Customer service

My friend Blaine Parker is a very bright guy who writes a weekly, as he calls it, screed named HOT POINTS. From time to time what he writes is so brilliant, I just have to re-publish it here. This is one of those times.

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HOT POINTS for The Week of November 22, 2010

IS SOMEONE YOU KNOW LOSING BIG MONEY–OR MAKING YOU CRAZY–BY NOT READING HOT POINTS?

Subscription to this wretched weekly screed is now available to anyone you might deem worthy. Just send your victims to www.slowburnblog.com and have them look for the subscription sign up box in the upper left hand corner.

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A JEWEL OF A RESPONSE

Last week, we talked about women’s jewelry from Na Hoku of Hawaii. It’s interesting how much email is routinely generated by the discussion of luxury products. One of the best came from Carrie Lakey, the General Manager of a Salem station group in Colorado Springs.

Ms. Lakey says, “I went to the site…have my eye on the raised plumeria with red enamel slipper pendant!”

Granted, she also said some other things that were much more business-like. But the shopping response is exactly the kind of result that the tale of Na Hoku’s exceptional customer service should generate. In fact, about 20% of readers went to the Na Hoku website.

By offering a 9-dollar refund that I never even asked for, they’ve generated some really good marketing karma. People who’ve never before heard of Na Hoku are suddenly out there, looking into buying a product that is equally as special as the customer service that inspired the story.

OF COURSE, THERE ALWAYS HAS TO BE A FLY IN THE OINTMENT…

We can’t expect life to be all orchid leis and blender drinks, now can we? Another faithful reader, Chester Hull of Prosound (The Caller Experience Experts), enjoyed my tale of consumer triumph and asked:

“If you were suspecting that they might have it together enough to refund part of your shipping, wouldn’t you have been slightly disappointed if they hadn’t done that?”

To which I say, Certainly. But that disappointment would have been tempered by their excellent justification for the high price, to wit: better customer service. After all, I chose the higher-priced shipping option. It’s not incumbent upon them to lose money just because I prefer USPS over FedEx.

CHESTER ALSO OFFERS AN ANALYSES AND POSES AN INTERESTING QUESTION…

“[They put] you in a position [such] that unless they go ‘above and beyond,’ then they wouldn’t be delivering exemplary service. I guess this is sounding like whining, but it reminds me somewhat of advertising ‘Sale! Sale! Sale!.’ After a while, that’s going to work less and less. In a similar vein…how do we as small businesses continue to provide excellent service, without raising the bar so high on the customer’s expectation that we actually create a “bad” experience unless we surprise and delight them with the unexpected? This would be particularly relevant to a business built on ongoing relationships with customers (like mine), or heavy repeat customers.”

Now, let’s note: the first thing I did was agree with Chester and thank him for posing the question. After all, the reader (i.e., “customer”) likes to know his concerns have been heard–a core component of customer service.

THEN, I FIRE A BROADSIDE SALVO, BLOWING CHESTER COMPLETELY OUT OF THE WATER!

Kidding.

Though, I have seen customer service doing exactly that. It’s astounding when a business owner condescends to a customer and tells them how wrong they are. In writing, no less. (Fodder for another Hot Points entirely.)

Anyway, I concur with Chester’s analysis. Always yelling “Sale! Sale! Sale!” is a recipe for “Death! Death! Death!” I’ve also been places where they always act like they’re doing you a big favor for throwing you little bones. That’s not the way it works.

In this case, I should have had no reasonable expectation that Ha Noku would give me a break on the cost of shipping. I hoped. I gave them a test. I was very agreeable and friendly about it. And their reasonable explanation for the price delivered in a respectful and friendly manner would have been sufficient.

But to the bigger question: how do we as small businesses deliver without raising the bar unreasonably high?

SIMPLE: DELIVER IN A WAY THAT SIMPLY MAKES THEIR LIVES EASIER AND BETTER

It doesn’t take a lot. One of the easiest ways is to under-promise and over-deliver. As a customer, one of the most frequent disappointments comes in the form of endless yeses and promises that are never fulfilled. Yes-ing and promising a customer like crazy and never delivering means endlessly thwarted expectations. (This is problem especially endemic to auto mechanics and contractors.)

Conversely, we at Slow Burn like to say things like, “Well, I don’t know how quickly we can make that happen. We’ll try to get it by then.” And then, of course, we do our damndest to beat the deadline. Another way is by throwing in extras when it’s not much of a stretch.

For instance, I typically give a single (rather high) price for a package of 3 actualities-based commercials. If, while producing those commercials, I find I’ve got material for 4 commercials, I’ll consider throwing in the extra one. It’s not a lot of extra work for me, because by then the heaviest lifting has been done. And in the long run it can make us look like heroes because the perception of value-added is quite high.

PULLING RABBITS OUT OF THE HAT ISN’T MAGIC–BUT CAN APPEAR THAT WAY

For a magician, doing this trick is simple. For the audience, it looks impossible and is a delight.

Recently, a radio station let our client’s schedule go dark for a week and a half. They apparently didn’t understand the “Go” order to renew. When we found out, we could have told the client immediately. Then, we could have provided repeated updates on what exactly we were doing about it. And finally, we could have told them the result.

INSTEAD, WE TOLD THE CLIENT NOTHING

Until the problem was fixed.

By then, we’d had several diplomatic discussions with the account rep, and received all kinds of freebies as compensation. (And they went above and beyond the call. They made a mistake and did a very nice mea culpa.) So when we told the client, we came in with a complete package all dressed up with a great big bow.

You had a problem, we solved it, and now we’re getting you all this great stuff.

For a client who is way too busy and working way too many hours in the day, we spared them the angst of the problem. Instead of handing them a troubled pig that needed to be butchered and cooked, and making them watch while we handled the bloody mess, we delivered a tasty meal of pulled pork with beans and slaw ready to eat.

THEY APPRECIATE IT AND IT MAKES US LOOK BETTER

And it’s not an effort at self-aggrandizement. It’s about making their lives as easy as possible. We treat our clients as we’d like to be treated. And if we can delight them in the process, even better.

Of course, this won’t work for every business model and every customer. It needs to be tailored for the circumstances. I know of an IRS problem specialist who’s known (a) for solving the problems (again, in as low-friction a manner as possible for the client), and (b) showering the client with little gifts.

They’re not expensive gifts. They’re little things, like snack foods and CDs. But in a world where the client is totally out of his element and facing a giant ogre of a problem, those little gifts have a surprisingly profound effect. Every client who walks out of that business talks about how relaxed the man made them feel and how great the little surprises were.

Those inexpensive little items are small and real and tangible and unexpected and relatable–everything their IRS problems are not. It’s a surprisingly grounding device.

THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF WAYS TO GO ABOVE AND BEYOND

From the client’s perspective, the service can look exceptional. From the business’ perspective, these things don’t cost a lot and aren’t a lot of work. Of course, not every battle will be won on those terms.

Sometimes, there’s just going to be the situation where the problem is bigger than the simple solution. We occasionally face them as an agency, and they can leave you feeling as if you’re between a rock and a hard place. But on a regular basis, doing what you love and loving your clients is a really, really good basis for doing business.

Making their lives easier and delivering little surprises can go a long way towards being exceptional in their eyes.

As always,
Blaine Parker
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Park City

www.slowburnmarketing.com
www.spotsbeforeyoureyes.net
Follow on Twitter @blaineparker

2 Comments

  1. I love Blaine’s blog. We should drag him to FaffCon!

    Comment by Amy Snively — November 24, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

  2. Amy,

    Great thought. I’ll send him a note tonight.

    Be well,
    Bob Souer

    Comment by Bob — November 24, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

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