This term is generally used by companies as a replacement for "layoffs".  After an experience I had the other day, I have a new way of thinking about it.  I frequently get my RBSUV (Really Big SUV) washed at a local place that offers hand-drying.  Ah, there's nothing like a clean car!  In the summer, they usually hire a lot of teenagers, mostly female, mostly pretty cute; good for business, no doubt.  The girl who was drying cars the other day was only about 5' tall.  Very nice, thanked me, smiled, etc.  But, she couldn't reach across my windshield to dry it off, so I had two options: let it air-dry and live for a couple days with water spots, right in my line of vision, potentially causing me to fixate on those, versus dodging all the texting-while-driving idiots.  Or, I could get out and dry it myself.  If you know me, you know which option I chose.
Have you right-sized your staff lately?  Do you have people who are too short to serve your customers?  Not literally, unless you own a car wash (or maybe a giraffe-dentistry business).  But, are they "short" with your customers, because they are simply not capable of being client services people?  Have you hired people with great technical skills and knowledge, then put them into sales positions, instead of hiring great salespeople and giving them the technical training they'll need?  Too often, we see people put in positions of selling, serving customers, and being on the front lines in general, who do not have the personality, skills or training to succeed.

So, Right Size.  Next time you hear this term, hopefully you'll think of it in this way.  But, if you put the wrong people in the wrong jobs, eventually you'll probably have to think about it the other way.      

Things Just Got Really Personal

As technology progresses and things start to get less and less personal, step outside the box and surprise your customers. When was the last time you wrote a letter? Everyone loves getting a personal note, so the next time you’re emailing to just “check-in” and say “thanks”, write a quick note. It’s different, and because it’s not just another email amongst the 3,000 your customers sift through daily, they will remember the gesture.

What else works? Keeping regular phone contact with your customers, within reason, allows them to connect with you personally. Talking, not emailing, through issues/questions/updates/concerns allows your customer get to know you on a personal level and ultimately trust your opinions and suggestions to help them with their business or improve on the service they receive.

In an age where everyone is glued to virtual communication, go retro. Your customers will appreciate it.

What Do Your Communications To Customers Really Say To Them?

I bought a small box of breath mints recently (proactively, of course), and the wrapper instructed me to open the box to see if I had won one of their sweepstakes prizes.  When I opened it, it said, "Sorry, you are not a winner".  So was I now a loser?  I was having a great day up to that point.  I found a mirror, and did my best Stuart Smalley pep-talk, and got back to feeling good about myself.  

What do your communications to customers really say to them?

1 oz. Customer Service = 1 lb. Advertising

Today, Seth Godin posted on his ever-valuable blog on business and marketing the value of customer service at the moment a brand is under the most scrutiny by a customer. As Godin writes, airlines are realizing that delayed or cancelled flights are prime opportunities to offer potentially annoyed customers perks like free online books and movies while they wait.

Read more here and keep in mind Seth’s word of warning: “if your organization has a stall, deny and avoid policy when it comes to customer interaction, you will almost certainly be defeated if a competitor comes up with a scalable way to delight.

Apples And Oranges Can Coexist

Whether a manufacturer, retailer or service provider, most great companies will employ customer satisfaction surveys to measure how effectively they are meeting or (hopefully) surpassing their customer’s expectations.  Frequently these companies will also have a mystery shop program in place to help measure and drive improvement in operations and customer experience.  Often times, when companies have both types of programs in place, they are developed, executed and consumed in separate spheres within an organization, with little or no thought as to how these programs could be used in conjunction for maximum benefit. Rather than treating these research methodologies like apples and oranges, companies can achieve maximum value by using them together.

Most customer satisfaction surveys will, at a minimum, provide a very generic rating of customer satisfaction on several aspects of the customer experience, as well as a more holistic rating of the overall experience.  By correlating the individual aspects of the customer interaction to overall ratings, the key drivers of a great customer experience will come into focus.  Yet, when comparing these crucial aspects of the customer experience to what is being measured in a mystery shopping program, there are many instances where there is a disconnect. The mystery shops may be not be focusing on or missing entirely these crucial drivers of customer satisfaction.  The following example may better illustrate this point.

A large retailer recently moved their mystery shopping program to IntelliShop from a competitor.  We were discussing ways to improve their mystery shop questionnaire and in these discussions it was asked if they have ever executed a customer satisfaction program, and if so would they be willing to provide the results.  The company had and did share the most recent data set from survey.  After combing through the data from the customer satisfaction survey, it was clear that the largest driver of customer was the checkout process. Yet when looking at their prior mystery shop questionnaire, this aspect of their operations was completely absent. The company wasn’t measuring their performance on the most crucial driver of their customer’s satisfaction!  Obviously this oversight was quickly corrected, and the mystery shop questionnaire modified to include and capture metrics about the checkout experience. Rather than develop a mystery shopping program based on assumptions, we had actual customer feedback to help focus the mystery shop on the operations that were the core drivers of overall satisfaction.

If customer satisfaction survey results can be correlated back to specific locations, the results can be instrumental in determining frequency of mystery shops at each location (provided the sample size at the location level is large enough to make the results statistically significant).  For instance, by increasing shop frequency at the stores/locations that consistently perform poorly in customer satisfaction surveys, while reducing the shops at the high performers, significant improvements in store performance can be actualized much more rapidly than would otherwise be achievable, without affecting budgets.

One of the flaws of customer satisfaction surveys is the subjective nature of the information they yield and their inability to collect detailed operational measurements.  They can provide good understanding into what are the general drivers of a positive customer experience; however, they cannot provide the detailed measures of store operations and performance in these areas. Without these details operational metrics it is impossible to develop, refine and test adherence best practices and processes.  Mystery shopping is the most effective way to collect this information.  While satisfaction surveys can give you the “what”, mystery shopping is the best way to get particulars on the “how” and “why” certain aspects of the customer experience drive satisfaction, and if these drivers are being performed effectively.  

Taken individually, both mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys are great tools for gathering insights into the customer experience.  Satisfaction surveys measure the outcomes of the customer experience, and mystery shops measure process performance.  Each provide only a part of the picture when trying to measure and improve customer satisfaction.  Used together, a company will not only have a deeper and more holistic view of the customer experience, they will be able to quickly find out where issues with satisfaction or dissatisfaction may be addressed,  and drive improvement in those areas far more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. Ultimately, by merging these research tools together and using them in tandem you will build a deeper level of customer loyalty and a higher incidence of referral, and that is very good for the bottom line.