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What Can Your Business Learn From the Holiday Shopping Season?

The busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, is now behind us. If you were one of the multitudes who braved the crowds, my sympathy is with you. My wife and I long ago decided that since shopping and crowds are two of our least favorite things in life, we would NEVER shop the day after Thanksgiving.

But, we will be doing some holiday shopping during the next couple of weeks. And we know that we’ll have to face the crowds. According to the National Retail Federation, November and December account for 25 to 40 percent of many retailers’ annual sales. So, like it or not, the crowds will be there.

On the bright side, holiday shopping provides a wonderful customer service laboratory. You get to see which companies perform well under pressure and which ones collapse in a showcase of unpreparedness. And our businesses can learn from both scenarios.

Recommendation

In your very next staff meeting (or via email if you don’t have a meeting scheduled soon), ask your team to be especially aware of their shopping experiences during the holidays. Even if they’re not shopping for holiday gifts, they’ll likely be doing some kind of shopping. Let them know that in a meeting immediately following the holiday season you’ll ask for a summary of their experiences, and what your organization can learn from those experiences. (Note: this is all strictly voluntary – not a work assignment. You don’t want to get into the “are you paying us for this?” quagmire).

During their shopping adventures, your team should observe:

  • The quality of their interactions with employees – What are some examples of things employees did particularly well? What are examples of things employees did poorly? What could they tell about the quality of hiring, training, and accountability from the organizations they observed?
  • The quality of the physical environment – What are some “good show” and “bad show” examples they observed while shopping? How effective were companies at keeping the facilities organized? If a company was good at it, what were they doing?
  • The quality of company processes – What are some examples of processes your team members experienced that were designed more for the company’s convenience than the shopper’s? What are some examples of process that were impressive?

Keep in mind that the assignment doesn’t just apply to brick and mortar stores. Each of the above three points can apply to online and catalog shopping. For some of you, online examples may be the most applicable.

Ask your team to come to the post-holiday meeting prepared to share what they experienced (again, strictly voluntary). During the meeting, dig for learnings that come out of those experiences, good and bad, that you and your team can leverage in improving the experience YOUR customers have with the organization.

Because your team members lived through these situations themselves, their emotions will be engaged in the discussion, providing a foundation for frank discussion of what your organization can do to improve.

You’ll want to act quickly on getting this “assignment” out, since we’re right in the middle of the busy season. Don’t let it go by without learning from it!

Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service

I want to let you know that the second edition of my book, Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, co-authored with Teri Yanovitch, has just been published. You can find it in bookstores or at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Teri and I are very excited about the book, as it offers additional tools and approaches developed since its original release in 2003. We’ve included best practices from many organizations who have successfully implemented the Unleashing Excellence approach.

One of the book’s elements we’re most proud of is the ability for you to access downloads of the tools described throughout Unleashing Excellence. You can instantly customize the tools to your own operation.

Unleashing Excellence is a step-by-step guide that covers:

  • The “DNA” of Service Excellence
  • Creating a Service Improvement Team
  • Developing Your Service “Non-negotiables”
  • Communicating the Service Strategy to Your Team
  • Service Training and Education
  • Hiring for Service Excellence
  • Developing Effective Service Measurements
  • Recognition and Reward Systems
  • Implementing a Service Obstacle System
  • Building a Culture of Accountability

You can find information about Unleashing Excellence at the following link – www.UnleashingExcellence.com. Or you can find it in books stores or and BarnesandNoble.com.

Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service

I want to let you know that the second edition of my book, Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, co-authored with Teri Yanovitch, has just been published. You can find it in bookstores or at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Teri and I are very excited about the book, as it offers additional tools and approaches developed since its original release in 2003. We’ve included best practices from many organizations who have successfully implemented the Unleashing Excellence approach.

One of the book’s elements we’re most proud of is the ability for you to access downloads of the tools described throughout Unleashing Excellence. You can instantly customize the tools to your own operation.

Unleashing Excellence is a step-by-step guide that covers:

  • The “DNA” of Service Excellence
  • Creating a Service Improvement Team
  • Developing Your Service “Non-negotiables”
  • Communicating the Service Strategy to Your Team
  • Service Training and Education
  • Hiring for Service Excellence
  • Developing Effective Service Measurements
  • Recognition and Reward Systems
  • Implementing a Service Obstacle System
  • Building a Culture of Accountability

You can find information about Unleashing Excellence at the following link – www.UnleashingExcellence.com. Or you can find it in books stores or and BarnesandNoble.com.

Solving a Customer Frustration

Disney by Cell Phone

One of the best ways to distance your organization from the competition is to solve a problem that frustrates your industry’s customers. I just read an Orlando Sentinel article that provides a great example of this approach: Disney by Cell Phone.

The number one guest complaint at Walt Disney World is about long wait times for the rides. And over the years Disney World has implemented several tools to help minimize the problem. Tools include:

  • Wait time signs
  • Entertainment while waiting in line
  • Making the line part of an attraction’s theme or “show”
  • Tip boards around the park with posted wait times for popular attractions
  • FastPass® (a mechanism for making a “reservation” for particular attractions)

Disney World (and Disneyland) has just introduced a new way to help reduce wait time frustrations for Disney guests – “Mobile Magic.” It’s a smartphone application that allows guests to get real time information about attraction wait times, character greetings, and other park events. The application allows guests to get the most out of their Disney visit by helping them make informed decisions about what to do next.

The full application of Mobile Magic is only available to Verizon subscribers right now, but a scaled down version is available to subscribers of other mobile services. My guess is that the full application will soon be available to anyone with a cell phone.

The reason I’m sharing this story isn’t to brag about Disney, it’s to point out an example of a relentless quest to solve an ongoing customer frustration. I can’t think of an industry that doesn’t have its inherent customer frustrations, and most companies just accept them as givens. But customers don’t accept them as givens; we see them as reasons to look for alternatives.

You don’t have to do an expensive survey to find out what frustrates your customers. My guess is that you know exactly what frustrates them. Those recurring complaints and those negative customer interactions that burn out your employees tell you what the problems are. What’s needed is action.

So, I challenge you to pick one customer frustration that you’ll commit to solving. Start small if necessary; but commit to one. Bring in some employees from your operation and go to work coming up with and implementing a solution. Or you can use this link to a Service Improvement Meeting agenda which guides you through a team meeting for identifying and developing solutions for customer frustrations. Once you’ve solved a problem, go on to another one.

Imagine if you just identify and solve one customer frustration per quarter. Four improvements a year is huge! It will put you in the “world-class” category, and customers will wonder, “Why can’t other organizations do it like they do?”

When You Receive Poor Customer Service

As we get closer to the holiday season, the news is full of reports that retailers plan to hire fewer temporary workers than usual because of lower sales expectations. While this might make short-term sense to a business’s bottom line, it’s a recipe for frustration for you and me as shoppers.

Busy shopping seasons are often riddled with dismal customer service experiences, and this one will likely be no different, and perhaps worse. So, what should we do if we receive poor service? A clear option, of course, is to leave and never go back. Poor service sometimes occurs, however, in companies we actually like, and we want to go back. What then?

Here are seven tips for dealing with poor service:

1. Don’t become belligerent – Yes, sometimes customers do get their way by becoming belligerent or antagonistic. But more often, belligerence builds a wall between you and the very person you are trying to get to help you. For example, accusing an employee of being incompetent (while perhaps true) will rarely result in them wanting to assist. Insults don’t help, and besides, most of us don’t really feel good about losing control of our emotions.

2.      Express “calm frustration” – Expressing dissatisfaction or frustration is certainly appropriate; you want the person to know you’re not happy. But you also want them to know you’re a reasonable and appreciative person. Treat the employee with respect (even if you don’t feel you’re getting the respect you deserve), while at the same time letting him or her know you want something to change.

3.      Be clear about what you expect – The difference between a customer service rant and a customer service desire is huge. While the rant might feel good for the moment, desire is what will more often get you results. Tell the employee exactly what you want. “I’d appreciate it if you could focus on me for a moment.” “I’m not that tech savvy; can you tell me about the features in everyday language?” “I’ve been looking for someone to help me for quite a while. I’d appreciate it if you would help me.” “I’ve been put on hold every time I’ve called; I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t put me on hold and help me with my problem.” Take a deep breath and take a moment to think about your desired outcome.

4.      Be reasonable – In the heat of the moment, we sometimes make unreasonable demands that seem reasonable at the time. When I supervised Guest Relations at Walt Disney World, I remember guests demanding we pay for their vacation expenses (airline tickets and all) because it happened to be raining during their visit. Of course they’re frustrated, and of course we assisted them in making the most of their stay, but paying for their vacation wasn’t going to happen.

5.      Be persistent – With the previous tips in mind, don’t give up if you aren’t satisfied. If the employee you’re dealing with isn’t helping, ask to speak with a manager – and don’t take no for an answer. I’ve been told that a manager wasn’t available, and when I made it clear that I wasn’t leaving until I spoke with a manager, suddenly one became available. Again, don’t be belligerent, just be firm. And if the manager isn’t helpful, ask for the contact information of his or her boss. Asking respectfully will often result in the manager sensing your persistence and providing the help you need. At that point the manager will likely realize that it’s easier to solve your problem than to explain to his or her boss why your problem wasn’t solved.

6.      Take names – This one is especially important with issues that go beyond mere irritations. When management realizes you have documented your problem, including the names of those you’ve spoken with, they know you’re serious and that you’re willing to do what it takes to get what you want. Rarely do I have to go beyond tip 5, but when I do, this tip almost always leads to a solution.

7.      Be prepared to cut your losses – How much time is the problem worth? Sometimes it’s worth it to see the issue all the way to the end, and sometimes it’s not. Your time is valuable, and it might just make sense to throw in the towel and accept that you’re not going to be satisfied. Life is too short to tilt at windmills. But there is still one more action you can take that, while it might not get you anything, might make you feel a bit better. Check out a couple of earlier posts, “Customer Service and Twitter,” and “The Price of Poor Service.”

I hope your holiday shopping experiences this season are smooth and merry, but I’m not delusional. Frustrations are bound to appear and it’s important to be prepared to deal with the frustrations that are worth dealing with. I hope you find these tips to be helpful. I would also welcome comments that provide additional tips for dealing with poor service.