5 New Customer Service Skills Your Employees Need (and How to Train Them Properly in 2019)

There are many customer service skills that employees must possess to contribute to the success of a company.

Things such as friendly, proactive, going above-and-beyond all come to mind.

It’s likely that you clicked through to read this post because you want new customer service ideas, not the same old run of the mill concepts that have been suggested by everyone else online…am I right?

The five customer service training skills I’m going to share with you are ones that my management teams are currently training my employees with.

Across our venues, restaurants and bars, we have 150 team members operating within one of Canada’s most competitive hospitality districts (King West, Downtown Toronto); the far majority of these team members are customer-facing.

My business partners and I have built a reputation in the city and industry for having a next-level customer experience and it’s largely because of how we train our team on their customer service skills.

Related: What is Customer Experience

I share this information with you to give you some background information if you’re not familiar with me. However, the primary reasons is because I want you to know that this information is tried, tested and true.

I’m an operator, just like you!

I have a team I must support, just like you!

I’m looking for a competitive advantage with proven strategies, not advice from someone who just recites what they read online.

Before we get into the 5 Customer Service Skills, make sure to connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know which Customer Service Skill you like the most – I’d be happy to answer any further questions you may have after reading the article!

Without further adieu, I present you the five new customer service skills your employees need:

Customer Service Skill #1: Understand the 3 Customer Personality Types

You can’t deliver the same experience to every single customer and have great customer service skills.

Why?

Because some gestures – whether it’s your tone, the questions you ask the customer or your dialogue – will engage some customers and alienate others.

A decade ago, when I was working within a call centre as a customer service agent in Vancouver, I started to document different customer traits and behaviours.

Why was it that customers in different regions reacted differently to how I answered the phone?

Why did some customers not care to talk about the local sports team?

Why did some customers want to talk about the weather?

I was interested in the answers to these questions…so I investigated further.

After months of taking notes, I recognized that each customer has a different definition of success when doing business with a company.

Eventually, I created something I now refer to as The 3 Common Customer Personality Types.

I’ve trained hundreds of people on these customer personality types, such as customer service team members from Verizon Wireless and sales professionals from Lexus

The Director Style Personality Type

Customer Service Skills #1

Let’s pretend James Bond was your customer.

What attributes does he have?

He’s reserved, to the point in his conversation and conducts very little chit chat.

Now, think of this customer in your business. What do they value the most and how are they defining a great customer experience? I’d suggest:

  • Team members with high product knowledge
  • They want to lead the customer experience
  • Time efficiency matters to them
  • Their questions get answered quickly

The director style customer personality is a great customer to have because often their experience with your company is an efficient one. This is particularly great for retail and call centre experiences.

The Socializer Style Personality Type

Customer Service Skills #2

I don’t know Ellen Degeneres personally but based on her show I’m going to assume she’s kind, speaks at length and is a great listener.

Does this remind you of one of your customers?

I bet it does! Now, how does the socializer define a successfully customer experience?

  • Employees engaging in off-topic conversations
  • They find transactional customer experiences rude
  • A company that cares about their customers as a human being, not just a customer or a number

Here’s a tip! There is a big threat in doing business with the socializer personality type.

What do you think it is?

Time! They are the type of customer that will talk about this, that and everything while you have a line up of other customers in your queue. If your employees have the right customer service skills they will be able to effectively serve this personality type without cutting them off or be rude.

Continue reading below to see which skills your employees must have to provide a positive, efficient customer experience for Socializers.

The Passive Style Personality Type

Customer Service Skills #3

Have you enthusiastically ever asked a customer,

“How’s your day going!”

And they replied with, “Good” without asking in return how your day is going?

I introduce you to the passive personality type. Some employees may label these customers as “boring” “low energy” or “not engaging.” For me, I think they are misunderstood.

Their attributes are defined as guarded, timid with expression.

But, I believe that for the most part this behaviour is likely because your company or industry have failed them before which is causing this demeanour of uncertainty. I suggest that your employees don’t write these customers off because they can become some of your most loyal customers! They are simply looking for a company that they can trust.

Each customer personality type may exhibit great company customer loyalty for different reasons. It’s your responsibility as a leader to train your team members on their customer service skills to elevate the customer experience.

Customer Service Skill #2: Patience
 Customer Service Skills #4

You may be thinking:

“Michel, you promised NEW customer service skills! Patience isn’t new to me!”

I know, I know. But, what I’m going to share with you is how to identify if your prospective employees have this customer service skill BEFORE you hire them. I don’t believe you can train patience very well as it’s a human behaviour that takes years to accomplish.

I train companies how to build customer-centric teams and ask the right customer service interview questions. Here are a few you can use to identify if the person you’re interviewing is patient:

  • What are some nuisances that really bother you in your personal life?
  • How do you react to something frustrating you?
  • What’s the most irritating thing that has happened to you this week?

These questions are asked to identify how the candidate is in their everyday life. You can make some sound assumptions on how they will behave as a team member of yours based on their responses.

If they respond with great detail on how things easily bother them then I’d be on guard as they may exhibit very little patience with your customers.

However, if the candidate appears to genuinely struggle to think of answers then you may have an all-star on your hands.

You can’t predict customer behaviours within your business but you can help your company by hiring team members who exhibit patience with your customers.

Customer Service Skill #3: Capture ideas and share them

Customer Service Skills #5

Wouldn’t it be amazing if your employees regularly came to you with ideas on how to better the customer experience and help the company grow?

I’m so fortunate that this is what’s happening in my business. We constantly have team members, ones from different departments, sharing concepts with our management team.

The most valuable way that my company gathers ideas from our team is through our Employee Advisory Board (EAB). The EAB is a group of team members who represent each department across the company. They meet with me once per month for 2-4 hours to discuss the current state of the business. During my keynote speeches and workshops, I help companies understand the value of having an EAB and many companies have implemented one…I think you should too.

Do all of them get put into action? Not all, but many do! We are in this advantageous position as a company because we:

  • Hire individuals who are inventive
  • Have fostered a company culture where we promote new ideas
  • Are willing to think differently and try new things
  • Celebrate team member creativity
  • Have created a framework and meeting structure where employees can share their concepts

I’ve always said, “you never know where your next great idea is going to come from.” I find that the best ideas come from the individuals who are the most customer-facing.

Who do you think invented Starbucks’ multi-billion dollar Frappuccino? You guessed it…frontline employees.

Customer Service Skill #4: Collect Customer Intelligence

Customer Experience Skills #6

Within my business, customer intelligence is the subtle details that your customers share with you or that you’re able to learn when serving them.

These details can be leveraged to create a never-before-seen customer experience which will increase customer loyalty.

If I was your customer, at one point or another you would learn the following about me:

  • I have a dog named Maggy
  • I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan
  • I love tequila
  • I’m a boxer and play ice hockey
  • I own restaurants, bars and venues in Toronto
  • My favourite two foods are pizza and burgers
  • My mother is the sweetest angel in the world and her name is Rosa

All of this information needs to habitually be captured for every customer within your CRM to be used to create a personalized experience at any time during their lifecycle with your company. Before you can start training your employees on gathering this information you must first create the repository within your CRM.

In theory, this makes sense, right? However, most companies struggle in doing this well because they don’t reinforce it with their team members on a weekly basis.

How to train them to use this information is in customer service skill #5…

Customer Service Skill #5: Listen and Take Action!

Customer Service Skill #7

For decades we’ve been telling our employees:

“Listen to your customers…”

We don’t tell our employees to listen because listening is a cheap skill set. Instead, we tell them to:

“Listen and take action on what you’ve learned!”

In step 4, I mentioned many things that I’d likely share with your team members. How are you going to leverage this information? Will your employee simply say, ‘I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan too!” Or, will they record that information and share it with a manager to create what I call a micro customer experience.

A micro customer experience, or MCE, is a subtle, memorable and affordable gesture that you do for your customers that resonates with them for years.

I’d be blown away if I was your customer, purchased a service or product and received a Vancouver Canucks hockey puck with my purchase accompanied by a hand written card that said:

“Michel, thank you for trusting us to be your service provider. It means the world to us! We thought of you…Go, Canucks, Go!”

You would have created such a strong bond with me that would heavily influence my customer loyalty. Listening and taking action on what your employees have learned is a non-negotiable when creating a micro customer experience program for your company. It must happen!

Related: Customer Experience Strategies: 5 Tips for Profit and Growth

Within my company, each venue has a micro customer experience program that’s only $250/month. Everyone can afford to do this! However, it first starts with training your employees with the highest customer service skills possible.

Did you notice that many of the customer service skills I outlined were cost-friendly? I don’t like spending a lot of money to find solutions unless the value greatly exceeds the cost. I’d going to assume you’d like to achieve the same.

I do believe that technology will replace some human interaction but I don’t believe the human element of great customer service skills will be replaced.

Question: what customer service skill do you believe you can implement within the next 90 days? Connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know what your biggest take away from this article was by leaving a comment below!  I’ll respond with some commentary too.

If you’re interested in me helping your company with customer experience, employee engagement and/or company culture strategies, click this link and fill out the contact form so I can share some keynote presentation and private workshop information with you.

Airbnb’s New Brand: Why Branding is at the Forefront of Customer Experience

Your company’s brand is what your customers see, feel and are attracted to (or not). Whether they are able to vividly express themselves, or struggle to, after seeing your brand it will give them a sudden feeling that will either make them gravitate to you or retract.

Today, Airbnb launched their new brand (read the full Fast Company article here) and I absolutely love it! I’ve read the article and watched the video five times…in one day! I’ve been bullish on Airbnb for years now and have stayed with them several times so I’m not an inexperienced promoter. Nor do I hold stock (I wish I did).

Customer experience and branding go hand in hand. Similar to how an employee will make you feel warm and fuzzy (or not) your brand will do the same thing. For me, Airbnb’s new brand has a purpose far greater than driving revenue.

As Brian Chesky (Co-founder & CEO) describes,”The brand shouldn’t say we’re about community, or our international [reach], or renting homes–it’s about belonging.

Branding isn’t only about what font you use or what hue of green your branding expert suggests; it’s about bridging the gap between what your company represents, stands for and its meaning.

Customers are attracted to brands with a mission of taking care of people. After reading this article, I’m far more bullish on Airbnb than I am on Uber. This is solely because I feel that Airbnb’s purpose is to genuinely take care of people more so than Uber’s. Don’t get me wrong, Uber’s focus on logistics and innovation will put them in a position to succeed but I question whether their CEO (Travis Kalanick) obsesses over the people who help grow the business (drivers and users).

If a company has a mission that is more than self serving agendas then the revenue and market share will follow. Airbnb’s new brand exemplifies where their priorities stand; the challenge is now executing on that vision. Their new appearance will allow them to enter new markets that the founders of Airbnb hold close to their chest which will ultimately increase market value. It’s a win, win.

Whether you are a small business or fortune 500 company, take a look at your brand, share it with friends and family and ask them, “how does this make you feel?

What brands make you feel something?

Here are some other exerts from the Fast Company post:

  • “This new branding changes the whole identity and expression of the company.”
  • On the logo: “It’s a symbol anyone can create, whether drawn on a mirror or etched in the sand”…”Every single person can have their own impression of the brand.”
  • “Most brands would send you a cease-and-desist letter if you tried to recreate their brand”…”We wanted to do the opposite.”

Watch the video here:

How Zendesk, ZenPayroll and Tangerine Make their Customers Smarter, Efficient and Successful

The business world has always understood that hiring friendly employees is an effective way to deliver great service. While this remains true, I don’t believe it will make your customers loyal, largely because it’s an easy mantra to replicate and your customers expect more.

The three ingredients to increasing customer loyalty in today’s technology driven business landscape are: make your customers smarter, make them more efficient and make them successful.

If you have a look around you, the companies who are leading their industries are ones who are making their customers smarter, efficient and successful. These three companies have the aforementioned ingredients in the DNA of their brand.

zendesk

You may have heard of Zendesk before. I have a massive “corporate crush” on this brand, company and its people. They are a living case study of making their customers smarter by perfecting content marketing. If you’ve ever visited their website, you will notice their Resource page, which I call their “home of education.” They work tirelessly to provide education to their customers through webinars, white papers and infographics. Their customers and prospective customers can visit their website and can, for free of charge, consume education to help them become more astute business professionals.

Why do you think we admire elementary and high school teachers?

It’s because they are educators; business is no different. If you put yourself in a position to educate your customers they will have an emotional connection to you and your brand.

On another note, I really admire Zendesk because they are making business fun. I feel that their Buddha logo and risqué video on their homepage gives them a competitive advantage because it’s what I call memorable marketing.

zenpayroll-logo-300x120

ZenPayroll is a world class example of how to make your customers more efficient. I can only speak for myself, but after having examined the payroll processing industry, it seems clunky, boring and out dated. I have had the pleasure of connecting with one of ZenPayroll’s co-founders and team members on the PR side of their business.

After seeing their product in action, I thought, “Wow! That’s very easy.”

What they have done has taken a process in business that most businesses struggle with and made it easier and fun. If you’re familiar with user experience you’ll notice that they have done an exceptional job at making it engaging. Here are a few tweets coming directly from their customers.

zentweet

zentweet2

zentweet3

tangerine

I was recently invited to keynote Tangerine banks executive strategy meeting in Toronto. In preparation, I turned the internet inside and out to understand their brand identity, motivations and customer base. Furthermore, I studied the individuals who were going to be in the room. All the C-suites were there and after researching their backgrounds and business philosophies I immediately connected with them. Simply put, they “get” it.

Tangerine bank is a perfect example of making your customers more successful. To fully understand their operation, I opened a chequing account with them to better familiarize myself with their customer experience. My first thought was, “There isn’t a need to go to a retail location anymore.” Keep in mind, I have banked with my institution, a competitor of theirs, for twenty years and don’t know any better. After reflecting on my past banking experience, the only time I visited the bank was to deposit cheques. With Tangerine’s Cheque-In™ feature, I can do that same action from my bathrobe on my couch.

For me, if a company is saving me time then I equate that to me being more successful. If I have more hours in the day to spend with my friends, family and clients rather than visiting a bank, then I consider that a success. I’m sure that in the eyes of Tangerine, if their customers are more successful, than so are they. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario.

Having employees who are friendly is still a critical part of customer loyalty, the emphasis on technology has however shifted our priorities as consumers. Personally, I will take a more efficient customer experience than a friendly one, but that may be because I’m technologically driven.

What are your thoughts? What other companies are making their customers more efficient, smarter and successful?

How Creating Micro Customer Experiences Can Be Your Greatest Competitive Advantage

On a flight back from Boston, I took my seat next to a man who I later found out was the CEO of a recognizable quick service restaurant (QSR).

I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep on the flight home after hosting a customer experience workshop. I couldn’t, however, give up the opportunity to talk to this CEO about the importance of customer experience within his company’s industry.

After a quaint introduction of ourselves and our lines of work, we began talking about customer experience and its impact on growth and brand reputation.

The conversation started with the understood “customer experience has to be your number one priority” maxim, but that’s when our discussion moved into another direction.

He mentioned that the effort of his team was focused on “creating service experiences that will propel us into the future.” In other words, his company was working to create initiatives that I call “home runs.” These initiatives are closely aligned with innovation which can have your competition thinking “why didn’t we think of that?!”

He continued discussing his “home run strategies” without sharing too much information. As he began to hold his cards close, I interrupted by asking, “What are you doing to create micro experiences?”

I caught him off guard.

“What are micro experiences?” he asked.

How I define micro experiences are small, subtle, affordable and memorable touches that resonate with your customers for years. They are the simple things that we neglect to do because they are so small we don’t believe that it can have too much impact; but they do!

Uber understands micro experiences.

photo (3)

After you use Uber, they send you an email with the route the driver took to show you that the most efficient route was taken. What this small touch point does is build “consumer confidence.”

Marello-Webinar-Testimonial

Of course, micro customer experiences can also work against you. Starbucks understands micro experiences and their intentions are in the right place. However, you know it’s working against you when there’s a tumblr site dedicated to your employees misspelling your customers’ names.

Companies that create micro customer experiences become brands that are admired, trusted and ones that have a business model that are difficult to replicate.

Let me compare micro experiences to something personal. I love my parents because they showed me love in micro ways. Sure, I loved it when they bought me a Big Wheels or Nerf gun, which is the equivalent to a “home run” strategy for your customers. But, after a month I was bored of the big gift and inevitably wanted something else. The micro love my parents gave me by telling me I was handsome when I got a bad haircut or when they said that my big ears gave me character is what resonated with me forever. It’s the unconditional love that they consistently showed me that has lasted a life time.

The challenge with creating micro experiences is that it needs to be genuine, and let’s face it, not many companies are genuine. Another challenge to be considered is how you scale these genuine moments that connects you with your customers? It’s difficult which is why I laugh when someone says “customer experience is easy.”

What companies are you loyal to because of their micro customer experiences?

How to Build a Customer Advisory Board to Improve Your Customer Experience

Let me begin by explaining that a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is not a boring focus group. The fact that organizations would stand behind a pane of glass and watch how customers interact frankly gives me the chills.

A CAB is an internal team of customers who help grow your business by providing genuine and actionable insights on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Regardless of size or industry, all businesses must assemble a CAB.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve worked with several organizations who want to create a CAB for their business. In this post, I will explain how I have found success in building teams of customers to help improve your customer experience.

  • Craft your desired outcome and vision. Before you begin assembling your team and establishing the logistics of your meeting, you need to determine how your company is going to define success and what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen organizations create a CAB simply to say that they have hosted one and to cross it off their “strategic plan.” Needless to say, this should not be your goal. A company I previously worked with stated that each quarter they wanted to create one strategic initiative to improve their customer experience based on what they learned from their CAB. Another company’s marketing team defined success by improving their landing pages from direct feedback from their CAB (in combination with doing A/B testing). The long term goal should always be to have a more intimate relationship with your customers and an opportunity to refine your customer experience.
  • Build your external and internal team. The amount of customers you welcome to your CAB team depends on the size of your business. If you’re a small business, you may want to invite 2-5 customers. For a medium or large sized business, this could grow to 6-12 customers. When it comes to what type of customers you should invite, have a mix of “promoters” and “detractors.” The problem with only welcoming promoters is that they will provide feedback with rose-tinted glasses. You need to have tough, challenging conversations which your detractor customers can provide. What employees should be involved? A CAB should be hosted by your executive team (middle and large sized businesses) or owner and managers (small businesses). For middle and large sized businesses, have each of your department heads attend and then disseminate the knowledge to the entire organization.

  • Establish the logistics. How often will the meetings take place (quarterly or yearly)? Where will they take place (your office or off site)? I recommend that you host them quarterly and at an offsite location. Make the meetings fun! Have the event catered and in a relaxed environment. I was recently invited to a CAB workshop hosted by my client in Whistler, it was a blast and everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.
  • Develop the meeting structure. You have a fantastic opportunity to get to know your customers intimately; don’t waste their time. Your “customer task force” should meet at least one month prior to the event to finalize the content and delivery. What type of questions are we going to ask? Are we going to showcase prototypes? Who will be moderating? Who will be recording minutes? Ensure that you consider every minor detail to host a seamless meeting.

  • Compensation. I have seen companies not need to compensate their CAB members, as having a catered event was enough in exchange for their time. However, I’ve witnessed other companies compensate their members $25-$100/hour. I have found that the organizations that have genuine customer loyalty don’t need to compensate their members. I work with a small coffee shop in Vancouver who I am undoubtedly loyal to and want to see succeed; I do not charge them to give insight into their business.

  • Follow up. After you have gathered feedback, close the loop with your CAB members. Let them know what they can expect to come as a result of their feedback to reassure them that their time was well served and appreciated. Don’t simply send an email. Follow up in a professional and formal way by distributing a one or two page document (CAB at a Glance) that outlines all that was discussed and your next steps.

CAB meetings aren’t meant to replace VoC programs. They are there to support all other initiatives to improve the customer experience. Plus, it’s fun, educational and a sign that your company is genuinely customer centric.

Have you had success with a CAB program?

Build What Your Customers Need (Not What They Want)

Ask your customers what they want and you’ll receive hundreds of different answers that will frustrate and confuse you. Put them in a focus group and watch them debate over what’s most important to them as individuals.

I advocate hosting Customer Advisory Boards (if you do them right) but you need to be careful with what you do with this new found customer intelligence. You see, your customers will say they want one thing today and something different tomorrow.

We need to balance what our customers want and what they need. The difficulty in doing this is that our customers don’t oftenknow what they need. This means we must invent on behalf of our customers.

Apple is at the forefront of doing this correctly. Case in point, the iPod. If Steve Jobs and the Apple team had asked us,

“What do you want?” we would have said,

“A MP3 player that holds 1000′s of songs” because it’s what we wanted.

Instead, Apple built a device that could not only hold thousands of songs but also get us from song one to two-hundred in a matter of seconds. We didn’t know we needed the scroll wheel to improve the user experience. If Apple had listened to what we wanted then they wouldn’t be the brand they are today.

Netflix is no different than Apple. They didn’t simply build stores to compete with Blockbuster. They created an on-demand internet streaming experience by inventing on our behalf. As we know, Blockbuster is no more and Netflix is an admired and celebrated brand.

The best way to make your business vulnerable to competition is to simply remain happy with the status quo or only make minor improvements.

Think differently! Host strategy meetings with your team, share crazy ideas and see what sticks. Companies that invent on behalf of customers win!

Are you building based on what your customers want or inventing on their behalf?

How These Two Companies Will Disrupt Their Industries With Tech and Customer Experience

I love seeing industries get disrupted. I believe that there are no longer any barriers of entry to any industry. If you combined better technology and a superior customer experience you can compete.

Business is a competitive landscape and isn’t reserved for the weak or passive. For the past six years, I’ve studied Amazon, Apple, Zappos, Southwest and Westjet to understand how they have leveraged customer experience to become billion dollar brands.

Now, it’s time to uncover the next great brands that are going to disrupt industries that have stagnated for far too long.

I’m bullish and betting my chips on ZenPayroll and Silvercar.

The common theme with these companies are that they are leveraging two things to enter their industries: technology and a superior customer experience.

It’s also worth noting that their competitors are massive companies that have owned their markets for decades.

I’m a huge advocate in the belief that there are no longer any barriers of entry into any industry. If you develop a better customer experience and combine it with advanced technology you can compete.

ZenPayroll:

zenpayroll-logo-300x120

 

Founders: Joshua Reeves (Founder, CEO & Co-Founder), Edward Kim (CTO & Co-Founder), Tomer London (CPO & Co-Founder).

Industry they are disrupting: payroll processing.

Why I’m bullish: I’ve had the opportunity to connect with some members of their team and have seen their product. Both their team and product are amazing! Plus, they are just as passionate about customer and employee experience as I am.

I have personally done business with their competitors and can confidently say that their process is much more superior. They are turning a system in business that isn’t the most sexy or glamorous and making it more efficient.

They have also gained the financial backing of Google Ventures, Salesforce, Aaron Levie (Box), Drew Houston (Dropbox), Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp) and others investors.

Recent news: They announced a partnership and integration with Freshbooks. They also recently raised another round of $20M from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and General Catalyst Ventures.

SilverCar:

silvercar

 

Founders: led by Austin Ventures

 

Industry they are disrupting: rental car industry.

Why I’m bullish: Have you ever rented a car before? It can be an awful customer experience. By downloading the Silvercar app, you are a few clicks away from driving away in a silver Audi A4 (which is the model of car they supply). They are well on their way to reinventing the rental car experience. The rental car industry was due for disruption and I’m confident that Silvercar will capture market share.

How good are they? They are one of the few companies that bring value to the QR code.

Recent news: they completed a $6M round in financing.

Who else has my attention?

  1. Shyp: Shyp is an app that allows you to snap a picture of a parcel you want shipped. One of their “Shyp Heros” arrives and takes care of the shipping process for you. My only concern with Shyp is the amount of volume they must do to have favourable shipping rates and influence margins. The reason they have caught my eye is because they are providing a solution to a headache. I mean, who genuinely likes visiting Fedex? To date, Shyp has raised $2.1M in funding and is led by Joshua Scott and Kevin Gibbon.
  2. Oscar: Based in New York, Oscar is setting out to disrupt the healthcare industry. For me, I don’t get excited to sign up, pay or renew my healthcare because it’s a very mundane process. If Oscar, led by Josh Kushner, can simplify this process they will be in a position to take market share away from other industry leaders. They have raised $40M in investments and poached talent from Google and Tumblr.

 

What companies do you think will start disrupting their industries because of technology and customer experience?

Build Trust and Sell Your Customers Anything

While recently at Toronto’s Pearson airport, I read a Fast Company article on how Airbnb is going to expand on their end to end hospitality experience. By offering additional services to their home and apartment sharing service, Airbnb will be adding airport pickups, room cleaning and other services to complement their core business which will inevitably increase their revenue and value.

This lead me to think of other brands that began selling a single item who now sell us more than they originally advertised.

Amazon began their humble operations in the 1990’s selling us books out of a garage. A young, motivated Jeff Bezos lead his enterprise to a company that now, almost literally, sells us everything.

A more recent example is Uber: the transportation disruptor that offers a solution to a pain point which is the traditional taxi experience. Many of those that have used Uber have become addicted to their service and experience. Uber’s recent round of venture capital from Google Ventures and TPG at $258MM can only give us optimism that they will also inevitably expand their operations to offer other services.

Note: Something will happen with Uber and Google’s self-driving car. I can only imagine, and hope, that if I want my laundry delivered, I will use the Uber app and a self-driving car will deliver it to me without having to leave my home.

Now, a company offering additional services isn’t worth a blog post. The only reason these companies are able to offer other services to grow their business is because they have earned the trust of their customers with their flagship offering.

This lends itself to journalism as well. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher developed a loyalty with their readers by providing value when writing for the All Things D website. When they launched Re/code it was, from my perspective, an immediate success.

The customer experience coach and keynote speaker in me will tell you that the only way to build trust is by delivering an exceptional, consistent, predictable and memorable experience.

Having this trust gives you an advantage far beyond increased revenue. This leverage not only allows you to expand your business and add new verticals, but further puts you in a position of power against your competition. It erects barriers around your business.

When it comes to branding, it builds a sense of peace of mind with your customers that no branding expert or designer could ever create for you. It’s psychological.

Allow me to be bold (or least think I am) when I say this next statement:

You haven’t earned the right to cross or upsell your customers until you’ve built trust first.

When you’ve earned trust, you will have your customers eating out of the palm of your hand. Too many companies have customer acquisition backwards. Rather than hunting for new customers and revenue opportunities, emphasize on building trust first and watch your company grow organically with the customers you already have.

What is your company doing to build customer trust?

How to Turn a Complaining Customer Into an Asset

It is human nature to react when a customer complains about your service or product, particularly if the customer expresses anger, frustration, disappointment or hostility.

I’ll cut right to the chase: effectively handling complaints requires most of us to shift our way of thinking. We need to set our egos aside and view a complaining customer as an opportunity to better understand our customer experience and be open to change.

Every company needs an effective system for dealing with complaints to ensure your customer service system is top notch. Sure, you may have a system in place, but is it helping improve your customer experience or simply putting out fires?

Ensuring your customer service team understands the difference between a complaint and a personal attack is the first priority. The customer almost always is complaining about a failed product or service, not the failure of the individual he is speaking to about the problem. Still, customers can be challenging to speak with, and downright unpleasant at times. How your customer service team responds, such as communicating the process they will undertake to resolve the complaint, should give the customer peace of mind and demonstrate that the organization genuinely cares about resolving complaints.

Another shift in thinking could be viewing complaints as positive – blessings in disguise – since they can illuminate where your service or product needs improvement. When a customer complains, thank them for bringing the matter to your attention and giving the company the opportunity to improve the product/service. Of course, you’re not likely to make a significant change to your product or service after just one complaint. However, complaint number one is a good time to start gathering more data month over month to see if other customers are saying the same thing.

Listen to your customers! They are the end users and often know your service and product better than you do.

If a customer complains, have you lost them forever? Absolutely not! In fact, resolving your customer’s complaint quickly may earn you higher customer loyalty than if the service or product delivered correctly the first time. We can all relate to the experience of complaining to a company, but not having a timely response, or worse, having our complaint be rejected always reflects poorly on the brand. All that marketing you do to increase customer acquisition is wasted by not figuring out how to protect your brand and increase retention.

Ask yourself, “Does my company spend as much on retention as they do on acquisition?” I imagine that they don’t.

One missing system in most organizations is that there is no set service level agreement (SLA) to escalate and resolve complaints. Not having a SLA for this will result in a fragmented process that has no internal goal which ultimately affects your customer’s experience. Go out and set your SLA’s for complaint management.

One thing you do not want to do is simply reimburse or discount the customer who is complaining without taking any other actions. It’s easy to throw money at a problem and hope it goes away but this is not what your customers are looking for. They are looking for you to make things right in an operational way as well. Your customers are looking to hear what actions you will take next to ensure that it’s unlikely that the same issue will arise. Let the customer know what you are going to do about the matter along with the financial compensation they may be looking for.

“Mrs. Johnson, I greatly apologize for the inconvenience we have caused. As promised, I will be reimbursing you for the amount you suggested. Equally as important, I will be speaking with our customer service representative that provided the incorrect information to you as I feel there is a great learning and training opportunity here…”

Do this to not only give the customer peace of mind that you are doing your very best to ensure their concern doesn’t resurface, but to show them you would appreciate another chance to rebuild their trust. I can tell you first hand, customers love this!

Everyone wants to be heard. And we can all appreciate acknowledgement of a wrongdoing and a strong effort to make up for that mistake. So I encourage you to embrace complaints! Buried within them you may find your diamond in the rough: the areas where you need to re-evaluate your service or product to ensure you’re not only meeting customer expectations, but exceeding them.

As business professionals, we all recognize that we need to manage our customer complaints. But, when will be put as much effort into customer retention as we do acquisition? At my past employer, we were able to reduce system wide customer complaints, in a franchise model, by 33% in three months by creating a process which helped us understand our customer aversions.

Properly listening to customers negative feedback can make them an asset and help grow your customer intelligence.

Let’s ensure our expectations as consumers is aligned with what we deliver as professionals.

In other words, if you’re going to demand that a company responds to your complaints immediately you better do the same within your business.

Complaint Resolution LLC: How to Exceed the Expectations of Your Customers and Employees

The other day an entrepreneur asked me this question:

How do I resolve a customer complaint when his version of events is wildly different from my frontline employee’s story? Must I always take the side of the customer? What about my employee’s word?

 

More often than not the go-to response to this particular issue is the customer is always right. However, your frontline employee who originally provided the customer with a product/service deserves to have his or her side considered and responded to also. It’s not acceptable to give in to customers who are always seeking reimbursements or discounts for services or products delivered, without ensuring your employees have a full understanding of your actions.

To make an accurate judgement on this question I suggest analyzing each situation through the following 3 steps:

Listen

 

Speak with your customer to understand the entire scope of their complaint. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that dig deep into the situation and be sure to remain neutral throughout your information- gathering. Then speak with the employee responsible for the initial customer interaction. If the concern involved multiple employees speaking with each of them individually will help you to connect the dots a lot easier as you take each account into consideration from the source. Your broad approach will likely show up any disconnects, thereby leading to a speedier resolution.

Learn

 

Examine your customer’s profile. Are they notorious for filing complaints? Do they have a history of demoralizing your staff? Or have they been a faithful, long-time customer with no prior instances of complaints or seeking reimbursements or discounts?

Then, do the same with your employees. Do they have a history of complaints from customers? Did they have a negative event in their life that day that may have resulted in a less than stellar customer interaction?

Answering these questions will clarify the drivers of the complaint and help to determine the resolution.

Conclude

 

With your due diligence with both customer and employee complete, you are prepared to take appropriate action to resolve the complaint. If you determine that the customer has a valid complaint which justifies a reimbursement or discount, immediately fulfill their request. Follow up with your employee to tell him why you have decided this course.

On the other hand, if you find that this customer is notorious for seeking unjustified reimbursements or discounts, or continuously hassling your employees with complaints, you may consider declining the customer’s request or possibly even firing them as a customer. Carefully explain to the customer why you have chosen to do this. Some may argue that declining the customers request goes against all customer experience best practices, however, as an entrepreneur you have standards by which you run your business effectively. Do not abuse those standards. You can live without one customer but you can’t live without your dedicated employees.

To support the LLC structure, set a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to have all complaints resolved within a set time frame.

For example, “At Joe Smith’s Autobody, we strive to have all customer feedback addressed and resolved within one business days.”

Have you set your SLA for complaint management?