.”

So there you have it.  It’s not good enough to ask the right questions and get to the ‘C’ suite.  If you are not a Subject Matter Expert that can, in fact, become a Trusted Advisor and “teach your customer something new and important”, you may as well  just sharpen your pencil, because in the sea of look-alikes, it always comes down to price.

– RTR

Chief Energy Officer…Commenting on Tony Schwartz

18 Apr

Has anyone in leadership ever said to you, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about” and your instant response was to worry about it?  Welcome to the club!   That’s why Tony Schwartz‘ latest blog over at the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: “Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right”.  In it, Tony talks of how fast growing, entrepreneurial organizations are rife with stress and overload.

I’ve seen it as well, and I applaud Tony’s approach.  One of my early stumbles here was directly related to me not taking this approach.  Tony’s five key points

1. Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones.

I am as Pollyanna as they come.  I’ve always been puzzled by the folks that would say “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.   Some have accused me of not caring, taking things too lightly, joking at inappropriate times.  I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism on my part.   When it comes to problems, my initial reaction may be negative, but I push past it quickly, leaving puzzled friends, family and coworkers in my wake.

I’ve always considered it an asset, not letting things get to me, keeping a positive attitude.  I’ve begun to realize that this only helps me, it doesn’t necessarily help anyone I interact with…  especially when whatever it was that was bothering me does come back to the surface (where did THAT come from?)

2. Negative emotions do feed on themselves, but the solution — especially for a leader — is not to squelch or downplay them.

Here is the key skill.  This is something that they don’t teach you in MBA school (and certainly not in engineering school).  If you can shine a big spotlight on the negative emotions they will eventually wither and die.  Try to bury them?  Not a good idea, they just continue to grow and get stronger, manifest themselves in different ways.

3. Since we all feel negative emotions at times, especially under high demand, it’s important to provide forums at work in which they can be shared openly and without fear.

The key words here? openly and without fear.   If there is any fear of  ‘retribution’ the openly part ain’t ever gonna happen.  The thing that I struggle with is, how long can I bite my tongue when the bitch session goes on endlessly.  The example that Tony used in his blog is so elegant, and it worked so well.  It reminds me of watching the Food Network, or DIY.  Boy that souffle (or cabinet) looks so easy to make.  How come when I do it, it tastes/looks like crap?

4. Because emotions are so contagious, all leaders are effectively Chief Energy Officers.

When I think of the best leaders I’ve met, this is the key element.  I recall meeting George Bush (the first one) when he was VP.  There was an aura, an energy that the TV cameras missed.   He was always portrayed as a somewhat weak character (think of the Dana Carvey impressions).   His presence/energy t took me by surprise (at that time in my life, I was not what you’d call a Reaganite).  There was a quality there that was unmistakable.  The same can be said for many other leaders that I have had the pleasure of interacting with.   It’s something I admire, I have a LONG way to go…

5. The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. 

I do like the word choice here.  There is a technique that is taught in the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage training class for ‘smoking out objections’.  While the end goal is to work through sales objections, at the basic level the idea is to allow people the space, and the grace, to voice their objections.  You are taught to listen, to question, to dive deep into the detail of the situation without agreeing or disagreeing.   If you can master this, I believe the rest is easy,  we all just want to be heard.

The final step is to allow the team to turn the emotion positive.

I’ve really enjoyed the new set of advertisements that GE has put out, where their employees go plane-side/track-side to see their jet engines/locomotives in action.  People cheer, there’s an occasional tear wiped away.

Back in the dark ages, as a fresh-out-of-school engineer, I witnessed this first hand.  My employer, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, was celebrating their 50th anniversary.  The flew in an example of nearly every type of aircraft equipped with PWA engines for a weekend celebration.  Not much work was done the week before and the day after, as we all stood at the edge of the airfield and watch vintage and not-so vintage aircraft arrive and leave.

On the Monday after the show, a group of us stood in awe as an F16 pilot kicked in the afterburner of his F100 equipped fighter jet directly in front of us.  The sound was deafening.  He stood that jet up on its tail like a rocket ship a flew straight up into the stratosphere until he was completely out of sight.   It was a sight none of us would ever forget.  There WERE lumps in the throat.  There WERE tears of pride.  Office morale was unbelievable for the next few weeks.

THIS IS NOT PHONY.  People crave an emotional connection to their career.  If you can’t take time, put the emotion aside, and honestly say, “what I do here really matters”, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.

– RTR

It’s What You Do NEXT That Counts …

6 Apr

Bill Lee over at the Harvard Business Review blog presented another angle on the value of customer referrals.  It got me thinking…

The blog is entitled “The Things Customers Can Do Better Than You”.  The title threw me off a bit, but the real meaning behind the blog is that there is no substitute for customer referrals.  This is an opportunity and a challenge to businesses, B2B and B2C.

Bill’s points:

  • Customers know more about each other than you know about them. 
  • Customers are more credible than you are.
  • Customers are more persuasive than you are.
  • Customers often understand buyer needs better than you do.
  • Prospects in your market would rather affiliate with their peers (your customers) than with you.

These are all good points as far as why referral business is important.  However, from the supplier side,  there is a bigger issue at play here…

In the B2C world, I don’t need to even leave my own home to see the effect of existing customers on prospective new customers.  When my wife buys something online, the FIRST thing she does is look at customer comments.  I used to wonder why, but now I always do the same.

I’m in the market for a VCR/DVD recorder to take some old family movies and preserve them.  In the past, I would look for a name brand I recognized and a decent price.  Not any more!  I checked out reviews of several models from reputable electronics companies, and found numerous complaints about product quality.  I am reconsidering buying any VCR/DVD combo.

We belong to Angie’s List.  Through that service, we have been introduced to excellent local painters, landscapers, etc.  Word of mouth has now been automated!

This creates an enormous challenge for suppliers.  I’m not saying you can’t make a mistake, everyone does.  The issue is that each mistake is now in the spotlight.  It’s what you do NEXT that counts.  The key to success is HOW YOU REACT.  What do you do to make it right, and how quickly do you do it?

There is a local tire store in Milford, OH that I use religiously.  Do they have the best price?  They’re competitive, I wouldn’t say best.  Do they advertise heavily? Not like some of their competitors.  So why do I go there?

They screwed up.  About 5-6 years ago, I had a problem with their service and it was clear that they were at least partly to blame.  They had been a little ‘over-zealous’ in tightening the lug nuts on my wheels, so much so, that neither I, nor my two teenaged sons, nor the guy from AAA could remove one of the lug nuts when I had a flat (luckily, at home).

What did they do next?

They stepped up, fixed the problem (which was a costly fix, involving many hours of labor and a new alloy wheel by the time they were done) and they did not charge me a cent.  I had no proof that they over-tightened the lugs.  It had been months since I purchased the tires.  No matter, it was a problem with a product/service I purchased from them and they made it right with no questions asked.

They earned my loyalty.  Since that incident, I have been back to them on several occasions, probably have spent $3,000 – $5,000.  When anyone asks me for a recommendation for a tire store, I happily re-tell this story.

The funny thing is, the shoe (tire?) is on the other foot now.  In my new position, I AM the customer service guy…   In the software  business, an industry not known for being great at customer service.

It’s my organization that is in the spotlight.   Here’s the thing;  I know that we will not be perfect, I know that we will make the occasional mistake…

… but in those cases, it’s what we do NEXT that counts!  That’s where we excel.

– RTR

Not Just Your Boss

4 Apr

I found an interesting blog via LinkedIn (from monster.com) entitled ” Nine Things Never to Say to Your Boss“.  When I looked at the list, most of them struck me as things you shouldn’t say to ANYONE if you want to be successful in a professional environment.   Item#s 1, 4 and 9 are specifically ‘boss related’, but let’s look at the other six:

2. “That just isn’t possible.”

What a helpful comment!  Let’s all stand around and admire the problem.  Look!  It’s SO BIG!  It’s SO INSURMOUNTABLE!!  Come on, people, there is always something that can be done.  Don’t you just love working with people who have a problem for every solution?

3. “I can’t stand working with ____.”

I can’t state this any better than the referenced blog did:  “Complaining about a coworker’s personality usually reflects more poorly on you than on the coworker.”

5. “But I emailed you about that last week.”

Email is easy, email is effortless.  Email is not, however, two-way communication.  Often, it’s not even good one-way communication!   Walk down the hall and talk to the person.  If you’re not co-located, pick up the phone.  THEN send an email documenting what you talked about.  Don’t rely on one or the other.  Do both….

6. “It’s not my fault.” 

Not my fault, not my problem.  Doesn’t cut it.  Getting the job done is the key to professional success, not skillfully avoiding blame.

7. “I don’t know.” 

“If your boss asks you a question you can’t answer, the correct response is not “I don’t know.” It’s “I’ll find out right away.”   Couldn’t agree more, but this it not just your boss.  Do you think being viewed as the ‘go to guy(gal)’ is a good thing?  It sure is.  Being the ‘go to guy’ doesn’t mean that you have an answer for everything, it means you are willing to find an answer.  Those are the people that excel in a professional environment.  What kind of value do you add by saying ‘I don’t know”?

8. “But we’ve always done it this way.” 

Yep, and if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.  Innovation not replication!

Do I feel that these are important rules to live by, absolutely!  Have I broken one or more of these along the way?  You betcha.

– RTR


Reverse Mentors: Influence vs. Mutual Benefit

29 Mar

How I blog…  I see something that intrigues me, makes me laugh, makes me think…

I ran across a post a few days ago that spoke of ‘Reverse Mentoring’, how us old folk can learn from the current generation.  I put it aside for a ‘future’ blog, then this morning, I saw an blog from the Harvard Business Review that brought this topic back to life.  The blog, entitled “When Your Influence is Ineffective“, spoke of the 5 methods of influence Rationalizing, Asserting, Negotiating, Inspiring and Bridging.  What I found most enlightening was not the blog itself, but the comments.

 I would refrain from using the word influence. One should never try to influence, change or manipulate others for own benefit. One should rather work for mutual benefit –Sai Dattathrani

If we can just step back for a moment and observe our desire to influence someone, recognize its source, and then fit it into the larger picture of our work and our relationships, we’ll be able to be more fully present in our interactions. Instead of mindlessly launching into a habitual influence strategy, we’ll loosen our sense of compulsiveness around influencing others. We’ll be able to better tolerate situations where we don’t influence anyone, and paradoxically, end up in more situations where we influence people without even trying. – Kartik Subbarao

… but the latest comment is the one that really caught my eye.

..based on Kartik and Sai’s response , do we need to question  our pervasive use of the word influence when discussing leadership with people from different cultures? – notmd

That is where the light went on and the two blogs ‘collided’.  Is this really a question of cultures, or is it a question of generations?

I ask those of you that are parents, have you ever resorted to “Because I SAID SO” (asserting)?  In today’s world, that’s not any more effective in the workplace than the home.  Just because you have authority doesn’t mean you have agreement.  Nothing is more demotivating than “The management team got together and decided….”

I struggle regularly at my new job with this question: “Is my team agreeing with my assessment because they truly agree, or because I’m the ‘boss’?”

Going back to generations and the parenting analogy:

As my children have grown to become adults, I find myself relying on their opinion more and more.  The world changes so quickly, it is their world now.  Reverse mentoring has extraordinary value.

My closing thought?

Influence goes both ways.  A good leader is one who recognizes and welcomes the influence of others and then leads by example, not by edict.  That’s my goal.

– RTR