You Gotta Spend Time to Make Time

Time Is MoneyWhich is more important? Completing a customer transaction in’ x’ number of minutes or having the customer walk away feeling valued, respected and cared for?

Too often, bowing down to the gods of efficiency and effective time management get in the way of building and creating relationships with the people we live with, work with or serve.

When service providers are expected to process ‘x’ amounts of call or customer interactions per hour, will they take the extra step of anticipating customer needs or responding fully to questions?

When the focus is on process and not service, customers feel like a number (because they are!), not a person. I appreciate it when service providers take the time to answer my questions and sincerely ask if I have any questions. We’ve all experienced the insincere offer to assist and been made to feel rushed. There are no warm and fuzzy feelings after that type of transaction.

Individual transactions take longer when we know enough about our customers to offer solutions or answers to questions they may not have thought of. Those transactions take longer when we stop, put down the papers, lift our head up from the computer, face our customer and give them our full attention.  When we do that, we are essentially saying “I am here for you” and that may open the door to more questions.

Efficiency is important. Effective time management is important. But when they become more important than the customer, you may end up having more time on your hands than you’d like when the customers stop coming.

Instead of saving time by reducing customer face time, look at your policies, procedures and processes. Why are they there? Is each step really necessary or is it there because it’s always been there?

Know the answers to the questions customers ask most often and train your team so they know those answers too. That way they don’t have to waste time trying to find the answer. When a new question comes up (and it will!), train your team members to share the question and answer with the rest of the team.

Ensure your team members received the training they need, which may not necessarily be the training you provided. Yes, training takes time initially, but in the long run, effective training saves time, money and customers.

There is the old saying “you gotta spend money to make money”. The same holds true with time. Spend some time up front reviewing and creating effective, streamlined policies, procedures and training programs to save time later.  Time is money … knowing where to save time is important.  Just don’t save time at the expense of service.

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This is a modified version of a previous blog post.  I was reminded of it during a very rushed, very efficient transaction recently.  The service provider was efficient .. coldly efficient.  In the end, taking a few extra moments would have been time well spent.

Don’t Leave a Bad Taste in Your Customer’s Mouth

Bratty little girlYears ago, my parents took me, my brother and my sister along when they went to visit friends. During our visit, a plate of goodies was passed around. On that plate were some pieces of very yummy looking white fudge.  How could I resist?

As the plate passed by, I helped myself to a piece of that white fudge, took a big bite and promptly tried to find a way to spit that fudge out as fast as possible.  The white fudge wasn’t white fudge.  I don’t recall what I actually bit into that day, but I will never forget the nasty taste and disappointment.

Our hostess that day was not trying to trick me but the same can’t be said for some companies. Some companies try to fool their customers, their employees and the general public into believing they are something they’re not by:

  1. Using marketing slogans like “Our customer is number one” when it’s not really the customer that’s number one; it’s the customer’s wallet that is number one.  Yes, we need our customers to pull out their wallets in order for us to stay in business, but when customer values, opinions and mindset are not taken into consideration until it’s time to pull the marketing piece together, the customer is NOT number one and it won’t take long for them to figure it out.
  2. Professing to support community and the environment but not getting past the lip service part.  Many people today make purchasing decision based on a company’s  local, regional or global social or environmental practices.  Many companies are committed to doing their part to make the world around them a better place and proactively look for ways to be greener and active in the community. Then there are the companies who do the bare minimum or who aren’t willing to put their money behind anything except the PR company hired to make them look like they support community and the environment.
  3. Promising the “best of the best” but refusing to pay for the best of the best. These companies beat suppliers up on price or look for ways to save money at the expense of their customers, both internal and external.  Finding ways to save and be efficient is a good thing, but sometimes saving money is more expensive than paying fair value if suppliers, customers and employees leave because they are tired of being treated like an expense line.

When we try to trick our customers, our suppliers and our community into believing we are something we’re not, it’s bad for business.  Eventually the truth will come out.  As the Customer Service Lady, I believe that service excellence is tied directly to integrity, to believing that we are here to serve, and to respecting those we serve and those who help us serve.

Your thoughts?

If you got hit by a bus …

Flatline Heart MonitorIf you got hit by a bus on your way to work one day, could your team, department or business run without you? How easy would it be for someone to step in and assume your responsibilities until you were able to return to work? Would the disruption and inconvenience to your internal and external customers be extreme or would it be a recoverable blip?

I believe we need to hope we never get hit by a bus, but put a plan in place in case we do. That means if you are responsible for payroll, someone else knows what needs to be done in case you are not there. That means a list of who to call for what needs to written down and shared with your team, instead of keeping that knowledge in your head. That means all that information that you ‘just know’ and share when training a new team member is documented and incorporated into a training document.

Hoarding knowledge and information may make us feel indispensable, but in the world of business, being indispensable is not a good thing. If we truly care about our internal and external customers, we need to ensure that the service they expect from our business will continue with or without us.

So … if you are the only person who knows how to (fill in the blank), go in to work today and identify one or two other people who have the ability to take that role or task on in the event you can’t. Train them, support them and then watch out for buses!

What Makes Your Customers Angry, Frustrated or Upset?

angryman2About three years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating customer service workshops for a client. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?”, one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”

There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up.  And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather.  When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of.  Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:

Unrealistic expectations:  Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t.  Now ask yourself,”Why don’t we offer this product or service?  Is this something we can do?”  If the answer is yes, make it happen.  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.

Policies and procedures:  I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am.  He ordered the Denver omelette. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich.  No problem with that order!

Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures.  Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer?  Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative.  I imagine my friend would have share the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”  (Or perhaps have separate menus for breakfast and lunch to avoid that confusion all together.)

Human error: This list could get long.  Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.

External factors:  There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue.  Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news.  There are some external factors you can pretty much count on.  Plan for those.  For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded.  Put a plan in place to deal with that moment.  Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy.  What can you do to help them pass the time?  Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work.  Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?

Two important things to remember when confronted by an angry, frustrated or upset customer are:

Don’t take the anger or frustration personally. Sometimes the person is angry with you because you are a handy target. They are angry or frustrated and they need to express it. It may not be fair but it happens.

View complaints positively. Instead of looking at them as a negative, look at them as opportunities to improve your conflict management skills and the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.

And one last suggestion, this is a great exercise to incorporate into your next team meeting.  Get your team together, ask them to identify when and why their customers are not happy and to come up with potential solutions to either eliminate or minimize the frustration.  This activity generates some laughs, group sharing and some great ideas.

She Broke the Rules

My dad is getting older and every time he tries to put his shoes on standing up when leaving our home, I’m scared he is going to fall down. The obvious solution; buy a small bench or stool for placement in the front entry.

And so my search began.  It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. We are in a condo which meant a small-scaled stool was needed.  After numerous shops, unable to find what I was looking for, I finally found a beautiful stool, with a linen covered cushion.  The problem, it was on clearance and all sales were final.

I took the chance, put the box in my cart and went home.  When I got home and opened the box, I realized that the stool must have been a return.  It was not packed correctly, the directions to put it together were missing and so was the hardware to do so.  Figuring out how to put the stool together was not a problem, but I did not have the hardware I needed.  And so I brought the stool back to the store.

I didn’t bring it back hoping for a refund; I just hoped they had extra hardware so I could build the stool.  The young lady that helped me went above and beyond. When I explained the problem, she scanned the barcode, saw there were three stools in stock and went to look for hardware or a replacement stool.  After about 10 minutes she returned.  She simply could not find the stools and offered to refund my money, even though my sales receipt clearly said FINAL SALE.  When I thanked her for breaking the rules, she simply said “That stool was no good to you like that. We want you to be happy with your purchase.”

I took a chance when I purchased that stool.  I knew there was a risk buying it “as is”.  I’ve taken that risk before and by far the majority of the time, it has paid off.  The young lady did not have to give me my money back.  My sales receipt clearly stated the conditions of the sale, but as a service professional she took it upon herself to put the customer ahead of the policy.

And the result … I ended up purchasing a beautiful print to put on the wall next to the new bench I knew I would eventually find elsewhere.  The print cost twice as much as the “as is” stool.

Moral of the story:  Putting the customer first is good for business.