Voting With Your Feet


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In a world where social media seems to be the only place to post a grievance, I didn’t start there this past week when faced with an action by a company I do business with that I didn’t agree with an action they took. I instead reached out to the humans with this company and voiced my concern.

In a nutshell, a company I have done personal business with for 30+ years decided that their corporate image would be tarnished if they continued to advertise on a network based on allegations being made about a particular personality. I will stop by saying if the allegations are found to be true; I would also abandon my support of this individual. However, without a trial, the media convicted this individual and the advertisers left in enough quantity that the network fired the individual.

I am purposely not naming names here, because I believe if you are following the news you already know what I am talking about, and if not it will make no difference to my point. I also don’t need to name the company that I have been a client of for the past 30 years because my issue with them is just about our relationship.

The company I disagreed with was happy to listen to my concern over them bailing out and agreeing to the allegations before all the truth came out, but their response became so high and mighty, too pure and perfect for my stomach to endure, that I simply said the following when they asked why I called. I said, “I am your customer, and while I can simply move my relationship to any of several other competitors, I felt it was my obligation to inform you as to why I am leaving after 30 years.”

His reply was, “Okay, thanks.”

In just two words he told he told me he cared less about my opinion. He then said he would pass on the information at his next PR meeting with corporate. However, “we are on the right side of this issue!”

Our New America – Guilty Until Proven Innocent!

I am now in the processes of shopping for a line of replacement products that I have not really given the time of day researching for 30 years, all because my opinions are incorrect. So while losing my relationship is not going to hurt this company, it makes me feel better knowing that I am walking my talk too.

The Quickest Way To Lose Customers


employee leaving

Are your employees also your customers? Most companies expect their employees to support them as consumers directly or even indirectly as referral sources. If you are a grocery store, I can bet your employees shop with you, and tell others about things that are on sale. If you are a bank, employees often have their checking account with the bank, and tell family members and friends why they should bank with you.

It is a given that once you are an employee, you will become a customer someday too. It would be very hard to support your company as an employee if you could not support them personally as a customer too.

So what happens if you turn away a qualified applicant as an employee and then aggressively market them as a customer? Do you think you are speaking to a receptive potential customer?

When you turn down an applicant that is not qualified for a position as far as skills are concerned, you are helping them realize that they should focus on opportunities that better match their abilities. However, when you summarily dismiss an applicant as unqualified because you didn’t take the time to read their application, resume or online profile, you are telling them a lot about the culture and what it takes to work for this company.

In recent blogs I have shared two experiences that I have had with companies that flat out only wanted female applicants. Blatant discrimination, but also that I am not valued because of my male gender. So when I recently opened my mail to a marketing package from one of these customers, I just tossed it. Yes, they may have been offering me a great deal, but why would I want to be their customer?

I doubt that the folks in recruiting have ever been trained to understand the ideal customer when sorting through applications. If I am applying for a job you want to dismiss me from pursuing, but you would still like me to be a customer, then there are ways to make both of your goals happen.

Yet anyone that is in sales and service will tell you that a great experience with a company is share with less than a handful of people, but a bad experience is more than double that number. The quickest way to lose customers is to treat your applicants as if they are disposable. Not only do you never get them as a customer, but they will make sure every family member and friend knows the truth about you too. Treating potential employees well from the beginning is a win for both of you.

Do Customers Really Matter?


If your company sells anything, than you have customers.  Yet just because you technically have customers does not mean that your policies are created with the customer in mind.  Of course if you really think the customer matters to your success, your policies do take into consideration what will happen to the customer, but what happens if customers really don’t matter?

I’ve supported the banking industry for years, and the focus for every bank has been on the customer experience.  Well up until recently when I discovered a bank that really doesn’t see the customer experience the same way as every other bank.  This could be a good thing if they are doing things to improve the service level over the competition, but they are doing just the opposite.

I didn’t choose this bank, but rather I became a customer because they purchased the bank I was doing business with and my alternative was and still is to move my relationships to another institution.  While I still have a couple of accounts, 90% of my relationship is now with the competition, because as a customer I don’t feel wanted anymore.

This bank has set out to prove that they can establish policies and procedures that make them happy regardless of how it impacts the customer.  Initially I gave credit for a lot of the screw ups to merger related errors, but the mistakes kept coming.

Day 1 I had no online access to any of my accounts, and a week later I did, but now my wife didn’t.  Then one of my accounts was literally transferred to my mother and sister with a title change and address change.  Oddly, the account was a business account that was turned into a personal joint account.  Thankfully Mom told me it happened when the statement arrived at her house.  A friend found out that their ex-spouse was given access to her account online, and another was losing money out of his account because the bank had linked it to a stranger’s debit card.  A lot of errors, but still, could be all corrected.  Yet through it all, not a single apology.

The culture of the bank is a sterile branch environment, so everything but the desks and chairs were removed.  I walked into the branch after the merger and thought they were using it as an operating room.  Cold and uninviting, and when the holidays came around, not a single decoration.  It didn’t matter what the customer wanted, they would just have to conform to the culture.  The final straw was the removal of long-term employees, that had been transferred to different branches.  Numerous branches now have new employees, and once again I was told it didn’t matter what I thought.

So since I no longer matter, neither do they matter to me.  I began shopping the competition, and found every single local alternative bank more welcoming.  Some better, but none worse, so it was easy to find a better home.

The learning point is that if you need customers, you need to conform to their needs and not expect them to put up with your needs.  Not when there are alternatives, and never when they are treated like garbage.

How Human Resources Reduces Company Sales


When asked how Human Resources impacts the sales results of most companies, there is a majority who see no connection at all.  And yet there is a significant impact resulting from the career center, or recruiting section, that can send positive and negative ripples beyond the repair efforts of marketing or sales people.

Let’s look at any service provider, or product provider that sells to the mass market.  You get to pick the company in your head for this example.  It could be a local retail store, restaurant or a home and auto insurance company.  Pick one name in particular and follow along with me.

Your company wants you as a customer, correct?  They provide the best service they can to recruit you as a customer and to retain you for years to come.  They count on your referrals, because even though a positive experience will rarely get more than a couple of conversations out of you, a negative experience will having you telling everyone you know.  Add in social media and even people you don’t know will hear about your bad experience.

Now suppose you apply for work at this company.  You submit an application online, and you get the customary computer generated response about how pleased they are you applied and they will get back to you.  Now imagine you get an interview, and you are told nothing that would lead you to believe you are being eliminated.  You keep in contact with the recruiter, but you never hear another word from them.  You took time out of your day, and they are too busy to spend one minute replying to you.  Heck, who are you?  No big deal.  Go away and we’ll call you if we want anything else from you.

Now while this happens all the time, and you are willing to let it go, today of all day’s you get an advertisement in the mail from this very same company.  They want you to shop with them and be a customer.  You ask yourself “why on earth would I want to be treated like I have been and turn around and be their customer?”

You see, Human Resources is an extension of your sales department.  They interact with hundreds of non-employees, but potential customers all day long.  If you are the leader of the sales efforts of your company and your HR function is treating applicants like worthless objects, then they are costing you business.

So while you are most likely not going to work for this company, I dare say you will probably never ever be a customer either.  And on top of that, anytime you hear someone say I’m getting a quote from [insert name] insurance company for my car, chances are you will warn them that you get what you pay for.

[And as a side note, if you happen to be shopping for insurance, I have a great company I could refer you to, and another one I would suggest you avoid.]

 

Mergers Should Focus On Customer Service


Successful mergers and acquisitions hinge on maintaining or improving the current customer service being provided.  So why are so many mergers rough on both the employees and their customers?  The short answer is that the customer service experience is not part of the planning process.

When Company A decided to purchase through a merger or acquisition Company B, the focus needs to be on minimal disruption to the current customer service experience.  Having personally gone through more banking mergers as both employee and customer over the years than I care to admit, I can tell you that the successful ones remembered that the customer was in constant focus.

Decisions and plans need to always ask the question, what will this do to our customers?  Not only our current ones, but the new ones.  Yes, mergers have impacts on not only the new customers but the current ones too.  How will our decisions improve the experience, or will a decision create a less favorable experience?

The Role of HR & Training:

Now having spent much time in my career in HR and Training, we are the ones that focus on the employees.  Yet to use my connection to customers, let’s explore how these functions impact the customer experience.

What happens if our new employees feel disconnected, or a subclass citizen in the new organization?  If they are unhappy, you can count on that rubbing off on the customers.  Unhappy employees, equal unhappy customers, means customers will leave to the competition.  In the same understanding, many times when employees leave, their customers will follow.  In a bank merger, a major way to retain customers is to have very happy employees.  So don’t assume the acquired employees are grateful to having a job.  Maybe they were happy before you entered the scene, and now they don’t see any good in their future.  That is the function of HR to prevent from happening!

Now with any merger, new skills need to be acquired.  To continue with my banking example, new products need to be learned from both sets of current and future employees.  New employees need to learn new policies and systems.  Training must be thorough and delivered earlier to be learned, or the customer experience will suffer.  The learning process is more than a classroom experience, and training managers must map out a complete learning process and support system.  This is often the most unprepared department, and yet it is the favorite department to blame when things go wrong.

The Role of Management & Marketing:

In today’s technology age, I am just amazed how quickly the customer starts to evaluate whether they will remain or not.  With the introduction of something as simple as a website, customers of the acquired company can begin to research if the other company was one they would have done business with outside of this merger.  If that answer is no, often they start to change their relationships weeks after a merger is announced.  In the case of banking, accounts start to close with no one tracking why it is happening.

The reason I lump management into marketing, is that often senior leaders are talking with the public, press and the new employees.  When they have something constructive to say they are moving things in the right direction.  When they babble on about irrelevant things, and don’t know answers to simple questions, both employees and especially customers pick this up and start to be concerned.

Conclusion:

My recommendation for any company that is planning to acquire or merge with another is simple.  Know what you plan to do for the entire merger process before you announce a merger.  HR should know how compensation and benefits will work.  Training should already have programs developed and ready to go.  IT should have a project plan for system conversions, and marketing should be in front of what the new experience will be.  Everyone that makes a decision should be asking, what will the new customers do with this information, and any negative reactions should prompt a second look.

Otherwise if you fail to focus on what the current and new customers will do, it really makes no sense to bother with the merger in the first place.

 

Genuine Customer Service


Tis the season for shopping, so customer service is in high gear.  But what is the difference between genuine customer service and the scripted kind?  Does it make a difference to the buyer?  Will it have any lasting effect on the seller?

My wife and I have been car shopping for months trying to find a replacement for an older truck we sold.  When I am in no hurry to buy something I have the patience to wait forever to find what I’m looking for, and yet since I wanted to get a smaller truck this time our options were limited.  Only a couple of manufacturers still make new small trucks, and although I was fine with a used vehicle the choices have been few and far between.

We found our truck this past weekend on a dealer’s lot.  It was the Ford Ranger I wanted sitting on a Honda lot.  The sales experience was warm and friendly and lacked any pressure at all.  Having researched this vehicle online I knew what the expected selling price was, and yet they did something called TruePrice, which was their lowest asking price, with no need to negotiate.  The entire process was as if I was part of the family and that the relationship was more important than selling a vehicle.  And it wasn’t just the sales people, it was every person we encountered in the building.

Yet over these past few months I can truthfully say that every single manufacturing dealer (Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota, etc.) have been providing what I am calling Genuine Customer Service.  It is as if in the past years of our lousy economy, the major players have really stepped up their game and decided to concentrate on the customer experience.  Not only was it a pleasure to shop I would go back to any of them the next time I need to buy a vehicle.

Now, the corner dealers, and the private sellers were more of what I expected.  Some good, some could care less if you bought anything.  It was hit and miss because they all have different ideas of what they need to do to sell a car.  Most of them I went because I saw something that might work, but most I would never go back to again.

We had a great shopping experience with the ones that practice “Genuine Customer Service” and I believe that these sellers will find that even if they didn’t sell a shopper a car today, they have planted a seed for the future.  Being treated well, sadly, is a rare customer experience.  So when we are treated as valuable, we tend to remember it longer and we tend to tell others.  Pass it on!

Employees As Customers


I wish there was some statistic that I could draw from that shows how many employees are customers of their employer, but if we look at the food, service and retails worlds I would say it is a very high percentage.  So with companies that go out of their way to make sure that the customer experience is everything it should be to promote positive word of mouth, why do they treat employees like disposable items?

These industries I’ve mentioned hire a lot of part-time employees, many on the promise of 20 hours a week or more on average.  They have a ton of applicants, and they find good matches for their hiring needs.  Then once employees learn the job, some quit because it wasn’t what they expected and then the hiring begins again.  Yet somewhere in the middle of this cycle the company has reduced the hours from 20 to 10 to spread out the actual staffing needs.  They over hired and under employed from the beginning.

Okay, it would be one thing to see that you over hired, and thus instead of letting people go, you simply reduced everyone’s hours to spread out the fairness.  However, why would you hire to replace the exiting employees?  Now is the time to increase hours for those that are qualified, trained and like their jobs!

Instead, by hiring new people who need hours to learn the job, you continue to hold back hours on your “good employees” and then they quit and go to work else ware.   And when they quit, they also take all the good will the company ever created and leave it at the door too.

These former employees are no longer loyal subjects.  They don’t have a lot to say about you that is positive and they have a lot of friends and family to complain to.  Although they never experienced bad customer service, the employment experience has left a bad taste.  I can’t support a company that treats employees like disposable items.  I simply do not patronize any company that is like this.  And because of family and friends that have been mistreated by these customers, I no longer eat at 4 different restaurants, and shop at 3 different retail stores that at one time were all on my preferred list.  Why should I reward these companies with my business when they have treated my family and friends as disposable?

Companies need to focus on their employees and the relationship they have with them at least to the same degree if not better than they focus on their customer relationship.  Negative feedback hurts sales, no matter where it comes from.

Managers – Own Your Customer Service


In nearly every instance of training customer service over the years, it has always been a company-wide effort and shared responsibility that “we all provide the service to our customers” and that no one individual is solely responsible.  And while I agree with this principle, I have started to see where managers could make a difference if they became more than just one of the team members.

To fully understand this principle that managers need to own the customer service experience, you need only become a customer and observe where the manager is when poor service is available.  Managers that observe their surroundings, watch employees, talk with them about behaviors that don’t align with good service are taking ownership of the service experience.

While many like to blame the younger generation for the lack of good customer service, I must remind everyone that none of us was born with a customer service gene.  We were not taught customer service in school or at home, so it becomes learned behavior in the workplace.  When employees are allowed to talk to each other in front of customers about unrelated to work topics, or are talking on the phone, or cannot smile or thank you for anything, I blame the manager.

We have a new community market in our town that opened several months ago with a combination of brand new employees and helpers from other locations.  During the Grand Opening weeks, service levels were high, but after the focus was off and the experienced people left the true reality came into view.  This store has a director level manager overseeing everything, and each department has a manager.  It is almost an eerie feeling as you shop because the level of service runs hot and cold all under the same roof.

The bakery, deli, meat counter and produce sections seem to have the nicest people and  I have never felt that their attention was on something other than the customer.  I felt important and never saw an upset customer.  Now the dairy, bulk and dry goods have a few people around, but they seem so focused on what they need to get done, they can’t even find the energy to help you find something.  When asked they will help, but not a real proactive approach.

Then we get to experience a real disconnect from the service experience when we check out.  They have a lot of employees working the registers, and it is rare to see the same person which means a lot of minimal part-time hours spread among a lot people.  I’ve found two super nice people, but the rest are stuck up and into getting you out the door with minimal interaction.  They are often chatting with each other about other employees (gossip) and snippy with customers.  I met the department manager one day when I observed the same behaviors as she was talking with two of her line supervisors.

My guess is the store director has left each department to figure out the customer experience, otherwise they would all be the same good or bad.  The director should be monitoring all employee behaviors and holding the department managers accountable.  The cashiers are the last point of contact in this store before the customer leaves, and lately each time I exit I ask myself why I should come back.

All Managers need to own the customer service experience.  It is time for every manager to step up to the plate and do your job!

Inspect What You Expect


While it is an old adage from management development training, managers should always be “inspecting the work environment for what they expect to happen.”  Nothing seems to be left to chance more often these days than Customer Service.

Have you noticed that the people you interact with at the market, bank or retail store these days are either very into making you feel like a valuable person, or they hardly acknowledge you are there at all?  I am always on the lookout for friendly and service focused people, and I make it a point to go and talk with a manager when I find one of these top-notch people.

Sadly I spend little time seeking out managers, because the level of service is so poor overall.  And yet this past week while shopping at PetSmart, I was impressed with a technique used to check out my cart load of cat food cans quickly.  I commented to this guy that he should share it with others as it makes the checkout process easier for the customer.  He smiled, thanked me for noticing, and said he would.  He made my day, and I appeared to make his.

So I sought out the manager.  I told her about my experience, his very positive response, and she replied, “really?”  I elaborated, and she just said, “okay” and walked away.  Wow, she was so unimpressed with a staff member, and yet she is the ultimate person in this store responsible for the customer experience.  I was left with the impression I had wasted her time, that she was flabbergasted that this guy was any good, and was not going to do or say anything after parting ways with me.

If she takes the time to inspect and catch people doing things right, it was not apparent, because this particular employee is always outgoing and pleasant to people.  In fact most of the check out staff is this way, but I am left wondering if she knows it.  How lucky she is to have this kind of staff, and how her competition could benefit if they could hire them away.

So when you are out there looking to catch your employees demonstrating desired behaviors, don’t be stingy with the compliments.  And when you find things happening that are not as you expect, make sure to address them with the employee soon, but always in private.

Being Polite to Strangers


Everyone reading this blog knows that I am an independent consultant.  That means that I am a small business owner, that makes my living providing services.  It also means that as an individual I am a consumer too.  I tell you all of this as what may appear obvious, but has escaped a lot of my recent interactions with local bankers.

I launched a campaign to introduce myself to several hundred senior leaders in banking in my local geography.  I used a low threat message that invited people to learn more in a 15 minute telephone conversation.  In most cases my message went completely unanswered, although I could confirm all messages had been delivered to an inbox and not a junk folder.

So first off, a majority of bankers were not interested in what I had to offer as a service, which of course was expected from such a campaign.  But what a majority of bankers also said by completely ignoring me was that I did not matter to them as a potential business and/or personal customer.

Now out of those that did respond, I was expecting responses that engaged with me, or at the very least were supportive.  And yet I discovered that people respond in a positive and negative way.

  • Most were polite, and gave me a credible reason why they were not interested in what I had to offer, and some just took the time to thank me for my information.
  • One Bank as a whole responded that while they had these services in-house, they wished me well with a worthwhile service.  I received over 15 such responses from the same bank!
  • One Bank was the polar opposite of the last one, has the same market as the other, and also specializes in small business banking, but their tone was dismissive and that I was bothering them.  In 90% of those responses I was told in several different ways I was an interruption to their day.
  • Lastly, a single CEO of a small bank said things I will not repeat here, safe to say he was over the top rude.

Now while all of these people have every right to respond the way they want to, I was puzzled that only a single bank was focused on service, and random others overall saw me as a potential customer someday.  Most probably would be interested in me if I walked through their doors, but that will never happen because when they had the chance to treat me with respect they failed.

How do your employees treat the people that they meet?  Are your employees focused on customer service 24/7 or only when they are on the clock?