• 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

What Are You Doing to Your Customer’s Memory?

A Drive Down Dogwood Lane

I grew up on a great street in Mentor, Ohio, about 25 miles east of Cleveland. My parents picked a terrific location to raise six kids. Our street was exactly a half-mile long with long straight-a-ways and a couple of serpentine curves. Back then, we used to say it was a “dead end” street. The houses weren’t very fancy by today’s standards, three bedrooms and two baths for eight people.

The cool thing was that our house was fourth from the end of the street so the only people driving past our house were the Martinson’s, the Phelp’s, the Staebler’s, the senior and junior Douglass’s and Mr. Hockenbrach. Mr. H drove pretty fast but otherwise, for a kid on a bike the traffic was practically nonexistent. It was awesome when they re-paved our street into a smooth, asphalt “raceway.” Our lot was one of the few that didn’t border woods or a fence in back. Our backyard was like a meadow, blending seamlessly into the neighbor’s yard on the street behind us. Beyond the cul-de-sac were our elementary and junior high schools, playgrounds, football stadium and a big woods with a pond. There were tons of other kids in the neighborhood of all ages.  At the corner of our backyard was the biggest maple tree around, well over a hundred years old. And you could see it from the end of the street, even from the school yard. I have very fond memories of growing up on Dogwood Lane and I can still remember the smell of the grass, aromas of dinner from open windows, the breeze, and the feeling of safety, although at the time, I didn’t know I felt safe. I just did.

Memory Shock

About six years ago I was visiting my family in Cleveland and decided to take a drive down good ‘ole Dogwood Lane. It was nothing like I remembered. My mind’s eye contained frozen snapshots of time. But on Dogwood Lane, life marched on as it has everywhere. The trees and shrubs had grown unbelievably, to the point where once exposed houses are now totally hidden. The houses no longer looked new and fresh. In fact, some were pretty run down. One driveway had a car up on blocks. Revisiting Dogwood Lane was a shock to my system. My “memory self” was out of alignment with my current “experiencing self.” I regretted taking that drive. Maybe Dogwood Lane was never as great as I remembered.

The reminiscing drive down Dogwood Lane made me realize how different the experience may be from our memory of it. Truth is, there’s the experience and then there’s the memory of the experience and they’re not necessarily the same.

How does this translate to customer experience?

You often hear me say that the best customer experience is memorable and meaningful. Memorable. That’s critical.

Now, I get it. A single customer interaction isn’t going to etch a memory the same as 18 years of growing up on Dogwood Lane. However, THAT a customer remembers the experience at all is as important as WHAT the customer remembers about the experience.

If you have time, here’s a wonderful 15-minute TED talk by Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman about happiness (“experience”) vs. memory.

WordPress:

Customer Memory In Your Business

Here are 3 things to consider about the customer experience and memory in your business:

1) Design: When you design and shape your customer’s experience, are you asking yourself, “What will the customer remember?” And as part of the design of the experience, are you deliberately creating a memory at all?

Example:

At my local grocery store, they have a little “mini clinic” inside the store. You can get flu shots, have minor injuries checked, and other non-emergency treatments. Today when I walked into the store, there were several very ill patients, heads in their hands, waiting for treatment. This is not particularly something I want to see when I first walk into the store to buy my food! I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Unpleasant memory.

2) The Ending: We’re most likely to remember the very end of the experience and that memory will shade the entire experience. In your customer’s experience, what is the ending like?

Example:

At the end of her voice mail greeting, my colleague Melissa doesn’t say, “Have a nice day.” She doesn’t say “Have a good day.” Melissa says, “I hope you’re having a splendid day.” Now splendid is not a word you probably hear every day, or even every week! But Melissa came up with a way to express her wishes in a unique way that stands out. It’s different and that makes it memorable. So, you’re not  comfortable with the word ‘splendid.’ No problem, come up with something else.

3) Service Recovery: How you handle customer issues when something goes wrong cannot be understated. Whether it’s your customer service department, your sales rep, technical support or other customer-facing staff, the customer will surely remember this “ending” interaction. Here’s a hint: Better to have the memory of the bad experience fade and the customer left with the great memory of how you resolved the issue.

Example:

My colleague’s web hosting company accidentally wiped out his About Me page – and couldn’t recover the content! He had to reconstruct the content and re-load it into his website. Aside from a humble apology, the hosting company gave him a generous credit toward his next renewal which just happened to be later that week. Small cost for the vendor and left the customer with an upbeat memory.

I regularly preach that a distinguishing customer experience doesn’t have to cost a lot. Sometimes by just making the experience different, you make it memorable and better.  Just ask yourself, “When this interaction is over, what will the customer remember?”

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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

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.

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.

Embrace Your Process – Don’t Hide Behind It

Inefficiency with call center service drives me crazy, especially when the tools exist for a smooth and efficient process.  So, I thought you’d appreciate another “real life” story that illustrates how customer experience can be improved.

Lights Out!

On Monday night this week, our electric power went out at about 11:45 PM.  I was asleep and wouldn’t otherwise have noticed except that the dog stirred and the lulling drone of the fan in the bedroom stopped.  Odd, but the silence woke me up.  When I opened my eyes and realized I was in total darkness, I got up out of bed and went downstairs.  I looked out the front windows, then the back, assessing the situation.  Yep, the entire subdivision (at least all of it that I can see) was completely dark.  So I grabbed my cell phone to call the power company.  They have a special phone number for reporting power outages.

I guess I’m more than a little weird because I’ve got it in my head that I MUST call the power company, as if they don’t already know that 8,000 customers have lost power.  There are over 400 homes in my subdivision but I somehow think none of my insomniac neighbors watching late night TV will make the call!  What if we all think someone else is going to call?  So, I call.

Smooth Sailing On Auto Pilot

I reach their automated power outage report line.  It is remarkably efficient.  The Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) asks, “For gas trouble, press 1. Electric, 2.”  Pretty simple.  The IVR recognizes my phone number and says, “To report an electric outage for this phone number, press 1…”  “The street number for this location is ####, if this is correct press 1, if not press 2.”  You get the idea, the IVR recognizes my phone number, correctly connects it to my street address.  Each prompt gives me the option to validate the information, enter a different phone number, report a partial or total outage – the IVR is thorough, concise and very easy.  The system even tells me that this outage was first reported 2 minutes earlier than my call (thank goodness for insomniac neighbors) and that my power is expected to be restored by 3:00 AM.  This call takes 1 minute – literally, 60 seconds.

The power comes back on about an hour later and I start quietly resetting clocks and firing back up our computers to make sure everything is working.  I should know better from past experience because 15 minutes later the power goes back off.  This little on/off power-teaser game is typical when our power goes out so I don’t know what gave me the confidence to think it would stay on.

Shall We Dance Around My Process?

I called the power outage “hotline” once again and may have mis-keyed but this time I reached a live agent.  This second experience was painfully inefficient for reasons that, I believe, were totally avoidable.

Ellen: “Duke Energy, this is Ellen, how may I help you.”

Bill: “Hi Ellen, I’m calling to report a power outage.”

Ellen: “Okay, I am happy to help you with that.  What is your name?”

Bill: “The last name is Leinweber, that’s L-E…”

Ellen: <Interrupting> “…and what is your address?”

Bill: “The address is <I give Ellen our address>”

Ellen: “Hmmm… okay, I’m not finding you in the system.  Is this a business?”

Bill: “No, it’s a residence.”  I spell out the three words in my street address.

Ellen: “I’m not finding it.  Now, Linewebber, I’m spelling that L-I-N-E-W-E-B-B-E-R, is that correct?”

Bill: “No, it’s actually L-E-I-N-W-E-B-E-R.  I tell you what, can you look me up by my phone number?”

Ellen: “Okay, I can try that.”

I give Ellen my phone number and – viola! There I am.  Now, I don’t know anything about Duke Energy’s systems except for my experience with their automated IVR.  That said, I knew that with the automated system, my identity is made quickly by my phone number.  The call with Ellen took 3 minutes, 3 times longer than the automated IVR.  Now granted, we’re talking only 3 minutes of my life here but the Ellen experience could have been much simpler.

A Better Way

If identifying me by phone number was so simple and sure, why did Ellen start with name and address?  Here are my very simple but important suggestions from this experience:

1) Allow your customer the opportunity to actually participate in your process regardless of how great or not-so-great your technology systems may be.  Train your agents to engage the customer in your process appropriately.  The customer will follow the agent’s lead.

2) The customer is smarter than you may think! Any attempt to hide behind your clunky process will likely be unsuccessful and will only serve to frustrate the customer.

3) Both your customer and the agent have the same goal, right? Both want an efficient, pleasant and easy experience with a high degree of resolution.  Remember the movie Jerry Maguire and “Help Me to Help You?”  Well, let the customer help you!  The experience will be more efficient for both the agent and the customer.

Here’s how my second call should have gone:

Ellen: “Duke Energy, this is Ellen, how may I help you.”

Bill: “Hi Ellen, I’m calling to report a power outage.”

Ellen: “Oh, I’m sorry you’ve lost power and I’m happy to ensure your outage is reported.  The first thing I need to do is to pull up your account information.  The quickest way for me to do that is by phone number.  Is there a phone number associated with your account?”

Bill: “Yes, there is.  The number is ###-###-####.”

Ellen: “Great.  That was ###-###-####, is that correct?

Bill: “Yes, that’s correct.”

Ellen: “I have your account information.  Would you confirm your street address and name please.”

Bill: “Sure, my address is…”

Again, you get the idea.  Ellen could have led me through the most efficient way she has of pulling up my account information.  The call would probably have taken less time but more important, I would have been a less frustrated customer – sitting in the dark!

What processes are you hiding behind? How can you better lead your customer efficiently through the experience?