Choosing Between A Good And A Better Customer Experience

crutchfieldLast week I chronicled my recent purchase of a 2003 Subaru Forester.  There was only one problem with the car.  The stereo was eleven years old and lacked any ability to connect my phone.  How did we survive a decade ago?

As a faithful Amazon customer, I of course went to Amazon to find just the right car stereo with all of the modern bells and whistles.  Easy enough right?  Intent on installing this stereo myself, I did a bit of research to find what I would need.  I learned that I needed a wiring harness to adapt the stereo to the preexisting wiring in the car.  I had no problem ordering that as well from Amazon.

In the couple days while I waited for my purchase to arrive, Aaron, a colleague of mine approached me with an an awesome customer service story.  He proceeded to tell me about how he had ordered a car stereo from Crutchfield and they sent him a really nice, handwritten thank you note for shopping with them.  I think we’ve established that thank you notes are a great idea.  Click here if you want more proof of that.

As we discussed his experience with Crutchfield further, Aaron told me more about how their stereo-buying process goes.  Crutchfield first asks for the car model in which you are planning to install the stereo, and then proceeds to suggest all of the parts you will need in order to complete the job.  They even include a step-by-step guide showing you how to install it!

Having already ordered the stereo from Amazon, it was too late to go with Crutchfield.  I instead opted to fumble around and try to figure out the installation on my own with YouTube and forums being moderately helpful.  After two installations that resulted in the AM radio not working and a few blown fuses, I finally obtained the Crutchfield guide, which of course answered all of my questions.

It’s one thing to sell a product to a customer.  It’s an entirely different thing to anticipate the needs of the customer and tell them everything they will need in order to do the job right.  By suggesting all of the components needed to install my stereo, Crutchfield does just that.  They become a one stop shop for car stereo installation and avoid the risk of the customer purchasing certain components elsewhere.  This process so impressed one of their customers that they told me about it!

This doesn’t reduce my admiration for Amazon, however I will certainly give Crutchfield a fair shot at my business next time I am in the market for electronics.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Communicate Clearly To Your Customers Or Don’t Complain

cvsI was out of town recently and received the SMS notification that my prescription was ready for pick up at CVS pharmacy.

I knew I wouldn’t be back to pick it up for over 7 days.

I learned this the hard way a few months ago where I simply figured CVS would keep my prescription there and I could pick it up at my convenience. On the 8th day however, they had put it back on the shelf and gave me attitude when I arrived to pick it up.

So, to avoid that situation again, I called and talked to the pharmacy, informing them that I would be there to pick it up on April 22nd. The person on the phone seemed rather busy and I almost felt like my call would just be swept under the table.

Flash forward to the 7th day, this morning, when I went to the store to pick it up.

The pharmacist locates my prescription and tilts her head while reading the note written in pen on the front of the bag:

Patient will pick up on Tuesday, 4/22.

She then looks at me and says with a smile, “WOW! You actually picked up your prescription on the day you said you would. Thank you!

I laugh and say, “Well, I learned the hard way recently and didn’t want to go through that again…

She replies, “Ah yeah, they shelved it, didn’t they? Sorry about that. But, thank you for calling and for picking it up on the date you said. You are one of the few that actually do this.

The remainder of my check out was her sharing stories of customers that don’t do this and then get very angry when their prescription wasn’t ready.

While I didn’t go into much detail, of course the customer service wheels began to spin in my mind.

If this is such a big problem and frustration for the CVS Pharmacy, why don’t they implement a policy to inform and empower their customers about the time frame? For example, they could:

  • Hang the policy on the wall in the store
  • Write out the policy on the prescription itself or their receipt to warn the customer for their next visit
  • Make a menu option on their call tree specifically for people who may need to do this
  • Implement customer empowerment as a part of every new customer “training” when they drop off their prescription for the first time at the store

There are many more ways that they can communicate this with their customers. Can you think of some?

Ultimately, without this policy, CVS fails in communicating with their customers, which just leads to angry people and frustrated employees.

CVS may not be able to change their time frame to keep prescriptions on the floor but they could at least communicate to their customers.

While yes, the customer should be responsible for this and own up to the date/time they specify for pick up or be mindful of the time frame, the time frame itself needs to be told to customers ahead of time. I didn’t ask the pharmacist about this during my visit but I may just do so next time I visit the store.

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Revisiting The Question– Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With?

DLAB-QuestionsIn a post I wrote more than a year ago, I revealed my passion for the question “Is there anything else I can help you with?” at the end of support calls.  For a long time I required our customer service representatives to ask this question and would mark them down if they failed to do so.  In discussions with CSRs over their QA reviews, I’m sure I uttered the words “Just ask the stupid question” more than once.

After many such discussions, I have softened my stance.  Since that original post, a couple comments from readers have caused me to rethink a few things about the importance of asking the question.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

Extending The Call Unncessarily

It’s a bad idea to annoy the customer with this silly question, because usually you have already been on the phone a long time solving your problem. ~Comment from Larry

The point of asking “is there anything else I can help you with” is to ensure that we never rush the customer off the phone.  We want to make sure all of their issues have been addressed and even detect issues they weren’t calling about.  On the flip side, asking the question merely because it’s required only extends the call and wastes time.

What Are The Alternatives

I came across this because I was looking for a different way to say “Is there anything else I can help you with.” …I work for a call center and my sup doesn’t want me saying that anymore. He says it’s been used too much and nobody really hears it anymore. Especially our QA. Any ideas on a better way to close a call?  ~Comment from Joann

This comment is very interesting to me.  If your call center has this question engrained in quality assurance, and asking it is tied to a score, which is tied to a review– perhaps it’s time to rethink.  This supervisor apparently cares more about the intent rather than the form, which is terrific.  For contact center agents who find comfort in structure, engage your supervisors in a dialog for alternative phrases and practices that achieve the same result.

Training The Right Things

It…comes across as terribly rehearsed and machine like. ~Comment from Sean

Ultimately, I believe that if we hire excellent communicators in our contact centers, who are adept at making connections with customers, it really doesn’t matter if they ask the question at the end of their support calls.  They will be so aligned with the spoken and potential needs of the customer that they will only end calls when they are confident that those needs have been met.

Perhaps it’s time to spend less time training people to read scripts and more time training them to connect with customers in such a way that they recognize and address their individual needs.  This adds a new challenge to training and quality assurance but your customers and customer service representatives will thank you for it.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Coffee And Customer Service: Our Week In Review

In Coffee and Customer Service this week we reviewed all of the great posts on our blog.  Jeremy kicked it off by talking about his recent car-buying experience and the book Amaze Every Customer Every Time by Shep Hyken.

Jenny talked about a fantastic guest post by Maurice Aguilar about how important it is for leaders to have excellent communication skills.  Finally, we discussed our book club where we are reading Integrity Service by Ron Willingham.  We referenced a fantastic TED Talk with Shawn Achor which we will talk more about in the coming days.

Enjoy the hangout and have an AWESOME weekend!

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Integrity Service: Book Club Discussion #1

1100408Well, I must begin this post with an apology for the delay with this post.

However, there’s no better time than the present to kick off our first discussion! To read more about what we’re doing with this book club, click here. Please consider the questions below and input your answers on the comments section of this post. Feel free to come up with additional discussion questions too! The more insight we have, the more we’ll learn from each other.

We’ve been reading Integrity Service by Ron Willingham.

While we didn’t specify any reading assignments, I read the first four sections and am planning on discussing them in that number of chunks each week.

Discussion Question 1: Do you agree or disagree with this statement: “It’s your personal growth that will help you advance. It’s more who you are than what you know.” Why? Do you find it challenging to focus on your personal growth while busy at work? How can you make changes to focus more on personal growth?

Discussion Question 2: Just how important is internal customer service at your company? The story of Southwest Airlines is one example that brings up how Ron watched the way the employees interacted with each other. It is also noted that, “The more value you create for internal or external customers, the more valuable you are to them and to your organization.” It helped provide a sense of security in his customer experience. Do you agree with this? How do you feel you can improve internal customer service at your company and enhance the employee experience?

Discussion Question 3: Did you read up to the “Jell-O” experience for one cafeteria worker? How often can we apply this in our daily lives. We may say, “I just answer phones and fix their problems.” But, what are we really doing and how much does it matter to discover a purpose within our daily jobs? To what benefit does having a purpose help us at work? Should we motivate our team to have a purpose? What are the challenges with this?

Leave your comments, questions and answers in the comments on this post and let us know any time if you would be interested in discussing further in one of our Google Plus Hangouts.

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Meet The Newest Subaru Fanatic

Here's one shot of the family in our new, used Subaru Forester wagon.

Here’s one shot of the family in our new, used Subaru Forester wagon.

In a post last week I talked about my recent car accident that left me with a mangled 2002 Honda Civic with 175,000 miles.  My options were to fix a car that was nearly totaled or go shopping for a new, used car to get me from home to work every day.

Being 6’4″ tall, I decided I’m ready to drive something a bit bigger.  I began scouring Craigslist for anything in the Camry/Accord class.  All great, reliable cars.  On one search, a used Subaru Forester caught our eye at Kearny Mesa Subaru here in San Diego.  Hey, for my growing family, maybe a family wagon is the way to go.  On top of that, I’ve heard stories of excellent Subaru customer service and legendary customer loyalty.

Upon arriving at the dealership, I met Dan Mitchell who was to show me the car.  I wrote about a car-buying experience nearly a year ago, swearing that it would be my last post about cars.  I lied.  Here are a few things that set buying a Subaru from Dan apart from previous experiences.

1. More Concerned About The Connection- We took the car out for a test drive.  After driving a few miles down the road, I asked Dan where we were going.  His response was “I don’t know.  I was just enjoying the visit.”  In a world where car salesmen can’t wait to take you through their test drive course so they can start trying to close the deal, Dan was more about enjoying the experience and making a connection with the customer.

2. Driving The Product-  I once purchased a used Toyota 4Runner from a Toyota dealership and I asked the salesman if the back window rolled down.  Shortly after he said “No, I don’t believe it does,” I found the button and showed him how to roll the window down.  On the flip side, I asked Dan for his honest opinion of a Subaru.  His response was “I have owned six.”  I would say this is a man qualified to sell a Subaru and vouch for the quality of the product.

3. A Full Tank Of Gas- This may sound kind of silly but when we bought our last car, the gas tank was almost on empty and I had to haggle with the guy to give me like four gallons of gas.  Dan on the other hand made sure I had a full tank before driving off the lot– a detail I will never take for granted again when buying a car.

4. A Second Key- Referring again to our last car-buying experience, the car had one key and the dealer told us we would have to go buy another key for like $300.  Dan on the other hand set us up with a second key without hesitation.

5. A History Lesson- I always dream of finding a used car driven by a seventy year old woman approximately five thousand miles per year.  We came close with this car.  Dan personally took it car in as a trade-in and sold a new Subaru to the previous owner.  In the process, he learned the history of the car and shared it with me.

In the end, I left the dealership feeling like I got a terrific car at a great price.  On top of that, Dan and the gang at Kearny Mesa Subaru managed to raise the bar on what I previously thought was a great car-buying experience.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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A Good Leader Needs Exceptional Communication

Improve_Communication_SkillsYou hear it all the time … aspiring managers or vice presidents want to know the most important key to an esteemed business leader’s success. Thinking the answer must be something like inspiring leadership, technological innovation, savvy marketing or far-sighted financial planning — all of which are important — their jaws drop when they learn the truth.

Generally, a savvy leader’s success is directly tied to his or her ability to focus on the business fundamentals – the daily blocking and tackling that every company must master to be a winner in its field. Strong, effective leaders stress fundamentals like discipline, accountability, strategic alignment, managing to his or her values and empowering employees. Additionally, these leaders have mastered the six basic functions of management: leading, planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and communicating. But what’s the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership?  Clear communication.

Think about it … how do the best leaders motivate and inspire their people? Through clear communication. How do the best organizations promote discipline, accountability and strategic alignment? With clear communication. And, how do market leaders sell their products and services? With compelling ads and marketing campaigns — in sum, by clear communication. The point itself is crystal clear: In real estate, the old cliché is “location, location, location.” In business leadership, you preach “communication, communication, communication.”

Good Leaders, Good Communicators
There’s no mystery here. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are first-rate communicators. Their values are clear and solid, and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your company to reach new benchmarks of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication. So, how do you do it?

First, you must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It’s not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you’re being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communication primer:

  1. Prepare how you’ll communicate
    • Clarify the goal of the communication.
    • Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person.
    • Anticipate the receiver’s viewpoint and feelings.
  2. Deliver the message
    • Express your meaning with conviction.
    • Relate the message to your larger goals.
    • Identify the action to be taken.
    • Confirm the other person understands.
  3. Receive the message
    • Keep an open mind.
    • Identify key points in the message.
    • Value constructive feedback and use it to grow.
    • Confirm your understanding.
  4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the communication afterwards
  5. Take corrective action as necessary

Primers, of course, aren’t enough. You must go deeper and determine why internal communications are poor or ineffective, considering any potential barriers. Once the barriers have been identified, you’ll see where to improve. Additionally, you’ll inevitably realize the stakes are high when it comes to communicating — if you fail to do this properly, you can poison the atmosphere between you and a colleague, as well as your company’s morale. So the next time you’re drafting a letter, e-mail or policy statement, before you send it, stop and consider these common barriers to clear communication:

  • Lack of respect by either party for the other.
  • Poorly defined purpose for the communication.
  • Failure to establish the best medium for the communication (e-mail and cell phones are NOT the best ways to communicate serious material).
  • Assumption that the listener receives the message.
  • Ignored emotions or sensitivities.
  • Failure to get on the listener’s level of understanding.
  • Intimidation by either party.

Once you’ve determined what’s preventing clear communication at your company, dig even deeper, asking key questions that relate to your business’ health such as: How do you produce strategic alignment inside your company? How do you get your team to actively buy into your business goals? How do you ensure that everyone understands and upholds your company’s mission and values? Again, for each of these issues, the answer lies in clear communication.

Write It Down!
In this high-tech, fast-paced world, it’s easy to overlook the value of writing down thoughts, intentions and even visions. Doing so, however, is a basic business strategy that enables clarity and purpose. What’s more, the process of writing a business plan can be more important than the actual document.

One great way to see just how effective writing it down can be is to always have three updated, clearly drafted documents: a mission statement, a values statement and a business plan. In fact, the document-drafting process naturally produces common understanding, consensus, alignment and buy-in. It also promotes clear communication within your management team while empowering your people and grooming them for future leadership.

Why is this so crucial to a business’ success? Mission statements define who you are and where you’re going. Value statements are your compass, the needle keeping you firmly on course. And your business plan is the rudder steering your ship.

For example, think about Thomas Jefferson and the other framers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. They drafted documents that not only defined America and its mission, but also laid the foundation of ideals, principles, values and laws on which the nation operates to this day. And, guess what? They didn’t just sit down one day and dictate it to a secretary. They worked the language and polished every word, over and over, and they used the process itself to promote alignment, consensus and collective buy-in. With words, language and clear communication, they launched a revolution. What’s more, on the shared values of liberty, individual empowerment and collective prosperity, these visionaries built a nation of unparalleled wealth and economic gain.

Communication Is the Key
Bottom line; clear communication is the most important key to a business leader’s success. So to grow as a leader and manager, you must learn how to be an effective, compelling communicator. And if you want your company to succeed, you and your team have to master the art of clear communication together, as well. By using these and other strategies, you and your employees can reach new levels of leadership excellence.

Maurice Aguirre

Maurice Aguirre serves as Chief Lobbyist for the DG Group, LLP, a scalable lobbying and consultancy firm in Washington, DC and Dallas, Texas. He has been a trusted counselor to corporate, nonprofit and political leaders providing strategic communication plans, corporate positioning strategies, and messaging advocacy and political deliverables. He lives in Dallas, Texas and Washington, DC and enjoys hiking and the outdoors with his wife Jule and his three amazing beagles.

52 Tools From Shep Hyken To Inspire Amazing Customer Service

amazebookLike many households, Saturday is the day where we kick it into gear and get stuff done around the house.  On a recent Saturday, my son and I went to a local, large home improvement warehouse to pick up some retaining wall blocks for a landscaping project.

Other than the cashier, I was approached by two employees, neither of which asked if I needed any help.  The first person talked to me as I walked into the store and tried to sell me something, which I declined.  The second person asked if I was interested in solar power.  Only, she said it so quietly that I just kept walking.  As I walked away I heard her say “Oh, you’re just going to ignore me.”  Wow!  Excuse me if I want to shop at your store rather than listening to your sales pitch.

After loading our car with blocks. we headed home.  On our way, my wife called me to say the dryer stopped spinning.  With the confidence of one who had done that repair before, I headed to Coast Appliance Parts, my local appliance parts store, to get a new dryer belt.  Upon arriving at the store, I was greeted by a friendly cashier who quickly found the part I needed.  As she was searching, she noticed my son admiring the candy machines and handed him a quarter.  “Wait! Isn’t that going to eat into your profits?” is what I thought to myself.  Providing great service is one thing but taking an interest in my kid?  I’m a customer for life now.

This contrast in experiences instantly reminded me of Shep Hyken’s latest book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time.  In the book, Shep begins by reviewing the key principles of his customer experience philosophy of Amazement.  He then takes a refreshingly new angle by giving us 52 tools for our customer service and experience tool belt.  The clever part about the whole process is that he talks about Ace Hardware, sharing story after story of customer amazement.

With more than 4,000 stores worldwide, Ace is a huge company but nearly all of their stores are locally owned and operated.  I was fascinated to learn that they refer to their customers as “neighbors.”  Shep shares countless stories where Ace employees have treated their customers like they would a next door neighbor.  He shared one story of an Ace employee driving to a customer’s house to ensure they were buying the correct part for the project they were working on.  Another employee delivered an item to a customer’s house after work because the customer was elderly and could not make it to the store.

One of my favorite concepts from the book is the Five Dollar Lifeboat.  This simple idea is that employees have five dollars at their disposal with each customer to solve a problem and make the customer’s day.  What a fantastic concept for any company to adopt and a fantastic tool to equip your customer service staff with!

Another tool Shep gives us is the idea of owning our mile.  “Owning your mile means standing out within your customer community, in an area where you’ve chosen to excel.”  He goes onto say that for Ace it might be a physical radius around their store, whereas for other companies it might be a much larger area where they have chosen to stand out to customers.

Those are just a couple of the fantastic tools Shep Hyken gives us to amaze our customers.  We are using these tools at to inspire and empower our team to deliver awesome service to our customers.  The stories in this book are sure to give you tangible ways to break out of your customer service rut and build customers who are loyal to your company.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Coffee And Customer Service Hangout With Mitch Causey From

In our most recent Coffee and Customer Service Hangout, we spoke with Mitch Causey from  We enjoyed discussing a variety of topics including engaging our customers and training our agents.  Don’t miss out on this fantastic hangout!

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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Meeting Up With Customer Service Professionals In San Diego

pizzaI pride myself in being terrible at networking.  If you watch any of our Google Plus Hangouts, it will take you at least two hands to count the number of awkward moments.

A little over a year ago, I made a terrific connection with author and customer service expert, Jeff Toister.  After attending a webinar about his book, Service Failure, I began reading his blog and interacting with him on Twitter.  We eventually realized we live less than a mile from each other and have met up a couple times to hike and talk customer service.  Eventually, we arrived at the idea for a meetup for customer service professionals in San Diego.jeremy

Last night, so kindly hosted the meetup by opening up the office and providing a variety of refreshments.  In the intimate setting, I had the opportunity to share some of the critical components that we strive for when we talk about achieving awesome customer service.  It was fun to give a tour of our customer service operation and answer questions from the attendees.

Jeff followed this up with a discussion on the common customer service challenges we face.  You can read a terrific re-cap of the event on Jeff’s blog.

Without going into great detail on everything we discussed, I thought I would share a couple of my takeaways from the event.  First of all, we had people from a variety of companies, including the San Diego Humane Society and Ideal Plumbing And Heating.  These were customer service people who have a completely different base of knowledge and skills and yet they face many of the same customer service challenges we do in supporting people with their phone service!

jeffSecondly, I realize that networking does NOT have to be scary.  The people at the event, like me, were looking for ways to better serve their customers.  What better way than to talk about the challenges we face and what we are doing to overcome them?

If you are located near San Diego and are interested in joining our next meetup, click here to fill out a form and be notified of future events.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at with 12+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

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