Tag Archives: customer service

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.

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The Wow Factor: The Ten Commandments of Creating Lifetime Customers

By Tra Williams

Tra Williams-your customers

Everyone has experienced this at one time or another. What you thought was going to be a simple everyday transaction for a product or service, turned out to be an experience that earned your lifetime loyalty as a customer. Sadly, it doesn’t happen very often. Which is exactly why it’s so surprising when it does happen.

Today’s consumer-driven environment is intently focused on instant availability and for good reason. More than ever customers want immediate access and lament any speed bumps between them and the conclusion of the transaction. Immediacy has become the golden calf of customer satisfaction. Customers continually worship the quickest solution with frequent patronage, but the results of that lust for instant gratification has come at a painful price. The line between optimization and true innovation has been blurred as the customer experience has been sacrificed on the altar of speed.

Escaping this cult of self-satisfaction where likes pass for loyalty, requires you to rewrite the rules of comparison. Don’t allow the value of your product or service to be determined by an outside metric. Instead, change the game and redefine what the word value means to your customer.

Here are The Ten Commandments of value creation and earning a customer for life.

The motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no 'why'. Career Development,
  1. Technology Reduction: In today’s world of technology immersion, the human touch matters more than ever. Each escalation of technology reduces human interaction. Each reduction of human interaction is a missed opportunity to earn a lifetime customer who judges the value you provide by metrics that you define…not just speed. When someone takes real time to provide personal enhancements to an individual experience—that’s impressive. You can’t cut through the white noise with more white noise. Remember, innovative technology is usually meant to optimize our lives. Therefore, you can purchase service optimization but not service innovation. Real service innovation comes from the people within an organization, which brings us to number two.
  2. Focus on front-line staff: Your front-line staff who interact directly with your customers are the most important people in your organization. Not the owner or the VP; it’s the front line employee who is friendly and patient, who smiles all the time and who remembers the customers’ names and business needs. That person will ultimately make or break a company. Make sure your culture emphasizes treating them with the time and attention they deserve and they will treat your customers the same way.
  3. Have a real relationship with your customer: Recognize that the relationship you have with your customer should not be transactional. Of course it’s important to look for opportunities to make the transaction simpler, easier and more pleasant for the customer. But it’s also imperative that you add value to their lives in ways that are unrelated to the transaction. Look for ways to be a resource not just a provider.
  4. Develop a customer-first culture: Culture is binary. You’re either in or out. It starts with a slow and methodical hiring process. The time, money and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Take your time and hire the right people. Then focus on their development. They in turn will grow the business. Customer loyalty is built by people not in spite of them.
  5. Cultivate Reciprocity: We are hardwired to do more for those who do things for us. When it rains, Chick-fil-A has employees wearing ponchos run to people’s cars when they pull in and hold an umbrella over them while they walk inside. And then escort them back to their cars when they have finished their meal. It’s no wonder their average unit volume is three times the average of most QSRs while only being open six days a week—reciprocity.
  6. Eliminate Policies: “I’m sorry, Ma’am. That’s just our policy.”These words should never be uttered in business. They reveal to your customer that your culture values adherence to arbitrary rules more than customer satisfaction. You should have only one policy, which is—do everything within your power to exceed your customers’ expectations.
  7. Empower your team: If you’ve followed Commandment 2 and 4, then this one should be easy. Every team member should feel empowered to do what is right in each specific situation. “Let me ask my manager” tells your customer that you don’t trust your employees’ discretion or decision-making. And if you don’t trust the people you hire why should your customers trust that they will have a consistently great experience?
  8. Celebrate: Everybody loves a winner and nobody wants to be on the losing team. Customers want to feel like the money they spend is making the world a better place. Publicly celebrate your wins, your anniversaries, your employee accomplishments (both in and out of work), your growth, your community engagement, your awards and your achievements. Did one of your employees just get her Master’s? Have a baby? Compete in a triathlon? Celebrate it. This Commandment has the added advantage of developing employee loyalty as well as customer loyalty.
  9. Raise the Stakes: Service innovation inherently means that you are challenging the assumptions of traditional expectations. On the flip side of this coin is the realization that doing something new is also a new opportunity to fail. Fortunately, studies have shown that customers value your effort nearly as much as the result. As such, they are incredibly forgiving of failure so long as every effort was made to succeed. So challenge your team and yourself. Raise the stakes. Go big. Consistent yet average is still unimpressive.
  10. Have a mission: People are not motivated by what; people are motivated by why. If the goal is to make tons of money and eventually go public, then you have missed the point of this exercise entirely. Where you spend your money is a major part of your identity. Customers align themselves with organizations that mirror who they are, or at least who they’d like to be. Therefore, the motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no ‘why’.

Embrace these Commandments. Carve them into stone and bring them down from the mountain. If when you arrive you find your team obsessed with the Golden Calf of immediacy, tell them this: In today’s world of instant gratification, do not worship speed. When speed becomes the only metric by which you judge service, then true service becomes irrelevant. Instead of conjuring new ways to complete a transaction faster, make the experience so amazing that the customer will never want it to end.

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.

5 Signs it’s Time to Say ‘Goodbye’ to Your Customer

And How to Breakup the Right Way

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-to say goodbyet

Goodbye customer! It’s nothing personal (at least not usually). Sometimes customers’ expectations can’t be met, other times customers require an inordinate amount of time, and on rare occasions, a customer’s behavior may expose an organization to undue peril. When any of those situations occur, it’s best to say “goodbye” and to do so quickly in a way that creates the least resentment on both sides.

5 Signs It’s Time To Part Company And How To Say So Long:

Prolonging a relationship that isn’t working does no one any favors. It’s usually not fun to say "goodbye," but once you do, you’ll have more time to say "hello" to customers who should conduct business with you. Click To Tweet
1. They cause 80 percent of your problems and don’t contribute even close to 80 percent of your revenue.

From time to time, any customer could require more energy than others. Those high-demand situations are normal. What isn’t normal, however, is the perpetual squeaky wheel that routinely disrupts normal business operations.

Customers who buy very little and cost a lot time, personnel, or mental energy to service may not be the customers you want to keep—especially if serving them prevents you from taking care of customers or clients who are more profitable and easier to help.

Goodbye Move: When customer is more work than it’s worth to you, the easiest way to say goodbye is to rely on the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” approach.

For example: “Brad, I’m concerned. I’ve reviewed your account and have discovered that we’re doing a lot of rework and revisions to the projects we have with your firm. I’ve concluded that there has got to be someone who is a better fit for you. We’re not hitting the mark with you the way we do with our other clients. This isn’t good for you or us.”

If after that they insist on staying anyway, consider raising your rates accordingly.

2. They are abusive to your employees.

When management allows customers to abuse employees, it’s the same as perpetrating the abuse directly. Do customers swear, yell, demean, or harass your employees? If so, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and let them know what behavior is and isn’t acceptable.

“Julie, we have a no profanity rule here. Respect is one of our core values, and we’ve agreed that we don’t yell and swear at our clients or each other.”

If the bad behavior continues, the relationship should stop. “But she’s our best customer. She has a lot of sway.” Maybe so. She’s also the poison that potentially exposes the organization to a lawsuit, erodes morale, and negatively affects the culture.

Goodbye Move: When someone is abusive, again, it’s best to say goodbye and to do so in a calm and professional manner.

“Julie, you’re obviously unhappy, and my employees are too. For the benefit of everyone, at this point, I think it’s best that we part company. We both deserve better.”

3. Their behavior is out of touch with your ethics policies and practices.

You are the company you keep. If you are enabling your customers to act in a way that is in disagreement with your organization’s values or the law, it may be time to say goodbye. Do you really want to associate yourself and your organization with those whose business practices are illegal, immoral, or routinely questionable? When you like the people on a personal level, it can feel like a tough decision when you’re making it. The good news is once you do, you won’t look back.

Goodbye Move: When someone or an organization exposes you to unneeded risk, it’s prudent to disassociate yourself and your organization from them pronto.

“We’re a very conservative organization. While we understand others have a more robust appetite for risk, it’s typically something we avoid. For that reason, another vendor is probably going to better meet your needs. At this point, we’re really just not a good fit.”

4. They expose you to unneeded financial risk.

If you spend more time chasing payments than performing work, it’s time to consider a new payment plan at a minimum or a permanent breakup if that step doesn’t solve the problem.

Goodbye Move: Just as it doesn’t make sense to stay involved with someone who exposes you to ethical and legal risks, an organization that puts your pocketbook on the line is probably best avoided.

Janet, I know we’ve tried a range of payment options to make this relationship work. At this point, we simply don’t have the financial appetite to accommodate your payment schedule. For that reason, I’m asking you to find another vendor. We can’t accommodate the work.”

5. You’re no longer a good fit.

Sometimes people and organizations grow apart. Nobody has done anything wrong; the two parties are just in different places and it’s time to say goodbye.

Goodbye Move: This last goodbye is the hardest. When you find you and your customer are no longer compatible, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with something open-ended.

“Bill, tell me a little bit about how you see your business growing in the next few years.”

Assuming Bill isn’t planning for growth, you might continue with:

“It’s good to hear that you’re comfortable where you are. That’s a nice place and a future goal of ours. As you may know, we’re on a growth strategy and have been for a couple of years. What concerns me is our ability to give you the attention in the future that we’ve been able to give you in the past. I think you deserve to work with a partner company that can make your work priority number one, and right now I don’t think that’s us.”

No matter the reason, prolonging a relationship that isn’t working does no one any favors. It’s usually not fun to say “goodbye,” but once you do, you’ll have more time to say “hello” to customers who should conduct business with you.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

False Assumptions

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When people ask what I do for a living, I reply that “I publish magazines and websites for the call center industry.” Their responses are varied, as well as interesting. For some people, their eyes immediately glaze over, and they change the subject.

Others key in on the word “publish,” offering to submit their writing, regardless of suitability. Incredibly, I have been asked to publish short stories, poems, and even song lyrics in my trade magazines! Another group focuses on the word “website” and enthusiastically shares their latest triumph, as in, “Yea, I’m uniquely tapping Java to develop scalable websites guaranteed to revolutionize the vertical widget industry.” That’s when I change the subject.

The Call Center Industry

For those who zero in on the phrase “call center,” their queries predictably fall into one of four areas. The first is an unthinking reaction from those who wish to blame me for the dinnertime interruptions they receive via the telephone. This provides a chance to engage in some one-on-one industry PR work.

Unsolicited Calls

First, I agree with them that unsolicited calls are annoying. Then I assure them that I don’t encourage the calling of people who wish not to be contacted. These pronouncements surprise them. From that vantage, I can then attempt to educate them about the laws and their rights. Soon they’re nodding in agreement—though perhaps just to get me to stop talking.

Voice Mail

The second category of responses is from those who associate a particular call center technology with the industry. They may interject, saying, “Well, I just keep pressing zero until I get a real person,” or “Why do I have to enter my account number and then give it again when the person answers?” Again, I have an opportunity to educate.

Do Not Call

The next group wants to grill me about the “Do-Not-Call” (DNC) legislation. This response is especially prevalent after a deluge of automated political calls being made as a prelude to elections.

My inquisitors snicker with resigned acquiescence as I share that the politicians exempted themselves from the calling restrictions that they foisted upon everyone else. I am able to explain about “existing business relationships” and inform them that they can request to be added to the company’s internal “do not call” list. At this point, I’m not sure that they’re listening, perhaps they just want to vent—and I am the handy target.

Accents

The fourth response is the most common and perplexing. They make a statement along the lines of “I never can understand those people in other countries.”

“How do you know that the agent was in another country?” I probe. “Did you ask them?”

“Well, no, but I can tell ’cause they have an accent,” is their emphatic retort.

Their false assumption has snared them. They think that if an agent has an accent, they must be offshore; conversely an agent with no discernible accent must be in the United States. Ergo only offshore agents have hard to understand accents. I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent— apparently if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they're US-based! Click To Tweet

I have conversed with heavily accented agents who are US-based—some I understood and others were a struggle. Conversely, I have talked to accented offshore agents—some I acceptably communicated with, while others were a futile effort.

However, I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent—apparently if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they’re US-based!

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

Dealing with Cancellations

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

How does your company handle cancellations? Do you allow anyone to process terminations, quickly and without hassle? Or do you have a specific “cancellation” strategy, with a team assigned and trained to follow an exact protocol? Either approach has its strengths and limitations; both fall short of the customer’s best interest.

I once signed up for a credit card simply because of its rewards package. Although I built up a great number of points, I never redeemed them. Over time, my priorities changed and I realized I would never use them. I called to see what else they could offer. Was there another reward incentive I could switch to? Could I get cash back? How about merchandise? Are there other options they could offer?How does your company handle cancellations? Click To Tweet

The answers were “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no.”

“I guess my only option is to cancel the card,” I ventured.

“Is that what you want to do?” the agent replied matter-of-factly.

“Let me think about it,” I evaded, seeking to delay the decision.

It took awhile, but eventually all uses for that card were switched to another. I called again, this time to cancel. I was transferred to the cancellation department. This agent feigned shock at my intent and tried to dissuade me. She offered a lower rate, better terms, and more flexibility on the rewards package. Her arguments would have retained me as a cardholder, if not for the fact that they were offered too late. I cancelled the card.

This scenario has repeated itself on numerous occasions: with my cell phone provider, satellite and cable service, long distance, and local phone service. Each time, the agents answering the phone are not empowered to take steps to retain me as a customer. Each time I make careful plans, arranging for service from their competitor. When I call back to terminate my service; the cancellation department would step in and suddenly sweeten the deal. Often they offer the concessions that I wanted—and which I suspected were available all along—but not presented by their front line staff.

They express their regrets over my decision and ask me to call back if I change my mind. If only their solutions had been offered earlier in the process. Then they could have retained my patronage and saved me the aggravation of switching.

The solution seems obvious. Just pretend you are going to cancel so that you can get to the “cancellation” department on the initial call and obtain their best deal. I tried that and it went like this:

“I want to cancel my service.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me see what I can do.” I wait, expecting to be transferred. After a few seconds, the agent announces, “Okay, your service has been cancelled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

I am too embarrassed to ask that it be reinstated, so I thank the agent and hang up.

In the first examples, the staff was trained and empowered to retain me as a customer were interjected too late into the process; my decision had been made, the alternative in place, and my call was mere formality to end the process.

In the latter scenario, the agent was empowered, but apathetic and untrained. She was highly efficient, but completely ineffective.

There has to be a better way.

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