It’s been often said, “it’s the little things that count.” I look at this idea a little different in that the return on investment for doing the little things in service yield multiple times the investment in time and sometimes take no time at all!
Here are a few examples of personal experiences that either made or failed to make the most of small opportunities that could have made a big difference.
While at Ring’s End hardware, I was purchasing a handle for a pocket door. Now Ring’s End is known for having better products and service. The sales guy was very helpful and patient in helping me pick out the right hardware. And like a good service representative gave me a tip about installing the handle. He said the screws have a tendency to strip so he suggested that I buy and use better screws instead of the ones provided in with the handle. I thought that was really helpful and not the kind of tip you’d get from a Home Depot experience. Although I appreciated the tip and anyone who has stripped a screw half way through completion knows how aggravating it is, I felt like he stopped short of excellent service. I’m thinking this is a hardware store, why not go get the screws instead of suggesting I get them. Everyone knows how much time it takes to get the right screw for the job. Better yet, go get them and don’t charge me. How much would 2 screws possibly cost? 25 cents? 50 cents?
What is the return on investment of his time? How would I have felt if he went the extra step and not only got them but didn’t charge me? At Fabricare we encourage CCR’s (customer care reps) to “keep going” with a service idea. Don’t stop at the suggestion, do it for the customer. Here’s a good example of this:
I had a lunch scheduled at Barcelona restaurant in downtown Stamford where parking is often a challenge. I needed change for the meter so I gave the hostess a dollar. She didn’t only come back with 4 quarters, she came back with 8 saying she thought I might need more time. Wow! A dollar on the house and I haven’t even sat down to eat yet. Is the restaurant going to make that up from me with a tip or when I come back again or recommend someone? You bet. It wasn’t until later that I found out the restaurant didn’t have change for a dollar and the hostess had to go across the street to the convenient store for the change. Wow again! Return on investment? I’d say that one dollar on the house and the effort made by the hostess impressed me enough to write about it and tell others (as well as gladly give a good tip the waitress).
One more story: My friend and I like to grab breakfast after a long Sunday run. We were at this one restaurant sitting at the bar before lunch. The waitress gave us the lunch menus and as the two of us looked them over we saw a waitress off-duty eating an egg sandwich the chef made for her. When we asked the waitress for one of those because we weren’t really feeling like lunch, she said no, “it’s not on the menu.” Really I thought? You just made a sandwich for a non-paying employee but you can’t do it for customers? Return on investment? Or, cost of not investing in the effort? It’s amazing how often service employees say no to things that take no effort and have a big upside. What’s the cost of 4 quarters vs saying “you can get some change across the street.” How hard is it to make an egg sandwich for a restaurant?
What’s an example of a little thing you can do that yields a big return on customer satisfaction? What small act of kindness will touch your customer and make his day?
These blog ideas start from personal experiences either good or bad (although as I type this, I’m realizing I don’t think I’ve written on many positive experiences. I’ll have to make a point of doing a great experience for the next one!). My goal is not to just write about the experience but to find what’s at its core and how it could be shared and made into a positive concept that can be replicated. I usually don’t know what the transferrable lesson will be until I go through the exercise of writing about it. Often, I find that the lesson lies in one of the 11 concepts written about in the first blog, which can be read here: www.fabservice.net/blog/giving-fab-service
With that thought in mind, a recent experience I had at my favorite pizza joint was relatable to other experiences I’ve had in and outside my businesses, and I think we can all relate.
The evening started out great with a very friendly waitress engaging in conversation which always makes dining out more enjoyable. Keep in mind, this is a pizza place so expectations aren’t very high. We placed our order and then waited for the pizza. And waited…and waited…and waited..and waited…
What does our friendly waitress do while we look around for her?
She doesn’t come over and explain why it’s taking so long or offer to apologize. Instead, she avoids us, assuming (correctly) that we are not happy waiting an inordinate amount of time for pizza which is the only thing they serve!
As I thought about this concept of hiding, it reminded me of 2 funny experiences outside my business which I’ll try to describe briefly.
Hiding from conflict
The first was my neighbor’s young daughter, Mary C, who was a young high schooler and working at a local bagel shop. It was just an outlet and the bagels were made elsewhere so there was a limited supply. One busy Sunday morning, they ran out of bagels early and Mary C. didn’t know what to do so she hid beneath the counter. The door was open so customers came in and looked all around but didn’t see Mary C. hiding behind the counter (not much different from the waitress at the pizza place).
Another story was about a girl I knew in college and who was a waitress at a fancy restaurant. One night while she was still in training, she had an uppity couple who ordered some fancy drinks. For some reason, the drink order got lost and they sat there waiting. When the drinks were finally ready, Becky rushes to get them to the customers and spilled the drinks on the well dressed customers! Horrified, she goes into the kitchen and hides telling her manager she can’t take this job. The experienced manager talks her off the ledge and having seen this sort of thing before coaches her to go back out there and say “and now for my encore…” and give them the drinks for free.
“And now for my encore…”
Becky goes back to the front line, says the line her manager taught her “and now for my encore…” and as she’s saying this, felt a sneeze coming on and turns her back to the customers. Trying not to spill the drinks and hold the sneeze in at the same time causes poor Becky to flagellate loudly in her customer’s face! (true story!)
I think we all agree, Becky deserved the night off after that! However, her manager had it right. In service, you need to find a way through difficult situations and win the customer over. Most people are understanding if you talk to them, explain the situation, AND give them something to show you care.
At Fabricare, we’ve learned that our most loyal customers are the ones where we’ve had some kind of problem and handled it beyond their expectations. Heck, if there weren’t any problems in business, customer service would be easy and every business would be great.
I’ll end this with a little trivia. What’s the most common command in the bible?
“Be not afraid.” (or some version of it)
If it’s used hundreds of times in the most popular book ever sold, it’s good enough for customer service as well!
“I hate that jacket.”
That was the phrase that created the highest sale of the week at a local J. Crew store. My daughter Natalie, who says it like she sees it and recently started working at J. Crew, said that as an opening line to a customer who was trying on a jacket.
What happened to “can I help you?” Or, “are you buying for yourself or someone else?”
What happened (unintentionally) was that Natalie was being shockingly honest and as a result created a feeling of trust between her and the customer. Once that trust was created, the customer took her advice on many, many more items and had a fun (and expensive!) shopping experience at J. Crew.
Building trust in the dry cleaning business is sometimes difficult as it ranks pretty low on the scale of ‘trust in industries.’ This is especially true when you have a problem or a complaint which happens more often in dry cleaning than in many other industries.
There are two reasons. The first is because dry cleaners are dealing with damaged goods – people wear clothes, spill things on themselves, snag the fabric, etc. The second reason is that manufacturers don’t always make clothes for cleaning. That’s right. By law, (Federal Trade Commission), clothing manufacturers are required to put a care label instructing the consumer how it should be cleaned. They often don’t take this seriously as you can see in the image below that shows an actual care label!
But guess who’s blamed when it shrinks, pills, loses color, etc (the list goes on and on…!)?
The reason I like writing this blog is not to be defensive but because it makes me think of the how’s and why’s of customer service and what’s behind ideas like “trust.” As I think of this idea for the dry cleaning business, I realize how many systems we’ve developed to not only help create trust but to defend against costly claims.
Here’s just one example: Bar codes.
At Fabricare, we bar code every item that comes in for a customer. This bar code identifies the item, the brand, the type of garment, the color, any notes about its condition and how many times it’s been cleaned. This process not only ensures the correctness of the order, it helps in discussing any issue the customer has with the service of the piece.
For example, a man may not realize how old his shirt is when it starts to show wear. The elbow is one area that wears out first and sometimes creates a hole that the customer thinks was caused by the cleaning process (of course!).
Now, here’s the opportunity to either create trust or embarrass the customer. Most customers don’t know we have this information from a little bar code. If we communicate the number of times it’s been cleaned and the age of the shirt in a way that alienates the customer, it could backfire and cause him to feel defensive or embarrassed.
So, just saying like it is as Natalie did is a good way to handle these kinds of things as it is being honest. “Hey Mr. XXXX, this shirt has seen better days!” or something like this could make the point in a fun way. Trust through honesty is built over time and something that all customer service businesses should try and build with each and every customer.
With the holidays upon us, it’s a good time of year to talk about gratitude. At Fabricare we just sent out thank you cards to our top customers known as our “Fab Faves.”
What’s a Fab Fave?
Our Fab Faves are our loyal customers who use us far more than the average customer; who are influencers, and/or have been with Fabricare for many, many years. These are the customers who really appreciate our service and who simply “get us.” Whether it’s because of our home delivery service, our Fab App on-demand service or our premium/hand finished services, these are the customers who value us so much that they return every week. They are like family.
So, like family, we send them a holiday card. Each year, we send these out around Thanksgiving because we are truly thankful for their support and loyalty. Like Pareto’s Law, also known as the 80/20 Rule, these few customers represent the lion’s share of our business, and we are very grateful for them. As our thank you card says,
Thank you for choosing us.
Thank you for staying with us.
Thank you for making us better.
Customers have so many of choices for everything. Especially today where everything can be delivered to your doorstep, making business even more competitive. Once a customer tries your service, they then get to make the decision whether to use it again. Another choice and one not to take for granted.
And yes, we even want to thank them for making us better.
At Fabricare, we believe in constantly evolving and improving. Our best customers ask us for special requests that often turn into new ways we do business. When customers couldn’t make our store hours, we opened on Sundays. Then we added a 24-hour drop off option for them. Then, to make it more convenient, we added home delivery & pick up at no additional charge. To make home delivery even easier, we developed an app for on-demand service with the tap of your finger. These are just a few examples that were the result of our customers’ requests, which in turn has helped us evolve into a better service provider and, ultimately, a better business.
So, gratitude has to be a big part of giving Fab Service. Never take anything for granted, especially your faithful customers.
How does a customer go from threatening to call the Better Business Bureau, making negative posts on Facebook and doing whatever she can to defame us, to apologizing an hour later?
I think the short answer is to have the facts on your side.
Even though “perception is often reality,” when push comes to shove, the facts usually win out.
Here are the facts:
A customer brings in a down jacket for cleaning.
The customer notices feather(s?) leaking out upon picking up from cleaners.
Customer blames the dry cleaner.
The cleaner states that this not likely to happen in the cleaning process. But offers full credit for the item if the retailer doesn’t take back.
Fabricare recommends taking it back to the retailer who has a “return if not satisfied” policy.
The Customer’s Reaction
The customer did not like this proposal and as a result left the jacket at the cleaners.
Unbeknownst of the situation, the husband picks up the jacket months later, and brings it home.
This aggravates his wife.
So, she returns to the store and goes ballistic on the new employee.
The owner of the cleaning company calls the customer and states that they can no longer do business with her due to her poor behavior despite the cleaner trying to remedy the situation.
To the customer’s credit, she said she was sorry and actually went back to the store to apologize to the employee who was literally in tears after the incident.
The Moral of the Story
Concept: Good customer service requires good customers.
You can’t give a gift to an ungrateful person. It won’t be well received.
It’s the same with service.
Our Customer Service Policy
At Fabricare, any employee can give an unlimited amount of credit to make a customer happy on the spot.
No management approval necessary.
This rule was made to solve problems quickly and empower the employee. It also assumes almost all customers are reasonable – which, typically, they are.
However, sometimes when customers don’t hear what they want, they get frustrated and become unreasonable.
Problems happen in every business in every industry.
Good businesses work to a resolution in a kind compassionate way while understanding the disappointment and feelings of their customers.
I’m passionate about service.
I enjoy serving others and finding ways to make their experience more enjoyable. I also appreciate good service and am truly grateful when it’s exceptional.
I started this blog with the goal of helping to create a culture of exceptional service in our organization.
The thinking was simple.
By starting a conversation about service that takes place in and outside our businesses, our team would get the fundamentals as well as the nuances of service.
The Definition of Service is Not the Same for Everyone
The first realization I had was that good service (let alone “exceptional”) varies from individual to individual.
For many employees, the definition of good service is just handing a customer their order.
The Best Way to Communicate with the Team
The next thing I realized was that getting them to read and respond to the monthly blog wasn’t working either.
The lofty ideal of getting team members to respond to blog posts with their own experiences was next to impossible.
Creating a Great Culture of Service is the Goal
So here we are writing our 6th post and I’m realizing that creating a culture of great service is going to be a journey that will be a learning process for all of us.
The hope is to uncover the secrets of great service and then build the culture around them.
More importantly, the goal is to have everyone on the team bring their ideas to the conversation of what we all can do to improve service.
The 3 R’s of Building a Culture of Fab Service
As such, we are instituting the 3 R’s of building a culture of Fab Service through the Fab Blog.
First – Read the blog.
Second – Relate the post either through service you’ve given or received.
Third- Respond so that we all can share.
The blog can’t be passive for this to work so we’re implementing the 3 R’s above.
We are also going to meet monthly and discuss the most recent blog.
This is the Plan
Because it’s too difficult to get everyone in one place at the same time, we are going to start with just the managers and get them to spread the word.
We will begin this process this month so stay tuned for the results and PLEASE give your feedback on any thoughts you have on the subject!
When I sat down to grab a bite before a flight, my table was complete with an iPad and credit card scanner.
Being a service geek, thoughts of how good this would be raced through my mind. I will select what I want from the menu on the iPad, the order will go to the kitchen without mistakes, somehow come back to me and I would pay when ready then catch my flight on time.
The future is here!
AlmosT, But Not Exactly
Well, even though it didn’t work that way and there were some glitches, I questioned if this was the future.
I wanted the veggie sandwich without cheese and there was no option for variations on the menu so I had to ask the waitress or whatever she was. There were other executional issues that I thought could easily be worked out but I still questioned if this was better.
So, I asked my 18 year old daughter who is pretty pragmatic and of the next generation who would easily accept ordering food electronically.
Did she think that this was the way of the future?
She replied yes – except for service in better restaurants.
When I asked her why she said because you’d be missing out on the experience.
How Human Interaction Adds to the “Experience”
Hmmmm. I thought to myself, “what experience does the waiter or waitress bring to a nice dinner?”
It got me thinking of the better restaurant experiences I’ve had and I was hard pressed to come up with many.
A good waiter or waitress would be able to recommend a type of dish but then, so could an iPad with a good program.
Good service would make sure my food and order was satisfactory but that could also be done through a text to the kitchen. “Hey chef, this veggie sandwich has cheese and I ordered it without!”
There must be something more that a service brings to the table or why would my daughter say that?
Is it the human connection?
Would a nice dinner be less special if it was just about the food and company? Is it special because someone is “serving” us? If that’s at the heart of a special dinner, then that puts some pressure on that service person to make it…”special”.
Otherwise, the iPad wins!
What Makes It Qualify as GOOD Customer Service?
So let’s dissect what good server brings to our dining experience.
On my trip (which started with the airport sandwich) I dined out for the 3 nites I was in North Carolina.
My family went to a variety of restaurants none of which were very upscale but all had waiters or waitresses so my iPad experience was at the top of my mind.
While out for our first dinner, the waitress couldn’t have been friendlier or more passionate about the menu. She helped us decide on some of the dishes. When we had trouble deciding on what dessert to share she gave us 2 (one of them was on her!).
Could all of this been done electronically?
It’s the Connection That Matters
But, in trying to be objective, I truly believe the waitress added to the experience and connected with all of us.
I guess the question is “what if she didn’t provide that experience?” Or worse, what if she provided poor service making the experience worse?
Not to over analyze this but I think technology poses some interesting questions about our future in many businesses.
When it comes to the service industry, I think the issues are the same in that you have to be good.
You have to provide that “experience” that customers are looking for or be the victim of an iPad, or your closest competitor!
Do you feel that technology can replace human interaction?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
You could say that pulling a paying customer out of his seat and dragging him off the plane is the ultimate in bad customer service.
Obviously, United Airlines is addressing this in more ways than one. (An impending lawsuit will do that – which was settled out of court.)
But what caused this to get so out of hand? How could this have been prevented? What’s the absolute worst occurrence that could happen in your organization that can be compared to United’s debacle – and how can you avoid it?
Clearly, there are more questions than answers in this case but still worth reviewing.
Just one instance of bad customer service can ruin your business.
11 Core Customer Service Principles
In our first post, we listed 11 concepts borrowed from some of the best minds in service.
- The answer is yes. What’s your question? – Ritz Carlton
- Find out what the customer wants and give it to them. – Zingermans
- A person’s name is their favorite word. – Dale Carnegie
- “My pleasure” vs “No problem.” – Southern Hospitality
- A great smile opens all doors – anonymous
- Giving someone time is the most valuable thing you can give. Don’t waste it! – Dale Carnegie
- It is better to serve than receive-The Bible (and in tennis)
- Find ways to “surprise and delight.” – Luxury Marketing Council
- Don’t think of it as great customer service, think of it as hospitality. – Dan Meyer
- Be more interested in finding out about others than telling about yourself. – Dale Carnegie
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. – Bible and Colonel Littleton Luggage
But providing what we think of as good customer service is not enough.
We must also know …
How to Measure Customer Service
Through measuring service, we learned that poor service boils down to problems with either the system, the employee or management.
Often, it’s not the employee but the system or training of that system which is management’s role.
What United Airlines Could Have Done Differently
Would the United employee have dragged the poor doctor out of his seat if there was a different system in place?
Have a Really Great Plan “A”
For example, if United’s system was to increase the incentive for passengers to give up their seats, could this have been prevented?
As they say, there’s a price for everything. Maybe one night in a cheap hotel and a free ticket is not enough.
What happens if they increased the incentive and still no takers?
But Make Sure You Have a Plan “B”
Then you have the same situation unless there’s a back up to the incentive.
There needs to be a system or process for that and employees need to be trained on it.
I don’t know what systematic options airlines have, but it obviously needs review.
What If TheY Applied Our Customer Service “Concepts”?
I’m wondering if training on our service “concepts” would have, could have, prevented this awful situation.
Let’s test it.
Imagine This Conversation
United: “The answer is yes. What’s your question?”
Customer: “…….I’d like to stay in the seat I paid for thank you very much.”
United: “Find out what the customer wants and give it to them.”
Customer: “I need to get home to service my patients.”
This conversation embodies our top two concepts.
An organization has to make a decision to be customer centric in order to make improvements toward that end.
Could these concepts be stronger than systems or lack of systems?
After reading the response from United’s CEO, it seems clear he is actually blaming the customer – instead of recognizing cracks in their own system!
He supported his employees in following “procedure” so this incident or something like it was inevitable.
So what can we learn from this?
“Bad systems can break a good employee” so we need to be sure about our systems and train our people on those systems.
When the system, as in this case, doesn’t seem right, you should be able to fall back on your core values or concepts that your organization embraces and do the right by your customers.
Everyone needs to be customer centric.
Although this is an example of an extreme case, we should pause to think of what could cause your organization to completely ignore the customer’s rights.
Leave a comment below and tell us if you think a situation like this could happen in your organization. What can you do now to prevent it?
One customer service technique that we learned from Zingerman’s customer service training is the use of a Code Red or Code Green scoring system.
Very simply, any negative (or positive) customer feedback gets recorded and reviewed. Even though this system is more qualitative than quantitative because it relies on participation from customers and employees, we have learned that it is incredibly helpful nonetheless.
The Most Important Source of Feedback Is …
Obviously, data should be gathered from Yelp, Google, Facebook or any other reporting mechanisms that are already out in the marketplace. However, online reviews for most businesses are infrequent.
The most valuable feedback comes from the staff that deals with customer issues every single day.
Gaining the participation of all employees in the service or operational part of the business is essential to the success of this customer service system.
We’ve discovered that it is even more meaningful to report on issues that have the potential to affect the customer negatively even if it’s corrected beforehand.
Code Reds Can Be Internal
For example, in the dry cleaning business, it’s important to check the pockets of garments before cleaning. A pen or lipstick can ruin a whole load of clothes.
This is the job of the person invoicing the clothes.
If the cleaner catches something in the pocket before cleaning, he issues a code red even though the customer doesn’t know anything about it.
Code Reds Can Affect Customers
Code Reds that affect customers are also recorded with an important next step which is to resolve it with the customer.
Let’s say a customer’s order is gets done late after he has already come to pick it up. It’s not good enough to just wait until he comes in again to pick up his order.
This customer is probably upset that we didn’t hold up our end of the agreement and have the clothes done on time.
A better customer service approach is to take preemptive action. An employee should call the customer, offer to deliver the order, and give a gift certificate or something to compensate for the delay.
Which is why you should always …
Turn a Code Red Into a Code Green
Code Reds not only need to be fixed internally, they need to get resolved with the customer as well.
This step is often forgotten as the employee wants to avoid the customer and the issue yet it is the most important part of the process.
And, if done correctly, Code Red’s can often be turned into Code Greens.
Most people know that problems happen.
How you handle these problems makes all the difference between a great company and the rest of the crowd.
Following up when you screw up means you care.
And the silver lining:
You Can Turn A Mistake Into An Opportunity
Hopefully, you’re in a business where things go smoothly most of the time. But, when things are going well, there is usually little opportunity to interact with busy customers.
Problems and issues give you face time with your clients. Take advantage of the mistake, go above and beyond, and look at the experience as an opportunity to connect with your client on a personal level.
What have we learned from our Code Red/Code Green system?
Problems come from 3 areas –
Management’s first instinct is to blame the employee, but he’s rarely the root cause.
Good service starts with a good system then good training of that system. When you break down the mistakes you’ll often realize there hasn’t been adequate training and that’s management’s job.
Consequently….Code Reds provide training opportunities. Even the best training manuals can’t cover every situation. Code Reds provide for an on-going training program throughout the organization.
Problems that are handled well allow for businesses to build customer relationships.
All employees should participate in Zingerman’s customer service system, not just customer service staff. Engaging everyone on issues that touch the customer is a great way to build a culture of service.
Part of great customer service is dealing with customer complaints – unless you don’t have any (yea right!?).
What business doesn’t have a problem or “misunderstanding” from time to time?
In the dry cleaning industry, you get a lot of practice at problem-solving. Industry statistics show that 90% of the problems are either a result of the customer or the manufacturer.
Not to sound defensive, but think about it. Except for the bigger manufacturers, clothiers often don’t have the resources to test garments for how they hold up in cleaning. As a result, you get shrinkage, dye bleeds and a host of other problems. Add to that, customers spill things on their clothes, rub up against objects as well as just wear their clothes out in the real world and cleaners are expected to make the clothes look new again.
Why Your Natural Instincts Won’t Solve the Problem
So what happens when a customer is upset and complains?
The natural reaction is for the customer care representative to feel bad but not know what to say. They feel like their business failed and they feel disappointed for the customer.
Usually, this reaction is one of awkward silence as a result of not knowing what to say. So, the customer goes on to further their case by finding other things to complain about.
Becoming Defensive Won’t Help the Situation Either
There’s plenty written on how to handle complaints but here are some tips from personal experience.
My first approach to this was to teach our staff how to respond to every problem (mostly from a defensive perspective).
- Broken buttons? – “Every shirt has 10 buttons and we process 6,000 shirts/week so that’s 60,000 buttons. We’re bound to miss one every now and then.”
- Missing an item? – “we barcode every piece and can confirm without a doubt that we’ve returned every piece to you.”
We had over 6 pages of these kinds of responses which no one could remember.
But then I heard this …
A Customer Service Approach That Works Wonders
One day I heard Claudine, a new employee, handle a customer complaint. After the customer made her emotional complaint, Claudine repeated the complaint back to her without hesitation. “You didn’t get your favorite blouse back with the order?”
Your Customers Want to Be Heard … So Listen To Them
When I overheard the conversation, I was so impressed and made a note to train on this technique to all our customer care representatives.
I later learned this is the same technique recommended in parenting called “emotional attunement.” In parenting (and customer service), it’s important to validate the person’s feeling.
Most people don’t like complaining or feeling frustrated. You need to earnestly try and relate to them before trying to fix the situation.
Customers Don’t Want Systems, They Want to know you understand the problem
At Fabricare, like many businesses, we have great systems in place that were built over the years to protect from mistakes.
It’s easy to go into defensive mode and talk about what our systems tell us.
As effective as these systems may be, it is even more important to LISTEN to the customer and empathize with them, just as Claudine did naturally by repeating the issue.
Listening is the First Step to Solving Customer Complaints
Obviously, this is just the first step towards handling a complaint and each issue will take a different path. But you have a better chance of resolving an issue if you start off the right way.
As we noted in the first blog, good customer service is fundamental in how we treat people.
Listening empathetically is a good practice that we can all practice more frequently.
How Has Listening Helped You Improve Customer Service?
Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.