Friday, March 21, 2008

3 is the magic number!

A Grandmaster Banker I know loves the number 3. Even all his cars have the number 3 on its registration plate. While this may be his magic number, it is even more significant for your organisation to make sure it becomes your magic number. Huh?

Let me explain. In the numbers game, 3 is very important for business. And 3 when linked to the number of rings that go off before you answer your customer's call is THE magic number.

Every company should have staff answer the phone within 3 rings! Customers are busy people too. And they are even more impatient when they want service fast. Remember, customers always want things done fast. And they would really appreciate if someone can answer their call within 3 rings.

By the way, most MNCs have adopted this as part of their service to customers. It portrays a corporate philosophy that projects how important the customer is to them. If your organisation takes more than 3 rings to answer a call, your customers will have a different perception of your service level to them. And over time, that perception will grow stronger and stronger until they stop calling you. They start calling someone else!

3 rings. Definitely a good place to start.

Customers want prompt reply.

Lately around the world, there has been a growing trend of slow replies to customers' enquiries through phone, snail mail or email.

It has been found that some web companies in the UK take up to 100 hours or more just to reply an email enquiry. This is totally unacceptable to the customer.

If one starts to analyse a customer, one would find that a common trait among 85% of general customers want things to be done promptly, accurately and efficiently. The other 15% also want the same thing but they want it done immediately!

The general acceptable time lapse for an email reply is 24 hours. Snail mail 1 week. And telephone replies must be same day. Preferably within the hour.

Promptness in replying your customers show that you mean business and value your customers.
It also reflects your understanding of the business you're in and a perceived level of competence.

Important: If you cannot reply an enquiry speedily and satisfactorily, your customers will have no faith when they have a problem that needs your assistance to solve. If you take 100 hours to reply an enquiry email, you would probably take 10 days to reply an email that needs a solution to a problem.

Customer loyalty programme. How it can work for or against you.

It never stops to amaze me how many stories I hear about customer service related incidents on a daily basis.

Just today my own wife tells me of a rather bad experience she had with a well....quite reputable department store. This incident revolves around a kind of customer loyalty/reward promotion which has become common place in the depatment store chains throughout the country.

To put things in perspective, let's try and understand the general scene in most department stores that run such a programme. When a customer purchases anything above say RM100, a cash voucher to the value of RM5 or RM10 would be given to the customer. The value is usually around 5 to 10 percent of the purchase made. This voucher as I understand is as good as cash and the customer can use it towards the purchase of any other item in the store. Let's say you have a RM10 voucher, and you wish to buy another item that costs RM50. After deducting the value of said voucher, one needs to only pay RM40. Great.

This is apparently so common now that my wife actually enjoys browsing around the store more so she could use up the cash vouchers-usually ending up spending more! No problem. The experience in itself gives a positive effect on my wife and she doesn't really mind ending up buying more stuff than she really needs. Since the vouchers can be used storewide, it encourages her to browse through different sections where she might normally not have gone to. Perfect.

Great customer reward and marketing plan all rolled into one. The customer feels valued and appreciated while the store gets the customer to spend more time and money at their outlet. Win-win for both parties. Which explains why most stores run this type of programme.

Now let's get back to the rather unpleasant experience my wife had at this "reputable" store.
She had gone in to buy some cosmetics and was rewarded with a cash voucher. As usual she would browse around the store to see what else she can pick up and also to use up the voucher. She finally saw a hairclip and decided to buy it. When she wanted to use her voucher to offset the cost of the item, she was taken aback when told that it cannot be used for the hairclip.
The staff explained she could only use it at the cosmetics section and not any other section in the store. Wife's reaction. Disappointed. Wife's decision. To buy her cosmetics at another store next time. Why? She can go to another store nearby to get her cosmetics and be given the same voucher value that can be used storewide. This store probably just lost a customer and future sales at their cosmetics section. Amazingly, even the staff could not understand why the store opted for such a programme with such strict limitations.

Lesson. If you are to implement a customer programme successfully, you've got to be up to date with what your competitors are doing. If you don't do your research, your programme will fall flat. And it would be fair to say that you might be better off without a programme than to have one which irks customers.

Beware: Customer loyalty/reward programme can work AGAINST you if you can't offer the same privilege or better than your competitors.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Araprop experince at Menara Citibank.

I will update this topic as am awaiting response from its management.

Face the music. Secret to greater success.

I am reminded of the famous phrase used in the game of golf. When in trouble at a particular hole, take your medicine and move on.

What this really means is that there are bound to be certain things you cannot avoid, especially when a mistake has been committed.

So you have got to be able to stand up and face the music and do the best you can within your authority to please or at least alleviate your customer's frustration. Customers are not always right but when they have been wronged or given the short end of the stick, you have got to be prepared to face the music and genuinely resolve the matter even if you have to go out of your way.

From the customer standpoint, you have an opportunity to turn adversity into victory. But it all depends on how you handle the delicate situation. And may I remind you that when a customer is frustrated, the situation gets really delicate.

Admit your error or mistake. Most of the time it's not even you who was the cause of the mistake or whatever the shortcoming may be. But you have to represent your company. And customers are not dumb. they are as smart as you are. If a customer asks for an apple and a durian was delivered, you had better admit something went wrong somewhere instead of trying to convince the customer that the durian is actually some kind of apple!

Ask yourself this. If you ordered a cup of coffee and got ice cream instead, how would you feel?

Exactly. Here's some of the stuff that would go through your mind.

Disappointment. Your order was not registered correctly.
Frustration. Nobody took the trouble to check your order.

These are common feelings but depending on how the personnel handles you and the situation, it can work out quite fine or disastrously.

So you see, the choice is actually in your hands. It's a question of what result you want. Once you have decided, work towards it. Do whatever you can. In your power. You'd be amazed how much power you have once you decide you want to go all out to please the customer.

Always remember. Face the music. Then rectify it immediately as best for the customer as can be. Your customer will appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to level the playing field in today's competitive market?

To excel in today's business world, there are many areas that need to be addressed.

Among them : product quality, competition, pricing, supply and demand.

While all these factors may be on somewhat unlevel playing fields, the variables can be stabilised and brought to a manageable level. The highest level of service often levels the playing field and gives you an enormous advantage.

This is the new paradigm that will drive today's businesses toward their goal. In fact this highest level of service technique has been around since man started doing business. Unfortunately, over the years businesses have been focusing so much on profits and bottom line figures that this Highest Level of Service concept became lost in transition.

Highest Level of Service can be broken into numerous parts or components for study and implementation.
If companies today turn their energy and training towards these parts, I can assure you it will translate into phenomenal change in how customers perceive you and your company. It also has an automatic effect on personnel and workforce of the company. Increased self esteem increases respect and sense of velonging toward the company they work for. This is how a company can become a GREAT company to work for.

For study purposes, let's break down HLS into its numerous components.

Cheerfulness and pleasantness.
Understanding and attentive.
Communication that impresses .
Ability to deliver promises.
Speed and accuracy.
Genuine enthusiam.
A natural culture.

These are the components that can be expanded. Take a moment to analyse how your organisation can start implementing these key components and practise them often. Before long, a phenomenal change will start to take place.

Result: More productive staff, happier and satisfied customers. More long term business!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The 3 deep breaths technique.

Here's something anyone of us can and should do especially when dealing with a difficult customer. Many a time, service personnel fall into the "trap" of allowing customers' emotion to engulf them. In short, if the customer raises his voice, the personnel would follow suit.

One of the best ways of handling this is to use the 3 breaths technique. When you feel you are about to be drawn into the same behavior as the customer, take an immediate pause and breath in and exhale 3 times. The longer the breaths the better.

Research has shown that this will immediately give you a method of distancing yourself from a customer's frustration/anger/animosity.

Always remember. Your job is to serve and help solve the customer's problem. Not fight with him.

The term customer service has a meaning. Serve the customer.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Excellent service from Australian High Commission

Back in 2007, I needed to be on standby to catch a flight to Australia to accompany a relative who had fallen ill back to Malaysia.

You could say this was an emergency.

I called up the Aussie high comm and was told that I needed to apply for a Visa. However, because it was nearing the weekend, I was requested to give them a few days to approve the application and this would stretch to the following week. This is normal procedure.

The lady I spoke to was professional and listened attentively as I started to explain that I may need to fly on that very day itself. After some deliberation, she suggested I fax a copy of my passport over to her and she would try her level best to get the visa issued on that same day.

A few hours later, I received her call to tell me that my visa had been approved and I may fly to Australia anytime I wished.

This is exemplary service of the highest excellence!

Note: When customers speak, always listen and do your best to help them solve their problems. You will be remembered forever and 20 other people will hear about the excellent service provided.

Why charge extra when you can give it FREE?

Recently I was on a short holiday in Penang with my family. We stayed at a reputable 5 star hotel. It has a tradition which dates back to the British colonial days.

As always, when I travel, I lug my notebook along and always pay for wifi services at the hotel. They usually charge between 50 and 60 bucks per 24 hour usage. While you may think that based on the title of this post, I am about to suggest that they provide broadband or wifi services free of charge, that is not the case.

Although from experience, some hotels do offer such services free. However, you usually have to book into their more expensive rooms like say, a suite or premier floor/executive floor etc.

In any case, at this hotel, I did purchase their 24 hour block for wifi service even though I was already in one of their premier suites. If you got to pay, you got to pay.

However, I was shocked that when my son, who also brought his laptop with him wanted to connect to the internet just could not do so. Apparently the purchase was for just one laptop. If you wish to use a second laptop, you would need to cough up another 50 bucks. And if you have a third laptop, another extra 50 bucks and so on. Which means 50 bucks per laptop.

Shocked at such a policy, I summoned to see the General Manager and reported to him that this is not exactly a good policy. He admitted and agreed with me but said such is their company policy. And as a gesture of goodwill, issued me a free password for the 2nd laptop.

Question: Why charge extra for additional laptop access in the first place? After all it's not gonna cost the hotel any extra costs if they allow 10 laptops to access with one password.

Trivial as this may be, I suggest that all hotels should only charge for one access password/code and allow multiple laptops to access.

Or better still give it to your guests FREE!

The hotel has nothing to lose but everything to gain!

This is how you go one up in providing excellent service to your customers.

Feelings: Elasticity of feelings

The moment feelings is brought up as a way of assessing customer satisfaction, some people gave a blank look. It's rather surprising that the majority of managers and customer service personnel still disregard feelings of a customer as a very important factor.

Fact: Feelings is one of the key factors in gauging customer satisfaction.

Here, we discuss elasticity of feeelings and what it means and also how you can undertake to address this area in your own organisation.

Picture this. Bob is in a queue at a ticketing counter. The line is long with some 25 people. He looks around and notices that only one clerk is at the counter although it has 5 other available counter staff seats vacant. He asks himself "Why can't they have 4 or 5 staff working on this shift? The line is so long and it FEELS like it's going to take forever before it gets to be my turn."

Before long it's Bob's turn. He looks at his watch and to his surprise it's been only about ten minutes he's been in line. However, it felt much more like an hour!

Companies must find a way to alleviate this type of FEELING from their customers. When customers FEEL like this, they also tend to FEEL that they are getting the short end of the bargain. They start asking questions like why can't more staff be put on duty? Does the company really care for their customers? Why can't the company at least try to make their customers more comfortable? And so forth. In fact, from this scenario alone, you probably have your own questions to ask too.

Let's understand elasticity of feeling. The example of Bob's feeling can vary from one person to another. Some others may have felt like they were in line for 2 hours or 3 or 4.

But the fact remains. None of them felt like it was 10 minutes.

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We have had some comments from readers asking why the name of this blog is so long. Well, the answer is we wanted to be precise about service. And what better way than to have the word service repeated 3 times.

But admittedly yes, it can be a wee bit long to type so please everybody, please bookmark this blog for easier access.

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What is the service standard like today?

Welcome. Let me lay the basics here. There are some companies in the world who dish out excellent customer service day in day out. These are companies who train and educate their staff and frontline personnel to a tee. Yes, they do have hiccups from time to time but on the whole they meet a higher average of qualitative service to their customers. Great.

Some companies lie at the extreme end of the scale. Little or no training at all where service is concerned. Given, some companies do not put sevice as a top priority but not to be in the top ten priority list? This begs to question if the management is out of touch with the real world.

As you know, I am a member of the rating board for Customer Service and I started this blog to share some of my thoughts and experiences with whoever wishes to see for themselves the level of service in our various industries through some of my personal experiences.

On this blog we try to highlight both the good and the bad. You are welcome to participate by posting your comments as well. We have made it easy for you as you can even post anonymously.