How do you deal with the pains of customer service?
I work in the hospitality industry, and I spend a lot of money on what I call "guest investments" where I give some sort of discount, free merchandise, etc. in order to win back customers when something goes wrong. I can't tell if it's working or if I'm throwing money away. How does your business deal with the challenges of customer service and keeping people happy?
Hi Jason, this is a great question and especially in the hospitality industry your best bet is to look for a proper customer loyalty programme. Instead of just giving customers discounts here and there you move it in to a manageable programme that could help you establish loyalty, branding and will also help you sell more of your products and services.
A loyalty programme should always be customized and never generic. Don't just give things away. Yes, if a customer complains about a bad experience, you have to do some damage control by giving away certain services for free, offering free memberships/ breakfast, a free golf lesson etc. However to make sure customers are coming back, it is vital especially in your industry that you have a good designed loyalty programme. The programme should benefit the customer but also your business. It's a win-win if you will.
Many golf clubs have different membership levels and a loyalty programme could benefit each membership level in a different way. This would add value to the clients but not necessarily give everything away for free.
We deal a lot with businesses in the hospitality industry and in our experience, giving away things for free doesn't necessarily provide value to customers. Adding them to a specific service they receive/ purchase does provide value.
I've seen on your website that you do have a loyalty programme (Lynx Card) but it seems to be restricted to residents of Florida. If your main clientele is people from the area then that's fine however I guess you have a lot of people travelling from other places who are not "locals". Am I correct in saying this? Therefore I would suggest to look into a programme that could benefit both locals and non-locals alike.
I like the esign up but again, it is not providing immediate value to clients.
If this is the case, I would see if you can redesign the programme to suit your needs.
Other than that you could add a referral scheme for somebody who brings a new member. A referral scheme could be a monetary compensation in form of a check, gift voucher etc. or a service (1 month membership free if you introduce somebody/ an overnight stay with b&b in your lodge etc.)
Customer service is always mistaken by just giving away products and services but it is much more than that.
Something you could do immediately that will help you evaluate your customer service levels:
- Mystery shopping/ secret shopper - you can find out how friendly your staff is to the customers, how attentive they are, how they upsell/ cross sell etc.
- Show customers what is available in the area. If you are working with local vendors you could help them get more business as well. Show your clients what's available when they check in (I'm sure you do that already).
- Make sure that all your staff is trained to the highest standard of service (that includes the waiters/ waitresses in your establishment). A lot of times we find that servers are overlooked and underestimated when it comes to great customer service and they don't get the treatment that they should get. They are the face of your company and dealing with customers every single day, selling your products and services. If one of the is unfriendly, has a sour-puss (grim face) all the time, not smiling, not attentive, than this reflects back to the business. Getting the server staff trained is a great investment, even if they only stay for 1 year with you. You will find that most servers would stay longer if they are trained and coached properly and have a positive work environment
- Make sure that every person that checks in is aware of the Lynx card (or loyalty programme) and get them to sign up on it to receive immediate benefits. The receptionists are usually the ones who should take care of this.
- Up-selling is not sales but good customer service that will end up bringing more revenue to your business and in turn makes your customers happy. Don't underestimate up-selling. Many people believe it's a sales technique to get more money out of a client. This is not the case. A great up-sell is to provide additional value and benefits to customers and give them the power to decide if they want to go ahead or not. It provides the right information for what they want to do and considers their feelings and needs at the time of purchase. It's not about pushing more products on to your customer but to really provide information that is necessary to make a valued purchasing decision.
I hope this is a bit helpful and if you would like to get some more ideas, I'm happy to talk to you personally to brainstorm a bit more.
You could also have a chat with my business partner Aga who looks after customer service and loyalty (my core expertise is sales growth while Aga is looking after developing customer service and building loyalty for our clients.
Let me know if you have any more questions and I hope this is of a little bit of value to you and your business.
Feel free to connect on LinkedIn if you would like to discuss this further.
Thank you and wishing you success.
Please don't take this personally (I do this for a living), but the "pains" of customer service? Honestly, with that attitude you are probably throwing money away. If you believe that making good on your commitments or managing a positive customer experience is a "pain" then you should probably take a serious look at what you do, what you offer, and the expectations that you set with your customers and make sure those are in line with what you and your staff can reliably deliver time and time again. Perform a customer experience mapping and lay out what a positive customer experience looks like in the eyes of your customers (i'd highly recommend enlisting some of your customers in this exercise). Then look at the people, processes and systems you have in place to support this experience. For the gaps that surface figure out where you need to invest vs where you need to reset expectations in the customer experience.
"Guest Investments" should need to be made as infrequently as possible. If they happen on a regular and reoccuring basis, you should be taking a look at the root cause of the problem because you will never get ahead unless you fix what's causing these investments to happen. Being good at "fire fighting" is great but not scalable or financially viable.
My guys were once working on a $225 job and scratched up a wall that required a $600 paint job to fix. Did I pay for the paint job? You bet I did! I've now got a loyal customer for life. She knows we stand by our promises.
I mean, sure, some of the money ends up being thrown away. But even that's an investment because you can't know ahead of time which customers will turn into long term very profitable customers.
That's a different issue from the training. If my guys scratch a wall again, then it starts coming out of their paychecks. So I view all "guest investments" as an alert that we need more training to reduce the mistakes.
Also, in my world, customer service is never a pain. Customers that complain are a blessing because they help me fix problems before those problems sink my business. Some customers will never be satisfied, and I fire them. And I embrace customer complaints (and make them right) because that helps me build a stronger business.
Compensation is really a cost and a drag, but there are other hidden costs which are equally insidious and need to be teased out so they can be address.
I can mention two things - value banding helps you understand customers profitability and how to treat customers different. If you don't value-band, you can end up spending too much money on low-value customers (high costs) whilst spending too little on high-value customers (poor retention). You can also spend it on the wrong areas (attraction, growth and retention), which is very inefficient and therefore a waste of money.
From your website I understand you could have different customer categories. Your approach should include 'value banding' or separating customers into different value categories (similar to an airline, with their first class, business class etc). I would suggest starting with 3 bands (high, medium and low) or you might have different groups (frequent repeats, large conference customers etc). For each category (ie value band), you can have a different strategy for acquiring more customers, keeping customers and growing business (even moving into a higher category). You need to run a separate profit-and-loss report for each band. Often you find one category is more profitable than another, and start to treat them differently - encouraging the more profitable and not-encouraging the marginal.
This is just the concept. There's a lot more to it and if you mail me I can help you set up a structure which maximises your returns for each group.
The other dollar-waster is to focus on the wrong outcome. A 'met expectation' is a more important concept than 'happy customer'. That may seem obvious, but you need to work to distinguish the difference and avoid further wastage. You set a baseline of realistic expectations and this can differ per value band. An entry customer cannot expect a dedicated account manager, whereas a large account may do so (simple example). You design customer experience around this concept - allowing for adjustments over time and based on competitive offerings. This helps to inform your spend on each step of the experience, and also compensation policy. To get professional assistance with this design is money well invested.
Operationally, we have an interview-act methodology which is a tested system of sample exit interviews which provides scores and links these to KPI-compensation for staff and actionable changes, in the key areas of hospitality, should you wish to implement a pro-active approach which really works. If you don't measure by interviews, you don't know and can further waste opportunity. If you measure but don't change, you are wasting the investment in surveys. If you don't link this properly to compensation, you are over-paying poor staff and under-rewarding good behaviour.
A good system should pay for itself extremely quickly. Let me know if you want to run the numbers?
Business is about customers. Every business needs to be customer centric. Customer service should be looked upon as an opportunity to please customers so that they return time and time again. The most successful companies have established an emotional bond with their customers so that their brand and the customer are synonymous.
It's a good idea to identify the reasons you are having to "win customers back." In other words, what area(s) of your operation are creating issues? Actively track win back issues.
Once identified - look at those areas of your operation. Get together with the people that work in those areas to identify solutions for these winback issues. A good customer service system is built to avoid issues (proactive) vs respond to issues (reactive). Look at your systems and processes - step by step to determine if they are both customer and employee friendly.
As a techie I used to think this way...until I managed a customer service department! As the final escalation point, I had the "opportunity" to deal 1on1 with the most intractable customers. I was surprised to learn that virtually every complaint was justified to some degree. This led to a number of policy changes within my department as well as within service provision. My suggestion is for you to spend some time on the front lines handling customer issues.
I can tell right away that what you are doing is working because you are putting the needs of the customer first ahead of your own needs. You may think its throwing money away in the short term but in the long run that customer is going to remember the really nice things you did for them. In essence you are creating a long term relationship with that person which will pay dividends in the end.
Walt Disney looked at all of his customers as his personal guests and treated them as if they were guests in his own home. Everything about the show had to be perfect or else it wasn't worth doing. If that customer had a bad experience, Walt would do everything he could in his power to make things right.
At Colonial, there are a lot of value added services that we provide to our customers at no cost to them. We provide our customers with access to HRAnswersNow which is an online resource for HR people about state and federal regulations. This membership costs Colonial $2,000 per year per client but we provide the membership at no cost to the client because we believe in being business partners. Also we help our client's maintain their Cafeteria 125 documents in order at no cost and now we are providing complimentary flu shots for new accounts 50 and up. These are just the some examples of what Colonial does at no cost to the client.
In short, unlike our competitors who only think about product, Colonial feels that it is these no cost value added services that helps us create long term relationships in the end.
Free anything should be a Last resort. First you need to decide how petty or unrealistic their complaint is and how important their business is to the company. I would estimate that 25-33% of the complaints fit the "Not important" category and can be let go. The rest of them need to be addressed and answered. Giving anything away is for the best customers that have been around and keep the business running. Words and deals in writing mean more than a "Gift" that they didn't earn..
Well, it is all about having a Plan. If you Have a Plan, you can make it work. With no Plan, you cannot. There are 3 parts to an effective Plan, in my view: Relationship Mgt, Roadmap to Revenue, and Customer Happiness. I would do a few things: How are you using polling from both Happy and Unhappy Customers? If you are not, then taht is not a great thing. If you are, I would use that as a Code. Customer Happiness or Unhappiness travels faster than anything else. Also, depending on your clientele, the free stuff may not be the idea. It may be based more on the Value they believe they get from using your products. Again, not knowing your Customers, it is hard to say.
Be upfront and honest with them...It is all about thinking outside in and having your customer service people align themselves with the customer...And not at the same time meet unreasonable expectations...Sometimes the customer is wrong...
Why are you getting all these complaints ? Until you address this, nothing will change except the gifts you keep giving your unhappy customers. If you are using the "pains of customer service " phrase in front of your staff, they will see the customer as pains. Get to the root of these complains and fix them. Every time the actions of you and your team do not match the words on your printed material and website, the likelihood of a complaint increases.
First, it isn't a pain. You exist because you have customers. Second, invest in training your employees rather than in fixing problems that they've created. The most highly trained employees (in customer service) at Disneyland are the people who are continually sweeping up in the park -- they're the people with whom visitors most often come into contact, and Disney recognized that they (the sweepers) needed to have lots of customer service training. Guy
Jason, we have to assume customers as babies, more we pamper more they demand. In my opinion its not a good idea to spoil them by offering too much trust me if you are not able to keep up with your trend then there is risk of loosing them. I have experienced that it is not possible to satisfy all the wants of a customer in the hospitality business therefore my focus would be on my quality, taste and any such USP that brings them to my business. I have learnt over the period of time that when management shifts their focus on strategies to protect them from the fear of loosing their customers, they actually start loosing them. So my suggestion is that first of all please overcome the fear of loosing customers and focus on maintaining the USPs / quality and stick to your business policy and stop facilitating each customer with customized deviations, trust me you cannot loose your customers if you are consistent on your quality. Look at big brands where customers know what they will get for the cost they pay nothing more nothing less but they will get same quality product which ever outlet they visit. Therefore we should focus on quality and service which according to my experience is the actual customer pain and we must fulfil according to the standards we have set, that would surely bring them back to us. Loyalty programs are a must and a gratitude for their loyalty as well as to be in competition but not your USP if you want to continue without the stress expressed in your question. Hope you find my suggestion useful.
Suggest you try a stint working in Eastern Europe e.g. Croatia. For me it's all about dignity in service which they have in abundance over there. No loyalty cards or reward scheme just people who consistently greet you because they're pleased to serve you and happy in their work so I always return.
Please offer value add services. I may help in case I have the case history.
Hi there. I agree with Carsten Schnier and Andrew Winig. Some customers are a little more difficult than others to please. When you go over and above and make customers remember the special and/or extra results your service and/or product yielded, it is worth it. It is true however, if you are steadily investing in fix-it programs and offers, it is more important to determine the root of the problem(s) so as to stop the unsatisfactory issues that are causing you to have to continuously pacify unhappy customers.
Although some instances are going to arise as every situation is not perfect, you want to avoid the situations. Finally, you do not want customers to get used to or expect unpleasantness from your company.
I go for striking on fair deal. When a prospect ask about my charges, I clearly told him that I goes all way out to make sure the prospect will definitely willing to pay. I.e. A price where the client will not reject but a loss to me. This is my "client investment", subsequent charges will be based on a fair charge where I am comfortable with and acceptable by client. I explicitly tell my clients that the discount only meant for 1st time, subsequent services will not be free and the big discount no more happen - the price will adjust to fair deal approach.
Ever since I use this approach, my new clients & repeated sales increase and no clients leave me at this point.
The quick answer is don't have an issue to begin with. The longer answers/questions are:
1. Are your People receiving initial training in the importance of keeping the customer satisfied? Do you share with them the complaints and commendations you receive from others?
2. Do you have a values statement of expectations as to how Customers are to be treated? Do you have a service goal and recognition program for your Associates? This is important so they know your expectations and when a customer is treated well, they should get some recognition. When a customer is not treated according to the values you set, you have to talk to the employee and reset the expectation. If you have already done this, is the orientation, training, focus maintained?
You are right, a discount only goes so far when it is given for an employees poor service.
I'd guess that the real pain comes from not getting it right the first time. In addition to the waste and time and resources required to do it again, you've risked a customer relationship. Put a process in place where your people understand continuous improvement. Teach them the cost of not getting it right the first time and give them the tools and authority to fix it right here right now.