Does Your Customer Service Measure Up?

Measure Up

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article by business coach Maureen Moriarty provide a nice "next action" list for companies seeking improved customer service marks from their customers and their own employees.

"Many companies espouse that they provide great customer service, but few deliver. The inconsistency often stems from a failure to model it internally. The quality of customer service that co-workers provide to each other invariably shows up with outside customers.
Sadly, not all co-workers treat each other with the same kind of respect and care that they treat their customers. Perhaps you've heard the relationship advice of, 'Treat your spouse/partner as if they were a guest in your home.' With co-workers (not unlike spouses), there are times we forget we are all rowing for the same team!"
Customer Strategy talks about research released by the Ken Blanchard group that reports that good customer service and developing good customer loyalty are not high priorities for businesses in the UK.

"Despite the fact good customer service could provide an all-important competitive edge in the current economic climate, when asked about their key employee development concerns in Blanchard's annual Corporate Issues Survey, only 10% of businesses identified it as their top management challenge for 2008. Overall, only 38% recognised it as any kind of priority at all, a 10% drop on 2007 survey responses.

Peter Brent, who overseas Blanchard's 'Legendary Service' customer service training in the UK described the figures as shocking."

And the Chicago Tribune talks about Zappos.com's newest effort to weed out uncommitted workers to improve their customer service experience.

"It's called 'the offer,' and here's how it works: About one week into a training program that every headquarters employee cycles through, someone steps into the room and asks the group about their experience so far.

'Is this living up to your expectations?' the trainer asks. 'Is this the right place for you? Because if it's not, we definitely have something for you, it's an early-resignation offer. We'll pay your time so far, plus a bonus.'

Zappos offers $1,500 to anyone who wants to quit, up from the $100 offer when it started the practice three years ago. Between 2 percent and 3 percent take the money and run."

I thought these articles were very insightful, especially in light of several customer service situations I experienced this week. One was stellar, establishing me as a very satisfied return customer, and the other? Not so much.

It got me to thinking, do we as small business owners (or even employees of larger companies) really know what it takes to retain our clients and customer? And do we realize how important retaining satisfied customers will be to us in the long run? Especially during this season of reduced economic growth?

What do you think?

What is Good Customer Service?

Frequently, our office orders in lunch when we have a large event, celebrating a birthday – or frankly because we want to.  We tend to use the eateries nearby, promoting community support to the locals. One of our favorites is Baker Bros. Deli.  Today, was one of those days we ordered in lunch.

Our lunch was picked up by a staff member and upon him arriving back & distributing the food, it was discovered we were missing salad dressing for all the salads ordered. Who likes eating a salad without dressing? Moreover, who had the extra time to go back downstairs, into their car, drive over to Bakers and get dressing and come all the way back? No one. 

No sooner was it discovered that we were missing the salad dressing, than our office door opened and in walked Mike a Baker Bros. employee with all the missing dressings.  Were we surprised? You bet! They could have said "oh well" and left it at that, but no – they delivered individual, hand-poured sides of dressing for all the salads we ordered. And during their most busy time of the day – lunch hour.

Going above & beyond the call of duty is good customer service. Delivering something which could be deemed as insignificant as salad dressing to a patron – that is GREAT customer service!

Baker Bros. hasn’t seen the last of us. In fact, we just might be on a first name basis with the employees before long!

Baker Bros Deli
FORT WORTH: CAMP BOWIE BLVD. (Village at Camp Bowie)

6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Suite 244
Fort Worth, TX 76116
817-989-1400

More fun statistics: CEO’s and customer service

I was reading an article on redtape.msnbc.com about how CEO's have an inflated sense of their customer support. A recent survey showed that 75% thought that their customer service was “above average.”   Apparently they’ve never had to call it themselves!

A recent study by Accenture and support.com said:

  • 6 in 10 were upset with their most recent customer service experience
  • The average consumer wastes 12 hours every month on computer problems
  • 74% of people rely on family or friend for help, instead of calling customer service tech support
  • 1 in 2 friends and family surveyed said they’d rather help a friend move than offer computer help
  • 81% of consumers who feel they’ve been treated badly say they'll purchase from a competitor next time
  • 27% of people who received “average” treatment say they’ll buy again from the same company

The problem is that companies try to cut costs by shaving their customer service budget down. For example, they will have customers navigate touch-tone voice systems to eliminate the time they spend on person-to-person customer service.

With the cost of acquiring new customers, why not pay a little more to keep them? Great customer service creates loyal customers.  It's just common sense.

Every Business is a Partnership

When a company chooses another company as a vendor for services, it’s more than just a customer-provider relationship. It’s a partnership. Both entities depend on each other, and companies that don’t treat every customer as a partner are not getting (or giving) the full benefit out of the relationship.

Every decision about who to use for outsourced services is weighed carefully. Should a company bring a service in house? Should it be outsourced to a local vendor, a smaller national company, or one of the big companies? These decisions require time to consider and planning – one decision can lead to other decisions, which can lead to other dependencies.

Now, when a “provider” company fails to treat their consumers as a partnership, the process begins to break down. Changes get made to services that come out of the blue. These changes have ramifications to the “customer” company that can range from some time lost finding a new provider to a mandatory complete rework of how business is done.

In the telecom world, things move slower than the rest of business. Most of the time, it can take weeks, even months to add, change, or cancel services. Anyone who has ever tried to move (either for personal or business service) quickly has found that the phone companies can have delays that can leave customers without telephone service for a significant period of time. In business, communication is key, which is why a company must trust wholeheartedly in the partnership that they form with their communications provider.

This is why Accu-Rate Communications works hard every day to meet our customers’ needs. Our slogan of “customer driven technology” is something that we take to heart. Many of our features originated as suggestions from our customers. We work every day to foster partnerships with our customers and strive to constantly think of ways to improve upon our relationships.

Other companies in the communications field are not as interested in fostering a relationship. Late last year, Accu-Rate was informed that one of our carriers (Xspedius Communications) was bought by Time Warner Telecom. We spoke to our sales people, and to our technical contacts, who assured us that business would continue as usual with our partnership. This was a partnership that we have worked on and build over several years, and have come to a perfect symbiosis with.

Having never heard anything else, we assumed that all was well and that nothing would change. This afternoon May 17th 2007, we received a fax (not a phone call, not a face-to-face meeting, not a video conference – but a fax) from a person at Time Warner Telecom (Tom Marx – no title was listed anywhere in the fax) that stated that they were ending our relationship in 30 days unless we choose to call them and make new arrangements. I guess this is how Time Warner Telecom renegotiates contracts? I tried to call Tom Marx twice on the afternoon of the 17th and got voice mail. I waited an hour and called again. Again got nothing! When you get 30 days notice of a carrier shutting you off for NO REASON at all for some reason my blood pressure was soaring! I have thousands of customers that expect us to provide them a reliable service and I get this fax that states after over 4 years of service (very good service by the way), Never a late payment by us, that the new company who bought out Xspedius is canceling our service without reason in 30 days! What kind of Customer Service is this? What kind of Company just shuts you off with a fax and nothing else? What kind of company lets their people send a fax and then not answer their phone to tell you why they are terminating the long standing relationship that has prospered? What kind of company does this when large accounts are hard to find? What kind of company turns off paying customers? What kind of company doesn’t even tell you why they are terminating their agreement? Can you tell I am frustrated? Can any company or household afford to do business with a company that treats a customer this way? I am asking because I am bewildered and shocked at the way Time Warner Telecom has handled this situation. As it stands we still have not heard from Tom Marx. Who is Tom Marx and what does he do at Time Warner Telecom? You can find him on the web site? He is only mentioned on the web once on a press release from 2006. Sorry again for my rambling!

In my search for Tom Marx I clicked on “Our Management Team” and read the information about Larissa L. Herda Chairman, President and CEO of Time Warner Telecom Inc. (Nasdaq:  TWTC). Very nice biography etc. My question was does she have any idea of what Tom Marx is doing? Does she approve of canceling accounts that have a nice history and payment record with the previous company they bought? Why buy companies if you are going to cancel the customers and put a very bad taste in their mouth? I don’t understand? I would like to hear what others think on this blog? This is a shout out to find out if other companies do business and succeed in business this way?

The good news for our customers is they will not see any downtime or issues with our service because we only operate at 50% of our peak capacity and have redundant systems and locations. The bad news for our customers is we will lose 30 days of development because our IT staff will be moving out of the Time Warner Telecom facility and reinstalling our equipment in another location.

Now, 30 days is not a long time in the telecom world. Most of the time, it would take longer than this to get ten new phone lines. We are talking about thousands of phone lines. Needless to say, it will be difficult, but Accu-Rate is committed to taking care of our customer-partners, and we will solve this with minimal inconveniences to our customers. Already, plans are in motion to prevent any downtime while our entire business is moved to new service providers.

Here is the text of the fax:

May 17, 2007
Re: Accu-Rate Services Agreement with Xspedius Communications
To Accu-Rate Communications, Inc.:

This letter concerns the Accu-Rate Communications Services Agreement and Addendum #1 entered into by and between Accu-Rate Communications and Xspedius Communications LLC effect ive December 1, 2003 (the “Agreement”). Time Warner Telecom Holdings Inc. is currently the sole member and owner of Xspedius Communications LLC as the result of acquisition which occurred on October 31, 2006.

This letter is to provide notice that the Agreement has expired. Please consider this letter to be thirty (30) days written notice that Xspedius/TWTC will not be providing further services under the Agreement. Furthermore, the rebate programs set forth in the Agreement are not being renewed and will terminate thirty (30) days from the date of this letter.

If Accu-Rate Communications is interested in continuing with other services from Xspedius/TWTC, we are available to discuss doing so. However, such understanding must be set forth in a mutually agreeable writing executed by both parties. Please contact me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX if you wish to discuss a possible new business arrangement. If we do not timely hear from you, we will assume that you do not have any further interest.

Sincerely,
Tom Marx

Some things to note in this fax:

  1. Tom Marx does not have a title. We have never met nor heard of him.
  2. The fax appears to be a form letter, with “Accu-Rate Communications” filled in.
  3. The fax was sent at 4:11PM on a Thursday. Attempts to call Tom Marx were met with voice mail (several attempts were made)
  4. Our Xspedius sales person that transferred to Time Warner Telecom is out of the office until the following week.
  5. No “welcome” letter, “welcome” call, or meeting was ever set up with an official representative of Time Warner Telecom. This fax is the first communication we have received.
  6. The letter provides no room for any debate. It is a termination (similar to an eviction) letter that states that if we want to continue our “partnership” that it will be on TWTC’s terms, and we will have to accept their terms. The issue with 30 days is we don’t have time to renegotiate because if we don’t like their terms we wont have time to move our circuits. 30 days is not enough time even with our strong relationships with other carriers we are going to have to call in a ton of favors. As it stands now we only have 29 days to get out of Time Warner Telecom location. If we don’t have something renegotiated by noon on the 18th of May we will have to contact our back up carriers and order circuits with rush id’s.
  7. We are going to have issues getting new phone lines installed in our office in 30 days.
  8. I guess the lesson to be learned here is trust no company because you are only as good as what’s in the four corners of your agreement and get a 90 cancel policy instead of 30 days! Have a back up plan. We had back up plans in place for all kinds of disasters but never thought a company we had history with would just wake up one day and send a fax saying we don’t want your business anymore!

Accu-Rate not only pledges never to do business with our customers like this but would never even think about leaving a customer hanging. We will rely on the backup options we have put into place and transplant our entire operation to alternate carriers. If all goes as planned, our customers will not have to experience any outage, and will not have to worry about the partnership that we have worked to build over the last 20 years. Take this Time Warner Telecom as a cautionary tale – know your partners. Someday I would like to know how Time Warner Telecom thought sending a cancel notice via fax would help you grow their business?

Trust is a hard thing to earn and easy to lose!

I am sad because XMC had some great folks in the sales team, support team, and in the COLO. XMC had folks that cared about the customers and the growth of the business. We don’t even have time to wait until our sales folks get back from vacation to go over what this fax is about and why we got it. We have to be decisive and start our move by Noon CST on the 18th of May 2007. Hopefully we will find out who Tom Marx is and why he sent this fax before noon or there is no reason to even wonder about the past if we don’t have our contract back in force as it was before, but now with a 90 day clause! I learn from my mistakes.

I guess Time Warner Telecom…. No, I am not going to guess or assume!

Say thank you

By  Andrew Clogg

I was on the phone the other day with a customer. She was in a rush and I was more than happy to get her the information she needed quickly. The call only lasted about 30 seconds.

Halfway through our brief encounter I requested some account information from her and then said “Thank You.”

At that moment I heard her voice change. It was as though my “thank you” caught her by surprised.  She laughed and said “You’re welcome, but thank you!” It happened very quickly, but I’m sure she hung up with a smile on her face.

Case in point: People like it when you say thank you, and that little bit goes a long way.

A Free 411 Directory

If you’re like us, you’d rather not store a giant phone book in your glove box. Instead, try using a 411 directory service. There are many companies who charge for this but we’d suggest using a free service like 1 (800) FREE 411 or 1 (800) 373-3411.

You will be required to listen to a brief advertisement which is painless and certainly doesn’t outweigh the convenience of a free 411 service.

If you’re a professional on-the-go, you need to have the right tools to get the job done. Consider checking out our 800 call forwarding and international call forwarding services.

Why a “live” operator is not enough

We’ve often talked about the importance of reaching a “live person” on the phone. But have you ever been connected with someone who was truly incompetent? Technology has made everyday tasks easier, but it has also enabled unskilled people to handle important jobs. So does this really make life better?

For everyday transactions, this isn’t so bad. But if you have a special request or need a problem resolved then a competent person is what’s needed most.

If you were to buy an item at a store, it doesn’t really matter if you receive service with a smile. What matters most is that you get a smile when you are returning the item and that they know how to do it fast.

It’s important to talk with a “live person,” but it’s even more important that they’re competent.

Top 5 Outlook Plug-ins / Toolbars

  1. AccuConference Outlook Plug-in: Allows you to easily create a conference and send a calendar notice to your participants. Its free and is compatible with all conference call providers.  http://www.accuconference.com/outlook/plugin/
  2. David Allen’s Productivity Plug-in:  Lets you implement David Allen’s email productivity tips with the click of a button. http://gtdsupport.netcentrics.com/buy/
  3. Did-They-Read-It: Tells you if, when, where (geographically), and for how long your e-mails are read. (http://www.didtheyreadit.com/index.php?aff=2&affad=3
  4. Google Desktop Search: Search your emails (and files) quickly and easily. http://desktop.google.com/
  5. Spambayes: An effective anti-spam plugin. http://spambayes.sourceforge.net/windows.html

Customer Service

Recently, I experienced an issue with a company that I was dealing with on a personal level. This company was a fairly reputable company, and I had purchased some items for future delivery. When the items failed to show up as promised, I called in again.  Apparently, there was a delay.  It would be three weeks later.  When I asked for the charge on my credit card to be reversed until that time, I was told that it would be done that day.  After two days and no credit issued, I called again.  This time, I was told that I would receive a call from a manager that morning.  After 2:00PM that day, I called back and asked to speak to a manager again.  This time, I was told that I would be called back in thirty minutes.  Finally, the head of the store called.  Once I had him on the phone, I explained my situation (quite upset by this time) and he assured me that he would personally take care of it.  After about fifteen minutes, he called back and informed me that he had personally contacted the supplier and taken care of setting up delivery for our items the following week.

Dealing with our salesman, his manager, the other manager, and the “office manager” had yielded no results. Dealing with the store manager had the issue taken care of very quickly. With one phone call to the supplier, he was able to do what none of the others had been able to do in a week.  Why is it that we have to yell and scream until we get to the top of the chain before we finally get what we need???

As I was pondering this, I remembered why AccuConference strove to be different from these other companies. The service. AccuConference staffs customer service for 20 hours a day, and also weekends – not just business hours.  AccuConference employees are both knowledgeable and helpful, with each being completely empowered to make a decision to help any customer at any time.  No more “let me get my manager’s approval”…  AccuConference customer service are fully capable of handling any situation – and if they don’t know the answer, they can find out and will make good on their promises to call back.

Last week, I was given a decision for a major supplier for our company. In one hand was the big company that could give us a good price. They had been around for a long time, but it seems that every time we speak to one of their people, they have to get with someone and then get with someone else before calling me back.  Every time I call, the person that I was previously speaking with is no longer with the company.

In contrast, we were looking at another, smaller and newer supplier. This company was slightly more expensive than the big company, but we had been dealing with their people on another product for years. Their team is top-notch.  Whenever we have an issue, it gets resolved quickly.  They always answer their phones, and I have the cell phone numbers for their top support people on speed dial.  They don’t mind dropping what they are doing to help us, and have been a rock for our company for many, many years.

Despite the slightly increased price, the service made the decision easy to choose the smaller company with the good people. We are given a quality product, and an excellent support team that makes our business function better and easier.  This is what AccuConference is all about, and why we continue to deliver a top quality product day-in and day-out.