If You Can’t Fulfill A Customer Request, Who Can?

Years ago, I was working in sales at a hotel. The Grey Cup was coming to Winnipeg and we, like almost every other hotel in Winnipeg, were completely sold out.  A travel agent called, desperately looking for a room for one of her clients. We couldn’t help her but I decided to make a few calls on her behalf.  I called a few of our competitors and found a room in one of them. I reserved the room under the travel agent’s name, called her back and gave her the good news. She was thrilled and took the time to write a letter to my general manager, letting him know how much she appreciated that I’d helped her out of a tight spot. Even better, in the end, my hotel became her hotel of choice when a client needed a room in Winnipeg, all because I took the time to fix her problem by sending her to a competitor.

Chances are, you’ve been asked by a customer or potential customer to provide a service you don’t provide.  In some cases, it may make sense to find a way to say “yes, I can make that happen for you”.  It may even be a product or service offering you decide to make permanent.

Other times, the best answer you can give your customer or potential customer is ‘no, that is not something we offer.” Or perhaps you do provide what they need, but are out of stock or inventory and are unable to say ‘yes’, as much as you’d like to. Telling a customer or potential customer “no” is a customer touch point that needs to be handled with care and provides an excellent opportunity to wow.

There is a job I need taken care of at the hotel.  I called a supplier that I incorrectly assumed could complete it for us. What I need done is outside of their scope of work. The person I spoke to was understanding and apologized for not being able to help. The moment was not handled badly.  It just wasn’t capitalized on. My expectations would have been exceeded if after hearing ‘no’, I then heard ‘but here are two companies that can and come highly recommended.”  That little extra bit of information would have said “‘I understand and I care.”

Do you and your team know who to refer customer’s to if you are unable to fulfill their request and is it being done?

Sometimes providing excellent service means sending your customer to a competitor.  Know which ones you trust to take care of your customer when you can’t.

Are You and Your Customers on the Same Wavelength?

Friendly young businessman showing ok signBain & Company surveyed 362 companies.  They spoke to people within the companies and asked them “How often do you deliver superior customer service?”  The answer: they believed they delivered superior customer service 80% of the time.  Unfortunately, when customers were asked “How often do you receive excellent customer service”, their response was only 8% of the time!  That’s a huge disconnect and in the end, it’s the customer’s perception that matters.

One potential reason for this disconnect is that as business owners, managers and service suppliers, we are faced with the daunting and challenging task of hiring, training, scheduling, coaching, mentoring, ordering, reporting… the list goes on and on.  Supplies are late, weather is bad, someone calls in sick and yet, somehow, in spite of all the challenges, the business is open and customers are coming in the door.  We give ourselves a lot of credit for the challenges we overcome on a regular basis.

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  After all someone has to! Just don’t expect your customers to do so. They’ll pat you on the back, give you figurative high fives, maybe even the occasional real one, if and when their expectations are consistently met and exceeded.

From the customer’s perspective, you are there to serve them and they’re not wrong. They chose your business to meet a need and they expect it to be met, regardless of the logistical challenges behind it.

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.

Are you happy?

Are you happy?  Are your employees happy?

Happy is a fluffy word.   It’s not a word that is used very often in business settings. In business, we like to use important sounding words like engagement, return on investment, bottom line revenues, core competencies, best practices, leverage and buy-in.

Happy is for children.  Happy is for kindergarten, although even that seems to be disappearing in our continuous quest to maximize all learning opportunities.  Play time and nap time are wasted time.

Many companies don’t measure happy, which is unfortunate, because corporate sounding or not, happy matters.

Happy employees = happy customers

Think about someone you know who is perpetually unhappy.  Now think of someone you know who is happy.  Who accomplishes more on any given day?  Who comes up with innovative ideas more often?   Who looks at challenges as opportunities to explore as opposed to something to avoid?  Who do you spend more time with? Who would you like to spend more time with?

Your customers also like to be around happy people.   Unhappy employees drive customer away.  Happy employees bring them back.

So how can you increase the happiness quotient at work?  It’s not all about the money.  Margaret Heffernan says “Recent research into happiness demonstrates that the happiest people aren’t those with the most money but those with a sense of purpose – a sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves.”

Happiness and purpose:  How can you make work about more than work?  What purpose does your business serve?  Is it only about making money or is it about making the lives of your customer better in some way?  Does each individual on your team know how they contribute to that purpose?

“Have fun, do good and the money will come.” – Richard Branson

Happiness and play:  Bring play back to work!  Work should be fun.  Opportunities for play bring your individual team members together.  It helps them get to know each other.  It provides an opportunity to laugh together.  Those opportunities create connections and connections create community, something bigger than just us.

Happiness and accountability:  Those two words really don’t seem to go together, do they? And yet, when everyone understands your company’s purpose, their individual purpose and the purpose of those around them, they are more willing to hold themselves and those around them accountable.  That increases the chance that your company’s purpose will be met.

Happiness and kindness:  What if you made it a habit to do or say something kind to someone on your team every day? Perhaps that will start a chain reaction of random acts of kindness.  When people start looking for ways to be kind to each other, increased happiness is sure to follow.

Happiness is important.  Is there something you are doing to increase the happiness levels at your business? If so, please share.

Do You Really Need to Give Away Stuff to Keep a Customer?

“Give them something” is very often the answer to the questions “How can we show our customers we appreciate them?” and “What can we do to get that unhappy customer back?”

How many of your customers need another pen, another golf shirt, another mug or another hat?  How many other logoed items are they receiving from other companies they do business with?

It’s not that all customers hate stuff.  What customers like better than stuff is:

1.  Being treated like an individual person.  Smile.  Acknowledge them.  Offer to help.  Ask for their name and then use it.  Tell them your name.  Work to create a relationship over and above the dollar sign.  Recognize that some customers want to chat, some want to get right down to business.  Adapt your service delivery so that it’s great in their eyes, not yours.

2.  Hearing ‘thank you’.  A sincere thank you is a lot more meaningful than a pen or t-shirt.  Take some time to use that company pen of yours to write and mail a thank you note or a “we’ve missed seeing you” note.  Personalize the notes to that customer.  Use their name and incorporate one other piece of information specific or unique to the individual customer.

3.  You owning your mistakes. Customers don’t expect perfection all the time.  They want it, but don’t necessarily expect it.  What they do expect is recognition and acknowledgement when something does go wrong. They want to be listened to. They want you to understand their disappointment and they want an apology.  Yes, some people may want more than that, but a t-shirt or coupon for 15% off their next visit without empathy, understanding and apology is not enough.  You may  be surprised at how many customers are satisfied with sincere acknowledgement of their concern, an apology and a thank-you for sharing comment.  Those three things are in short supply. Giving them out freely, without reservation, means more than stuff to a whole lot of people.

It’s not that giving away stuff is a bad thing.  Some customers appreciate and expect the freebies, the extra little things they receive from you on an occasional basis.  It’s just not THE answer.   There are a lot of other companies doing that. Become the company your customers would come back to even if you never gave away ‘stuff’.

P.S.  These three tips also apply when discussing internal customer satisfaction strategies.