The One Thing Companies Can’t Cut In This Tough Economy: Customer Service Employees
While staff reductions may be necessary as sales slow in this economy, the people who serve your customers need to be the last staff considered for cutbacks. This is because customer service employees are in the absolute best position to help you keep your current customers.
You probably already know that it costs 5-6 times more to win a new customer than it does to keep a current customer. A strong frontline keeps your customers.
BusinessWeek (March 2, 2009) reports cutting back just 4 Call Center Reps out of 3 dozen can send the number of customers put on hold for 4-minutes from zero customers to 80 customers. Do you really think 80 of your customers are willing to hold for 4-minutes every single day?
And not only are long hold times a problem (and that is a BIG problem), but the fact is, 60% of consumers prefer speaking with a live agent. Consumer interest in speaking with live people is so strong that a few years ago a man named Paul English founded the “gethuman” movement with the sole objective of restoring personal contact in customer service.
Gethuman.com is a pretty cool website. It is a database of secret phone numbers and shortcuts to reach a human at 500 major corporations. The first time I used it I’d just received an email alert on my BlackBerry from American Airlines that my flight from Columbus to Tulsa had been cancelled. I immediately called the toll-free number listed on the email message, but I could not get a live person to save my life. I remembered the gethuman movement and pulled up the website. There I learned that to get a live body at American, I just needed to hit “0” at every single prompt, ignoring all messages.
If a website exists for the sole purpose of showing consumers how to get in touch with people, what does that say about customer service today?
Bottom Line: Yes, times are tough for a lot of us, but the frontline is not where you want to make your cuts. You need to safeguard your service in this economy. Find other areas to make cuts and don’t cut from the frontline. You need the frontline to serve your customers and to keep customers from even thinking about defecting to the competition.
Many of the major airlines are charging for checked luggage and Talbots has stiffened rules for returns. These are the kinds of cuts you need to creatively search for. The frontline is not where you need to make cuts.
Need help brainstorming areas to make cuts that don’t include the frontline? Check out my friend John Storm of Brainstorm Network. He’s masterful at helping companies come up with ideas for profit generation, cost-reduction, and innovation.
Have you ever shopped at the Container Store? If you’re working in customer service, and you want an enlightening (and thought-provoking) benchmark for your company, I urge you to get out and visit a Container Store this weekend.
The Container Store is a leading retail chain specializing in home organization products, such as wire shelving, plastic shower totes, shoe bags, food packaging, knife and peg racks, and bins.
Over the past four years the company has expanded throughout the United States , maintained infinitesimal turnover that is unheard of in the retail industry, and ranked 1st or 2nd on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.
How do they do it?
Every Container Store employee is strategically trained to think flexibly to solve customers’ organization problems. And the company does this with an air of excitement by using the 1950’s Gumby clay-figure TV star.
“Being Gumby”—bending over backward to please customers (and co-workers)—is highly prized at the Container Store. (So is training—Container Store employees average 162 hours a year!)
Get this…I read in Fortune Magazine that at a Container Store in Dallas, there’s an IT manager, who is also a part-time yoga instructor who teaches free weekly yoga classes to her staff. Her colleagues have responded enthusiastically since the classes began two years ago; 25% now join in the bending and stretching. “It’s a good mental practice that can be applied to physical purposes,” says Betty Murray, the IT Manager/Yoga Instructor.
Being Gumby is about doing whatever needs to be done to serve a customer, help a co-worker, or complete a task. It’s about not getting “bent out of shape” when a customer makes a request of you that you’d rather not do. And it’s also about bouncing back quickly after having a tough encounter with a challenging customer.
The Container Store constantly reinforces the Gumby culture by having a 6 foot tall wooden Gumby in the lobby at the company’s headquarters and giving away the annual Gumby award to the employee who exemplifies flexibility.
Get your employees to adopt the flexibility of Gumby and your company will be well on the path to delivering Beyond WOW service!
Christopher Tkaczyk, 100 BEST COMPANIES TO WORK FOR
FORTUNE, Monday, Jan. 12, 2004
We are best known for our classroom training – and it is amazing! Our customer service training is led by the industry’s best trainers…experienced, engaging, and energetic. If you poke your head into a Myra Golden training session, you know this training is different. Participant involvement is astonishing. People are having fun and they are completely engaged. Most importantly, the participants are learning real-world strategies that will absolutely empower them to deliver exceptional customer service. Every one of our customer service training sessions is custom designed to meet our client’s objectives and every session delivers a measurable return on investment.
We also offer train-the-trainer (T3) programs to equip your corporate trainers to deliver our renowned customer experience training in your organization. Please call us at 918-398-9368 to discuss bringing our T3 program to your organization. Learn more:
Customer Service Training – Classroom
When to Apologize to Customers and How to Do It
This morning I delivered a workshop in Philadelphia where I introduced my conciliatory customer recovery strategy to a client. The sole purpose of my customer recovery strategy is to completely restore customer confidence and regain goodwill whenever a customer feels wronged. The keystone of my conciliatory strategy is to apologize to customers.
When I explained the “Apologize for the problem” step, a participant in the seminar quickly piped up and said, “I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.” Another person agreed, saying “An apology admits fault…why would we want to do that?”
The expressions of these two participants are common and I hear this throughout the country in nearly every seminar I deliver. So, let’s look at their sentiments.
“I’ll fix the problem, but I am not apologizing for a problem that is not my fault.”
Good point. Almost never is the problem the customer service professional is responding to their fault. So why would they need to apologize personally for the problem? I can think of several reasons.
- It’s not about you personally. Of course it’s not your fault. But you are representing your company and you have a responsibility to actively work to regain customer goodwill. A sincere and unreserved apology conveys that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated. This is what it’s about…not you personally.
- Recent research by Sorry Works has found a link between a heartfelt apology from doctors and a drastic reduction in lawsuits and attorney fees. The University of Michigan hospital recently implemented the Sorry Works program and they report that the number of pending cases has dropped and defense attorney fees decreased from $3 million to $1 million annually. (Wojcieszak, 2008) (Sorry Works encourages doctors and hospitals to apologize quickly when mishaps occur and offer a fair settlement upfront to families and their attorneys.)
- Apologizing can increase customer satisfaction. Research by TARP has shown that when an apology is perceived as genuine, customer satisfaction increases 10 – 15%.
- Real companies are getting real results. The Toro Company (lawn mower) has made an apology a part of their product integrity policy and as result they have reduced legal costs per claim by 78%. (Fleming & Asplund, 2007)
- A genuine apology makes customers feel emotionally connected to the company. Gallup research has shown that a genuine apology can actually strengthen a customer’s emotional bond to a company, leaving him or her more emotionally connected than customers who never experienced a problem. (Fleming & Asplund, 2007)
“An apology admits fault…why would we want to do that?”
Actually, an apology doesn’t have to be an admission of fault. And it’s not even about placing blame.
The whole point is to convey that you genuinely care about how the customer was treated and to regain goodwill.
I believe in apologizing to the customer whether the problem they experienced was a result of an act of nature, a third party, or even the customer. It goes without saying that I believe that we must apologize when the problem is the fault of the company.
Here’s how you can apologize when the problem is not the company’s fault:
- “I’m sorry that you had to make this call today.”
- “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.”
- “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”
- “I’m sorry, I feel awful about your problem.”
Several years ago I experienced a cancelled flight due to severe weather and ended up having to spend the night in the DFW airport. About a week after my mind-boggling stay in the DFW airport, I got a letter in the mail from the airline that included this apology.
“Although we will never compromise safety for the sake of on-time performance, we sincerely apologize that your travel plans were disrupted.”
Notice that none of these apologies admit fault or pass blame. They are also all “safe” apologies. I encourage you to use one of these apologies today with an unhappy customer.
The bottom line. If your goal is to restore customer confidence and retain more customers, you need to apologize to customers in the wake of any problem, regardless of fault. When you do, you create emotional bonds with customers and build and strengthen customer loyalty.