Tag Archives: Customer Service

When It Comes to Service, Don’t Put on the Ritz – 7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

When It Comes to Service, Don’t Put on the Ritz – 7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

In my experience, most customer service training is about “conflict resolution,” when in fact, it should be “conflict avoidance.” Many customer service issues – and the attendant harm to your customers’ experience with you – don’t have to happen. I was reminded of this when I decided to have a snack.

I love Ritz crackers. Well, at least I used to. For the past few years, I’ve noticed that far too many Ritz crackers turn into crumbs as soon as you open the package. I threw away a new box yesterday because I opened all four sleeves, and it was impossible to remove an intact cracker from the package. Although I’ve seen this a lot, and I decided to do a little research. My research, quickly, found that thousands of other people had posted about the same thing.7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Service

On their Facebook page, there is a thread that is six years, and over a thousand comments, old, of people reporting the same issue. Here’s the funny part. Someone at Ritz took the time to respond to every post. They said (paraphrasing; not all responses were identical in words but they were in sentiment):

“We’re sorry this happened to you. Please send us a private message with the batch number and the store where you bought the crackers so we can investigate.” Thousands of times, thousands of comments, and this was the response – essentially, pretending that it’s an isolated problem with just a few affected boxes, when in reality this is pretty much a systemic problem.

What’s happening is that someone at RJR Nabisco has decided that they have two options: First, they can figure out why this is happening now and didn’t before and fix the problem, or they can train some entry-level employee to type out rote responses every time someone claims, knowing people will continue to buy the crackers because of the brand. They have chosen option number two.

This syndrome isn’t just confined to big corporations, either. I see small and medium sized companies doing the same thing every day. Don’t do that. If you have a recurring problem, here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Be honest. Is this a real problem? In other words, is what the customers are experiencing a genuine problem with the product or customer service, or an isolated incident? If it’s happening consistently and repeatedly, it’s not an isolated incident. It’s like the person who has been married seven times – at some point, you have to admit that it’s not them; it’s you.
  2. Embrace transparency. You must realize that, whatever the problem is, it’s going to get out. That’s one of the ways that social media has changed the world. The old saying used to be, “If you do something good for someone, they’ll tell one person. If you do something bad TO someone, they’ll tell ten people.” Now, either way, they have the capability to tell the entire world. Ritz’s customer service person i
    s responding to those customer complaints as if they were communicating one-on-one. You have to recognize that not only will the PROBLEM get out – how you HANDLE the problem will get out.
  3. Why is the problem actually happening? Is it traceable to a human error (most are), a product or raw material error, a process error, or a customer error? Nearly every ‘service’ issue is traceable to one of those things.
  4. Fix it. Human errors or customer errors are fairly easily fixable by training and setting expectations; processes can be rewritten, and product or raw material errors can be addressed – but first, you have to know what they are.
  5. Individualize your communication. One of the aspects of this that really upset customers on the Ritz page was that, not only was Ritz pretending that these were isolated instances (hundreds of times over), they were giving the same rote response and not responding to individualized queries. When customers ask questions, answer THEIR question – not everyone else’s – and respect THEIR situation. Yes, you might be communicating with the entire world (see #2 above), but you’re still dealing with THEIR problem.
  6. Set customer expectations. Too often, customers are blamed for expecting “too much” of a product or service, when in fact, it was the seller who set that expectation in the first place. I once worked in an industry as a sales manager where our service manager said, “It’s your salespeoples’ jobs to sell fantasy; my job is to sell reality.” In other words, my team was supposed to paint an unrealistic picture of what the result would be, get a contract signed, and then turn them over to service, who would reset their expectations. Not surprisingly, customers weren’t delighted with this approach, and I left that industry not long after that conversation. If your sales or marketing is painting an unrealistic picture, you need to fix THAT – false expectations will damage your business far more than losing a few deals because someone else is “selling a fantasy.”
  7. Make it right. Find a way to make the customer “whole” again. This can be done any number of ways, but the worst way is to give them more of a flawed product. I’m thinking of the airlines who, upon delaying you for hours and messing up your plans, give you a voucher for more flying. Or Ritz, who offered to send a replacement box of crackers.

If you know you have a problem, you need to either fix it or acknowledge the problem BEFORE the customer buys, so they can make an educated decision about whether or not to buy.

In the case of my beloved Ritz crackers, all I want is something I can put cheese or peanut butter on. After reading that thread on Facebook (and throwing away many, many bad crackers over the last couple of years), I’ve decided to switch to a different cracker that holds together. Will I go back? Probably not. If you have a problem, don’t acknowledge or fix it, and your customer finds out, they probably won’t, either.

Four Easy Steps to Great Customer Service

When I talk to business owners about taking good care of their customers, and about maximizing their relationships, some of them seem to think that satisfying the customer’s requirements and providing great service requires Herculean efforts on the part of themselves and their staffs. The truth is that, most of the time, giving customers a service experience that will keep them coming back isn’t hard at all; in fact, I’m convinced that sometimes, it’s harder to provide bad service than good.

Case in point – I was recently at one of the popular “casual dining” restaurants for dinner. The name isn’t important; most of the things I’m about to talk about are interchangeable. Now, when I’m eating at one of these places, I don’t expect to be dazzled. Just bring me my burger/fajitas/salad/pasta/etc., keep the drink glasses full, and I’m a pretty happy guy. As, I’m guessing, are most of you when you eat at these restaurants. Unfortunately, that was too much to ask on this night.

The waiter managed our chips and salsa and drink orders OK. Then he took our food orders, and as is the custom in entirely too many of these places, he did so by memory, without writing anything down. Apparently, he was a mite too busy for his memory to be really effective, because 10 minutes later, he came back, verified my wife’s order, and asked, “uh, what did you have?” I restated my order, and he apologized profusely and explained that he was “very busy with all the people coming in.” Yep, that would be called the “dinner rush.”

Once upon a time, when waiters came to take your order, they used a little pad and pen, and WROTE THINGS DOWN. Amazingly, when waiters write things down, my orders come out correctly more often than not. When not, it appears to be something of a crapshoot. The problem isn’t limited to restaurants, though; in my career, when I’ve seen customer service screw-ups, they are more often than not caused by faulty memory (with a lack of data recording) rather than by too much data recording.

Think about your own business. How many people are involved in the fulfillment of each order? How much of your order fulfillment process is communicated on paper, and how much is verbal? We’ve all seen the exercise where one person whispers a phrase to someone, who repeats it to the next person, and by about the fifth person, the phrase is completely different. If you rely too much on memory and verbal communication, that’s your order process.

It’s worse in selling and relationship development. The average salesperson will interact with anywhere from 10 to 50 customers per week. If that salesperson is making face to face calls on a customer once per month, he will have had anywhere between 40 and 200 sales calls between calls on that one particular customer; if he relies strictly on memory for important details about the relationship, he’d better have a Guinness World Record level memory.

As a customer, I can tell you that few things are as frustrating as having to backtrack and cover old ground with salespeople who are forever one step behind in relationship development. Frankly, those salespeople usually find themselves on the outside looking in. So you won’t be one of those people, here are some quick techniques to help you excel in service and relationship development:

  1. Take good notes on every customer interaction. It all begins here. First of all, studies show that we are more likely to remember that which we write down, and secondly, once written down, it’s captured for posterity – details and all.
  2. Have a database and use it.       The most important details should be recorded in a database format – programs like ACT and Goldmine are cheap enough now that there’s no excuse for NOT using them.
  3. When details change, communicate – IN WRITING or data – to everyone who affects the customer.       Knowing that your customer will now only accept shipments on Tuesday is great; if the shipping clerk doesn’t know, it’s a problem. And as I noted, don’t just communicate verbally – take the time to send an e-mail, write a memo, etc.
  4. Archive your notes. I discovered a long time ago that if I attempted to retype every note from every sales call into my own database, I’d do little else (I’m a prodigious note-taker). However, I can scan those pages to a document, place that document in an archive folder, and link it to the customer’s record – with a note or two in the database about what is in the note pages.       That preserves them for all time, and it’s a lot handier than the “pile of old legal pads” filing system that a lot of us have used.

If this column seems a bit elementary, I’m fine with that; providing great customer service is often elementary. That doesn’t mean it happens often enough. If you resemble this remark, maybe it’s time to revise some things.