Text And Drive Business

I think of a life lesson each day and share it on this blog. The lesson can be about anything I have learned and applied to my life (or am trying to apply), but it can not be a “fun fact” or just something I heard and am repeating but have not actually learned or applied. Here is today’s lesson…

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The collision shop where my car is being repaired sends me text updates. Things like, “The repairs are going great! We are waiting on X part to come in, scheduled to arrive tomorrow. ETA is still 10/21.” I can reply to the texts and ask for more info or just say thanks or ask them to call me. It’s great.

I hired a cat-sitter last year and every day, he emailed a picture of my cat and a full food bowl, and shot me a message detailing everything the cat did (or didn’t do) while he was at our place.

When I was a top-selling District Manager, one of the tactics my top store employed was to build a texting relationship with their customers, and the customers loved it. Customers would send pictures of their vacation and make jokes with their sales rep, and the sales rep would remind them when it was time to buy a phone. The customers, who had now become friends, would almost always show up. (A cautionary tale, too: later, the company realized the power of using texts and mandated and standardized regular text blasts which ended up damaging many of those relationships.)

One more: my salon lets me schedule my hair appointment on their website with an interactive calendar. I don’t have to call, be put on hold, and then work through several options. I just click and I am done. The day before, I get a text reminder and an email reminding me of the appointment and the stylist’s name.

Smart companies leverage technology in novel ways. I love the text updates my collision shop, hair salon, and local health food store send me. I am not a fan of the endless Twitter commercials and canned social media messages I see from my apartment complex or big, faceless brands. I don’t care about 5 Ways I  Can Save Closet Space. I care when the local Farmers Market is open or what cool, new thing the community is working on.

It is the personal relationship that seemingly impersonal technology can deliver that makes me feel valued, inspires me to want to buy, or compels me to return to a business.

How does your team use technology to build actual, personal relationships? How does your team use tech to damage those relationships or ignore them altogether? (Hint: if I can Tweet to Robert Downey Jr. and have an authentic reply or even a conversation, then why on earth should I not expect a response to a Tweet or text to my mechanic?)

 

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Where Does Customer Service Start?

I reflect on each day to find one lesson I learned from it. Then I share each lesson on this blog.

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Nicole and I live in a beautiful apartment complex. The grounds are well-maintained, our apartments have premium fixtures, we have a great veranda, and the community has outstanding facilities, like a resort-style pool and full workout areas with Yoga props, boxing bags, and more. All that is great but we can barely wait to move out.

Despite all the amenities and premium features, the company that owns it seems absolutely clueless (or remarkably careless) about their customer experience. As long as nothing goes wrong, it is a fine place to live. As soon as you have a problem (such as sprinkler heads breaking through the ceiling or the apartment rent payment portal being down), it is as if the management company races to show you how bad they can perform.

No matter how nice the polish is, if you stand on a rusty, deteriorating foundation then you will not be standing for long.

What really struck me today, though, was that I realized this philosophy of poor customer experience was not incidental. I thought surely someplace putting so much attention to detail on the grounds and interior must just be suffering from a rash of bad hiring or training practices. No company culture could be so dysfunctional that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to please customers at the root of their business.

Then I looked at the parking lot. Directly in front of our building, there is one available parking space. The other parking spaces are across the road or in front of the adjacent building (and there are only 3 spots in front of that building). There are three floors to the apartment building, which means everyone on the second or third floor have quite a long haul each week when they do things like unload groceries or have furniture delivered. (Incidentally there is no elevator, either, causing many of our packages to be dropped at our downstairs neighbor’s doorstep–an astounding feat of laziness by our UPS driver–but I don’t blame him for the apartment’s bad design).

The point about the parking lot is this: when there is only one decent parking spot, it creates a sadistic rush among tenants to secure and hold onto that spot. When you pull into the complex with 8 bags of groceries and you see that spot is taken (it’s always taken), you can not help but curse under your breath. Worse, you start paying attention to who holds the spot the most and begin questioning the fairness of the parking situation.

It is silly to stress over a single parking spot each day. And yet… that is the experience our apartment is literally built upon.

As a brand, company, or even just a team within your organization, when you start by encouraging your customers to hate each other, how can you expect them to love you? (Call centers with infuriatingly long hold times… I’m looking at you…)

Understanding that customer service starts even before a customer pulls into your parking lot is a good place to begin thinking about how your customer’s experience will end (in a blog post ratting you out or in a recommendation to a friend?).

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Your Worst Customer

Every day I think about a lesson learned over the past 48 hours–a real life-lesson I can apply to my life and share with you. Here is what I thought about today…

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I am still unhappy with my experience flying Delta recently. I paid an up-charge for a seat that was double-booked (and it was not refunded to me). I was stuck behind a crying, stinky baby (not Delta’s fault, except I should not have been in that seat but rather in the seat I paid for). The air conditioning unit on the plane went out and we were stuck on the tarmac for nearly an hour as the temperature rose until the mechanics could arrive and turn the unit off and then back on, which worked. The worst part, though, was that once we were in the air, they made us listen to a 2-minute promotion for some airline credit card. Forcing a captive audience to hear your scammy sales pitch has to be a new low in Marketing. What a shame.

I have been debating trying to contact Delta about my experience (I did tweet about it as it was happening) but the thing is, I am rather busy. I am writing this blog, I work full-time, and I have hobbies and social obligations. In the end, sending a letter potentially into limbo is not worth my time, and that got me thinking…

Your worst customer is not the one who keeps coming back and complaining. Your worst customer is not the one your employees dread as soon as they see them walk through the door. It is not the customer you avoid. It is not even the customer who is trying to scam you.

Your worst customer is the one that never comes back.

How many sales have you (or your team or your company) let slip through the cracks? How many people have had a bad experience but never tell you about it? They tell everyone else when it comes up in conversation, but they never take the time to tell you because they are too busy, tired, or ambivalent about it? After all, there are a lot of other airlines and choices out there.

Get to know your worst customers before they get to forget about you.

 

 

 

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Unexpected Benefit of Being Vegan

Vegans enjoy better customer service (for now).

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Out with our friend at a pizza place, the waitress walked up to our table and greeted us. She said, “Hi guys. Are you ready to order drinks? I’ll bring the vegan bruschetta right out…”

She recognized us from our last visit, weeks before. This was not a vegan restaurant so obviously we stood out in her mind (we were also seated at the same table as before, which probably helped). Still, it was pretty cool to be recognized and served well.

Usually, being vegan only makes you feel ostracized and singled out but occasionally it has its perks. It also makes you memorable, and if you are friendly, frequent the same places, and tip well, it can help you jump ahead in line.

#VeganWinning.

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How To Lose a Customer in 3 Easy Steps!

Today’s Lesson: You lose a customer for the same reasons you lose a lover… a relationship is a relationship. Healthy people get out of bad ones.

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Our current car insurance agent has been virtually useless in helping us buy our new cars. In fact, they were the only bad part of the process. I don’t want to call this particular agent out by name so let’s just say their name sounds a lot like “State Farm”. Like, really close to “State Farm”. It actually is “State Farm.”

What prompted the new car purchase was being rear-ended by someone a couple weeks ago. Our current insurance agent was not very helpful then, either. In fact, they were again the worst part of the process. Once they determined it was the other driver’s fault, they refused to help me any further in the process. However, the person that hit my car had a different insurance company (let’s just call that company “Geico” to keep it anonymous) and throughout the process, “Geico” was proactive, friendly, informative, and responsive.

Not only did the company we are calling “Geico” explain exactly what steps would be taken by when, but they also determined my old car was going to be a total loss and paid me more than current Blue Book value for it. Quite a different customer experience… and I am not their customer (though I might be soon!).

The point is this: Your customers (even the “loyal” ones) do not have to think you suck before they choose to leave. They just have to know they will be treated better by someone else.

3 easy steps to lose a customer:

1. Show you do not care about them (or worse, that you are indifferent to having them as a customer).

2. Do not communicate with your customer, especially when they ask or need or want you to.

3. Wait for your competition to solve their problem better than you were willing to (ahem… *cough*notetoVerizon…*cough*T-Mobile…*cough*).

 

One more note that might be important… we are definitely shopping around for a better insurance provider, and of course, Geico is high on the list but may not be the one we go with, despite the great experience I have had with them. We like to have our renters and auto insurance with the same provider–keeps it easy and usually garners an extra discount. Geico does not offer that (at least not in our area).

I share this to illustrate you do not have to lose your customer to your direct competitor. The customer does not even need to know you suck. They just need to know someone else–anyone else–will treat them better.

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Why Customer Service Sucks

We have had bad customer experiences despite being promised great service. Why? I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you…

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Yesterday, I wrote about a great customer experience I had. It was so good and so simple it made me wonder why many businesses and entrepreneurs miss the mark on delivering service.

I assert businesses only fail at customer service and customer loyalty for one reason.

Customers are never let down by poor quality products (or IKEA would not be a world-class brand). They are never let down by bad service (or McDonald’s would have been bankrupt 30 years ago). They are not even let down by outrageously high prices for value (or no one would choose Porsche over Toyota or Macy’s over Target).

Customer service fails when businesses make promises they are not willing to keep.

The customer experience only suffers when a business makes an absurd claim like, “Your call is important to us” followed by, “The current wait time is… 14… minutes…” (clearly your call is NOT important to us or we would have answered right away–your call might be important to your dad, but not us). Customers feel let down when a company says, “Our only goal is your satisfaction” but follows-up with, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that return. You are outside of our insanely restrictive return policy.”

Customers never stop going to Taco Bell because the service people are insensitive or get the order wrong half the time. That is because Taco Bell never promised a great customer experience. They promise to deliver mediocre food at cheap prices, fast, and they rock at it. They never fail to hold up their end of that bargain. Your call is not important to them and they do not pretend it is. I don’t even know how to call Taco Bell. Do you?

So, how do you deliver a world-class customer experience? To me, 3 things stand out and most everything else is window dressing that can enhance but not dramatically improve the feeling customers are left with. Here are my 3:

1. Solve every problem in less than 1 hour. I mean solve, 100%, not promise to solve or get a response, within an hour. With the technology at our hands today, no employee is ever more than an email, instant message, video chat, or old-fashioned phone call away from a decision maker. An hour is being generous. It should be half an hour and in five years I expect it to be within 5-7 minutes.

2. Give power and authority to your front line. The team member standing in front of the irate customer is the person the customer expects to fix whatever the customer’s problem is. There is little in life more frustrating than being handed off or transferred to person after person who has no authority to simply say “Yes, we can make that right, and we will do it now” or “No, we are sorry but we will not do anything more for you on this…”. If you know you can afford for any employee to spend even just $5, $10, or $20 per day (or per week) to fix a problem immediately, encourage your front line to abuse that privilege with no permission needed, no questions asked, and no rules about what is done with the $20–just provide a receipt and a recap afterward.

3. Be the enemy of vague words and jargon. Make promises to your customers that are specific and clearly actionable. Define your lofty words and hold yourself or your business accountable as a matter of integrity. If you make vague promises to your customers like, “no-hassle returns”, then assume they will interpret it in the most liberal way possible. When they bring an item back, “no hassle” means they can bring it back with or without a reason, receipt, or re-packaging. “No hassle” means you will arrange the pick-up and pay the postage if they are shipping it back. “No hassle” means they will not spend 15 minutes waiting in line and then trying to plead a case for you to take back the item they do not want.”No hassle” to a customer actually means “no hassle”. If you promise “great customer service” then either define what “great” means specifically for your customers or assume they will take it in the most grandiose way possible. What makes you “great” or “the best” compared to the exactly similar experience they will find up the road with your competitor who is also making the same vague, lofty promise? (By the way, to me, “great” means following the three guidelines I have listed–instant resolution, clear actions, and transparent language.)

Those are my three guidelines to deliver top-notch customer service that commands loyalty. I probably could have listed 300, but I figured 3 is a good start. Remember, customers are never mad that a business is not run well. They become mad and vindictive when a business is not run well but promises to be.

 

Today’s Lesson: Whether talking about customers, family, or friends… if you want to build (or rebuild) loyalty and trust, the formula is simple. Say what you are going to do (in clear, specific language) and then keep your word, not your intentions.

 

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Follow the Red Brick Road… Or Not.

Open letter to a good business making a dumb decision… and a Marketing strategy any business can use to win!

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Since many of this blog’s subscribers seem to live outside of Michigan, I try not to focus too much on local businesses around me but sometimes I like to call out especially great businesses. I almost never identify businesses that have mis-stepped with their customer promise, though. I understand when dealing with the public, you will never be able to make everyone happy. I’m making an exception, today, though, to call out the first local business I visited when I moved to Grand Rapids and one of my favorites until recently.

Brick Road Pizza’s FaceBook page. offers amazing vegan food (they have non-vegan food, too, making them a great place to visit with a group of finicky eaters) but they have been building an equally amazingly bad reputation for poor customer service. Unbeknownst to them, I have defended them on multiple occasions, but I am swaying the other direction now, particularly when it comes to their terrible use of social media. I chastised them on FaceBook for being unresponsive to questions and comments from current and potential customers. The response was:

I don’t have time check facebook. I may miss a few things. If you really want to speak to someone here the phone number is 616-719-2409. We will be more than happy to address your questions or needs.  

Irked, not so much by the brazen ambivalence and complete miss at winning a customer over but more so by knowing one of my favorite restaurants was probably jeopardizing business from other customers with their lackadaisical attitude, I offered a blunt, but honest (and slightly snarky), rebuttal:

Thanks. I would challenge you to make time for your fans, or let some of your staff admin the page if you struggle with time management, or just turn comments off. Social media is a powerful tool in both directions. Not letting people have a say is less damaging than not responding to fans and potential customers but giving them the ability to interact, and then ignoring them (but thanks for not ignoring my comment). Just “food” for thought…

I must have hit a nerve. A few weeks later, I got this response:

Thanks for the education on social media!

I suppose they might have been serious but I am guessing the response was the polite equivalent of telling me what I could do with my food for thought. I resisted responding for a day but a couple vegan friends were chiming in from the sidelines, mostly praising me for saying something, but also I suppose, enjoying the back and forth. Here is where Brick Road Pizza’s website is missing the ball:

Thank you for the education on customer service.

They had a solid opportunity to win a fan or customer for life but instead alienated several. Of course, when I choose not to eat at Brick Road, neither does Nicole. Neither do her work friends when she picks where they go to lunch. Neither do my vegan friends who are watching them implode on FaceBook. Neither do the friends they share this story with. Neither do the fence-sitters who have already had a bad experience there and were just waiting for further confirmation they were not alone in their experience.

Only five years ago, Brick Road was one of only a handful of vegan options available. While they have been sleeping, though, competition has been sprouting up all around them, especially for a niche crowd like vegans (who talk to each other often). Now, I can choose to eat at The Mitten, Cvlt Pizza, Harmony Brewing, Rezervoir, Nantucket, DiPiazzas… and these are just places that offer vegan pizza, off the top of my head. The list for other vegan restaurants in the area is amazing! I could go out to lunch or dinner once a week for every week through next year and never have to visit the same place twice, and never have to include Brick Road.

When you are no longer the big dog in town, it is in your best interest to take every opportunity to win a customer, especially when it is such low-hanging fruit. It would not have cost Brick Road a penny to have crafted a good response. But it has cost them hundreds of dollars already, from my business alone, to be jerks. When it costs them enough to be painful, it may be too late, and that would be a shame. Their food is really good, even though there was a dead cricket in my salad one time, which I never complained to anyone about until now (the waitress can validate the story, though). That is the kind of mistake I can forgive and forget. Assuming your customers are a waste of your time is not.

 

Today’s Lesson: Social Media is powerful (and by the way, Brick Road, so is a well-read blog; you never know which customer you think you are taking to task–a better option might be to assume every customer can reach a wide audience quickly–for good or bad). Take the easy opportunities to create, or win back, fans. If you are not good at managing your social media, hire someone who is, or choose not to use it. And remember, in a global, 24/7 economy, waiting 24 hours to craft a thoughtful, compassionate response, is like waiting 24 years… which might be how long a post like this could be around.  

 

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Today The Lesson I Learned Is: Why American Airlines Sucks And How To Be a Better Lover (140801)

American Airlines seems to actively deter customers from choosing them. I’m not sure why they see customers as an inconvenient obstacle to running their business (my guess is a completely disconnected leadership team) but I am pretty sure they do.

I flew from St Louis to Grand Rapids on a roughly half-empty plane. I was in seat 19A (without a neighbor in the seat next to me) and nearly every other seat all the way to first class was unoccupied. Could I move closer and improve my chances of not missing my connection in Chicago? Sure. For an extra $30. Want to take a second carry on that’s bigger than a purse? No problem. $25. What if I wanted to board a little faster than everyone else and have a shot at securing overhead luggage space? Guess what? $20. Did I forget to add my frequent flyer miles when I booked my flight? Bummer; I’ll have to fill out a complete form but I can’t do it until at least a week after my trip ends. Better set a reminder.

American offers absurdly aggressive customer service. The entire boarding and check-in process is like visiting Facebook for any amount of time more than a few minutes. There are a couple of bits of important information but mostly you will be bombarded with a lot of irrelevant babble and a bunch of advertisements.

By contrast, United (who also would not win any customer care awards, but by comparison…) does a lot better. Their mobile app is not just a clunky link to their website but fully functional and well designed. You can change seats all you want almost up until you board the plane. There are no fees for a second carry-on and the advertisements are unobtrusive. You can change seats, add frequent flyer miles, and even choose which program you want to send the rewards to, all right from the app, which also provides an electronic copy of your boarding pass.

The lesson is this…

Think about where your business gets in the way of potential customers. What is the most frustrating part of buying from you?

You can apply the same principle to the rest of your life, too, like relationships.

Where do you get in the way of people who are trying to communicate with you? What do your loved ones know they can not talk to you about because they will get an earful or a heartache?

What is one thing you can do, now, to smooth the friction for people who want to do business (or pleasure) with you?

 


P.S. That was the end of the post, and it didn’t really concentrate on the art of making love as the title suggested, but it’s the same principle (well, mostly): reduce friction.

Also, in case you were wondering…

For me, I know the number one frustration for my customers is that they can not get a simple, straight answer with first time resolution when they have issues. Since I work for two companies with different rules, policies, and empowerment practices, this is an ongoing conversation (and frustration) for me. I am always trying to think of ways to make it easier for customers to buy from us.

In personal affairs, I know I can do better at correcting mistakes. It’s frustrating to be told you are wrong and I think I can be more gentle when I am correcting somebody by, for example, asking if they want my opinion before offering it.

Okay, your turn.

 

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