Customer Service

How Will You Celebrate Leap Day?

Unlike your favourite real holidays, which happen annually, you only get the chance to celebrate February 29, or Leap Day, once every four years. That makes Leap Day actually less frequent than once in a blue moon (which happens roughly every three years).

Motorbike

How should one celebrate this day? By taking a leap, of course! By trying something new that you’ve been putting off for far too long. That’s as simple as making a booking for a dance class, or trying a new restaurant, or bungee jumping in a chicken suit (if you do this, please send us photos).

I know what you’re thinking: Leap Day isn’t a real holiday. Well, neither is Talk Like A Pirate Day, but as more people support and celebrate these left-field calendar dates, we can change the world. I still hold out hope for a Leap Day miracle.

Leap Day William

We also think it’s a good day to take a risk with your marketing.

The best advertisements of all time all have an element of risk. Have you ever thought that a scripted message looks different to what everyone else does, or is a bit ‘out there’? That probably means it’s more effective. People remember things that are different. It’s one reason why we recommend updating your messages – to keep it different! After all, how do you expect to secure your competitor’s clients if you market your business in exactly the same way they do?

Old Spice

So if you’ve been playing it safe with your marketing, do one thing this Leap Day: ask us to write something wacky, wonderful and way out there. After all, there’s a Leap Day saying: if you want make a baby, playing it safe isn’t the best way to do it.

I’m on a horse.

A Guide for the Lowly Shop Assistant

When you first waltz into a shop your initial impression will be your lasting one, in which case, the person guarding the counter ought to have a few skills under their belt to impress you: an encyclopaedic knowledge of the product, a contagious smile and a confident, positive attitude. This initial interface becomes even more critical if you find yourself working in a niche retail industry and you sell retro products that have long ago peaked in their popularity.

Retail Battle Stations

When I was 14 I wanted a job badly, but the expression “beggars can’t be choosers” hadn’t clicked with me yet, and the sheer thought of debasing myself to the grease-traps of Mickey Dee’s sent me into panic stations. Where I needed to work resided in my local Westfield – a place only a handful of hermit regulars frequented and kept the dusty place alive: the local second-hand bookshop. I was already in love with books, having barely gotten over my unyielding crush on Mr. Rochester, and I felt my OCD would slot into the organised system of the store quite nicely.

Cut to nine years later and I was running the shop and had become the overarching expert on authors, novels, Man-Booker nominations, and how to establish strong relationships with customers whilst also being a retail sensation. At the time, the bookshop industry was on the decline: people were trading in their book collections for a loveless Kindle and novels were slowly being abandoned to be pushed to the side along with floppy disks and VHS.

Through the drawback of working in an industry that was debatably dying I learned how to truly push sales, how to keep my customers returning and how to happily serve the public.

Smile ‘Till it Hurts

After I finished high school I started working at the bookshop full-time, earning more than enough to continue refunding the shop with my book addiction. The only problem I had with working every day was I felt like I was living at work: the customers I served were my family, and the book shelves that structured the shop were becoming some kind of abstract metaphor for the alphabet nightmare that was my life.

Looking back I realise it was easy to get bogged down in this way of thinking, especially considering I was so used to my job I was able to predict customers’ queries before they even opened their mouths. However, regardless of how I internally felt about a question, each customer was treated with equal friendliness, a bright smile and a keen interest in them. So if someone asked “Do you have Don Kwicks-oate?” or “Do you stock that book by the bloke?” they were answered by a calm, understanding individual.

Customer Control

You may be thinking, “How do people like this even exist?” but you need to keep in mind that you are this customer. How many times have you curiously walked into a quirky shop and had no idea what you were looking for? Or asked a retail assistant for help while exhaling a giant verbal faux pas? We all do it – and at the end of the day, just because I was asked if we stock “Fifty Shades of Grey”, literally 50 times in a day, didn’t mean that the customer in question deserved a bad-tempered or snarky response.

Unless your name is Hugh Grant, you really have zero excuse for any fumbling, bumbling or vocal slipups when it comes to conversing with your customer. There’s nothing less endearing or disappointing then going into a shop, only to have the person over the counter acting as clueless as you are. How much confidence do you put into the “Ums” and “I don’t knows” of this world? Not a lot I imagine. Remaining strong and confident in your stance will permeate throughout the rest of the interaction – I found that even my feigned enthusiasm and coolness was always met with the sound of the cash register dinging to life: so faking it really does work.

The Regs

One of the best things about working at the bookshop for so many years, was I ended up having awesome regular customers that I’d established great relationships with. I would often keep books aside for them and they would continue to return for that kind of service. Once I had clued onto what books they liked, I found it easier to keep my eye out for any titles that might spark their interest – a service that never went unnoticed.

Another reason why customers kept coming back was the way I was with them – an aspect that changed from person to person. Customers tend to like servers who have a bit of personality or who can have a laugh – there’s no need to become best friends, but rather you need to seize any opportunity you see to build a rapport. Some of my regs became the kind of people who gave me chocolates at Christmas or who would watch the shop while I popped to the bathroom.

Creating strong connections with your customers doesn’t always have to be a case of making a sale; you can end up establishing worthwhile relationships that make your working day better as well. And if you’re caught in an interaction that’s becoming sharp or isn’t going anywhere, the best thing to come from that customer will be the amount of appreciation you have for the next one who walks along and smiles back at you.

– Cassie

Sher-Locking in the sale with attentive customer service

When Sherlock Holmes, a detective whose skill is only eclipsed by his fashion sense, walks into a room for the first time he immediately begins to observe every single little detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant, so that he can mentally piece together the puzzle that is the unknown.

It might be the mud on a gentleman’s boot, which indicates the location from which he has come, or a tan line across a lady’s finger revealing a long-worn wedding band that has recently been removed. Much of the theatricality and genius behind Sherlock’s famous (albeit fictional) crime solving is due to his ability to notice what other people typically miss.

When it comes to customer service in retail, your success depends on the relationship you manage to cultivate with your customers. People relate more to someone who understands them and can anticipate their needs, using nothing other than sheer, observational investigation, a la Sherlock Holmes. Nobody is looking for help from a retail assistant who is simply haphazardly guessing and checking, like an inept Scotland Yard detective.

As a retail customer service representative, keeping alert is absolutely essential to sparking a successful relationship with your customer. If you’re chatting away with a colleague and only lavish attention on your customers once they express a query, chances are you’ve lost them long before “hello”. Always keep your eyes and ears wide open; because piecing together who this customer is, where they are from, and ultimately what they are looking for, begins the instant they walk into your store.

“As a retail customer service representative, keeping alert is absolutely essential…”

Let me share a personal pet peeve from some of the earliest days of my ever blossoming obsession with motion pictures: incompetent customer service at the video store.

Allow me to elaborate: there were two ways in which I used to enter my local movie rental store. Either I’d stride in with purpose and search with deliberation for a specific film. Or I would meander along the aisles, idly searching for a movie I had not yet seen and was willing to spend my precious pocket money on.

Almost every single time, the customer service reps would manage to either misread me or not even bother to observe me at all. If I was searching fruitlessly for a specific movie, they’d be sitting behind the counter picking at their nails. If I was leisurely browsing the catalogue, I would inevitably find myself the victim of incessant Can-I-Help-You’s.

I was clearly not being Sherlock Holmes-ed.

Had the customer service rep been doing his/her job properly, they’d have been watching my mannerisms, body language and facial expressions. It would have been easy to ascertain what kind of a customer I was and consequently how I should be effectively approached.

The important point is that as a customer service representative your key to success is to gather as much information as you possibly can, so that when you do approach the customer you can cut straight to providing for their every whim.

Listen out for a name (people love hearing their own name and it grabs their attention instantly), look out for signs of confusion or determination, take note of who they’re shopping with, what conversation they’re having, listen for any mention of a specific occasion and observe in which section of your store they are looking. Knowledge is power, and it is your job to gather as much knowledge as you can.

Once you engage the customer, use the opportunity to take control of the conversation, armed with the clues you’ve uncovered, to be used to your advantage. Don’t force the customer to ask all the questions; proactively suggest different varieties, options and alternatives that they might be interested in. Keep them engaged and keep them interested by relating to them and their needs. By maintaining control, you can close that sale, every single time.

It’s not hard to become Sherlock Holmes – but it does take proactive observation, uncompromising alertness and the willingness to put in that extra effort to transcend the hum-drum of most customer service. Remember what the great detective himself said: “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

– Aaron

The Power of Social Media: Turning Disgruntled Customers Into Loyal Ones

A wise, rather scantily clad woman once said: “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” While I’m sure Dita Von Teese was referring to her female counterparts, I think this quote can be applied to business, too.

No matter how good your products, how refined your processes, how well you’ve trained your staff, at some point along the line you’re going to end up with an unhappy customer. Back in the day we were told that news of bad customer service reached more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience. Thanks to social media however, that figure is now potentially thousands of times more ears.

So what does it mean for your business? Well, depending on you, it can either be very good or very bad.

The Bad

Hasan Syed, a Chicago-based business owner, took to twitter to complain of the poor service he received flying British airways.

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Followed by…

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Syed paid a cool $1000 to promote the tweet, and as a result was seen by an initial 76,000 users. It was then re-tweed in a smart move by Marty St. George, senior vice-president of marketing and commercial at JetBlue Airways; and picked up by dozens of news outlets world-wide.

British Airways could have used this tweet as an opportunity to not only win over a disgruntled customer, but to show off some amazing customer service skills. Instead, their reply was somewhat lacklustre, not to mention robotic.

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While the majority of people supported Syed’s move, finding it both a revelation and hilarious, others wondered if he might have got the same result if he went through the proper customer service channels. However, the twitter.com/we_hate_ba page – a profile dedicated to posting the customer service screw ups of the airline – begs to differ.

So, what can we learn from British Airways’ social media faux pas?

1 – Do it right the first time. You can bet if Syed’s missing luggage was dealt with competently and compassionately in the beginning, he wouldn’t have felt the need to take to social media to voice his frustrations.

2 – If you’re on social media and you receive a complaint, your responses need to be fast and empathetic.

3 – Don’t ignore angry customers. Otherwise, you might just end up with a page devoted to your mistakes.

The Good

JetBlue, an American low-cost airline are renowned for being one of the most skilled companies on Twitter at handling consumer complaints. They average an unbelievable 10 minute response time for the 2,500-2,600 mentions they see daily, and as you can see – they do it well.

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They reply to as many critical tweets as positive ones, and their human, compassionate and at times funny responses endear them to customers – a stark contrast to Hasan Syed’s experience. Take a leaf out of JetBlue’s book and instead of being offended, angry, upset, or worse apathetic when a customer has something negative to say, cherish it. Customer feedback is gold. They’re teaching you how to make your product, your service and your business better.

While this blog has focused on Twitter’s involvement, it shouldn’t just be the fear of backlash of social media that makes you want to excel in customer service. With loyal customers being worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase – it’s better for your bottom line too.

– Steph

Why Staff Training is the Best Investment You’ll Make

When’s the last time you listened to your staff answer – or talk to a client on – the phone? I don’t mean walking past and catching a few phrases here and there. I mean stopping and really, really listening. Did they address the client by name? Did they sound engaged and interested? If they had a problem, did your employee do their very best to solve it? If you answered “No”, or “I don’t know” to either question, you’re in trouble.

Staff training is crucial in achieving two things: competent & confident employees, and happy customers. The two are inevitably intertwined with 70% of buying experiences based on how the customer feels they are being treated at the time of purchase. To put it bluntly – if your employees are rubbish at their jobs, your sales will be too.

If you’ve heard or seen your staff do any of the following (yes, they are true customer service stories) – it’s a sure sign it’s time for staff training.

Liz M from the U.S. called a major computer company to get help with 12 new laptops that would not power on. The Company Representative – who apparently lives to make other people question the point of existing – asked her, “What do you want me to do about it? If they don’t power on I can’t troubleshoot them, and if they aren’t powering on, it has to be something you did to them that made them not work.” Liz simply hung up the phone and called the software company directly.  Though they were able to solve her problem, Liz still has nightmares about the encounter.

The lesson: Train your staff to empathise. The words, “What do you want me to do about it” should never come out of their mouths.

“It’s not our fault that you have this problem – it’s yours.” Believe it or not, this was said to Ian T by a Major Insurance Company in the UK. I liken this incident to having a scolding cup of coffee tipped on me, and then being told it’s my fault I don’t wear protective clothing.

The lesson: Train your staff to take responsibility. Maybe the problem isn’t directly their fault, but if they work for your company, they have to take on the responsibility of the problem and do everything in their power to solve it.

If your staff work from a script here’s a story that should make you rethink the approach. Deborah B called a credit card company to cancel her recently deceased father’s account. Simple enough right? Apparently not. This is how the conversation went:

Deborah: My father Pat passed away and I am the Executor of the Estate. I am calling to cancel his account.

Customer Service Rep: Well, I need to talk to Pat.

Deborah: Listen very carefully. He’s dead – now if you want to talk to him, you’ll have to figure out how to.

Now, I’m all about there being two sides to every story, but as far as I can see, the only way this Customer Service Rep is in the right is if they are secretly a celebrated medium, moonlighting as a telemarketer, offering Deborah the chance of a lifetime to communicate with her dead father. More than likely however, this Rep simply hasn’t been trained properly.

The Lesson: Train your staff to listen. If you can recognise when you’re being delivered a script on the phone – and I bet you can, your customers can too. Scripts not only convey rigidity and inflexibility, they also make your staff switch off. Get rid of them.

If you’re anything like me, the words “I’m sorry, but that’s our policy” have the ability to raise my blood pressure like only drivers who don’t wave when I let them into my lane can. Your staff shouldn’t be saying it. No one should be saying it. Your number one policy should be doing everything you can to fix your customer’s problem. If you’ve heard your staff say these unholiest of words – it’s time for skills training.

If listening to your staff on the phone makes your skin crawl and if the words “I’m sorry, but that’s our policy” are your company’s catch-cry, consider this: it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one, and on average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. If you want a successful company, you want happy customers who stick around. The first step to achieving this – invest in training your staff.

– Steph

Marketing Messages – What Really Gets Customers Through The Door

Would you buy your wine from Dan Murphy’s because they take “pride” in “offering the lowest liquor price guarantee?” Your new plasma TV from Retravision Online because they “guarantee to beat any advertised competitor price?” When your nephew or niece’s birthday arrives, will you purchase your present from Toys R Us because they promise their “prices can’t be beat”, and that they’ll “match any advertised price?” These retailers wouldn’t lie to you… or would they?

According to the University of East Anglia, lowest-price guarantees can actually work against consumers, potentially pushing prices up and discouraging them from shopping around. So, in fact, lowest or best price guarantees are not good indicators that a store is cheaper than its competition. Why, then, do we keep returning to and buying from these businesses? Well it’s pretty simple – you’re a marketing message sucker.

On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the small print. We as consumers don’t bother reading that: “In some cases there are prices which Retravision Online cannot match,” “The competitor store must be within 10 kilometres of Dan Murphy’s,” or that the Toys ‘R Us guarantee “Excludes competitor’s category or storewide discounts, conditional sales, package deals, discontinued lines, loyalty or third party offers, fire or liquidation sales, clearance/warehouse outlets.”

Marketing messages should excite customers with what you can do for them.

Our eyes and wallets are dazzled by lowest price guaranteed slogans. So what does this mean for the average business owner? You need to think about what you are selling to your customers. Retravision, Dan Murphy’s, and Toys ‘R Us aren’t telling consumers they’ve been in production for however many years, who they’re owned by, where they source their materials from, or where they hope their business will take them. Why? Because people just don’t care.

Most consumers have one thing they care about more than anything else. You need to work out what it is and sell it to them – whether it’s getting the product to them quicker, being cheaper than your competitors, or by ensuring that the quality is the best on the market. So, if your business has been running since 1969, don’t give them a history lesson from that year – it’s useless and frankly, it’s boring! Instead, mention that with over 40 years of experience under your belt they won’t be paying for you to learn on the job.

If your production takes place locally with locally sourced products, don’t just focus on the fact that this supports the community. Tell your customers because it’s right next door, it’s fresher and faster! In the event there is a problem, you’ll be able to solve it a hell of lot quicker because you have the part right on your shelf – they don’t have to wait weeks for shipping. And, in years to come when a part needs replacing – you’ll be able to do it for them – they won’t have to scour eBay for a part that hasn’t been manufactured in years.

To ensure your business can compete– you need marketing messages that excite customers with what you can do for them. Instead of dropping your pants on prices that might see a short term spike in sales, opt for something that will provide you with long term growth. Find the most compelling features of your business, and sell them.

– Steph

Is Your Music Driving Away Customers?

Music is amazing. We use it to enhance the mood, bring back lost memories and even form new ones. But one thing I’ve discovered is that music can be extremely effective in driving away customers.

That’s right, driving away customers. I was in the city and a lifetimeaway from my favourite coffee shop. With a pocket full of change and a head full of ache, I would have given my money to just about anyone for a cup of brown liquid that even resembled coffee!

Then in my coffeeless desert, an oasis appeared. An oasis in the form of a cool coffee cart outside a music shop. The girls behind the cashier were gorgeous and pierced. The menu was scrawled on blackboard surrounded by cargo timber and posters of bands I’ve never heard of. However, as I approached, something strange happened. The closer I got, the less I wanted their coffee.

They had two speakers either side of the register, blasting customers with a face full of high tempo prog rock. I was instantly repelled. But I still soldiered on, grabbed a fistful of change and asked for a flat white to go. “What?!” yelled the cashier. I repeated my order. “You’re going to have to speak up!” She couldn’t hear me over the music. I could feel my face flushing with frustration.

Years ago, I would have grit my teeth and sucked it up. But on that day, I jammed my coins back into my pocket and stormed off without another word.

I’ve noticed this more recently; restaurants, cafes and retail stores all playing music just loud enough so that customers are made to repeat themselves. Is this because the store managers don’t know any better? Does the loud music help keep them awake? Or is it a ploy to move customers through the store quicker? A quick Google search for Millman retail music research will reveal that individuals tend to stay longer when listening to slow tempo tracks when compared with the fast tempo alternative. Food for thought.

– Lachy

Going The Extra Mile (or 23.5 Miles!)

There are customers that come into a store, buy a product, and leave… no questions asked. Then there are those kooky characters who make some of the most bizarre requests you’re likely to hear. But sometimes, the most amazing thing about a customer request isn’t the request itself, but a company’s response.

“GOING THE EXTRA MILE… LITERALLY”

Take this business consultant in the United States, who before departing on the last leg of a particularly tiresome series of work trips, tweeted at his favourite steakhouse “Hey @Morton’s – can you meet me at Newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :-)” Whether he was being serious or not is beside the point.

Going The Extra Mile

The point is that Morton’s turned this tweet into a PR extravaganza. When the tired businessman reached the arrivals terminal, imagine his face when a tuxedoed Morton’s waiter greeted him with a 24-ounce Porterhouse, shrimp, potatoes, bread, napkins and silverware. This extraordinary response to a mere social media post demonstrates a few things about Morton’s, and paints a picture of a business that thrives on going the extra mile, or speaking literally, the extra 23.5 miles!

“THE SITUATION STARTED TRENDING WITHIN HOURS”

A team member was monitoring social media – that’s a given. Up the chain, superiors were willing to approve the idea, then a cook had to make the food and time it for the traveller’s arrival, someone needed to track down flight information to ensure the waiter was at the right location, and the food had to be driven, you guessed it, 23.5 miles. Needless to say, the situation started trending within hours, giving Morton’s a huge amount of exposure for relatively little expenditure.

Next time a customer asks you something strange, don’t fall back on policies or common sense. See if you can take advantage, surprise someone and see where it takes you. Never be afraid of going the extra mile!

– Magnus

Show Your Customers Some Love

In Singapore, Valentine’s Day is a pretty big deal. Restaurants are booked out way in advance, boxes of chocolates are stacked high in the supermarkets and florists get set to make a killing.

While the boyfriend and I don’t take the day too seriously, we like surprising each other with a little something. This year, he sent a bouquet of flowers to my office. A bouquet that never arrived. It wasn’t until he started asking about it, that I realized the work day was almost over and I hadn’t received a single call, text or communication of any sort from the florist.

Now, this isn’t some shady operation we’re talking about. This company happens to be the top local and regional florist with a bunch of fairly impressive awards to their name, and a website proclaiming their commitment to customer service. So fixing this situation should have been a piece of cake, right?

He won't stand for bad service. Neither should you.

He won’t stand for bad service. Neither should you.

Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. Calls to their hotline ended up on an answering machine that disconnected halfway, while emails and messages sent through their online form went unanswered. Understandably, the boyfriend was not impressed and swore to give them a piece of his mind once he got hold of someone.

This went on until the next day, when we passed the florist’s headquarters on our way to lunch.   Since they weren’t responding to calls and emails, we figured that they couldn’t hide from some face-to-face communication.  All became clear the moment we stepped in. The staff looked up sheepishly and before we could say much, they asked if we’d come to complain about the floral no-show, and agreed meekly to a refund and re-delivery. Apparently, there’d been a flood of angry customers all day.

Problem solved? Not quite. While their offer pacified us to some extent, it also made us wonder what they would’ve done if we hadn’t confronted them. It seemed likely that they were happy to bury their heads in the sand hoping for any problems to vanish.

By adopting a passive attitude and reactive approach to customer service, this florist lost our business. Compare this to a similar incident in Malaysia, where a local florist incurred the wrath of hundreds of customers after their courier company failed to deliver the bouquets. Instead of hiding from this mistake, they promptly released a statement explaining the situation and reached out to every customer to offer a refund and upgrade to their original order.

Which company would earn your loyalty? In a world where businesses come and go, and products are seldom one-of-a-kind, the one thing that’ll set you apart from everyone else is great customer service.  It’ll transform your business from mediocre to memorable.

– Sharon

Improving The Customer Experience – A Lesson from George

Your product may be a winner, but never underestimate the power of improving the customer experience. Consider the coffee market. You can buy the classic Blend 43 from the supermarket or maybe a nice pre-ground Lavazza from the corner store, but if you want a high-class European coffee experience – you choose Nespresso.

Improving the customer experience

“Just call me George. You’re a club member now.”

Capsules can be ordered online, but the real experience comes from heading into a Nespresso store. The classy interior immediately reminds you of the (in)famous commercials starring George Clooney & Matt Damon, as smartly dressed employees patiently guide you through the different coffees and their apparent (apologies to coffee aficionados) differences. Deep inside you’ll even find a man in an expensive suit sitting behind an oak desk, fingers on his keyboard ready to serve you. You know… so you can buy coffee. The first time you go to the counter, you’re presented with your matte-finished members’ card to ‘The Nespresso Club’ – of which I presume Clooney is a member.

Why as as Nespresso Do? It’s about improving the Customer Experience

It may seem excessive, but even the most cynical consumer will have trouble separating the Nespresso ‘experience’ from the Nespresso ‘product’. And ‘sophisticated’ isn’t the only flavour of experience on offer. Take the Messages On Hold ‘experience’ – it’s all about fun and responsive customer service. We send comedy cards and cheeky customised voicemails starring Shane Warne to our clients and our promotional videos feature our CEO in wacky scenarios complete with animated ‘POWS!’ and zany sound effects.

A product can be rationally evaluated and compared. An emotionally significant experience cannot be debated. Do you, like many aspiring businesses, offer a great experience? What ways can you employ to improve your customer experience?

– Jakub