Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Beware of Loose Ends – they can unravel a brand

September 28, 2016

Loose ends – some are so important that ignoring them could ruin the fabric of your company – really.

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There are endless ways a loose end can present itself in your business. The key is to not discount it as minor before you really know.

Most loose ends come from failing to completely close the loop in the first place. Ask yourself, how well is your team doing in closing loops?

Expectations of a close loop:

  • Closing a loop in business is like closing the door at home.
  • Did your mom ever say to you – “did you grow up in a barn?”  when you ran out and left the door ajar vs. closing it completely as they had asked?  Mine did. My point being, to completely close a loop in your business, you need to tie off the two loose ends for a tight knot.  Just like closing the door – close it to hear it click – not ajar – Shut.  Closed. Tight.
  • If the knot is not made, the loop is not closed. The analogy is that your customers are literally falling out of that opening and likely will NEVER return to your business. The loose ends are causing problems and you need to make sure you have the people and processes in place to identify the loose ends and get them tight in a knot that stays tight.

Let’s take a common situation that may occur in your business.  A customer complaint is received. How would your company handle a similar situation to one a client experienced this past week?

  • Scenario:  Customer complaint is submitted via unique email address that we (marketing) monitor regularly. We forward the email to the appropriate senior manager for him to review, investigate and address. Senior manager email response comes back to marketing and the CEO indicating no record found of what customer is complaining about.  Period. End of communication.

Is that really the end to the scenario? Is the loop closed or open?  The loose ends are not closed and if no further action is taken, this simple example has a high likelihood of becoming a significant issue.

If we (marketing) did not step in from there and take the ball, there would have been no proactive ownership taken to address the obvious loose end here…communicating back to the customer.  The loop was not closed at all. In fact the customer complaint from a very loyal customer was going to become more of an issue if we left the loop open and let the loose end dangle.

Let’s fast forward a few days or weeks to IF the above was literally the end:  Over time, the unhappy customer realizes his complaint is being ignored (from their perspective). It is likely and in today’s world, quitre reasonable, to expect the customer would be frustrated and sign on to Facebook, Yelp, Google+ and potentially other sites to share his story and frustration. Dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of consumers see the complaint and now have a negative view of the brand. The brand is damaged and whatever brilliant marketing we execute reaching these folks, the damage has been done.

The Actual Scenario to Close the Loop:

The actual scenario ended as follows:  Marketing saw the senior manager’s response of having no record of the issue. Marketing wrote a response to the customer that same day to apologize, empathize and share action that had been taken (by marketing and the CEO) to ensure the issue was addressed AND also investigated other potential root causes that could have caused the scenario to happen. Later that same evening, the customer replied to my email and thanked me for the attention and response.

Without closing the loop completely, loose ends appear. Initial little threads get pulled and grow to bigger issues. Before you know it you have a ball of thread that is one big mess.  Think of that as your brand.

6 Tips to Avoid Your Brand Unraveling Due to Loose Ends:

  1. Follow up. Don’t assume the loop was closed. If you have any doubts across your company, get the right manager on it or check on how it was solved.  For many of our clients, we (marketing) assume ownership, take the lead and follow up with others to ensure the loop was closed especially when it comes to customers. We (marketing) tie off the loose ends into one tight knot.
  2. Don’t assume. Don’t assume the scenario was an anomaly.  Confirm it was one. You will sleep better at night.
  3. Get to the root cause. Don’t accept on-the-surface answers in your business. (e.g., no record found; I don’t know; not my job; I think that so and so handled it).  It may take time and resources. Are you sending signals to quickly move onto the next fire or put this one out first?
  4. Be a detective – Ask questions, encourage your team to ask questions.  When mysteries aren’t solved, they will likely appear in some other, but similar form.
  5. Look for patterns. (pun intended given the thread/fabric analogies woven throughout this blog). Are you seeing a pattern that hints there is a bigger issue? A great way to identify patterns is to keep track of issues/situations and talk about them with your team. Patterns will emerge. If you are constantly playing whack-a-mole in your business, there are likely issues that need to be solved at the root cause.
  6. Hire people who are committed to customer service. A longer term solution (granted) but it starts with a mentality.  Do you surround yourself with people committed to solving problems and doing the right thing?  One suggestion to help you hire people with the right mindset:  during the interview process provide the candidate with a written scenario that reflects a tough, unhappy customer situation that could (or did) happen in your business.  Have the candidate describe how they would address the situation.  Listen carefully for word choice and tone. Ask yourself, are they empathetic, caring, and professional? Or do they use a tone and words that raise concerns? This can be an effective way to identify the appropriate mindset to serving customers as well as indications of if they are problem solvers by indicating how they investigate the root cause.

If we had viewed our role only as get the customer complaint to the proper manager to handle, the above scenario had the potential to be a MAJOR issue for the brand. There would be NO customer follow up, no acknowledgement of his issue.  In this scenario closing the loop completely required two levels of closure:

  1. Internally.  Investigating the cause and solving the problem at the root cause. Two internal systems were checked with no record of the complaint; 1 important external system was not checked. The initial manager response was incomplete. More digging was needed.
  2. From the customer perspective. Letting them know their complaint was heard, addressed and apologizing for the inconvenience.

Doing one without the other leaves a loose end somewhere. Some loose ends are harmless.  Others have the potential to do big harm and unwind all the good will, charity, and brand building that you have done for years.

Be on the lookout for loose ends in your business and tie them together to achieve a tight closed loop.

 

Who knew? Inaccurate website leads to happiness

July 2, 2015

Scenario:  Need to renew my passport and get a passport for my daughter (a minor).  Rely heavily on websites to print the paperwork, complete it in advance and to confirm details to ensure I have everything in order to get this done…today. Find her birth certificate, confirm document notarized to ensure she is not getting a passport without her father knowing it.  I am confident I have everything so final search prior to leaving the house was to confirm a post office location that did not require an appointment.  Conduct my online search – confirm passport application hours all day, call to be sure, but after being on hold give up after 10 minutes.

Drive 45 minutes (to be near another errand) to enter the Medford Post Office on Forest Street. Signs greet us apologizing for service delays due to training going on as well as signs indicating appointments required for passport applications – uggh! Wait in line to see if there is a chance of an appointment for today already knowing the answer.  Yep – nope – can’t help you today.  Go to Malden – gives me the address. Why doesn’t anyone ensure the website information is accurate??!!

I remain calm (surprisingly) and plug in the address to the Malden post office.  Off we go.  Wait in line…a friendly woman calls us up and confirms no appointment needed and they also do photos – yes!  Things are looking up.  Until we are told that I am missing information to proceed. My daughter’s passport can’t be processed.  Here is where technology is a wonderful thing: my daughter calls her Dad; he emails me what I need.  We drive to a Staples and sure enough, they are happy to print out the document we need. I offer to pay them for their help and the associate declines – happy to help.  Very nice. Thank you Staples.

So where does happiness come in?

Next door to the Malden Post Office is the Malden Y. Once we have successfully completed passport #2, I suggest we go into the Y. My daughter cleaned out her bedroom yesterday – a thorough cleaning.  In my car are bags of clothes, girly pillows, stuffed animals, and a small wicker rocker.  I speak to a woman and a man at the Y and explain that we would love to donate these items if they could use them to give to young girls. They are thrilled to accept the items and that is where the real happiness came today. They explained that the majority of the families they serve are low-income. What Meredith has outgrown would bring a smile to a young girl’s face.  Thank goodness the Medford post office could not help us earlier today.  We would never have ended up next door to the Malden Y to donate bags of items.

This time, I am not criticizing an entity for having inaccurate information on their website. I can’t stop thinking about young girls finding something they like to put a smile on their face.

Do you have stuffed olives?

January 16, 2014

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As you kick off the year and focus on having a great 2014, take a step back and ask yourself – What can I do to better serve my customers? 

The best way to answer this question is really quite basic. Put a feedback loop in place.  Make sure you have a communications process in place to ask your sales people, your waiters and waitresses, your customer service people, your delivery people – anyone who has interactions with prospects or customers:  What do they ask for that we are not providing?

So what do stuffed olives have to do with this blog? 

I can’t take the marketer out of me. I can’t put my customer-centric mindset aside – whether it’s watching TV and analyzing the commercials, driving by a commercial vehicle on the highway and noting the poor branding or unreadable graphics, or going out to dinner with my family. I see opportunities. I see simple ways to improve customer service, simple ways to improve one’s message, be consistent with imagery and ways to “wow” the customer. The example to highlight my point is stuffed olives.

When we go out to dinner, I know what the request will be of the bartender or waiter/waitress before we leave our home. My husband will ask – “do you have stuffed olives?”  as he orders his martini. The best and hoped-for answer is – “of course” and then indicate they stuff them with fresh bleu cheese. Nice! The evening is off to a good start. The most common answer, however, is an immediate, no hesitation “No”. The missed opportunity is that 90% of the places have olives and they have bleu cheese. The sad part is no consideration, no offer to take the pimento out and put some bleu cheese in for voila, a stuffed olive!  They simply and quickly say ‘no’ and move on to taking the drink order. Lesson #1 – clue your employees into the simple missed opportunity; the opportunity to say yes and make it happen without a lot of effort or negative impact on margins. Pretty simple stuff.

Lesson #2 – As the owner, President or CEO, are you even aware of what your customers or prospects are asking for and getting the answer of ‘no’?  This is the part of the dinner where I get on my soap box – I comment to my kids and husband that I bet them that no one ever shares with the manager or the owner that people are even asking for stuffed olives. The feedback loop is likely nonexistent. Do you have an easy way to gather more info so you are in the know and can make an informed business decision about whether you will choose to offer your business equivalent of the ‘stuffed olive’ example? Suggestion: put a feedback loop in place for 2014! In this example, a waiter or bartender could simply leave a note or post an email every day of requests they receive that aren’t met. For other organizations, a sales person could share in a weekly call or put in their call report. Customer service could have a simple email that they capture the patterns of one or many. The point of lesson #2 is this feedback loop does not have to be complex or process-heavy. Make it happen – I bet you you’ll identify something that you can do in Q1 of 2014 to improve how you are serving your target audience.

This overused acronym does apply here (sorry)  K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple stupid. Put in some consistent process that enables you to have a better handle on what your customers are looking for and then deliver it. Don’t treat this as a New Rear’s Resolution as if you do, like most resolutions, it will not last until Valentine’s Day. Just do it consistently and let your team know it is not a fad, but a smart way of doing business. Listen. Don’t say no – work on saying yes more.

Go find out what the equivalent of having stuffed olives is for your business. It may surprise you and help 2014 results. Cheers!