How Can You Make Happy Customers Even Happier?

The main difference between being able to make unhappy customers happy, and happy customers even happier, is the point of initiation. At least with unhappy customers, even if you do not know why they were unhappy before contacting them (or having them contact you), you can rest assured that you will get the chance to learn very quickly.

Ironically, however, it may actually be more difficult to make a happy customer even happier than it is to make an unhappy customer happy in the first place – and you certainly would not want to accidentally do something wrong that might make them unhappy instead.

What we have seen from our research is that the best approach for making happy customers even happier is to focus on the following guidelines:

  • Make sure that you and your team understand how the customer uses its systems and equipment as part of their ongoing business operations – make suggestions occasionally on how they can improve efficiency, save some money, go green or reduce waste, etc.
  • Take steps to better understand the difference between the customer’s wants and needs – provide them with targeted information and advice they can use to concentrate more on what they “need”, rather than on what they think they “want”.
  • Understand the customer’s plans for future expansion, downsizing or consolidation – make the appropriate recommendations for updating or modifying their existing service level agreements, or upgrading to newer or different models and technology.
  • Keep track of the things you have done in the past to make them happy – do more of the same, and learn what other things or actions would also make them happy.
  • Customers love to feel they are getting something for nothing – any documentation or materials that you believe may help your customers to utilize their systems and equipment more efficiently, or provide them with additional product or service information, will generally be gladly accepted.
  • Customers also love to hear what other users like themselves are doing with their equipment – so, without divulging any customer-proprietary information, occasionally provide your customers with examples of what some other companies are doing, again, to improve efficiency, save some money, or reduce waste, etc.
  • Provide your customers with new product or service information before it is otherwise widely distributed or disseminated – customers always enjoy receiving information before it is distributed to the general public.
  • Provide a more “personal” side of your communications with your customers in order to establish a closer, and less formal relationship – but, be careful not to get too “personal”; just close enough so they feel they can depend on you to act as their surrogate within the company whenever a problem becomes larger than what both you and they can handle by yourselves.
  • Strive toward making your relationship with your customers a true “partnership”, rather than just merely a “vendor-customer” relationship – this is the true essence of Customer Relationship Management, or CRM.

Of course, all of these guidelines are merely just words written in a blog posting; the true test can only be exercised by you and your customer and technical support teams on behalf of the customer. In any case, you should always feel comfortable in relying on your own instincts in order to initially assess the situation, determine the appropriate course of action, and override any of these (or any other) guidelines on the basis of your own expertise and experience.

If you are truly going to succeed in establishing a relationship with your customers, then you must first have both the capability and the confidence to use your own judgment in making your happy customers even happier.

What Is the Difference Between “Good” and “Great” Customer Service?

It does not really take much of an extra effort to provide “good” service. Think about it! Most of the services providers that are in business today probably already do. However, the ability to provide “great” service is a different story altogether – although it is probably only a “thin line” that ultimately separates one from the other.

Conceptually, the main difference between providing “good” service and delivering “great” service is that, in the former, you are probably only barely keeping your customers satisfied; while in the latter, you are not only keeping them satisfied – you are also keeping them loyal! This is a very important distinction – and one that many services providers do not always “get”.

For example, let’s say that, historically, your company – and you, as one of its personal “ambassadors” – have been working very hard to keep your customers happy. You have strived to respond to all of their calls in a timely basis; you have arrived at their site within the contracted time in nearly all cases; you have carried the right parts with you to the service call (or have been able to obtain them as quickly as possible once the need has been identified); and you have followed up with a courtesy call whenever there has been time (and even when there has not).

While you may think that the sum of these activities, in and of itself, represents “superior” service on behalf of you and the company, some of your customers may think otherwise. They are more likely to feel that all of these services are to be expected from their services providers – all of the time! In fact, you probably have more customers than not who think these activities constitute nothing more than “average” service and support, and not “great” support – and guess what? They might be right!

The companies that are generally acknowledged to be providers of “great”, rather than merely “good”, service are those that typically go the “extra mile” in the way they treat their customers. This may include doing simple things like calling with an Estimated Time of Arrival (i.e., ETA) when they are approaching the limits of their normal on-site response times, or following-up after a service call to explain why an equipment failure may have occurred in the first place, and how to possibly avoid it from happening again in the future. It may be that the only perceived difference between “good” and “great” service on the customer’s part is in the way in which their service providers regularly communicate with them. The following is an example of what we mean.

Many services organizations provide their customers with some form of contracted, or “promised”, service coverage based on four-hour or next-business-day on-site support. Taking the four-hour on-site support option as an example, the secret to success between merely providing “good” service (i.e., keeping the customer satisfied) and providing “great” service (i.e., keeping the customer loyal), may be as simple as making an advance telephone call to provide them with an ETA before you actually arrive on-site.

Suppose you have a customer that has contracted with your company for four-hour on-site support and, for whatever reasons, you know that your primary contact at the customer site typically gets “antsy” if you do not arrive on-site within about two hours or so. Simply by calling him or her from your cell phone with an estimated time of arrival (hopefully, within the contracted time period) will go far to provide them with a much-needed “comfort zone”. You have probably run into several cases where you know that your contact’s supervisor is continually asking, “Didn’t the service tech get here yet?”, What’s holding them up?”, or “You better call them again to make sure they’re still coming out!”. A simple call from you providing an ETA will be particularly welcomed on a stormy or snowy day, or following a previous call when you might have arrived late, or at the last minute.

Simply by making this one extra call, you have placed yourself in a position of strength in terms of providing your customer with the information they need to let their supervisor know they are in control of the repair situation, instead of leaving them to fend for themselves when asked repeatedly, “When are they going to get here to fix the machine?”.

This is only one situation where communications helps to differentiate between merely “good” service and “great” service and support. However, communications between you and your customers can also serve to strengthen the customer relationship in many other ways as well.

It is important to keep the customer “in the loop” at all times. If they are expecting you to arrive on-site to perform a repair, they also expect to know approximately when you will actually get there. If there is a problem with your arriving as scheduled, they’ll want to know as soon as possible when you will get there – they will not want any surprises!

Customers also like to be proactive with their service providers; that is, they like to be able to obtain information, ask questions, and get answers – and they like to do it on their own time and schedule. However, you will probably not always be available to respond to their inquiries on a real-time basis; so it will generally be to your advantage to communicate with them before they feel they need to get in touch with you.

It all becomes a matter of “ownership”; if the customer has to call you to find out where you are, when you’re going to be arriving on-site, or how long you think the machine will be down, the customer “owns” the service call. However, if you can call the customer in advance with an ETA and, at the same time, provide him or her with some accompanying information, you “own” the call. And if you “own” the call, you also “own” the power to keep the customer informed, in line, and, ultimately, satisfied.

Service providers that merely offer “good” service are probably doing virtually all of the same things that those providing “great” service are doing. However, the single most important thing that distinguishes the “great” providers from the “good” providers, is that they also communicate better with their customers.

When everything else is going well, these extra communications can serve as a strong public relations (i.e., PR) tool. But, whenever there is a problem – especially a serious, or repeat problem – communications plays an even more important role as both a problem-solver, as well as a means for maintaining damage control.

Think about every time you have arrived at a customer site late, when the customer has said, “If you had only told me it would take this long for you to get here, we could have shifted some of our deadlines around.” Wouldn’t it be better to hear them say, instead, “Thanks for letting us know in advance that you wouldn’t get here for a couple of hours. We were able to get some other deadlines met while we were waiting.”

When the customer is happy because of you, they are more likely to stay happy with you.

Making Unhappy Customers Happy

Dealing with unhappy customers, making unhappy customers happy, and making happy customers even happier are all variations on the same theme – they typically differ only by degree. In fact, it may actually be easier to make unhappy customers happy, than to make happy customers even happier.

Unhappy customers will probably want to tell you why they are unhappy – whether you already know it or not. They will typically want to get their “two cents” in, even before they allow you to speak. This is fine; this is part of their venting, and they will expect you to stop and listen as they do so. As such, this will be the proper time for you to listen and observe.

In most cases, customers have already become unhappy even before their call is taken or the service technician arrives at the site. This may be because they waited too long for the call to be answered, the tech is running late, it is a repeat call for a recent or similar occurrence, or they have just come off of a “bad” service call with the company the time before. In any case, for the first few moments, you will probably be on the receiving end of a combination of both fair and unfair accusations, finger-pointing, and the like. As always, this will be the proper time to listen and observe – before you speak.

The best way to ultimately make unhappy customers happy is to convince them that you will be working together to resolve any problems, and that you are not really working in adversarial positions. The services world is too often segregated into an “us vs. them” scenario; but, the quicker you show your customers that you are on their side, the quicker you can make them happy.

Some guidelines for accomplishing this are:

  • Listen to what they have to say, and listen attentively – if they do not believe that you are paying full attention to their “story”, they will probably become even less happy.
  • Accept full responsibility for resolving any open issues, and be gracious in accepting blame wherever it is justified – customers will not tolerate any finger-pointing; especially at themselves.
  • Explain, to the best of your knowledge, what happened, why it happened, what you plan to do about it, when it will be resolved, and how you will ensure that it never happens again (i.e., if it is something that you can help to prevent) – provide them with the guidance and assistance to prevent such occurrences from happening again (i.e., if it appears to have been something under their control).
  • Just as machines sometimes require TLC (i.e., tender loving care), so do humans – treat your customers with the levels of TLC and “hand holding” they require in order to “soothe” their apparent frustrations.
  • As soon as you make contact, let them know that you will be focused on resolving any open issues as quickly as possible, and to their satisfaction – let them know that you are working on their behalf, and that you will not be happy until they are completely satisfied.
  • If there are any open issues remaining as you are closing out the call, assure them that you will be following-up and getting back to them with a complete solution as soon as possible – and then, follow-up as you promised.

Customers only have reason to remain unhappy for as long as the problem remains in play. However, the greater the problem, the longer it will remain “top of mind”, and the longer it will serve to plague your overall relationship with the customer.

The worst time to have your next “bad” service call with the customer is immediately following your last “bad” service call with the customer. After one “bad” experience, your performance is likely to be more closely watched and scrutinized every successive time you are called back. However, by following these guidelines, the prospects for your delivering “bad” service stand to be significantly lessened and, therefore, you will find that it is much easier both to keep your customers happy, as well as convert any unhappy customers into happy ones.

Listen, Observe, Think, Speak – Field Technicians Can Benefit LOTS By Using this Approach to Building Customer Relationships

Experience has shown that the best way to get to know your customers is to utilize the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak” – or LOTS – approach. In any customer interface situation, simply think LOTS and you will be surprised as to how easy it really is to get to know them. The guidelines for using the LOTS approach are quite simple:

Listen

The key thing to remember is that when a customer experiences an equipment failure, they typically will want to tell you about it – how it happened, when it happened, how it is impacting their workflow, and what will happen if you can’t get it back up and running quickly enough. In fact, they generally won’t even want to hear what you have to say until after they have already told you what they think their problem is – in their own words. And the only way to do this is to LISTEN to what they have to say.

By the time you arrive at the customer site, the machine has probably already been down for a couple of hours or more, and some customers may feel “compelled” to tell you everything they know about the “history” of the failure. Some of this “history” will be important for you to know, although most of it will undoubtedly be either incidental or unimportant with respect to helping you make the repair. However, from the customer’s perspective, virtually everything they have to tell you will be important to them at the time.

The good news is, that after just a little direct experience with each individual customer, you will find that you are more quickly able to get the important information out of them – first, by listening, and then by following-up with a few questions of your own to hone in on the most relevant pieces of information that you will need to help you make the repair. All it takes is a little experience in general – supplemented by a little “history” with a specific customer – to be able to shrink the process down to just a few questions, and just a little time to listen.

However, you should remember that it will be just as important to listen to what the customer has to say about what may have led up to the failure as it is to gauge how anxious or upset the customer is when they are telling you their story. In fact, the way in which they tell you their story (e.g., calm and collected, anxious or apprehensive, angry or “out for bear”, etc.) will generally dictate the degree to which you will need to listen to what they have to say. It is not just a matter of getting all of the information you need from the customer – you will probably get everything you need directly from the machine; it is more a matter of showing the customer that you do listen, and that what they have to tell you is important.

By doing so, you can help to “pull” the customer over to your side, convincing them that you are working together to understand not only what needs to be fixed, but within what overall business context the entire event will be taking place (e.g., meeting a production deadline, requiring an overtime shift, etc.).

Listening is always the right place to start; but listening is only the point of entry to the customer situation, and there are other important things that must also follow.

Observe

Observing always begins at the same time as listening. Words are just words; but the way in which they are spoken often help to tell a more complete story. Therefore, the next most important thing you will need to do once you arrive at the customer site is to OBSERVE how the customer acts while you are listening to what they have to say – as well as observing the situation around the machine itself.

By observing the customer, you can determine his or her exact state-of-mind with respect to what – or more appropriately, whom – you will be dealing. Fortunately, most of your customers will be reasonable when you deal with them; however, depending on their specific history with the machine, your company’s service plan – or you yourself – their responsiveness to you once you arrive on-site can be all over the place.

It is always beneficial to be aware of exactly where you stand when you enter the customer site; for example, will you be welcomed with “open arms”, or will you be more likely to get “shot off at the knees”? Knowing which scenario you are walking into will provide you with enough guidance to handle the customer appropriately while you are technically on their “turf”.

It will also be necessary to observe the machine – as well as the area in which it is located. Sometimes, simple things like a machine located too close to an eating or drinking area, or evidence of a stockpile of poor-quality, generic parts or consumables may provide you with a “clue” as to what may have caused the current – or, possibly, a future – equipment failure. But, the only way you will be able to find these “clues”, is to observe them.

However, listening and observing are still only half the battle! These two actions simply provide you with the preliminary information and the ability to assimilate and interpret it once you arrive on-site – but, now, you will need to act. However, before you act, you will next need to think!

Think

Ever since grade school, we have all been told to THINK before we speak. Well, this is never as important as it is when you are dealing with customers – especially with customers who are dealing with an expensive and important piece of equipment that, for reasons they may or may not understand, just simply stopped working.

Since the first words out of your mouth once you arrive at the customer site are likely to be the ones that set the tone for the entire service call, it is absolutely critical that you choose them carefully. By way of review, we suggest that this can only be accomplished effectively if you have, in fact, first listened to and observed the specific environment into which you have entered. But even so – and in every case – before you speak, you must first think!

Some examples of things you may want to think about before you speak include:

  • How to defend the fact that you have arrived late on-site, without coming across as being either uncaring, arrogant, or unapologetic.
  • How to assure the customer that you will have their equipment up and running quickly enough for them to still make their deadlines – or why you cannot, and what other types of contingency plans may help them out in the interim (i.e., use of a loaner unit, etc.).
  • How to explain that you may not be particularly knowledgeable about the specific piece of equipment that has failed, and how you will shortly be obtaining the repair information you require.
  • How to tell them that the warranty on this specific piece of equipment has expired; that that they may have to pay for this specific service call; and/or what options they may actually have to make the existing situation (i.e., non-covered equipment) any better.

These are only a few representative examples of some of the potentially awkward – or even confrontational – situations that you may face when making a particular customer call. All of them – and countless others – require careful thought before a single word leaves your mouth.

Sometimes the most innocuous situation can be turned into a problem if the wrong words are spoken. It almost doesn’t matter whether the problem is a result of the use of incorrect information, inappropriate language, finger-pointing at the customer (or anyone else), political incorrectness, tone of voice, or just the customer’s perception (or misperception) that any of these cases has occurred. Whether it is your fault or not is irrelevant – the first words out of your mouth will generally set the stage for the remainder of the service call, so they better be right on – and they will require some thought.

Speak

If the previous three areas have already been handled adequately, this next part should be the easiest one for you to accomplish. After you have sufficiently listened, observed, and thought, you should be in an excellent position to – finally – SPEAK!

Remember, when you are at the customer site, you are the expert. You are the one – and the only one – that the customer is depending on to assess the situation, repair the equipment, and get them back to some semblance of normalcy. This is an enormous burden if you are not adequately prepared. However, if you are, once again, this should be your easiest task.

But what you ultimately speak must be concise, focused, and informative. You should focus primarily on items such as asking about the specific problem at-hand, collecting information, gaining an idea of the “lay of the land” with respect to the customer site and related activity and; after assessing the situation, telling the customer what you are going to be doing, about how long it should take, and what you expect the ultimate result to be – to the best of your ability, and with the information you have available.

This does not mean to say that you cannot talk briefly about such things as the local sports team, traffic, or even the weather. However, it does makes common sense to avoid saying anything politically incorrect, confrontational, or “catty”, such as attempting to blame someone else about your late arrival, pointing the finger with respect to an equipment failure (especially at the customer), or talking about personal matters, like politics or religion.

Still, it will be the spoken word that the customer will remember long after you have left the site. That is why it is so important to do the thinking, after you have done the listening and observing. Consider everything you say to have “legs”. Once you say it, it will be frozen in time as far as the customer is concerned.

If you make a promise, you will be expected to keep it – or explain why you can’t; if you point a finger at someone else, you can expect to have a finger pointed back at you; if you blame the customer for something (whether they were responsible or not), they will find something to blame you about later.

However, if you are upfront with the customer, and you provide them with an ongoing stream of information, kept promises, and guidance for managing their equipment better, they will work along with you – as opposed to against you – for the duration of your customer relationship.

What Is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Why is It So Important?

Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, may be defined in many different ways – and the variety of definitions can be all over the place. For example, some people think of CRM as mainly being a software product, as in “We just implemented a new CRM software package at our company”; while others think of it more as a business strategy, as in “We’ve adopted a CRM strategy at our company that will help us support our customers better.” Still others think of CRM as a set of operational processes or business applications, as in “We’ve implemented a new set of business guidelines that our employees will be using to keep customers satisfied.”

As you can see, there are many ways to define or explain CRM – but the common thread that runs through all of these definitions is that CRM – no matter how you define it – can be used to make it easier for both your company – and you – to keep your customers satisfied

To avoid any potential confusion about what CRM really is, we prefer to define it somewhat broadly as “a general way of doing business, built on a customer-focused strategy, and executed by trained personnel who are empowered with the right tools and processes to provide customers with the desired levels of support and support”. As such, CRM is neither a “product” nor a “service”. It is simply a way of doing business that focuses squarely on the customer.

One of the best ways to understand what CRM is all about – and how it can ultimately make your job easier – is to look at each of the individual words that make up the name, and see exactly how they interact with one another.

Basically, CRM is the ability of the services provider (that is, you and your company) to Manage the Relationships it has with its Customers. Just as the sign of a good manager is his or her ability to get the most out of their employees and keep everyone both happy and productive, the same guidelines apply to CRM. By adopting a CRM “way of doing business”, your company – and you, as an ambassador of the company – will also be depended upon to ensure that customers receive all of the service and support they require to keep their business systems and equipment up and running. And by doing so, you will continually be showing them that you are doing everything possible to meet their service and support needs, as well as everything it takes to keep them satisfied.

CRM is what organizations put into it. Nothing more, and nothing less. The trouble is that some organizations still do not recognize the importance of CRM – or even if they do, they still don’t quite know how to make it work all the way down to the individual customer level. They understand that CRM is important – and, in fact, essential – but they may not know how to effectively implement and manage it.

However, this is where you can contribute the most – right down to the grass roots, customer face-to-face level, where it so important to reflect your best capabilities and performance. Ultimately, your company’s CRM program must belong to you. It must be embraced by you, practiced by you, measured by you, and managed by you. Remember – you’ll need to constantly monitor your company’s – and your own – performance, because your customers are already doing so!

Reverse Logistics: Doing the Supply Chain Dance

When asked “Who was the greatest American male dancer of all time?” most people would respond “Fred Astaire” without hesitation. In numerous stage shows and movies from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, he was, in fact, the greatest American dancer.

However, the response to “Who was the greatest American female dancer of all time?” is typically much more wide open, as any one of the many fine women who have graced our stages and screens over the years – including many who had danced as a duo with Astaire – could be cited as the greatest.

The nod usually goes to Ginger Rogers, although Cyd Charisse or any of Astaire’s other former partners could just as easily be mentioned. However, regardless of who is ultimately cited, one thing is for certain, as expounded so succinctly in former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, Faith Whittlesey’s now famous quotation: “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels!” The analogy with respect to reverse logistics could not be any more painfully obvious.

Just as in accounting, where you have to deal with both debits and credits; in logistics, if you ship things out, some of them are going to need to be shipped back. However, in accounting, at the end of the day, your assets and liabilities will always balance out to equal one another; but in logistics, there are no such absolute “laws” that assist shippers in determining – in advance – how many of their out-shipments may ultimately be returned – and, if so, in what shape, and for what reasons, etc. This problem only intensifies when you have to address what to do with the returns once they are received.

It is bad enough when a customer’s shipment arrives late, damaged, or with the wrong content. Compounding the situation is the fact that once a shipment goes wrong (or the parameters change, such as the customer no longer needs the part, etc.), it only gets worse, because now the customer has to call or e-mail the shipper to arrange for another shipment, re-pack the original item, and ship it back for credit. If all goes smoothly, an incorrect shipment is little more than a “nuisance” to most customers.

However, if things go bad (i.e., shipped the wrong part, successive damaged shipments, etc.), these situations go really bad, really fast – and that bad feeling lasts in the mind of the customer for a long time.

For example, if the customer has ordered a critical part from you to resolve a critical system failure, and you deliver it late, damaged, or otherwise unusable, you can bet that your customer satisfaction rating with that customer is going to take a significant hit. That “hit” is further compounded by the fact that your customer then has to (in their own mind) “fix” some of your mistakes itself by calling you up, re-packing the part, and shipping it back to you – plus, they have to wait another day or more to finally get the right part shipped out. This has all of the makings of a bad situation staying bad for at least another 24 hours or more before the customer can ultimately “forget about it”.

However, if during that waiting period, the customer’s business system (and, hence, its production capability) has also shut down or, as a result, they have to send their late shift home early, then you’re likely to find yourself dealing with the dreaded combination of (An Already Dissatisfied Customer) + (Unanticipated Lost Productivity) + (Unexpected Dollar Expense) = An Extremely Dissatisfied Customer. All this, plus the belief that they now “have to do your job” by shipping the part back, simply makes the matter worse.

The problem that reverse logistics providers have always suffered from is essentially based on the typical human misperception that “shipments coming to me are ‘good’, but shipments I have to return are ‘bad'”. However, there are some things that can be done to make the return shipment process as painless as possible. For example:

1.  Provide as much documentation and instruction as possible – in advance – to assist your customers in handling their end of the reverse logistics transaction. Provide it in written/electronic form; make it accessible via e-mail and the Internet; present it in easy-to-understand numbered steps; etc.

2.  Provide the customer with as many tools as possible to get their part of the process done quickly and accurately. Provide them with easily re-packable shipping containers, instructions, pre-printed forms, adhesive mailing labels, etc.

3.  Provide direct customer support contact information should your customers have any questions or concerns about return shipments not fully covered in your documentation. Make sure they have access to relevant company telephone numbers and/or e-mail addresses, and make sure that these contacts are physically there for them when they make the call or send the e-mail.

4.  Make sure that all situations involving late, damaged or lost shipments are adequately covered in your service agreements with respect to contingencies, penalties and/or incentives. Resolve any open issues as quickly as possible; admit mistakes when they occur, and make good on them.

5.  Provide customers with as many Web-based self-support tools as possible. Some customers believe that anything they have to do is an unwarranted demand on their part or, at the very least, an inconvenience; however, other customers believe that anything they can do over the Internet that will shorten the time it will take for the overall process to be completed, will be glad to do so.

6.  Provide centralized tracking capabilities via either telephone and/or the Internet. More and more of your customers have become accustomed to tracking their shipments – to and from their vendors – over the Internet. (You can learn a great deal from companies like Amazon.com!)

7.  Provide an open forum for customer input and feedback. Everything involving logistics is important to the customer, and they will have a lot to say about the way in which they think you are performing.

In short, make it as easy and non-invasive as possible for your customers to work with you in handling their portion of the reverse logistics process. If you attempt to do everything yourself, then everything that goes wrong will be your fault – and your fault alone. However, if you work with your customers, provide them with the tools and direction they need, and make things as painless for them as possible, then you will have the best chance to improve your customer satisfaction ratings in the long term – or at the very least, prevent customer dissatisfaction from tainting an otherwise good customer relationship.