Category Archives: customer service

Customer Needs: One Size Does Not Fit All

Alec’s Shoes is one of New England’s most successful independent shoe stores, offering a great selection of athletic footwear, men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes, and a wide range of accessories.

But the store is known for much more than its inventory. In fact, it’s the exceptional customer service provided by the twenty-plus staff members that satisfies patrons and keeps them coming back time after time.

While this might seem like a simple approach, the store’s high level of customer service truly stands out. The floor reps are consultative, and focus on every aspect of how each pair of shoes will be used before making recommendations. They almost always offer each customer two to three choices, and customers who ask for size suggestions get both feet measured!

“Statistically, nearly twenty percent of American adults wear shoes that are the wrong size,” store owner John Koutsos explained. “And lots of people have two feet of different sizes. By measuring each customer’s actual size, both in length and width, and by considering the variation in size between their left and right foot as well as their hosiery preferences, we’re able to give them the best possible fit for both comfort and performance.”

Regardless of what type of business we’re in, gauging our customers’ and prospects’ needs requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach too. Here are a few proven best practices:

  • Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. Most know considerably less than we know about the products and services we provide; and while we may each have a number of “in-the-know” regular or long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still application-related or other nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each situation and each customer’s needs.
  • Focus on what each customer or prospect is trying to accomplish rather than on what service or product type they are “looking for” or what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that relate to each customer’s situation or how they plan to use our products and services, we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a basic or customized approach, various products, options and accessories, or possibly a specialized solution about which they were unaware.
  • Look beyond product and service needs for other hidden needs. The more we learn about our customers and prospects, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances, there are issues with respect to company policies, structure, affiliations, specialties, and buying practices that might make a difference in how we’d like to configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for service response guarantees, or the need to feel secure about a supplier’s competitive position or reputation (an important issue to the buyer who has been “burned” in the past by a less-than-reputable competitor).
  • Develop a consistent method of uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Creating a standard list of items to cover, questions to ask and options/benefits to present is one good way to develop a dependable and thorough approach. Many have also found that using this type of resource allows them to pay closer attention to each customer or prospect. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the “little things” that, when addressed, result in closing the sale or in a better customer experience (CX) and long-term customer loyalty.
  • Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence at the start can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements. A few final clarifying questions can even make the difference in getting the business, as most customers like to buy from those who show their interest and professionalism.

 

Grow Revenue Wtih Strategic Customer Service

There are many components to business development, and many ways to grow revenue; and strategic customer service is definitely one of the often-overlooked pieces of the puzzle

When asked, most people say they do their best to provide good customer service. However, the methods vary significantly and tend to be inconsistent. To maximize the effectiveness of your team’s customer service effort, it’s best to develop and implement a measurable, strategic approach that leverages your organization’s unique benefits and that can become both consistent and cultural.

Simple & Strategic
Creating a plan, setting goals, enhancing communication and monitoring results are the key elements of the process. Here are some specific ideas on how you might get started:

  • The first step is to learn three key things about your customers what they like, what they don’t like and how they feel about your organization
  • Next, identify your organization’s unique offerings from a products and services perspective (what you offer/do) as well as a brand or cultural perspective (how you offer/do it)
  • Note the alignment between these first two items, and then determine the things associated with your brand, culture and unique offerings that your customers value the most the real benefits
  • Develop a communication style that expresses these benefits in terms that are relevant to your customers (rather than to you and your staff), and create a proactive, systematic way of staying in contact with your customers
  • Define action steps that exemplify and reinforce your group’s brand and culture keep in mind, in most cases an organization’s most distinguishable assets are people
  • Create and implement a system in which your organization consistently executes the action steps and communicates in the style noted above Monitor and measure results… continually discuss and refine the process regularly include this topic on staff meeting and sales meeting agendas; find a tool (such as NPS) to continually gather relevant customer feedback, and make use of it when making decisions

Growing a business is not easy work, but it can become easier if we delight, engage, and retain our customers.

Possibly Matthew Tashjian, a Senior VP at Merrill Lynch in Hartford, CT sums it up best as he often says, “One way to make money is to not lose any!”

CX: Realities & Piftfalls

People readily acknowledge that an organization must provide “good” customer experience (CX) in order to maintain their competitive position.

In support of this perspective, here are some interesting statistics that can help quantify the value of allocating time and resources to the customer experience and to effective customer service:

  • 80-90 percent of service problems are leadership related (Deming, Juran, and Crosby)
  • Fewer than half of US executives know who their most loyal customers are (Acxiom & Loyalty 360)
  • A 5% increase in customer retention increases a company’s profits by 25% to 95%, and a 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. (Bain & Co)
  • Consumers who have stated that they have a strong relationship with a single brand, over 64% said it was because they had a “shared value” with the brand in question (Harvard Business Review)
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.(McKinsey)
  • It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
  • 55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee better service (Defaqto research)
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% (Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy)
  • 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back (1Financial Training services)
  • 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. (eConsultancy)
  • 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)

Common Pitfalls

Beware… while many have recognized the above-listed realities, they have also failed to make effective transitions that truly improve the customer experience or retention levels.

According to a recent McKinsey article, some of the most common pitfalls associated with ineffective customer experience transformations are:

  1. Lack of vision. “Many managers enter a transformation with no real vision for the organization’s future state,” the article explains. “Instead, they have a general desire to improve the customer experience and rush into action very quickly, before defining a more specific vision. Targets are often vague, devoid of aspiration, and lacking in specificity…”
  2. No top-level commitment. If the transformation effort doesn’t become a top priority for the CEO and the executive team, it will likely lose momentum or stall completely as other “priorities” arise, or when various stakeholders resist the “extra work,” or when general apathy materializes.
  3. Failure to quantify potential gains. Without a clear expectation of the anticipated return-on-investment, it can be difficult to secure sufficient resources or the necessary budget.
  4. Misaligned goals. Referenced as “heedlessness” by McKinsey, launching a customer-experience transformations based on assumptions about what matters most to customers can result in little-or-no gain and lots of frustration. “Some organizations set out to boil the ocean,” the article states. Similarly, and despite good intentions, trying to transform all parts of the business at once will seldom result in success.

What Makes Your Organization Different?

custom_crayon_box_standout_16486What is the one thing your business or organization has that none of your competitors have?

Over the past five years we have asked a great many people in all types of organizations this simple question; and while the answers initially vary, they all ultimately agree that there is only one true and sustainable differentiator…

It isn’t a product or a unique feature of a product, or even a type of service, because these can be too easily emulated. So while a one-of-a-kind product or service might serve as a short-term differentiator, neither represents the best answer.

The simple answer is: YOU!

An organization’s one true and sustainable differentiator is the people within. Collectively the people make-up an enterprise’s personality; they represent the core values, and they represent not “what” an organization does but rather “how” it is done, which ultimately makes all the difference.

Given these realities, making enterprise engagement a cultural choice within your organization is the ideal way of achieving long-term success.

Is the Customer Always Right?

highroadThe phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of London’s Selfridge’s department store.

It is frequently used by businesses to define or clarify their approach to customer service, hoping, at varying times, to convince both consumers and employees of the high levels of service and satisfaction their customers experience.

But of course, no one is “always” right, and much has been written about why the perspective that “the customer is always right” is, in fact, “wrong.” In fact, a 2014 Huffington Post article lists what author Alexander Kjerulf considers the top five reasons that customers are not always right.

Similarly, Hal Rosenbluth, founder of Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency, wrote a book about their approach called “Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt.”

Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first; that when you put employees first they will be happy at work, and employees who are happy at work give better customer service.

Regardless of your position on the matter, you might consider that the key words in the well-known phrase may not actually be the words “always right.”

Instead, the key word is “customer,” because when a customer is, in fact, wrong, they will most likely stop being a customer if they are proved to be wrong in a manner that they find offensive — in a manner that brings about loss of dignity or respect.

So maybe the better questions is, what does it mean to “take the high road” when interacting with customers or, to Mr. Rosenbluth’s point, colleagues?

As speaker David Brock once said, “Being right doesn’t mean you win!”

Know Your Customer

customerfocusI don’t think it was by chance that Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process begins with a reference to customers:

“Know your customer, know your product,
call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

Fifteen words that are as true today as they were back in the 1940’s when he was a nationally-acclaimed sales trainer and motivational speaker.

Certainly, knowing our customers is critical to long-term sales success; it is also a never-ending process, as customer knowledge should be accumulated during each and every sales call.

At the start, we get to know our customers by building relationships. These relationships are built with individuals and organizations, and are nurtured over time by learning their respective personalities, values, communication styles, interests, concerns, understandings, misunderstandings, evaluation protocols, policies and procedures; by learning about what’s important to them.

We get to know our customers better through comprehensive and on-going need assessment; by identifying needs both recognized and unrecognized, including short-term needs, emerging needs, longer-term objectives, priorities, changes, and related needs.

Then we get to know our customers even more each time we deliver the solutions to their needs in the form of our products and services. If all goes well, this too is a never-ending process!

And we come to know our customers even more by following-up after-the-fact to ensure they are satisfied, and when we provide customer service and support.

In all of these instances the primary tools-of-the-trade are probing and listening, as we will never get to know our customers through sales presentations, advertisements, promotions or talking at them; and regardless of what type of business we’re in, knowing our customers i.e., nurturing relationships and gauging on-going needs requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are five proven best practices:

  1. Proactively work on customer relationships
  2. Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choices
  3. Develop and use a consistent method for uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs (i.e., a need-assessment process)
  4. During each sales call, take an extra minute to double-check and confirm established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence before order fulfillment can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements.
  5. Diligent post-sale or post-delivery follow-up

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What is Your Organization’s Most Valuable Asset?

assetsWe came across an insightful article, “A Business’ Most Valuable Asset”  on LinkedIn written by Josh Verrill, VP of Revenue Acquisition at Dyn.

The article very nicely points out that, while there are a number of good answers such as “people, products, technology or cash,” and while the answers might vary depending upon the type of business, there is really one answer that trumps all others… and that applies to every type of business.

An organization’s most valuable asset is its customers!

In addition, the article nicely encapsulated the concept of “enterprise” engagement, where all departments and divisions (IS, sales, marketing, engineering, finance, HR, etc.) work together with the customer as the primary and common focal point.

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Engagement Beyond the Workforce!

engagement2Business leaders often think about “engagement” in terms of employee or workforce engagement, which is certainly a truly worthwhile pursuit.

However, emerging data shows that greater, even more sustainable gains can be made by engaging the full-spectrum:

  •  Workforce
  • Customers
  • Channel Partners
  • Suppliers
  • Communities

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Satisfied Customers

customer service and retention is a primary responsibility for us allIn a recent article, our associate Alan MacNaughton noted that the primary functions of any business are to get customers and keep them.

While getting customers is primarily the job of sales and marketing personnel, KEEPING those customers is the responsibility of EVERYONE in the organization, from those involved in producing the product or delivering the service, quality assurance, customer service, technical support, credit and collections, right through to the shipping personnel.

All these functions can impact (positively or negatively) how the customers perceive your company. The best (perhaps the only) way to keep customers is to insure that every customer is a SATISFIED customer.

Regardless of the type of business, insuring customer satisfaction has many benefits:

  • A dissatisfied customer is easy prey for your competitors. Conversely satisfied customers resist vendor changes
  • Satisfied customers can be your best and lowest cost sales force. They may recommend your company to others or allow you to use them as references
  • Satisfied customers tend to be less cost sensitive, and may believe that paying a modest price premium for superior service is worth it

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Paving the Road to You-know-where!

good intentionsIn the business world, many of us will set strategic plans or resolve to pursue key objectives yet struggle to implement our plans.

Our intentions are good… but, it is commonly said that the road to “you know where” is paved with these good intentions! And as the adage suggests, many of our goals will sadly join the ranks of the unachieved, falling prey to the countless emergencies and new priorities that will most assuredly present themselves in the day-to-day whirlwind in which we work.

If you’d like to take measures to avoid this oh-so-typical situation – that is, to avoid sacrificing the important in favor of the urgent, here are five ideas that might help you achieve your longer-term objectives:

  1. Set both “result” and “activity” goals. For example, many of us will plan on increasing sales revenue by X%, but fail to also set the activity goals that will generate the desired result. These may include making an extra number of sales contacts each day, attending a certain number of networking events each week or planning more customer retention meetings each month.
  2. Schedule the activities identified in step #1. Research indicates that things entered into calendars are less likely to be “postponed” or procrastinated due to other demands on our time.
  3. Keep score. Goal achievement will require documentation and consistent implementation.
  4. Measure progress and results; hold yourself and the team accountable for not only completing action steps, but also for assessing the effectiveness of each step. Make improvements or refine the approach as necessary – and be careful to avoid the usually-inaccurate conclusion that, “if the activities don’t produce the desired gains, then these activities are a waste of time!” Instead, if outcomes fall short, it’s better to reexamine execution.
  5. Hold yourself personally accountable for steps 1 through 4; lead the way!