Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Do I look like someone who is here to help you?" United O’Hare counter staff disappoints

Mike was waiting for his flight from Chicago to Detroit. It had been a long day for him. He had been working in Minneapolis earlier in the day and this was his last leg home.

He noticed on the board that his gate had been changed from 30 to 28. Knowing that there are sometimes mistakes he walked up to a uniformed United gate person who was standing at the counter. “Hi, is the flight to Detroit now leaving from 28?” “Do I look like someone who is here to help you?” she barked. “Er, well, yes, you are at the counter in uniform.” he replied. “This counter is closed.” was the last thing she said to him.

Mike walked over to another uniformed gate person to ask the same question. Her reply was “Just look at the board.” and she was done talking to him, too.

Mike was astounded that he would be treated so badly. He vowed to never fly United again. I can’t blame him. There is no excuse for the treatment he received. “Do I look like someone who is here to help you?” May be one of the most outrageous statements I have ever heard from a customer service person.

I know that the gate personnel are not richly compensated, but with attitudes like the ones Mike encountered, I think that they need to find new work — somewhere far away from customers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Post from The Amazing Service Guy Kevin Stirtz

Six Steps to More Loyal Customers

We all know it’s important to have loyal customers. But do you know how important it is? A study by Bain & Company suggests that a 5% increase in customer loyalty can improve profitability by anywhere from 25% to 95%. It shows us there are big opportunities available for owners and managers who are willing to do what it takes to increase customer loyalty.
The good news is, it’s not hard. And you can do it with the people and resources you have right now. It takes time, effort and patience to make it successful. But you can make a huge impact on your business.

Here’s what you need to do:
1. Ask your customers what they want.
This is different than what they expect. What customers expect is usually less (often a lot less) than what they want. But you need to know what they want.
What do they want in general? What are they trying to accomplish (or avoid)? Why did they choose you instead of your competition? What are their priorities and preferences?
Keep in mind different customers focus on different aspects of what your business does and how you do it. But if you speak with enough, you should see patterns and trends. You should develop some profiles of what various customers want.
Also look for how your customers want to be served. This will vary a lot and is harder to discover. Most people focus on what they want because it’s easier to talk about. But people like to be treated well. We all have different definitions of what being treated well means. You need to learn what it means to your customers.

2. Tell your customers what to expect.
Some companies try to be all things to all customers. They do too much and none of it well. Every company has a unique set of resources that gives it a competitive advantage. these are your company’s strengths. Learn what they are. Use them to determine what your company can do better than anyone else in your market.
Once you know what your company does best, compare that list with what your customers want. These two lists should overlap. (If they don’t, you have a problem!) Where they overlap is what your company should focus on. These are the things you need to do for your customers: the combination of what they want most and what you do best.

From this list you need to develop your message. You might call it a brand promise. You might call it your Customer Service Standards. What you call it is not as important as what you do with it. Use it to tell your story. It tells people why they should do business with you. and it helps them know what to expect when they do business with you.

Then make sure your customers, employees and management all understand your message. Do everything you can to share your message with these three groups. Post it in your store, on your web site, on your business cards, in your ads and anywhere else your employees, management and customers will see it. Get it noticed!

3. Create easy ways for your customers to offer feedback.
This is where many companies stumble. They focus so much on getting new orders and delivering the product or service, they forget what happens afterward. The only way you can consistently get better at what you do is with a steady flow of honest and direct feedback.
Find many ways for your customers to let you know what they think. Brainstorm with your employees. Make it a contest. Copy other businesses. Ask your customers. Do a Google search! Try different communication channels and keep trying until you find a bunch that deliver the amount of feedback you need (which is a lot).

Make sure this step is done by your employees. Don’t rely on outsiders (consultants, survey companies, etc.) to do this for you. They are your customers and you need to communicate with them directly. You’ll learn more from them this way and you’ll develop closer ties with your customers. You’ll also get another benefit. Customers love it when a company pays attention to them after the sale. They feel important because you’re asking them what they think.
Finally, make sure your customers know how they can contact you. Publish and promote the many ways customers can connect with you. Encourage them to reach out to you often.
4. Listen to what your customers say.
Many companies talk about customer feedback. Some do it well. Most don’t. Because they don’t work vary hard to hear what customers are saying about them. They might hear the obvious, like complaints and “thank yous” but nothing else. If you want to increase customer loyalty, you need to do better. You need to make a special effort to find out what customers are saying about your company, your products and your service.

This includes more than the feedback mechanisms you create (Step 3). It includes the many other ways people communicate about your company. The Internet is full of people’s comments about their customer experiences. Make sure you are mining this resource on a regular basis.
When you build trusting relationships with your customers and you open the lines of communication. You position your customers as partners. They can help you learn how to do a better job. But you need to communicate with them to make this happen. You need a steady flow of quality customer feedback.

Are you doing what you said you would? If not, what’s missing? Are they getting what they want? Is the message you’re sending the right one? If you have developed a brand promise, is it really what your customers want? And since things change, you need to stay abreast of changes in what your customers want.

Look for the Amazing Service Gap. This is the difference between what you promise your customers and what you’re actually delivering. Their feedback is how you know what your gap is. So listen for ideas on how to do better. Find ways to close the gap.

In addition to listening to your customers, you need to gather and store what they tell you. Most companies have plenty of contact with customers. But they never keep track of what their customers say. And if they do keep track, it’s often hard to access because it’s in a file drawer somewhere or buried in a database that nobody knows how to use.

Make sure the feedback you gather is stored in a way that people can get to. In fact, you should publish it. Make it available to everyone in your company. The more people who see it the more ideas you can generate to use it (Step 5). By having a lot of people look at it and talk about it, you’ll be able to see your customers more clearly.

Conduct regular and frequent meetings to talk about the feedback and draw conclusions about what it means. Look for trends and patterns. Also, look for what’s not there. Are there things you think are issues or concerns but that do not appear in any customer feedback? If so, what does that tell you? If it’s not important to your customers, should it be important to your company?

5. Act on what your customers tell you.
Information is no good if ignored. Beyond listening to your customers and considering what they say, you have to use it. This doesn’t mean you act on everything. Remember, Step 2, you can’t do everything everyone wants. So you need to pick and choose what feedback to act on. Focus on what will help your company do what you do best. Choose ideas that will help you close the gap (Step 4).

You might find feedback that takes your company in a different direction. Your brand promise (Step 2) might be missing the mark. Maybe you have a changing customer base or a changing market. If your feedback suggests this you need to consider how it affects your business. Then either act on it or make an informed decision to not act on it.

The bottom line in Step 5 is to do something with your customer feedback. It’s a gift from your customers so treat it as such. Make sure your thank every customer every time they offer feedback. And, let customers know what you do with the feedback. If they know it gets used they’re more likely to keep offering it. Help them get involved and stay involved as your partners.

6. Repeat.
Like the shampoo bottle says, “lather, rinse, repeat”. But in this case you should be repeating forever. This is a never ending process of learning, sharing, and working together.
Managing your company is no different than practicing a sport or hobby. The more you do something, the better you get. And since people and situations change constantly, this process needs to keep repeating so you don’t miss these changes. Keep cycling through again and again.

You’ll get better at knowing what your customers want and at giving it to them. Your customers will see you are truly focused on helping them get what they want. They’ll have little incentive to go elsewhere.

You’ll never please every customer every time. But if you follow these steps you’re much more likely to please most of them most of the time. That will keep your customers coming back again and again.

Kevin Stirtz is the Amazing Service Guy, a speaker and trainer who helps organizations of all kinds deliver Amazing Customer Service. His recent book: "More Loyal Customers" has won 5 star reviews at You can find more at his website:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Taking responsibility for a problem— Rehearsal the app

I recently read about a new iphone app that sounded interesting, Rehearsal the app This is what I saw at the top of their home page, even positioned before an explanation of their product:

The email issues we had Tuesday (3/2/2010) (Apple featured us on the front page of the App Store and we were overwhelmed) have now been fixed. Notifications are now flowing smoothly once again. Thank you for your patience – if you gave us a 1 star rating, we don’t blame you – it’s pretty frustrating to not have an app work the way you expect it. We hope you’ll work with Rehearsal, and reconsider your rating in the App Store. Thanks!
A special thanks to the server team at – they came to our rescue, and we so appreciate that.

I was so impressed by this message because it was the perfect way to address the issue. (My guess is that it would have been impossible to contact every user that encountered a problem.)

Let’s look at the elements that made this effort so effective:

Acknowledge the problem (with date included) The email issues we had Tuesday. 3/2/10
Fix the problem Have now been fixed. Notifications are now flowing smoothly once again
Be grateful thank you for your patience
Express empathy If you gave us a 1 star rating we don’t blame you-it is pretty frustrating to not have an app work in the way you expect it
Request future business We hope you’ll work with Rehearsal and reconsider your rating in the App Store.
Be grateful Thanks
Acknowledge those that helped
a very classy shout out to the folks at go daddy with another note of appreciation
A special thanks to the server team at – they came to our rescue, and we so appreciate that.

All in all, a really great way to take responsibility for a problem. It gives me confidence in the company and their product.

Do you handle your problems as proactively?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nordstrom is listening — and that is a good thing

I recently wrote an “open letter to Nordstrom” and then tweeted the url for everyone to read. People commented on my post that I should send this letter to Nordstrom. I didn’t even have a chance to think about it because not more than 5 hours after I had posted my article I got a letter of apology from the corporate office. It seemed sincere and asked for details about the event that I blogged about.

Now THIS is how a company should be using Twitter. Many of us use Twitter to “talk” or maybe worse, “sell”, but he companies that are really ahead of the curve are using Twitter to listen. Between Google alerts and Twitter, a company can keep updated on what their customers are thinking and talking about.

Before the electronic information revolution, a company would have to read letters, maybe do surveys, and walk the floor to get a better understanding of what their customers really felt about them. But, all too often, customers never complain (or compliment) a company directly. Instead, they would sit over a cup of tea or a beer and tell their friends and family. If the story was really juicy, whoever heard the story might then tell their friends and family. 

It’s great that companies now can get real-time, unfiltered comments from their happy and unhappy customers. The trick, of course, is to do something with all of this input, and do it right away. Contact the author if you can, and if not, post an open apology. Internally, address the problem through training.

Start listening to your customer. You might not always like what you hear, but at least you will learn some things and be in a position to do something about the problem.

There’s a reason that Nordstom is a leader in customer service—it’s because they are extremely responsive to their customers. See what you can do to emulate them.

By the way, Nordstrom if you are listening, all is forgiven.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An open letter of apology to Nordstrom counter staff

I am writing to you to apologize for my rude behavior yesterday. My girlfriend and I were looking for makeup, came up to your counter and interrupted the conversation that the three of you were having with one another. Yes, my mother raised me better than that. She did tell me it was disrespectful to interrupt a conversation. But, you know me, I just had to find out about the eye shadow your company sells.

Now, I am sure your conversation must have been important because you were so engrossed that you never even saw us standing there. Maybe you were talking about how Michigan, our state, has been so badly hurt by the recession—perhaps more than any other state in the nation. Or, maybe you were commenting on how Nordstrom, usually very busy, was essentially empty of customers that day. Maybe you were chatting about how if business didn’t pick up, you might all lose your jobs. Whatever it was, we could clearly see your conversation was way more important than us.

The nice thing is, that although we interrupted you, once one of you pointed to the makeup we asked about, you went right back to your conversation.

Here is my promise to you: I will never, ever, ever, bother you again. You can count on it.

Best wishes

Monday, March 08, 2010

I Am NOT a Table: aTale of Medical Customer Service

This morning I went in for a medical procedure, and left with some pretty strong opinions on how medical personnel can improve their customer service.

The first nurse I encountered was perfect. She walked in, greeted me immediately, introduced herself, and then, told me step-by-step what she was going to do. So that there were no surprises, she explained that she was inserting an IV in my hand, commenting that this would be the last pain I would feel for the rest of the procedure. It went down hill from there.

"I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #1
The anesthesiologist was the next person in the room. He walked in, placed my medical records on my legs (No! I am not a table) and then proceeded to review it without either greeting me or introducing himself. A few minutes later he finally decided that I could know who he was and introduced himself.

Customer service tips:
Do not use the patient as a surface to place your records, there are tables in the room. It is disrespectful to use the patient as a table.

When you walk in the room, introduce yourself to the patient immediately. The patient shouldn’t have to guess who you are and why you are there. It is stressful enough without the added mystery. What may seem like seconds to you can feel like an eternity to your patient.

"I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #2
I was then wheeled into the procedure room. The anesthesiologist nurse complained to me that she was starting to get sick and her throat was hurting her.

Customer service tip: If you are sick, you have no business working with patients. And even if you feel that you have taken every precaution to not spread your illness, there is no need to discuss it with your patient.

"I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #3
As I was waiting, other medical personnel were in the room. They all started chatting with one another as if I was not in the room, or, to continue my metaphor, like I was merely a table.

Customer service tip: The procedure room is not a place to chat with one another. If you want to chat you can talk to the patient, unless they prefer quiet, in which case you should be quiet. Not including the patient in your conversation is disrespectful and unprofessional.

"I Am NOT a Table": Lesson #4
As I was lying on the gurney I started to feel woozy. I had no idea why. I asked the nurse why I was feeling that way. She responded that she had started to giving me a sedative.

Customer service tip: Do not start giving medication without informing the patient what you are doing and explaining how she might feel from it. Feeling woozy shouldn’t be a surprise. Once again I felt like a …yes you guessed it “a table.”

So medical personnel, whether you are a Doctor, nurse, or whatever, remember that the person lying on the gurney is your customer. Treat this person with respect. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. If your customer/patient doesn’t like how you treated her she might never come back, or she may tell all her friends not to go to you, or even worse—she might write an article about you.