Tag Archives: Customer service

There’s A Little Cafe…

Foodie Friday and we’re heading overseas this morning. To Vienna, specifically, where, as The Boss wrote about San Diego, “there’s a little cafe.” Now I don’t know if they “play guitars all night and all day” but I do know one thing they do. They charge customers who plug in their phones or laptops to recharge them. As the Reuters article on this quoted the owner:

Austria, Vienna, Hundertwasserhaus

Hundertwasserhaus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tourists – always electricity, electricity, electricity. Sorry but who is going to pay me for it?” said Pokorny, owner of the Terrassencafe in Hundertwasserhaus – located inside a colorful patchwork of apartments designed by artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Customers who charge up during a 15-minute coffee can still do so for free, she said. An hour, however, is beyond the pale.

On the surface, a reasonable business practice, right? Electricity costs money, and if each of the outlets is in use most of the day incurring costs that aren’t built into the charge for the coffee, it seems reasonable to pass those costs on to the customers who incur them, right? Maybe, except for a couple of things.

First, someone figured out that it costs about $.84 (that’s 84 cents) to charge a smartphone for a year. That’s using an overnight charge but one can assume timewise that’s comparable to an outlet being in use for a full day. This cafe is charging customers 1 Euro (which is about $1.06 at the moment) if they plug in for more than 15 minutes. In other words, this is more of a profit center than the owner is letting on.

Put that aside. It not customer friendly. Cafe culture in Europe is about sitting and enjoying, not about grabbing a coffee to go. This owner knows that – she offers free wifi. Is it not part of the same welcoming, customer-centric mindset to offer free electricity as well? If your customers are sitting and enjoying, is it unreasonable for them to plug in and charge up while using the free wifi you offer?

I wrote earlier this week about misleading statements in marketing materials. Offering free wifi and charging for electricity feels as if it’s the same type of insult to your customer. Unless this cafe’s coffee is a cut above anything else nearby (and there is almost always decent coffee nearby in Europe), they’re being extremely short-sighted. If the coffee is that good, raise the price a few pennies to cover the cost of whatever electricity seems to be used. Don’t insult your customers by sending mixed messages or by nickel and diming them.

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Filed under food, Huh?

Asked And Answered

I’m constantly advocating that we listen to our customers. One of the ways that we can do that is through surveys. The problem with many surveys is that we don’t ask the right questions, or we ask the right questions in the wrong way. Let me explain.

Suppose I were to ask about Obamacare. I might ask if you approve or disapprove of the law. Simple question, right? Unfortunately, wrong. To someone on the right, the “disapprove” answer might come from a disagreement with the mandate that we all have health insurance. To someone on the left, the “disapprove” response might come from feeling that the law doesn’t go far enough and a single payer system is what we need. Same answers, very different perspectives.

We often make that same mistake by not digging deeply enough. We’re told to avoid open-ended questions in survey design (they’re not computer friendly, after all), but in so doing we end up with data which is ambivalent at best and useless at worst. We also make the mistake of asking both new and returning customers the same things. Their perspectives are different and one group should have better, different insights from which we can learn.

Try to remember that consumers get hit up with surveys everywhere these days. You can’t make a customer service call without being prompted to stay on the line after you hang up to complete a survey. Many websites will pop up a user-experience survey while you’re in the midst of trying to find some important information. We need to survey but we need to be judicious. We need to be as personal as we can and to be respectful of our consumer’s time by not asking 30 questions (3 or 4 are optimal).

As with anything in business, put yourself in the customer’s position first. If what you’re asking is vague, repetitive, burdensome, or impersonal, you’ve already got your answer. It’s in your low response rates.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Digging Into The Cart

One thing our digital age has given us is the ability to measure and understand what is going on in our businesses. We can learn even more by layering research on top of the data so that we understand not just the “what” but also the “why.”

A piece of research from Episerver has done that with respect to consumer shopping behaviors and their expectations for brands. While the study is focused on online commerce, I think many of the data points it surfaces apply into other business segments as well. Let’s see what you think.

The primary finding is that 92% of consumers will visit a brand’s website for the first time for reasons other than making a purchase. Of shoppers visiting a website for the first time, 45% are searching for a product or service, 25% are comparing prices or other variables, and more than one in 10 are looking for details about a physical location. A third of consumers who visit a brand’s website or mobile app with the explicit intent of making a purchase rarely or never complete checkout. Further, 98% of shoppers have been dissuaded from completing a purchase because of incomplete or incorrect content on a brand’s website, underscoring the need for descriptive, accurate content.

When consumers are prepared to make a purchase on a website or mobile app, the report found 60% go directly to the product page for the item they’re looking for. Another 18% look at sale items first, and 7% seek out customer testimonials before anything else.

What does all of that mean? In a word, engagement. Your ability to engage the consumer is key because the odds are that unless they feel engaged they’re not coming back. The fact that the overwhelming majority of first-time visitors are NOT there to buy points to an opportunity. How can you serve the real reasons why they’re there? How can you provide them with the information they need (accurate content, easily visible sale items, obvious, verified customer comments, etc.)

Hopefully, this is yet another piece of research that falls into the “duh” category. Most of the findings point to actions we should take that are just common sense. They’re the way we’d all like to be treated when we put on our consuming hats, aren’t they?

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Tastes And Trends

Foodie Friday! This is the time of year when there are all sorts of articles written about the best and worst of the previous year along with some predictions for the upcoming one. Food writers go along with this, of course, and I was reading a piece on some predictions for food trends in 2017. The predictions range from many foods with breakable crusts (think along the lines of creme brulee) to mixed use restaurants (co-working space by day, eatery by night) to more complex vegan food.

I must admit that I’m not really one who pays attention to food trends. For example, a friend taught me a chopped kale salad (finely chopped kale, arugula, toasted pine nuts, some grated parmesan cheese, EVOO and a squeeze of lemon!). It has become a staple on my dinner table. It’s not there because kale was trendy at one point or even because it’s particularly healthy. It’s there because it’s delicious. Which is, of course, the business point.

Do you buy heirloom tomatoes because they’re en vogue? Will you buy bread made from heirloom wheat because you want to impress your friends? The answer to those questions is a firm “no.” You buy those things because they taste better than many alternatives, even if they might cost a little more. No one repeatedly patronizes our businesses because they want to be a style maven per se. Sure, if you’re selling this month’s fashion there is a segment of the population that needs the ego boost of wearing the latest thing. But as with the puffy shirt episode of Seinfeld, style or trends can be fleeting. Customers want reliability and great value as you solve their problems.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing that many of the things I like in this world – foods, musicians, golf courses – tend to be classics that have endured over time. I’m also realizing that many of the businesses I patronize – even if they’re relatively new – have the characteristics that are eternal in business. They put the customer first, they deliver great value, and I can rely on them to always deliver what they promise and more. That’s a trend that’s always in fashion.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

We The People

If you’ve spent any time on social media over the last few years, you’ve probably seen a petition circulated by someone you know. You might have even clicked on the petition, either out of a shared concern or just to support your friend. But have you ever wondered about the efficacy of doing so? Is there anybody on the other end? And since we’re addressing this here on the screed, what can it tell me about my business?

Many of these petitions are run through an online petitioning system called “We The People.” This was set up in 2011 by The White House. As one article explains it:

The White House promised to use the site to engage with the public and to issue responses to all petitions that reached a given number of signatures within 30 days of creation. The original threshold was set at 5,000 signatures but was increased to 100,000 in later years.

So yes, there is someone on the other end. We know that because a few of the online petitions have actually resulted in legislation that became law. For example, you now can unlock your phone and port it to another carrier. That came about from an online petition. If you saw President Obama on Bill Mahr’s show you were watching the result of an online petition. If you’re a Yogi Berra fan, you can thank an online petition for him being given the Medal Of Freedom. There are several other cases, but the important thing is that yes, someone is listening and, more importantly, someone is following through.

That’s what you can take away for your business. First, there needs to be an easy pathway for consumers (and we’re all consumers of government!) to reach out and express something. Second, someone needs to pay attention to what it is they’re saying. Don’t dismiss ideas out of hand when thousands of consumers voice support for something that’s not on your radar, much less your agenda. Third, act. Even if you’re unable to to do what the petition (or whatever form you choose) is asking, let the people know that their voices have been heard and the reason for your course of action.

“We The People” is the basis of our system of government. It’s not a bad basis for guiding your business either, is it?

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A Law Against Being Dumb

We all hate it when people say negative things about us. Obviously, if you’re a business and this happens, the odds are that the mean things are posted in some very public places, which can be damaging to your business. I’ve written a few times about various tactics a business can use to respond to negative reviews or comments: ignoring them, denying them, addressing them in a positive manner, or suing the person who posted them. This last tactic, which is, in my mind, the least effective and most dangerous, is no longer an option.
One of the last things the outgoing Congress did was to pass H.R. 5111 – The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016. This law, in its own words:

makes a provision of a form contract void from the inception if it: (1) prohibits or restricts an individual who is a party to such a contract from engaging in written, oral, or pictorial reviews, or other similar performance assessments or analyses of, including by electronic means, the goods, services, or conduct of a person that is also a party to the contract; (2) imposes penalties or fees against individuals who engage in such communications; or (3) transfers or requires the individual to transfer intellectual property rights in review or feedback content (with the exception of a nonexclusive license to use the content) in any otherwise lawful communications about such person or the goods or services provided by such person.

In other words, businesses can’t sue someone because they impose a form contract that prohibits the customer from making negative comments and it forbids businesses from slapping fees on customers who do so. We’ve seen this done by several businesses over negative Yelp reviews. Then there is the case of the company that bricked a users software after he posted a negative review (and I’m unclear if the Act actually prohibits this!). As you’re reading this, I’m hoping your response is “why do we need a law to stop businesses from being stupid?”

Good point. That said, some consumers have spent many hours and thousands of dollars defending themselves against voicing their honest opinions which are based in fact (the law doesn’t by the way, negate existing libel or slander laws). But let’s not stray from the important point: how to handle negative reviews.

  1. Apologize. Do so loudly and in the same forum where the consumer voiced their opinion. It doesn’t matter if they’re dead wrong.
  2. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if there are grounds for the complaint. Be honest. Is this a one-off or have others complained about similar issues?
  3. Ask to take the discussion offline into a private forum – email, phone, direct messages, etc.
  4. Make it right – no “buts” and don’t “try.” That doesn’t mean you should accept a ridiculous offer from them (lifetime free meals because they found a hair in their salad) but you should compromise on something that is reasonable and lets the customer know they’ve been taken seriously and not ignored.

We shouldn’t need a law to help businesses from being dumb but until many of us wise up and quit suing our customers for voicing their opinions, this one is on the books. Thoughts?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

The Missing Ingredient

First Foodie Friday of the year! If you read yesterday’s post you know that I’m on the road in Florida wth my folks, moving them into an independent living community. Part of the appeal of where they’ll be living is that their meals are all served in a lovely central dining room. I’ve now eaten there a few times and while the food was nicely cooked, I felt that it was on the bland side. Something is definitely missing. I thought it might be seasoning but I did have a blackened salmon one night which certainly had spice. It took until last evening to put my finger on it.

Their new home is a community where many of the residents suffer from hypertension. As a result, the chef doesn’t use much salt in his cooking. While there is salt (and pepper) available on the table, I guess I’ve become used to most dishes I’m served (and those I cook myself) having an appropriate, although not excessive, amount of salt to enhance the other flavors that are going on in the dish. That’s what was lacking here, and it’s a good reminder about business as well.

No one orders most dishes with salt in mind (ok, salt crusted fish and a few other things are the exceptions) but they will certainly notice if the salt is absent. There are certain things customers expect from a business which are certainly not their primary reason for patronizing a business but which will dimish the experience if they’re not present. Sometimes we forget the most basic, simple ingredients in our businesses or we dimish their importance. That’s a big mistake. Even if other elements are perfect, the lack of a key, basic ingredient can wipe out all of our good work. We need to pay as much attention to the basics as we do to the spectacular stuff that makes us shine.

I don’t fault the chef here. He is serving a community with some specific medical issues that require an adjustment in basic cooking best practices. You probably aren’t in the same situation. Your community expects you to include the key ingredients. Are you doing so?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud