Tag Archives: customer service

Great Expectations: The 4 Foundational C’s of the Customer Experience

By Tra Williams 

Tra Williams

Remember the old saying that if you never expect anything then you’ll never be disappointed? Well, that might work on blind dates and birthday presents, but in business, expectations are impossible to avoid. For every action that a customer takes, there was an expectation that preceded it. Obviously, customers take action because they believe that action will yield a specific result. Over time, that belief—that something will or won’t happen—is solidified. It discourages or encourages future action. The resulting momentum, for good or bad, reaffirms their belief. The cycle is then perpetuated and a customer’s loyalty is either lost or gained.

This simple psychological loop is perpetuated by whether your business failed to meet, met or exceeded a customer’s preconceived notions. In short, customer expectations define the customer experience.

Fortunately, if you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide.  There are four foundational elements that define your customers’ expectations. Mastering all four is the key to exceeding your customers’ expectations every time and keeping that customer for life.

If you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide. Click To Tweet

1. Culture—Who you are is the key to what you should do and how you should do it.  

Every potential customer begins to build a mental profile of your business the moment he becomes aware that it exists. Millions of years of evolution have hardwired us to save mental energy by recognizing patterns that predict the world around us. As a result, your potential customer immediately and unconsciously makes assumptions about what to expect from the culture she observes. Subtle and not so subtle clues convey information and frame the expected tone of your interaction even before your initial contact. The cleanliness of your parking lot, the options on your automated answering service, and the wrinkles and stains on your employees’ uniforms all add to the story that you are already telling.

The story begins with your logo and your branding; they tell their own story. But your messaging and the medium through which it travels also reveal hidden truths about the culture of your business. More often than not, your culture defines your service level but not your messaging. And if the reality of your service falls short of the expectations defined by your messaging, the customer feels duped and is less likely to return.

The key to mastering this element is to maintain consistency between your branding and messaging and the reality of the service that you provide.

2. Credibility—An impressive depth of knowledge is nothing without parallel performance and vice versa.

Imagine you are interviewing a potential financial advisor who is vying for your business. He has degrees on his wall behind his mahogany desk along with various certificates showing him to be well-educated. He answers your questions clearly and succinctly without too much industry jargon, and by all accounts, conveys confidence in his abilities and authority over his domain. However, the prospectus for his recommended investments shows below-market performance every year for the past ten years. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Probably not.

Now reverse the scenario. Imagine he has consistently outperformed the market for ten years, but during the interview, he sounds uneducated and is unable to answer questions about why or how that performance was achieved.  Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Again, probably not.

The point is that your customer makes assumptions about your credibility because of and sometimes in spite of your performance. Knowledge of your industry isn’t enough. Comparably, past performance isn’t enough.

The key to mastering this element is to know why and how not just one or the other. 

3. Capacity—Revenues will not materialize without the infrastructure they require.

Entrepreneurs and business owners are by definition resourceful. Not only have they recognized and seized the opportunity, but they have also navigated a complex process. However, once the business is operational, their minds often transition from a focus on opportunity and innovation to a focus on reduction and optimization.  Corners are often cut and resources are limited in the name of costs.

Imagine you are looking for a restaurant to host your engagement party. Which restaurant would you choose—A) an understaffed restaurant where the food is always amazing or B) a restaurant with amazing service where the food is always good?  Most would choose restaurant B because the quality of your product has nothing to do with your scalability.

How you execute at a smaller level creates the expectations in the minds of customers for your ability to execute at a larger level. Would you actually prefer to earn a few extra dollars if doing so limited the growth of your business? Doubtful. In the end, nothing is more costly than playing it safe.

The key to mastering this element is to realize that preparation actually creates opportunity.

5. Command—Your command over the process should eliminate customer effort.

Customers expect results without effort on their part. After all, why would they pay you if they have to work? But work in this instance isn’t just the service you provide, it is also the effort a customer must exert to yield results. Obviously, if a customer has to call multiple times and talk to multiple people to yield results, your process has failed and you have likely lost that customer’s business.  On the contrary, effortless results yields repeat business.

If you haven’t mapped your customer flow, you should do so immediately. If you have, take a look at it and note each time the customer is required to act in any way or left wondering what to do next. Paperwork, phone calls, appointments, hold times and commutes are all work for the customer. You must take command of the process and limit the effort your customer exerts…especially during your very first interaction. Doing so will create the expectation that calling you yields effortless results. 

The key to mastering this element is clear communication of a well-defined and effortless process.

The point is, customers, choose to frequent businesses that consistently meet or exceed their expectations and they form their expectations before they ever walk in the door or pick up the phone. Your culture, credibility, capacity, and command define whether you exceed their expectations and gain a customer for life or fall short and send them to a competitor. 

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit www.TraWilliams.com.

The Perfect Answer: The Ideal Way to Answer Your Phone and Make a Great Impression

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-answer your phone

How often have you called a company and wondered if you reached the right number? All too often, busy people answer calls hurriedly, haphazardly, or incompletely. Or perhaps the receptionist seems out of breath after spitting out a lengthy, tongue-twisting greeting. Also, it’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way.

There are three parts to the ideal phrase to answer the phone:

It’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way. Click To Tweet

1) Greeting

The greeting is simply “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” During the holiday season, “Happy holidays,” or “Season’s greetings” may be used. The greeting lets the caller know someone has answered and that it’s time to listen. If the caller lacks focus or needs to adjust his or her ears to catch your phrasing, pace, or accent, the greeting gives time for this to happen, but the phrase is also not critical if it’s missed. Lastly, the greeting serves to set a positive tone for the call.

2) Company Identity

The company identity is simply the name of your organization, such as, “Acme Industries.” It lets callers know who they have reached, thereby confirming they dialed correctly. In general, state the company name as people outside your organization typically say it. Therefore, you should generally drop legal suffixes, such as Inc, LLC, and Ltd, or other formal elements that would confuse the caller rather than clarify. For the same reason, don’t shorten or abbreviate the company name, either. Saying “AI” when everyone knows you as “Acme Industries” serves no useful purpose.

3) Your Name

The final element is your first name. This adds a valuable personal touch. It’s much easier for a caller to get mad at an anonymous voice, than a real person with a name. Using your name also allows you to build a rapport and establish a personal connection with the caller. As the last word of the perfect answer phrase, it is also the one most easily remembered by the caller. Omitting your name implies a lack of personal interest. Ending with your name signals confidence and competence, which are critical in problem-solving and customer service situations.

Avoid Unnecessary Addendums

It’s all too common for people to tack on the ridiculous phrase, “How may I direct your call?” A direct response to this senseless question is “quickly and accurately.” This is not effective communication; drop pointless embellishments.

Putting these elements together results in the perfect answer:

“Good morning, Acme Industries, this is Fred.”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

A Shocking Experience

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When I call a contact center, I pay special attention to what happens. I can’t help it. Over the years I have evaluated and critiqued enough calls that it has become habit, even though I no longer need to do so. Fortunately, this tendency provides anecdotal fodder for articles and the occasional righteous rant.

One call I made, years ago, indeed, shocking, not for any deficiency or appalling behavior, but because it was so good. Sadly, I have become so conditioned to sub-par and ineffective phone support, that I am surprised when professionalism and efficacy actually occur how—disheartening. This whole realization was quite shocking to me. I have spent most of my adult life passionately working in and diligently promoting an industry from which I have begrudgingly acquiesced to accept mediocrity.

Here’s my saga. A few weeks ago before that, I received a subscription invoice for a magazine I had never heard of nor received. This is not unexpected; it seems to happen often. I politely wrote “please cancel” on the invoice and returned it in their pre-paid envelope, hoping to be done with the whole affair.

A few days later, the magazine arrived. I looked at it and realized that it might be worth reading. I enjoyed it and wished I hadn’t cancelled it. (In retrospect, it is likely that, on a whim, I did request it, but I have no recollection of doing so.)

I pondered what to do. I wasn’t fair that the publisher had sent me the magazine in good faith but wasn’t going to be paid for it. I also wanted to ensure that I received future issues without interruption. Frankly, I wondered if I had the fortitude to contact the publisher in order to attempt to resolve it.

Notice that I said “attempt to resolve it.” Overall recent experience had so numbed my expectations that I was doubtful of a successful outcome. How many phone calls would I need to make? How many times would I be transferred to the wrong person or department? Would I be cut off or hung up on? Would I be told to call another number and then another, only to be referred back to the first? Would I be able to understand and effectively communicate with the agent? Would they comprehend the situation and know what to do? Could I end up making matters worse?

These questions permeated my mind, and they were all based on frustrating and fruitless experience. I gathered my resolve, actually blocking out time to focus on this formidable task.

Thankfully, things got off to a good start when I quickly located a clearly labeled “subscription number” number in the magazine. It was a toll-free call, which was another bonus. Even so, I took a deep breath before I dialed the number.

I began counting rings (an old habit). One ring, two… and it was answered! The agent was both pleasant and professional. She seemed happy to talk to me. She was easily understandable, speaking the same dialect of English as me. I explained my dilemma and she immediately grasped it. No transfer, no pondering, no delays. “I can take care of it,” she said confidently.” And she did.

Pleasantly and effectively resolving an issue on the first call isn’t hard to do, but in my experience it is shockingly rare.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Strategies for Remaining Indispensable at Work: Proving Your Value

By Michele Wierzgac, MSEd

Michele Wierzgac-brand champions

The economy is booming—great! But wait—organizations continue to focus on cutting labor costs. Why? Labor costs comprise 80 percent or more of an organization’s operating costs. This fact clearly creates another problem among the workforceprotecting your job.

How then can you remain indispensable at work? By bringing attention to the value of what you do. How do you do that? By focusing on where the organization is going rather than on the procedural or day-to-day maintenance issues of your position. Begin thinking of how you contribute to the success of the organization. Do you know what the top business issues are within your organization?

1. See Their Point of View

Enhance your role as a team player by demonstrating a sincere interest in your company and looking at issues from the employer’s viewpoint. If it is the cost of labor that is forcing companies to cut back within your department, get together with your boss and figure out ways to merge systems, cut costs, negotiate spending, or merge tasks between departments. Often in companies where there are several departments duplicating efforts, redundancies can be eliminated.

2. Talk in Sound Bites

Concentrate on improving communication with your employer. Think about how your listener will receive the message. Put yourself in the listener’s shoes and anticipate how he or she might react. Learn to talk in sound bitesquick and fast. Bosses want the summary, not all the details.

Strive to be that one shining employee. Click To Tweet

3. Find a Mentor

To be the most indispensable employee you can be, get a coach. Surround yourself with mentors and coaches from inside and outside your industry. How do you get a coach? Look around your informal and formal networks and figure out who you would like to emulate. Whose skills and career path do you admire? Then just ask if he or she will mentor you. Most of the time, people are flattered that they have been asked. It does not take much time, perhaps just a 45-minute phone call once every three months. You tell them what is going on and they give you simple advice to get back on track.

5. Recruit Brand Champions

You are a brand! Who supports you? Who are the people that are always spreading the good news about you? These are your brand champions. It is critical that you update your friends, family, colleagues, parents at PTA meetings, and anyone else you know about what you are doing or what you want to do. Why? Because your networks are filled with the power and credibility to spread the word about you. To begin with you need to understand the difference between formal networks (professional organizations that you pay dues to, with regulations, meetings and guidelines) and informal networks (people you meet in the lobby of a hotel or on an airplane or through hobbies). Social networks are a hybrid of the two. Next, you need to communicate to your brand champions about your work, your talents, and changes you are thinking about. If you need a favor, ask, and reciprocate by asking what you can do for them in return. Send out regular alerts through your grapevine and share your success stories. Start a buzz and you will be amazed at what happens.

6. Safeguard Your Reputation

A brand creates an image of trust and loyalty over time. It takes years to build a name, reputation, and networksand takes a minute to lose it all. Always protect your name. See what others are saying about you. The key to leadership is listening to criticism and self-correcting. When a mentor gives you criticism about something you are perhaps not thinking about, it takes courage to change.  You must earn credibility, not expect it. Be prepared to spend years on earning credibility.

A Final Thought

Every workplace has that one employee that everyone goes to for answers to their problems. They know everyone and they know how to get things done. Strive to be that one shining employee by following these steps. Remember, being a key member of a team has the biggest benefit—job security.

Michele Wierzgac is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author of the forthcoming book, Ass Kicking Women: How They Leverage Their Informal Networks For Success. With her high energy presentations, Michele conveys sound leadership solutions and promotes audience engagement and on-your-feet participation. She promises her audience that they will leave her solution-driven keynotes and workshops with at least one passionate, life transforming leadership tool. For more information on bringing in Michele Wierzgac for your next event, please visit: https://micheleandco.com.

The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

The idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas Stations

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, self-service

First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic—or more—on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked—which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”)—though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

There are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not. Click To Tweet

Food

Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there—and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things—but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster—providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel

Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple of hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking

The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust

The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue

Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to—complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center—a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Save