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?

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.

4 Phrases NOT to Use With an Unhappy Customer

Some words and phrases have the potential to move a situation from bad to horrendous.  When you have a disappointed, frustrated or upset customer on the phone or in front of you, four phrases you definitely want to avoid are:

  1. ” As I told you…”  Use this one and your customer may respond with “So, what you’re saying is I’m an idiot?” Even if he doesn’t say the words out loud, you can be sure he’s thinking it.  The customer heard you just fine. He just doesn’t like what he heard.  It may have been the option or the way the option was presented.
  2. “You need to calm down.” Telling someone who is upset or angry to calm down is like throwing gas on a fire.  Instead of telling someone to calm down, give them some time to vent and then say something like “I’m sorry you’re frustrated (or upset or angry or disappointed). I’d like to help.
  3. “I don’t understand you.”  This sounds rude and refers to the person instead of the message.  Saying “I’m not quite sure I understand” is better. Even better is to simply start asking clarifying or probing questions to get the detail or information you need in order to understand.
  4. “You’re going to have to…”  If you’re prepared to hear “I don’t HAVE to do anything” back, go ahead and use this one.  No.  Actually just avoid it altogether.  A disappointed, upset or irate customer does not want to hear what they have to do.  They want to know what you’re going to do.  Saying something like “I need …” is much more effective.

What are some phrases you’ve heard (or perhaps used) that escalated a situation, instead of diffusing it?

 

Hash House A Go Go Rocks Service

It’s been a week since my last post … unusual for me and the only reason (excuse) is that my trip to Las Vegas was entirely focused on spending time with my family.  Of course, me being me, I simply could not help but notice and store up a whole lot of customer service related experiences.

There were many meh moments, as well as some truly fine examples of terrible customer service and service that rocks.  Today, I want to share one of those rocking moments.

Friends of ours told us about Hash House A Go Go, located on the strip at The Quad.  They’d discovered it on their last trip to Las Vegas and raved about the place. We almost went to a restaurant closer to our hotel but at the last minute decided to keep walking the few extra minutes.  It was worth those few extra minutes.

Chicken and waffles at Hash House A Go Go. My husband made a valiant effort, but in the end, the plate won!

The food looked good and tasted good. The portion sizes were huge! One plate could easily feed two. But most importantly, and the reason we went back a second time, was because of the service.  I simply had to know if they were really that good all the time or if we just got lucky with an unusually great server the first time.

Here is a short list of all the customer service standards they absolutely nailed:

  1.  Under promise, over deliver.   There was a wait to get into the restaurant at 10:00 am and at 2:00 pm.  I’m told it doesn’t really matter what time of day you get there; you will probably end up waiting.  Each time we put our name on the wait list, we were given an estimated wait time that was longer than the time we actually had to wait.  15 minutes doesn’t seem nearly as long if you are told it could be up to 25 minutes.  I have been to too many restaurants that told me 15 minutes when it was actually closer to 30.
  2. Acknowledge the customer immediately.  We were seated in two different sections and served by two different people.  Both times, our very busy servers were unable to get water glasses to us right away, but that did not stop them from taking a quick stop at our table, to let us know we had been seen and they would be with us in just a moment.  In some customer service sessions I deliver, I hear “They can see I am busy and I never keep them waiting for more than a few minutes.”  We could see they were busy and quite frankly, I expected to have a lot of time to peruse the menu before the server in our section got to us.  Not at Hash Hash A Go Go.  Both of our servers, as well as all the others I could see, stopped at each new table within seconds.
  3. Focus on the customer.  In spite of how busy the restaurant was, none of the serving staff gave the impression of being rushed. When they were standing in front of our table, we were their one and only focus. They patiently explained the menu, they asked how we were enjoying our trip to Vegas, they laughed, they smiled … they took the time to make us feel welcome.
  4. Find ways to make the impossible possible.  Hash House A Go Go is missing two pieces of standard commercial restaurant kitchen equipment … on purpose.  There is no microwave in their kitchen. There is also no food warming equipment.  When the kitchen team has cooked and plated the food, it doesn’t sit under a heat lamp.  It goes out to the table.  They made a commitment to fresh and they keep it. That means they have food runners.  Lots and lots of food runners.  I am pretty sure the labour costs are higher than a heat lamp.  I am also sure that the long line-ups and constant turn-over of tables that result from this, plus their other service standards, more than makes up for those additional costs.
  5. Be clear as to expectations.  Every single plate that came out of that kitchen was beautifully presented. Every plate of chicken and waffles that went by our table and the one that landed on our table in front of my husband looked the same.  The management team at Hash House A Go Go has very obviously created clearly defined standards, for both front and back of house.  Based on consistent delivery of those standards, I venture to guess they also have a strong training program in place to help their team meet and exceed the high expectations they have created.   Companies that want to be the best, outline what the best looks like and then supports their team in achieving the best.
  6. Have fun.  This restaurant seems to be in a consistent state of “getting slammed”.  The only difference is just how hard they are getting slammed.  I have never seen an entire team move that fast in such a coordinated way.  I have also never seen that many people having fun while working that hard. Smiles, laughter between team members.  High fives, managers fist-bumping their staff as they walked by.

On our second visit, I said something along the lines of “Everyone seems to be having so much fun” to our server.  He stopped what he was doing and told us how much he loved working at Hash House A Go Go.  He talked about the team environment, how everyone gets along.

Hash House A Go Go is busy for a reason. High standards, a great product and even more importantly, great service.  Next time you’re in Vegas, make sure you go.  Leave time and bring an empty stomach.  You will need both!