The Customer Experience as Competitive Edge – from Wells Fargo Small Business

Posted on September 16, 2008. Filed under: customer service, small business | Tags: , , |

Wells Fargo Small Business Round up sends me links to articles once a month or so.  When I find them helpful, I share them here.  Why don’t you bookmark their page and check it now and again?

Competitive differentiation is critical. Whether your value proposition rests on price, service or offering a completely unique product or service, building the optimal customer experience can help separate you from the pack. Creating ongoing, meaningful relationships with customers may just be the best retention tool you have.

“We live in a world of abundant choice, uncertainty of innovation and change and the stress of time pressure,” notes John Todor, Ph.D., author of Addicted Customers. “From a customer’s perspective, this pushes them out of their psychological comfort zone. Bidding wars make products and services commodities, which leads to stress and the tendency to buy on price and convenience, not on value. It takes the joy and inherent loyalty out of the buying experience. But an emotionally satisfying experience gives customers a sense of belonging, helping you increase desire and demand, while decreasing the focus on price.”

Thus, the goal of building the best customer experience is to create desire, and increase demand and commitment on the part of the customer; it’s an experience customers want to return to because they derive value from it. Todor points to the experience of walking into an Apple computer store. You’re greeted by a concierge, and all the products are turned on and ready for use, which is actively encouraged. There’s even a classroom in the middle of the store to foster in-depth product learning. The value for customers is clear: They can experience the product right now, not after they’ve purchased it. They’re subjected to the potential value of owning and using the product in the future—this is the root of desire.

But you don’t have to be big to offer a great experience. “We have a local hardware store where all the employees are ex-tradespeople,” Todor says. “Most of the customers are do-it-yourselfers, so the staff works to have the right person—a plumber, electrician, etc.—talk to you about your needs. They offer solid, sound advice about projects that helps keep customers from making mistakes. They may charge about 10% more than other big box or hardware stores, but you’re getting real expertise when you visit. In this case, the shared experience is valuable and meaningful because the anxiety of concerns the customers have about doing their project without unexpected complications are defused. It turns a nagging task into a project that, when done right, leads to gratification, and the confidence to tackle more homeowner projects. The result: more business for the hardware store. A bonus: customers who spread the word to friends and neighbors.”

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Ever have an angry customer?

Posted on June 25, 2008. Filed under: customer service, small business | Tags: |

Typical debit card transaction machine, branded to McDonalds.

Image via Wikipedia

We have all had customer service incidents.  (Here’s one of mine.)

But have you ever had a really angry customer?  It is not a pretty sight.  My customer service plan is to try to avoid “angry” as best I can by nipping things in the bud.

Last week I had trouble with the credit card terminal.  While I was batching out the day’s receipts, the machine went blank.  After a call to the merchant service line, I was told that the batch had not gone through and it was no longer in the memory of the machine.  I was asked to manually re-enter each slip.  (Luckily it was not a big, busy day, so there were only 10 items.)

I input the items again.  Just in case there was any problem, I emailed all the customers and told them what was up.  The next day, one of the clients emailed me to let me know that two transactions were pending on her account.  Yikes!  Panic!

Another call to Merchant Services, and a different person told me that I was supposed to have re-entered the transactions as “offline” and used the same authorization number.  So what had happened now was that on the day before the batch failure, when the clients’ cards were swiped, an authorization was put through to their account.  The actual transaction is not processed until the batch is sent.  When I reentered the items, an additional authorization went through.  I was assured that the original authorization would “drop off” of their accounts in a few days and only one charge would go through.

So I sent another email to all of the effected clients explaining things as I understood them, apologizing for any trouble and thanking them for their patience and understanding.  When they come in the salon next time, I will give them a little gift as an additional apology.

The reason I communicated with the clients was to keep them from seeing their bank info, seeing us on their twice for the same event, freaking out, and wondering what was wrong, or worse: calling and screaming at me!  For me, it is easier to avoid drama than to deal with it full blown.

Sometimes they get you, though.  For 5 steps on how to deal with an angry customer once they are really hot, read this post from Business Pundit.

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Getting and Keeping the Clients You Want (from the GSH archives)

Posted on March 31, 2008. Filed under: customer service, marketing | Tags: , , , , |

Running a small business is less fun than you think. I talk people out of opening salons all the time. When I explain to them the details of payroll, inventory, taxes and the like, all but the most determined think better of the idea. But many of you didn’t ask me before you started your salon. So if you are already in too deep to get out, here are some tips (from my workshop: Getting and Keeping the Clients You Want).

The average salon only keeps 30%-50% of the first time clients who walk through the door.

If you can control who comes in, you can significantly increase your odds!

  1. You need a website. The day has passed where you could put this off. I used to think I didn’t need one because, as a service business, I didn’t need to reach the whole world. The thing is, the people in your community want to be able to check you out anonymously and at odd hours. At the very least, give them some basic info: hours, prices, location, contact info, staff names, payments accepted, products you carry. You probably have a client who can do such things and would trade services with you. Put a note up on your mirror asking “Can you help us build a web page?”
  2. Our salon and our clients LOVE our online scheduling. It cuts down on phone calls and decreases the chances of no-shows (it sends a reminder the day before.) The one we use, Flash Appointments, is very affordable for small salons.  There is an interesting service I have read about, but not tried called Salon Service Central that can take the place of a receptionist.
  3. Every business has a personality. Does yours have a personality disorder? Don’t try to be all things to all people. Not everyone is your target client. I know you think you want anyone with a pulse and a credit card, but you will be much happier (and more successful) if you determine your business personality and embrace it. Azarra is the salon where you can wear your pajamas and cuss. What makes your salon different from the 300 other salons in your town?
  4. Don’t waste money on advertising your target client won’t see. If you are an upper-end salon, discounts and coupons that come in a bulk mailer are unlikely to appeal to your target market. We use CitySearch. It lets you set an advertising cap and we pay what we can afford. It allows clients to leave reviews and we get tons of new clients from it (way more than we ever got from our yellow pages ad which we have now dropped.)
  5. Build relationships with your vendors. They have tools to help you grow. Partner with the ones who can be the most help.
  6. Get an accountant you can trust and understand. It is crazy to think that you can keep up on all the tax rules. If you ever have a problem with a tax agency, you will be glad you have someone who can back you up.
  7. You do not want pissy clients. If a customer is pissy, give them back their money and send them on their way.
  8. Under-promise, over-deliver. Don’t promise the moon if you don’t think you can hit Mars.
  9. Detoxify the staff. Staff who sabotage your goals and vision will cost you more than you will ever make from them. Let them go. You know who is poisoning your environment. Get rid of them.
  10. Live your brand. Once you figure out who you are, be sure that all your materials reflect it. Business cards, menus, website and advertising should all be cohesive and should help prospective customers determine if you are the right salon for them. If you do a better job of appealing to only your target market, then you will be more likely to keep the clients you get.
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Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? (from the GSH archives)

Posted on March 31, 2008. Filed under: customer service | Tags: , , |

We had a customer service incident today.

I answered a phone call from someone who had not yet been into our salon and was very irritated that she had received her reminder email only to learn that we thought her appointment was for Saturday and she thought it was for today. I asked her if she had gotten the email confirmation that is sent when the appointment is first made and she said she got it but didn’t read it.

I offered her a time today and she was unable to take it. I told her I would have the stylist call her and see what could be done to get the time she preferred. When the stylist arrived, he/she (I have been asked not to give too much info so as to not hurt any feelings, so I have adjusted gender) called the client and left a voice-mail in which she/he made a point to remind the client of the conversation and how she must have asked for a Saturday appointment.

An hour later, I got this email from the client:

I am cancelling my appointment on Saturday, 10/6 @ 4:30.

I have a funeral all day Saturday, why would I make an appt. that day?????? I don’t appreciate (X’s) claiming (she/he) specifically remembers me telling (him/her) Saturday, because I did not. It’s pretty funny too, (she/he) started off by saying, “I talked to you a couple days ago”… nope, just yesterday. I think (he/she’s) a little off on (his/her) days. Ever heard ‘the customer is always right’? I’ll be giving someone else my business.

Thanks,

When I spoke to the stylist about this, there were raised voices and hurt feelings. I was not irritated about the scheduling error. Things happen. Life is like that. What irritated me was the way it was handled. Once the confusion occurs, it makes no sense to fight over who was right. The question isn’t who was right, the question is, can the client be accommodated? I think they were both more interested in being right than they were about getting her hair done.

I tried to explain to the stylist that this lesson needed to be learned not just to be a successful service provider, but to live a happy life.

It hardly ever matters who was right. Really. I promise.

As to the “customer is always right” philosophy, our regular clients know that we don’t necessarily subscribe. We aren’t here to be doormats, and while I wish this incident could have been handled differently, I am not going to try to woo this client into giving us another chance.

I did reply to her email with an apology for being unable to solve her problem, a list of four salons that might be able to help her today, and our best wishes.

Feel free to discuss similar incidents and other solutions!

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The Customer Is Sometimes Right (from the GSH archives)

Posted on March 30, 2008. Filed under: customer service | Tags: , , |

We have talked before (and I have taken some guff) about my belief that the customer is NOT always right. Customers are human.

They sometimes are wrong. I know. It seems crazy and counter to everything you have read about how to succeed in business. But it is the honest truth.  You cannot please everyone.  Some people cannot be pleased no matter how hard you try!

This sign is from a shop in Beijing, China.

beijing

Today I have found an article for you (read the excerpt below, then click over to read the rest) that backs up my belief.

The article shares stories from companies large and small who have realized that not every customer is right for their business.

surprise

The customer is always right?

When the customer isn’t right – for your business

One woman who frequently flew on Southwest, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.

She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.

Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s [Kelleher, CEO of Southwest] desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’”

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London in 1909, and is typically used by businesses to:

1. Convince customers that they will get good service at this company
2. Convince employees to give customers good service

Fortunately more and more businesses are abandoning this maxim – ironically because it leads to bad customer service.

Read the rest here.

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