Ask the Right Questions & Improve Your Clients’ Experiences

Last week, I went on a business trip that included some vacation time as well.  I had two concerns on the trip…

I have never been one to take week long vacations, but apparently as we age or become busier in our professions we do indeed need to have some downtime.  I came back more invigorated and on top of things than I had been for the couple of weeks.

I plan on doing more of the mini vacations as well to keep the mind clear.  These little getaways open my mind and help me to solve some issues that perhaps I couldn’t get down to the bottom of some of these things prior to the week-long sabbatical.

I did also find that having stayed in 5 hotels in six days that apparently hotel owners don’t have their employees ask if everything was OK with their stay.  Some hotels allegedly offer a free nights’ stay if you encountered any problems at all.  These hotels didn’t ask if our stay was acceptable.  I guess if they don’t ask, we can’t tell them there were indeed problems and you would like a free night stay.

Maybe if we as business owners would also remember to ask if our clients are happy with the service they received and in turn, the clients would open up and let us know where our weaknesses lie.  I would prefer clients tell me what I need to do better than to lose them as clients because we weren’t asking the right questions in trying to determine where our clients’ needs really were met or not.  Think about it and I think you will agree.


Taking an Introspective Look at Our Own Company & Service

Let us all check customer service in our community this week.  Let us make sure we are absorbing what we, as well as our staff, are saying to your clients.

It’s easy to criticize other companies and their staff.  Let’s make sure we are scrutinizing our own staff as well as ourselves for a week.  Are we doing what we say we need to do for our clients and actually doing what we say?  Or are we blowing smoke and missing our goals for our service level by more than 10%?

Document the good performers or acts and have a sit down meetings with those offenders and discuss areas of improvement that must be met if they are to remain employed with your organization.  In some cases, you will suddenly realize you never covered this topic with not only the person sitting in front of you but maybe other employees as well.  In which case, you should not threaten termination for the poor performers, but rather start a plan to correct this shortfall immediately with all employees.  So don’t reprimand until you accumulate some information and see if your staff ignored you or you did a poor job in the educational process prior to this epiphany!

I was in two stores last week that are in competition with each other.  Not a soul greeted me in either location, nor asked if I needed help.  Apparently, upper management in these major corporations are fine with the outcome because both companies have had customer service issues for years.  Yes, years!  I wonder how long before they both go through bankruptcy?

Make upgrading you and your staff a priority NOW.  Don’t wait!  We want our staff to be top notch NOW!  If you aren’t able to upgrade the staff you have 100% then it might be time to do some hiring to find the people personality you are looking for.  Try it…You will like it!

Let me know the procedures you went through to get the staff you have always wanted.  I would love to talk to you about your results.

Consumers Can & Should Raise the Bar

I know I point out more faults in retail companies than I do other companies.  It isn’t that just retail companies don’t know how to train staff, but most of us make it in to retail establishments more often than other company offices.

I stopped to buy two five gallon bottles of waters for my office cooler.  It was early in the morning and I didn’t see any other customers in the front part of the store.  An employee that appeared to be doing nothing productive wished me good morning.  I returned the comment and proceeded to the checkout with my water.  At no time, did the employee volunteer to carry out the two 40 pound water jugs nor did the cashier offer to get someone to help.  This isn’t the first time this has happened when I purchase my water but how many times do older clients need help with these water jugs and don’t get any better treatment than I did.

How can this chain store possibly train their staff on more difficult issues like, product knowledge, keeping trip and slip hazards out of aisles for clients’ and employees’ safety, watching for shoplifters, and everything else that they need to know.

This certainly isn’t the only retailers in town that don’t provide stellar service in Bismarck but why in the world do we tolerate incompetent employers and their employees?  If I quit shopping every time I received shoddy service, I wouldn’t have many places left to shop.  Let consumers raise the bar on customer service by refusing to shop providers that don’t hold clients’ best interest at heart.  As business people, we must provide these standards to our clients!  Start this new habit today and continue in the future to delight our clients.

An Example of How Procedures Make Our Companies Successful

We went to our granddaughter’s 2nd birthday last weekend which was 430 miles away and we checked into a brand name hotel.  We had stayed at this hotel a couple times before.  I was happy to get a day and a half vacation in, see the kids and grandkids and have a little time to relax.

The second morning we looked for the complimentary coffee and cups but they hadn’t been replenished from the day before.  We called and housekeeping brought up the missing items.  They included ceramic cups but these unfortunately were too small for the Keurig coffee that was dispensed.  This created a mess that we now had to clean up.  On our last day of the stay, housekeeping failed to replenish towels, soap or washcloths.  Another call was then needed.  I also found that slipping the invoice under the door was somewhat discourteous considering the amount of patronage we have given this hotel over the years.

One would think the hotel would easily track the phone calls to housekeeping and see that extra training would be needed to eliminate the annoyances for their guests.  I truly believe these problems to be lack of training.  A simple check off sheet for each housekeeping employee for each room would make all these annoyances disappear.  Management has to want to solve the problem(s) and keep guests coming back.  Why are they ignoring these problems?

District managers should lend simple solutions to their managers and staffs.  If not, management needs to become more observant and push for perfection.  Until this happens, these problems will not disappear.

I think back to my last hotel stay in Vegas.  Everything was set up for the guests’ convenience and when I called to see when checkout was, the operator answered the phone, “Good morning Mr. Siverson.  What can I do for you?”  No hotel has ever answered the phone like that for me!  I used to be in hotels 4 nights a week, 45 weeks for three years and NOBODY ever answered the phone like this.

Let us think about these bad and good examples and ask ourselves what we need to do.  Let us teach every new hire what our pet peeves are and never fail procedures that made us successful in the first place.  Call with your questions.  Have a great week!

Excelling at Customer Service

I was at a convention in Las Vegas last week for three days.  The convention was held at the Bellagio and the facility is huge yet the service that was offered was top notch.  I called to see when check out was and the phone and said, “Hello, Mr. Siverson what can I do to help you?”  Really!?  I am sure every motel switchboard in America has the capability for the front desk attendant to answer the phone like this every time.  But it has never happened to me and I used to be in a motel four days a week for 3 years!

As I approached the front desk to check out an employee came up to me and asked if I needed to check out.  She had a computer tablet with her and she tried to check me out but it didn’t show the cost on my receipt.  She took me to the front of the line and I was checked out in 60 seconds, with a smile from the clerk.

Fast forward to Saturday when I went to buy a small refrigerator for my office at a nationally known building center.  No one waited on me, even though a clerk saw me.  I loaded the appliance on a two wheel cart and proceeded to the checkout.  The clerk asked if I wanted help loading the appliance which was nice but I always taught my retail staff not to ask if they want a carry out but to just carry it out and pleasantly surprise your clients.  And yet, the management at a building center with multiple locations doesn’t seem to understand this concept.

Let’s make sure we are constantly behaving like the Bellagio and make sure all employees excel in customer service, politeness, and knowledge.  This will help your company be successful!

Monitoring Our Clients’ Needs

This blog is a continuation from last week’s blog in regards to delegation.

I often ask people when they are shopping for products, getting legal, accounting or financial advice or seeking a variety of other solutions and services what are some of their pet peeves?  Typically an unfriendly staff, a staff member that hasn’t been educated in their area of business, the company is out of stock of their product or the need to speak to the one and only person that can provide the solution and they are out for the day.

Sometimes, business owners feel that delegation only entails making sure employee are helpful to their clientele.  After all, we will be there to help with product and service questions.  But, this is not always the case.  Every employee should be cross trained in at least two areas to give you a group of good employees that can fill in as needed.  Merchants still need to monitor their needs whether it’s product or personnel.

I have taken great pride in trying to provide the best service possible for my clients.  However, as the business grows I need to be aware to hire good people a little earlier than I actually need them.  This gives them time to acclimate to the industry and my expectations.  I find I can’t give service as fast as I used to as things have become more complicated and clients deserve more information.

I’m sure this is nothing new to most of you.  However, we need to strive to stay ahead of our clients’ expectations and still give the service and information they need.

On that note, could it be many of today’s major retailers that are not performing well in the market have forgotten these techniques that may have made them successful in the first place?  Something to think about.

Providing Your Customer With Service

I recently had a phone call from a well known publication call me and try to convince me to  subscribe to their product.  I interrupted the gentleman and told him, “Sorry, I already have a subscription.”  He thanked me and started to hang up.  I asked him what can he do to improve my delivery on this publication, as typically the product arrives 2-5 days late.  Now here is where I had a problem.  He apologized and gave me a phone number to call.  Now wait a minute, I know he wants to keep calling prospects so he can get his commission but what better way to get a customer for life than to put me on hold and then transfer me to the delivery desk to have my problem solved.

Last year, I got a marketing call from a major bank to try to sign me up for a credit card.  I said I would not because of a mistake that had been made and was yet to be resolved.  Again, rather than put me on hold and get me to someone who may actually care to fix my problem he told me, “Sorry, I don’t work in that area.  Have a nice.”  And the phone went dead.

These two incidents are from major corporations and they don’t know how to more business out of their sales calls?  What is happening to customer service?  I read in the paper everyday which retailers are going down the tubes quickly and their upper management can’t seem to figure out what could possibly be wrong.  Really?

I would say if clients don’t receive customer and get ignored, low prices alone aren’t going to make customers rush into the store  Make sure the staff are talking too customers and clients rather than to each other.

I know you may already understand the solutions to what is wrong with corporate America.

Exceeding Customers’ Expectations

For over 20 years, I have used the expressions, “exceeding customer expectation,” and “under promise and over deliver.”  In North Dakota, I am currently not meeting these expressions expectations.  Not because I don’t want to but because business is booming in every segment of our economy.  It takes me longer to review my clients’ issues and make lasting suggestions.  With the economy still in limbo, sometimes I don’t know what to suggest that will be a good product solution.

As I shop in various restaurants, building centers, grocery stores, clothing stores and banks I find that not as many people have heard these expressions.  Shame on management for not teaching this to the entire staff.  I find customer service may be getting better in our local area and when the customer service is good, it’s great!  It makes you want to go back again and again to receive that kind of service.  When it is anything less than stellar you may find yourself avoiding that establishment in the future.  Don’t let this avoidable circumstance happen to your business.

Make sure every employee knows your expectations for all employees and more specifically for the area that each employee is working in.  My wife and I were attempting to buy a dishwasher.  We didn’t know which type exterior finish would match the kitchen stove, so we drove home and were back in 30 minutes  ready to purchase the matching dishwasher.  The young gentleman that was waiting on us previously didn’t recognize and continued to visit with his coworker.  I waved him over and he still ignored me.  Had I not been short of time, I would have left but I had other errands to run and didn’t want to start shopping for the appliance all over again.  We were buying other items as well and I had to drag him over to finish selling us the dishwasher.  He no longer was exceeding my expectation and I didn’t have time to punish his employer by going elsewhere.  He certainly didn’t under promise and over deliver either.  If he had been with another customer, I would have understood, but talking to a coworker is not imperative.  The day before, I was getting an oil change for my vehicle.  The young gentlemen were impressive at first.  Then, when I was the only one still waiting for my vehicle, they are comparing apps on their phones instead of checking on the progress of my 90 minute oil change.  Shame on the employer for not observing this behavior and crushing it before it becomes a habit.

As I said, with business booming I am not able to service my clients as quickly as I once did but I am still giving quality service with the proper guidance.  Walk around your establishment and see where you can improve your expectations and deliver high quality to your clients.  I will do this as well!  This is a great reminder for all of us to watch the details.  See you in the winner’s circle!

Speaking Professionally…On the Phone

I have observed that most businesses have employees answering phones that either shouldn’t be doing so at all or should have at least thought to educate employees on proper phone etiquette before turning them loose on calls with the public.

The worst part isn’t that some employees have no natural manners for business client phone calls but these employees don’t take messages very well, if at all, and most clients will get frustrated when they’re told their request will be taken care of and then nothing happens.  It happened to me again today in fact!  A bank offered to send me loan information since I no longer had the document.  The teller was very pleasant, very efficient but she failed.  I haven’t seen what she was going to mail me after a full 10 days.  I am now upset and wish she wouldn’t have offered that service at all.

Once you’ve made the decision to have a seminar on phone etiquette provided by PEP we can process one of the following way.  The mandatory seminar can be conducted after business hours or have meetings throughout the day with twenty percent of your staff in the seminars at a time to keep coverage for the rest of the business clients.

We will ask logical questions so the offending employees understand why they don’t sound as professional as they should.  Encourage questions from employees and be prepared with answers to maintain your future credibility.

With today’s advanced phones make sure your employees know how to operate the phone expertly so clients aren’t getting cut off or transferred numerous times to various employees or departments before they get to their requested person.  I know technology isn’t always a joy to work with, especially for us “experienced” owners and managers, but I don’t think we should use that as a crutch.

Always listens when walking around your business observing and if needed, correcting employees about various duties or jobs.  Give positive feedback as you educate employees on this topic and any other topic that is imperative to your client’s overall experience with you and your staff to keep your valued clients coming back again and again.


Building Relationships Through Positive Experiences

I had the best week with more than adequate customer service in four different retailers’ facilities.  As we were shopping in one home improvement store we were looking for some landscape timbers.  On our way to the pile of timbers, a young gentleman was waiting to finish helping a client load some sort of ground cover.  As we walked past him, he asked if we needed help finding anything.  We thanked him but had already spotted the product we were looking for.

We then went to another home improvement store for two whiskey barrel planters.  They were stuck together and I asked for help loading these.  Two young gentlemen pounded them apart and loaded them into my pickup.  One of the gentlemen told us, “Thank you very much.”

My third experience was in a small town on my way to visit clients.  I stopped for a cup of coffee and the lady behind the counter was chipper, efficient and friendly, even at 5:30 AM.  She loves her job and is very good at it.

And the last positive experience was in a larger town further down the road.  There was a young girl working in a C store who was friendly, funny, efficient and thanked me as well.

Maybe, we have turned a corner where retailers have seen many stores go out of business because of lack of service and are coaching their staff more efficiently to make customers want to come back to their establishment.  OR these employees were all exemplary employees and just realized how a little service can really enhance client loyalty.  Whatever the reason for this surprising turn-around, we all need to find the cause and keep it flourishing in our businesses everyday!

I hope these examples continue in our future!  Have a great weekend!