It’s Customer Service Week

This is Customer Service Week. Now you might think that every week, or every day, is about providing excellent customer service. That’s what I would say too. But this week is actually more about recognizing the people on your team who work with your customers and help ensure that they are properly taken care of.

If you have people who service your customers, this week is a great time to:

  • Boost morale, motivation and teamwork.
  • Reward frontline reps.
  • Increase company-wide awareness of the importance of delivering super customer service.
  • Thank colleagues in other departments for their support.
  • Remind customers of your team’s commitment to creating raving fans.

There are a million ways to show your appreciation for your fantastic team members. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Throw a party and provide breakfast, lunch or afternoon treats.
  • Hand out certificates of appreciation.
  • Bring in a massage therapist to provide seated or chair massages.
  • Play games or other fun activities and award prizes.
  • Give away special gifts (Gratitude Cookies or Zen Crunch make an especially nice gesture).

It’s not so much about what you choose to do, as much as that you do something to recognize the efforts of your customer service team.

Easy Restaurant Marketing

One of my friends and I often talk about how easy restaurant marketing seems and how rarely restaurateurs do the simple things that would increase client loyalty and bring them new customers. Granted, I’ve never run a retail food establishment and I’ve heard it’s pretty grueling, but from a marketer’s standpoint, there is so much potential owners and managers are not tapping into.

This same friend and I happened to visit The Melting Pot the other night for a chocolate fondue dessert. I’d never been to one and she hadn’t been in a long time. The hostess opened the front door for us as we approached, a nice courtesy. We sat and ordered and our young server Miles (what is he, like sixteen, maybe?!) delivered a nice pot of milk chocolate and a plate of sliced strawberries and bananas and bite sized pieces of cheesecake, Rice Krispies Treats®, marshmallows, pound cake and brownies. After he suggested not directly dipping the cheesecake, pound cake or brownies into the fondue, as they tend to fall apart (good to know ahead of time!), I mentioned how I couldn’t eat the marshmallows or krispie treats as they are not vegetarian. He immediately offered to bring more of some of the other things for me and asked what I’d like. He returned with another nicely arranged plate of fruit surrounding a slice of cheesecake. I’m impressed with his service.

At some point between serving the food and leaving the bill, Miles excused himself for interrupting our conversation (scoring more service points, and in hindsight, I’m curious if they taught him to say that or if he naturally has good manners) and gave us each a printed card with an invitation to join “Club Fondue.” If we filled them out, he explained, we’d get a free chocolate fondue on our return visit.

THIS, THIS is what we’ve been talking about! How easy is it for restaurateurs to collect patrons’ contact information and then stay in touch with them? So simple. The top part of the card tells how The Melting Pot strives to create an experience; the middle invites you take a survey by phone or online and possibly win free fondue for a year; and the bottom explains the benefits of joining the club. At the very bottom is space to fill in your name, mailing address, email address, birthday and anniversary.

I’m eager to see now what they do to stay in touch and continue marketing to me. I’m guessing since they asked for birthday and anniversary info, I’ll at least receive a special offer when those dates come up. If I was doing their marketing, I’d make sure to find reasons to send interesting information and updates at least once a month – things such as special limited time menus or other types of promotions or new location openings – to entice customers to come in again. I have a call into the National Director of Brand. If/when he calls me back, I’ll share what I learn about their success with this strategy.

In such a competitive industry, where patrons have SO many choices of where to eat, it’s not enough to just serve good food.  It’s crucial to do whatever you can to create an on-going relationship, remind customers of your existence and give them reasons to return.

Do What You Say You’re Gonna Do

Do what you say, say what you will. You can’t not do, you can’t stand still. Didn’t Dr. Seuss write something like this? Hmm, maybe not, but he could have.

Why has delivering on what you promised become so difficult for people? I ask this because I see for myself and hear stories from others all the time, about how a business has not done what they said they would do. People don’t keep appointments, return phone calls, make deliveries at the appointed time. And they don’t seem to notice or care how this affects their customers.

I’m on a bit of rant because last week I was involved in a situation in which I really got to experience (twice!) the effects of what happens when a business doesn’t keep its word. And as the one on the receiving end of the consequences, I can tell you it’s not fun. It caused several people to spend a lot of time scrambling to make up for the unfulfilled promises of others so that I could still do what I said I would do for my clients.

Dan Kennedy addresses this issue in the latest issue of his No B.S. Marketing Letter. He says his mission is to discourage acceptance of others’ incompetence, disrespect, etc. “and encourage more people to be more demanding of good from self and others.” I’m on board with that!

So doing what you say you’re going to do has become a differentiating factor for businesses. Really? It’s come to this? Good news for those who do deliver on promises. Those who don’t will probably blame the economy for their demise.

Customer Service as a Key Strategy

There was an article I saw posted last week on AdWeek.com written by Joseph Jaffe about customer service being the key strategy for businesses now. This is not news to me, but it is exciting to find other people talking about it more and more these days.

Unfortunately, the idea that businesses should focus on reaching out and creating memorable customer experiences seems ridiculously too simple for a few readers. Some of the comments posted in response to Mr. Jaffe’s column surprised me. People (viciously) accused him of stating the obvious and repackaging an old idea. Um, yeah, it’s kind of an original tenet of building a successful business. The point is, with all the “new” tactics and strategies that have come along in the history of marketing, none better contributes to a strong business than fanatically servicing the customers it already has. Furthermore, it seems that the majority of businesses operating today have forgotten the importance of true customer service. So perhaps he is saying something that many consider common sense, but then again, you’ve no doubt heard how common sense is not so common.

And so as is asked in the article, what would happen if you switched around the proportion of marketing budget spent on customer acquisition vs. customer retention, thus making what you spend on your customers comparable with their investment in you? Maybe then you would experience a stronger, more loyal and growing client base combined with increased revenues.

Why Smaller is Better

My friend works at an executive level for a very large financial institution, one that just merged with (okay, acquired – they’re very sensitive about how that’s worded) another very large financial institution. I was recently listening to her talk about their efforts to integrate systems and I came away thinking I totally do not see how this benefits customers in the least.

Click here to see this survey I came across the same day I was writing this.

There’s certainly no shortage of big companies in our landscape. And traditionally the philosophy has been “the bigger the better.” Bigger allows for economies of scale and greater efficiencies. I don’t agree. Maybe it’s better for shareholders, but customers and employees rarely win here.

The good news is the inability of these big companies to serve customers properly creates a fantastic opportunity for smaller companies to come in and shine. Without the bureaucracy, you can implement systems and programs quickly to meet customers’ needs as you see necessary. There’s no figuring out how to get different computer systems to “talk” to each other so one department can get paid for referrals made to another department. You can be flexible and make decisions based on creating the highest good or best outcome for your client.

Sure you may not have the marketing budget a giant corporation has, but you also don’t need it. They need to keep recruiting new clients because they continually piss off the ones they have. You can deliver outstanding customer service and maintain a high level of client loyalty. Plus, I bet you can make the whole experience of working with your company a lot more fun (think Southwest Airlines vs. any of the other, bigger airlines).

The Problem with the Airline Industry

commercial airlinesIt’s time for me add my voice to the blogsphere on this topic after a conversation I was involved in on a flight from Dallas to Sacramento last week. WTF is the airline industry doing?

On this flight, the guy sitting next to me was buying the sandwich and chips. The flight attendant says, “are you sure you want it? It’s $10.” (What a great salesperson, huh?!) He was hungry, it was lunch time, and yes, he did want it and was putting it on his company expense report anyway. Then he commented how the airline should really just add $10 to the price of his ticket and give a sandwich meal to everyone. I had to add my two cents and say while they’re at it, add the price of checking a bag to the ticket price too. The flight attendant says she hears this constantly from passengers who are tired of being nickel and dimed to near death. However, she added, flying is cheaper now than it was 20 years ago.

Cheaper maybe, but everyone dreads it. And everyone I know would pay MORE to have a better experience.

So why aren’t the people running the show listening? How can airline execs possibly be so completely oblivious to how bad the flying experience is for their customers? Yes they need to find new ways to generate revenue but every move they make these days just further alienates passengers, like let’s take these checked baggage fees that everyone’s complaining about and make them HIGHER!

If airlines cared at all about the customer experience, they would make decisions based on creating a better experience for their passengers. They would take a page or two from the Disney playbook, which is all about creating magic and making people love being in their “care.” Cost doesn’t matter so much (have you seen the price of a ticket for a Disney park? And somehow they‘re always packed) and profits follow because people like doing business with companies that treat them with respect.

Now that more and more people are understanding the power of social media, airlines can expect to see even more publicly expressed outrage at their treatment of customers, like this video created by musician Dave Carroll after United Airlines baggage handlers broke his guitar. He was subsequently given the runaround by customer service for nine months and denied compensation, so he creatively shared his experience with the world. His  “United Breaks Guitars” video has gotten almost 7.5 MILLION views. Great public relations for the airline!

The takeaway lesson for you as a businessperson is every business is a SERVICE business. Listen to your customers and give them what they’re asking for. Use their feedback to improve your offerings. That’s how you make money and stay in business.

It’s Customer Service Week

Seriously, they have a week for this? I guess it makes sense, there’s a week for everything else. But shouldn’t EVERY week be customer service week?

If you’re so inclined to celebrate, I recommend doing something extra specially nice for your customers. I mean, only if you like them, and want them to continue supporting your business.

A few ideas:

  1. If you have face to face contact with them (kind of a rarity anymore, huh?), look them in the eyes and tell them how much you value their business.
  2. Send out a handwritten note to say thank you to each of your clients.
  3. Go to www.ZenRabbitCookies.com and order boxes of Gratitude Cookies or bags of Zen Crunch to show your immense appreciation for their loyalty.

If you have a staff of customer service reps in your business, take a cue from my new Twitter friend at Business & Legal Resources (@BLR_Inc). They compiled a bunch of stories from the front lines that will have you shaking your head at the ridiculousness of some people. Check it out here.

Got any good customer service stories of your own? SHARE with us by posting a comment!

Beware of How you Treat Small Companies

Debbi Fields wrote a book several years ago about her journey through the start up and development of Mrs. Fields Cookies. In it she recalls her challenges in finding a chocolate supplier. The sales rep of one large, well known chocolate company doesn’t want to give her the time of day when she calls him to ask for 25 pounds of chocolate because the order size is too small. He tells her to give him a call when she wants to buy 10,000 pounds.

So she opens the phone book and calls another company. That sales rep tells her the order is too small for his company’s trucks to deliver, but he could put it in the trunk of his car and bring it right over. And at the time she was writing this story, that sales rep Bob, was selling Mrs. Fields in excess of 25 million pounds of chocolate a year. She never reveals the name of either company. But she does finish the story by saying that the first gentleman would end up calling her continuously to ask for her business and she refused to work with him because of how he treated her that day.

There are many days when I think of this story because of the business people who disregard me, and I’m sure lots of others, with the thought that my business is too small to matter. This month I’m working on finding retail packaging for gourmet food stores. There is a list of who has been supportive and who has not. And when Zen Rabbit is the multi-million dollar company that it is destined to be, we’ll see who’s benefiting from believing in a small company.