From November 2010

Forget the wow. Customer service just shouldn’t suck.

A company that gets it

Customer service is one of my hot buttons. And getting hotter. I wrote about a restaurant experience recently and provided feedback via email. My expectation was a simple acknowledgment, but nothing. Makes me think they give customer feedback mere lip service. Maybe they’re not as interested as I thought, and makes me less inclined to return. Plenty of other options around.

Over Thanksgiving, we stayed at the downtown Holiday Inn in Everett, Washington and were thrilled that they allowed us to bring our ailing Schnauzer at the last minute (turns out they are pet-friendly for a fee). Their desk staff was gracious, made us feel welcome and the rooms nicely updated. We also enjoyed their complimentary breakfast Thanksgiving morning before heading over to my in-laws. Again the staff was very friendly. All’s good. Holiday Inn

Then Friday happened. There was a crowd of people at breakfast – many who came down from Canada for black Friday and a hockey team dropping in for a bite for which the back dining section was reserved. No one greeted us at the front “Wait to be seated” sign. The guest behind jumped ahead and asked a nearby staff if they could take it to the room. When we asked, she snapped that there were lots of people waiting. No tables. Grab your food and take it out. And what’s your room number? No offer to put us on the list. Service with a scowl?

So we grabbed our food and were heading out when we saw my sister-inlaw’s family at a table. They invited us to join them so we did. Shortly thereafter many tables cleared out and were not filled again. So much for all the people waiting. Not once did someone come by with coffee let alone a smile like the day before. And thus, no tip either.

We don’t expect much. Just a smile and a hello is fine. Like we got the day prior. It’s just not THAT HARD! A company doesn’t have to wow. They just have to act like they care you’re there regardless if it’s busy or slow. The bar’s not that high: just don’t suck. Fortunately, they did okay on the other areas, but it’s these interactions that sour the experience.

Here are my 6 simple rules for acceptable customer service ANY hospitality/service business can and should follow:

  • Acknowledge and smile at a customer when they arrive.
  • If people need to wait, set the expectations. Don’t leave ‘em hanging. Or act like they’re invisible. We pick up on that.
  • Check in at least once. Ask us how everything’s going. It’s not likely we’ll need much, but we appreciate that you recognize we don’t have the keys to the kitchen or supply cabinet.
  • Make sure everyone who has contact with customers has the ability to be polite – especially if the customer is polite also. (Having worked retail way back when, I know how difficult customer service can be). Be politely firm when you need to, but suck it up.
  • Make sure these same people have a clue where to turn to problem solve. Or at least attempt to problem solve.
  • Say thank you at the end of the transaction.

See? Not that tough. But if you want to up your game and actually deliver a little wow:

  • Find out what the customer is doing – vacation, business? Special occasion, casual dinner?
  • Discover common grounds, make them feel like you really appreciate they’re there. Only requires a little chit chat – not a lot of effort. You’re not looking for their life story
  • Anticipate their needs before they ask. It’s so rare that you’ll score major points here.
  • When issues arise, resolve them with the least inconvenience to the customer – don’t make them jump through hoops to find answers. And if you can’t, just make sure they’re not left hanging. Provide closure.
  • Let them know you really appreciate them joining you and hope they’ll return.
  • And for major points, depending on the scope of the experience, send a handwritten note of thanks. Particularly if they’re repeat customers, brought a large group, etc.

See any common threads in the above? Each of these requires good people skills. Nothing fancy. But you as a leader need to provide the training and culture to create the environment where these rules become habit. You need to show you care about your team members delivering the service. It’s really not that hard. But how many times are you disappointed?

I’ll end by sharing my experience last weekend with Comcast. Before our Thanksgiving trip north our internet quit. Knowing it might not be a quick fix, I tackled it when we returned. After my own attempts failed I called Comcast’s 800 number. At first I was going through their automated system, troubleshooting based on each prompt. After less than 5 minutes, Matt – a live person came online. Whoa there. And he proceeded to take me through the process of resetting the modem, connecting the cable, yada yada. Patiently.

When we determined it was a failed router, he mentioned Fry’s had a deal on one for $20. He was fast, personable – and demonstrated a genuine desire to help. All in less than 10 minutes. I hung up with a smile. That simple interaction – because it was unexpected – created a little wow. It may seem silly to some, but it shows the little things matter. And a big company, if they choose, can deliver customer service that doesn’t suck.

So companies big and small, this is an open plea to not suck at customer service. You can do it. Really.

Spending money, silo busting, ROI is messy, and brainy management

Branding has changed in the digital age and marketers are spending their money in the wrong places according to this article in HBR. No longer does the traditional marketing funnel work. Customers are engaging and bonding long after the purchase – and talking about it. Good or bad. Therefore, brand stewards need to connect and monitor many of these digital touchpoints to create a more comprehensive brand experience – and this requires leadership from the executive level. It’s an opportunity for leadership.

Break down the silos is the point of this article. Social media is not another marketing channel but another component of an integrated marketing program – along with PR and all other marketing channels. It’s not a forum for one-way messaging but a way to create community. Very much a part of addressing how customers engage with a brand post purchase (see above). Scott Monty has done a great job at Ford breaking down silos. Surely if he can do it at a traditional big company, it’s proof it can be done. And should. Don’t wait. Silos are dead. They don’t help anybody. Especially where the rubber meets the road: your customers.

ROI is the holy grail of finance. You’re either getting a return or your not – and have to justify expenses based on expected results. Karima Catherine distills the issues surrounding ROI very clearly in this post – talking about how there are currently no clear benchmarks in social media to measure it. And to talk about it generally is to be vague and, well, not very useful. And that’s the problem – you can’t put social media into a tidy ROI spreadsheet. It’s messy. She suggests that rather than strict ROI there are other metrics with which to evaluate and measure success.

Managing with the brain in mind. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to understanding how the brain works and how it’s influenced by our interactions. And how marketers influence our emotions. Neuroscience is a relatively new discipline in marketing, but this detailed article talks about how the brain responds in the workplace – to positive and negative experiences. Many might think that we go to work to earn a paycheck. But there’s a complex social system behind how we approach work. And as a manager if you don’t understand that, you risk demotivating and disengaging your teams. Understanding how the brain operates helps you refine your approach to managing – and increasing morale, which increases performance which . . . . It’s a virtuous cycle. Take advantage of it and I believe everyone is rewarded.

One of the things I really appreciate about Geoff Livingston is his approach to engagement – preferring quality and relationships over mass appeal. He’s like the slow food movement of the social web – not worrying about followers and influence but whether or not he’s making a difference in someone’s life. Maybe I’m reacting to this because I’m personally exhausted from the me-too drivel out there and am looking for meaning out of the endless noise myself. But I really think he’s on to something here.

On differentiation, the three Ds, value and thinking bigger

Having recently moved in-house Shiv Singh talks about the differences between agency and corporate life – and how from the inside, agencies don’t look all that different. I agree – it’s hard to tell many apart. He gets right to the core of the challenges of advertising and branding in the digital age. How it’s much harder and requires that we overcome biases to be effective. Agencies and marketers alike need to read this. Because we’re all in this together.

#imcchat is always a great use of an hour and this week focused on the three D’s of customer experience drawing on this post @bethharte assigned as our ‘homework’.  The three D’s are designing the experience, delivering it through collaboration and developing capabilities to repeat the process.

Everyone loves lists. Things you can quickly read and quickly check off. From @lisapetrilli, this is a great list for leaders from a CEO – seven tips for success. If you’re looking for the how, you won’t find it here – just the what. I especially liked ‘Good Communication is not enough’ and the need to ‘Embrace uncertainty.” Food for the noggin.

Not a salacious read/viewing, but important. This is something people who started internet companies w/hype and no product failed to learn (and so they failed). The four principles of value creation is an hour-long tutorial by McKinsey that’s good for communicators and product developers alike.. Particularly if you don’t have a finance background it gives you the key principles executives need to and do focus on. This builds on Valeria’s post on value creation for content developers I shared last week.

Think bigger because the world needs you too. If you’re tired of hearing about all of the personal branding and “Imasocialmediaconsultant” chatter, this post is for you. I’m a big fan of the concept of show, don’t tell one of my early college professors hammered into our heads. Olivier offers solid words on bringing substance to the table. Ties nicely with the concept of value creation mentioned above. Don’t be person number 3. Be number 2. Read and you’ll know why.

Quick. What is a restaurant’s strongest or weakest link?

Last night my wife and I stopped into a local Lake Oswego restaurant to cap off the evening after a Blazer Game and take advantage of fact we had a sitter. We debated whether to go home and chat versus stay out a bit longer, looking for a place with a nice atmosphere.

So we settled on a popular place that caters to the business clientele near her office – and a place she often takes clients and referral partners to talk shop.

A dark and rainy fall night, we were welcomed by friendly front staff.  We went to their bar to enjoy a glass of wine and their late happy hour menu.

Bathed in rich tones and warm lighting, you could say the atmosphere exuded business elegance with great value. They clearly got the experience, with nice wine glasses, well-crafted comfort food. It’s an easy place to be. Tiffany (that is her real name) is where the experience fell apart. And highlights how you can execute all of the other details with precision, but fail on front line customer service and the whole experience falls flat.

It started when I asked about the Underwood Pinot Noir – not good at all she said with a wrinkled nose. And recommended the other two offerings. (9.50 / 10.50/glass vs. $6.95). Rather than slamming her menu, she could have said it wasn’t her favorite or not the best while promoting the alternatives.

She left abruptly while we pondered our selections. We ordered neither, opting for a Chardonnay and a rich red blend instead. She barely smiled when taking our order. Dropped the check off without a word (but did refill our water glass once). Took our card and returned with nary a word. Not even a ‘thanks for coming in.’ How hard would that be? I can’t remember when the server didn’t at least say thanks. Or “I’ll take your check whenever you’re ready.” Not a word was said.

I had observed her interactions with other customers and it was with mechanical precision she operated. But these are customers. We’re customers. Real people. Not machines. Having grown up working retail, I understand how tough serving the public can be. But on this night, I can assure you, it was not a high-stress crowd – the tone was very relaxed and subdued. No busy rush to contend with.

It was clear Tiffany did not enjoy her job. It was just a paycheck. Nothing wrong with a paycheck, but in a service position, you at least need to fake it that you care. Someone who thrives in the role tries to find out what brought you in. Had you been in before?

With so many choices, a restaurant can’t afford to fail on the front line. I’m willing to give them a second chance because my wife has had good experiences before. And it wasn’t as bad as another Lake Oswego restaurant that was so beyond rude I will never give them another shot.

I do think this place cares about their customers. They include a comment card with the bill and you can bet I sent my feedback.

So what if we were there for a late night cap. They’re open for that. If Tiffany had made us feel welcome, even though we didn’t order or spend much, her tip may have reflected her great service and been far above the 20% norm. But she didn’t. She didn’t seem to care. And I left 10% ($2.00) which my wife thought was even too generous. All Tiffany had to do was care. We’re not looking to be best friends. Just to know that our business is appreciated.

What was ultimately missed:

The opportunity to create community. This is a restaurant that caters largely to business. Regardless of when you go, you never know the potential for repeat business from patrons. A late night snack could lead to many repeat visits at other times. And referrals.

Your brand is only as good as the people on the front lines. The front staff were gracious when we arrived and when we left. Showed me that they’ve invested in training, and what service means. You can (and should) invest in design – light, finishes, mood all work together. It’s the details. But they can’t compensate for rude service. But great service can compensate for some flaws in design of the built environment.

The restaurant will get a second chance. I just hope the next server exudes a little passion for his or her job. Because that’s what makes or breaks a restaurant experience.  And may be why so many fail.

Think before you tinker, wake up from your dream, know that it’s possible to fail and more.

Strategy, results and community are things I spend a lot of time thinking about. What you’ll find this week is a series of posts that focus on just that. I hope they get you thinking about your marketing and inspire ways to move forward.

What did happen to Little Caesar’s? Marketers always think they need to tinker. Almost to prove they’re doing something even if the current program is working well. I get the desire to put your stamp on the creative and the programs, but think you really need to look holistically at the situation. Rather than blow everything up, maybe there’s an untapped application or audience for the program? Maybe it’s about engagement vs. creative. Don’t assume, like Gap did, that you gotta change the logo to move product. Sometimes it backfires. Take Little Caesar’s. Once a $2.1 billion brand, heavily diluted with extensions, campaigns and whatnot, it’s now just $1.2 billion. Pay attention to the lessons discussed here. They’re valuable.

Wise contrarian Bob Hoffman talks about the digital dream world we’re in. Where we actually think consumers want a relationships but really just want a great deal. Similar to the dream of interactive media which turned out to be notsointeractive. Time to wake up.

Perhaps my most powerful read was about the psychology of failure by Olivier Blanchard. Long but worth every word it he talks about how failure actually is an option. And goes on to talk about a personal example in which he and his team designed  a category-changing product, about as sure a success as you could hope for, only to have it killed by the CEO just before launch. Even in the face of hard data. Talk about a morale buster. He also provides examples of supposedly successful social media campaigns that aren’t. And the incompetence abounding among social media practitioners. Take the time to digest this one. h

Margie Clayman is one of the coolest people I’ve recently met on Twitter.If you don’t know her, connect now. She seems to be everywhere these days and wrote a great post about #usguys which I mentioned last Friday. And started a Saturday evening chat #Tweetdiner to provide a place to hang out on Twitter. Basically we’re the social media garage, exploring trends, issues, tactics discussing what works and what doesn’t in 140 character snippets. What she talks about is the power of social media – if you’re willing to put in the time, be authentic and reciprocate. It’s not a place for takers or the impatient.

This is a concept that I think about a lot – capturing the value of what you create. Valeria provides good grounding on approaching content creation and gets you thinking about how to translate your content into something valuable. Something that provides a return for you the creator. Tough given the amount of free content out there. You can’t just write and hope the traffic and money will follow. Especially for the independent creator. Everyone needs to think or start thinking about this. Have a strategy and a purpose. Know where you want to go with your content. There’s a bit difference between value creation and value capture.