Tag Archives: Customer Service

What’s excellent customer service?

By Stephen Rhodes

I sometimes ask clients what they are about – what makes them different from their competitor, or what’s their point of differentiation, competitive advantage or value proposition.

Many service-based companies say it’s good customer service, or even excellent customer service. It’s their secret sauce. And for some it’s true, because they express excellent customer service from the clients point of view.

So what is good customer service? Unless you talk on a regular basis to your customers, you probably don’t know. It’s like branding. A brand is not what you think it is, it’s what your customer says it is.

So, if you want to be excellent at customer service, ask your customers what that means to them. And then market your “excellent customer service” as an expression of what it means to your customers.

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Rogers promises real people

By Stephen Rhodes

It seems Rogers wants to re-invent customer service.

On May 3, Rogers Communications Inc.,  announced the launch of Rogers Live Agent(TM), promoted as the first Canada-wide business assistance of its kind. The new service targets small business customers with “immediate, direct access to a live representative” when calling for support.

The press release goes on to say “this value-added service enables businesses to connect with a dedicated Rogers representative who will manage their experience with the company, which will streamline communication and reduce time-to-resolution.”

Beyond the marketing yada yada, it seems that Rogers has discovered that talking to a real person is better than talking to a machine. I want to resist the  temptation to say “duh!!!!” but I can’t.

Canada’s communication giants Bell and Rogers are  notoriously uncommunicative. My fingers get tired of navigating  their counter-intuitive customer service lines. Press 1 for this press 2 for that. I wait patiently to hear my concern in their long menu before stabbing the zero in frustration. I am a client of both companies and they are equally poor at understanding and addressing customer issues until under attack by a competitor. The problem is they have little competition, but that’s another story.

Rogers promises that small businesses and their teams will now have access to “immediate, real-time assistance with a customer service representative who is specially trained to meet their service and product needs.”

Now that’s revolutionary. And to make their point, they resurrect the ghost of Ted Rogers.

“While we are a big company today, it was just a generation ago that Ted was a struggling entrepreneur himself. He never forgot the challenges of building his business and that spirit of innovation and attention to detail are very much part of our corporate DNA. We spend a great deal of time listening to our small business customers and it’s their ongoing input that leads to Rogers innovations like Live Agent.”

A generation ago people answered their customers calls directly.  Ted would be proud that his company has embraced this new innovation. As a big company, listening has not been its strong point.

With the growth of social media and the ability of customers to interact with companies like Rogers, listening intently is smart business. Making it easy for customers to do business with you is essential for survival.  I wrote recently about Toyota and Pampers – two examples of  how quickly things get out of hand when companies fail to understand the new reality.

Positioning real customer service with real people as new and innovative  is a marketing ploy that most people will see through. On the other hand, maybe Rogers is starting to get it. Just maybe this will spread to their consumer products.

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Can you compete with Sears?

By Stephen Rhodes

Small businesses often look to personalized service as their point of differentiation. Part of the assumption is that large faceless companies don’t really care about customers. And many large faceless companies do have large faceless customer service departments, manned by faceless automatons who are not empowered to actually make a decision.

My mom, rest her soul, lived  in a small town and did most of her shopping from the Sears Catalogue. She was a regular -birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, Father’s Day- it didn’t matter, she shopped by catalogue.

And, when things went awry, such as colour not exactly as shown or the wrong size, back it went. No discussion. No questions asked. And that’s why Mom was a Sears’ customer all of her adult life.

Sears Canada still has a catalogue and now, of course,  an online ordering service. Mom wouldn’t have liked that much. They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. She wouldn’t think much of that either. She liked talking to the friendly Sears’ representatives, her words, not mine. The thing is, that friendly Sears’ representative lived in the community and still does.

There are more than 1900 catalogue locations across Canada, where you can arrange to pick up your Sears order.  Orders normally arrive in a few days. It’s efficient and easy.

They have a solid brand in Canada, built largely on a reputation of quality and service. I grew up thinking Sears was a pretty good company and my own experience hasn’t changed my opinion.

I don’t have a vested interest in Sears. They aren’t paying me to write this. I just think they do it right.

Can you compete with Sears?

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Can you handle the truth?

By Stephen Rhodes

Do you talk to your customers, I mean really talk to them?

Most of us in business would say we talk to our clients. We may even conduct online or in-store surveys. Bigger companies might employ a telemarketing firm to get customer feedback.

Most of it is lip service, because we never really get to know our customers’ needs with online surveys.

You want the truth right? Warts and all.

Create a deeper dialogue with your customers if you really want to know what they think. Don’t shoot the messenger and don’t make excuses. And be prepared to answer the bell when they are critical.

Be a good listener. Hear what they are saying, not what it is you think they are saying. That’s why salespeople aren’t always great at gathering this kind of market intelligence, because they are too busy trying to get the sale.

And take action. There is nothing worse than creating great dialogue and then ignoring the outcome. It’s like asking for someone’s opinion and dismissing it because it doesn’t match your own. Start with their needs first, not your own, and re-engineer your company, products, service to match what your customers want.

Don’t get defensive.  Figuring out what customers really want is easy if you are prepared to listen. The truth may hurt, at first, but it likely means your survival.

Can you handle the truth?

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Customer dis-service. Seller beware!

By Jeff Bowman

I once had a wonderful experience with a customer service representative from a local store that I frequent.  The woman was courteous, smiling, had a sense of humour and seemed to genuinely care about my concerns. The result was that my concern was rectified to my complete satisfaction, in very short order and I left with a much better impression of the store, and here I am telling you about it.

The ideal customer service experience!

The only problem with the entire scenario above is the second word, “once”.  I can list a multitude of occasions where my experience has not been so pleasant, and I have left the store or hung up the phone angry, when my original sentiment was slightly displeased.

There is no question in my mind that the ability to communicate globally and online has led to a reversal in the code of customer service conduct, which was so heavily emphasized  in the 80’s.  It makes a huge difference when you can look someone in the eye and discuss your problems.   There is empathy and a shared concern for keeping a customer satisfied. In the 80’s, the competition for your business was fierce, and therefore customer satisfaction ratings were a critical statistic. Employees were well aware how important it was to keep the customer coming back because they had a vested interest, their jobs.

Today, we have online complaint systems and customer service departments that may not even be in the same town or country. What is their vested interest in ensuring your complete satisfaction? Sure, “this call will be monitored….” But that doesn’t tell you if I will ever use your service again, or it I will tell all my friends about the unique experience I had. Try calling your local television service provider or government office, and tell me that you are not angered by the myriad of button pushing and extension dialing you must negotiate your way through before you get transferred or put on hold. How many times must you enter your phone number or account number, only to be asked to verbally recite it again when a live voice greets you?

The age of service will return.  It is a cycle.  After each economic downturn, it comes back with a vengeance, only to be reduced over time to facilitate technology and cost savings. Well, the rubber has now hit the road, as consumers are turning the tables on businesses using the same technology they use to cut costs and service levels. Customers are bringing their complaints to the web! Facebook, YouTube and the like are now rife with upset customers pulling no punches and naming names.

This will get interesting over the next several months as the economy improves and businesses start to utilize social media more and more as a customer service tool.  They need to keep in mind, that the very tools that they will be relying on to create open dialogues with their customers could be used against them if the other areas of customer support are not up to snuff. No longer buyer beware, it is now seller beware!

I’d like to hear your customer dis-service experiences.

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Filed under Customer Service, Jeff Bowman