Posts Tagged: customer service

The Customer Experience Engine

Recently I did a spot for New Hampshire’s WMUR Channel 9 on Savvy Shopping using smart phones. One part of the segments that got edited out were my comments on stores being able to improve retention in the face of ubiquitous pricing info and user ratings by improving their customer experience and customer service. It sounds simple, but so many fail at it.

I have three favorite examples of customer experience right now: Disney, Apple and Trader Joe’s. Each is vastly different in scope and product, yet all excel at experience. Even if you are a Mom and Pop shop, you need to take your customer’s experience just as seriously as they do, and put it at the forefront of your time spend.

Apple is well known for engineering their Apple Retail Stores to provide the ideal shopping experience for their target customer base. They keep their stores simple, bright, comfortable, interactive, attractive, artistic, efficient and well staffed with knowledgable people. There is never a shortage of help when you need it, and aesthetically they have created an atmosphere that pays attention to everything from customer flow to the way the floor feels to stand on. It makes shopping there a pleasure, yes, but they also welcome those who simply need a laptop charge or to jump online quickly – that low key expertise, atmosphere of play and knowledge, and welcome feeling works. Apple has legions of fans that congregate for new store openings and product launches, who generate vast amounts of fan content based on Apple’s brand experience, and more.

Trader Joe’s works hard to give you a neighborhood grocery feeling in their stores, while giving you a chance to buy exotic items and unique things. They make you feel special, and are so good at customer experience their customers spontaneously create videos and other odes to them. They use a special check out system to handle the problem of being in a slow line (slow lines are rare beasts indeed at Trader Joe’s, almost never spotted, even during rush times), encourage staff to be helpful and courteous, and design everything from the store layout and products stocked to the staff Hawaiian shirts to encourage a feeling of exploring and discovery.

Disney is, hands down, the reigning champ of customer experience. With a semi-hidden army of people working to ensure the happiness of everyone who interacts with Disney, especially when it comes to their theme parks, Disney has placed itself as the gold standard of perceived happiness for their customers. To go to a Disney park is to experience decades of practice implementing cutting edge ideas that only billions of dollars of R&D and advanced techniques can produce, coupled with a staff of thousands ready to execute at a moments notice – a juggernaut and a pas des deux at once.

What I find interesting for brick and mortars, Mom and Pop shops, and businesses of all sizes, is the way in which technology is leveling the playing field. Well made low cost software and gadgets enable you to be as up on what your competition is doing as the customer is. Instead of using it for what most businesses do, however: price competition, why not use it instead for customer happiness research?

Find out where your customer’s pain points are, both in your establishment and in your competitors’ establishments. Address those pain points better and faster than everyone else. Listen to what your customers love more than a bargain, and see if you can deliver it. Use this information river to make your customer feel unique, special and above all – wanted and appreciated.

Educate and empower your staff at all levels on your processes. Nothing makes a customer unhappy faster than a staff member who isn’t clued in on what the company is doing, whether it is a Foursquare Special or how to take a return with grace and care. Staff members who feel like they don’t have enough information to do their job are unhappy themselves, and this translates to customer unhappiness as well – Trader Joe’s, Disney and Apple all empower their staff to help people, and it shows in how pleasant they are to the customer.

Open online channels if you can support them, then be clear on how you will use them. Give enough people access to these channels to make them effective to avoid the ghost town effect abandoned accounts have on customer happiness and retention. Make sure the infrastructure of your business is geared to handle online inputs (don’t be a Comcast, known for having great Twitter service and shoddy actual service).

Your eyes, ears and staff are your greatest resources for retaining customers and building customer happiness and retention. Technology is out there to help you broaden their reach. Are you building your own command center and using it to your own advantage?

Is Your Front Desk In Order?

The first thing a customer sees is your front desk. Your front facing person could be a greeter at your entry way, a receptionist, a voice mail system, your Twitter account or any of a number of things – but you do have a first impression to make.

As 2010 draws to a close I ask you: is your front desk in order? Are you ready for 2011?

If your front desk is a web presence, is it ready for customers, giving them easy to find, useful, comprehensive information? After doing this assessment on myself last year, I revamped my own presences. I will likely need to do this again, and again – just like you.

If your front desk is an automated system of any kind: voice mail, auto DM, canned responses, etc my opinion is you need to trash it and start with something more human, helpful and accessible.

If your front desk is brick and mortar based: restaurant staff, receptionists, door greeters, customer service representatives and more, are these people fully trained in your goals, in how you want your online presences used, in your message and how to really be helpful to your customers?

Are you giving the front line of your company enough information and power to be effective in this economic battleground, or do you render them mute by keeping them in silos, like so many mushrooms?

Give an honest assessment of your own front desk, and use the last bit of 2010 to make it shine so you get off on the right foot in 2011.


Social Media Curves

While on a call with members of The Community Roundtable recently, I spoke about the concept of social media curves, or social media arcs. This is something I encourage my clients to consider as they embark on their first social media forays, or revamp an existing social media presence. It requires a shift in thinking that encourages patience – something in short supply in this always-on world.

What I mean by a social media curve is the time frame from when you first start to create and nurture your social media efforts and when you see your first success. In working with clients in all industries, the time frames I tend to see average out to 3 month and 6 month curves of time. This is strictly “anecdata”, as they say, based on the work I’ve done – I’d love to see the information compiled from others in the industry to see if this curve holds true across the board.

We’ve already covered the need for businesses, filmmakers, musicians, artists, etc. to have purposeful engagement on social media platforms. We’ve covered the need for being human, balancing personal and professional and other basics. So now that you’ve been in the social media trenches for a while and established your basic identity, presence and reason for being there (or re-established, if you are repairing a poorly done campaign or repopulating a social media ghost town), what comes next?

Once you’ve laid a foundation, it’s time to work from goals on the front end and set appropriate expectations on the back end. Map out what you hope to achieve through social media, then break it down into reasonable, bite sized goals. Each of these goals will become part of a social media curve. Prioritize the goals, then associate them with concrete offline benchmarks (after all, the “ROI” of social media is not an arbitrary number of followers or fans, but actual offline results: sales, referrals, leads, foot traffic, event attendance, restaurant bookings, collaborators on projects, better customer service, etc).

What do I mean by appropriate expectations? This is really where the social media curve idea comes in. Depending on the size of your goal, and how long and how well you’ve been maintaining your social identity and engagement, you will see results on a social media curve. A shallow response, followed by an arc of positive results and more attention and engagement from others, tapering off and becoming steady as the weeks go by. This means that for a small goal, you should see measurable and steady results after about 3 months, and for a larger goal, expect 6 months. (And keep in mind that “I want more business” is not a goal, it’s a hope – and hope is not a business model. A goal would be “I want to increase restaurant bookings by x% a week”)

Many are disappointed that the results are not immediate, since the internet seems to move so quickly. If you have built an outstanding (and I do mean outstanding as in extraordinary, fully engaged, interesting, interested, helpful and aware) social presence and have the social leverage that comes from that, you can achieve a slightly faster response, but too many think outstanding presence means numbers on a page. It does not. Take Chris Brogan for example. People do not listen to Chris because he has a gazillion followers, great hair and a huge blog following. People listen to Chris because he listens to them, and has spent years being helpful, aware, interesting, interested, and otherwise fully engaged. In the beginning of his social media curve, he could not have released Trust Agents and gotten it to reach the sales levels it did simply by using his social leverage to let people know he had a book out. At this point in his curve, he can (and did), and he can do it much more quickly than the average person, thanks to years of time and investment in his social media “family”.

For the average person or business online, however – expect 3 – 6 months before you see real results. Take your time and really cultivate your own social media family. Measure your success by how your offline goals are met, not by whether you have as much of a following as someone else. And above all else, slow down and handle your online presence with care.

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