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Few Things Go As Planned

Back in the early 1990’s I ran a wilderness trip program out at YMCA Storer Camps. I had a team of trip leaders who would plot out backpacking, biking, rock climbing, and canoeing trips around the Midwest and Ontario. One of the planning stages for the trip leaders was to build an itinerary showing what they would be doing each day, where they would be camping each night, and what goals they hoped to accomplish on the trip.

Papa Moose and family on the Missinaibi River, Northern Ontario 1987

Before each trip I would go through their itinerary with them, making sure the trip looked sound on paper. Then I would have them fold up the itinerary, place it in a Ziploc bag, and stick it in the bottom of their rucksack to only pull out if necessary.

Rarely if ever did a trip turn out exactly as it was written on paper. Flat tires, flash flooding, lost canoes, or other unexpected obstacles would always throw the itinerary off track. Sometimes the itinerary had to be adjusted to meet the needs of the group. One of my bike trips added an extra 100 miles to their trip because the kids had the skills to make that extra jaunt. There was always something.

What I learned through this exercise was one simple lesson—the future will not turn out exactly as you planned.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for it. The two most important days of the itinerary were the first and last. The first set the tone, the last got you home. What happened in between was subject to change at a moment’s notice. A skilled trip leader knew when to adjust the itinerary to make the trip fun for everyone. A skilled trip leader expected to make changes mid-stream and was prepared to do so.

So here is my best New Year’s advice to you.

2018 will not turn out how you planned.

I’m not being a Debby Downer here. In fact, 2018 may surpass all your wildest dreams. Or it may take a hard 90-degree turn down a path you never imagined that might be the best path you ever could take. It may be close to what you thought, but there will be plot-twists, obstacles, detours, re-routes, and even a dead-end or two along the way.

That’s okay.

It is impossible for you to foresee that much of the future to meet every challenge perfectly prepared, knowing what will happen before it happens. (If you had that skill, you likely wouldn’t be reading my blog.)

With that said, you still need to plan your itinerary. You still need to plot out where you are today and where you want to be at the end of the year. You still need to put down a plan for how you will get from Point A to Point B. Without a plan, I can promise you won’t get anywhere close to Point B.

A skilled retailer will plan the following:

  • Marketing: What events, what advertisements, what other ways will you draw traffic to your store? At the same time, how will you measure new, unforeseen opportunities as they come along? What will you need to see to jump at an opportunity or take a risk with your advertising and marketing?
  • Staff Training: What skills do you want your staff to learn and strengthen in 2018? At the same time, how will you deal with the sudden change should you lose a key employee or two along the way?
  • Customer Service: Where are the holes in the service you provide and how will you raise the bar for 2018? At the same time, how will you spot new opportunities to surprise and delight customers in the future as their bar of expectation rises as well?
  • Inventory Management: How will you raise margins and turn ratios (to increase cash flow) while keeping prices attractive and keeping enough inventory on the shelf to maintain sales levels? At the same time, how will you respond to fads? What criteria will you use to jump in whole hog when something is going hot (or jump out quickly when something has died?)

 

A skilled retailer like a skilled trip leader knows that the goal is to start the year out on the right foot and make it to the finish line intact. What happens in between will never match the plan, but if you’re prepared, will be a helluva lot of fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Those four categories will be the main focus of this blog for 2018. My goal for the New Year is to prepare you to see the opportunities, the detours, the 90-degree turns, the obstacles, and the dead-ends for what they are so that you can navigate through them or around them. Sound good?

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

I had my first Chick Fil A sandwich a few years ago. We don’t have a Chick Fil A in Jackson, and until recently didn’t have any in the entire state of Michigan. I knew people that drove to Toledo, OH just to get Chick Fil A. That’s pretty high praise for a fast food sandwich.

It is deserving praise, too.

That sandwich is quite good. Every single time. Every. Single. Time.

I’m not alone in liking that sandwich. The average Chick Fil A restaurant does $4.4 million in sales. Contrast that to Kentucky Fried Chicken that does $1.1 million in sales. Four times their biggest competitor! Number one overall in sales per restaurant in the fast food industry! And they’re only open six days a week!!

It isn’t just the sandwich that makes them the true kings of Fast Food Chicken. It is the service.

According to a Business Insider article last summer by Hayley Peterson …

“The chain consistently ranks first in restaurant customer-service surveys. In reviews, customers rave about the restaurants’ cleanliness, quick, convenient service, and hardworking employees.”

The article goes on to say …

“Chick-fil-A says its service is so consistent because it invests more than other companies in training its employees and helping them advance their careers — regardless of whether those careers are in fast food.”

Invests more in training its employees. Gee. Where have you heard that before?

I’m going to tell you one other thing that sets them apart. They do what other fast food restaurants don’t do. Look at this picture of the Chick Fil A in Athens, GA.

Chick Fil A Restaurant, Athens, GA December 2017

You don’t see that in other restaurants, period.

There are only seven fast food restaurants doing more overall business than Chick Fil A. All of them have many multiple times more stores than Chick Fil A.

Like I said before … You can either do stuff no one else is doing, or you can open up more stores than anyone else. Those are the two paths to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I went into a Kentucky Fried Chicken the other day. The menu was amazingly confusing. It didn’t even have everything on it. Worst of all, I only wanted some of their chicken strips and a drink. I was told it would be more expensive to buy chicken strips and a drink than to buy the meal which got me chicken strips, a drink, a side, and a cookie. I’m trying to watch my carb intake. I didn’t want a side or a cookie. My choices were to …

  • Pay less and throw away food
  • Pay more and not throw away food
  • Pay less and eat more than I wanted

This is a business plan???

Let’s just say I was surprised, but far from delighted.

PPS You could look at this as a lazy post, just using someone else’s research to make my point. I look at it as a Case Study and social proof that what I have been preaching is working for a business that believes the way I do. By the way, Case Studies are a great advertising tool, too. Don’t tell people what you do, show them.

Being World Famous

I hope someday to be world famous. I could almost say that I already am world famous. I do have a follower in Russia. I have another in Serbia and one in Austria. I have a couple followers from the southern hemisphere. I have shipped my Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel book overseas on several occasions. I’m not exactly a household name, but getting there.

Some places claim to be world famous on even less than that. Some places truly are world famous. I talked about two of them yesterday.

Here is another worth mentioning.

Image result for pike place fish market
World Famous Pike Place Fish Market

Pike Place Fish Market, the retailer highlighted in the excellent training book FISH!, wasn’t world famous at one time. They were just a fish market in Seattle trying to carve out a niche in their market. Business was okay. Like every retailer on the planet, they wanted it to be more than okay. The staff and management got together and decided they wanted to be World Famous.

Deciding you want to be World Famous is powerful. Acting on that decision is the true magic.

When the team at the fish market made that decision, the first question that popped up was the one that would change their fortunes forever.

“What does a World Famous Fish Market look and act like?”

The simplest answer was that it doesn’t look and act like all the other fish markets out there.  It does things differently.

A World Famous Retailer …

  • Offers services no other retailer in their industry offers
  • Treats customers better than they could ever imagine
  • Has hard-to-find products no one else sells
  • Makes an emotional connection with their customers
  • Makes people feel good about themselves, about their purchases, and about life in general
  • Is an experience, not just a shopping trip
  • Is prepared for crowds (heck, they are prepared for anything)
  • Always, always, always has the right attitude
  • Always, always, always does more than the customer expected
  • Foresees problems before they happen, and nips them in the bud
  • Fixes problems right away without hassle, and to a level better than the customer expected

Being World Famous is a mindset first, a recognition second, and a designation third. The path to World Famous is pretty simple. Decide you want to be world famous and do everything on that list consistently year-in-and-year-out, or open up a few thousand stores. Either way, you’ll become World Famous.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I was looking through one of the Memory Books we had for people to sign when they visited Toy House. (People love to sign books like that at World Famous locations, hint, hint.) Found this one …

“Awesome store! What a pleasant surprise! Greetings from the Netherlands, Europe”

Right below it was …

“Thank you for such a wonderful evening and such a wonderful store. -Amiye, Cairo Egypt”

You don’t have to be World Famous to act World Famous. Do the acting part first and the rest will take care of itself.

PPS You can call yourself World Famous before you actually are, but then you better perform like it. Anything less and the marketing will be all for naught.

A Tale of Two Icons

In the sleepy Little Bavaria known as Frankenmuth, Michigan are two world-famous businesses. One of them is Bronner’s CHRISTmas WONDERLAND! The other is Zehnder’s Restaurant and their “World-Famous Chicken Dinners.” 

Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland two weeks before Christmas.

Bronner’s is a mecca for anyone who loves Christmas. It is over 90,000 square feet of all Christmas all the time. Tens of thousands of ornaments from all over the globe grace display upon display upon display. Buses stop frequently all year long bringing tourists to this amazing store. Like Toy House, Bronner’s was also named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin (Penguin 2009).

Zehnder’s is a massive restaurant with several dining rooms and a chicken dinner you drive to get. (They also have a water-park hotel, golf course, and marketplace, but the restaurant is the crown jewel.)

A typical trip to Frankenmuth requires a stop at both of these iconic businesses.

I made that trip last Saturday to get into the Christmas Spirit. It worked! The trip, however, was not without its lessons.

It was the Saturday two weeks before Christmas. I knew it would be busy. I expected it to be mobbed. I was prepared for the throngs of shoppers and diners.

Zehnder’s, apparently, was not. When we entered the restaurant there was no clear way to go. There appeared to be a line that eventually split into two lines, but then again there were people milling about on chairs in a lounge-type area. Being a guy, I looked for signs. Didn’t find any. We got into what appeared to be the back of the line, but then again, the mass of people standing everywhere made it hard to be sure we were at the back of the line, or if we were even in the right line because it now looked like there might be three separate lines.

Fortunately the people who got into line behind us confirmed we were in the right line. They had waited almost 30 minutes in the wrong line before being directed to our spot.

Another fifteen minutes passed in this line until we met the host who then informed us to go stand in another line and that we would be seated in approximately an hour and a half.

Now mind you, this was at 2:10pm in the afternoon. Can you imagine what noon and 5pm looked like? Nowhere was there a sign directing traffic. Nowhere were there ropes to guide you. There were a couple of unhappy employees (I assume they were employees because unlike everyone else, they weren’t wearing or holding jackets, but they also weren’t wearing uniforms or name-tags) directing traffic by occasionally yelling at people entering the building and telling them where to go.

Zehnder’s has been open since 1856. This isn’t their first rodeo. I doubt this crowd was that much bigger than usual. In fact I would bet they have crowds like this every year at this time, if not every Saturday all year long. You would think they would have a better system for crowd control by now. It was more the lack of crowd control that caused my party to decide not to eat there than it was the two hour wait time. We could have waited if we felt cared for, if we felt confident they knew what they were doing. But this obvious lack of control was unsettling.

Contrast that to Bronner’s.

A quick Google search tells me that Frankenmuth, MI has a population of 5,131 people (2016). Most of them must work at Bronner’s. Bronner’s website tells me they get about 50,000 visitors over Black Friday weekend. Doing the math, I would guess there were at least 5,000-10,000 of my new best friends in the store shopping with me last Saturday.

Yet as crowded as it was, it wasn’t hard to get around. The signage was spectacular and easy to see. They also had maps available to guide us to the several different departments. I was never more than twenty feet away from a red-vested employee eager to help me find what I wanted. In fact, they had several information stands staffed by at least two employees all throughout the store.

It was everything you would expect from a top-level retailer. They were prepared for a busy day and it showed. I spent two wonderful hours there, soaking up all the Christmas Joy and basking in the fun and excitement of retail done right. The store was packed with people and strollers and shopping carts. You couldn’t move fast, often having to shuffle along from one display to the next, but you never felt crowded. The eager, friendly staff and the amazing merchandising and displays made the crowds more bearable and put everyone, especially the shoppers, into a better mood.

That was the lesson right there.

Don’t meet your customer’s expectations and they walk away frustrated and disappointed. Meet and exceed your customer’s expectations and they stay and shop and have fun. I stayed and shopped and had a blast!

More important than how much a customer spent is how that customer felt about it. I’m sure many people walked away from Zehnder’s after waiting over an hour for their chicken dinner thinking, “Okay, I did that. Won’t have to do it again.” while many people walked away from Bronner’s thinking, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again.”

Which response would you rather have?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re expecting a crowd, plan for it. Make sure your customers know exactly where to go and what to do. If you are expecting a lot of new faces, have maps and flyers telling them where to go and what to do. Act like you’ve been there and done that and that you expected to be this busy. Most of all, act like you’re having fun! Your mood affects the mood of everyone. If you act like you’re stressed, your customers will feel stressed. if you act like big crowds weren’t expected, your customers will not believe you to be all that wonderful.

PPS I am not knocking Zehnder’s at all. I am sure they are a fine restaurant and I know their chicken dinner is spectacular. But I guess because they are “world-famous” and have been around since before the Civil War I expected so much more out of them. That’s the one problem with being world-famous. The bar is set much higher. You have to be better than everyone else at everything. That’s also why advertising that you have “great customer service” is dangerous. First, it tells the customer nothing. Second, it raises the bar of expectation. Don’t tell me you have “great customer service.” Show me one really cool thing you do for me (and leave the other really cool things you do unspoken so that you’ll surprise and delight me.)

The Store of Today

I read a fascinating article that I think every retailer should read. It is one writer’s opinion of what the Store of the Future will look like, and it’s a good opinion.

We know the store of the future will have amazing tech. This article talks about what some of that tech will look and act like.

There was one paragraph in the article, however, that stuck out to me. It was this little passage toward the end …

“In the future, the smart retailer should not care whether customers purchased an item on a given trip or not. The smart retailer should only care whether its customers had a great time and that they yearn to come back again and again.”

That doesn’t sound like the store of the future to me. That sounds like the store you should be right now. That’s the Store of Today. That’s what is winning in this retail climate.

Go read the article. You might laugh when you see who the author looks up to to provide that experience that gets customers to yearn to come back.

When everything you do today is about getting your customer to want to come back tomorrow, then you are playing the long game. Yes, even now while you are “making hay” you need to be making sure you’re making the customer have so much fun she can’t wait to return. That won yesterday, is winning today, and will win in the Store of the Future. All the tech in the world won’t change that one simple truth.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS How do you get customers to yearn to come back again and again? Surprise and Delight them. Yes it is that simple.

It is an All-the-Time Kinda Thing

One of the phone calls I dreaded most while running Toy House would happen occasionally on my lunch hour. I’d look down at my cellphone and see “Toy House” was calling. It rarely was a “problem.” My staff knew exactly how I liked problems to be handled. The phone call I dreaded was most often this simple question …

“When will you be back? We have a customer waiting to get her car seat checked.”

I hated that call. Not because it meant cutting my lunch short. If you’ve seen me, you know I could stand to skip a few meals now and then. I hated that call because it meant a customer was not getting served properly. If you offer a service, you need to offer it every single moment you are open.

That’s me teaching a class on car seats and stroller.

Although we started checking car seats back in the late 1990’s, we didn’t publicize it as a service until 2005 because I didn’t have enough people trained to offer that service full time until 2005. With the exception of trade show weeks and vacations, I made sure someone was scheduled to offer this service almost every single moment we were open.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I stopped in a Meijer store early one morning. I was in this store that is open 24/7 at 7:50am to do a return. They have a Customer Service desk where you go for returns. I went there and spoke to the nice lady behind the counter. She informed me they weren’t open yet. Not open? The store is open 24/7!

“Could I take my items to a cash register lane to do the return?”

“No, you’ll have to wait until 8am.”

The store may be open 24/7 but the Customer Service desk is only open 8am to 10pm. Apparently they only offer service for 14 of those 24 hours.

It reminded me of the time I once went to a Sam’s Club. They had the item I wanted in stock, but it was “up in the steel.” Unfortunately there were no forklift drivers to get it down for me. I would have to wait until morning. Really???

I point these out because these are the kinds of stories people like to share with their friends. These are the negative stories that get passed along from person to person, growing in scope and stature with each re-telling.

That’s why I hated to get that phone call. That was one more customer who could potentially have a negative story to share about my store. 

If you advertise you offer a service, you have to offer that service the entire time you are open. Period. Otherwise you open yourself up to that other kind of advertising that is extremely difficult to overcome.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you have a service that is impossible to offer the entire time you are open, make sure the restrictions are known well in advance. Let people know clearly if it is by appointment only, or limited hours, or only on certain days. Control the stories people tell about your business and you’ll control the growth of your business. Oh, and always keep your cellphone on when you go to lunch.

Earning Trust One Holiday at a Time

I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.

I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)

The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?

I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?

For more ways to earn your customer’s trust, buy this book!

This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.

Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.

This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.

Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.

Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.

Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.

PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.

Not Everyone Is Expecting the Same Thing

A couple weeks ago I did a Customer Service workshop with the staff of Kingman Museum. In a workshop for a single entity I get to do some different things than I do in a presentation to a large and varied group, including focusing in on different elements of customer service that will truly make a difference for the types of customers you’ll see.

As you know …

Customer Service is a measure of how well you meet your customers’ expectations.

The minimum bar is simply to give the customer exactly what she expected. Anything less and she’ll tear you to shreds on Facebook or Yelp or in the hallway outside the MOPS meeting. Anything more, however, and she’ll sing your praises to the mountain top.

It is a fine line between failing and winning. Worse yet, the line is constantly shifting because not every customer is expecting the same thing.

In the planetarium at Kingman Museum. You should check it out.

Our first exercise, therefore, was to figure out the different personas that visit the museum. We came up with eight basic personas; The Member, The Young Family, The Homeschooler, The Field Trip, The Tourist, The Senior Citizen, The Passer-By, and The Donor. We then described the general characteristics of each persona, listing them on pieces of easel paper taped around the room.

Then, as we looked at all the interaction points the staff has with the visitor, we talked about how the expectations differ based on the personas. For instance, Tourists are looking for a far different experience than Homeschoolers. Senior Citizens want to see what is very new (because they are frequent visitors) and very old (for nostalgia’s sake). Young Families want activities to keep the wiggles at bay. The Donor wants to see where the money went.

First, by knowing these personas and the different expectations they might have, we were able to create different ways to exceed their expectations.

Second, we spent a lot of time on the importance of communication. It is through the relationship-building process that you learn which persona best fits their needs, and also what personal expectations they might have, so that you can apply those surprising moments.

This is a simple exercise you should do with your staff.

  • Start by describing the different types of customers. Give them each a name.
  • List the characteristics that define each persona.
  • Brainstorm questions you can ask (or answers you can look for) to help you identify each persona.
  • List the expectations each persona might have, especially how they differ from the other personas.
  • Think of what it will take to surprise and delight each persona.

Only when you know the different types of customers and what they expect from your store can you truly meet and exceed their expectations on a regular basis. Giving a group of kids on a Field Trip a list of your favorite nearby local restaurants is not nearly as delightful as it is when you give it to the Tourist.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Some of you are already ahead of me in figuring out that these personas also play a role in your marketing and advertising. When creating new advertisements, pick one persona and write directly to that person. It won’t be as effective for the other personas, but it will move the needle for her in ways you never imagined.

PPS Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a great exercise to work on over the course of several meetings. Start with simply identifying the different personas and what makes them unique. At the next meeting you can start to talk about their expectations and how you identify them. What you will find between those two meetings is that at the second meeting they may have a sharper definition for each persona. That means they were observing. Praise them for that. By the third meeting, however, you should be working on ways to surprise and delight.

PPPS If the veterinarian staff had done this exercise with the simple personas of Cat Person and Dog Person, they would have been OMG instead of WTF.

PPPPS Go to Kingman Museum and see how they are doing. The museum is really cool with a ton of stuff packed into an architecturally cool building. Plus, they have a planetarium! (Be gentle. This is the first time they have looked at Customer Service as a thing, let alone as a different thing for different people.)

Almost Right is Still Wrong

I was going to title this It Isn’t the Thought That Counts or maybe The Road to Retail Ruin is Paved With Good Intentions. You’ll see why momentarily.

Back in 1993 I had to do something incredibly hard. I had to put a dog down. It was our first dog, Sandy. She was a mixed-breed mutt with a little bull terrier in her. She looked a lot like Spuds McKenzie without the eye-patch. She got along great with our kitty, Shadow, but not so great with visitors. When she jumped through a plate glass window by the front door at my uncle who had stopped to visit, it was the beginning of the end.

My current pup Samantha

The last drive we took in my truck was incredibly emotional. I still get choked up thinking about it, but it was the only thing to do with a dog this aggressive and loyal only to us. To make matters worse, Clint Black was singing State of Mind on the radio.

My friend had a similar experience last week. Only in her case, it was a cat, not a dog. She’s not a big fan of dogs (understatement). She took the cat to the vet, said her goodbyes and walked out with tears.

A few days later she got a card in the mail from her veterinarian. It was a sympathy card they use for situations like this. The inside of the card had a printed message that was perfect for the situation. There was also a hand-written note from the vet expressing his sympathy.

Normally this would be one of my They-Get-It type posts where I praise the vet for going above and beyond. In fact, when she showed me the card, I got choked up inside and felt the genuine concern they were trying to share. But then again, being a dog lover, I didn’t notice the one glaring error that made it all wrong.

The front cover of the card was a collage of pictures of pets, all of them … you guessed it … dogs.

If you love dogs, you don’t notice that mistake when they send you this card for putting your cat down. When you dislike dogs, it becomes horribly offensive, like twisting the knife in a wound that still hasn’t fully healed.

I point this out not to scare you away from going the extra mile or doing something surprising and unexpected, but to show you that you have to plan those special moments out to make sure all the details are correct. Being almost right can sometimes be very wrong.

I would venture to guess that the staff at the vet office are probably all dog lovers, and were just as blind to the insensitivity of the card as I was initially. Having an impartial set of eyes might have helped. Understanding that there are more cats than dogs statistically speaking might also have helped.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you the best way to make sure you aren’t offending someone when you’re trying to go the extra mile.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Clint Black’s song talks about how a melody brings back a memory. Talk about a meta experience for me, since that is the song that brings back the memory and changes my state of mind.

Phone Calls That Lose Customers

Earlier this year I joined the many throngs of people who gave up their land line. No “home phone” for me. The one true regret I have is that I hate filling out all those forms where they ask for home, business, and cell numbers. Since I use my cellphone as my home phone and for business, which line should I fill out?

What I don’t miss is the extra bill for the land line, or having to check two voice mails each day.

Image result for on holdThe cellphone has one handy feature that I almost dread using. It tells me how long I have been on the phone, especially how long I have been on hold.

It is amazing to me that in this day and age any phone call would be put on hold for as long as some of my calls have been. I do understand that some tech support places just get a much higher volume of calls than they can find English speakers (and I use that term loosely) to answer the phones.

What I really don’t understand is how long I have been put on hold at retail stores. Not that I won’t shop online, but whenever possible I want to do my shopping in brick & mortar stores. I like going to really cool stores. I like seeing how others operate. I love when local stores are knocking it out of the park. I get some of my best post ideas from shopping trips.

I spend more time on my computer and cellphone looking up phone numbers of stores than looking up products. I know I’m not alone, either.

But yesterday I felt the kind of frustration that drives people to the Internet to do their shopping. I called a store with a simple request to see if they had an item in stock. I even had an item number for them.

First, I had to wade through a lengthy menu that met none of my needs, before I could push zero to talk to a real person.

Then the person who answered was either busy doing something else, in a hurry to do something else, or had just finished her thirteenth cup of coffee. She blurted out her scripted greeting so fast and brusque that I wasn’t even sure I had called the right place. I made my request. Twice, because she was too preoccupied with whatever was on her side of the line to listen to me the first time.

I said, “I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“What did you say?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“Okay, you need to hold.”

(silence)

I looked at my phone, browsed a little Facebook on my computer, looked back at my phone, and then decided to put it on speaker so that I could set it down.

At the 7:32 mark the hurried voice came back on. “What did you need?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock?”

“A what?”

“I have an item number.”

“What is it?”

I won’t bore you with the four times I had to read the number until she got it right. You can probably guess that script.

She put me back on hold. At the 16:42 mark, she came back on the phone. “What is the item?”

I gave her a description only to find out they didn’t have any. Seventeen minutes. I wonder if she went out for one more cup of coffee. I know I drank a Diet Mountain Dew (my “green tea” as I like to call it) during that time.

My best guess is that the person answering the phone in this store isn’t a trained phone operator or call center person. I am also guessing that this person doesn’t have a computer for looking things up near the phone she answered. I am further guessing that she is a manager of some sort and got called to put out several fires during my two lengthy holds. Or if not, she is a sales clerk who was taught (correctly) that the customer in front of you is more important than the customer on the phone. She just wasn’t taught what to do when you have both a customer in front of you and a customer on the phone.

If you find yourself, because of tight staffing or a busy moment in the store, in that latter situation here are some suggestions that would make callers like me less frustrated.

  1. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t have the time to be polite and get a customer’s information from them. It is always better for the call to go to a voice mail than for you to be hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone. If you are hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone, I will assume you are that way all the time.
  2. When you answer the phone, if you know you cannot solve my problem in less than a minute or two, get all the info you can, including my phone number, and promise to call me back. Make sure you or someone else does call me back ASAP (ten minutes or less is ideal). The customer in front of you will be patient enough if they hear you getting the info you need to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
  3. If you have to put me on hold, explain why and how long it might take.
  4. If you can talk to me, stay on the line. Don’t put me on hold while your really slow Windows 95 computer with dial-up looks something up. You put me at ease by staying on the line because the time goes faster, and I can’t look at the clock on my phone telling me how much time I’ve used.

Phone etiquette doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be taught. In a world where finding new customers is more expensive and difficult than ever, it can make all the difference to your bottom line when you know how to answer your phone.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our phones had a built-in timer that started beeping as soon as a hold had lasted longer than a minute. It was an annoying beep, too, so there was extra incentive for my staff to get back to that customer ASAP.