AngryI recently had a customer service experience that I feel compelled to share.  Just a bit of background first . . .

I used this outside vendor for the past 12 months, with no issues.  However, I was not deriving the necessary ROI (Return on Investment) for this service.  Therefore I cancelled this service, compliant with the understanding they needed 30 days prior notification.  While looking at my business account some 45 days later, I noticed a recent charge that should not have been there- for this very service.  Therefore, I notified the company and requested reversal of the charges.

I received the following email as a reply to my request for the reversal of charges . .

“When you cancel, we do require a 30 day notification, so if you’re notifying us today that you do wish to cancel your agreement with us, that would technically start the 30 day notification as of now, and September would be your final payment due to us.”

After wasting my time researching and providing previous emails to this company, I received the following response . . .

“I wasn’t privy to these emails, so my apologies. I will instruct accounting to reimburse you immediately.”

As of today, over one week later, I am STILL waiting for the reimbursement into my account. In fact I am thinking that my next email will be to question the timeliness of their commitment to the word ‘immediately’.

What went wrong?

This business is not a terribly large, with only 15 employees, but (whether they admit it or not) they have significant challenges with their customer service.

1- Communication.  All communication needs to be shared with all people in their customer service area, by customer account is preferred.

2- Never write an email with a confrontational tone. There should be Systems and Procedures that have an approved email template that customer service personnel can use without deviation.  Remember, the objective for Customer Service is to help the customer not anger the customer.

3- In an apology, there are three critical parts that need to be addressed:

a. We made a mistake.

b. We are sorry for this mistake.

c. What can we do make it up to you?

4- The cost of acquiring a new client is six times more than maintaining an existing client.  I am NOT a satisfied (previous) customer, therefore the ultimate cost of a dis-satisfied customer has an huge exponential (and largely unknown) cost to your business.

5-    Every customer service break-down, represents the opportunity to identify and improve the level of the customer experience.

What to do?

You need to get into your customers’ heads.  Unfortunately, you can’t read minds. The Technician in you accepts this and tries to genuinely meet your customers’ expectations. Unfortunately, this doesn’t cut it.

The business owner wearing the Technician hat takes the easy route and bases the company’s entire customer experience system on the “standard” systems they see everywhere else.

• The automated hold message says, “Your call is important to us…”

• The customer service represent asks, “How may I help you?”

• The supervisor replies in a neutral tone, “I understand your frustration.”

These things might work at times. But they’re not achieving the desired result. In fact, they’re keeping your business stagnant.  If your business is like most, you thrive on repeat business, loyal customers, excellent customer service and positive word-of-mouth.

So, if the desired result is a healthy and thriving customer base that will keep coming back and telling others about you (and it should be), it’s time to change hats. Many companies have been able to achieve this. But staggering numbers haven’t, even though it’s entirely within their reach.

Companies that create a healthy customer base do so by providing an exceptional customer experience. They create an experience with a systematic approach and intention to exceed customer expectations.  It’s not by accident.  It’s by design.  The two areas of focus that most business owners tend to unintentionally overlook are also the two areas that can have the greatest impact on increased sales and profitability.

Customer Service and Delivery

“Customer service” is an overused phrase that has little meaning any more, but customers still want their needs met. To accomplish this requires that customer service is the responsibility of every employee, whether they have direct customer contact or not.

Customer service is different from any add-on service you offer for sale.  If you charge money for a service, it’s part of your product mix.  Customer Service is free.

Customer Service enhances your main offer – it’s not your main offer – but a pleasantly unexpected bonus that reinforces your message that you care.

Customer Service opportunities are endless.  It is a major area that can give you a competitive advantage – especially if you are seen as a commodity with numerous competitors.  So when you start thinking about the customer services you might offer, think beyond the obvious.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What attributes of your business lend themselves to better customer service?  Don’t be afraid to experiment and then elicit feedback from the people who know best – your customers.

Delivery Experience

There comes that moment in your customer experience where your customer accepts delivery of your product or service. This really is the moment of truth. It’s the culminating moment where you either exceed, meet, or fall short of your customers’ expectations.

The mechanics for delivery are different for every business, but every business has a process to get the product or service into a customer’s hands. The question you must ask yourself is: does it “deliver?” Delivery has two main components: transportation and experience.

Transportation runs from very simple to very complicated – from handing your customer their product at the time of purchase to outsourcing to a parcel delivery service. This decision is informed by the nature of the product or service and the available transportation channels.

One of the keys to building customer loyalty is to regularly subject your transportation systems to various measureable analytics – making sure you deliver the result your customers expect at the most reasonable cost.

The delivery experience, on the other hand, is your opportunity to differentiate your business from every other competitor.  In order to do that, you must fully leverage the marketing principle of “sensory impact.”

In other words, you need to do more than simply hand off your product or service to your customer; you need to make them feel good about the value they receive. The way you present your product or service to the customers who purchase it will have a lasting impact on their experience of your business.

While your concerns about delivery might be the costs of shipping, the reliability of your transport company, and whether to ship ground or air, your customers have their own definition of delivery.

They are focused on convenience, speed, and the cost to them. And because they look at how the package arrives, having it delivered by premium shippers like UPS or FedEx can enhance the perceived value to your clients. Not because those trucks are any better than anyone else’s, but because they are associated with speed and convenience.

From your clients’ perspective, you cared enough to satisfy them quickly, even if you had to pay extra for it. The result is a positive delivery experience.  Remember, “the medium is the message.” How you say or do something often has more impact than the actual content of the message.

In other words, the way in which you present your product to your customer may often times have more impact than the product itself.

Doing What It Takes

As a business owner, you know your resources are finite.  There is only so much equipment, inventory, cash, workspace, and employee time available.

When considering how to excel in providing an exceptional customer experience, it’s up to you to get the most value from those resources. But there’s more to it than just quantifying output.

It is counter-productive to your goals to simply squeeze more cost-effectiveness from your processes if it dilutes or sacrifices your customer experience or places undue burdens on your employees.

The key is to manage that delicate balance between productivity and the expectations that fuel true customer satisfaction.


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