19 May

Are my customer service expectations too high?

20110519-091817.jpgWhile I don’t travel a tremendous amount, I travel enough that I’m a fairly savvy traveler but not nearly as much as my husband who I’m pretty sure has earned million mile+ status on American.

Stuck in Chicago O’Hare for a 3+ hour layover, I remembered that hubby has an Admiral’s Club membership so I decided to make my way over to enjoy more comfortable digs.

Of course I had no idea of his membership number, but since the lobby was empty I was glad to receive the help in locating account information. The lady helping me was pleasant. Then the travelers started trickling in. There were two attendants at the desk. The lady helping me began to get noticeably frustrated as she couldn’t locate my info and the line was growing.

It’s awkward being in that situation. You feel a little uncomfortable causing the line to form. It makes you feel like you don’t belong there even though you might.

A good customer service representative will prevent these feelings of discomfort from happening, not make you feel more uneasy.

I wasn’t sure if I was on the account (turns out I’m not) but I thought I had every right to find out before either paying for a day pass or adding my name to the account. I had no way of knowing that it would be a time-consuming challenge to retrieve my information.

But the woman started sighing and rolling her eyes. She was visibly annoyed that I was asking her to get this information. Before locating it, she suggested I just buy a $50 day pass. The line was growing…

I felt like everyone in line was looking at me, wondering why I was holding them up!

Finally, she located my info and as I mentioned I’m not on the account. That’s fine, I’m ok with that. I didn’t want to add myself (for an extra $325) without talking to hubby and I was so annoyed by the situation that I didn’t really want to pay the $50. So I didn’t. I felt like I left, walking past the enormous line with my tail between my legs.

What did I expect? I guess I expect not to feel uncomfortable in a customer service transaction. There are plenty of things she could have done to prevent me from feeling this way. Not huffing, puffing and rolling her eyes at me or commenting on how large the line is getting is the first thing that comes to mind.

While I didn’t expect to waltz in there because my husband has so many miles with American or because he is a paying member, I didn’t expect to feel like my inquiry was causing an inconvenience.

I think this woman should look at her job a little closer… It’s to make people feel valued, not like a the police trying to prevent people from trying to sneak into some posh club!

11 Mar

Putting Your Personal Stamp On That Positive Experience

Pet peeve: Business owners that insist on clinging to archaic or poor business practices, and ignoring the important contributor to their success – their customers.  It’s a pretty straight-forward concept – invest in your customers, and they will invest in you.  Unfortunately, in an attempt to grasp that “competitive edge”, sometimes businesses can end up missing the the forest for the tree.  Always ask yourself: What kind of relationship do I have with my customers? How do I make them feel? 

For the past month, my friend and I have been on the hunt for bridesmaid dresses for her upcoming summer wedding.  After visiting a number of boutiques, we ended up at a store where we found a great dress. We were tired of shopping and would have happily put down a deposit, called it day, and gone out for martinis…But we didn’t. We walked out empty-handed and vowed never to return.

Despite having exactly what we wanted, the store was a dank, ugly dungeon. The two employees never smiled once, and looked like they’d rather be somewhere else.  Then, the cherry on top was the store’s bizarre (and I’m pretty sure illegal) policy.  All the labels were cut out of the dresses, and swatches were painstakingly covered so you could not see the designer labels.  The employees told us we were not allowed to know which designer or dress style we were buying, until we have put down a deposit. There were no use in grilling them either, because the only person who holds the codes for decoding this information…is the store owner (who was not present). Obviously, the policy was to ensure that customers don’t try on the dresses in their store, and order them from somewhere else. It certainly has the modern day shopper in mind – internet-savvy and eager to explore all options before committing to buy. I understand having a competitive edge is important, but at what cost? And why choose this to be your edge?

Instead of feeling like we were being provided with a service, I felt like we were engaging in espionage.  I was already tired of dealing with this business, and thinking: do I want to deal with them in the upcoming months? Through the ordering process? Alterations? No at all.

On top of it all, little did the owner realize, with a little research online via a cell phone, I was able to find the information on that dress within minutes. Instead of investing her resources and time on painstakingly removing all the labels, coming up with her own codes, guarding all this information jealously from her employees, why not just invest in a more pleasant store? Better-trained and happier employees? 

Dresses are just dresses, and with oodles of other boutiques offering the exact same product, maybe even at an even lower price, how do you convince your customer to work with you? Why, service, of course. Every moment you (or your employee) interact with a customer, you are placing your personal stamp onto the entire experience for them, something they will not find anywhere else.

Needless to say, we ordered a different dress from another boutique which did just that.

18 Feb

Spring fever and your customers

I woke up yesterday morning, and heard birds chirping outside for the first time in months! It’s been a very long, cold, and dreary winter (not especially dreary, I have to admit, I just say this every year). I’m tired of lumpy sweaters and ugly snow boots, and the return of birds, combined with a sunny day, sent me into an early spring fever.  Another reason for this spring fever? One of my favorite boutiques in the area had recently embraced social media by the way of Facebook.

In the coldest, dreariest months, the last thing on my mind was to go out and shop for pretty clothes since all I wanted to wear were parkas and long-johns, and woolen hats and scarves.  I’ve basically swept this little boutique from my mind, and have not given them a thought until recently when I became a fan of their FB page and started receiving regular updates from the store.  Everyday, they entice me with pictures of gorgeous spring dresses and romantic scarves.  It was too much to resist, and the first day the sun came out, I was there, buying a summer dress I’ve been eyeing on their FB page for days.

One thing that surprised me when I entered the store for the first time in months, was seeing all the beautiful sweaters and cardigans they had leftover from winter.  They were my taste, and I would wear them in a heartbeat.  I had no idea they had these, since I usually only shop there in the summer.  If I had known, I probably would have went in for these sweaters during one of my mid-winter ruts – either to treat myself to something pretty, or to buy them as gifts.

The moral of the story: As a customer, I may not always know you have what I want, or even, at times, I may not remember that you exist.  Especially true in the luxury market, you are not necessarily selling me something I need, so it’s not very likely that I would go out of my way to seek you out.  This is why it is so important to be in contact with your customers, if you want to keep driving traffic to your business, you’ll want to gently (not harass) remind your customers that you’re still on the face of the planet and that you’re still providing a wonderful shopping experience and selection.

Speaking of which, I am currently eyeing a beautiful, embroidered sweater/wrap I saw at the store.  Scratch what I had said earlier about “need” vs “want”…I believe I may need it.

See…you never know what a customer might want until they find it… Make sure they come to you for their needs by staying in touch and letting them know about what you have.

03 Jan

What is Luxury Worth to You?

Belonging is a need we all have as humans. We all want to belong and be part of something that we feel connected to. 

With luxury brands, that sense of belonging is connected to the image that the item conveys to an audience. If I stroll up to you in a G-laden $3,000 Jackie O Gucci bag vs. a pleather bag with no-name – two different impressions may result.

This is not to belittle people for extravagance, but the fact is, that things do say a lot.

People work hard for their money and want to make purchases that somehow assure them that they are buying the best. The best, highest quality, fastest, with most memory, most valuable etc… you don’t have to be rich to identify yourself by the stuff you buy. We all do it.

Here’s the problem. It’s much easier today to buy luxury items than ever before. More people are earning more money and more stores carry luxury items so they’re available more readily (sometimes even at discounts too). Add to that that as the baby boomers enter retirement the Gen X generation isn’t large enough to sustain the Boomer’s level of spending.

What does that mean for the future of luxury and what happens when luxury isn’t as luxurious?

To create luxury, your product or service must offer a high level of perceived value in the mind of your consumer. With availability more readily available, experience plays a bigger role. How someone acquired an item, the service they received and the story they came away with makes up the experience that can elevate the level of luxury. What are you willing to pay more for?

Does your consumer coming away feeling a little more like a VIP? They should.

From the people at every level of the chain – the focus needs to be on making the customer feel special, like a VIP, to create a story of a wonderful experience. That’s the magic formula if you want to appeal to luxury buyers.

Are you taking the necessary steps to provide an experience to your customers?

20 Dec

Customer feedback

If you would like to get a handle on what your customers are saying about you, one great way is to use social media to gather feedback on your brand. It’s actually one of the greatest things about using social media that many small businesses are ignoring; the ability to monitor your brand with Twitter and Facebook is fairly easy.  One way to proactively use social media is to communicate directly with your customer to garner feedback on issues from new product ideas to marketing campaigns. The customer responses you receive can really be valuable information to help you make decisions.

  • Add a poll to your Facebook page
  • Add a survey to your blog or website
  • Post a video
  • Post a question on LinkedIn (great for businesses)
  • Participate in a Twitter chat (How about #jewelrychat every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month from 8-9pm EST?!)

Here’s one way I would not suggest using social media. A few months ago I posted on Twitter (I am @rubymarcom) about how much I loved my new Zoot running shoes. I was pleased and surprised to find a that they had mentioned me later that day. We had brief messages back and forth a few times, it was nice to see that they were paying attention to what people were saying and I appreciated the connection. Fast forward a couple months. I ran a big race and noticed that my shoes had a tear. I took a photograph and tweeted to Zoot that while I love my shoes, there’s a tear and they’re new ones. What do they suggest?

This time they didn’t reply. I sent them a direct message (DM) thinking they hadn’t noticed. Still, no response. It’s been several weeks now and they’ve never replied and frankly, I’m disappointed. I just wanted a response.

Communication using social media is not meant to be a one-way method of communicating.  If you can take the kudos, you need to be able to take the criticism too.

Pay attention to what people are saying about you and reply. You will learn from them and build more loyal customers in the process.

What have you done using social media that you felt was an effective way of gathering customer feedback?

06 Dec

Get Out of Town!

This is an article I wrote for one of my clients (ARMS). It appeared on their blog and in Instore Magazine on April 5, 2010. I think you might find it to be useful.

Many store owners feel strapped to their business and are unable to leave to enjoy the fruits of their labor. One reason for this of course, is that some people are not managing the funds they have open to buy and then over buy and put themselves in a financial pitch where they’re paying for less employees hours and as a result, spending more time at the store. For this you need to get a better handle on your inventory and take control of your store. Your investments will pay out with more financial freedom.

Then there’s the owners that made the investment into an inventory control system that has fended off financial woes, through sheer management of inventory and better buying. These people get to go on vacation.

When you head to surf and sun, you leave the office behind and relax. Forget about those nagging customers, you have nagging children or grandchildren to worry about!

Well, not quite. If you recall, marketing is how we interact with our customers. It’s both making the sale and proving customer service afterwards that enables us to retain existing customers and gain referrals.

I was making calls to some clients and received a lot of  “out of office” messages and email replies. It’s annoying. It seems kind of rude and impersonal…and I’m not a client who might have just dropped a chunk of change on a gift!

Here’s why. I want attention when I call. Sure, I know you, even my favorite jewelry store owners go on vacation – you should, you deserve it, you worked for it. But,…my problem or question is (in my mind) important and warrants attention NOW. So an impersonal message, quite frankly makes me feel slighted.

I know you think I’m being a little selfish, but how do you think a customer feels?

All I’m suggesting is that you leave an away message that makes me feel like you care – like I matter to you. It’s more courteous and friendly and it’ll make me feel like a priority even when I know you’ll be relaxing in the sand.

Here’s a message that wouldn’t make me feel dejected if I called you:

“Hello. I appreciate your call, unfortunately I am out of the office for the next five business days, and will return on April 15, 2010. Your call is important to me, so in my absence my associate Susan Strang will be taking care of all of your needs. You may reach her via email at susan@yahoo.com or by calling her directly at 555.555.1212. Please know that while I’m away you will be taken care of in a timely and efficient manner. Thank you for your understanding and I will follow up upon my return to ensure your satisfaction.”

Now that would make me feel like a happier customer.