Tag Archives: Customer service

Why Don’t They Answer The Phone?

I wrote last week about the new area in which I’ve begun consulting. Thank you, by the way, to all of you who both read the announcement and sent along your support.

The bulk of the people to whom I speak about investing in a franchise come to me via a system of ads. Some of the ads promote a specific brand and others just speak to the great opportunity buying into a franchise affords someone who is looking to work for themselves. Both types of ads generate leads. These are people who fill out a form and ask to be contacted. With me so far?

What’s struck me after contacting nearly 100 of these respondents is how few of them actually respond. I realize not everyone is going to answer the phone, but if they don’t, I leave a polite voicemail and send them an email as well. Obviously, they’ve provided the information. Most don’t respond to either, even to say “hey, I was bored late one night and I filled this out but I’m not really interested.”

You should know that I’m not selling them anything. My services are free. Like a realtor, I’m paid by the seller; in this case, the franchisor. Once I get them on the telephone, it takes only about 10 minutes for me to assess their needs and to figure out how we should proceed, so this process is neither time-consuming nor costly. They’ve taken the time to start the process yet they hit the brakes before it even gets going.

What’s the point for your business? Sometimes customers know they have a need but they’re afraid of solving the problem. For any of us, change is hard. For people who are unhappy with their lives, it can be crippling to believe that there is a better way on the other end of the phone or through the door to your business. In my case, most of these people want to change their lives somehow and I think they were channeling that when they filled out the form. When change came knocking at their door (or calling their phones), the fear kicked in. Any business faces that to a certain extent. Why don’t people go for physicals? Putting aside the cost, I think in part it’s because they don’t feel bad and they don’t want to know if something is wrong. If the states didn’t mandate auto inspections, how many people would routinely have a mechanic give it the once over as preventative maintenance?

Part of what we need to do as good businesspeople is to guide our customers. They may be fearful or reluctant. Remember that they wouldn’t be at your door if they didn’t have a problem big or small that they need to be solved. Your job (and mine) is to help them with that solution and a better life. Make sense?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

The Sense Of Being Valued

I was reading an article about an emerging form of advertising the other day. It’s a form in which people who view ads are paid for having done so. You can read the article about it here but one thing in the article got me thinking and I hope it has the same effect on you.

The CEO of the company that’s doing this – AdWallet – was asked if this was just “slackers” trying to put a few extra bucks in their pockets. What he had to say was this:

They’re not Millennial slackers looking to earn money on the side, he says. Instead, the average AdWallet user is 45 years or older and earns more than $100,000 a year. The main reason they have been using the platform, he says, is not the money, but the sense of being valued (emphasis added).

That’s something that often gets lost in the marketing process, especially when expressing value to our customers takes a backseat to making more money off of them. For example, many companies are using chat-bots for customer service. Nothing infuriates me more than when I have a problem and, after having tried to solve the problem myself, I call customer service only to reach a phone tree. Reaching a bot instead of a human using many companies’ “live chat” help feature is just as bad. The message I get is “we value profits more than we value you.”

It’s almost as bad as when I get a human and they have no insight at all as to who I am. I give them account information or order numbers and they have no record of past transactions or the fact that I might have called in the past with an issue. I had this experience recently with one of the large ticketing companies. I was supposed to get a CD with at ticket purchase and the code they sent didn’t work. I spent 20 minutes reaching a human who promised me to get back to me with an answer. It’s been two months: No CD and no explanation. Message received: “we are so damn big that we don’t have to care.”

I’ve had similar issues with financial service companies (almost an oxymoron there since their “service” is non-existent) and many others, as I’m sure you have. Yes, I sometimes express my frustration via social media and here on the screed. More often than not I do whatever I can do to avoid interacting with this company again, taking my business elsewhere is at all possible.

When I was running an online commerce store I used to remind our customer service types that I didn’t expect them to solve every problem that arose. What I did expect, however, is that every single customer knew that we valued them, were listening. and would do whatever we could to rectify the issue even if it meant we’d sacrifice some margin by expending time and resources to do so. It’s always easier to retain and up-sell an existing customer than to find a new customer. You do that by letting them know how much you value them on a regular basis. What was the last time you did that?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Mistakes Were Made

Foodie Friday, and I’ll bet that a number of you will be going out this weekend. We’ve all had the problem of placing a food or drink order and what you ordered isn’t what you get. It’s really a problem when you’ve ordered delivery. What’s more frustrating than your vegetarian pizza showing up with pepperoni or your steamed dumplings arriving fried?

Mistakes happen. I used to run an online store that fulfilled tens of thousands of orders each year. Mathematically speaking, if we performed perfectly 99.9% of the time, there are still 100 screwed up orders out of every 100,000 (and we did way more orders than that). What I used to ask my folks was to listen to the customer (and put aside their heated and often unpleasant language), apologize for the problem (even if we didn’t cause it), and solve it. Maybe they clicked on a wrong key or maybe our inventory system didn’t react in real time, telling them that something was in stock when it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. They are customers, and it’s easier to retain a customer than it is to find a new one.

Let’s go back to our delivery example (since today is food-related!). Suppose the cook forgot to pack the drinks ordered with the pizza. How can you catch this before the customer even knows there’s an issue? Make every person in the chain responsible for checking the order. Does it match the ticket? As an aside, I always ask the restaurant to read me back my order when I place it and I’m always surprised when they don’t ask to do that themselves. If the ticket isn’t right, no matter what steps are taken along the way, the order is wrong.

But let’s suppose there is a failure and the food goes out without the sodas. When the customer asks where they are, you have a few options. Send out a second delivery person (if you have one), make a second trip (if you don’t), or empower the delivery person to hit a store near the customer and buy what’s missing. My guess is that this is the fattest, least expensive solution since it minimizes the time to correct the mistake. Another option when the customer calls to complain might be to credit back the missing items as well as some or all of what was delivered. The reality is if they care enough to call you need to care enough to keep them.

Any business is a team effort. No one can think, much less say, it’s not my job to take responsibility for making a customer happy. Whether you’re a food business or not, read back what a customer is asking. Say something if the order is right but something seems off (“oh, you DON’T want chocolate on the pizza, you want chocolate cake!”). Most importantly, be prepared for mistakes. They’re going to happen. The real challenge, beyond preventing them as best you can, is making a customer happy when they occur. How are you doing with that?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Are You Gaslighting Your Customers?

I did something dumb but in the process of rectifying my error, I also learned that some companies are still doing something equally dumb, which is treating their customers as adversaries. Let me explain.

I bought tickets to a concert. As a part of the purchase, I was given the option to download the band’s latest album. As an aside, I’m finding this offer with quite a few of the bands I go to see, and it reinforces the notion in my mind that recorded music is a tiny part of the music business equation these days. The real money is in touring, and giving away an album helps increase the value of a ticket. Who knows – maybe it even gets some folks who might not otherwise go to a show to get out for an evening. What is the incremental cost of a digital download? Next to nothing, but the value is high to a fan.

It was with that digital download that I had my issue. I received an email from Ticketmaster, through whom I had bought the tickets, telling me to click on a link to start the download. It began without issue, but my computer locked up about halfway through the process. I rebooted and tried to restart the download to no avail. The link is single use and I had already clicked on it. The page said that if I’d had a problem to reach out via online help.

I connected to online chat. after a 17 minute wait (during which time they did show me what number I was in the queue), on came “Luis”, my customer service rep. I explained the situation and he went to verify my order, which he was able to do.

I do not show that this artist is part of our Album offer, did you get that email from Ticketmaster?

I cut and pasted the email copy. He asked for the domain that sent it, which I gave him. Here is where the real problem begins.

We have verified the email you have received and unfortunately it is not the same as ours.

Uh yeah, Luis, it is. You’re Ticketmaster and it came from a Ticketmaster domain. But it gets worse.

I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately Ticketmaster does not offer the album.

OK, now I’m angry. I feel as if I’m being gaslighted. They sent me an email about the download and it was in the confirmation email for my order, they gave me a link, the download got halfway through, the artist’s website says they’re giving away a download with each ticket order, and yet the person they have “helping” me is telling me that none of that came from them and there is no offer to begin with.

Here is the end of the discussion which followed my asking him exactly those questions. The time code, by the way, is the duration of the conversation, so we’re over a half hour of my time to clear this up:

00:32:12 Luis: Someone else may have gotten hold of your email address, and sent you the made up information.

00:33:31 KeithR : So let’s see – they know I bought tickets last night and they built links into Ticketmaster for a unique download code which now won’t redeem a second time?

00:33:36 KeithR : Is that your theory?

00:34:51 Luis : I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately the email that was sent to you is not the same domain that is sent by Ticketmaster, unfortunately, since this artist is not part of the album offer shown on our end nor the artist page, we would not be able to further assist you.

Implied next sentence, don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you go away. I use Ticketmaster/Live Nation a lot. I think even they would admit that they are not a beloved entity, mostly because of the multiple and high service fees (most of which are NOT imposed by them!). Any company needs to sit on the same side of the table as its customers, helping them to resolve the problem and not sitting in the adversarial position Luis staked out for himself. By the way, I called Ticketmaster and within minutes had a customer service agent who did just that, aligning herself with my needs and sending an email to a supervisor to get my problem resolved.

I suspect I just got a badly trained or unmotivated agent the first time. I’d be curious if they’re Ticketmaster employees or an outside firm that’s paid on some basis (time on phone/chat, number of calls fielded) rather than on that aligns with customers (cases successfully resolved for the customer). Customers may not have a choice when it comes to buying tickets but they probably do when they’re interacting with your business. How are you treating them?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Music

DIY Failure

What do you do when you’ve done almost everything right and yet your business is failing? It’s not a hypothetical question and the answers I’ve come up with kind of scare me a little. Let’s see what you think.

The town from which I moved has fewer and fewer “mom and pop” stores. Most of them have been replaced by national chains. Main Street used to be unique, interesting retailers. Now it’s basically an outdoor copy of most malls with chain store after chain store packed in next door to one another. I still read the local news from the town in which I lived for 35 years and I was saddened to see that another one has bitten the dust. Let me explain why it raised some questions in my mind.

It was a local hardware store run by a family who is well-known in the town. As one local blogger wrote, “They’ve been the go-to place for gardening supplies in spring, rakes in the fall, paint and keys and pest control and light bulbs and a lot more whenever we need it.” It wasn’t huge but as local places go it had a fair amount of inventory and I suspect that it could satisfy the Do It Yourself needs of most folks. Therein lies the problem. The owner put it well, citing irreversible challenges, including online sales competition and the loss of skilled DIYers to a keypad culture.

Guilty as charged, sir. Much of the time I just have Amazon deliver what I know I’ll need in a day or two. Of course, in my old town, fewer and fewer people actually even do things themselves, preferring to call someone. When I changed out my first toilet fill valve here in my new place, I did think to myself that I probably would have called a plumber and paid for an hour of his or her time to do a 10-minute job – 40 if you count the time it took to run to Walmart to get the part.

This family did everything right. They were never too busy to help you understand how to do a repair or improvement job as they made sure you had the right materials and tools. They personalized everything, something the online world is still learning to do. Did you pay a little more (and it really was a little)? Yes, but you also were 100% sure you had what you needed. The market has changed, however, and competing with Home Depot or Lowes or Amazon (for the smaller number of people in town who still did things themselves) became impossible.

What would I have advised them? More in-store classes, a better online presence establishing themselves as local, available experts, maybe get a kid to deliver. Yes, the big guys do some of that too, but having the local, familiar edge could make a difference. I’m not sure any of that would have worked, but I also know that most retail is still brick and mortar, not online. I do think that competing with online as well as with giant home improvement centers, however, is too much. The benefits of technology are generally good, but in this case, tech has disrupted the local ecosystem, much as introducing a non-native predator to solve one problem can cause many others. Any local grocery stores in your town? Not in mine. Auto repair, restaurants, clothing stores, heck, even car dealers are all heading down this same path. Could your business be as well? What can you do NOW?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

A.I. Aye Yi Yi

One of the hottest topics in business these days is artificial intelligence. One can hardly pick up a business publication of any sort and not trip over an algorithm. AI is being used to do everything from writing articles to running chatbots to protecting against fraud. There is one problem with AI, though, and that’s our topic today. 

You’ve probably encountered something that’s the product of AI. A fair number of game summaries one finds in the sports pages (physical or digital) are, in fact, written by machines. Same with many company summaries in the financial section. The main problem with these pieces is that they’re great at populating a template with all the facts and not so great at figuring out the “why.” You might also have used an online chat function to get some customer service support. More often then not, that’s AI at work as well. But that’s not the business problem I want to discuss.

The problem with most of the AI solutions I read about is that they’re all geared toward helping a business but they’re not focused at all on helping the customer. If you’ve ever wandered into an AI-driven customer support phone line you know what I mean. Get outside of what the algorithm can handle and your blood pressure is sure to soar. While the bot on the other end knows all about you if you’re able to identify yourself in the way the AI is designed (frequent shopper number, etc.), if you don’t know what phone number was used to create the account or you’re a frequent shopper without a frequent shopper ID (some folks don’t live being tracked, you know), it’s hard to get support. Humans are still better at solving many non-standard requests.

I get that sharing all your data – what you read, what you watch, where you go, what you eat, etc. – can help a company give you better recommendations. The problem is that many of the companies use that as a pretext to sell you products you might not really need. Can any of us really know how the data was used to create a recommendation? When a fitness app tells us we’re having sleep issues because our data says so and says we need to buy a new mattress, can we trust that or is it an affiliate deal that brings the fitness app a commission? Maybe we just ought not to have that nightcap instead if we want to sleep better?

I think the use of AI in some areas is fantastic. Fraud protection, for example. It’s easy for AI to spot something that’s out of place in your credit card use and send you an alert. That’s customer-centric. Using a bot to cut costs while providing a lesser experience isn’t and that’s my issue with much of the AI work that’s going on now. What’s your take?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Touch Me, Feel Me

I was cleaning out some old stuff on my computer this morning when I came across a receipt for something I had purchased online in 2005. I knew I had been an online shopper for a long time. I can’t recall the last holiday season during which I stepped foot into a retail store. I mean, I don’t like to so shop for anything on the weekend due to crowds and lines so I’m rarely in a physical store between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Given the explosive growth of online commerce, apparently many other folks prefer not to hit the stores either. I mean, the share online represents of global retail sales has almost doubled from 2015 to 2018, and is projected nearly to triple by 2021. It’s booming! That said, online is still less than 15% of retail and will be less than 20% even 5 years from now. There’s a reason for that and it’s not just shipping costs or the difficulty in finding a product.

Most people – almost 75% according to a recent study – visit stores to touch and feel products. If you’re browsing and come across an unfamiliar brand of shoe or clothing, how comfortable are you buying it without examining it for quality and fit? I’m certainly not, and I share that feeling with the vast majority, apparently. Sure, the return process isn’t as difficult as it used to be with many online stores, but who wants to deal with it? I want to see the product, which I can do on or offline, but I also want to feel it, touch it, and check it for quality.

That’s a significant advantage that brick and mortar stores have, one that they should exploit to keep market share. They can merchandise product in a way that online stores can’t. They can use in-store displays. More importantly, as we’ve said many times here on the screed, they can offer a level of personalized customer service that no online store can offer.

Try it yourself. Before you go on a shopping trip, hit the store’s online presence first. See if the two experiences are equal. If the retailer’s physical presence is doing things right, there won’t be a comparison. Shopping for a golf club or a bat or a racquet online at Dick’s Sporting Goods is nothing like going to my local Dick’s store and swinging it. I can browse through a lot more books in a shorter time at my local Barnes and Noble vs. their online store. I’m on my own online. There are pros in golf and tennis to help me in-store.

I don’t think brick and mortar is dead, not by a long shot. I do think stores will fail if they don’t take advantage of the built-in advantages they have. Cutting staff, not investing in merchandising, and simply becoming warehouses where people pick up their online purchases won’t cut it. Does that align with your thinking?.

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud