11 July 2007

12 Service Strategies

In this article I examine 12 areas that come together to create a great customer service experience ...if done well. You can see that it involves more than "smiles training" or having employees say "hello" to each customer. Let me know if you have any ideas or comments. Thanks. Rik

We’ve researched numerous articles and books, examined outstanding businesses, and worked with businesses on Saipan and Guam to refine the basic elements of customer service. Many of our past articles have touched on these areas, but in this article we want to share 12 strategic elements we feel every business should evaluate, and then focus their resources to make improvements.

The 12 service strategies are broken into three categories: 1) pre-transaction areas that occur prior to a customer making a purchase; 2) transaction activities that are essential to the buying experience; and 3) post-transaction areas that are part of the follow-up after the sale to help improve future sales.
The first four service areas involve pre-transaction things within the organization that need to be developed so that a foundation of service is laid. An explanation of each strategy follows:
1. Motivation for exceptional performance – You can’t push a wet noodle, and you can’t get your employees to take the lead as a customer service pro if they are not motivated to do it. Customer satisfaction and retention correlates directly to employee satisfaction and retention. If you have problems motivating your customers, take a good look at the motivation level of your employees right now, and you’ll see a connection.
2. Improving product knowledge – How can your employees sell what they don’t know well? Employees should be trained and tested so they have a basic understanding of the products they sell.
3. Streamlining operations – Eliminate wasteful and inefficient activities that do not contribute to the overall customer experience. Develop processes and procedures to systemize your operations so customers get what they value most when dealing with your business.
4. Initial contacts that impress – There are many ways that a customer can have their first contact with your business. It can be through an ad, article, telephone call, or a chance encounter walking or driving by your business. What is their initial impression from the contact? Does it encourage them to visit and consider what you have for sale? First impressions can attract or detract prospects as they ponder the decision to give your business a chance.
The next eight service areas involve various stages of the customer experience cycle, or the typical stages a customer will go through as they interact with your business. Five through eight are the four transaction strategies:
5. Building customer relationships – This involves building rapport with customers and creating emotional value that develops strong customer bonds. In simpler terms, customers like to buy from people they are liked by.
6. Converting a prospect into a customer – In a recent survey on Saipan, 55% of employees said they had sales training. A high-return activity that will have a direct impact on sales is to offer sales training for your staff.
7. Exceeding customer expectations – This involves those little extras you can do for your customers to turn a typical buying experience into a memorable “WOW” experience that moves customers up the loyalty ladder.
8. Transaction optimization – How can you get customers to purchase more on each visit? This strategy involves methods that allow you to sell at a higher price or sell more to each customer.
The last four strategies deal with post-transaction activities that should have policies and procedures in place to make sure employees are trained.
9. Handling customer complaints – Employees on Saipan need lots of training in this area. Most small businesses do not have formal policies or procedures to handle a complaint effectively.
10. Transaction frequency – How do you get your customers to return more often? If you don’t have a strategy, you are leaving it up to chance that they will come back again.
11. Creating buzz – Word of mouth promotion is one of the most effective ways an organization has to get more referrals, yet almost no one has a strategy to create greater positive buzz about their business.
12. Customer renewal – Companies lose from 20% to 30% of their customers each year. Do you have a strategy to bring back customers who have defected? Do you even know which ones have stopped buying and why?
Pick one of the 12 service strategies to brainstorm with your staff each month. Identify what you are doing now within each strategy, and come up with ideas that will make the service experience even better for your customers. Consistent improvements in these areas will translate into a more enjoyable experience for both customers and you.

06 July 2007

Judging A Book By Its Cover

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” is an adage that stresses the importance of looking sharp so that people won’t think you’re dull. The saying also holds true for places and things, such as buildings.
Early one Saturday morning we drove our son, Daniel, to PauPau Beach to meet with some other teenagers so they could go on a hike. As we was leaving, we looked at what used to be the vibrant La Fiesta Mall and reminisced the times we would take our family there to eat at Tony Roma’s, visit stores, and listen to the musical group that provided live entertainment on weekends. It was once a lively shopping mall that entertained tourists and locals, but the rapidly deteriorating façade has masked any history of life that once existed.
Do people judge a building, a city, or a community by its external appearance? You bet they do, and some will not walk through the external façade to taste the food in a restaurant or shop at a store because of what they see.
As we headed home from PauPau Beach, we noticed that the CHC hospital had a fresh coat of paint on what used to be a deteriorating façade. What a difference it made from the peeling paint and weathered look that it once had. We also noticed the well-manicured lawns, immaculate buildings, and cleanliness of McDonald’s and the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Middle Road. However, these examples were contrasted with the hodgepodge buildings and chaotic look of the buildings just across the street from them.
It’s not enough to have just a few buildings that look good, when we have a plethora of buildings, vacant lots, and beaches that are littered with trash, rundown, falling apart, and just an eye sore for tourists and those who care on the island. Beautify Saipan has made a big step to cleaning up the mess of others; however, when those others dispose of their trash faster than concerned people can pick up after them, it becomes frustrating. Taking care of the symptom doesn’t cure the cause.
If you’re a business owner, take a walk outside and look at your building, as a customer would see it. Is it inviting? Would you recommend people to visit your place based on the way it looks on the outside? If you have a lawn and shrubs, are they cut and manicured, or are they overgrown and out of control?
Now step inside and ask yourself if your place is organized, clean, and designed so customers can find things easily. Do you have placards and directions that are easy to read and understand? If you cater to tourists, are they written in a language that your customers can easily read?
Next, take a look at your staff and ask yourself the following questions: Are they neatly dressed and well groomed? Do they have friendly body language, and welcome each person that enters your building? If they smoke or chew, do you require them to do it only on breaks and not in the presence of customers?
Like it or not, people do “judge a book by its cover,” and the look of you building and employees will make a difference whether a person becomes a customer, or just someone who passes you by.