“When Would You Like It?” March 23, 2013Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Setting Customer Expectations.
Tags: best practices, customer expectations, service delivery, service quality, setting customer expectations
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What’s your service model? Is it to deliver the best service possible at all times? Is it to over-promise and over-deliver? Or under-promise and over-deliver? Or under-promise and under-deliver? Who does that right?
Whatever the combination of your service model, the key to servicing your customers is setting expectations. How do you set customer expectations?
While I might not have scientific evidence to present you today, I can say with much certainty that NOT being able to set a customers expectations is a great way to cause more problems than you think.
This is particularly true of service providers. Service providers in any business live and die on three things: price, quality & timely delivery. What I often see as both a consumer and consultant is businesses who in their zeal to “keep the client happy” can’t for the life of them set expectations for success.
What do I mean? Let me clarify. Everybody seems comfortable asking the basic expectation question:
When would you like it?
But few and I mean very few in the service business are able to make the next statement – after the customer answers the above question:
Let me check with (our team, production schedule, etc.) to confirm if we can meet that date. If we can’t, I’ll give you the date we can meet.
You also have to keep in mind this: most customers are not expecting to get your service YESTERDAY. Most business transactions that I’ve witnesses over the years, customers have reasonable expectations.
However, if you only ask one question: When would you like it? – and then sit there and write it down and nod your head, you’ve just built your own sword that you will fall on.
Why do business owners commit themselves to a (mostly) arbitrary date without even knowing if they can do it? Without checking back at the office to see what’s already in the production queue? They leave the meeting or call with the customer thinking that there’s no problem.
The reality is that making customer commitments without understanding if you can is, well, crazy in my view. After the commitment is made, they head back to the office or shop and announce that “the pressures on!” and everyone must drop everything to move heaven and earth to meet this commitment…other customer commitments made before be damned.
That sets into motion a series of events that usually lead to the following:
1. Other customers being pushed out of the queue for service because of this latest “911”. That doesn’t help things.
2. The staff is thrown into unproductive disarray. Employees who operate in a culture of constant chaos because of reckless customer expectations setting are drained of energy. They burnout. They get cranky.
3. The rush to meet ridiculous expectations in order to “overserve” the customer leads to lower quality. In the rush to get the service prepared and delivered, mistakes are often made. What good does it do to make the superman effort to deliver services where the customer finds errors in the product? You know what happens. The customer is not happy and all your “heroic” efforts to over-deliver are negated.
4. Customers get used to running the show on service expectations – it’s like a drug. They want it when they want it and they know you’ll keep delivering and jumping as high as they say when they say it. Like a seal at a circus.
5. The constant barrage of unrealistic customer expectation setting often leads to being unable to meet the real “911’s” that truly need the team to make a superhuman effort to meet. Those get mixed into all the other artificial 911’s that are of our own making.
Want to get the best mileage from your efforts and still deliver consistently great service? Don’t overpromise. Don’t abdicate responsibility for setting expectations entirely to your customer. Don’t complain when you find you and your staff running like mice in cage every day of the week. Don’t create swords that you can fall on.
Do CEO’s Get It? May 19, 2011Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers.
Tags: client retention, customer service, David Dirks, dirks on strategy, retention
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The Conference Board recently asked CEO’s which business priorities they ranked from highest to lowest. I’ll tell you right now that I was a bit surprised and disappointed to see how CEO’s view their world. Here’s how the overall rankings came out across multiple industries:
1. Business Growth
3. Cost Optimization
5. Government Regulation
6. Corporate Brand and Reputation
7. Customer Relationships
9. International Expansion
10. Investor Relations
I don’t know about you but you know what surprised me? Customer relationships didn’t even make it in the top third of the rankings. That’s very interesting in light of all the decades worth of attention, studies, books, workshops, conferences and a host of other resources that have put customer relationships at or near the top of the ‘priorities’ list.
Now I’m not saying that the other top rankings like business growth or talent are critical issues. They are but I’ve always subscribed to the practice of putting your customer relationships in the center of the engine for business growth. Everything within an organization from sales, marketing, operations, and servicing are all connected and integrated into the customer relationship.
Interesting that CEO’s find that ‘cost optimization’ is far more important that customer relationships. Well, it’s more like an astounding fact. Sure, cost optimization is always an ongoing focus but do you build an organization around that?
And for all the talk (and there’s been a lot of that) on ‘sustainability’, that ranks even lower than customer relationships. Then on the bottom of the CEO rankings are the poor investors aka shareholders. Remember that the next time you hear a CEO talk about building ‘shareholder value’.
Another Lost Opportunity for a Sale May 3, 2010Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Keeping Your Customers, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics, Solving Business Problems.
Tags: customer service, sales strategy, service sales
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There are times when you realize that it’s the little things that count more often than not. That’s no less true when it comes to businesses who miss an opportunity to capture or in this case, recapture a sale. Let me explain. A few weeks ago, I made an appointment to take my car into the dealer for service that it really needed. For whatever reason, I was not able to make the appointment. Worse yet, I forgot to make a call to let them know that I wasn’t going to be there.
Here’s the service opportunity lost: no one from the dealer bothered to call me back to find out if I needed to reschedule. It’s happened before with the same dealership. The service manager there would find comfort in taking a page from the sales & service book of my dentist, who handles this transaction entirely differently.
If I make an appointment for dental work, the office calls me a few days before to remind me of my appointment. If I should miss it, you can count on the dental office calling me the next day to find out when I want to reschedule. Then I do and I go for the dental work. In effect, the dentist has recaptured a sales opportunity that would be otherwise lost if they didn’t bother to call me back.
The service manager at the car dealer is missing out on a lot of business over the course of a year just simply by NOT calling customers back if they miss an appointment. Recapturing that service sales should be just as disciplined a process as we see from the dental office.
If you’re in a service business that books customers by appointment, make sure your have a mechanism in place to recapture those of us who forget to make the first appointment. Don’t count on customers to call you back and reschedule.
No Sales Goodwill Here April 10, 2009Posted by David Dirks in Dealing With Competitors, Keeping Your Customers.
Tags: customer service, goodwill, retail sales, retail strategy
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This morning I went to a local printer I use for to a quick print job I needed for a presentation. I walked in the shop and begin to explain what I have and what needs to be done. The woman at the counter simply says, ‘we’re closed’ and points to the sign on the outside near the door…yup the sign says you are closed. However, the lights are on in the shop and the door is open. Not only that, the sign says they are normally open from 8am to 5pm on Fridays. How would I know they decided to ‘close’ today?
What’s worse is the part when I ask here if she knows of another printer who could do the job. She meekly says a name of a office supply store which I won’t name but you wouldn’t have your resume printed there. It’s not there thing. No big deal right? Well, except that the store she named wasn’t even close by. And right next store, in the strip mall next to theirs is a Minuteman Press.
So I’m thinking to myself, you will send me to some schlocky outfit rather than your competitor next door? Is that the best you can do for me, the customer? I think not. So, I took my business over to the Minuteman Press. He was open and took care of me right way and, pretty much by default, he earned my business today. By the way, the job I had in hand was worth several hundred dollars.
So, here are a few points worth noting from this sad tale.
- If you can’t do the job, recommend one of your competitors who can. This was the ‘moment of truth’ that the first printer flunked with flying colors. I would have appreciated the close proximity of the press next door and my ability to get the project done today. I would have felt gratitude to them for helping me find the appropriate printer. It would have earned them much goodwill. Instead, it made me mad and bought them no goodwill whatsoever.
- If you are going to close your store on a normally busy day during your regular business hours, don’t close unless you absolutely have to. Except for an emergency, your customers are expecting you to be open.
Trust me when I say this: the first printer didn’t seem to care about my need for immediate, high quality printing. “We closed”, is the only advice I really got. Well, keep that up and you will be closed…only permanently.
There. I feel better now. 🙂
Beating a Recession – 7 November 28, 2008Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Keeping Your Customers, Local Brand Development, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
Tags: beating a recession, business strategy, creating customer value, customer communications, marketing communications, recession strategy, sales strategy
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Here’s a question for you: When you made your last major purchase (car, truck, appliances, etc.) from a retailer/vendor (local or otherwise), how often have you heard from them since? I’m willing to bet that it’s about zilch. Zero. None of the above. Perhaps you have received some form of communication from a local retailer (phone, email, direct mail, etc.) on a fairly regular basis but that would be the exception and not the rule. The rule for most locally owned businesses is, “yes, we communicate with our customer’s when they come into our store.”
Really? Well good for you but not good when you’re trying to create more sales from your existing customer base and create new customers at the same time. The failure to create even a simple communication strategy that provides some level of ‘touch’ to your customer base is a prescription for going out of business in time.
This concept is one that almost universally is met with applause. Everyone can ‘get’ this concept on an intellectual level. It makes perfectly good sense. The truth though, again, is that few do it at all and even fewer get it right when they at least attempt to do it.
Here are my thoughts on this subject of reaching out to customers on a regular basis. This is the stuff which Big Dogz do and do well.
- This is a low budget item that offers high-payoff results. You don’t need a huge marketing budget to create a simple and basic customer communication plan. Email, direct mail, and the old-fashioned telephone offer a great way to stay in touch with customers.
- Set some basic goals for your customer communication plan. Helping customers get the most out of their purchases; educating them on how to do things that create value from the products or services you sell them; advising them on special buying opportunities that are exclusive to them, are just a few basic goals.
- Once your start, don’t stop. If you and I can agree that most businesses don’t have a customer communications plan, then we can probably also agree that the few that are willing to try, don’t stick with it long enough to see results. Executing on your communications plan when you can remember to do it is like not doing it at all.
- Get their contact information on every sale. You should sell every customer on the idea that by giving you their contact info, (address, phone, and email), you can help them beyond the immediate sale. If your communications strategy for your customers creates more value (i.e. teaches, educates, informs, and in some way creates real value for them that they will appreciate) and keeps the sales pitch to a minimum, it’s not a tough sell. Just be sure to ask every customer or even those who come in to comparison shop, to join the list. If your pitch sounds hollow, they’ll say no.
- Results are long term. Yes, I know. You’re in the fight for your life to keep sales and profits moving along through this current economic debacle (what else can you call this? ‘recession’ seems too light a term). You need sales to stabilize NOW. Today. This minute. However, that’s no excuse for not creating a customer communications plan and implementing TODAY.
- Ok. There are some short term benefits. For one, if you implement a customer communications plan and are consistent with it, you will see some uptick in sales from your current and devoted customer base. For customers who have been buying your products and/or services over time (loyal base), you always want to be looking to expand their purchases (getting a greater share of their wallet). If an existing customer purchases an average of $50.00 per month, you want to set the goal high, say to $65.00 per month. Incremental increases of a share of your customers wallet is what wins the day. Don’t expect customers to go from $50.00 to $100.00 overnight.
- This process will cost you in terms of your TIME. It doesn’t cost much money to create and implement a regular plan for communicating with your customer base. However, it will cost you in terms of the time you will need to invest to create and implement it. I believe that this is the one point that holds people back from either doing it or keep doing it. When you where multiple hats in a business or resources are just tight, it’s tough. However, the cost of NOT doing it is the most painful price to pay of all. Find the time. Keep yourself organized and on a regular schedule when implementing your plan.
- Another immediate benefit: word-of-mouth customer referrals. Customers who receive the royal treatment with a solid array of customer communication vehicles are usually so positively stunned, that they just have to tell others about it. Creating a customer experience beyond the sale is so rare these days that you’ll benefit from the effort as the word about your business gets out.
- Timing is everything. How often should you communicate with your customers? Good question. First, you need to decide what the goals of your communications plan are. Second, you need to create the pieces (newsletter, phone calls, direct mail, email, blogs, website, etc.) and decide what the frequency of each piece is within the framework of your customer communications plan. For instance, your newsletter might be quarterly. Your phone check in might be twice a year. Your email might be bi-monthly. You can set the tone and pace of your communications plan and tweek it as you learn more about your customers needs and wants. For example, you may find that your customers enjoy getting your newsletter that your increase the frequency to bi-monthly or monthly. Test different formats and try new tools.
Want to survive a recession and build a business that has deep and healthy roots for longevity? Then do this. Trust me, chances are that your competition, large or small, isn’t. The opportunity is all yours.
How Not To Sell Pizza April 15, 2008Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Solving Business Problems.
Tags: bad customer service, building loyalty, customer service, sales skills
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Last Friday I went to a local pizza joint near my home to pick up my daughter from a b-day party being held there. Somewhat hungry, I went in to get two slices of pizza. The line was only 3-4 people deep so I found my place in line and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, my turn on the counter. I ask for two slices to go. Sorry, says the lady behind the counter, we don’t have any counter pizza. It’ll be about 10 minutes she says before one is ready. Ok. I’ll wait this out. And wait. And wait. During the waiting period, I wanted to know just what the route causes were of this waiting snafu for two simple pieces of pizza.
I observed pretty much chaos behind the counter. It was certainly near the dinner hour, so I could understand why they were busy. But they just couldn’t seem to keep up. As people came to pick up their phone orders, I hear people behind the counter say things like, “What time did you call?” or “What’s your name again?”. Or they would frantically search for the persons order, unsure of where or what happened to it. Chaos.
So, I waited and waited…10…15 minutes…then I go to the counter. Looking directly at the lady who spoke to me before, I noted that I was simply waiting for two pieces of pizza to go. She looks down at the counter pizza stand, which is still void of pizza, and says, “We don’t have any right now”. She looked at me like she had never laid eyes on me before. Good grief. Game over. I’m out of here. Sell the slices, whenever they get here, to someone else. I’m going outside to chew on some tree bark instead.
All I could keep thinking was, “this place stinks”. Now, they have pretty good pizza, but what I just went through was enough to drive a sane person over the edge. Is this the way to run a business? One woman who saw me standing there told me that she went through the same chaos the week before. Apparently, peak order times are a problem for this business. Fortunately, it isn’t the only game in town. We have other good choices with far less chaos.
Here are a couple of takeaways:
- Always be ready for prime time. This pizzeria was not running even close to optimal during peak order times. If you’re in the pizza business, you live for these times when orders are streaming in by phone and people are at the counter, etc. This is your business and people expect you to handle the peak times with efficiency, not chaos.
- Tell customers the truth. Don’t tell a customer that the pizza will be ready in 10 minutes when 20 minutes later there is still no counter pizza still! Perhaps “10 minutes” is the mechanical response. “Can I get a soda?” Response: “Ten minutes.” “Can I use your bathroom?” Response: “Ten minutes.” “I think I’m having a heart attack.” Response: “Ten minutes.”
- Recognize an opportunity to make things right when you see it. I don’t think it mattered much to the folks at the pizzaria that I walked out and left a customer who will not go back there again. Had they done the right thing and said, “We’re sorry sir to keep you waiting. Have a soda on us.” That would have certainly taken the edge off me. Don’t just ignore the situation (in this case, me) and hope I’ll just go away (like I did).
There’s a very busy pizza place near my office in NJ. They are crunched at lunch time. However, no matter when you show up or how busy it is, you get great service. They almost always have a pizza available on the counter for slices or one is really within a minute of coming out of the oven. In other words, they have long ago figured out how to run their business efficiently. And, their pizza is great too!
Contacting Key Sales Accounts -4 January 1, 2008Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Managing Sales Accounts, Sales Metrics.
Tags: account management, sales contact, Sales Metrics
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“I haven’t seen or heard from my account executive in over a month”
“I’m not sure who handles my account there”
“The other company seems very interested in helping us”
And a few you never want to find yourself saying:
“I haven’t heard from them in a while”
“Oh, that account…it’s dead”
“When I have time, I’ll give them a call”
It never ceases to amaze (and disappoint) me how often businesses fail to maintain even an adequate level of contact with sales accounts vital to their business. Some wait until the phone rings. For others, it might only be an infrequent level of contact. Either way, it’s more hit or miss, than purposeful contact management.
The Big Dogz have made a science out of superior contact management. They don’t leave anything to chance and just wing it. The good news for you is that most businesses fall on their face when it comes to maintaining the right level of contact with a customer.
That should spell o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y to you.
How often should you follow up on any sales account you have? Many books have been written on this subject alone. In my opinion, there are two key considerations:
1. How frequently does the customer want to be contacted? Ask your customer directly. I’ve always made it a habit to ask that question and in almost all instances, the customer is very clear about how often they want me to contact them. If they want you to touch base with them once a month, then you’d better be sure and do it. Don’t ask this question if you don’t plan on following the answer.
2. What is the value of this account and how does it perform? If you’re a small business owner, you can’t be everywhere. You can’t visit all your customers with exactly the same frequency. So, you need to prioritize your customers in a way that allows you to maintain a level of contact that fits those customers needs.
There is no ‘formula’ for evaluating the performance of an account. But there are some things to think about.
First, you need to determine how you are going to measure ‘account performance’ in the first place. Account performance is defined as how a particular sales account provides inputs that meet your set business goals. Inputs are those things that contribute to the measurable success of your business. For example, some common inputs are sales volume, profitability, longevity, frequency of sales, and new business referrals. Let’s break these inputs down a little further.
Every customer that buys your products or services contributes to your sales goals. Some customers contribute more than others. What percentage of your business is from this sales account? How do they stack up against your other customers? However, sales volume alone is not a good way to prioritize customers. Which leads me to the next input.
Everybody loves large accounts. Big accounts naturally seem to demand more of your time. But are those large accounts profitable? It’s entirely possible (and often happens) that a large account provides great sales but contributes poorly to your profitability, or in the worse case, makes you lose money. I do NOT advocate dropping an account just because it’s marginally profitable. The right thing to do would be to figure out why it’s marginally profitable and fix it. I am saying that you need to understand what level of profitability (or loss) that account brings to the table.
Longevity is an interesting input. Are they a long time customer? What value do you place on a customer who stays with you rather than jump to the next competitor who offers to save them 5cents more? Or what about the new account that is buying a lot of product or services? You’re always going to have a range of customers with some new, some old. My point here is that longevity does count for something.
Frequency of sale is a measurement of how often they buy your goods or services. Once per year? Every other month? Every day? When you look at frequency of sale, you have to look at sales volume at the same time. Your customer may order only once per year but it might be the biggest order you get all year long. Keep frequency of sale in perspective with sales volume contribution.
New business referrals are another key metric. How many new customers have been referred directly from this customer? If you don’t expect your customers to refer new customers to you, you’d better think again. If your business is exceeding the expectations of your customers, you have every right to expect that they can and will help you find more customers. So, you might have a customer who doesn’t contribute as much to your sales volume but they refer a lot of business to you. They are worth their weight in gold. Even if they are unprofitable.
How much contact time should you spend on a customer? The answer is not easy as you can see. However, by asking the customer what frequency of contact they want and understanding their performance contribution to your business, you’ll be in a better position to prioritize them.
Delivering Superior Customer Service: The Grand Hyatt of Tampa December 14, 2007Posted by David Dirks in Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Increasing Your Profitability, Keeping Your Customers, Uncategorized.
Tags: , buzz marketing, customer service, grand hyatt, hyatt, increasing profits, increasing revenues
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I’ve just witnessed/experienced a text book example of delivering on superior customer service. At the moment, I’m in Tampa awaiting a flight back home, wrapping up a three day business trip. I’ve been staying at the Grand Hyatt in Tampa during this time. The hotel is a living & working model of creating and delivering consistent superior customer service. By the way, ‘superior’ customer service is defined in my book as that level of customer service that is so obvious that you’d have to be dead to miss it. It’s a level of customer service that you recognize the moment you’re picked up at the airport to the hotel until the time you check out.
Any business, large or small, intent on delivering superior customer service quickly recognizes that it’s your ability to pay attention to the ‘small things’ that makes the difference. It’s the ability to continuously aggregate small but significant ‘moments of truth’ that build on one another during a customers experience with you.
Here are a few examples of the Grand Hyatt in Tampa delivering on superior customer service:
1. Every, repeat, every interaction with any level of Hyatt employees in this hotel was delivered in a consistent fashion. The always friendly smiles, personal & friendly banter, and the constant scanning for opportunities to serve are just a few examples of superior customer service. On the last point of scanning for opportunities to serve, everyone on the staff is trained to find ways to help hotel guests enjoy their moments there. Hotel employee’s are not hiding from guests. Some are even strategically posted around the common areas of the hotel and are constantly scanning the area for opportunities to help customers.
2. The Grand Hyatt has figured out how to insure that all employees are trained effectively to deliver customers service when they are in the line of duty. That’s not an easy thing to do but the Big Dogz do it all the time and invest in it deeply. You can’t create a superior customer service experience by skimping on constant training.
3. It’s clear to me, as a guest of the Grand Hyatt, that they have figured out how to monitor customer service levels constantly. They have to be great at spotting team members who could become the weak link in the customer service chain. Their response to less than superior customer service performance is probably two things: a) retraining the team member and/or b) showing them the door.
4. There were no lulls in the delivery of superior customer service. I noted that no matter what the time of day, early morning or late at night. They, like many of the Big Dogz who are best at this game, have built into their people, culture and business processes, the ability to deliver superior customer service CONSTANTLY, 24/7.
We have choices in our business models:
– deliver awful customer service all the time
– deliver mediocre customer service all the time
– deliver inconsistent customer service all the time
– deliver superior customer service inconsistently
– deliver superior customer service all the time
I could go on and on but you get the idea. There are no ‘secrets’ to consistently superior customer service. It takes a coordinated, dedicated, and well invested focus on the part of everyone in your business, no matter how big or small. By the way, superior customer service has many advantages. Here are a few:
– Creates a ‘buzz’ around your business. The Big Dogz who execute on this are able to create such a high level of service that their customers are a key part of their marketing and sales process. Built in. No extra cost other than your investment of time, money, and intellectual capital on keeping your customer service ‘superior’.
– Allows you to keep your pricing at higher levels. Your customers will come back again and again for the experience. They won’t generally take the next lowest cost provider. They value the customer service experience they get. It’s a loss to them when they can’t get it, for any price.
– Attracts the best and the brightest. No one wants to work with a second rate provider of customer service. Who wants to work for a business who doesn’t care about providing superior customers service? Answer: People who don’t get hired by places like the Grand Hyatt in Tampa.
Is it easy to create superior customer service? No. However, if you want to build a business that will stand the test of time and profitability, you have no choice. Do it.