Thursday, January 13, 2011

Well that went well. Or not.

So. OK I'm going to say it - I got derailed. When I initially came up with the idea to have a hundred dates in a year it was when I was gainfully employed and had the means to throw cash on the table and make a dramatic exit if I should need to.

Then I, like so many others got laid off.

And frankly, I didn't feel like using a blog as a forum to bitch about it. Instead, I sat on my sofa and got fat. Which in this city def. impacts your dating life. Vicious f'ing cycle isn't it?

Then I finally got a job (inevitable rant about that will come later).
Then I got laid off again and here we are.


C'est la vie.

So I'm changing tactics. I'm going to the gym, or walking or doing other things to keep my ass from getting any wider. I'm also going to take advantage of this space to pontificate and write down things that come to my mind. Mostly for my own entertainment but I'm doing it in a public forum so hopefully other folks might enjoy it. We'll see won't we?


I'm paying you for this?

It's true, it can be a thankless situation. Similar to the complaints my Mom used to have - when it's done well, it's rarely noticed. But when it's done bad - well, suddenly everyone has a voice.

What am I talking about?

Customer service.

Don't agree? When the casher gives you a smile, thanks you for your business and says have a good day, do you run out and tell everyone? Post an update in your status? Tweet it? Probably not, cause they're doing their job aren't they?

But you DO have an opinion when the cashier can't be bothered to hang up the phone, or if the airline doesn't seem to give a crap that you've flown with them almost exclusively for the last 5 years, or your mechanic sees your gender as a reason to inflate the price. Don'tcha.

Good customer service can result in silent thank yous - repeat business, contract renewals, customer loyalty, referrals and all that jazz. The adage 'the customer is always right' isn't really so far fetched if you're thinking of year over year growth of your business. And OK the customer isn't ALWAYS right - hell I've tried to return things I shouldn't have been able to return - however if the collective attitude is that of ensuring customer satisfaction then the concession can be made that there is a way to make the customer come correct, that leaves everyone with a positive memory of the experience even when the customer is totally out of line.

Bad customer service results in one thing only - loss of business. Doesn't matter if you're a bodega or an ad network. If for a moment you're under the impression that you can treat a customer badly and they'll continue to come back to you, you're either a utility company with a monopoly or you're AT&T with the iPhone (although that's about to change ain't it....), or you're completely delusional. Ignorance might be bliss but it's no way to grow a business.

But for everyone else, don't kid yourself - someone else out there offers the same or similar service/product that you do. You might be thismuch better but if you've treated me poorly, I WILL go directly to your competitor and given the chance I WILL work with them to improve their offerings through direct feedback JUST so they whomp your ass. Even if it costs me a little more money in the short term. It'll be interesting to see how Verizon fares with migration - lucky Apple who makes a great product, has great customer service and nurtures customer loyalty stands to make a killing selling new units...

So what about when the customer is misbehaving? The tarty gal that can't put her phone away for a second to conduct a transaction - treating the cashier like a fixture? The dude with a bizillion frequent flyer miles that walks up to the counter with his war paint on? The client that has no idea how to read the reports but is on the phone yelling already that the campaign is under-performing? Pains in the butt the lot of them. But let me be frank - THEY'RE GIVING YOU MONEY SO YOU NEED TO FIND A WAY TO DEAL WITH IT. Consider that your reality check.

Providers of services and goods are partially to blame for this - how many times have you gone to a retail establishment to find that the cashier can't be bothered to smile or greet you or say thank you? Supermarket where the cashier can't even make eye contact or ask if you have a customer loyalty card? Hotel or airline that can't find your frequent traveler number automatically based on your name (do I really have to fish the number out?)? Customer service lines that transfer you to overseas call centers where people who barely speak the language read scripted answers to you based on key words in your inquiry?

Kind of makes you misbehave doesn't it? After a while as a consumer you can't be bothered to take your ear buds out can you?
Yeah, me either.

It's cyclical - we've trained our customers to behave badly. During the 'mini' recessions of the late 80's early 90's, I worked at a hotel as a front desk clerk at an 4 diamond/4 star, urban hotel (5 stars only go to hotels with pools). I couldn't help but notice that customers who behaved badly - those who screamed or yelled often got the best upgrades immediately - suites, free champagne, charges waived, percentage discounts - while customers who were nice earned their upgrades slowly and over time. That always struck me as assbackard. We're rewarding people for having a tantrum? WTH? What happened to asking nicely? I upgraded liberally to customers who deserved it.

And our customers have trained our front line - like the guy that refused to guarantee his reservation with a credit card, then took a swing at my head when he found the hotel sold out and his reservations cancelled. Or the woman in front of me in line who pointed out loudly that the checker in the grocery store had a strong accent and capped it with "you're not from America are you - you know we speak American here!" (Yes for the record, she and I had words, starting with the words mine being multisyllabic.)

Bottom line it goes both ways, and frankly it starts with the provider end of it. Here are a couple of tips worth considering;

1.) Treat your customers with the same respect and care you'd like to get. The general idea resonates through most of our worlds religions in some way or another, and while I'm not religious think of how pleasant things like public transportation would be if we all applied the 'do unto others' concept. Pregnant ladies and seniors with seats, backpacks off - the insanity...

2.) Value your customers - they're giving you money, make them want to do it again and again and again and again.....

3.) It's OK to say no - but be aware there are nice ways to say it. Better yet, don't say no, offer alternate solutions upfront. It puts you in control of the situation and allows you to be the hero. Wouldn't you rather be a hero than a tool?

4.) Better yet, instead of saying no, how about finding a mutually beneficial solution? That's right, use your head and figure out how to make sure the customer is happy and you're at the top of the list for continued business.

5.) Take customer loyalty seriously - The supermarket on the corner is overpriced at best, but I go back often because most of the clerks recognize me, and always greet me warmly, and make friendly small talk with me. I like it. It makes me want to shop there.

6.) Build the relationship - so many companies have loyalty programs. So many companies don't utilize them. If you know where I'm shopping and what I'm buying and where I fly and what seat I like and what room I stay in and my favorite freaking color - use that information to thank me for my continued business and make it easy (I'm talking to YOU Food Emporium!)

7.) Teach your team to appreciate the source of the funds that pays their checks - treat your customers like that first date you're trying to impress! Hold the door open, step to the side and let me pass, smile and say 'have a good day,' hand me the jar/can/bag from the top shelf so I don't have to climb it myself. Make my entire experience pleasant and I'll be back and often.

8.) Own your mistakes, and more importantly FIX THEM! When I call Fresh Direct or Zappos, even if I'm the one that ordered the wrong size or the wrong item or whatever the situation, they fix it for me. Free shipping, credits to my account whatever it is within reason, they make it good and they do it before I have a chance to get upset and demand greater compensation. You know why? Cause by doing that they're controlling the situation, maintaining the cost effectiveness of the solution, nurturing my loyalty and ensuring my repeat business.

9.)Maintain an honest dialog - sometimes there are issues beyond your control to fix - customer's creative is so bad it's repelling the audience, every single room is sold out, we're out of that dress in your size, boarding is delayed because you can't find the plane (true story). Whatever the case, don't lie to me, I know when you're lying. Tell me the truth (where it makes sense - I don't need details) but also tell me how you're working to fix the situation.

10.) Treat customers the way you want to be treated - this one bears repeating, and application across the board not just in business. Hold doors open, step to the right (in the U.S.), say thank you and excuse me, make eye contact, smile if you're caught staring at me on the train - all that jazz.

Good customer service is good business, good business' have a better chance of growth even in this economy. And even if you don't find yourself to be the next Richard Branson, there's nothing wrong with being nice to the people.