Tag Archives: customer service

FAB Christmas

Aren’t the holidays about giving?

What’s it like to give the perfect gift or get the perfect gift?  

Growing up in a big family and because it was costly to buy everyone a gift, our family practiced what we called Kris Kringle which went like this:

On Thanksgiving, we would all pull names out of a hat and that was the person you had to get a gift for.  But there was a twist, you had to do nice things for the person for all the days leading up to Christmas. And, you had to do this secretly since your recipient was not supposed to know who had them as a Kris Kringle.  The sneakiness made it all the more exciting as a child.

You would come home from school and your bed might be made. Or there was your favorite candy bar on your pillow at night. Your chore was somehow done without you doing it.   I remember there was also this feeling of kindness in the house which wasn’t always the case with 8 children!

The tradition continued on Christmas Eve when we would guess who was doing the nice things for us.  Some years it was hard because the person didn’t do much!

Our family tradition continued even when we were married and living in different states.  Gifts arrived anonymously in the mail and the feeling and spirit was the same as when we were all living under the same roof.  Guessing became more difficult since the spouses were included but the fun was the same.

I don’t think this is stretch to connect this to good service.  The feeling you get when doing something for someone else is at the heart of kindness and good service (blog June, 2018).  Or, the feeling you and the receiver gets when you surprise them with something they like is also the same with good service.  In fact, this very idea relates to one of our top service concepts: “surprise and delight.

So, this Christmas season, think of surprising someone you know or even a total stranger with a gift or act of kindness.  I promise you will benefit as well as them.

Happy Holidays!

Hospitality

One of our top 10 service concepts is thinking of service as hospitality like you were entertaining guests in your home. This is how Danny Meyer the great restaurateur thinks of service. I like this concept as it elevates the “service” to more of an art form and one of engagement with a client versus just serving them.

When looking up the word “hospitality” one will find words like…friendliness, hospitableness, warm reception, welcome, helpfulness, neighborliness, warm, kindness, congeniality, cordiality, courtesy, amenability, generosity, entertainment…

You’ll find things like, “Hospitality is the relationship between a guest and a host wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.”  I like that it includes “strangers” as well as friends.  Shouldn’t we treat everyone with the same level of hospitality?

But maybe the loftiest definition of hospitality I found was by the French scholar Louis de Jaucourt who was a contributor to the Encylopedie in the 18th century. Jaucourt defines hospitality as: “The virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity.”

Service as a “virtue?”  

A theme of this blog is looking at our jobs in service as more than just doing mundane tasks for customers.  Hospitality is serving others but with a different perspective. How does this relate to handing out clothes at a dry cleaner?  That is for each and every one of us to discover in our own style but, it’s not just about handing out clothes. That’s the message.  

I recently circulated a great TED talk by John DiJulian on the topic of service.  He used the acronym FORD to summarize the four things people care about most and like to talk about.

F  is for family and usually the most important thing in anyone’s life.
O is for occupation and the place where most of us spend the majority of our time.
R  is for recreation and it’s something we are passionate about or like to do in our spare time.
D  Is for dreams and what we hope for in our future.

Understanding that these areas of one’s life are most important to them changes the perspective of how you view them whether in conversation or in servicing them.  

An example of this was given to me yesterday while I was discussing the role of management to our HomeCare manager, UB.  I was asking him about a tiny pair of Ugg boots that had been lying around for more than the usual production time which usually indicates a problem.  He said casually, that we had some problems with them in the cleaning but we called the customer to let her know.

I said those aren’t just about of leather boots, they belong to a small child who is the most important thing in the world to that customer.  They are willing to spend money on cleaning these tiny little boots because they adore them on their precious child. We then started to talk about UB’s little girl and what she meant to him and all of the sudden the boots took on a different level of importance on how we treated them and the service toward our customer.    

I think this is a good example for the topic of “hospitality” because we can stretch the idea on how it applies outside our home with guests and to a service where you often don’t see the customer.   

Follow up. Follow Through.

The title of this blog has become a phrase that a few of us at Fabricare use to make sure we handle a customer request or issue at the highest level.  Although following up on something is a basic business practice, we want to have a conversation on how that relates to customer service.

Let’s look at one example of how we use this concept.  

We recently cleaned a nice shirt, and it came out of the cleaning process without a button.  The button was unique to this shirt and replacing it with just another button wouldn’t be the same.  

Often these types of “issues” cause employees to panic as they don’t want to tell the customer of a problem.  But procrastination is the worst thing one can do when you won’t be able to deliver an order on time. Here are the steps on how we handled this situation, and how to handle similar ones.

Step #1 – Contact the customer immediately:
Do this even before you know how you’re going to solve the problem.  Often, people avoid this step and try to solve the problem or get information to give the customer but this just delays communication.  This first step also gives you an opportunity to engage an extra time which is just good service. At this first step, since you don’t really have information yet, you can offer a couple of initial options to the customer along with an apology:

“Dear John, we are reaching out to you because a button is missing on your nice Gucci shirt. We know how a button is an essential part of the garment so we don’t want to replace it with something that is not acceptable to you.  While we research replacing with an exact match, we want to let you know the situation and see if you’d like the shirt back with a replacement button while we reach out to the manufacturer. We want to get your shirt back to you as soon as possible and apologize if this causes a delay.”   

Step #2 – Explore your options immediately:
Reach out to others in your organization for ideas on how to solve the problem.  Reach out to your industry contacts for solutions (e.g. fellow dry cleaners). Reach out to contacts outside your industry for ideas (e.g. retailers and manufacturers).  

Step #3 – Execute your plan:
In this example, we exhausted our resources and had to go directly to Gucci. This meant mailing the shirt to Italy so they could match the button exactly.  We quickly sent the shirt while getting them to commit to an estimated time frame. At this point, use your calendar or some other system to make it impossible for you to forget to follow up.  At Fabricare, we use the weekly clipboard for this as well as the calendar.

Step #4 – Communicate with the customer:
Tell him what you’ve done, the next steps and the estimated time frame. Apologize again for the delay and empathize with him for the fact that clothes are seasonal and he is without his shirt for part of that season.  

Step #5 – Follow up:
Check on the status of the order on the date they gave you in step #4.  Often businesses don’t have the sense of urgency you have with your customer and aren’t as committed to due dates. Check to see if it’s on schedule or going to be delayed.  Follow up with the customer and tell him that you’ve been checking on it and that it’s on time (or delayed). If delayed, get the supplier to commit to another date and then follow up again on that date and repeat communication with your customer.

Step #6 – Follow through with the customer:
We sometimes call this “closing the door” because even though things may seem resolved, they’re not really “good” in the customer’s mind. At this step, we communicate with the customer that the order is complete and we will deliver it immediately.  Finally, at this last step, we again empathize with the fact that we didn’t deliver his order on time and as a result will put a credit on his account as a goodwill gesture.  

Issues come up in every business and most people understand that.  
How you solve these issues will often make the difference between making a customer for life or losing them.  

Kindness

Service is ultimately about being kind.

When I first had the idea of developing a culture of service, I quickly wrote down the top ten “concepts” I learned over my 30 years in service industries.  It wasn’t until my web designer told me there were 11, not 10 concepts that I realized I miscounted. As it turns out, the 11th may be the most important that I had heard while listening to a podcast on customer service.  The 11th Fab Service concept we’ve all heard at some point in our lives “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Also known as “the golden rule.”  The company featured in the podcast was The Colonel Littleton leather company.  When the founder was asked what’s his secret to his great customer service, he said it’s simple and we have it posted in big letters on our factory floor.  He was talking about the golden rule.

Isn’t it that simple?  Do we really need more advice than that?

For some more ancient wisdom, I like to get advice from the Stoics who had some sound fundamental advice on how to live and behave. I’m most intrigued by the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius who was the Roman Emperor in the second century.  Here the most powerful man of his day, and possibly ever, believed that joy in life comes from “acts of kindness to other human beings.” He wrote those words in his “Meditations” which was a diary to himself on how to be better.  The Roman emperor writes that the secret to joy is being kind to others? Who was this guy?!

In reading on customer service, I just saw that there are 1,324,570 books available on sales and marketing from Amazon and only 30,198 on customer service.  Is it no surprise that good service in our world today is lacking yet we are bombarded by sales and marketing messages by the second?  

Being service-oriented is an attitude but it also has to be practiced.  

Reading about how to give good service is easy.  Putting it into practice is another story. Reading about being kind is easy.  Being kind when someone is rude to you is difficult.

So how do you act kindly when a customer is demanding or even wrong about a situation?  Like everything else in life – practice! Practice not getting upset when outside of your job.  Practice not judging a situation before hearing the other side. Practice putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Maybe he had a bad day or is dealing with some personal issues, etc.

If Marcus was right, the service industry provides ample opportunity to find joy. I think it starts there. Being grateful for the opportunity to serve and being positive about it.  That attitude will certainly result in kindness, which is the ultimate in good service.

“Have It Your Way”

Burger King made that there theme line for many years and I can still remember the jingle from when I was a kid, “…special orders don’t upset us…have it your way at Burger King”. BK was trying to differentiate themselves from McDonalds who had fixed sandwich selections.  For a fast food restaurant, this was a great differentiator. Fast and however you like it.

“I’ve cracked the code” a recently married man exclaimed.  “I say to my wife, guess where I’m taking you for dinner and wherever she guesses I take her there!” This is an example of our second top service tip noted in the first blog- “listen to what the customer wants and give it to them.”  No, your spouse isn’t your customer, but as we’ve said before, we’re about service to all!

I learned this while at the Zingerman’s customer service training class in Ann Arbor Michigan.  To show they practice what they preach, on the second day of the training, I found a Zingerman’s candy bar on my desk.  I was the only one. I didn’t know why and then I realized, the day before, my friend sitting next to me was eating the same candy bar and I said “that looks good.”  The trainer overheard me and placed it on my desk before the class began. Listening to the customer isn’t always direct but sometimes subtle. Sometimes they’re not even asking or know what they want!  

Special instructions or special requests are an important part of our business and for most businesses and they’re also are part of the concept “listen to the customer.”

At a recent meeting with some of our managers, I ordered some lunch with Uber Eats.  I noticed that each of our 4 orders had a special request. One no onions, one special dressing, etc.  I asked our team whether they thought the restaurant (where we frequent often) would get all of orders right.  Vanessa, our GM, said a quick no understanding how difficult this is. I thought, given that the special requests were typed in and part of the Uber Eats app, that they’d get it right.  

Vanessa was correct.  

At Fabricare, we have pop up messages that notifies the customer service team of an individual’s preferences so the team member invoicing the order knows exactly how a customer likes his order.  We also have the customer’s special instructions print on each invoice for everyone to see as the order goes through the whole cleaning process.

Yet despite our sophisticated point-of-sale system and these direct requests, and our concerted effort to get the customer’s order correct, we still fail sometimes.  

Why?  

As I’ve noted in previous posts, writing these blogs helps me solve some issues as well as share our passion for service.  I’m not writing to brag about how good we are. In fact, as I’ve stated in the outset, we have set out primarily to improve our business and be an example of great service for any industry.  So why do we fail to get special request right 100% of the time?

When I think of the concepts in this blog and what we’ve learned, I would start with the idea that it’s not the employee’s fault.  We have learned that mistakes are often rooted in either poor systems or good systems with poor training.

So, I have to ask myself, “do we have a good system for handling special requests?”  Do we train our staff on the system for inputting special requests and then executing them for each and every customer?”

I will answer the above with a “no” and begin the process of focusing on how we can make special requests systematic and then train from it.  Stay tuned……..

 

Claims

I recently went on a golf trip and upon arriving at the airport found my bag damaged.  As you can see from the pics, it looked like it was dragged all the way from Connecticut to Florida.  

 

Since these blogs try to get at the heart of how a customer feels through service, I tried to relate how my customers must feel when they get something damaged. Because this was just a golf bag and although there was additional damage to the things on the inside, I really didn’t have any emotional attachment. In fact, I kind of needed another one anyhow. What I did care about was the fact that no one brought it to my attention.  The staff for the airline just threw the ripped bag on the conveyor and left it for me to decide what to do.

Being in the service business and one that deals with lots of damaged goods, this experience made me think of how could this happen?  How is this similar to other businesses? Is it expecting too much for an employee to bring damaged items to a manager’s attention? Is this not common sense?  Does this have to be trained? What should have happened?

I’ll start with the business I know and with first-hand experiences with this kind of thing.  Recently, I got involved with a customer who received a tablecloth back with holes in it. For those of you reading these blogs from the beginning, you will recognize this as a Code Red which is how we report any negative customer experience.  Our system is to contact the customer when we see any damage whether it’s caused by the cleaning or inherent in the fabric. If we can’t contact the customer, we put a note on the piece and record it in the POS.

Because we failed to note the customer in advance, the conversation was much different.  There was a loss of trust in addition to the disappointment. Think of how the conversation would have gone if we were to have called in advance and explained that the fabric was weakened and came apart in the wash.  Compare this to the reaction of the customer when she goes to set the table and there’s a hole in the tablecloth. Guess what the topic of conversation will be at dinner?!!!

Here’s another experience which, I am guessing, is a result of training.  Another travel experience but this time with a rental car company surprised me with some over the top service.  Upon returning the car, the employee asked: “how was everything?” My wife said fine except there was a bit of a smokey smell.  Although the employee didn’t say anything, the manager, who overheard, came over and apologized and gave us a $75.00 credit toward our next rental. The reason I think this is training and a strategic customer service plan is that I had a similar experience with the same rental car company where they generously offer credits when there is not really a complaint.

What’s going on here?  

Let’s start with the feeling we had when the manager gave us a credit for just mentioning our experience was just slightly sub par.  “Surprise and delight” is one of our top service concepts and that is a pretty good summary of our feeling.  Could there also be a retention strategy here where the credit is used to build loyalty and get customers to return?  The fact that this happened twice and I’m not a frequent traveler leads me to believe it’s part of a bigger plan.

What’s wrong with a compensation strategy that is good customer service and builds loyalty?  Nothing!

I ended up getting an $80 check for my damaged luggage but still felt disappointed that I had to be the one to complain and haggle for compensation.  If only they had brought this to my attention in advance, I’m sure I would have had a completely different experience.

 

Return On Investment

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?

Be Not Afraid

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 hides.  

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!  

Honesty

“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.

Why?

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.  
 

 Actual care label

Actual care label

Gratitude

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.