I try to make daily choices to be positive, and encourage (and train) others to do the same. This includes how we perceive situations, the language we use, the types of feelings we try to empower (positive versus defeating), and our mental talk. There are times however, when I think great learning can come from taking something that is negative and “turning it around” to apply the positive. As you review these, ask yourself if there are any components you might be inadvertently demonstrating with your customers, or if you can relate to these through your experiences as a customer.
#1: KEEP IGNORING ME, AND YOU WON’T NOTICE WHEN I LEAVE
Have you ever been a customer, needed help, and so approached the only employees in your line of sight (two of them engaged in their own interaction)? If you are like me, you have approached them cautiously and with respect, standing a few feet away to not interrupt them, but to patiently wait for them to stop what they are talking about to serve you. The problem is when they don’t stop, and they don’t acknowledge you. Here is a real-life story from my vault of experiences. I was in a local grocery store needing help to find a product one day. It wasn’t busy in the store, and the only employees I could find were doing exactly as I just described – talking to each other. No problem with this, I moved in to wait and be acknowledged. What happened surprised me. One of the employees darted away so he didn’t have to help me at all. The other employee couldn’t run fast enough and so was stuck with me. I asked where this particular product was located in their store, and the response I received was “over there…”. Bad enough, the employee who wasn’t busy doing much didn’t take me to the product, and didn’t even point, but ended up disappearing as well. If you don’t want your customers to come back, keep ignoring them. If you do, please LOOK and ACT like you want to help.
#2: SHUT UP AND LISTEN
“They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Effective sales are about understanding what a customer needs (tangible need and intangible need – motives), and then meeting those needs. It is not about pushing your product. Nothing frustrates me more than having someone contact me to “sell’ their product and never giving me a chance to respond to their questions. I have been interested, and have even gone as far as trying to be really clear about what I need to help them make the sale, but they don’t stop talking about themselves long enough to listen. Please apply Pareto’s Law of Economics to this one – listen 80%, talk 20%.
#3: DO YOU HAVE A ‘NEVER RESPOND TO EMAIL’ POLICY?
I am a proponent of self-service initiatives and technology, and having an email option through your business website can be a great CHOICE for me to contact you. The important thing to remember is, if I am making this choice you have offered to me, please respond. I have emailed companies with questions, to seek information, and most recently to cancel a policy. In this last example, it took two emails and a couple of weeks before I ever heard anything back (at least I finally did). In my other experiences I wondered if my email went into a black void in space. A response was never received. If you want your customers to email you, please don’t forget that this medium needs to have a service standard attached to it (just like your phone service does). At a minimum you should be responding to emails within one business day. Customers will not choose to email you, they will phone you instead, which is a more expensive contact method initially.
#4: I REALLY DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DID ON THE WEEKEND
I seem to notice this more and more often these days, and this is the experience of a very inappropriate conversation going on between employees at the same time they are “serving” me. I have been privy to who is dating who, what big crisis happened, inappropriate verbiage, and immature behaviours. The sad part is they don’t seem to think anything is wrong with doing this. In the process, I am left feeling uncomfortable, and ignored. It is important that peers in the workplace get along, but there is a time and a place for this, and it is not in front of the customer.
#5: DID YOU REALLY JUST HANG UP ON ME?
This is the one where the employee hangs up on the customer (and not by accident because he mistakenly hit the wrong button on the phone). I had an experience where my utilities (natural gas) account was showing as in arrears. We had recently moved, and in the process of changing over my account, no one at the gas company had told me they would be changing my account number altogether. So, I kept making payments towards the account I had always been using. Some months after we moved, the gas company collections department started to call. Through words and tone, I was being told that I was a delinquent customer. I tried to explain my position – I had been paying. Instead of listening to me, the employee continue to talk (and to talk over me). It is frustrating to not be listened to (especially when you are being accused), and so I began to “talk over” her. My voice was not angry, nor was I yelling, but I was definitely getting louder and probably sounding more frustrated. Her response was to begin to dance. She did this by getting louder, continuing to talk over me and continuing to interrupt. How did this tango end? She told me if I didn’t stop talking to her that way she would hang up. I was shocked, took the moment of silence to again try to explain my position, only to be rewarded with a click and a dial tone. I was so surprised I think my jaw actually dropped. My response was to immediately phone back, ask to speak to a supervisor to complain about my experience.
#6: DID YOU JUST EXPERIENCE SOMETHING HORRIBLE IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE, OR ARE YOU JUST THAT UNHAPPY TO SERVE ME?
Unfortunately, there are many personal stories I could share to illustrate this point. Here is the most recent example. I was leaving my hotel to go to a client’s office in Ottawa recently. The office was not more than two blocks away, but armed with a suitcase, laptop, etc. my choice was to quickly catch a cab. The hotel front reception had provided excellent service as I checked out, and personally took my bag outside and flagged a cab. I jumped into the cab and the cab driver refused to get out and put my bag into the trunk until the hotel individual directed him to. Begrudgingly (it was all over his facial expression and with the added element of under his breath grunts) he got out and did his job. I let him know the address I was going to and he again grunted and spit out the words “that is only a block away”. Yes it certainly was but hey I am the customer and it is my choice to get the ride. The entire 5 minutes it took him to get me to my location, he glared at me, talked under his breath, grunted and complained. He drove recklessly, and when we arrived reported that he didn’t have change, just “pay me my $5.00 and get out!” While this example illustrates many non-customer focused behaviours, I want to make the point that our demeanour in every second of contact is critical to the overall experience. Many times I find myself coming face-to-face with a service representative who looks like the world has come to an end. Hey, if you don’t want to deal with people please don’t enter the service industry. First impressions are lasting and help us form our impression of the entire business, not just the individual in front of us.
#7: I’M NOT YOUR PEER, I AM YOUR CUSTOMER
I was recently on a flight, waiting in line for the washroom. The flight attendant was shuffling empty pop cans around, and was very friendly – she immediately smiled and asked how I was doing. That’s great, and you might be asking what she did wrong? It was how she interacted with me after I politely (and with genuine interest) responded by asking her how she was doing. She proceeded to tell me how she just wasn’t into work yet at this point. She was hoping to get “into it” soon, but this flight was an extra booking she had taken, and was part of her schedule to be flying for the next 36 hours. Oh well, the money is great and that is what it is all about. WRONG. In my perspective as a customer, it is all about providing service to the many individuals who have paid to take your flight today. In my opinion, her attempt at interacting with me on a personal level went just a bit far. It is great that you are well paid in your job, but please engage me in conversation that is relevant to me, or maybe to what my experience has been like so far. Interactions are key to customer experiences, we have to communicate with each other and it doesn’t always have to be just business. Please use judgement in what you are sharing with your customers.
#8: BEFORE YOU SAY THAT TO ME, TRY PUTTING “INSERT NAME OF SOMEONE YOU LOVE” AT THE END OF IT
While words are not the most important component of a communication message (body language and tone elements say more to the customer than the words you actually choose), they are still one of the three components, and need to be thought out before expressed. The biggest source of dissatisfaction may not come from having to say “no”, or the fact that you do have a policy and for the customer’s best interest you need to stick to policy. The biggest source is when you choose negative words, period (no options, no explanation). Here are some examples – try to say them out loud and see how you feel (it is like someone is putting their hand out and turning away, closing the door). For fun, try to put the name of someone you really care about at the end and see what happens.
That’s not my job.
It’s our policy.
I can’t do that.
I won’t do that.
You can’t do that.
We don’t accept returns without a receipt.
You have to…
It doesn’t work that way.
#9: ARE YOU DISCIPLINING YOUR EMPLOYEE IN FRONT OF ME?
How uncomfortable and inappropriate is this one. “Coaching” (and I use this term very loosely”) in front of your customers. This is one that I have been surprised to experience, and to hear that others are experiencing as well. It is also more than a friendly reminder, or a gentle nudge. What has happened is downright yelling, voices raised arguing. When an employee has done something he or she should not have, the time and place to COACH, not talk down to, punish or argue, is away from customers after the interaction.
#10: TALK TO ME IN A LANGUAGE I UNDERSTAND.
Sometimes I wonder if the employee is speaking a different language (when we are both speaking English). This one reminds us that if we can’t interact where both parties understand the other, we won’t get far in our interaction. How do we speak a different language? Some simple ways are: speaking too fast so all of your words seem to string together, speaking too softly so I can’t hear you, using technical terms and company jargon that I don’t understand. Be careful with accents. If you have a dialect or accent, you may need to slow down a bit so the customer can understand what you are saying. I recently had an experience as a customer where we were having a window in our door replaced. The employee was very nice, he was very professional, but when he was finished and was trying to explain that in the process of inserting the new window the door had been cracked he lost me. Based on an accent and very fast paced speech, he rambled on trying to explain to me what had happened and what would be done about it (both very good service behaviours). The challenge was, I didn’t get any of it. I had to resort to asking questions about what I thought he was saying, pointing and using gestures and affirming my understanding through his head nods in response. Communication is critical to the experience, without it there isn’t an interaction. Please be cautious about what you are saying and how you are saying it so you aren’t leaving your customers confused and frustrated.
#11: DON’T ASK ME TWICE
Technology has offered businesses opportunities to enable greater service options to customers. We can email, use voice automation to get to the department we are looking for, try products on your website, talk to your online “robots” for help, click on “chat with a representative now” and get a live human right off of the website, download one of your pod casts, the list goes on and on. I am a strong proponent of technology as an enabler (not a driver) of customer service, when it is designed and implemented with the customer in mind. One area that is of great frustration (it may not be enough to lose a customer) is IVR technology (you know, press one for this, 2 for that), which asks you to provide some piece of personal information before you are connected to a live human. It is not having to provide that personal piece of information that is frustrating, it is then having to repeat it again for the person on the phone. Why are we asking customers to put in key data that is supposed to make their call more expedient when we are either not using, or actually don’t have access to what they entered? What was put into place under the presumption that it will help the customer, is actually creating a barrier and frustration. Ask yourself – do you have any technologies that have been set up this way? If yes, can you change the business practice or redesign the technology to start using the information? If you can’t, why are you asking for the information?
#12: DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT ME TO THE NEXT PERSON IN LINE
This one comes from a personal experience. Last summer we were on a family road trip and stopped at a fast food restaurant for a quick bite en route. We were with another family, and so my husband was the first to order and his friend was right behind him. My husband was trying to order combos, and the employee serving him was having a challenge understanding what it was he wanted. A few words passed between them (nothing harsh) and in the end they collectively figured it out. The problem happened after this. My husband moved to the side to wait for his order, and his friend stepped up to the counter. The employee proceeded to verbally complain about my husband and how unclear he had been, etc. etc. We were shocked at the lack of common sense portrayed by the employee. Whether or not the employee was debriefing to our friend or to a total stranger, it is completely inappropriate and unprofessional to ever complain about a customer to another customer. If someone has frustrated you, be very cautious about when and where you discuss it – you don’t want to risk being overheard, as customers will form an impression of your business based on your behaviour.
#13: WERE YOU TRYING TO RECOVER FROM THAT PROBLEM OR JUST MAKE IT WORSE?
The first rule of thumb: every company will not be perfect, mistakes will be made and problems will occur. The key to any problem solving strategy is appropriate recovery (right the wrong) and then ideally offer a viable restitution strategy (do something extra). Here is a personal example of a recovery strategy gone wrong. It is again a restaurant story and occurred last year in Osoyoos, BC at a family restaurant. My dinner came out burned (they had tried to cover it up by putting the burned toast facing the centre of my sandwich versus being the outside layer of bread). The cover up didn’t work, and I politely ate what I could and then identified to the waitress that it really was not edible. She did a great job of saying sorry and an even better job of offering me two options to recover from the problem. One was a gift certificate to be used towards a future visit or a percentage off of the current bill. As I don’t live in Osoyoos and may never have been back, I chose the percentage off. When the bill arrived, she had taken $1 off. This represented about 1% of the sandwich cost, and I felt that I had been slapped in the face. In business, we should spend time identifying what we can and should do in the moment when a problem arises. The faster we can rectify the problem and leave the customer satisfied, the greater the chances of having a loyal customer. The caution and learning from my tale – do not inadvertently “slap your customer when he is down”.
#14: YOU SHOULD HAVE SPENT MORE TIME CARING ABOUT ME WHEN YOU HAD ME AS A CUSTOMER
I know that for many businesses where I am a customer, I am probably one out of thousands. This means that I am probably just a number, and maybe my business doesn’t matter so much in the overall scheme of things. Here is something to consider. How much does your business spend on attracting new customers versus keeping your existing ones? You may need to ask this question via a couple of different business units, as retention and customer care roles are often different than sales and attraction. I recently changed my phone provider and am now getting more calls to win me back than I ever did when I was already theirs. It is easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one, but I often find that this isn’t reflective of how businesses are set up. What do you do to attract new people, and what MORE do you do to keep the ones you have, happy?
#15: PLEASE DON’T TREAT ME LIKE I CAN’T AFFORD WHAT YOU SELL
Do you ever judge a customer in the first few seconds of contact based on how they look or sound? If you do (and I am sure we are all guilty of it at one point or another), this one is for you. We were in the market for a piece of furniture, and so on a Saturday afternoon off we went. One particular store I went into was slightly higher end. I entered the store and was able to walk through it in its’ entirety without any of the employees (there was a team of them and they were not all busy with other customers) even acknowledging my presence. In fact, they looked up briefly from the desk and then proceeded to continue on with whatever they were doing. No hello, no ask if I needed help or what I might have been looking for. This is rude service, however here comes what I believe was the reason for the poor service. I was in sweat pants, with my hair in a ball cap, no makeup (you are getting the picture). I didn’t look like I could afford what they were selling, and I believe this was the reason why I was snubbed. After all, why would we waste our time on someone who can’t buy anything anyways? The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” holds true in customer service.
#16: IF I AM UPSET ABOUT SOMETHING, AND WILLING TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT, PLEASE DON’T DIRECT ME TO A COMMENT CARD
We want our customers to share their concerns with us, as this provides us with feedback about what we aren’t doing to meet/exceed their expectations. We may encourage their feedback through surveys, opportunities to post feedback via our websites, or using comment card/suggestion boxes in our physical locations. There is nothing wrong with any of these mediums. The frustration comes when you have an upset customer who is standing right in front of you trying to share their concerns, and you direct them to write it down. While it may be important to have it written down as a component to your follow up process, it is not the customers’ responsibility to do this when they are already talking to you. It is your responsibility to scribe what they say, on their behalf, and then forward it to the appropriate person (s).
#17: AFTER I HAVE POLITELY SAID “NO THANK YOU” THREE TIMES, DROP DOWN TO THE LINE IN YOUR SCRIPT WHERE YOU THANK THE CUSTOMER AND CLOSE THE CONVERSATION
I will again use a personal story to illustrate this point, and will also identify up front that my point is from the perspective of customer service, not necessarily the best strategies to close a sale when it comes to telemarketing. I have no problem being contacted by a telemarketer wanting to identify a new product or service I may be interested in, or is looking for a financial donation, etc. The issue comes in the script. When you have provided your pitch to the customer and the customer says no, please recognize it as “not interested”. Okay, you might try one more slant, but in my personal experiences I get extremely frustrated when I politely decline and you continue to try every angle. I became so frustrated in one circumstance that after saying no at least three times, I finally politely responded with, “please drop down to the point in your script where the customer has said no and really means it”. The person on the other end was evidently surprised by my question, but the point hit home and the call was closed. Please remember that if you are calling a customer to sell something, you still need to identify and be aware of my needs. You don’t want to end a contact with my vowing to never do business with you because you aggressively wouldn’t accept my no thank you.
#18: ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS REALLY LISTENING TO YOUR VOICE RECORDED SALES PITCH?
Technology now enables companies to push-out voice recorded sales pitches to your phone. You have probably experienced this yourself at least once. You answer the phone and are greeted with a voice recording. The technology is supposed to provide a viable medium to communicate with potential customers, in a more cost effective manner than humans making the calls. Ask yourself (and ask your circle of influence): how many times do you listen through the recording versus simply hanging up? Is this helping or hindering your business? How might your customers be feeling when they perceive another point of human contact removed? How can we create loyalty with voice recordings?
#19: WASHROOMS ARE FOR CUSTOMER USE ONLY
What kinds of signs do you have in your business? Take a close look and ask yourself, what kind of message are they sending to your customers (actual or potential)? Nothing frustrates me more than seeing “washrooms are for customer use only” signage and it is for this reason. If I (or someone else) are trying to use your washroom, it is because we are in need of the facilities. As a parent, I have often found myself in need of finding the nearest facility quickly. I have also been told I cannot use the washrooms unless I purchase something. This has left me leaving the store and going elsewhere, and vowing not to return. So take a close look at your signage. Are your words and the message you are portraying one of welcome or a harsh barrier? What is the real intent behind your message? In the case of the “washrooms are for customer use only”, you never know – I might only be using your washroom today, but may end up being one of your most valuable customers in the future. How you transact with your customers today will influence any future interactions.
#20: TAKE MY CONCERNS SERIOUSLY
Blogs, YouTube, My Space, PowerPoint presentations, full websites dedicated to the cause. Customers who feel they have not been listened to by companies, or feel they have been wronged are now armed with greater mediums to voice their complaints. Now the opportunity to tell others is not restricted to word of mouth and whom you know. Customers can very quickly launch a video, write a blog and make it available to thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people. Your company may be getting free negative advertising that you don’t even know about, because of a situation that occurred which left the customer frustrated and angry. We have included this in our 50 Ways to Lose Customers, as we think it is important to remember the power of referrals (for the good or the bad), and the potential loss of business you might experience if you are not listening to your customers.
#21: I AM FEELING NEGLECTED & IGNORED
In any job related to customer service, we are responsible for more than just serving the actual customer. We might have paperwork, shelves to stock, phones to answer, cleaning, etc. These tasks are important and they relate to the customer having a great experience, and the business continuing to operate effectively. What drives customers crazy is when these tasks are chosen over them. If you are on the phone with a customer and someone is standing in front of you at the counter waiting for service, don’t drop the person on the phone, but don’t ignore the person at the counter either. Manage the customer’s perception of the situation. Make eye contact, smile, and perhaps even a non-verbal gesture indicating you will be right with them. If you are busy with paperwork or stocking shelves and customers are waiting for service, this is a no brainer. Stop what you are doing and serve the customer.
#22: RUDENESS ISN’T A RECOVERY STRATEGY
Years ago we were in Ainsworth BC at a nice restaurant with friends and our young children. All of the dinners arrived except mine. At this point there was no problem, the waitress indicated she had forgotten and went back to the kitchen. It is important to note that I was with young children, and if you have dined with the young you know your window of opportunity to eat and leave before boredom sets in is small. When everyone was finished dinner, mine arrived. I ate quickly but anticipated that in a nicer restaurant there may have been training provided on how to recover when you make a mistake. The bill arrived and nothing had been taken off, there was no indication of a free dessert either. Basically there was no attempt to recover from their mistake. So I politely proceeded to identify that I had expected to see something come off of the bill. This is where it really surprised me. I not only got a “no” but I also was told in no uncertain way by the waitress that if she took money off the bill, it was going to cut right into her own proceeds. Are you kidding me? Well she got what she was trying to avoid. Zero tip, and an angry customer who is happy to share her experience with others.
#23: ARE YOU POINTING THE CUSTOMER RIGHT OUT THE DOOR?
I believe that when customers are looking for something they will try to find it themselves before asking for help. This relates to products in your retail store or directions. When a customer approaches you needing help to find something, how do you respond? Many times, the reaction we receive as customers is obvious irritation or the infamous finger point coupled with some verbal cues. If a customer is trying to find something, chances are they might be interested in buying it. Unless you absolutely cannot leave where you are standing, walk the customer yourself. Chances are, if a customer is left on their own and gets frustrated, you will have succeeded in finger pointing them right out the door.
#24: WERE YOU HIRED FOR THAT BAD ATTITUDE?
If you hate providing customer service, please get out of the service industry. It is not okay for customers to have to deal with negative attitudes, employees who treat us like we are an interruption to their personal conversations, who are uninterested and unmotivated to want to help us – even if they are warm bodies filling a job. How would you feel if you went to Disneyland and Cinderella snarled at you, or Goofy ran away when he saw you coming? It might seem silly, but the Disney experience is just that because of how they have defined, trained and expected their end-to-end experience to be executed by all employees.