• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience
    513-227-9037
    www.LandmarkExperience.com

“Your call is important to us…”

Okay, we’re all going to do this together. And we can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way.Tin Can Phones

If you have an IVR (Interactive Voice Response system) on your phone when customers call your business and if any part of the recording says, “Your call is important to us,” you’re going to re-record the IVR greeting. Promise me you will stop the madness!

Even if you have “Your call is important to me” on your business voice mail greeting, I want you to commit right now that you will end this foolishness and re-record your greeting.

Go ahead. Make a note on your calendar right now so you don’t forget – “Check IVR system greetings.” “Change IVR greeting so we’re no longer telling customers ‘Your call is important to us.’”

This is my mission in life. I want to abolish “Your call is important to us.” I never want another customer of any business to ever hear that phrase again.

Why?

Because it is stupid.

It’s a dumb thing to say to a customer. Worse yet, it’s extremely condescending to your customer.

They’re a customer! Of course their call is important to you!

At least the call better be important.

Oh, I know. Some of the biggest companies in the world have “Your call is important to us” on their IVR systems and probably some psychologist somewhere advising businesses has said, “It’s a subliminal message. You must include it!”

But I don’t buy it. Did I mention it is a stupid phrase?

You see, if you’re not making your customer FEEL as if their call is important, then telling the customer their call is important isn’t helping you one bit. We’re not going to suddenly believe it just because you said it. Or because the recording said it.

“Your call is important to us..” is unimaginative and demonstrates that your business lacks any originality and merely copies what others do. You’re a “me-to” type of business. Ho-hum.

The lack of originality coupled with an impersonal recorded voice saying, “Your call is important to us,” followed by the customer holding the line for 5, 7, 11 minutes or longer is just plain insulting.

Yes, I’m feeling a little bit like Howard Beale in the movie Network. “I’m mad as hell and I don’t want to hear it any more!”

However, I can hear what you might be saying. “So Bill, what should our IVR say instead of ‘Your call is important to us..?’”

Anything.

Say anything else. It doesn’t matter.

Or just remove that phrase entirely.

Better yet. How about coming up with something original about how you really feel about your customers?

You could say, “We’re really glad you called us today.”

You are glad they called you and not the competition, right? Or are you still denying you have competition?

Or say, We’re looking forward to assisting you shortly.”

Oh heck, put a little passion into it and say, “We love when customers call us and we’re standing by to help you.”

Be pleased, glad, happy, or thrilled that a customer is calling your company – and let the customer know it!

It doesn’t really matter as long as you stop saying, “Your call is important to us.” Stop stating the obvious. Stop trying to convince the customer how important you think they are. And start expressing something really sincere. Get your customer to actually feel something.

Because this copycat routine just isn’t working for me any more.

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I help business owners improve customer service, create memorable customer experience and engage employees, through evaluation, benchmarking and training. If you have a business problem you’re trying to solve, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and sixninepixels

Is Etiquette Dead?

A good receptionist is worth his weight in gold. If you’re one of the businesses that still has a human being answering your main phone line, good for you. What makes a better impression than being greeted by a live human rather than a recording? Of course, the receptionist model doesn’t work if you’re Staples, or the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, or Time Warner Cable. However, it’s great when your business size permits it.

Phone Agent Image

Image courtesy of stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The month before the holidays, I placed several calls to a client’s office and was greeted by an enthusiastic voice like this: “Happy holidays. ABC Company, how may I direct your call?” This is pretty typical verbiage but the enthusiasm and attention in her voice told me she enjoys her job. I said, “Well, happy holidays to you as well. I hope you’re having a great day so far.” She replied that it was, in fact a “great day” and proceeded to transfer me to the person I was calling. The receptionist actually left me looking forward to calling back again in the future.  Is that how you and your employees make customers feel?

I’ve made several in-person trips to this client and the same receptionist also greets visitors to their facility. Her polite and friendly affability is not an act. She has the same smile in her voice and friendly demeanor in person as she does on the phone. The receptionist gets me signed-in, explains about their policy that all visitors are escorted by employees at all times and hands me a visitor’s badge. I feel like a welcomed guest and I want to come back again.

A Positive Attitude & Good Etiquette Is Customer Experience Gold

Here’s one definition of etiquette: the rules and conventions governing correct or polite behavior in society in general, or in a specific social or professional group or situation.

In our Delivering Telephone Service Excellence workshop, we talk about etiquette. The word “etiquette” sounds a little snooty to begin with but I think it gets a bum rap. If etiquette in business makes you squirm a little, just bucket it under “strong communication skills.” Etiquette really just means good manners. And it’s situation specific. So the manners you use when talking to your next door neighbor may be a little different from when you answer the phone in customer service or greet visitors in your lobby. Or they may be the same! If you want to see an awesome example of etiquette, just watch Katherine Hepburn’s character, Christina Drayton, in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Even when she’s telling-off her friend, Hillary, Kate does it with stunning finesse.

Does Etiquette Really Matter in the Scheme of Things?

Good etiquette leaves the customer feeling respected, valued and held in esteem. Imagine how you’re greeted when walking into your favorite fine restaurant. You know that feeling. It feels a lot different from when you walk into a fast food joint, doesn’t it? Or, how many times have you been on the phone and heard, “Please hold” – click. Were you even given a choice? Would you rather hear, “No problem,” “Don’t worry about it,” or “I’m glad I can help,” “It’s my pleasure?” Good manners and better word choices do make a difference to your customers. They may not immediately put their finger on it but they will feel the difference.

Here are a couple of truths:

1 – Employees rarely walk into day one of new-hire with perfect etiquette or communication skills.
2 – Providing your customers with a good-mannered experience is pretty inexpensive in the big picture.

Telephone Interactions Are Bigger Opportunities Today

Few employees are actual monsters on the phone. But that doesn’t mean that most employees won’t benefit from a little refresher on how to deliver an excellent experience on the phone (or in person) with customers. Etiquette is but one of the topics in Delivering Telephone Service Excellence – the workshop. A new client recently told me that around 75% of their B2B customer contacts are via email so there is the perception in the business that, due to volume, the phone contacts aren’t as important. Truth is, with all the digital interactions thrust into our lives, most of us crave a little real live human interaction. This means the phone calls are actually MORE important than ever before. The phone interaction is an opportunity to have a real conversation with your customer and to directly influence how the customer feels much more so than can an email, a tweet or a text message. Regardless of phone interaction volume, don’t underestimate the power in leveraging that experience!

I help businesses improve customer service, sales support and employee experience through analysis, feedback and implementation. If you have a business problem you need help with, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

Image courtesy of stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to get your Sales Reps out of Customer Service and back to SELLING!

In my last post, I wrote about how and why it hurts your business when sales reps spend too much time doing customer service tasks and not enough time selling. If you missed that post, click 5 Reasons why your sales reps should not be order managers.

In this next post, I promised to answer the question, “How do you move from a culture of sales rep as part-time customer service rep to a culture of sales rep as full-time sales rep? I’ll start by saying; it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve been there. It’s going to take commitment but it will be well worth the effort in greater efficiency, a bigger sales funnel and a culture of cooperation. And full disclosure – my background is strong in B2B so I do see things through that lens. However, this advice will work in a B2C environment. There is more that is similar than is different.

But before I get into some of the cool things to put in place, you need to understand this one point:

Sales people will stop selling the moment they lose trust in your business.

Need Help PhotoThe moment you jeopardize the sales reps word (promises they made to customers) or their income (commissions), they’ll take their eyes off the sales ball and move into babysitting and triage mode. They’ll hand-hold orders and customer setups, they’ll double-check accuracy and process steps and generally poke their noses into every other department’s business. They’ll insist on being the sole communication point between the customer and the business. You’ll see them in the office more often rather than visiting or on the phone with customers.

And frankly, I can’t blame them. Your sales reps won’t let go of the reins and go out and sell more until they trust that everything works as it should and that customers will receive the service they expect. The sales organization has to TRUST the operation, trust your quality, and trust that people will do what they say they’re going to do. They need to believe that customer service and other support staff won’t only do what the process says to do but will also make good decisions on the customer’s behalf when the process doesn’t fit the situation. If a culture of trust doesn’t sound like your company, start there. Otherwise, nothing else I share here will matter.

It’s the Numbers after the Decimal That Really Count

A word about quality. If you tell me your order accuracy is great and that 99% of orders are accurate, then you’re in big trouble. That’s because it’s the digits after the 99 that really matter. If you ship 1000 orders a day and only 99% are accurate, then every day 10 orders go out wrong. If I’m your sales rep, I’m losing sleep. That’s 50 orders a week that go out wrong and how many of them are for my customers? You’re pushing your sales reps to butt-in and hand-hold the order process because they won’t trust it. You don’t need Six Sigma or some big complex quality program for this one. When gauging accuracy, look at the digits to the right of the decimal and put something in place to get those digits into the 9’s. You’ll also be saving your company boatloads of money in re-work.

Develop a Customer On-Boarding Program

Formalize your customer on-boarding. When you get a new customer, every department should know about it. When the first order ships, everyone touching that order should know it’s the customer’s first order. Internally, everyone needs to handle that order just like the sales rep would because remember, your sales rep is now out selling and not babysitting orders. If I’m the shipping dock supervisor, I want to know it’s the customer’s first order. If I’m the billing supervisor, I want to know it’s this customer’s first invoice. There are many ways to implement an on-boarding program, from automated to manual. Code the customer as “new” for 90 days. A formal customer on-boarding program does the following:

  • The extra attention ensures new customers have the best experience possible
  • You build trust with the new customer at the most critical stage in the relationship
  • Sales reps will have confidence that their co-workers have their eyes on new customers
  • And not the least of which, you celebrate new customers with your employees!

Integrate Sales Support Into Customer Service

When your sales reps call with a customer issue, they shouldn’t call your admin or the warehouse manager. They should call customer service just like the customer would. After all, the sales rep is really calling on the customer’s behalf, aren’t they? Otherwise, the customer would be making the call. Channel sales rep calls into customer service so they follow the same process with the same people who have access to the same information. Within Customer Service, you could even establish an “elite team” who handles sales reps calls. Whatever approach you use, integrated sales support accomplishes the following:

  • All customer issues follow the same process flow and tracking
  • Prevents duplication of work
  • Ensures a faster more efficient resolution
  • Gives the sales rep the same level of “service” as you give your customers
  • Builds on a culture of collaboration between customer service and sales

Establish a 2-way Communication Channel

Sales reps can focus more time on getting sales and less time micro-managing the operation when there is 2-way communication between customer service and sales. If customer service encounters a customer issue or question that warrants the sales rep’s attention, they need a consistent way to get that information back to the sales rep. If I’m a customer service rep and a customer just told me they were talking to a competitor, I want our sales rep to know that. Perhaps you can use your CRM, case management system or something as simple as email to get word to the rep. Train customer service when and how to recognize what should be communicated. The payoff is:

  • Sales rep (or Account Manager) is proactively alerted to possible issues. Better for the rep to hear it from an internal source than from the customer later.
  • Gives the sales rep confidence that co-workers are alert to potential customer issues.
  • Builds on a culture of “these are OUR customers” not “your customers.”

Flip the Switch

Finally, to get the sales rep out of the customer service kitchen, you may have to simply limit system access. If your sales reps can enter or modify orders, override pricing, change addresses and perform other system maintenance, you may want to give that a hard look. It’s not only a good idea from a process control standpoint (can you spell Sarbanes-Oxley?). It also removes the temptation to spend time in the system. You’ll have to overcome the sales rep’s objection that, “It’s just quicker if I do it!” View-only access should do the trick in most cases and it removes the last excuse for, “I don’t have enough time to sell more!”

When your existing sales reps can spend more of their time on sales tasks, your business has the opportunity to grow sales and profits with existing staff. If your sales reps are spending any time being order managers, shift their focus by giving them confidence the business will live up to your brand promise.

If you would like to discuss this topic, give me a call (513) 227-9037 or email me at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

Learn more at LandmarkExperience.com

Photo courtesy of pakorn and FreeDigitialPhotos.net

5 Reasons why your sales reps should not be order managers

Win the Battle or Win the War?

I met with a client this past week and she described a challenge she has in her company. Turns out, it was exactly the same challenge that I had dealt with when I worked for a global B2B office products supplier as VP of Customer Care – the sales reps spent too much time on order management rather than on selling. Now, I totally get why this is. Even though I’m an Ops guy through and through, I love sales reps. I’ve coached sales reps. I’ve trained sales reps. And I’ve helped to win big accounts with sales reps. So this isn’t a sales rep bashing exercise. However, it is important for a business to understand why sales reps focusing on order management can not only dilute the effectiveness of the entire sales team, it can also create a lot of unexpected dysfunction in the business.

Why Aren’t the Sales Reps Selling?Bar Chart Photo

So how do you end up with a business where sales reps become half-time glorified order managers? It could be your business started out small with everyone wearing multiple hats. As the business grew, steps were not taken to segment responsibilities more clearly by functional area and what started out as small business customer hand-holding evolves into a litany of rogue and one-off processes. Perhaps your company grew by merging with other businesses and each company brought their own way of doing things. Efforts to standardize order management, account management and sales processes met with resistance, stalled and died and now the work flow is a free-for-all. Often times, the sales organization is the exalted “high-fiving” group. And I get it. A rep can literally work years on landing a big account and once the deal is closed, they don’t want anything to get futzed up? But who does? The entire company benefits from the customer’s business so it’s far better to get everyone on board in providing stellar service.

“Doctor, It hurts the customer when I do this.” And the doctor says, “Then, don’t do that!”

Here’s why it hurts your business to allow sales reps to be order managers. And these reasons are even more relevant if some sales reps are huge order managers and other sales reps tend to be more hands-off.
  1. You send mixed messages to customers.
    Who exactly has what role in your business? Does the customer know when to call whom for issues about orders, billing, account changes. Do they call Sales Rep Bob for some things or all things? While it may be WAY convenient for the customer to call only Bob for everything, in the long run it is extremely inefficient and not the quickest way to service the customer. Direct your customer to the shortest path to issue resolution AND to the department most skilled at resolving the issue.
  2. It’s a slam to Customer Service.
    When you tell the customer service team, “Don’t call ‘my’ customer, call me and I’ll call ‘my’ customer,” you’re sending a very negative message to Customer Service. First of all, get off your self built pedestal. It’s not “YOUR” customer – it’s OUR customer. Second, you demean the customer service team by showing your lack of confidence that Customer Service can handle customer issues. If that is truly the case, then bigger conversations need to happen between sales and customer service leadership. Otherwise, it’s the job of customer service to interact with customers and handles issues. Let them do their job.
  3. It’s grossly inefficient.
    If Sales Rep Sue always wants Customer Service to handle customer issues but Sales Rep Bob wants only him to contact customers, you’re allowing a complex and unnecessary process matrix to clog up your customer service workflow. The customer service agent has a step that says – before I make a move, I have to figure out whose account this is, then follow the if/than matrix or memorize whether I’ve got a Bob or Sue customer. All the while I’m spending time NOT resolving the customer’s issue and moving on to the next task.This scenario is the worst possible one-off process nightmare. It inhibits efficiency and provides an inconsistent customer experience, not to mention a convoluted additional level of ongoing and new-hire training for customer service reps.
  4. You don’t get accurate measurement.
    If all the customer service work isn’t being done in the Customer Service department, how does leadership gauge the true volume of work? If part of the work is done rogue by a percentage of sales reps, the customer service leader can’t accurately account for number of calls, number of contacts, number of emails, etc. The business also doesn’t get an accurate read on the cost of customer service since the P/L isn’t accounting for sales rep time spent doing customer service tasks. What you have is inefficient workflow management. If you track customer issues by type and the sales reps don’t use the tracking system, then you’re not accurately measuring errors nor identifying opportunities for improvement.
  5. Sales isn’t firing on all cylinders.
    The final reason to not allow sales reps to be order managers is – It’s not their job. If you’re a sales rep, your job is to build customer relationships and get customers to buy more. It’s called selling. When I was a VP of Customer Care and the VP of Sales would ask her sales reps why they weren’t hitting quotas on prospecting, new sales, new accounts etc., we heard all kinds of reasons like, “I spend to much time troubleshooting orders and triaging issues and doing research for my customers” and on and on. Well, those are all tasks that are typically handled by Customer Service – so let them. Give your sales staff the freedom to work on account penetration, new business development, prospecting and closing the deal. Leverage the people you have for their strengths.

Are People in the Right Roles?

If you have sales reps who like to manage orders or are better at managing orders than they are at selling, perhaps you have them in the wrong role. But Bill, you ask, what about Inside Sales Reps? Same deal. Sure inside reps spend most of their time on the phone with customers. That doesn’t mean they should be order-takers or managing orders. They should be building upon the customer relationship, learning more about the customer, educating the customer, consulting with the customer – all tasks that either get new customers or get existing customers to buy new product lines.

One Size Fits Most

Of course, this model may not work in every industry. Some products are so highly technical that you may legitimately have a combined role of both sales and customer service. However, if you are a transactional sales business with a customer service team and a separate sales team and the sales reps are telling you “we don’t have enough time,” you may do well to learn exactly how they’re spending their time.

So how do you move from a culture of sales rep as part-time customer service rep to a culture of confidence and trust and sales rep as full-time sales rep? I’ll tackle that in my next post – How to get your Sales Reps out of Customer Service and back to SELLING!

If you would like to discuss this topic, give me a call (513) 227-9037 or email me at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

Learn more at LandmarkExperience.com

Photo courtesy of jscreationzs and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

So, you want to train your employees? Don’t miss these key steps.

Company budgets have been tight these past several years and that typically means businesses have cut back on training. Not always a wise choice. However, if your business has decided to invest in some form of training for your employees in 2012, that’s a positive sign for your company’s growth.

Whether you’re planning to train customer service, sales people, delivery associates or any other group, make sure you include the following key elements in order to increase your success rate and get the most return on your investment:

 In your next training endeavor, here’s what to look for in 5 key areas:

1)      Know Your Audience:

Adult learners are a unique breed. Understand what motivates adult learners and how to ensure the training is effective. Adult learners want to know “what’s in it for them” and how the training is going to help them with their goals. The focus is sometimes weighted too heavily on “here’s why this training is good for our business” rather than “here’s why this training is valuable for you in our business.” Subtle but important difference. Be sure the training starts with a) Here’s what you’re going to learn and b) At the end of this training, you’ll know how to do X. This clearly sets expectations and also establishes responsibility with the adult learner.

2)      Subject Matter Experts Aren’t Trainers by Default:

A PowerPoint and a projector don’t constitute training! The tendency in many companies is to say, “Hey, Bob’s a whiz when it comes to our SmartOrder program. Let’s get Bob to train the new customer service team.” The problem with that approach is this – Knowing how to use the SmartOrder system is one thing. Knowing how to effectively train other people to use it is something different entirely. Why do you think the teachers teaching your kids have to be trained to teach? Teaching is a vocation in and of itself. Bob showing up at your door with a PowerPoint deck is not training! It’s a presentation.

Understand the difference between a subject matter expert and a training professional. A training professional is a subject matter expert about learning. Consider hiring a professional to develop curriculum and to deliver your training.

3)      Plan Ahead:

Be sure to prepare handouts or guides as takeaways for participants. Class participants will typically take notes in class but don’t expect them to know what points are key concepts. Handouts and guides draw attention to the most important concepts so participants aren’t left guessing and the learning is more consistent across your group. A participant manual also gives the student something to review later to brush-up on the material covered through self-study.

A word about application training. Application training is unique – don’t skimp here. Some people learn by seeing, others by doing and still others with a combination of both. If you’re training employees how to use a new computer application, blend presentation training with “computer lab” activities so participants can first “see” and then “do.” If you don’t have a training room outfitted with PC’s, have participants bring their laptops or rent laptops for the training. During the lab activities portion of the training, participants can ask questions while actually performing work in the application. This ensures they’ll retain more of the learning and your program will be much more successful.

4)      Environment and Experience:

The success of your training content is directly tied to the training environment and the training experience for participants. Be sure your training room is comfortable and free of distractions. Have water and healthy snacks to keep participants energy and engagement up. Effective training includes a mixture of elements including clearly stating objectives, communicating what participants will learn, lecture, discussion/activity, debrief and assessment. Variety will fight distraction and boredom. Simple things are important like making sure everyone can see and hear the presentation, especially for larger groups of 15+ participants. Set expectations for how questions will be handled then repeat questions for all to hear. Pause periodically to validate with the class that concepts are understood. And finally, make it fun!

5)      Successful Training Is Not An Event:

The most successful employees have regular training integrated into performance management. Follow up on learning retention rates by implementing training evaluations and refreshers. Don’t make the mistake of having a 1-day training and never following up again. Include an assessment immediately following the training and then again 2-4 weeks later to measure what participants have learned and what they remember. Use assessment results to tweak ongoing training for improvement.

Training and teaching others, helping them grow and make a bigger contribution is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

If you have comments about this article or questions about a training initiative you’re putting together for your company, please contact Bill Leinweber at 513-227-9037 by email at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

Customer Experience Has An Identity Crisis

An open letter to American City Business Journals, Inc and it’s affiliate, Dayton Business Journal, Publisher, Carol Clark
 
Dear “Biz Journals,”
 
I need your help. You’re killin’ me here. I need your writers and editors to get on board with customer experience terminology. Your Dayton Business Journal ran an article that came through on my email alert with a link titled, “Southwest tops customer service rankings.” The online headline read, “Report: Top 10 airlines for customer service.”
 
Your article cited a new Consumer Reports ranking on the nation’s largest airlines. You kept referring to this report as “customer service” in airline satisfaction but it became clear to me as I read your article that Consumer Reports had surveyed the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE of airline passengers.
 
The report measured satisfaction on ease of check-in, cabin-crew service, cabin cleanliness, baggage handling, seat comfort and in-flight entertainment. The most frequent complaints, your article stated, were uncomfortable seats and excessive fees.
 
So, what’s the big deal, you say? Customer Service, Customer Experience, what’s the dif? I’ll make a wager that if you asked 10 people, “What do you think of airline customer service,” 9 of them would think you’re talking about service at the other end of an 800 number, not seat comfort. So if we just read your headlines and don’t read the article, we’re being misguided. 
 
Oh sure, airlines provide “non-stop service” to here and there so it’s fair to use service in that context. But Consumer Reports own online article states, “Almost 15,000 readers told us about their experiences on 29,720 domestic flights” and “..opinion of today’s flying experience…” I mean, c’mon, since when are seat comfort and excessive fees considered “customer service?”
 
Why does it matter? It matters because guys like me are out here trying to spread the word with business owners and CEO’s about the importance of customer experience, about weaving continuity throughout customer interactions so that the overall experience is positive, memorable and loyalty-driving. Spreading the good word about customer experience is hard enough without another powerful force out there confusing the issue with word mis-usage. So I need your help in using the correct words, despite what appears to you to be merely a nuance. 
 
So let’s agree that I won’t abbreviate “Biz Journal” any more if you won’t homogenize customer experience into the generic customer service nomenclature.
 
Deal? Thanks. Love ‘ya, mean it. 
 
Your loyal reader,
 
Bill Leinweber
Customer Experience Expert

The Language of Customer Experience

Watch your language.”  In my mind’s ear, I can hear my mother’s voice speaking those words if, as kids, we got a little too rambunctious with our vocabulary.  Mom also had a great way of making sure we could imagine being in the other person’s shoes.  That’s probably why, in part, I have such a heightened sense of the spoken and written language in the spectrum of customer experience.

I often wonder if people actually stop to think about the meaning of the words they’ve chosen when addressing customers.  The nuances are subtle. (Is that redundant? Can you have an obvious nuance)?  Let’s put a bit more thought into the language we use with customers, shall we?

A phrase comes to mind, spoken by Queen Marie of France in the movie Ever After – A Cinderella Story. Choose your words wisely, Madame, for they may be your last.”  The Queen is speaking to Rodmilla (played by Angelica Huston), as she stands before the court after Rodmilla’s lies and deceit have been exposed.  Okay, it’s true that customer experience isn’t usually that dramatic a life or death situation.  However, the Queen’s point is that words elicit emotions within the listener.  So in customer experience, shouldn’t we choose our words wisely and positively touch the customer emotionally?  It may be our last chance to impress them.

I’ve gathered a couple of examples for your consideration.  However, before I get to those examples, after reading this please don’t go writing my sponsors about “Bill’s total disregard for colloquial speech,” —  Y’all.  I do also understand that different regions and parts of the country and the world have their own unique words and phrases but, let’s set that aside for a moment.

I’m Sorry to Hear

The scenario for my first example is this.  You’ve just received a shipment for something you ordered online.  The contents of your shipping container were poorly packaged and the product got smashed to smithereens in transit.  You call the vendor and, to the customer service agent, you explain both the unfortunate situation as well as your total displeasure that the product has been rendered useless to you on the very day you had hoped to begin using it.  The customer service person says, “I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a problem…”

Do they actually regret that you had a bad experience OR are they just sorry to hear about it?  Is that agent saying they wished someone else had heard about it?  I don’t like “sorry to hear.”  Either be sorry, or be regretful or be apologetic but don’t be sorry that you heard that my carton got smashed in transit.  If you hadn’t heard of my malady, you wouldn’t be able to help me resolve it, right?  Now, I’ve heard some people claim that you shouldn’t say you’re “sorry” unless you were deliberately responsible for causing the mishap but I think that’s hogwash.  (Is hogwash the solution prepared in advance to wash the hogs or the runoff afterwards?  My money is on the runoff.)  A better response is, “I’m sorry your order arrived damaged…” or “I regret that you had this bad experience…

You get my drift.  Show a little sincere empathy.

At My/Our Earliest Convenience

In this next example, you happen to be calling your janitorial service to compliment them on the great job they’re doing and you reach their general voice mail after hours.  You listen to the recorded greeting before leaving your message and you hear, “Thanks for calling ABC Janitorial Service.  The office is now closed.  Please leave your message after the tone and we’ll return your call at our earliest convenience.”  A variation on this theme would be, you’re calling “Mary” and Mary’s greeting says, “I’ll call you back at my earliest convenience.

So, you’ll call the customer back when you’re good and ready?  You’ll return the customer’s call at a time that is most convenient to you?  Shouldn’t convenience be on the customer’s terms?  Of course it should.  This is a distortion of the message you, as a caller, would leave on the customer-recipient’s voice mail such as, “Hi Mary.  It’s Bill Leinweber calling.  I’m sorry I missed you but I would love to discuss your responses to our recent customer survey.  Please call me at your earliest convenience.  My number is…

Defer your messaging to the customer’s convenience for the optimum customer experience.

You doing okay?

We were in a restaurant the other day and had just each taken a couple bites of our food.  The restaurant manager started making his way, table by table, across the dining room and when he arrived at our table he said, “You guys doing okay?

I’m willing to bet this restaurant chain’s management training program has a half-day module where they tell the managers how important it is to get out on the floor every hour or so, greet guests and schmooze and make guests feel welcomed.  On the surface, it’s a great idea.  Here’s the restaurant’s chance to have yet another positive, face to face interaction with a guest.  But if “You doing okay” is the best the manager can muster, they have a huge opportunity here.  “How are your meals, gentlemen” or “Have we made you feel welcomed and comfortable” or “Is there anything else we can bring to you?”  I can think of a hundred things better to say than “You doing okay?

Coach your managers and supervisors on what to say then let them personalize the message to their own personalities.

Your Call Is Important To Us

You’ve probably heard me talk about this one before because it is a pet peeve and I cringe every single time I hear it.  I’m not sure which call center industry prodigy coined this phrase and why it seems every business on planet earth has copied it.  “Your call is important to us” is both condescending to the customer and unimaginative.  I cringe further when “Your call is important to us” is followed by “Your wait time is approximately 7 minutes…”  If your customer’s call is truly important to your business, then don’t just say it is important – demonstrate it! At what point, after how many minutes on hold, does the customer begin to believe despite the claims, that their call is in fact unimportant?

The customer assumes their call is important to you.  Otherwise, why would they even be doing business with you in the first place?  Simple rule here – don’t say stupid things to customers.  Instead, say something like, “We’re glad you called us today” because aren’t you really glad the customer called you and not your competition?  Or “We’re looking forward to speaking with you shortly” or even “An agent will be available soon.”

What are you saying to your customers?

Re-read what you’ve written.  Listen to the words you’re choosing when speaking to your customers.  Of course, you should be doing more listening to customers than talking.  But when you do speak, the words you use are an important part of the customer’s experience.

Now, (as my mom would say) I can get off my high horse.