Thursday, June 29, 2006

Planning for Good Customer Service

To keep in the theme of my last post let me do a little drilldown to the area of customer service. Typically to me customer service is no more than a business doing what it has to do to close the deal. You need a smile and a good morning for someone to buy your product that's what you do and no more, if you need to add a clerk to help the decision process ok but no more. Little is ever done beyond what is thought to be the necessary to secure the deal.

That is old school and that is about as old school as you can get in concept. In today's new customer driven markets that approach isn't working very well and it is frustrating the consumer/customer/client to levels where they are starting to take their revenge. How? Well blogging and word of mouth campaigns are one way, and they are getting creative in finding new ones. Today businesses need a total customer experience that involves the customer and the employee.

Why wait for the customer to get to the point of frustration over your lack of response to often simple areas of concern, the customers concern? A simple little planning can change the direction of your customer initiative and make your business even more profitable. Businesses that are sensitive to the customer and the resulting experience they have while doing business will rule the competitive markets. Today's companies need to be responsive customer sensitive and relationship based. Small businesses are not an exception to this and face the same issues as the big boys.

What's needed is a culture switch. Planning to be successful can start with something as establishing a customer service policy and then creating a simple training program to teach your employees or managed underlings the value of the policies. Less than 3% of the existing businesses in the US and Canada have anything resembling a policy and in Asia it is basically non-existent.

Planning doesn’t have to be complicated or take a taskforce to establish a simple but effective customer policy to guide your business or department. Most can be completed in one session of an hour or two. These policies should be dynamic and responsive to your customers as you try to meet their needs. In other words they can change or be added to to sustain a good customer balanced business. Have fun, but take it serious.

If you need more information on customer service or the customer experience check out the
Customer Development Center

As always we invite your comments.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

When You Fail to Plan, You Fail - Customer Service

In working with various businesses, both large and small, I have seen a pattern emerge that is always predictable and that is the failure to plan. It really doesn't matter the size of the project or the flow, the cost, or the purpose, it just seems that business owners, managers and employees feel that there is no need to plan. This by the way includes the initial business plan for a startup business.

More business failures and product introductions, new lines or technology owe there failure of acceptance and thus there total failure to one very simple principle and that is the failure to plan. Oh! yes, I often hear the refrain from many if not most I've got it all in my head. Well what's not on paper isn't. I could write for days on this topic and I wonder if it would ever make an impact. I have been working with this one tech company, tech companies are the worst, to do a business plan so that we can move their product to market.

Why a business plan because the business plan contains elements that should define your product, your market, and strengths and weaknesses or S.W.O.T. analysis. In your product or service section it should contain market research on each product or service and how it will be accepted by your identified market including their need analysis, and rate of use. The one thing that is never if ever put into the customer section of the plan is the customer service principles that will govern the retention and loyalty factors needed to develop ongoing and continuing business.

Business plans are two types the one that 99% of everyone does, the one to retain financing, and the business plan that is the dynamic changing blueprint of the ongoing business. The latter should have embedded in it a plan for customer service policy, customer relationship management policies, customer experience policies and those for sales and marketing, employee training, hr and the implementation of those policies. Now you may ask why? It is really quite simple. If you want to succeed you need to have a map that can benchmark your performance and direction as a business, if not your company will take off and flounder.

Now many will argue that the above mentioned are not part of the business plan and should be separate. This can be the case, but if you want to measure the total performance of the business you need to have it in a perspective that can be quickly referenced.

Keep the day to day details and policies that govern your business including your customer management policies separate and match these against the business plan to make sure that they maintain the integrity of your over all vision and focus. If they deviate to much make the changes to bring them back in line. If the nature of the business and market are changing then change the business plan to reflect this and then change the policies to reflect your new direction. But always remember to be an effective customer centered business you need to plan it, reflect it and do it.

We invite your comments. Please feel free to comment and post your own responses.

If you would like to read more on customer service or the total customer experience please go to the "Customer Development Center at

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Customer Service Is A Cultural Perception

To start this off in the proper perspective let me offer to all the fathers out there a "HAPPY FATHERS DAY".

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand. Sometimes to really learn and understand the value of lessons one needs to understand we need to see the world through the eyes or in this case the culture of someone else.

For the first time I saw an entire country whose culture both in and out of the business sector is centered in the idea that people are centered, centric in the success of life. We forget to easily what creates the power behind our success and the success of others and loose this very simple focus. For the most part it is the loss of this people are first focus that also creates most of our failures.

In a business context, for them, people come first.

In recent studies businesses are starting to learn that the customer drives competition and define our services and products, except maybe for the marketing sector, but most of all our customers define who we are as a business and as a person. The Thais realize this and when ever anyone enters there place of business or when they call on a client they humbly offer gratitude and thanks and before they even start they put the customer /client first. It has become an ingrained part of their culture. Maybe we should do the same. In a customer centered and driven business this attitude would make the difference. In fact there isn't a business running where this type of culture wouldn't redifine there level of success.

As always we invite you to share your comments and ideas.

If you would like to learn more on customer service or customer experience management please visit
"The Customer Developent Center.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

It's What You Know That Makes The Difference - A Customer Experience

My wife and I decided we needed a new bed and mattress set. Well, actually she decided and like a good support system I followed along and helped her in her research and purchase.

As always I am constantly on the look out when it comes to customer service and in furthering the concept of "The Total Customer Experience". None the less, as usual, I was some what disappointed.

The store we went too first was a chain department store. Here we were hopping to get a general knowledge of mattress types and brand pros and cons. Well guess what? Like so many other large retail firms not one floor employee, which numbered 7 including the department manager, could tell us the first thing about mattress construction or the differences in the various brands of mattresses they offered. Most firms hire and train people in minimal knowledge about the operation functions of their store and rarely about the products they sale, how to compare them or how to help their clients compare them. The emphasis seems to be "oh hi, you're here so buy or don't bother me". They do know how to follow you around and smile when you can find them. Now this may not be totally fair to the occassional employee that does it right because there are exceptions. Not a great approach for customer service or in creating an overall positive customer experience.

When I asked why I should by my mattress there instead of somewhere else I got a shrug of a shoulder and a very poor apologetic attempt at why without any real sincerety. Hint: Train your employees about the products or services they sell and why buying it at your store is better than at someone else’s. You may not want to know, But your customers do.

Now that shouldn't take a real brain storm to set up, but it is a major issue. Next we decided to check out a bunch of small furniture dealers on their pricing, furniture styles and mattress selections. You know the quality and style stuff. My wife usually leaves those issues in my hands. Whether or not that's a good decision on her part only she would know.

We went to eight small furniture stores staffed at between two and eight people. They all new their pricing and terms and of course that's a good start, but they were very short on the knowledge end and the customer service and identifying customer need really sucked. You would think tha smaller businesses would be more customer sensitive since they are competting with each other and chain pricing from the big stores.

The first store we went into gets my 5 star approval ratting. To my surprise the clerk that helped us was extremely knowledgeable. We were looking for a solid wood bedroom set of above average quality and unique design so we were in somewhat of a special niche market.

The sales person was standing at the door as we approached and greeted us with a smile and friendly sincere greeting. Then she asked what we were looking for and we of course told her. Yes, a lady sales clerk, who put all the men that day to shame. Now the store specialized in teak furniture and I will have to agree it was nice. What impressed me was her willingness to understand our needs (through a meaningful conversation) before even showing us the product. She actually cared about the customer first and not the sale.

Hmmm, she then showed us two selections of beds that they had that met our requirements. Now this gal in her late twenties new everything you could imagine about the wood, where it came from, the cut of the tree the lumber came from, the construction of the furniture, how and why various jointing techniques were used and more. She could explain why her Teak furniture (which was from Burma) was superior to other teak and why buying from their store was a better choice. If I was intending to buy the style of furniture she had I would have looked no further. She answered all my questions professionally and treated us with honesty and respect. I still may go back end of the year for something else I saw.

The other seven stores and some twenty sales people later couldn't even come close to our 5 Star Sales Lady. Some couldn't even tell me what the name of the wood the bed frames were made of let alone anything else. None could tell me about the construction or any other issue and most of all none could tell me what made their product better than someone else’s. In fact not one other clerk even bothered to ask what was we actually wanted let alone get up to greet us. They seemed to be glued to the couch, chair or lost in a closet. Talk about an other bummer experience.

The first sales clerk was trained in the basics of furniture construction by her company and then she researched and found out the rest on her own. Don't you wish she worked for you?
I may go back and do an interview with her just to see what else sets her apart from the rest. But knowledge of her product and why it was superior was a big start and it certainly made a dent in my armor. She was ready to meet her customer’s needs and educate them so that they could make an informed choice. Yep, FIVE STARS for the furniture lady.

The point here is your clerks, sales team and even the receptionist should be trained in your products. They need to answer questions and educate your clients/customers so that informed decision can be made especially if they are comparing you with others in your field. Everybody in the organization should be able to explain with some authority why your company and products are the best for the customer who is asking, including the accountant. This applies to chain stores as well as small stores, service businesses and B2B businesses. If you have one employee please train them. Don’t let the lack of information be the one thing that turns away your customers. It would surprise you how this one issue destroys your ability to finalize a sale.

If you would like to read more on understanding and creating a better customer experience you can go to The Customer Service Experience Blog written by Glenn Ross or go to The Customer Development Center. Both are great sources and give insight on customer service and the "total customer experience".

As always, we invite your comments and opinions.