“She’s just the receptionist”

Is this the biggest misconception in business?

A friend called me this week, excited to share that he’d just visited a new client’s office and the exceptional receptionist at this company … wasn’t labeled as one. Instead, her name placard read, “Director of First Impressions.”

When I was in sales, some of my colleagues chose to list only their cell phone numbers on their business cards. The reason? They felt no one was better equipped to handle incoming calls from prospects and clients – and make that all-important first impression – than them. In other words, they were fearful of putting their potential commission in the hands of (what they may have believed to be) a low-wage, low-stakes and under-appreciated receptionist.

The most successful business owners and leaders, though, know the truth:

  • Many business owners don’t pay receptionists enough – the position is often thought of as little more than a minimum-wage role
  • Leaders (and the receptionists themselves) don’t see just how important their job really is
  • Customer experience training is lackluster or – worse – nonexistent
  • Most of us (bosses, co-workers and customers alike) aren’t taking the time to simply acknowledge receptionists as smart, important and valued human beings

That said, when I receive great service from an operator, receptionist, desk clerk or cashier I like to let them know what a positive difference they’re making. After all, how else will they know for sure; continue to do the right thing for others?

An ode to the receptionist …

When you acknowledge me and maintain eye contact …
I feel like I’m more important to you than your computer screen, your smartphone, office gossip or whatever task you were in the middle of. We’ve gotten off on the right foot and your favorable first impression has set the tone for our time together, however long or short it may be.

When you smile (sincerely) …
I feel welcome and believe that you enjoy what you’re doing; you’re clearly a people person and you’re ready to help me. Your company knew exactly what they were doing when they put you in that position. (Note: I can even hear your smile over the phone; we all can.) By the way, I’m likely to smile back, making this simple act a great investment – in other words, treat me kindly and I’m more likely to reciprocate and even forgive any shortcomings.

When I hear you say more than “mepya” (fast for, “May I help you?”) when you answer the phone …
I don’t have to ask if I have reached the right place. And you don’t have to get frustrated over [Read more…]

Is Employee Morale a Result of Your Customer Service Culture?

Which came first, the happy customer or the happy employee?

Chicken or the egg?

Recently, a returning client asked if I would deliver a one-hour presentation for his trade association. With further discussion, I learned that his group wanted its hired speaker to show attendees: “How to Motivate Employees During These Tough Economic Times.”

This got me thinking about the not-so-obvious parallels that exist between employees and customers …

Simply put, employees are people, too. The smartest companies know employees are the lifeblood of their organizations. They know it and they build their culture around it. Your people help to make up your company; your brand. They’re the ones who deliver the customer experience.

“Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work.” -Martin Oliver

 

The customer experience will never exceed the employee experience

Some 20 years ago I worked for a global restaurant chain. That experience got me more interested in hospitality and customer service. That employer operated on a principle that has stayed with me ever since: The guest experience will never exceed the employee experience. Every day I see evidence of the fundamental truth in that statement. Sure, a great employee might be able to deliver a great customer experience in spite of a less-that-ideal work culture. However, that situation is likely only sustainable for the short term. A poor employee experience can only wear on a worker’s attitude and negatively affect customer interactions. That employee will probably leave the organization before too long.

It should come as no surprise

So I set about to research employee satisfaction. I was looking for proof that “dollar” compensation is not one of the top factors in employee loyalty. Along the way I discovered an interesting correlation.

As it turns out, some of the best places to work are also known as industry leaders in customer service.

Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work ForIn the top 20 of Fortune magazine’s annual 100 Best Companies to Work For list, for example, you’ll find such firms as Google, Wegman’s Food Markets, Zappos.com and USAA.

That’s an interesting mix, isn’t it? A search engine, a brick-and-mortar grocery retailer, an online retailer and a call center serving insurance and financial needs.

Bottom line

Some might say poor customer service is a vicious circle: customers are angered by it, so they take it out on the employees. Others would blame hostile, demanding clients who cause frazzled employees to behave badly.

Consider this: Giving employees an opportunity to engineer a positive customer experience by way of autonomy, mastery and purpose might just be the magic pill you’ve been looking for.

I accepted that offer to teach a group of executives how to motivate employees and – between you and me – what I discovered along the way was this:

  1. Our intrinsic motivators at work don’t suddenly change with a changing economy
  2. We’re much more alike than we are different
  3. The customer experience is in direct correlation to the employee experience:

Happy employees make happy customers who make happy employees who make happy customers who are more likely to become raving fans who generate 80 to 90 percent of your referral business. But here’s the part that may surprise you, mainly because no one is talking about it or connecting the dots:

Employees who are given the permission, the training, the ownership and a consistent opportunity to make customers happy are less likely to leave your company. In other words, a culture of great customer service magically produces employee loyalty. Go figure.

Here’s a quick video segment of Richard Owen, CEO of SATMETRIX, addressing “The chicken and the egg” >>

Click Image to Skip to quick video segment

Have you ever been the loyal employee of a company whose unyielding mission was to deliver a remarkable customer experience? I’d love to hear your stories…

“We need to educate our customers”

A mindset that could put you on a slippery slope

I met with a business owner recently who declared, “I know what we need to do to improve customer service here. We need to educate our customers!” He went on to say, “Our customers call us all the time with stupid questions. We answer their questions and then they call back a month later with the same stupid questions. If our front-line staff would just take the time to educate them, maybe they’d [go away].”

Be careful what you wish for because, yes, with a mindset and approach like that, they might just “go away” … for good.

The right way to educate
Gallup PollAccording to Gallup, there are four levels of customer expectation that – when acted upon carefully and thoughtfully – might just be powerful enough to turn prospects into advocates. And if meeting those expectations can convert people who might just be thinking about using your business into “fans,” then imagine what it might do for your existing customers and clients.

In ascending order of importance, they are: 1) Accuracy; 2) Availability; 3) Partnership; 4) Advice/Learning. There are only four levels, so each is important. However providing advice/learning is the highest level of customer expectation. In other words, when strategically administered, providing advice and/or learning opportunities for your prospects and clients can pay great dividends.

PNI logoEver notice how home improvement stores offer free classes on everything from gardening to tile grouting? Or how some smart restaurants offer wine pairing and/or cooking classes? Payroll Network, a local professional services firm in Rockville, Md., offers a knowledge center for its customers, prospects, partners and vendors. Up to three times a week, experts are brought in to present a (complimentary) session for the first 25 people who register.

The benefits of such practices are clear – not only do you establish your company as a reliable source for information in your field, whether it’s ceramic tile or Chardonnay, you bring existing and potential patrons into your business. If you do it right, they go out and tell their friends and neighbors what a great time they had at the event and how much they learned. Not only do they become advocates, they’re also likely to become repeat customers – and to bring new prospects in with them.

Defining “Educate”
While it makes good business sense to provide advice and learning opportunities, I certainly don’t recommend subscribing to a culture of “educating” customers if the intention is ill placed. If you catch yourself or one of your staff bemoaning the need to educate customers, I urge you to take a closer look at your corporate culture. Try to figure out why that attitude prevails, what it says about your company’s philosophy toward its clients – and whether it’s time to make some changes.

Engineering a customer-centric culture means doing the things that are best, right, easy, thoughtful and efficient for your customers; not necessarily for you. Staging such events can be risky – they cut into budget and personnel time that could be spent on other pursuits. However, if you develop a best practice that happens to make everyone’s lives easier – customers and staff alike – the payoff can be well worth it. What’s been your experience with this?

They cloned my credit card

But why did I have to ask?
Anticipating Your Customers’ Needs

I recently received an e-mail alert from my credit card company, with the word “URGENT” in the subject line. Here’s how the message read:

Transaction for $250.00 at a discounted department store was declined on or around 10/07/2012 in DADE CITY, FL United States.

Since we live in Maryland and we were definitely in our hometown on said date, this was clearly a case of fraud. Fortunately, credit card companies are becoming more adept at catching and addressing these situations. When I spoke to an agent named Vinayak at my credit card company, I learned that this transaction had been a “swipe” at a Walmart retail store, which meant someone had actually cloned my card.

Amazing and disconcerting, right? I wasn’t distressed though, especially since a) it was caught before any real damage was done; b) Vinayak was courteously handling the situation for me and; c) they offered to overnight a new card to me.

But as I was on the phone with Vinayak I did begin to think about all the work a new card (and new account number) would create for me. I suddenly remembered that I authorized several merchants to auto-bill me each month – from E-Z Pass and Netflix to my cable and phone companies as well as many others. This meant I would have to go through recent statements, line by line, and figure out which merchants had me on a monthly auto-pay program.

Worse, I’d need to update my online profile with several companies such as PayPal, Amazon, Groupon, Costco and many more. The situation had quickly gone from a breeze to a real pain. Then my mindset shifted from “It’s all on me” to “Maybe Vinayak can help.” As we were nearing the end of our call, I asked if there was an easy way for him to filter out merchants with recurring monthly charges. He said there was, asked me to prepare pen and paper and proceeded to list seven such companies as well as the 800 numbers for six of them.

So what did Vinayak miss?
Yes, Vinayak’s ability to provide me with the names and numbers of these companies was certainly a relief and a time-saver. However it also got me curious about something: Why did I have to ask? With fraud so rampant, credit card companies must encounter this same situation hundreds — if not thousands — of times each day. Why wasn’t Vinayak trained to proactively offer that specific service? How many victims wouldn’t think to ask and would wind up spending hours conducting this research on their own?

The technology required to help fraud victims in this manner already exists! And it’s low-hanging fruit when it comes to meeting cardholders’ needs. Banks could easily include an offer to provide this information with their notification e-mail. If he’s on the ball, Vinayak, who may very well handle dozens, if not hundreds of these calls a day, will make it a policy to provide this information to the next caller he helps. And if he’s really a go-getter, he’ll suggest that the folks sitting around him follow suit. Or maybe he’ll suggest it to the bosses and get a new policy instituted.

Anticipating – or responding to – customers’ needs is one of the pillars of providing an impeccable customer experience; engineering experiences that exceed expectations. What does your company do to anticipate customers’ and clients’ needs? I’d love to hear about your best practices – what is it you do that really leaves your customers feeling completely taken care of; as if you’ve thought of everything?

Your thoughts? (Look for “Leave a Reply” below, or click here)

© Copyright 2012 to Present – Driven To Excel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

We Didn’t Feel Welcome

Might You Be Running an “Elitist Club?”

My wife, Maggie, and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We had a memorable and fun weekend stay at the Antietam Overlook Farm (photo on left). This amazing, 95-acre mountaintop bed and breakfast in Keedysville, MD, happens to be owned by a longtime friend, who – along with his staff – made us feel quite welcome; completely taken care of.

We spent two nights there, enjoying delicious, creative breakfasts and taking in the charm of nearby 250-year-old Shepherdstown, along with history-drenched Harpers Ferry and Antietam. We enjoyed the inn’s outdoor hot tub (more than once), biked along the C&O canal and visited many quaint little shops and restaurants, all while enjoying perfect weekend weather.

One highlight quickly became the “low-light”

On our second night, the innkeeper recommended that we visit a Shepherdstown restaurant touted as the “nicest” among the area’s numerous dining options. She graciously offered to make the reservation on our behalf. This would be our official “Anniversary Dinner” and this particular restaurant was supposedly the “it” place. Upon our arrival we were told by the host, “We’re just waiting for a few tables to settle their bill so we can free up a table and seat you. In the meantime, you can visit our bar.”

Restaurant Server(By the way, never once have I witnessed a host/ess offering menus to review while you wait – doing so would obviously give waiting guests something to do, while preparing them for their server – “Can I get you folks started with something to drink?” “Yes, and we’re also ready to order our food.” – The server makes fewer trips, the guests (and server) have a more efficient experience and the restaurant gets its table back that much quicker, to then serve even more waiting guests! Not rocket science … but I digress.)

We headed over to the not-so-busy bar, where we stood ignored for four long minutes while two bartenders, a waitress and hostess all walked by. No one ever acknowledged our presence. We felt invisible. Finally, we were seated at a small table up front in the main dining room – a nice window seat – where we sat for another three long minutes before someone came by with menus. After about another five minutes our waitress finally arrived and asked what we’d like to drink. (Of course, we should have received water almost immediately and did not.) Maggie chose the New York Strip and I went with the Chilean Sea Bass (to be fair, my entire dish was delicious). About six minutes after ordering, our glass of wine finally arrived along with our waters. Time check: 18 minutes after arrival and we’re just receiving beverages.

But this isn’t about slow service

While the service was indeed slow AND Maggie’s steak had to be sent back (twice) for being undercooked AND our waitress barely spoke to us the few times she stopped by AND the owner carried as much of an elitist attitude as everyone else on staff (displaying a negative disposition and never admitting that the steak was undercooked (even as blood pooled on the plate)) AND no one bothered to wish us a “Happy Anniversary” AND Maggie’s underdone/underwhelming steak was accompanied by two spoonfuls of boring mashed potatoes and the most sour greens we’ve ever tasted AND we only received blank stares and eventual shunning from our waitress after communicating these frustrations (she simply stopped visiting us and kept her back to us as she addressed nearby guests) … most of those things could have actually been forgiven – particularly on a night this special when we were feeling good and focused on celebrating; not looking for negativity. But this was about more than a mediocre meal or even slow service. This was about the entire experience – how our concerns were being handled, managed, and communicated. Our overall experience had a common thread running through it:

What we noticed – above all else – was that we didn’t feel welcome.

Unwelcome MatWhen any of us go out to eat, don’t we just want to feel taken care of? Isn’t that one of the built-in benefits of traveling to, and paying a restaurant; tipping its staff? Sadly, the staff at this restaurant was clearly not on our side. Instead we felt like they were on an opposing (elitist) team – they were “over there” and we were “over here” and we didn’t feel welcome. Their attitudes screamed, “It’s your fault. All of it. We’re the ‘it’ place in this town and you two are nothing but annoying customers.”

It’s an intangible thing but you may have noticed that you know (and feel) this “unwelcomeness” in certain situations; certain customer experiences.

 

I wonder if they learned anything…

As regular 20% tippers, the most we could justify at the end of this terrible experience was $6 on a $62 tab, but not without some coaching for our server. I wrote a note to her that read, “A little communication goes a long way. You can’t go silent and ignore your guests when things go wrong.” I can only hope she (and her bosses) learned something. Do you think they did?

By the way, what I really enjoy sharing most – via the social web – are our positive dining experiences. This was the first – and, I hope, the last time – I’ve given anyone a 1-star review on Yelp.

What’s Your “Signature Dish?”

Carving Your Niche — How to Become Known for Something

Gordon RamsayBy now, you’ve likely heard of Chef Gordon Ramsay. Many of us came to know him when his TV show, Hell’s Kitchen, began airing in America in 2005. Chef Ramsay is a world-renowned chef and restaurateur. While you may not agree with many of his tactics and his personal style, it’s difficult to argue with his level of business success.

One day, while flipping through the TV channels, I caught about five minutes of his newer show, Kitchen Nightmares. During those (valuable) five minutes, I heard Chef Ramsay ask a failing restaurant owner the following question:

“What is your signature dish?”

In other words, he was asking, “What is that one dish you have personally crafted and become known for?”

Lettuce WrapsI suddenly realized that all my favorite restaurants have a signature dish. Even our national chain restaurants have signature dishes. La Madeleine’s signature dish is its Tomato Basil Soup (they even sell it in pre-packaged to-go jars). Locally, Coastal Flats is known for its Ozzy Rolls, named after the chef who invented the donut-like appetizers. And at P.F. Chang’s it’s the Lettuce Wraps. The list goes on … .

This really got me thinking. Could this be the secret to these restaurants’ business success? Hear me out: These signature dishes create specific cravings that can only be satisfied by these businesses. Furthermore, even when we’re enjoying a similar dish elsewhere, we can’t help but think about and discuss … the originators; the creators; the masters.

It usually goes something like this, “This bread is pretty good, but have you ever had the Ozzy Rolls at Coastal Flats?” Or, “This appetizer is pretty unique, but it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps.” Or maybe, “Your mom makes a delicious tomato basil soup. Was her recipe inspired by La Madeleine’s by any chance?”

What’s YOUR signature dish?

A signature dish doesn’t always need to be food-related – or even tangible. Aside from the obvious Big Mac (or is it their fries?), the signature dish at McDonald’s is consistency, Fed Ex’s signature dish is reliability and Zappos.com’s signature dish is customer service. These are the things each business has become known for. When people use these companies as examples of impeccability in the business world, what they’re talking about is those specific signature traits: consistency, reliability and customer service, respectively.

Whether you’re a business owner, product/service provider, salaried/hourly employee or community leader, chances are good you already have your own “signature dish;” that one special thing you’re known for. If you aren’t quite sure what it is, just ask your friends, colleagues and clients. They’ll tell you. Often, it’s clearer to those around you than it is to you. Embrace your signature dish, evolve it, master it and be sure to talk about it. You have a unique ability and you should be leveraging it if you’re not already doing so.

Embrace it – I did!

Impeccability ChapterFor me, that signature dish is impeccability and the role it plays in the customer experience. Those around me knew this to be true even more than I once did. In fact, I used to resist the idea of making this my “personal brand.” I thought it might scare some people away; seem too buttoned up or unattainable in a world where no one is perfect. Then I let go of all that and began to embrace it. Now, I’m speaking and training individuals and groups, and writing a book on the topic. I’ve learned that we all have unique abilities and most of us already have a signature dish that is worth leveraging. What’s yours?

(To download a free chapter, CLICK HERE.)

Impeccable Follow-Up

Impeccable Customer Service Tip #113

“If customers provide feedback and then nothing happens, we’re actually damaging our brands and we’re persuading people not to take part in the exercise.” -Richard Owen, CEO of Satmetrix and Author of Answering The Ultimate Question

Richard Owen, Answering The Ultimate Question

CLICK to WATCH

© Copyright 2012 to Present – Driven To Excel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Customer School

Your Customers Didn’t Go To “Customer School”

[Revised re-post from Aug ’08]

I swiped my card and began to fill ‘er up. To my surprise, the pump’s display read $3.95 (not $3.90, like I’d seen on their street sign). I walked in to see the attendant and shared my observation. When he saw me, he took a break from the conversation he’d been having with a co-worker, listened to my concern, smiled, then turned and pointed to the sign above the price sign. He politely shared that $3.90 was displayed as a “CASH ONLY” price. I felt kind of silly for not having seen the bright yellow “CASH ONLY” sign and as I exited his store (laughing at myself) I thought, he was … polite about that. Surely I wasn’t the first one to ever make this mistake, yet many attendants would have likely given a gruff and annoyed response.

 

Stupid is as stupid does.

All too often, front-line employees get annoyed by “stupid” questions … and it shows. We’ve all probably had the experience of interacting with someone whom – no matter how hard they may try to hide it [Read more…]

When is it okay to give ice-cold service?

We received ice-cold service … and we were cool with that

Every time there’s a storm or other emergency, some people seem to jump right in to lend a hand to those in need. They help others out of a sense of duty, or just because it’s the right thing to do – and they do so without thought of benefit for themselves. These stories usually spread by word of mouth, though a few do make it onto the evening news or into the morning paper.

I have one I’d like to share, and I hope many of you will weigh in with your own experiences.

Like many on the East Coast this month, we were without power in our home for five days. Living without electricity meant being without a refrigerator, and that meant daily trips to replenish our cooler’s ice supply – and a lot of eating out.

One day, I decided to take my mother- and father-in-law to Famous Dave’s for lunch. (If you don’t have one in your area, Famous Dave’s is a tasty barbecue chain with locations nationwide.) On our way out of the restaurant, after an enjoyable meal, I was swapping power outage stories with one of the servers, Ed. Just as we were about to exit, Ed said, “By the way, do you need some ice?”

“That would be great. Yes!” I replied. Less than a minute later we were handed a generous bag of ice (on the house) and we were told, “If you need more, just swing by any time and we’ll give you some.”

The next day, my in-laws requested that we go to Panera, the national bakery/restaurant chain, for lunch before heading over to my parents’ nearby home for some much-needed A/C. We had a cooler in our vehicle that needed a fresh supply of ice, so our first stop was Famous Dave’s to see our new friend, Ed. This time, there was an enormous cooler of handmade ice bags next to the hostess stand and it didn’t matter that Ed wasn’t around – it seemed the whole staff had been briefed on what to do. Impressive. While I was pouring the fresh ice into our cooler in the back of our vehicle, my in-laws said, “Let’s just eat here (again).”

A Culture of Community Engagement
Did the staff of Famous Dave’s offer up free ice as a way to get people to eat there? Maybe … but I don’t think so. I think they saw a community in need and did what they could to help. While most of the surrounding homes and businesses were without power for several days, this restaurant’s power was restored within only a few short hours. They felt fortunate and saw an opportunity to be of support to those whom were less fortunate. As you might imagine, many of the places that regularly sell ice (supermarkets, gas stations, etc.) had trouble keeping any in stock. At Famous Dave’s it was in stock … and free!

Given the large number of choices of nearby restaurants, Famous Dave’s is now more top-of-mind than ever before. We’ll be sure to visit again soon and we’ll be asking to be seated in Ed’s section.

When have you seen other businesses, including your own, anticipate the needs of the community? I’d love to hear from you …

Do your clients feel connected to you?

Impeccable Client Engagement
Staying Connected and Engaged

massageMy wife, Maggie, and I enjoy the occasional professional massage. We’ve visited many different service providers over the years – everything from the local Groupon massage referral … to a honeymoon couple’s massage on the beaches of Roatan Island – and we’ve observed that not all practitioners are created (trained) equally.

One specific thing we’ve noticed is that while some massage therapists do a wonderful job of staying connected to you during your massage, others may leave you feeling a little disconnected. I’ll explain…

I’ve recently learned that the professionals are taught to practice something really special and quite effective. They’re trained to keep at least one hand on you at all times, no matter what. This would explain why many of them keep a holster of massage oil on their hip, instead of a side table or storage cart, which could end up out of reach. Think about it. Here you are, face down, eyes closed, treating yourself to a luxury – all while putting your trust “in the hands” of a professional.

This “one-hand-at-all-times” best practice is what maintains that trust; it keeps you feeling connected and engaged – both physically and emotionally.

Your clients should be receiving the same treatment. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to make a physical connection but some form of ongoing engagement is important. More than keeping your name and face in front of your clients and prospects, this is about engineering ongoing experiences that exceed expectations. And there are bonus points for creativity …

One Valentine’s Day, I opened my mailbox to find [Read more…]