Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

A Contrast in Customer Service Outcomes

Customer service examples from Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

In Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan, I put forward the question: Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? I then offered a comparison study, based on personal experience in the area of automotive repair. Here is another consideration from the retail sector.

Customer Service Failure

Several years ago, my wife and I went to rent a movie with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. However, we were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.”

Next, as he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the in-store sign displaying the name Acme Video Hits. “We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained, as though this was common knowledge about which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99-cent rentals of older movies.

“But you got DVDs,” he said with a slight roll of the eyes. “Ninety-nine cents is only for VHS.” (Yes, this was a long time ago.) He paused and, saving me from another query, added, “They changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion ensued; eventually he gave up and summoned the manager when I inquired our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

Then the manager appeared and summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained. My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; damage had been done and it was irreparable.Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? Click To Tweet

Customer Service Success

It wasn’t until another movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us.

Upon learning we were first-time customers, she explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerks would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, reiterated the value of membership and reinforced the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies, thereby earning a discount; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance. However, when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees. She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

Given these two examples, where would you like to work? Where would you like to shop?

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, Editor writes about Customer ServiceBy Peter DeHaan

Does your organization make customer service a priority? I expect that it does. In fact, I suspect that the phrase “customer service” is found somewhere in your mission or vision statement, etched on a wall plaque, proclaimed in your marketing material, and oft orated by upper management.

However, as is often said, “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” So the question becomes, do you actually provide quality customer service or just talk about it? Has the vocabulary of providing world-class customer service been bandied about so often that you—and the entire organization—have been falsely convinced that it is a reality, when in fact it has no basis in truth?

Customer Service Failure

In my article, “A $175 Oil Change,” a local car dealership charged $175, accomplishing no tangible results other than changing the oil. This was the only impetus I needed to return to the trustworthy comfort of my local service station, where I continue to be a loyal customer of their car care services. Unfortunately, the day that I dreaded came last summer 2011, when they informed me that repairing my heat-producing air conditioner was beyond the scope of their services; I would need to take the car to the dealer.

With trepidation, I walked into the dealer’s brightly lit and tastefully decorated service department. As I walked up to the “customer service” desk, a representative, clad in business attire with tasteful tie, greeted me by name. I explained the problem and, knowing their mode of operation all too well, asked for an estimate. With a confidence-building smile and positive words of assuredness, he sent me on my way.

His phone call came shortly after I returned to the office: $1,575! Following my dumbfounded silence, he launched into an extended explanation, mixing mechanic jargon and automotive terminology— which I doubt even he fully understood—seemingly aimed to intimidate me into accepting their costly diagnosis. According to their investigation, a heater problem was also uncovered and somehow related to the AC repair. True, for only $980, I could fix just the AC, but then it would be over $1,200 to go back later to repair the heater.

“Let’s get realistic,” I challenged him, determined to not be victimized again.

The representative apologized that he had no other options and admitted that his “hands were tied.” I declined to authorize the repair and made arrangements to pick up the car. He kept repeating, “I’m sorry; I know I’ve lost you as a customer.”To be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan, more than mere lip service. It needs to be a strategy Click To Tweet

Customer Service Success

It took some time, but eventually I heard about a full-service garage with a reputation for honesty. I took the car in. Sitting in a small and dingy office, with a dated décor and amidst organized clutter, I explained the chronology of events, sharing the dealer’s written estimate. The owner of the garage chose his words carefully, “Well, they could be right, but I think we can get it working for much less.” He had a $185 solution that he wanted to try. Plus, if he was wrong, he would apply that amount to the repair the dealer recommended (for which his normal price was only $800). As far as the heater issue, he found no justification for any repairs.

I followed his recommendation. The $185 AC repair proved to be accurate, keeping us cool through a hot and humid summer; the heater worked as is without incident throughout that winter.

The dealership had talked ad-nauseam about their top-notch customer service in their ads, promotions, mailings, and sales pitch. They even put on an impressive front, but there was no substance; to them, customer service seemed to be maximizing the repair bill. The garage, on the other hand, didn’t talk about customer service; they just did it.

How to Lose at Customer Service

A second pair of customer service stories, from several years ago, are equally illustrative. Although my family is not often prone to renting movies, we did have a membership at an outlet in a nearby town. My wife and I entered their store, with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. We were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.” He took all of our information and had us sign an ominous contract.

As he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the in-store sign displaying Acme Video Hits. “We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained exasperatedly, as though this was common knowledge of which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99 cent rentals of older movies. “They changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion ensued, but he gave up and got “the manager” when I inquired our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

The manager appeared and with great boldness began demonstrating to his lackadaisical charge, proper problem resolution skills. He aptly summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained. My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; damage had been done and it was irreversible.

How to Win with Customer Service

It wasn’t until a movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us. Upon learning that we were first-time customers, she carefully and patiently explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerk after clerk would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience when a clerk asks if I need help and I feel compelled to say “no” even though I do. At the movie store, the clerks’ interactions were both welcomed and beneficial.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, with her effervescent personality and evident enjoyment of her job, made the process of becoming a member both pleasant and effective, reiterating the value of membership and reinforcing the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance. But when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees! She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

It is not surprising that I am looking forward to my next movie rental. I have even planned my selections for that snowy weekend that winter, when I take advantage of their “buy two, get three free” special! Good customer service is always an invitation to return.

Summary

To be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan, more than mere lip service. It needs to be a strategy, one that is fully and successfully implemented with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Your Company’s Future May Be Online

Peter DeHaan recomends that every business have a websiteBy Peter DeHaan

I have long been a proponent of the necessity for companies to have websites. In fact, I view a website as a veritable requirement for success in today’s market.

Organizations lacking a website are quickly viewed as second-rate providers and not worth the consideration of first-rate prospects. With the current concerns over attracting new customers, now is the time for site-less companies to embrace the Internet as a means of marketing and validation.

I know there are still organizations out there that have not yet fully embraced the internet revolution. Sadly, I hear from them on a somewhat regular basis. In addition, a few business owners and managers still say they don’t have an email address. Lastly are those who do not have a website or who state that “it’s not up yet.”

How can these companies serve customers, market to prospects, and stay in business? If you are one of these organizations, take action today to embrace the Internet before it is too late, with your business paying the price.

Website Basics

Although it can cost thousands of dollars to have a whiz-bang, high-tech, professional-looking Website designed, there are less costly options. After all, we don’t all drive a Mercedes-Benz—sometimes a Chevy will do. You can make an inexpensive website yourself for under $100. The goal is for it to not look cheap. Most hosting companies offer do-it-yourself website templates that you—yes, you—can customize to provide a basic, yet professional-looking site. However, there are a few beginner mistakes that you will want to avoid: It doesn't matter if you are a beginner in this area, have experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace. Click To Tweet

  • Stay away from line art graphics or any artwork that looks like it was homemade.
  • If you need to resize a graphic, be sure to keep it proportional. Otherwise, it will distort, either being stretched or squished.
  • Take time to proofread the text, verify spelling, use correct grammar, and employ commonly accepted punctuation. Have others double- and triple-check your work.
  • Don’t go crazy with different fonts. Use one or two at the most.
  • Avoid uppercase text; people will feel like you’re screaming at them. (The one possible exception might be listing your company name at the top of the page.)
  • You might be tempted to insert a page counter or some other nifty gadget. Resist that urge. Just because those features are available doesn’t mean you should use them.
  • Although not available with predesigned Website templates, you might think you need to have a flashy animation on your home page. Don’t go there; the only ones who will be impressed will be you and the person who designs it. Everyone else will be irritated, and the search companies will dismiss you.
  • Don’t piggyback off someone else’s domain name; get your own. This can be inexpensively obtained from your hosting company. While you’re at it, set up an email account using that domain name. Post that email address on your Website. If need be, you can have this new address forwarded to an existing email account.

Search Engine Optimization

Now that you have a functioning website (which avoids all the beginner errors), you want people to find it. Aside from telling everyone you meet and listing it on every piece of literature and stationery that you have, you need search engines to notice and appreciate your website. This is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Although this is more of an art form than an exact science (since the search engine companies closely guard their methodologies), here’s some generally agreed upon SEO basics:

  • Each page of your site needs a title tag, and each page’s title should be different.
  • Each page also needs a description tag; again each one should be different from the other pages.
  • Add reasonable and accurate keywords. Although most experts say Google ignores them, some search engines will use them, so it’s a good idea. Again, they should not be the same for each page.
  • Although some people still value reciprocal linking (that is, “I’ll link to your site if you link to mine”), the conventional wisdom is that in most cases this no longer helps and may actually hurt your visibility with the search engines.
  • Most of the companies that guarantee you top search engine placement for a fee, fail to deliver or can’t do so for the long-term. There are experts who can do this, but they are in a minority and their skill is often hard to substantiate.

Search Engine Marketing

If you want people finding your site and contacting you, the next step to consider might be Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is when you sign up with Internet advertising companies such as Google, Yahoo, or a host of others. Basically, you tell them how much you are willing to pay each time a person clicks on your ad, and they place your ad on Websites where potential prospects frequent. If you go this route, proceed slowly and carefully until you have a good understanding of how this works. I have heard stories of novices spending hundreds of dollars in a couple of hours with not much to show for it. A key thing to remember is that just because they clicked on a link that points to your Website does not mean they will become a customer—or even contact you.

Given the current concerns over the economy and finding new business, organizations need to do everything they can to help them succeed. The Internet is a cost-effective and increasingly popular method. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner in this area, have experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorFor some, the mere mention of social media produces a crooked smile and lights up their eyes. To them, it’s the preferred way to communicate; they would be lost without it.

Others groan and roll their eyes at the mention of social media. Some give it a resigned yawn, quickly tuning out the discussion or leaving the room. Still others are desperately trying to figure it out, while some don’t understand the fuss, and more than a few simply don’t care. What is all the fuss? Why should you care? The reality is that we should all care, because the future of your business may be at stake.

For businesses social media allows you to promote your business, reach out to prospects, connect with clients, and recruit and support staff. Regarding this, there are two major considerations.

First, if your competitor provides customer service via social media, can you afford not to?

Second, if the businesses that tap your labor pool use social media to find new hires, shouldn’t you do the same? These social media opportunities have been amply covered by others. However, before rushing into social media, consider the time it will take and personnel who will be involvedDon't ignore social media—the future of your business may depend on it. Click To Tweet

Email: Email is both a prelude and an entry point to social media. Succinctly, everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email.

Chat: Having the option to engage in text chat is an increasing expectation on consumer websites. You can do the same things with it that you currently do for the phone number that is listed there: answer questions, assist with site navigation, and keep visitors from abandoning their shopping cart.

Facebook: Making a Facebook page is easy. However, to be of use, relevant content needs to be posted and, more importantly, the people who “like” you deserve interaction. When customer service issues surface on Facebook, they need to be quickly addressed. Similarly, if an inquiry materializes, it warrants a speedy response—just be sure to follow social media etiquette; doing sales wrongly in social media can be a painful and damaging experience.

Blogging: Most blogs allow comments to be made, but to protect against spam, comments are often manually screened and approved. Additionally, a response to the comment is sometimes called for and a dialogue can take place, be it within the blog’s comment section or via email.

Twitter: Although Twitter is a broadcast medium, sometimes a tweet may warrant a personal response. Don’t forget to check your Twitter feed and then follow through.

Media Alerts: There are services that scan cyberspace for mentions of a word or phrase, such as a company’s name, a trademark, or an individual’s name. Although helpful, this information generally needs to be filtered. For example, one of the magazines that I publish is Connections Magazine. There are scores of magazines with “connections” in the title, so my media alert for “connections magazine” contains numerous false matches.

Other Ideas: These are just a few ideas. As you investigate social media, you will assuredly come up with more. Consider LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.

If any of these seem worthwhile to you, then please check them out—otherwise, feel free to pass. Just don’t completely ignore social media—the future of your business may depend on it.

Final Thoughts: In pondering the question posed in this article’s title, social media is both an opportunity and a distraction. I’ve been on LinkedIn the longest, and I welcome those who want to become part of my network and occasionally send out similar requests to others, but I’ve yet to actually use it for something practical.

Next, after hearing horror stories of the time-consuming and even addictive nature of Facebook, I long resisted it, only acquiescing to it in the past year. Though Facebook held an initial intrigue, the criticism of it being a time-waster quickly proved true. I haven’t “checked” Facebook in days; I now use it primarily to communicate with friends who won’t respond to an email or phone call.

In answering the question of who will perform all these backend and follow-up activities, know that many, if not all of them, can be outsourced. For example, some contact centers specialize in providing email processing services and text chat services to their clients. Many of them can also address these other social media response issues as well.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Giving Back to Your Community

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Working in any business is challenging and demanding work. Owning and running one is even harder. Daily activity seems, all too often, to consist of reacting to the urgency of the moment. There is little time to plan and few opportunities to look beyond the confines of the company walls. Yet looking beyond is exactly what you need to do. Seeking ways to give back to your community may be precisely the action you should pursue. Some organizations have done so—with profound results.

Why Give? There are many reasons why it is wise and appropriate for a business to give back to its community. Aside from principled reasons, the practical justification is that it is good for business. Community involvement expands networking opportunities, increases corporate standing, and generates goodwill. From an employee standpoint, it builds team camaraderie as staffers serve together and pursue common non-work related goals, increases employer esteem, and provides a connection outside the workplace. These, then, have an indirect effect of improving employee job satisfaction and thereby decreasing turnover. Last, as employees see a different side to their employer, respect can increase and better understanding nurtured. With all these benefits, what company wouldn’t want to promote and pursue a philanthropic effort?

What to Give? There are two primary forms of assistance that can be provided: money and manpower. Most organizations are more in need of volunteer labor than they are of monetary donations. (Although, as nonprofits find volunteers scarcer, they seek the funds to hire the labor that could otherwise be volunteered.)

Let’s start with the manpower aspect. You can provide opportunities for your staff to volunteer. They can go in groups. It is easier to go somewhere new or try something different if it is done with a friend. Plus, there is the bonus of being able to serve together; this has its own rewards. Generally, these opportunities should occur outside regular working hours. Some businesses have a provision to take time off without pay; a few even offer paid time off when volunteering. These, however, are rare, costly to the company, and generally not needed. Setting up a simple means to allow employees to know about and pursue volunteer opportunities takes little time and incurs little cost to the company.Community involvement expands networking opportunities, increases corporate standing, and generates goodwill. Click To Tweet

For many people it is easier to write a check than it is to volunteer. The same is true for businesses. If a corporate financial donation is not feasible, don’t worry about it. Having you and your staff involved is generally more important anyway. If making a financial contribution is feasible, one consideration is setting up a matching fund. This is when companies budget monies to match the donations of their employees. The employee makes the donation, submits the receipt, and the company makes a matching contribution. This, too, is quite easy to set up. Payroll deductions for charities are also an option, but more costly and time-consuming to implement. Of course, there is also the option for the business to make a direct contribution.

Where to Give? Needs exist all around your community. Find out what is already going on. Consider after school programs, food pantries, clothes closets, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens. Call your nearest school and ask how you can help. Opportunities might include “adopt-a-classroom,” reading programs, tutoring, providing back-to-school supplies, or helping with GED classes. If you have a college nearby, check with the service organizations on campus and see how you can support them. A side benefit of working with college students is that you will be interacting with potential job candidates. Just make sure that employee prospecting doesn’t become the reason for getting involved.

Who to Give To? By now, your mind is likely spinning with ideas. So many needs, so many opportunities, so much to do. It can quickly become overwhelming. Being overwhelmed leads to discouragement, which leads to inaction. The key to prevent this from occurring is to whittle down the list, identify one organization that is a good fit, and focus on how you can help them.

Start by asking your employees to make recommendations. They will tend to suggest groups which they already support with their time or money. Although only a small percentage of your staff will currently be involved with any organization, it is a great place to start. They already have a connection and an affiliation; they can acclimate others as they step forward to volunteer. You will also have some staffers who have esteem for a particular organization, but have not yet taken that first step towards involvement. Those recommendations are also worth considering. Again, their predilection towards that organization will help move things forward.

Before you make a final selection, perform a “due diligence” just as you would for an important business purchase or partnership. For nonprofits find out how long they have been in your community; check out their annual reports; ask what percentage of donations goes to overhead; see if the Better Business Bureau has a file on them or what the Chamber of Commerce may know. If things look good meet with the executive director, ask to attend a board meeting, and seek an easy way to test if you are a good fit for each other.

Regardless of the size of your business, pick just one organization to support—at least initially. It is far better to make a significant and sustained effort towards one group, then to be thinly spread to many different organizations, which will result in frustration and ineffectiveness. Once you have successfully proven your company can support one organization, then you may consider a second one, but proceed slowly and carefully. Remember that for many companies, especially smaller ones, focusing on one group is ideal.

How to Give? Once you select a group to work with and identified an initial area of service, it is time for tangible action. Ideally, company leaders should be in this first wave of volunteering, setting the example, and inspiring others to follow. As previously mentioned, it is easier to go as a group, especially for the first few times. Hopefully, there are already one or more employees who have practical volunteer experience with the organization. Let them take a lead role, comfortably easing others in and showing how things are done. In no time, everyone will be serving with practiced confidence. Then they can repeat the process with others.

It is important to remember that no matter how great the need or how rewarding the work, only a percentage of employees will take part. Also, their degree of involvement will vary greatly. This is expected, so accept it. Just make sure no one feels obligated to get involved, and remind them that volunteering is, in fact, voluntary. After all, you don’t want to serve with someone who is negative or resentful; the goal is to have fun and find fulfillment as you volunteer. Leave the naysayers at the office.

When to Give? Now! Not next month, not next year; now.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.