You don’t really want that item, do you?

I have this tiny problem: I can’t drink more than one cup of caffeine coffee in a day, and that cup has to be early in the morning.  Otherwise, I’ll be calling you to chat on the phone at 3 a.m.

At today’s chic coffee shops, however, ordering decaf is somewhat frowned upon.  At least, that’s the way I feel when I attempt to order decaf there.  I often feel like I’ve just ordered fried cheese curds or something equally weird, instead of decaf coffee at a coffee shop.  

Coffee shops often have a solution to this problem for afternoon decaf drinkers: they make the decaf at the time of the order, so that it isn’t sitting around waiting for that lone, pitiable decaf drinker to come in the door, and they often do this with the “pour over” filter thing. That was the case when I recently tried to place an order for decaf at a chic coffee shop.

“Oh, we don’t have any ready at the moment,” the clerk said, without further ado.

“I realize that.  I’ll wait,” I assured her. I had gone through this routine before.

 “It will take a few minutes,” she said, clearly wanting me to give up or order something else.

 “Yes, that’s fine,” I said again.

 “I have to get out this whole holder thing and the water has to get hot and then drip…,” she went on.

 “Yes, I understand.  I’ll wait over at that table,” I said.

 I’m not sure if she actually rolled her eyes at my order, but I do know she sighed heavily.  I paid for my order and took my seat.

Before my coffee was ready, her colleague arrived from what I assume was his break and ribbed the clerk, “Oh, my, you’re actually making a decaf? Look at you!” as if she had accomplished a baked Alaska.

It occurred to me then that the clerk was relatively new and her hesitation at making my customized decaf was rooted in the fact that she hadn’t felt confident enough to do it on her own yet. She clearly welcomed the arrival of her colleague to help her.

Perhaps her training needed to include how to appear confident in the job and not try to talk a customer out of her order?

This kind of problem can easily be identified and rooted out by periodic mystery shops. Another good investment.


Are your automated messages automatically turning customers off?

It’s amazing how a tiny interruption in your workday can turn you into Miss Cranky Pants.

It was to be an extremely busy day as I attempted to get my sole proprietor business ready for me to be gone on a vacation.  The “to do” list was a mile long, but I was hammering away at it successfully until…that one thing happened.

I had to determine if something I had purchased could be returned to a store.  It was a perishable item so I was willing to accept the fact that, maybe, store policy wouldn’t allow me to return it.  That was going to be okay with me, but first I just wanted to check.

So I called the store.  That’s where the plot started to thicken.

First, I had to listen to an extremely long automated “ad” alerting me that this store needed new workers, complete with long details about how I could go about applying for a job there. I did not now, nor would I ever, want to work at this store.

Second, the automated voice then went through what I should do if I wanted to contact a certain department within the store. Let’s just say there were A LOT of departments. Yet, I had a basic customer service question: Could I return a certain item to the store?

There must have been 12 departments I could have pressed #___ for, yet I only wanted the one general one, and that one was LAST on the very long list. Customer service was last on the list?!  Hmmm….

Okay.  Maybe it was 3 minutes out of my day, but still, I was irked, peeved, put out and put upon.

They did agree to take my item back, in a very cheery and speedy way, by the way.  But…it all left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m wondering if anybody had “road tested” this automated system before unleashing it on the public.

A round of mystery shops would be the perfect “road test” because they would uncover the issues you need to address before you lose the loyalty of any customers. What better investment than that could you make in growing your business through customer retention?


Improving customer loyalty: Keep an eye on 5 things and you’ll keep more of them

Image for Improving Customer Loyalty PostOnly 28 percent of consumers are loyal to a brand or businesses, but we all know return customers are the key to a healthy bottom line.

Take a look at these five reasons your customers may be abandoning you:

  1. You treat new and existing customers too differently: If you’re giving hefty discounts to lure new customers, better offer your existing customers something along the same lines.

  2. You haven’t WOWed your loyal customers for a long time: Offer something special—a birthday freebie; exclusive access to new products—and make sure you’re thanking customers for their feedback and implementing what they suggest.

  3. You forget who is your business backbone: Which customers buy which product? In other words, focus on the core of your business by paying attention to where you get the most traction; then do more of that.

  4. You make problem resolution painful: Teach and empower your employees to solve customer problems efficiently and beyond the norm. 

  5. Your customers are getting the same quality for a lower price: Customers will jump ship in a minute if they’ve had a bad experience with your business; when they do, they flock to something of the same quality for a lower price. A customer loyalty program, and attention to high quality service, will keep this from happening. 

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Customer experience: Three steps toward creating aweseome experiences

fitness-332278__180CEM—yet another business acronym! All you need to know is it stands for Customer Experience Management and, well, it’s what everyone in your business should be aware of -at the very least.

 If you’re dedicated to managing the customer experience with your company, you need to be aware of it at every point of interaction a potential customer may have with you.  This article from the Customer Guru explains that managing it means doing so at every point of contact—in your print ads; when a customer searches for you online; when someone contacts your retail store; when someone asks a friend for a recommendation or an opinion; and finally when your product is purchased and used.

Only by gauging and understanding the customer’s expectation can a company deliver an experience that meets or exceeds that expectation.

So, how can you manage things? Try the three M’s…

  1. Measure: Determine a method to figure out your current level of customer satisfaction; then decide on a goal. Then, consistently measure what you’re doing.

  2. Monitor: You’ll need to keep close tabs on the fluctuations in the measurements you set up in step 1.  When there’s a blip—up or down—figure out why.

  3. Manage: To manage what you’re doing, you’ll need to connect with your customers and gain their feedback.  With the feedback, strive for your next level of improvement.


Customer service: Attitude and Aptitude

Image for Customer Service Attitude Post - shutterstock_251614729The clerk at the local hardware store was new to his job, one could tell, and he was having difficulty finding the right item in stock. Then the computerized cash register gave him problems, making the transaction take twice as long as it should have. Nonetheless, the clerk remained cheerful and clearly was doing his best at a new job. It was easy for me to forgive him because of that cheerful attitude.

In contrast, the clerk at the large big box hardware store knew exactly where to find the item I was looking for. But he directed me there with an expression that indicated he couldn’t care any less whether I found it or not. Perhaps he was having a bad day–it happens to everyone–and I’m not saying that every clerk in every big box store acts that way. But the interaction with the first clerk was much more enjoyable than with the second, even though the latter was more knowledgeable and better prepared to help.

A wise man once said, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” When dealing with the public, it seems a cheerful attitude covers a multitude of sins, as well.


The Best Customer Experiences Start with Customer Management

Image for Let’s manage those customer experiences better postA focus on customer experience by marketers should instead become a focus on customer management, according to this article from A customer experience focus has become extremely popular in recent years, with 89 percent of businesses now saying they compete mostly on this basis. However, the return on the investment in customer experience has not been great. The author says that may be because the focus has not been on creating a valuable experience for the customer that will also create business value. How to turn this around?

  • A company should examine a customer’s past and present value to determine what type of customer experiences are likely to result in higher value in the future.

  • A company should determine which customers result in the highest value, and then seek to understand what those customers truly care about. In other words, analysis of customers needs to be more precise.

  • After taking a more comprehensive view of both the ultimate value and of specific customer segments, as described above, a company should invest only in the tactics that will result in the highest value back to the company—an improved R.O.I.

  • A company should continuously take detailed measurements of all value being created by improved customer experiences.

All of that can only be accomplished if the proper technology is used and by ensuring that every place a customer has contact with the company is reporting their data.  The result will be continuous and deep insights into customer behavior and its resulting business value. 


Five Ways to Maximize your Mystery Shoppers Results

1. Share mystery shopper results with all appropriate departments. For example, if you are in marketing but the results could influence decisions in training…or Branch Administration…or Operations…or HR, share. That way the study will have more impact and more bang for the buck.

2. Share the details with those shopped. Those who performed well should receive positive feedback, even if it’s only an “atta boy/girl”. Those who did poorly should be corrected, in a positive manner of course. And those in between should receive both!

3. Compare the data results to prior periods to ascertain areas of improvement, or lack there of. For example, if name usage has improved, why and how? And what does your organization need to do to increase name usage even more?

4. Plan training and coaching strategies to address the weaknesses identified during the shops.

5. Measure the customer experience continuously and in as many was as your time and budget allow.


Customer service: Now is not the time to slack off

Image for No Time To Slack Off Customer Service Post - box-of-cupcakes-1066827_1920It’s no secret that retail businesses are struggling these days.  With so many 24/7 choices available to the customer at any given time, it’s hard for a retail shop to stand out from the crowd.  Today’s customer can buy in the middle of the night, from her iPhone, from a company located in Australia.

Product is only the starting point for a retail company.  The thing that will make that product stand out and be found is customer service, according to this article.

Recent studies show that customers are saying their experiences are more important to them today than they were just a year ago.  A full 97 percent are saying that customer service is an important factor in where they choose to shop and in their loyalty to the brand. Two-thirds of shoppers have stopped doing business with a particular brand because of one poor customer service experience.

Those are daunting numbers.

The economy has picked up. Consumers are spending again. However, early numbers seem to indicate that businesses are slacking off in customer service.  Now that each and every penny coming in the door is not as important, customer service may be taking a back seat.

Now is not the time to take a back seat.

Now is the time to double-down on customer service by being pro-active: What do the customers want now? Find out what it is and then provide it, above and beyond what they might be expecting.


Customer experiences: Consistency should be the watchword

Image for Customer Experiences Poast - workers-807577_1280The author of this article points out that less than 10 percent of customers who had been trying to resolve a customer service issue experienced a “seamless” process along the way .  This is bad news for those businesses where there are multiple systems in place and multiple ways a customer can be in touch.  Customers want all those options, but they also want and need to be served efficiently.  This means that every department and communications channel has to be aware of what every other one is doing. In short sales, marketing, service, and operations departments all need to be talking to each other and continuously looking at the systems they have in place for serving customers.

According to a 2015 study by IB and eConsultancy, 69 percent of brands think they’re providing superior customer experience, but only 31 percent of customers agree.

A multi-channel system has the potential for excellent customer retention, according to one study.  But, it must be consistent.  It must be obvious to the customer and it must be in keeping with your brand. Building a system that makes sense from the outside, not just within your company, is necessary.  After you’ve implemented -channel processes, you’ll want to try to measure customer retention and, ultimately, the revenue you’ve gained by retaining that customer over time. 

If you’re a small business, consistency for the customer is usually a given. It’s when a business grows that it’s in danger of losing touch with what a customer needs.  Make sure you’ve got at least one employee dedicated to the task of ensuring the customer experience remains the same even as company growth happens. It takes concentrated effort, but it’s well worth it.

Creating the best, most efficient customer service system will help your company avoid lost business and negative word-of-mouth in the long run.


Customer self service: Do we still need human interaction?

Image for Customer Self Service Post - computer-768608__180Today’s customer service is often about self service.  Technology has made it possible for a customer to find you easily and, quite often, to solve problems on their own.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, according to this article on the changing role of human interaction in customer service on

Typically, today’s customers already know far more about the product they are considering buying than they have in the past.  They’ve done their online research. They’ve shopped around. They’ve asked their family and friends.  Then, when they have a problem, they often turn to a Google search first.  Reaching out to customer service is usually second place.

Still, that doesn’t  have to mean a face-to-face encounter.  If a company can present detailed Frequently Asked Questions with answers written in understandable language, the customer with the problem may be just as happy using those to solve a problem as talking to someone on the phone.  A “knowledge base” on your website, or a place where fellow customers can interact with each other often meet the customer’s needs nicely.

This kind of customer self-service technique usually works to satisfy the customer, and to free up company resources for handling other problems.  However, the company loses out on a chance to interact with the customer and build on that relationship in a human way. Some companies are already implementing video chat or video answers to questions customers have submitted via video.  Those options may bring back a little bit of the human face, and they’re options some companies should consider.