Category Archives: Training

Customer Service: So much more than a pretty face

To your left is the international symbol for customer service: Smiling, good-looking person with telephone headset.

Now, slap yourself or slam your hand in the car door or whatever it takes, and come back to reality.

When customers say, “I just really like talking to a real person,” they’re not saying, “Wow, I really like those nice people at XYZ, Inc.”

What they’re really saying (and some will come right out and say it) is that they like talking to a real person who knows what the heck they’re talking about and works with them diligently through resolution of their problem.

It’s also helpful when the person treats the customer as if their beef, issue or difficulty is credible and important. Now that you’ve heard the Spoon’s experience, here are some facts:

  • Most people have no trouble walking out of a store if they’re receiving bad service; even if the store has exactly what they’re looking for.*
  • Most people are less likely to visit other locations if they have a bad experience at a particular store.*
  • Most people want proactive solutions to problems before they happen, but only a few are willing to pay for them.*

As marketers, we must continue to extend the marketing conduit from the top of the value chain-procurement-to the front of the chain-sales and customer service. Marketing is as much customer service’s business as customer service is ours. We must demand, even more loudly than our customers, that complaints are handled expeditiously and problems are anticipated. At the same time, marketing must hear the customers voice when sales and customer service raise concerns of their own.

Is it any coincidence that great brands like L.L. Bean, Lexus, Trader Joe’s, Starbuck’s, Publix, Southwest Airlines, Apple and Chick-Fil-A are perennially found on the lists of customer service champions like this year’s BusinessWeek list?

We think not.

*YankelovichMONITOR

If you don’t take care of customers, you will get “weeded”

And no, “weeding” in this case doesn’t have anything to do with gardening or the Black Crowes.

In this case, according to Yankelovich MONITOR, it means being “blackballed” for superficiality in favor of substance and accountability.

In today’s world of myriad choices, it’s easier than ever for consumers to walk away from brands, restaurants and retailers that they don’t see as honest. After all, why exert the energy and spend the time when you can walk to the other side of the mall or click to another window and get something better.

It’s remarkable how the wisdom of a cousin in grocery retailing and a five-figure subscription to a consumer trend monitor can overlap. Here’s how Cousin Ron and Yankelovich recommend you improve customer service in order to delight and retain customers:

  1. Hire great people. Restaurants, retailers and manufacturers are all guilty of placing too little emphasis on hiring, training and retaining talented and passionate brand ambassadors. Trust us, your more successful peers and competitors do this. No excuses, now. Fix it.
  2. Remove the word “no” from your vocabulary. You have two choices. Make it happen or be willing to risk the customer moving on to something better.
  3. Don’t wait for them to ask you. If there’s even a slight chance a question might arise, publish an answer to it on your Web site and prepare your people to be able to answer it.
  4. Show caring through customization. Every neighborhood is different. Every market segment is unique. That’s why they’re called neighborhoods and segments-because they’re full of neighbors and segs who want something a little different. Wherever possible and profitable (especially long term), give it to them. It shows you care, and it builds loyalty.

Have a profitable, customer-focused, consumer-friendly day.

Have you hugged your logistics manager today?

We do a lot of work for a lot of different clients, including food clients. But most all of our clients do some sort of manufacturing. And that means they have stuff to deliver.

And sometimes, the wrong stuff is delivered. Or the right stuff is delivered at the wrong time. Or both are wrong. It can get ugly.

But here’s a little something we’ve learned for you to chew on today. It comes from talking with loads of procurement people and buying decision-makers in many channels and industries.

Time and again, they tell us:

“Communication is the key to our hearts. If it’s going to be late, give us fair warning. If there’s a problem with the shipment, call us before you short us so we can be prepared or work something out. We can handle the truth, not matter how unappealing it might be.”

People make mistakes. Buyers understand that. But they would rather buy from honest people who admit their mistakes and try to help fix them.

A Small Town Grocery Store and So Much More

Whether it’s Washington, D.C., or Lamar, Colo., (pictured here), Safeway does so many things right. We’ve worked with Safeway for a few years now, but we’re always observing new things.

The small-town version of the store proves you can be small town and still stock the essentials and so much more, from an extensive line of yogurt to gourmet soft drinks to select Washington cherries for pies or for eating out of hand.

With a little local color, of course. The assistant manager insisted on helping with our groceries (including four six packs of Henry Winehard’s root beer because it’s not available back home) and kept them aside while Mama Spoon finished some other shopping. And you’re not going to see the extreme low prices on meat that’s getting close to expiration date in every market. It just feels right here.

The Safeway store brands, such as Rancher’s Reserve and O organics find a home in this Colorado town as easily as in the Safeway at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

The multi-tier, segmented private label approach is one thing that sets Safeway apart. You may have heard that the company is even trying to sell its own labels in other channels in an attempt to give the brands a life of their own and build equity in the Safeway masterbrand.

Fortunately, you can cash in on those Safeway card savings even if you live outside a Safeway market area. For someone who grew up with Safeway, only to see it leave the Midwest with the likes of A&P and others, it’s nice to be connected to a familiar brand. So we’ll keep that Safeway card as handy in the wallet as the Dillons card on the key ring. Because the Spoon believes in supporting really good brands.

Experience is always the best teacher

No matter your age, one of the best ways to learn is to play. Recently we took this to heart and took it upon ourselves to understand our customers’ lives. One of our clients sells beef to supermarkets and restaurants, and we wanted to experience the challenges of creating fresh beef cuts that will appeal to consumers.

So we bought 20 pounds of shoulder clod and strip loin, popped in an instructional DVD from Canada’s Beef Information Centre and went to town.

First, we learned that the guys with knives on the video make it look a lot easier than it really is. It took a roomful of our heads and several rewinds of the segments before we were able to roughly imitate our customers’ craft.

Once you’ve experienced your customers’ challenges and victories, you will begin to have empathy for them. Once you experience empathy, you’re better able to speak their language and reach them with your message.

I’ve heard that really savvy investors like Warren Buffett experience the products and services of companies before taking major equity positions in them. Remember Victor Kiam? He liked his Remington shaver so much, he bought the company. Shouldn’t we be just as passionate about understanding our customers?

All I know is, we had a great time, we developed understanding and empathy, and we learned something about our customers together as a team.

Plus, how often do you get to eat your teaching tools? The strip steaks and chuck steaks we cut ourselves were quite satisfying.

I guess it’s just part of a day in the life of a place where understanding the target audience is priority one for everyone, from the business manager to the brand manager to the copywriter and the proofreader. The challenge is maintaining that focus. But having a little fun is one way to do just that.