4 Customer Experience Lessons From Your Wait Staff

It’s not very often I give a 40% tip at a restaurant, and it’s not because I’m cheap. But the other night was a different kind of customer experience, with lessons for marketers about successful customer engagement strategies.

It’s not very often I give a 40% tip at a restaurant, and it’s not because I’m cheap. But the other night was a different kind of customer experience, with lessons for marketers about successful customer engagement strategies.

It was a crazy night and hard to find a restaurant that could take our party of seven. We were stressed and so was the wait staff, who had plenty of reasons to be stressed and just go through the motions to get the job done.

This young man was different. He replaced the stress of the night with a calm smile. He asked about our evening and totally empathized with our “issues,” never mentioning his own. He told us in advance that the cook was a little behind but he would do his best to get us served quickly.

He noticed we were hungry and it was late so while our order was being processed, he brought us a complimentary appetizer; nothing expensive, but enough to tide us over. When he brought us our order, it was faster than we expected  given the crowd, and it was clear he had listened to our special needs, made sure that everything was just as we asked it to be, and had even gone a step further to make sure my gluten-free daughter was not exposed to any gluten indirectly.

And throughout dinner, he checked in. With a smile. And asked how we liked our food, did we have any other needs or even suggestions? His conversations were relevant and cheerful to the point that we left feeling like we had made a new friend.

It was a pleasure to leave him a $40 tip.

Waiting tables may seem like a simple process that is simply a routine. Yet there are a lot of insights to gain here for customer engagement strategies and success. Let’s change this scenario to a sales call:

  • You have a customer who is stressed, tired and needs a solution soon.
  • You have a big backlog or a long queue of customer orders.
  • Timing is critical for this customer and, if you can’t deliver, they may go elsewhere.
  • They have some very specific needs that have to be met with precision.

Implementing What We Learned

So how do you “serve” them to get them to purchase,then to satisfaction and loyalty?

Recognize upfront and immediately a customers’ stress, anxiety, and needs. Empathy for those needs and issues goes a long way. We connect with people who are like us, understand our pain and concerns, and give us even a little hope that they will be resolved.

While challenges and obstacles can’t be overcome in a day in most cases, find a way to minimize the pain (or hunger) with a small service or added value while they wait for the full resolution. Be transparent about any shortcomings you might have for providing the products or services needed and assure customers you will do your best to meet their needs. Regardless of your business, you can almost always find something to ease the process. If your wait time is longer than normal, offer a discount for their patience, which gives them a reason to stay with you vs. shop for a faster solution.

Follow up. It is simply amazing how much money is left on the table (and I don’t mean tips) after sparking interest in your products and then not following up personally with a close. With all of the emails and ads and messages we are exposed to daily, while multitasking at home or at work, we simply do not respond to messages of interest immediately. But when someone calls us a few days later to see if we have all we need, we often go for the order, just like we often go for dessert when we had no intention to before being asked if we wanted that tiramisu or chocolate mousse vs. the fresh key lime pie?

Conclusion

Pay attention next time you have a really good waiter and watch how subtlety and skillfully they earn a good tip by following these simple steps above. Try the same kind of touchpoints in your customer journey and watch your sales and stickiness take off!

The Keys to Customer Success

How far are you willing to go to make sure your customers are successful with your products or services? It’s a different way of looking at marketing, but it’s essential to building strong relationships and repeat business.

How far are you willing to go to make sure your customers are successful with your products or services?

It’s a different way of looking at marketing, but it’s essential to building strong relationships and repeat business.

http://players.brightcove.net/2045965075001/ryzbDLTP_default/index.html?videoId=4430168640001

Customer Success? Not Don Draper’s Problem

Traditionally, marketers are focused on convincing customers to believe something, and it’s almost always an idea that will help sell the product.

It’s the part where Don Draper gets up, takes a slug of whiskey and says, “It’s not a slide projector, it’s a time machine.”

Then Don walks away, content knowing that once someone buys the product, whether or not they are successful in “time traveling,” it is 10,000% not his problem.Don Draper Doesnt Care About Customer Success

Only it is your problem, because if your customer is not able to use your product or solution successfully, they’re not likely to buy again, or say good things about the product to other potential buyers.

That makes customer failure a silent killer of lifetime value.

And it’s a difficult problem to address because the issue is often less about your product and more about your customer’s understanding of how to use it.

If you sell someone software to, say, do their own taxes, and they’re happy with the software but in the end they still aren’t able to do their own taxes, next time they’re not going to buy the software, they’re just going to go to an accountant.

Beyond Satisfaction

This isn’t about customer satisfaction. Customers can be satisfied that they got what they paid for, even if they aren’t able to use it successfully.

Yes, I am saying your customers may not be competent to use your solutions. The question is, what do you do about that?

How far are you willing to go to ensure customer success?

What Customer-Centric, Customer-Obsessed Companies Must Do

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession. Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession.

Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

Customer Awareness
Customers are known, but in the aggregate. The organization believes it can select its customers and understand their needs. Measurement of performance is rudimentary, if it exists at all; and customer data are siloed. There’s a traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal) with little evidence of teaming.

Customer Sensitivity
Customers are known, but still mostly in the aggregate. Customer service is somewhat more evident (though still viewed as a cost center), with a focus on complaint and problem resolution (but not proactive complaint generation; internal groups tend to point fingers and blame each other for negative customer issues). Measurement is mostly around customer attitudes and functional transactions, i.e. satisfaction, with little awareness of emotional relationship drivers. The organization has a principally traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal), with some evidence of teaming (mostly in areas of complaint resolution).

Customer Focus
Customers are both known and valued, down to the individual level, and they are recognized as having different needs, both functional and emotional. The customer life cycle is front-and-center; and performance measurement is much more about emotion and value drivers than satisfaction. Service and value provision is regarded as an enterprise priority; and customer stabilization and recovery are goals when problems or complaints arise. Communication and collaboration with customers, between employees, and between employees and customers is featured. Management model and style is considerably more horizontal, with greater emphasis on teaming to improve customer value processes.

It’s notable that, at this more evolved and advanced stage of enterprise customer-centricity, complaints are thought of more in terms of a life cycle component, and recovery is more of a strategy than a resolution.

Customer Obsession
Throughout the organization, customer needs and expectations—especially those that are emotional—are well understood, and response is appropriate (and often proactive).

Everyone is involved in providing value to customers—from C-suite to front-line—and everyone understands his/her role. Customer behavior is recognized as essential to enterprise success, and optimal relationships are sought.

Performance measurement is focused, and shared, on what most monetizes customer behavior (loyalty, emotion and communication metrics—such as brand-bonding and advocacy—replace satisfaction and recommendation).

Customer service (along with pipelines and processes) is an enterprise priority, and seen as a vital, and profitable, element of value delivery.

The management model is far more horizontal, replacing traditional hierarchy; and there is an emphasis on teaming and inclusion of customers to create or enhance value.

Companies that are customer-obsessed, and what makes them both unique and successful, have been extensively profiled by consultants and the business press. Often, they go so far as to create emotionally driven, engaged and even branded experiences for their customers, strategically differentiating them from their peers.

In addition, these companies focus on the complete customer life cycle, and much more on retention, loyalty and risk mitigation (and even winback) than acquisition. Support experiences are strategic, nimble and seamless, and often omnichannel. Multiple sources of data are used to develop insights. Recognizing the information needs of their customers, they invest in altruistic content creation (over advertising); and they communicate proactively and in as personalized a manner as possible

Customer obsession, what I refer to as “inside-out” customer-centricity, has been a frequent subject of my blogs and articles: One of Albert Einstein’s iconic quotes reflects the complete dedication of resources and values needed for an organization to optimize its relationships with customers: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.” Mastery requires, as well, a storehouse of experience coming from experimentation; so, just like in the pole vault and high jump, we can expect that the customer-centricity bar will continue to be raised.

Hello, Complaint Department? My Friends Are Listening

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints? For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints?

For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

In the early 1970’s, interactive voice response (IVR) technology came into vogue. While it was designed to service high call volumes, reduce costs and improve the customer experience, we all know it was a great way to avoid actually talking to customers—especially those with complaints.

As companies got bigger, somebody decided that titles like “customer service rep” weren’t friendly enough, or didn’t accurately describe the importance of the position. (Perhaps because they didn’t actually provide service? Well, that’s a topic for another day.)

That said, titles changed to be things like “Customer Relationship Specialist” or “Customer Interaction Management Specialist” (I kid you not). But it didn’t change the job function … nor the attitude or behavior of the rep who was supposedly resolving your complaint.

As complaints soared, so did the many ways businesses tried to avoid a direct dialogue with those harboring a complaint. Once consumers discovered that pressing “0” usually connected one with a live body, businesses changed that option. I recently called one financial institution to complain that the ATM had eaten my card (yes, I was standing in front of the machine reading the teeny-tiny 800 number posted to the machine in the least obvious location). I probably went through five or six different “menu” options before I finally got someone live on the phone who told me that he had never heard of an ATM eating a card before. So I guess he felt it was helpful to call me a liar. Hmmm …

Next came the Web—and with it the “Contact Us” page. But once again, businesses became overwhelmed with the number of consumers who wanted to have a dialogue with them. Now when you visit “Contact Us,” there’s a form to fill out or worse—no email or phone number, but just a link to “Commonly Asked Questions & Answers” or “Popular Topics” or, one of my favorites, “Where’s My Stuff?”

Have you ever tried to call Amazon? Yeah. Good luck finding a phone number. I will say that I had a problem with my Kindle and, after quite a bit of scouring around the website, found a phone number from a dialogue in a Kindle forum. I called it and got GREAT customer service (I think it was Bob’s first call all day because he actually sounded happy to help me).

Now the Web has created a whole new business complaint system—and it’s for all the world to see. From the formalized review process of Yelp and Angie’s List to sites that let you rate your experience with a product/service like OpenTable.com or Hotels.com, you can whine all you want and it’s very difficult for the brands to respond/resolve (even if they wanted to).

It’s easy to go to a company’s Facebook page and post a rant (I’ve seen some really ugly comments posted on some of the biggest brands’ Facebook pages).

I know these public forums can be an extremely unfair system—especially to smaller businesses who live and die from customer reviews. And I know that not everyone is reasonable with their expectation about a product/service, nor do all consumers have legitimate complaints (although they may feel otherwise).

So here’s my suggestion: If you want to build a positive image of your brand, create a culture that allows for customer feedback and conflict resolution. Make it easy for customers to find a phone number, call you and speak to a live person and/or email you and get a fast response. Empower your reps to resolve issues quickly and fairly—perhaps invest in training them how to listen with empathy, and how to make a decision to do “the right thing.” Spend less time and money on “satisfaction surveys” (which I personally dislike) and more time on “creating satisfaction.”

Net-net, treat every customer as if they were your most valuable asset—because they are. It will return a bigger ROI than any marketing campaign investment.

Many Online Retailers Failed to Satisfy Customers This Holiday Season

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

Amazon.com and Netflix continued to delight holiday shoppers online while customer satisfaction with Web sites for Circuit City, Gap, Home Depot, Home Shopping Network, Neiman Marcus and Overstock.com is below industry standards, according to the annual Top 40 Online Retail Satisfaction Index from ForeSee Results and FGI Research.

ForeSee used the predictive methodology of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index to examine how successful the top 40 retail Web sites are at encouraging loyalty and purchase intent. All 40 Web sites are rated on a 100-point scale.

The study found that a highly satisfied online shopper is 73 percent more likely to purchase online, 38 percent more likely to purchase offline and 75 percent more likely to recommend a site than is a dissatisfied shopper.

Highlights of the report include the following:
* The only two online marketers that scored greater than 80 on the study’s 100-point scale were Amazon.com and Netflix; both received an 84. QVC came next at 79.
* Ten Web sites improved online shopper satisfaction since last year’s holiday shopping season. The most improved were Walmart.com, which increased 5 percent to a score of 78, and Shopping.hp.com (Hewlett-Packard), which improved by 7 percent to 76.
* Forty percent of the sites measured saw satisfaction decline year over year. The largest declines were for HSN.com, down 9 percent to 69, and Gap.com, which fell 7 percent to 69.
* Five of the six e-retailers that scored 69 this year had lower scores in 2008 than in ’07.