Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Archive for December, 2006

Customer Service New Year’s Musings

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 29, 2006

new-year.jpgDo you remember the movie, “E.T.”? This little alien was clearly more advanced than those of us on Earth, yet he became ill in our atmosphere. Many scientists rushed in, running tests and conducting analyses, but they just couldn’t save E.T. A similar scenario is happening to our customers in the atmosphere of customer service cost reductions.  As we see the dwindling health of our customer base, we come rushing in to run many tests and analyses but find it difficult to keep the patient going.  

Seth Godin discussed bad customer service recently when he mused that the reason we see bad service is that most of us have experience with how easy it is to give good customer service.  I also think that too many cost reductions in the realm of customer service have wreaked havoc with great service.

Cost reductions such as cutting headcount, outsourcing, pay-for-performance, and call-reduction strategies in the customer service center are a short-term approach to improving operations. Such an internally-focused approach can lead to higher costs and poor operational performance as customers are alienated. It can also lead to employee churn, which incurs additional costs. A customer-focused approach is almost impossible to maintain in that environment. 

Customer focus and cost reduction co-exist and thrive when the final objective is not solely about cost. If the desired end-goal is about customers, a reduction in cost usually follows. Organizations with a customer focus see cost improvements resulting from more complete customer information, improved decision making, improved customer service effectiveness, as well as from customer service reps empowered to satisfy the customer. These organizations have one thing in common: they are proactive about their customers. Managing the customer experience, while improving service processes and capabilities, can bring balance between customer focus and cost reduction.

Customer Service New Year’s Resolutions

As you head into the New Year (in just a few days!), you might want to answer these questions for yourself and for your organization.

Do we have a customer strategy for the customer service organization?

While most organizations have a product or marketing strategy, many do not have a customer strategy. A customer strategy addresses who our customers are, how we can differentiate them from one another both in value and needs, and how we will treat them.  This strategy should be built around the interactions and relationship that the customer has with your organization. The right customer strategy in your service organization lays the groundwork for the rest of the journey.

Are we proactively managing the customer experience?

The customer experience takes place through all touch points with a customer, including agents, web sites, newsletters, and automated systems. We can think about each interaction as an opportunity to either increase or decrease a customer’s value to us. Example: I recently moved to a new house and needed to contact multiple utility companies.  In the first instance, I called the customer service line and waited on hold for nearly 30 minutes in order to tell an agent I would not be able to make the installation appointment that was previously scheduled. At the end of that half-hour period, I was not having a very good experience! The next day, the second instance but with a different utility, I called to cancel the service at our old residence. Wait times again were high, but in this case I was given the choice of receiving a call-back from an agent.  An agent called me 25 minutes later, exactly as they had predicted, and a recording of my own voice validated the call.  My elapsed time to deal with that call was 3 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes the day before. In both cases, the contact center was scheduling agents to take calls as they come in; however, in the second case my experience was optimized to make the interaction as convenient for me as possible. Which one built a stronger customer relationship and increased customer value? 

Has your organization formally linked rewards with customer-centric behavior?

A hard look at customer-based metrics is necessary in order to retain a balance between customer focus and cost reduction, especially in areas such as the contact center. Activity in the contact center should be reviewed based on measures of both efficiency such as call handle time, and measures of effectiveness such as first contact resolution, the number of repeat contacts, and the share of customer data. These measures have the greatest impact when they are linked to performance improvement opportunities including coaching plans and training as well as root cause analysis activities. The wrong measures can cause behaviors which reduce cost but also reduce customer value. For example, if an agent is measured solely on average talk time but not on how well the customer’s concern is resolved, that agent won’t care that the customer has to contact the organization again.   In addition, these customer-based measures need to roll up the management chain so the success of all members of the contact center organization is tied closely to customer success.

Living Together in Harmony

If you have honestly worked through the above questions, you now have the makings of a plan for customer focus which can reduce costs.  What does “customer-focused customer service” really mean? Does it mean, “Customers are important; pay attention to them!”? No. It means we need to be proactive about maximizing the value of each customer interaction, both from the organization’s perspective as well as from customer. It is then that we can best reap the benefits of being customer focused while reducing costs. 

(excerpted from article by Becky Carroll published in the SSPA News, August 2006)

Posted in Customer service, Customer strategy | 4 Comments »

Travel Experiences

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 27, 2006

AirplaneOne of the hardest things about the holidays, other than the lines at the mall, is travel.  Everyone has a travel story.  Here are a few from me.

Note: I haven’t been publishing as frequently, as I am on vacation with my family; back to the daily blog after the New Year! 

I recently traveled from Vancouver, Canada back to my home in San Diego.  The flight up was non-stop, and everything was on time.  The flight back, however, was not fun.  My connection on Alaska Airlines was supposed to leave at about 9:00 pm, and we were all on board after a 10-minute delay.  It was then announced that a problem had been found with a part of the equipment, and mechanics were coming to fix it.  Please stay tuned and stay in your seats.   

One hour later, they had fixed that problem, but two more had cropped up.  The airline finally decided to let us get off the plane and stretch our legs.  By now, it was after 10:00 pm.  About 30 minutes later, the airline said they would need to get another plane, as this one didn’t have parts available.  It was at this point the airline decided to give us vouchers for food in the airport.  We all scrambled to get a voucher, as most were quite tired and hungry by now.  I took mine to the closest store, hoping to at least get some snacks and water, but I was told the vouchers were only good for the concessions and restaurants.  One problem.  The concessions and restaurants were all closed! 

If the airline had made the decision to treat its passengers more like guests, as Disney calls its customers, how might it have done things differently?  It might have realized that the vouchers were not going to be helpful at that late hour.  As it was ordering parts, perhaps it could have found somewhere to get a carafe of coffee to serve to guests.  Perhaps it could have used vouchers that would allow its guests to get something from the store, such as a snack.  Knowing that travel can be delayed at times, what if the airline planned ahead and had some non-perishable snacks in reserve somewhere at the airport (like the yummy snacks that jetBlue serves on their flights)?  Surely they could have someone go and get them if it looks like a big delay.  Putting yourself in the shoes of your customers, and planning out how they will be treated in different scenarios, helps strengthen not only your customer relationships, but also your brand. 

On a recent Southwest flight, I was again delayed coming back into San Diego, this time due to weather.  We could not even land in San Diego due to the low-lying fog.  We ended up having to land in Los Angeles, 100 miles north of our intended destination.  Southwest personnel were extremely helpful and friendly.  At first, they couldn’t find a way to get us back to San Diego, as all flights were grounded and no buses were available.  As we gathered our carry-on bags, Southwest announced to us they had found buses.  Somewhere, they came up with a bunch of helium balloons, which tired passengers followed down to the baggage claim by smiling Southwest personnel.  They kept us informed, and they cheerfully got us safely on to the buses in a very timely fashion.  Although it was not a fun experience, Southwest made it as efficient as possible, for us and for them, with quick thinking, a cheerful attitude, and good service. 

Yes, the travel experience is not a good one at any time of year.  Airports are overcrowded, people are anxious to get home, and airline personnel are tired.  Business is cutthroat.  However, airlines such as Jet Blue and Southwest seem to have it down.   jetBlue has prioritized what is important for their passengers and continues to offer it when other airlines have cut too far back (who wants to pay for a pillow on the plane?).  Southwest hires people for their friendly, customer-focused attitudes.  Both of them will get my business in the future.

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service | 2 Comments »

Beer but No Hockey

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 26, 2006

This time of year is special.  Yes, it is Christmas, and we get the opportunity to travel to see our loved ones and spend precious time with them.  But what makes this time of year really special?  It is ice hockey season!

 

Our family is nuts about ice hockey.  We have been following our favorite team, the San Jose Sharks, since their inception in 1991.  Whenever we travel, we try and watch the game on TV if it is at all possible.

 

Recently while traveling, we stayed at a Residence Inn, not too far from San Jose (we live in San Diego now, a city without an ice hockey team!).  Residence Inn is a great place to stay if you need accommodation for more than one night as they have a kitchen in each room, a manager’s reception with drinks and a light dinner, and good connectivity for your laptop.  This time, we arrived too late for the manager’s reception, and my husband jokingly said to the receptionist, “Aw, did we miss the beer?”  Hardly batting an eye, she excused herself and went to the back room.  A minute later, she brought out a beer for my husband!  It was a very thoughtful gesture, and we felt very happy with Residence Inn!  We proceeded to the room, planning to sit down and watch the hockey game on Fox Sports Net.

 

Unfortunately, Residence Inn didn’t carry that channel.  Beer but no hockey.  Our elation with Residence Inn faded.

 

Was that fair to Residence Inn?  Not really.  They had delivered above and beyond our expectations, but they fell short when we couldn’t watch the game we wanted to see.  Is there anything Residence Inn could have done differently to make it better?  Probably not.  But the experience went from great to just OK by something that was not in their control.

 

Managing customer expectations is a difficult task.  Expectations are set through many mechanisms: the brand, the staff, the experiences we have with competitors, as well as the experiences we have with other, non-competing, brands.  Organizations that fall prey to performing “random acts of customer service” in their attempts to please customers can quickly end up exceeding their budget.  A carefully laid-out customer strategy, along with great execution and targeted usage of customer information, will go far in consistently meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

 

I would still choose Residence Inn next time I travel for a long trip.  I will just bring my highlight reel of Jonanthan Cheechoo’s goals last season to play on my laptop.

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty | Leave a Comment »

Customers Rock: Best Buy Part 2

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 23, 2006

A recent article in USA Today highlighted Best Buy and how they are moving out of the realm of “guy-dom”.  According to Best Buy, women now influence 90% of consumer electronics purchases (a number slightly disputed by the Consumer Electronics Association, which estimates a more realistic 57% influence).  As a result, Best Buy has been catering more to female shoppers.

 

In 2002, Best Buy began executing a “customer centric” plan for their stores.  It used 4 different personas to model what they felt were typical customers.  The plan started rolling out in a few pilot stores first, with mixed success.  Since the initial plan, Best Buy has moved towards one of the personas, Jill (a busy suburban mom), as they focus more on attracting and keeping female shoppers.

 

From my perspective, the bigger news is the story within the story.  A quote from Best Buy’s CEO, Brad Anderson, states that their business strategy is about understanding the needs of individual customers.  This is a significant statement, one that gives Best Buy its “Customers Rock!” attitude.  By focusing on individual customer needs, they begin to understand what customers are looking for in their electronics purchases.  It also enables the move from selling products to selling experiences.

 

When an organization starts to focus on individual customer needs, they also enable relationships to form with customers.  These relationships bring the organization additional information about their customers that competitors do not have.  Over time, relevant use of the information in customer interactions becomes a barrier to exit, and customer retention increases.

 

Will Best Buy be successful with their customer centric strategy?  It has been a little bit of a bumpy ride for them so far, but it also seems that corporate results are up and to the right.  I predict that if Best Buy stays the course and continues to focus on individual customer needs, they could become the Nordstrom of the consumer electronics retail world.  Let it be so!

Posted in Customer experience, Customer strategy | Leave a Comment »

Best Buy, Santa, and Cookies – Yum!

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 20, 2006

santa-cookies.jpgWhile in the final throes of holiday shopping, we have had the opportunity to shop at several different electronics retailers.  The experience at most is crowded throngs of people desperately trying to find a Nintendo Wii or the latest iPod Nano in a cool color, with nary a store employee in sight.  It is enough to challenge even the most patient person.

However, there are shining examples of great customer service.  Andy Nulman shared one about a bookstore called Chapters, where he was offered sweets while waiting in line.  Barnes and Noble offered gift wrapping in-store by a wonderful lady who didn’t even flinch at the large number of books I gave her to wrap.  But the best example we have seen so far was Best Buy

Even this last week of the holiday shopping saw plenty of store employees available to answer questions.  Within 2 minutes of walking in (looking for MP3 connectors for my stereo), I was approached by a friendly gal who offered to point me in the right direction.  She was knowledgeable and smiling – two traits not always found in holiday help!  My husband went to a different Best Buy yesterday (I am getting a Nintendo DS for Christmas – yeah!) and was offered cookies by a store employee.  This was not just while standing in line, as in Andy’s experience, but an employee was walking around the store with a giant tray of cookies and offering them to customers. 

Best Buy really seems to want to create a pleasant experience for their customers during this hectic time of year.  Although I had been dreading it, I won’t hesitate to go back.

Tell me your best customer service stories from this shopping season, both at retail as well as in online shopping.  I will share them in an upcoming post (with full credits, of course!).

Posted in Customer experience | 6 Comments »

Link Love Update

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 19, 2006

keys-heart.jpgSince I was one of the “original 5″ on the Z-list from Mack, I felt the best way for me to keep paying it forward was to update the list!  A lot of great blogs have been added from all over the blogosphere, including blogs from designers, entertainment, and of course, marketing and branding.  I have seen increased traffic to my blog over the last week, so thank you to all who have been linking to me.  Now if I can just show up on a few blogrolls so the love will last …

Enjoy finding some fresh reads over a cup of eggnog as you finish your online holiday shopping!
 

Shotgun Marketing Blog
BrandSizzle
bizsolutionsplus
Customers Rock!
Being Peter Kim
Pow! Right Between The Eyes! Andy Nulman’s Blog About Surprise
Billions With Zero Knowledge
Working at Home on the Internet
MapleLeaf 2.0
darrenbarefoot.com
Two Hat Marketing

The Emerging Brand
The Branding Blog
CrapHammer
Drew’s Marketing Minute
Golden Practices
Viaspire
Tell Ten Friends
Flooring the Consumer
Kinetic Ideas
Unconventional Thinking
Buzzoodle
NewsPaperGrl
The Copywriting Maven
Hee-Haw Marketing
Scott Burkett’s Pothole on the Infobahn
Multi-Cult Classics
Logic + Emotion
Branding & Marketing
Popcorn n Roses
On Influence & Automation
Bullshitobserver
Servant of Chaos
converstations
eSoup
Presentation Zen
Dmitry Linkov
aialone
John Wagner
Nick Rice
CKs Blog
Design Sojourn
Frozen Puck
The Sartorialist
Small Surfaces
Africa Unchained
Perspective
gDiapers
Marketing Nirvana
Bob Sutton
¡Hola! Oi! Hi!
Shut Up and Drink the Kool-Aid!
Women, Art, Life: Weaving It All Together
Community Guy
Social Media on the fly
P
 

And a few others not on Mack’s latest update list but who have spread the link love:

MovieMarketingMadness

UniqueEpitome

ReBang

uzyn

TheQualitativeResearchBlog

MineThatData

Experienceology

Freaking Marketing
Really Small Fish
The Orange Yeti

Posted in Customer experience | 10 Comments »

Time’s “Person of the Year” is You – so what are companies going to do about it?

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 18, 2006

manonrock.jpgIt’s been all the talk in the last day or so: Time magazine has named “you” their person of the year for 2006.   Sure, Time gets a lot of publicity each time they publish their annual issue with a different person on the cover, and they are getting it this time. 

On this one, feedback is definitely mixed.  Is Time finally embracing the blogger culture?  Is this old school trying to grasp new school as mentioned by Ann’s post?  Is it just a publicity stunt as discussed by Mack’s post?  Is Time missing the boat, as put forward by Ben, in that the real “you” is only the one-percenters, with the rest of us in the digital grandstands?

Does it matter?  No.  What matters is what companies are going to do about it. 

Will companies start to take a “Customers Rock!” attitude as a result of this story?  Will they actually listen to their customers and engage them in the conversation?  Most customer conversations today are en-masse surveys or customer focus groups, neither of which tell companies anything about “you”.  These methods tell them about people who they think might be like “you” but aren’t really “you.”  Anyway, these are not even conversations; they are all one-sided.

I like what Lewis Green suggests to organizations about how to market to customers.  From his post:

Continue to reach out with an integrated marketing strategy, but not one that talks about your business but one that discusses your customer’s wants, needs and desires and why your products and services may fill those criteria.

Let’s hope the focus on You, the real customer, is not a flash in the pan story for the companies you do business with but a wake-up call to start engaging You in a real dialogue about your wants, needs, and desires.  Better yet, let’s demand it.

Posted in Customer experience, Customer strategy | 1 Comment »

Loyalty, innovation, and the gaming console war

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 16, 2006

video-game-kid.JPGThe video game console wars are in full swing.  The winner will be determined not just by new customers but in many cases by the loyal, installed base of gamers.  The three companies, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are pulling out all the stops to try and come out on top.  Some of their tactics are working, others are not.  The console that wins may be the one that has the best “Customers Rock!” attitude.

 Microsoft’s Xbox360 has been out since Christmas 2005 and has a great head start, as they have already been through the long lines to get the Xbox360 and the inflated eBay prices.  The Xbox360 appeals to the “hard core” gamer with its  incredible graphics and wide array of intense, action-packed games.  Microsoft is also reaching out to its existing customers through an ever-growing list of over 300 Xbox games that are backwards-compatible with the Xbox 360. 

Sony’s PS3 came out in November this year, as did Nintendo’s Wii.  Sony has a very large installed base of loyal PS2 customers but has done very little to engage them in the excitement over the new PS3, which has great new graphics as well.  Sony instead has seen a lot of backlash in the last few days for its failed WOM campaign for the PSP, alliwantforxmasisapsp.com (currently cached version can be seen here), which Sony admits was “poorly executed.” (Thanks to NextGeneration News for this story.)  What would be happening with the PS3 if Sony were working with its existing customer zealots?  Sony would have a leg-up on its competitors.

In the United States so far, Nintendo’s sales are outpacing Sony’s.   Is this due to Nintendo’s large installed base?  Possibly, but of greater importance is that Nintendo has been listening to its customers.  Console aside, when gamers are asked what their reasons are for playing video games, one of the top reasons is always “fun”.  Should this really be a surprise?  When Nintendo created the Wii, this is what it kept in mind, keeping video games fun.  Many of the video games made for hard-core gamers can require a steep learning curve, which keeps away the “average” gamer.   Nintendo designed the Wii to be a fun, innovative family console that even Mom would love.  Nintendo has done a series of interviews internally with its own design team which showcase their thinking in the Wii’s development.  Most of Nintendo’s focus has been on improving the customer experience for the gamer, rather than just making it better, faster, and flashier.  Nintendo has seen its share of problems with the new Wii as the game controller strap breakage has caused unintended consequences an early recall.  This will all be water under the bridge soon.

Who will win the console wars?  My prediction is that the Wii will come out ahead of the PS3 with its unique, fun gaming experience that seems to be broadening the market for video games.  How Xbox will fare will depend on how closely it stays linked to its customer base.  The results of the final analysis will have little to do with “faster and flashier” and everything to do with how loyal customers are treated – and whether they are having fun.

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Gaming | 6 Comments »

Loyalty Expectations

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 14, 2006

happy-customers.JPGAs promised last week, today I am posting my top tips for setting up and managing a customer loyalty program.  Loyalty programs are, unfortunately, a dime a dozen these days.  It takes something special to make a loyalty “program” stand out.

Let me briefly define what I mean by a loyalty program.  There are certainly all those plastic/paper cards we carry in our wallets or on our key chains that are one type of loyalty program.  I have been experimenting with my local grocery store to see how well this works by remaining anonymous on their card application (did you know you can do that?).  I also have another card with my info so I can compare offers.  I am not really interested in getting coupons from them, as I can get most of their discounts through showing the card.  It is my belief that these programs are not effective unless the information gathered from the customer is used to add value to the customer’s experience.  If you are not going to do something for me, why would I want to give you my information?  Plus, you are just taking up space on your servers with worthless information if you are not using it appropriately.   See Kevin Hillstrom’s blog MineThatData for more great food for thought (get it?) on multichannel and database marketing.  I like his customer-focused thinking.

Tip 1 for loyalty programs: Make sure your program adds value to the customer experience, and be clear on what that value is. 

Then there are those programs that we sign up for, such as frequent flier/traveller/stay-er programs, where one can earn (theoretically) free trips, free stays, etc.   Southwest Airlines has a very simple, straightforward program that uses flight segments rather than miles.  It is easy to use and easy to redeem; they even keep track of all your Rapid Rewards for you if you have misplaced the award certificates.  They also work to engage their loyalty program customers with things like birthday cards and thank-you cards for your business.  My husband has been a Rapid Rewards member for quite some time, and yesterday he received a 10-year anniversary card from Southwest (it looked like a wedding anniversary card, talking about “walking down the aisle”).  It was accompanied by a coupon for $20 off an Alamo car rental.  My husband received this card with mixed feelings.  It was great that they recognized his longevity with Southwest, as well as the fact that he usually books a rental car through their website.  However, very seldom does he book Alamo; he usually books Dollar.  If Southwest had taken a little bit of time and effort to review their customer data, they would have found that out and sent him a coupon that mattered to him, rather than their current “partner campaign”.

Tip 2:  Use your customer insight to create relevant offers for your customers in order to differentiate your program from others and create customer delight.   It should be for their convenience, not yours!

Finally, there are those loyalty programs that are not really as much of a program as they are a way of doing business for a company.  This blog, Customers Rock!, focuses a lot on the latter type of customer strategies, where customers are at the core of the company.  See C. B. Whittemore’s blog post from Flooring the Consumer on relentless customer focus for a great example. (BTW, this is one of the blogs I recommended through my link-love post yesterday!)  Hiring a Customers Rock! attitude in employees is a key to this program, as well as the appropriate measures to ensure an organized effort.  Random acts of “CRM” will not further your customer cause!

Tip 3: Be prepared to carry your loyalty program, or customer strategy, through to the end.  It may be worse to start a program, set customer expectations for a great “club”, then stop after awhile, than never to have started a program at all.

Add your own loyalty program tips, and I will publish them in a future post.

Posted in Customer experience, Customer strategy | 7 Comments »

Blogs pay it forward

Posted by Becky Carroll on December 13, 2006

Mack Collier posted about his “Z-list” plan to bring link-love to those blogs not getting their due.  His instructions, as well as my list of blogs to check out, is below.  The idea is to change up how the Technorati authority system works.  It’s a great idea.

Your homework: cut and paste the list of blogs into your new post, adding any additional blogs that you think need more air time.  Add the same instructions in your post so the next blogger does the same.

Thanks, Mack, for including Customers Rock! in your list of deserving blogs.  I am paying it forward.

 keys-heart.jpg

Here’s Mack’s list(Cut and paste to your blog, and add as few or many blogs as you like):

Shotgun Marketing Blog
BrandSizzle
bizsolutionsplus
Customers Rock! (my blog)
Being Peter Kim

Becky’s adds:

Experienceology 

FlooringtheConsumer

Posted in Customer experience | 5 Comments »

 
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